Tag Archives: cooking

nature’s bounty~clams

There’s just something raw and animalistic and yes, sexy, about catching your own food. Some of my favorite memories are clamming with friends on a salt pond in Rhode Island.

clamming

The clams are barely an hour old when we’d bring them back to the house and throw them in the closed shells on a hot BBQ grill rack. They cook only until they open up, then you take them in hand, shoot just a dash of hot sauce and eat them, all hot and tasty good, right out of the shells. No utensils, no plates. Add an icy cold beer to cool the fire of the hot sauce and you’ve got all you need.

Of course, for the catching this year, since clamming began at low tide which was 8 in the morning, we indulged in Mimosas made right on the boat out of Prosecco and orange juice.

Mimosas

This year we did something a little different. Since we had a professional chef with us, he insisted we not use the bounty up for our little grilling/drinking party. Instead, he brought the clams back to our rental’s kitchen and turned them into incredible home made chowder on the first night, so light and tasty people went back for third helpings. Then on the next night, the rest were made into Linguini and Clam Sauce, with tons of garlic, good olive oil and fresh parsley.

Clams in a cooler

Another summer’s Rhode Island vacation has come and gone, but the memories will last forever and next year we’ll be back. Clams, look out!

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virgin no more

Confession–until last week I was a virgin. A farmers market virgin, that is.

Yes, I’ve been to the farm stands that line Long Island’s Rt. 27 on the drive out to Montauk. But somehow a farm stand and a farmers market are different. I learned that last Thursday when I met my friend at the one in her town. She’s lived there close to 15 years and this is the first I’ve heard of a farmers market taking over the library parking lot in the middle of Armonk, NY supposedly every Thursday of the summer from 3-5 PM. Is it new? Somehow I doubt it. I think it just hit our radar finally now that she is a health nut and is eating all things natural, or organic, or pesticide-free, or whatever you want to call it.

I have to say this, it was an experience and I feel healthier for simply having been there. There was pretty much anything you could want, from fresh fruit and vegetables, to fresh-baked sweets, local wine, honey and even products made from fresh herbs such as lavender sachets. Every booth offered not only nature’s bounties, but also some pretty nice looking, strapping young farm hands peddling their wares–that was a pleasant surprise, I can tell you.

We walked out with the largest head of cauliflower either one of us had ever seen. It must have been the size of a basketball, but after roasting it with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper in the oven, we devoured almost every last ounce. The sunflower sprouts purchased dressed up the garden’s yield of arugula nicely. And the olive and sun-dried tomato tapenade made an excellent appetizer when served with Brie cheese and crackers. For dessert we had ginger cookies sold by Big Girl Baked Goods. Good cookies but worth buying just for the name alone.

All in all I would say a successful trip and one I will happily repeat. Donna now hits a few different farmers markets a week in our area since apparently they travel and set up in different towns each day of the week. With our reusable shopping bag, buying locally grown produce from small farmers rather than supporting the big chain stores with imported goods that travel thousands of miles in big, gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting trucks, I really felt like I was doing something good, on top of getting the freshest possible produce, grown without hormones or chemicals. They also freely and happily give out samples of the food.

So find a farmers market near you, grab a nice rattan or canvas bag and some cash and make an event of it.  The one we went to even had live music–a singer on guitar. And the hot farmers were pretty nice too.

Until next time, happy marketing.

Cat

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my favorite things: argan oil

I truly enjoy mysterious things from exotic lands. Using them makes me feel–I don’t know–exotic? It acts kind of like an aphrodisiac on me.

I recently stumbled upon something very exciting. Kind of the oil version of a Jack-of-all-trades that is not only good for all of your body, inside and out, but is environmentally friendly and helps support working mothers in the aforementioned exotic land.

What is this of which I speak? Argan Oil.

About now you  are thinking, what the hell am I talking about and why is a romance writer blogging about imported oil? Well, as I’ve confessed before here on the blog, I am a big old procrastinator who will research pretty much anything online to avoid doing what I am supposed to be doing, and I am making a real effort to be healthier and more environmental by finding more natural products to use. So there!

Anyway…Argan Oil. Here is a brief history but a more comprehensive article can be found at Wikipedia.

For centuries before modern times, the indigenous people of Morocco would collect and use the Argan kernels for oil used in cooking and cosmetics. The Argania spinosa tree is a relic of the Earth’s Tertiary Period, which ended about 1.6 million years ago, and it grows in only a few other places in the world. It is tenacious, withering and fruitless during extended droughts, and it lives as long as 200 years. Recently, however, the tree was in danger of extinction thanks to overgrazing of goats and the local population harvesting it for wood.

The tree is now under the protection of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), an organization which dedicated 25,900-square-kilometer of land to preserve the trees and who also created world-wide distribution and new consumer demand for products made from the reputedly anti-aging argan oil.

All argan sold today through the organization is produced by a women’s cooperative that shares the profits among the local women of the Berber tribe. The cooperative has established an ecosystem reforestation project so that the supply of argan oil will not run out and the income that is currently supporting the women will not disappear. The money is providing healthcare and education to the local women, and supporting the entire community as a whole.

Cosmetically the Vitamin E-rich oil can be used for hair, skin and nails, and even for the relief of psoriasis. The argan kernels also yield oil that can be used on salads or for dipping bread. Argan oil remains one of the rarest oils in the world.

So, there you go. I have yet to find the roasted argan oil for cooking but I am hoping to do so. Meanwhile, I am currently using Virgin 100% Pure Argan Oil (from Slice of Nature) instead of my usual face cream for both day and night use. I am using One ‘n Only’s Argan Oil (made from Moroccan argan oil mixed with Dimethicone) on my hair exclusively. This one product has replaced the three hair products I used to use (leave-in conditioner, straightening serum, and shine spray) and my hair has never looked or felt better.

A few words of caution.

1) Use these products sparingly. A little goes a very long way and too much will leave you a greasy mess. It is oil, after all. One squirt covers both my face and neck. A quarter-sized amount worked into my wet, shampooed hair is plenty for me. (I have a LOT of very thick hair. Most people should start with a dime-sized amount.)

2) Beware of imitations. I had originally searched online for “Moroccan Oil TM” a hair product a salon used on me that sells for about $40 a bottle. I learned through research that unless you purchase this product from an authorized salon, you are likely getting a fake made from other kinds of oils and product performance is not guaranteed. Since there was no authorized salon within 50 miles of my house, I found One ‘n Only’s $9 Argan Oil hair product online and have been very happy. I figured if I was going to experiment with new products, a $9 experiment made more sense than a $40 one.

I truly believe that our ancestors knew better than we do about quite a few things. Yeah, we have computers and can land a man on the Moon, but my nails are stronger than ever, my skin looks fabulous and my hair has never looked better–all thanks to the ancient species of Argania spinosa and the women of the Berber tribe. Go figure.

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back to nature…

Sadly, I fear I have been ruined by goodness and newly acquired hightened expectations.

I’ve gone through life very happily with my eyes closed, simply selecting something off the grocery store shelf that promised tasty goodness on my tongue without much thought past the pretty picture on the package. I am of the Red Dye #2 generation, where we children saw the complete disappearance of red M&Ms for years because someone, somewhere had decided they would give us cancer. I didn’t much care–the green ones were my favorite anyway.

Yet there I was this morning, whipping up a bowl of 1% milk with the powdered contents of a package of sugar free, instant, artificially-flavored pistachio pudding and as the powder hit the milk, and my whisk hit the powder, it all turned into what looked like an unappetizing bowl full of leprechaun semen. I immediately looked to the packaging and, ridiculously so I know, was shocked to see right on the front the words “artificially flavored”. No kidding! How about “artificially colored”?

I’ve made this name brand dessert many times over the years and I’ve never thought twice about it, but as I’ve said, I’ve been ruined by my friend who is on a new health kick and has forced us all to re-examine our eating habits. Some changes I’ve found easy. Things like using my stainless steel water bottle instead of plastic bottles, or microwaving leftovers only in glass rather than in used, plastic, chinese take-out containers. Other changes I am finding incredibly difficult. I haven’t enjoyed a cup of coffee since she convinced me to give up my artificial sweetener and powdered creamer. I’ve tried half and half, heated and frothed milk, soy milk, sugar, agave, and all combinations in between and I’m still not happy. The worst part is, when I gave up and tried to go back to my old ways, that now tastes funny to me too. Maybe I need to switch to tea…

Anyway, I have no answers for you, only whining. Sorry, my only excuse is that it is early in the morning, my coffee tastes like crap and I have leprechaun sperm in my fridge. Maybe it’s time to get back to the past. The days when my father would harvest his homegrown vegetables (fertilized only with manure and compost) and my mother would preserve them in Ball jars for the winter. When we had our own chickens who roamed the yard eating bugs and laying fresh eggs. I’m not talking Colonial times (I’m only 43 years old after all). This was a decade or two ago. How have things changed so quickly? Maybe it’s time we considered changing back.

Cat

a memorial day minute

We’re coming up on Memorial Day weekend here in the States. The unofficial start of summer when everyone cleans off the grill and heads outdoors for a barbecue. In honor of the holiday, and the men and women in the armed forces, here are a few fun things. Take a minute this Memorial Day to remember those who served and then eat, drink and be merry.

Operation BBQ for the Troops

OPERATION BBQ FOR THE TROOPS –Watch the Video on FoodNetwork

Watch barbecuing US Marine style in this Food Network video.

JarHead Red Wine

JARHEAD RED WINE

Jarhead Jarhead Red is a wine made by Marines on Californiaís Central Coast. It offers flavors of plum, cassis and black currant with fine tannins on the finish. It is aged in French oak barrels for eight months. Net proceeds from the sale of the wine benefit the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, which provides educational assistance to children of U.S. Marines, with special attention given to children of fallen Marines. For more information on the foundation, please visit www.mcsf.org. Visit www.jarheadred.com for more fun facts, info and ordering information.

for every opinion there is an equal and opposite opinion

A writer will take any opportunity to write, no matter what it is, and there are always non-writers around who are happy to let people like me do it for them. That’s how I came to ghostwrite an article for a local restaurant magazine under the name of my friend who happens to be a chef. We sat together for awhile, he talked, I listened, took notes, asked questions, then went off to write the article, which he read over and approved. The topic he chose for me to write about for him was reviews.

His issue as a chef was this… famous food critics who write restaurant reviews for publications such as the NY Times are, well, famous. Given that, every one of his 5 restaurants had the photo of the reviewer taped behind the hostess desk so if this critic came in, (s)he would get the highest quality of service from both the waitstaff as well as the kitchen, thereby kind of defeating the purpose. Reviews are supposed to tell the rest of us everyday folks what to expect from our visit, but alas, we are not famous and won’t get treated as such.

Then there’s Zagats, that famed restaurant review book people shell out good money to purchase to make an informed decision about choosing a restaurant. Did you know that anyone in the world can submit a Zagat’s review, regardless of qualification or personal agenda? I didn’t until he told me.

Apparently reviews were a hot enough topic for him to want to devote his space in that magazine to it. At the time I wasn’t writing full time, so it wasn’t until recently that I realized the irony of this subject he chose. Reviews, you see, are also the bane of every author’s existence.

It is a double edges sword. You want reviews, you NEED reviews, to get your name out there in the public. However, as the title of this post indicates, people’s opinions differ greatly. Watch any movie review team on TV and you will see one critic describe how he loved a film while his partner tells why (s)he hated the exact same movie.  How is that useful to the consumer? I’m not exactly sure except that the movie is being brought to their attention.

Then there are the reader reviewers in this crazy book biz I’m in. Reader reviews are kind of the equivalent of Zagat’s reviews. You don’t know who the reviewer is, or what the qualifications are, or what particular ax they may have to grind that day. In any case, just like the professional reviewers, readers will have their own opinions and view a book with eyes colored by their very personal experiences and feelings.

Knowing that, you would think we authors would take reviews with a grain of salt. The reality is I can get 100 good reviews but it is that 1 bad one that sticks with me. That is my own problem. What is not within my control to fix however, is how often review systems are flawed. Case in point, Amazon.com’s reader reviews. Here you can rate a book with stars (1 for bad, 5 for excellent) and also write a commentary review. Recently there has been a big controversy going on with books vs. eBooks regarding availability and pricing. Readers and authors are the ones most affected by this mess, but it is the publisher and the reseller in control of the situation. However, disgruntled readers have turned to giving books bad reviews to express their displeasure with the pub/reseller decisions. They could love the book, but will give it a 1 star because they are mad it is priced too high, or not available in kindle format. Unfair to the author but readers say they have no other forum to express their displeasure.In the old days, they would have likely put pen to paper and written a letter of complaint (you remember pen and paper, from grandma’s days?) But now Amazon puts that handy dandy star rating right there for you and you can complain with just one click of a mouse and then move on with your busy day… You see the issue.

Then there is the anonymity of the internet which leads people to believe that common courtesy is no longer necessary.  The internet is not a filter. It is also not one of those interrogation rooms where the reader is behind the one-way glass in a soundproof room where the author can’t see or hear them. Comments made are public and yes, authors see them.

So, what? Where does this leave us? I don’t have the answers. Chefs, actors, writers, artists… we all need the reviews for word of mouth, which as we know is the best form of advertising, and we all wear the scars from those reviews. Perhaps we need thicker skin. Maybe I need to tattoo the title of this post on my arm for when I stumble upon a negative opinion. Or I have to simply remember that reviews, good or bad, mean someone took precious time to not only read but also to write about little old me and my book, and for that I am most grateful.

Until next time.

Cat

where’s all the good stuff at?

I spent a considerable amount of years working summers at a country club to put myself through college. That meant I was constantly surrounded by the typical catering hall fare. Racks upon racks of icky, mushy prime rib which I swear is not made from the same cut or even the same animal as the grilled rib eye steaks I love so much at home. Canned mashed potatoes. Chafing dish fish. Ugh. All stuff we’d feed the guests, the leftovers of which we’d see again the next day recycled and looking even less appetizing for the staff meal, unless we got the reheated, overcooked hot dogs and hamburgers left from the golfers’ barbecue.

Anyway, that is not sexy food so why am I writing about this on the Eat Something Sexy blogs? I’ve been thinking about the years I spent at that club a lot lately. In the serendipitous way things sometimes work out, my old bar manager from the club just found me on Facebook, and with him came a whole slew of new FB friends from among the old crew I used to work with. That, just as the story I wrote and set at the country club is about to release. Funny, isn’t it? And now, being the promo ‘ho I am, I am engaging in a blog tour to promote the story because Private Lies (my country club story) is part of All Romance eBooks’ 28 Days of Heart series, and all proceeds from the 28 eBooks (released one each day in February) will go to benefit the American Heart Association. So I’ve been writing blog posts for about 2 days straight now. In fact, with blog posts dancing in my sleepless head, I rose at 430 am this morning and here I am with you now.

Anyway, the point of this predawn ramble is this–I’ve been thinking a lot about that club and how it formed who I am today and I can honestly say it changed the kind of cook and the kind of diner I am. No, I’m not talking about the chocolate mousse made from powered mix Chef Fred (picture Gordon Ramsey with a German accent) used to literally throw at us when he was angry. I’m talking about the good stuff, the stuff kept in the back. Because just like how all the best stuff happening at that club was behind the scenes, out of view of the average old man tottering in to have me refresh his Dewars on the rocks (lots of Dewars, not so many rocks), the best food was also in the back.

Paco, Johnny and the kitchen crew that worked beneath the lunatic head chef all came from the same village in Mexico. In the winter they lived a warm, carefree life in Mexico. If you wanted to reach them, you had to call the phone located in the store in town. One of them would usually be hanging out there playing dominoes. But in the summer all the men of that town would fly north to New York and live in the rooms upstairs in the clubhouse while working at the club and earning enough money to send back to their families and live on the entire year.

And with them came some of the best food I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in. It was a lucky staff member who stumbled upon the food that Paco or Johnny cooked up. It was at the club where I learned to love and make Pico de Gayo (loosely translated that is ‘the rooster’s peck’ because this dish has a kick). You could throw anything at these guys and they’d make a feast of it. After the club fishing trip, guess who cooked up the Bluefish? The greenskeeper accidentally hit a deer with his car, yeah, that got turned into stew. Fresh tomatoes from Sam the locker room attendant’s garden? They threw chopped jalepeno peppers and oil in a big bowl with the tomato wedges, someone brought in a fresh italian bread and we’d all sit around the table, and the bowl, dipping and eating with our lips burning but never happier. I was on the bar crew and when we were lucky, we’d have fresh Guacomole and homemade salsa on the bar, though I’m sure I ate more than the patrons.

There were a few club members in the know. They’d bypass the coffee shop server and head straight back to where Paco was working on the line and say, “I want what YOU guys are eating.” Smart man because as I learned during those summers, the good stuff is always kept in the back.

Cat

creativity or when the shoemaker has no shoes

Interesting thing I’ve noticed recently. When I’m feeling out of sorts, I can’t write (that part is not the revelation since I’ve known that for awhile now), but I can cook (there is your revelation). Over the holidays with the normal stress plus a whole lot extra personal stuff thrown in, writing was totally out of the question, but I churned out so many quiches and so much soup the husband finally asked me to stop. It felt cathartic. Of course I love my kitchen. I have heated marble floors that keep my feet toasty warm, big windows that look out onto my snowy yard and the barn, WiFi for the laptop so I feel connected to my online peeps, and a television for background noise. But besides all that, I think it just kept my hands occupied and my mind off whatever was bothering me.

What is most interesting is I think it is the opposite for my friend the chef. I know when he is stressed, he goes outside and works in the yard, or cleans the house, or replaces all the nails in the sheetrock with woodscrews instead…you get the idea. I guess for him, anything besides what he does for a living is his escape.

Anyway, that was my epiphany this new year. I’ve also begun an attempt to be more healthy. My friend’s family had quite a few cancer scares last year and since she has become a healthy living guru. Consequently I have gotten numerous lectures about how the artificial sweetener and creamer I prefer in my morning coffee is going to kill me. I’m not promising that I’ll reform totally but I have taken a step. I purchases a Keurig milk frother. The thing was insanely expensive but since I had a coupon and it was the week before Christmas, I treated myself to a gift. It heats and froths non-fat milk into beautiful, creamy peaks that turns coffee into a latte worthy of Starbucks, and for way cheaper. I’ve also made Chai Tea Latte at home with it. Considering the crazy prices at coffee shops nowadays, I probably paid for it already and I have to say, it feels truly decadent to have such a beautifully indulgent cup of coffee while still in my pajamas.

Yes, coffee can be sexy!

So that is my ‘state of the author’ address for this new year. I’m resolving to write every day, but also to give myself a mental break when I need it; treat myself to the good things in life (IE $80 frothers and tasty lattes); and yes, until my stress level lowers there will be lots of cooking.

Until next time,

Cat

mastering the master

The Art of French Cooking

So I got Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child for Christmas. It’s 684 pages, not counting all the index pages in the back which are numbered with Roman numerals that I can’t decipher because I went to public school. This tome weighs a good ten pounds and though I far outweigh it, it is intimidating the hell out of me.

It’s my own fault, really. When my mother called from the bookstore weeks ago and asked if I would like it for Christmas I said yes. Why? Because I love a good story and the story that surrounds this book of late is a great one.

Julie Powell back in August of 2002 decided to not only cook her way through this book, all 536 recipes in 365 days while holding down a real job, but also to blog about it in what she named ‘The Julie/Julia Project”. But that isn’t the story that gets me, it’s what happens next. She turned that year-long blog into a book, and that book became the Meryl Streep, Amy Adams movie “Julie & Julia” that everyone is talking about. Being a writer, publication stories like that fascinate me. So much so I have googled my tushy off and found the original 2002 blog, and I am reading my way through it, day by day, and totally enjoying it.

Julie is normal. She screws up the recipes, and then tells us about how when that happens, she just adds more butter and cream to try and fix it. She drops the f-word liberally, as anyone would while taking on such a monumental challenge. She calls it like she sees it, wondering at the craziness around her, such as the raw food movement that hits during her cooking experiment, or that she couldn’t find swiss cheese in her regular food store in Brooklyn but she could buy imported Fontina.

I anticipate I will enjoy her real-life blog musings far more than what I am sure is a sanitized for mainstream publishing, edited version that hit the bookshelves. She already hinted at that in the comment that the book title (Julie & Julia) is boring, the result of an editorial battle lost. And don’t we authors know all about that–choose your battles.

No, I have no plans what so ever in this lifetime to repeat Julie’s project, but I do hope to challenge myself with a few of these recipes. Looking through the book, the first thing to cross my mind was how outdated it seemed to my modern cook’s eye. I learned to cook during the dawn of olive oil, and microwaves. Julia Child wrote this book in 1961, and it is more than obvious her two favorite ingredients are butter and heavy cream.

Yet a lot of what Julia Child writes makes sense, such as when she warns against the temptation to use the food processor to blend your potato leek soup. She’s right, that one appliance means the difference between what ends up being more like runny mashed potatoes rather than a hearty soup where the potatoes and leeks are still recognizable.

I suppose if I take away a few techniques and basics, it will only help me in everything I cook. If nothing else, it will be a lesson in humility. Let’s just hope I am strong enough to withstand such a lesson. I have to wonder about that as I ignore daily the container full of cookies that I screwed up but still refuse to throw away. Who I think is going to eat them is beyond me, they taste bad and look worse, but there they sit, waiting on the counter. Perhaps humility is what both Julie and Julia are meant to teach me.

I will keep you informed of both the failures and the successes.

Humbly,

Cat

sauced cranberries

I’ve told you all already I was a foodie. I really can’t avoid it given the friends I associate with and how we all love to cook–and eat–so very much. Here’s an example… my good friend Donna is married to an executive chef, which means he is working almost every night of the week while she is home cooking for the family, and all of us too. Today I called the house and caught her in the middle of cooking for a ‘pre-Thanksgiving’ her family is having tomorrow because they all can’t be together on the traditional Thanksgiving Day. She’s making cranberry sauce, but is she following the directions on the back of the plastic bag? Oh, no. What fun would that be? Here is what she’s making. (WARNING-your mouth is going to water from reading this)

‘SAUCED’ CRANBERRY SAUCE (I named this. She may be the cook, but I’m the writer, after all!)

Overnight soak whole cranberries, white sugar, brown sugar, fresh grated nutmeg, ground allspice, ground cloves, orange zest, fresh squeezed orange juice, Bourbon, and Grand Marnier.  Slowly cook down and reduce until nice and thick. Serve warm.

Donna says, “This is so delicious, you can put it over ice cream, which I have.”  She went on to describe the marinade that she’ll be injecting in the turkey, which sounds equally as enticing, and now I am ready to get in the car and camp out at her house waiting for this meal.

Warm berries, alcohol, and spices that will smell as wonderful as it tastes on the tongue, I’m sure. Ain’t nothing wrong with that! LOL. I’m hoping to get a taste of the leftovers. I’ll report back.

Until next time,

Cat