Retro Recipes and Traditional Fare

ImageFor this recipe I defrosted two chicken breast halves overnight. And with a jar of capers from the pantry, I thought I'd make a simple chicken piccata. I chose to use one of my favorite flours, Wondra. It gives such a unique coating to meats when pan fried. It's usually used for making gravies because it dissolves instantly without forming lumps, but as the name implies, it works wonders on just about anything.

To serve with this quick meal, I had a bunch of white asparagus I bought last week. I know they're not in season in the Northeast, but at least they were from California. And they were on sale too. The spears of asparagus, steamed just until tender but with a little crunch, nicely complement the pan-fried chicken. If cooked just right, the breasts should be crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. Make sure you let the breasts rest, like with any meat, so that the internal juices redistribute. This recipe is easy to do and so rewarding at the table.

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ImageAs I was making my Shepherd's pie for our book club supper last night, I started to nibble thoughtfully on a celery stick and realized with quite an epiphany what a maligned and ignored vegetable the poor celery is. All due credit to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who said, famously, "Celery is a bit like a gym membership." The crunch is the thing, isn't it? It's the minxy little crunch that gets you every time.

Which led (as it does, stay with me here) to my driving home this morning down the CA 170 (my very favorite freeway) absolutely ravenous after schooling three horses and wondering what could prevent me from stopping at a fast food drive-thru. Cut to twenty minutes later and a plate adorned with a skinny version of a Waldorf salad sits in front of me, proud as can be. Easy and inadvertently calorie-conscious (as I couldn't find any mayo in the bloody fridge). Here's how you make this excruciatingly simple, scrumptious, crunchy lunch:

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roastbeefappThis is one of the simplest recipes but always a crowd pleaser. Everything can be picked up at the grocery store – unless you’re in the mood to roast your own peppers – and assembled quickly at home. The recipe can easily be increased to make as many servings as your gathering requires. Trader Joes makes a great Fire Roasted Red Bell Pepper if you happen to have one nearby.

Rare Roast Beef with Boursin and Red Bell Pepper Appetizers

Makes 12 pieces

12 slices dark pumpernickel bread or rye cocktail bread

1/2 cup Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs cheese, at room temperature

6 thinly sliced pieces deli rare roast beef, cut in half

1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips

3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or dill

Fresh ground black pepper

1. Spread each piece of bread with 2 teaspoons of Boursin cheese and place piece roast beef. Top with 3 pepper strips and sprinkle with thyme or dill and a few grinds of black pepper. Refrigerate for up to 3 hours and bring to room temperature before serving.

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“Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year… Rice for riches and peas for peace.” – Old Southern saying for New Year’s Menu

Collard greens, black eyed peas, cornbread and pork are the foodstuffs of the South, rich in legend, lore, and superstition. Money or not, every Southern family I know dines on these same vittles for their New Year’s supper. Not too poor of eating if I say so myself.

According to this Farmer, the New Year’s Day menu is a Southern supper at its finest. Steeped in tradition, flavored with history, and doused with a touch of superstition, this meal encompasses the South’s ebb and flow of classicism and eccentricity–a meal of our heritage. Here in America’s Deep South, the cultures of Europe, Africa and the Native Americans combine with their respected refinements and sentimentalities making this meal fit to usher in a new year.

Growing up in rural Middle Georgia, we knew our food’s legacy before it arrived on our tables. This Farm to Table movement of late has always been the custom for those of us raised in a more bucolic fashion. We know our farmers and growers. In his blessings before a meal, my brother-in-law’s father always gives thanks for “not only the hands that prepared the food but grew it as well...” whereas our New Year’s meal is of no exception.

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orange-mousse-016b-1024x682Many years ago, my mother-in-law’s niece made a trip to England. She brought two gifts back for my mother-in-law — a Bone China tea cup and saucer and a cookbook. I was the lucky daughter-in-law who got both of her English treasures after she died.

I pulled “Cook in Your Castle” off the shelf this week. After paging through the section on desserts, I finally decided on 10 Downing Street Frozen Orange Mousse, a recipe from Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister at the time the book of recipes was compiled.

There were a couple of things about the recipe that worried me a bit. First, I noticed it called for gelatin. I don’t use gelatin very often. The recipe didn’t explain how to dissolve it before adding it to the mixing bowl.

I wound up putting 2 tablespoons of cool water into a custard cup. I sprinkled the packet of gelatin over the water and mixed it with a fork. The gelatin immediately absorbed the water and became an ugly, clumpy mass. I left it sit for 5 minutes and, in the meantime, heated some water in a small saucepan on the stove. Just before the water came to a boil, I removed the saucepan from the heat and set the custard cup holding the clumpy gelatin in the water that came halfway up the sides of the bowl. As I stirred the gelatin mixture, it began to dissolve and become liquid. Smooth and lump-less liquid. The mousse turned out perfectly light and lovely.

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