Friday, March 6, 2015

Let’s Pretend It’s July

I think we can all agree that winter has overstayed its welcome by many weeks. ENOUGH ALREADY!!!


You might think this Avocado Mousse is a warm weather recipe, but it’s SO good that you'll be happy to have it in the house for snacking on while you’re cooped up. Also the only things you might have to run out to get are the avocados, fresh dill and a mango. (If you don’t have the tomatoes for the relish, you can substitute red pepper.)

This is wonderful to make in a loaf dish and serve sliced. Or pour half into a bowl for dipping and pipe the other half on bread, crackers, endive, celery – whatever you have. Serve the relish drizzled on top. I use a slotted spoon to dot it on. 

It's also good on toast. The relish is so pretty!

And don't waste the marinade left in the bowl. Add it to your next salad...with or without your regular dressing.

The other bonus is that you can use this same recipe and easily make a salmon mousse. Instead of the avocados, substitute a large can of salmon (get rid of the skin and bones) OR 2 small cans of tuna. Just add 1/2 teaspoon of paprika and a good pinch of cayenne and you’re good to go.

Avocado Mousse

Printable recipe here.

¼ cup chopped onion
3 tbls. lemon juice
1 envelope gelatin
½ cup boiling water
½ cup mayonnaise
2 perfectly ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1 tsp. salt (You need ALL the salt)
2 tbls. chopped fresh dill
1 cup heavy cream or 1 cup plain yogurt (any kind you like) or half of each

Put onion and lemon juice in blender. Sprinkle gelatin over. Pour over ½ cup boiling water. Cover and blend for 30 seconds or until completely blended.

Add other ingredients, except cream or yogurt. Blend. Scrape down sides of blender and blend again.

Pour in cream and/or yogurt. Blend until completely smooth. Pour into 1½ quart loaf pan which has been rinsed out with cold water. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Carefully unmold onto wet plate. Serve with Mango Relish.

Mango Relish
(adapted from Epicurious’ Papaya Tomato Relish)

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup diced grape or plum tomatoes
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1/2 cup diced mango
3 tbls. chopped red onion
2 tsps. chopped fresh dill

Whisk together vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl until sugar is dissolved. Then stir in tomatoes or red pepper, mango, onion, and dill. Let stand at room temperature for an hour or two until ready to serve.

NOTE:  You can substitute papayas, nectarines or even peaches for the mango in the relish.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Happy Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday!

Yay! Today is Pancake Day and no matter what your diet of the week is, there’s a pancake for you! In fact, there are as many versions of pancakes as there are people eating them. Gluten-free is probably the most common specialized diet situation these days, right? But there is one thing - although I think whatever food journey anyone is on is great, I do have a slight beef with the whole gluten-free movement.

Obviously, if you have a medical condition that requires you to eliminate certain foods, you’ve got to do that. But for the other (vast majority) of gluten-free eaters, the thing that bothers me the most is the thought that JUST BECAUSE SOMETHING IS GLUTEN-FREE means it’s good for you. That’s so not true.

I hate that as long as a package says gluten-free, no matter how processed it is, people think it’s okay. The fact that you’re buying something in a package is the first hint that something might be wrong. Some who would never buy a cake mix, for example, suddenly think that a gluten-free cake mix is fine, that it’s healthy and maybe even good for you. Arrgghh!

People should eat and buy whatever they want, but I just don’t like that a (somewhat garbage-y) food labelled gluten-free is considered somehow holier than other just regular garbage-y foods.

If I had to pick my favorite weirdo diet at the moment, it would be the Paleo one. It’s actually far more restrictive than a gluten-free plan. It’s basically meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, but I like the emphasis on fresh food. Of course, a lot of these “diet plans” are aspirational, whether Paleo, gluten-free or whatever. They’re not something that’s easy to live with 100% of the time. The main thing to me is to eat real food…most of the time.

Soooo to come back to Shrove Tuesday, here is a recipe for some super-duper Paleo Pancakes, which gluten-free folks will love as well as just regular people who don’t need lists or books to decide what to eat.

One caveat to these pancakes – they are a pain to turn. You need a super skinny spatula (as in pancake turner, not a rubber scraper) and patience. Oh, and the longer and slower you can cook them, the easier they are to turn over. BUT these WILL be a hit, including for those whose eating habits are slightly annoying.

I serve them with a sensational and sensationally easy blueberry sauce. (I always freeze blueberries in the summer, so this is made with fresh or fresh/frozen blueberries. The ones in the bag will do, but these are better…)

Note: Don’t skip toasting the almonds. There are so few ingredients here that they add an important punch of flavor. Do a big batch at one time and keep the extras in a tightly sealed jar. 

Paleo Pancakes (makes 10 pancakes)

10 toasted almonds 
1 banana
1 egg
½ tsp. cinnamon 
Blueberry Sauce 
1 cup fresh and/or frozen blueberries
1 tsp. cinnamon
optional: if you feel like it, add a nice slice of lemon peel before cooking

Place almonds in food processor and process until fine. Add remaining ingredients. Process until smooth.

Spray a large nonstick pan with Pam. Heat on medium. Using a large serving spoon, spoon 5 pancakes into pan.  


Cook on medium low heat for 5 minutes. After checking to see if the bottoms are browned, flip them very carefully. (It isn’t easy. And I usually flip them in the order I placed them in the pan.) Cook for another 5 minutes on medium low.

Turn on toaster oven to 200°F. Cover toaster oven pan with new piece of foil. Place cooked pancakes on pan and keep them warm while cooking the second batch.

Spoon remaining batter in nonstick pan. Cook as above. 

For blueberry sauce, while the first batch of pancakes is cooking, place blueberries and cinnamon in 2 cup Pyrex jug or 2 cup microwavable bowl. 

Cook on high for one minute. Stir well. Cover with paper towel or wax paper. Cook for another minute. Stir well. Remove from microwave and set aside. (If you have a very powerful microwave, do the last minute in 30 second intervals.) Pour on top of pancakes just before serving. 

More notes: If I want to continue to cook the pancakes just a bit, I move them to one side of the pan, while I cook the new batch. 

The first pancakes usually come out like this:

 The second batch like this:

Both are good.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Trouble And Turmoil Of Renovating

The fun part of a renovation is that just like having an appendicitis or falling off a roof or surviving a hurricane, it gives you lots of common ground with other people who have gone through the same thing. What’s better than sharing war stories? Of course, it bores the people around you to death. Take a look at this New Yorker cartoon. It’s perfect.

So I will (try to) keep my renovation story short. But what's a renovation without an incompetent contractor, one fired architect, lots of delays, crooked angles and millions of inspections? Actually the architect is a funny story...

I hired the architect first (before the contractor), because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I found a great woman. We were very simpatico and she came up with some gorgeous plans. (We were just adding a small bump-out and having the bathroom switch places with the laundry room, which was next to the guest room. Plus we added a powder room.)

I thought things were going well, but then my architect kept taking longer and longer to get back to me about the latest drawings and such. Finally it got so bad that I had to fire her. But we ended on a perfectly civilized note, with her admitting that my job was really small and that it had taken a back burner to her other projects. I reported this to H(usband), who you have to know was not involved in the planning, execution or ANYTHING having to do with the reno. (In other words, he thought the whole thing was dumb and didn’t care about half-dressed guests appearing in the kitchen.) When I told him about the firing, he said, “DARN! I was sending her a hundred dollars a week NOT to answer your emails or phone calls.” Har-har.

A new architect, who was great, came on board and there were no problems until I realized the contractor had little idea of what he was doing. My next mistake was keeping HIM too long. But in my defense, we were planning a wedding at the same time and, luckily, I did find someone to finish up everything and correct many (but not all) of his transgressions. Unhappily, the renovation that was supposed to be finished in July WELL BEFORE my daughter’s September wedding did not get completed until 2 1/2 months AFTER the wedding and TWO days before Thanksgiving. It was actually done 16 hours before the houseguests arrived who were supposed to be using this new guestroom suite.

I would never recommend planning a wedding and doing a renovation at the same time. But in that vein, I’ve come to believe that picking the right contractor is as essential to a successful renovation as picking the right groom or bride is to a successful marriage. If you have any doubts, don't do it! You have to live with your decision. And in both cases, picking poorly can be a costly mistake.

Anyway, here are a few before and after pictures, and, yes, I was responsible for that “wonderful” sponge painting (back in the 90’s) in the old bathroom. (I really liked it for the longest time.)

This was the old bathroom:


Note the beautiful drawing on the left:

That was the first nude I ever did in art class when I was an artsy pre-teen. The funny thing is that I drew it on a tiny section of a huge piece of paper. That was as far as my talents could take me at the time (and forever).

Here is the new bathroom, which gives my guests (and me!) all the privacy we could want:


Old guest room:
 New guest room:

Old laundry room:


New laundry room:


New powder room:

Anyhoo...All's well that ends well. (It's been a few months, so I can say that now...) The new spaces function exactly as I hoped they would and no ceilings have fallen down...yet.  As much as I love to go on about my renovation, I also love to hear about other people's. I hope all your remodeling dreams have come true with a minimum of drama...and ineptitude.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Wedding And The Reno (One was was a test of endurance...)

Don’t faint…Here I am after months of blog silence. Hello again! My main problem was just plain human nature. The longer I didn’t blog…the longer I didn’t blog. Gosh, I’ve missed you all, but I’ve been lurking for the longest time and I know lots of things that have been going on. ;-)   (Rach, I’m glad you’re feeling better, ALOHA, Em! and Hi Tom!)

I mentioned last summer(!!!) that I was busy planning my daughter’s wedding and living through a renovation. Both were accomplished - the wedding mostly without a hitch and the renovation with MANY problems. But at the end of the day, everything came together beautifully. My daughter and son-in-law’s gorgeous wedding was a total love fest. Everybody was happy and happy to be there. AND I now have a guest room where people staying over don’t have to practically walk into the kitchen naked to do their ablutions. They have their own PRIVATE bathroom. (The reno nightmare also included a revamped laundry room and powder room.)

Sooo….here are some wedding pictures. (I was going to show only a few, but no mother of the bride has that much self-restraint. I’ll get back to food blogging next time…Actually, I’ll probably share some renovation pictures too and THEN we can talk food!)