I know I’m ten days early, but I wanted to share this foodie valentine with you. If you are not familiar with Anthony Bourdain, you should pick up a copy of his latest book, Medium Raw. Billed as, “a bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook,” Bourdain does not disappoint his readers, who know him as a bold writer that does not know the meaning of soft-serve.

After penning his best-selling Kitchen Confidential, which, among other things, instructed us as to why we should never order fish on Monday, Bourdain has spent the past decade as a television personality and food writer. I had recently finished Medium Raw when I happened to be watching a Top Chef marathon with my daughter. In one particular episode, Bourdain appeared with Justo Thomas, a Dominican seafood butcher of whom he writes about almost reverently in chapter 18.

Thomas is a virtuoso with a fish knife. I read with fascination as Bourdain described the machine-like precision in which Thomas cut between 750-1,000 pounds of seafood a day at New York’s acclaimed Le Bernardin restaurant. According to Bourdain, when Thomas takes a vacation, it takes three men to accomplish the same task while he is away. I had recently taken a cooking class where we saw a 20-minute demo of a 28-pound halibut sliced, filleted and portioned. Thomas can zip through a fish the same size in roughly eight minutes.

After the Top Chef segment was over, I encouraged my daughter to read (at a minimum) Bourdain’s homage to Thomas. She was immediately hooked. Like me, she couldn’t put the book down. When I could hear her laugh out loud, I knew it wasn’t just me; this book was a winner.

Bourdain isn’t for everybody. He has what my mother calls a “potty mouth.” For those with “clutch-my-pearls” sensibilities, I have to warn you; this book is laced with F-bombs. That’s just the way he rolls. For those who can get past that, Bourdain does not disappoint. His stream of consciousness style is deliciously descriptive–bordering on food porn. His opinion never fails to entertain. Bourdain is one of those writers who is blessed with the ability to write without filter. He freely gives his opinion on a variety of subjects ranging from the bastardization of the hamburger, why Alice Waters is out of touch, the villainous James Beard House, and a cootie-infested Ronald McDonald. Oh, and don’t disrespect your server…

It’s a can’t-put-down read for foodies. Bourdain, now the father of a two-year-old daughter, has mellowed. Like most of us who woke up wondering how the hell we got on AARP’s mailing list, Bourdain’s life experiences have given him a unique perspective on his passion and on those who are industry “leaders.” He’s shaken the demons of youth and is here to tell us exactly what he thinks about it. Bourdain’s latest is not merely Medium Raw, it’s well done.

Cannellini Dip

If you are like me, you are thinking ahead to Super Bowl. What to bake? What to serve? What to make and take? For those of us trying to stick to our New Year resolution, the Super Bowl ritual can be a veritable caloric minefield. So many dips–so little Weight Watcher points.

One of the tried and true dips at my place is hummus. There are some Greek ladies who work in the kitchen at the place I used to work and they make the best hummus. Both named Eleni; they were cagey about giving out the recipe (probably because it is in their heads–not written down anywhere) but I kept asking for hints. I made many a batch until I got it right.

So now that I trying to cut back, what is a girl to do when she has a schmeck for hummus?! Answer: Cannellini dip!

My husband and I were over at Damon and Terri’s for the New Year and were served (among several yummy things) a simple cannellini dip with the antipasto. The next day, as I was journaling my food intake, I discovered that cannellini beans have almost half the points as chick peas. When you figure you aren’t adding the tahini, the following recipe I developed has about 27 points in total. If you exercise restraint and eat in teaspoon increments, the cost in calories is very palatable.

Cannellini Dip (makes 1 cup)

One 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, (from 1/2 a lemon)
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish
1 Tablespoon minced fresh oregano (can use dried in a pinch)
1/3 Cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons pignoli (pine) nuts, toasted

Drain and rinse beans. Place in bowl of food processor or blender. Add garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and lemon juice. Process until completely pureed. Stop once or twice to scrape down sides of the bowl. While processor is running, add the olive oil in a steady stream. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Place in serving bowl, garnish with pine nuts and a pinch of minced parsley. You can serve with crudites or go with pita wedges.

Today is one of those miserable weather days. Mother nature can’t decide whether to snow, sleet or rain. Gloomy skies dictate a cheerful touch to this week’s post. The color of this butternut squash soup is sure to cure to winter doldrums.

This soup is really easy to make. I discovered it a few years ago in the New York Times food section so I can’t take credit for its development. But if you are looking for lighter fare, this soup is sure to make it to your go-to recipe collection. I’ve made minor adaptations to make it even more calorie-friendly.

This year, I’ve started my new year’s weight loss resolution. I joined hubby and now attend Weight Watchers. He’s lost mucho poundage and I am playing catch up. This soup is my first discovery in low point recipes. The recipe contains no butter or cream although you would swear that it does. According to my calculations, each cup has only four points per serving! You can substitute a rich chicken stock, but this may add more points (fat) to the recipe.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion chopped
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger, grated with a microplane
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 pound southern yams, peeled and diced
8 oz. russet potato, peeled and diced
6 cups boiling water
6 chicken-flavored bullion cubes

Set your tea kettle to boil. Add 6 cups boiling water to 6 bullion cubes. Stir until dissolved. Set aside.

In a heavy soup pot, heat the oil, add the onions and saute until tender. Add the grated ginger and stir briefly. Add the chopped veggies and chicken bullion mixture. Bring mixture to simmer and cook until veggies are tender (about an hour).

Working in small batches, puree the veggies and liquid in the blender, or use an immersion blender right in your soup pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy! Serves 6.

Happy New Year!

Final grades are in. I’ve finished my first semester as an adjunct professor. It was much more work than I anticipated, but the ride was fun. I enjoyed working with the students and they’ve asked me to do it again next semester.

After my professorial hiatus, Plucky’s back. But I have to admit that it might be more apropos to call me the Plumpy Gastronome, as the months have taken their toll on my waistline. There’s a whole lot more of me to love and I’m gonna’ have to do something about it. The trick is to not let my weight loss aspirations throw a damper on my work here on the blog.

So suffice it to say, I’m back and plan on blogging without interruption now that I have the hang of grading papers and such. Thanks to those of you who pestered my mother for updates on my return to the blogosphere. She faithfully relayed all your words of encouragement.

It’s 2011 and time for a new culinary joyride!

Well it’s been too long since I posted last. My teaching has proved to take up more of my time than I thought it would. This first semester is going to be a heavy load but after that, I’ll be able to do more cooking and photography.

In the meantime, I’ve opened up a Twitter account so I can still keep in touch, albeit more briefly. You can view my Twitter feed on the right side of this web page. I’ll post when I can, but in the meantime, I’ll be tweeting.

In other news: Mom’s coming for Thanksgiving! I’m gearing up to make the Faworki. Will we get it right this time? Stay tuned.

Orange Fennel Salad

Permit me to make a football analogy. If life was like Sunday Night Football, I would be living in the culinary Red Zone.

Geographically speaking, I live in the sweet spot for grocery stores. I have a Trader Joe’s, a Whole Foods and a Wegmans; all located within four miles of my house. If I have a yen for something or need an esoteric ingredient, I can usually get my hands on it within 20 minutes. Yes, I am spoiled.

Many of you may have shopped at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, as they are national chains. Then there is Wegmans, a regional chain based in Rochester, N.Y. I feel sorry for anyone who has never been to Wegmans. You need andouille sausage? They got it. You need duck pate? Yep, they got that too. You want chanterelle mushrooms? They got em, and six other varieties to boot. Lapsang Souchong tea? Uh, huh… Can you tell this post is turning into an “Ode to Wegmans?”

I naturally belong to their Shoppers’ Club. As a perk, they send you their Menu magazine, which I think comes out quarterly. It is a beautifully produced publication which contains great information and some super recipes. The winter 2010 issue is now out and it has an Italian theme. I made the Orange Fennel Salad on page 70 (see original recipe) with a few twists. It is quite light and a refreshing change to the cloying sweetness of most salads. We paired this salad with last week’s Bacon-wrapped scallops. Enjoy!

Orange Fennel Salad
(adapted from Wegmans)

2 navel oranges
1 small bulb fennel
1/4 red onion
1 tsp. lemon-flavored olive oil (I find mine at Wegmans)
2 big handfuls baby spinach
1 handful baby arugula
3 tablespoons pignoli nuts, toasted and cooled

Using a zester, remove the zest from one orange into a two-quart bowl. Cut both oranges in quarters and use a grapefruit knife to segment the fruit. Be sure you work over the bowl to catch the juice that is produced from the oranges. Squeeze the rinds over the bowl to remove any remaining juice.

Using a very sharp knife, or better yet, a mandoline, thinly slice the fennel and onion. Place in the bowl, along with oranges, juice, lemon olive oil and salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Just before serving, place your greens in a large bowl. Drain the juice (dressing) from the fennel mixture into the large bowl. Toss the greens to coat.

Plate the tossed greens on a chilled serving platter. Top with the drained orange/fennel/onion mixture. Sprinkle with toasted pignoli nuts and serve.

Summer is winding down. We’ve scheduled the pool closing and now we look at our grill with renewed interest. During the next few weeks, it will be the only thing between us and winter.

My husband was jonesing for bacon-wrapped scallops last night. It has been a long while since we’ve indulged ourselves in these tasty little morsels. These are great for a main dish, or you can serve them up as an appetizer.  We served them up with a nice salad and called it a meal.

The nights are getting cooler. Get your grill on while you can!

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup minced scallion
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
dash Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all in a bowl, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add 15 large sea scallops. Marinate one hour.

You will need one pound of thin-sliced bacon. Wrap each scallop with one slice bacon. Thread on to l8-inch metal skewer. Grill the threaded scallops over medium coals for 15 minutes or until bacon is crisp. Slide off metal skewers onto heated platter and serve.

Note: I ran out of regular Dijon and had to use whole grain Dijon with great results.

Cookbook News!

September is here and I have news!  The cookbook is headed to the printer. Advance copies of Tea Time at Peachfield may now be ordered by visiting the Colonial Dames website. Delivery will be in early November. Your purchase helps support the Dames’ museum properties and educational programs.

In other news, I am embarking on a new adventure. I have accepted an offer to teach public relations at a local university as an adjunct faculty. I am looking forward to working with my students. I won’t be a stranger. Keep visiting!

Last weekend, my husband and I were invited to a very special party.  A colleague (in the words of Tom Petty),  is “runnin down a dream.” Saturday’s bash was a shakedown cruise for Damon’s new toy; an 18.5-foot custom-built trailer outfitted as a top-of-the-line kitchen.

If you are into kitchens, this thing is sweet. It’s got diamond plate throughout, refrigerator, freezer, triple sink, 750 bazillion BTUs of space shuttle range power, grill, fire suppression system and… (drum roll), a panini press. The thing is completely self-contained with power, potable and waste water, A/C and heater.  But wait… there’s more!  It’s even got a water closet for those times when a man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do.

Damon is a chef at the place I last worked. He’s been talking about getting this “nomadic kitchen” for months. No, he’s not giving up his day job; but Damon and his wife Terri are among those taking a pass at opening typical brick and mortar restaurants and opting for their own gourmet food truck businesses.  It’s the hot new trend in cities all across the country. Even the Food Network’s jumping on the bandwagon with their new reality food show, The Great Food Truck Race. The food coming out of these mobile kitchens is top rate. Before you know it, Zagat will be conducting reviews. Damon and Terri are now weekend food warriors.

Damon made all kinds of stuff for his guests.  One of my favorites is his red pepper panini with arugula, fresh mozzarella and balsamic glaze.  He also made a braised chicken with fennel.  I was two-fisting my way though the menu. I think I embarrassed myself.

It’s so nice to see my friends make their dream actually happen.  I wish them every success.

One of the things that Mormons are well-known for is how well they take care of each other.  When my dad was very ill, the family spent ten hours a day at the hospital. There was not much time to think about much else. Enter the sisters of the Relief Society…

In my mom’s neighborhood, this cadre of ladies organized themselves and brought enough food to feed an army of folks. After eating all that hospital food, it was nice to have a home-cooked meal waiting when you got home.

One of these ladies was was a gal named Els-Britt, who is of Finnish ancestry. She brought over this to-die-for almond cookie. I took one bite and went into food-nirvana. For a couple of moments, I forgot all my cares and savored this buttery, almondy, crunchy-yet-puffy cookie bar. I had to have the recipe.

Brew yourself a cup of herb tea and munch your cares away with this one.
Kiitos, Els-Britt!

Finnish Almond Puff

Shortbread Crust:
½ cup butter
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons water
pinch of salt

½ cup butter
1 cup water
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup flour
3 eggs

Sugar Glaze:
1 ½ cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 – 2 tablespoons water
Slivered almonds

1. Preheat over to 350-degrees Cut butter into flour and salt until well blended. Sprinkle water over mixture and mix with fork. Pat into 9 x 13 pan.

2. Prepare puff. Heat butter and water to rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in extract and flour. Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs one at a time until smooth.

3. Spread mixture over shortbread crust, covering completely.

4. Bake 60 minutes until topping is crisp and brown. Cool.

5. Prepare sugar glaze. Combine ingredients. Mix until smooth. Drizzle over cooled puff. Sprinkle generously with slivered almonds. Cut into finger- sized bars and serve.