Making Dinner a Matter of Great Taste!!!


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Lately, I have been dedicating my evenings to preparing dinner as if I were carefully orchestrating an epicurean feast. Keeping basic ingredients on hand allows me to plan each meal when drafting menus for the week. This saves time and gives a frame of reference while cooking, it also allows for variation if I change my mind during the day and decide to cook something else.

I frequent the Asian market in our area several times a month to purchase the freshest vegetables, and the most unique herbs and fruits. My pantry is filled with fingerling and red potatoes; huge bunches of onions, yams, along with brown and jasmine rice. Basil, sage tarragon and shallots are ingredients kept on hand to be used for chicken stuffing or to enhance pasta sauces. Heads of romaine and butter lettuce are for quick salads, and by adding eggs, olives; a bit of ham or chicken becomes a meal. I make my own dressings; one of the creamy styles I like is mixing a bit of mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar.  Next grate a bit of Parmesan cheese, add a bit of chopped garlic, crumbled bacon, salt, pepper and mix.

Prepping food before work is a must. By rinsing carrots and celery, then placing them in a zip-lock bag they can be used for soups and stews or chop and serve as crudities, which can be a great snack before dinner. Pre-cooking smoked hams and meats early in the morning also help save time with the evening prep.

When I am truly exhausted and want a deliciously hearty meal, I turn to soups. I made a ground beef and vegetable soup playing with leftover’s one Saturday afternoon and this tasty meal has become one of my restorative mainstays of the kitchen.  In a three-quart pot, brown and drain fat from beef. In a skillet add a tablespoon or two of canola oil, then sauté onions, celery, leeks and carrots until translucent. Add the veggies to the pot with the beef. Next take two Idaho potatoes peel and chop, then add to the skillet. You will not need additional oil; all you want to do is release the essence of the potatoes by stir-frying for a few minutes. Add the potatoes to the beef and veggie mixture, with a quart of broth and one bay leaf. Place in dried thyme and fresh rosemary, along with a bit of kosher salt and pepper. The final flavor is adding a can of crushed tomatoes. Let the soup simmer for about 30- 40 minutes, then serve.

For another quick dinner I may sauté cremini and/or white mushrooms in butter, add a bit of crème fraiche and sherry. Serve over crusty bread or toast with a side dish of asparagus or string beans.

Try these recipes, by keeping a few basic ingredients in your larder and fridge. Most of us are under tremendous pressure at work and time is a critical element when getting dinner ready each evening. By having these items available, a delicious meal can be created without a lot fuss.

Bon Appetite!!

K

Bonne Année 2013

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Happy New Year!! It has been so cloudy and windy the past few days in Northern Virginia with extremely dark skies. I started the year off by making my way into the kitchen to cook up a batch of split pea soup with ham-bone left over from the Christmas feast. The tradition of many southerners, my mother included, women have always made black eyed peas (Hoppin’ John) at the start of the year. The peas are symbolic of coins so, a shiny penny is usually added to the pot and whoever receives the coin will have an economically successful year. The dish is also severed with greens, preferably  collards which are suppose to add to one’s wealth since they are the color of money. My mom would add to the meal by cooking okra instead of the customary rice. Well…enough on the history of food!!!

I started the day by cooking the ham bone for several hours. It is imperative that you get the essence of the bone into that broth. While the meat fell off the bone and into the stew, I prepped the garlic, celery and onions to give an added flavor. Next the fresh ingredients were chosen from the garden; a bay leaf, rosemary and sage were added to the pot. While this magical brew simmered, another batch of celery, onion, carrot  with white baby potatoes are cut into bit sized pieces and added. The potato lends a richness to the stew by thickening the broth. I have had split pea soup made by aunt’s and various friends of the family who are all excellent cooks. These women were renowned and very accomplished in the kitchen, but their broths were always a bit soupy. I like a bit of a bite to any of the food I prep!!!

With my twist of adding potatoes the soup was more like a velvety stew…absolutely delicious!!! I also made a quick batch of buttermilk cornbread to go with the meal. There is nothing better than a one pot meal. Clean up is easy and everyone gets a bit of vegetables with hearty ham in their serving.

Enjoy challenging, or should I say changing up established traditions. The idea is to stand firm in your beliefs, especially in your kitchen. Cook the dishes you are confident preparing, and you will turn out successful meals every time!!!

Bon Appetite!!!

K

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