Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wrapped Asparagus Spears in Puff Pastry and Desert Landscapes

Wrapped Asparagus Spears In Puff Pastry
Cook’s Notes: 1 puff pastry sheet makes 12 and you will need 6 slices of deli ham cut in half. If using thin spears 2 can be wrapped in puff pastry. 
Since I had pastry sheets thawed I applied the same principle using a shamrock cookie cutter. Imagine the possibilities with so many different cookie cutters! 
  • 1 bunch of asparagus-spears with thin stalks
  • 6-12 thin slices of deli maple ham
  • Soft cheese e.g. Havarti cut ½ x 2 inch pieces 
  • Dijon mustard
  • 1 box thawed Puff Pastry sheets makes 24 or 1 sheet makes 12 asparagus puff pastry. 
  • Egg wash
  • Sesame seeds
  • Grated Parmesan cheese or a spice called Garlic Bread Sprinkle
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  • Wrap 1-2 asparagus spears with ½ slice maple ham. 

  • Using a pastry wheel cut pastry sheet into thirds vertically, then into fourths horizontally making a total of 12 pieces. Brush each pastry sheet with the Dijon mustard. Lay asparagus wrapped ham spear in middle of pastry sheet. 
  • Add piece of cheese on the asparagus and wrap the asparagus/ham spear in the pastry stretching to make sides join together. Leave asparagus tips exposed. 
  • Place asparagus bundles seam side down on parchment paper. 
  • Brush pastry with an egg wash. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese or a spice; Garlic Bread Sprinkles. 
  • Bake for 14-16 minutes or until puffy and golden brown.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication 
-Leonardo Da Vinci
The Desert in Bloom
With record high temperatures the desert landscape is exploding with color and fragrance ushering in an early spring.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hearts West Meets Frontier Fare

Meet Chris Enss, author of Hearts West 
I was still caught up in the excitement of exploring Wild West book offerings at the Tucson Book Festival when I met author Chris Enss. She was selling her books right around the corner from Sherry Monahan, author of "Frontier Fare". 

Chris Enss is a New York Times Best Selling author, a scriptwriter and comedienne who has written for television and film, and performed on cruise ships and on stage. She has worked with award-winning musicians, writers, directors, producers, and as a screenwriter for Tricor Entertainment, but her passion lies in telling the stories of the men and women who shaped the history and mythology of the American West.

"I'm inspired to dig into the personal lives of the westbound folks I find ordinary because their drive to settle in a new land was so compelling. Whether they were actresses, teachers, hopeful gold miners or journalists, they wanted to go west and struggled to get there."
Follow this link for a more in depth interview by Candy Moulton from (Oct. 2. 2012) with Chris Enss
Enss's feature story "What History Taught Me" was published in the March 30, 2010 issue of "True West" I liked her straight-forward no nonsense answer 
"What history has taught me is once you get past the heroics, the people who blazed a trail across the frontier were no different than people today. They wanted better for their families, struggled economically and fought hard for a better way of life."
Enss has written more than 20 books on the subject of women in the Old West, and has collaborated with producer Howard Kazanjian on four books, including two about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Her list of published books is impressive. Check her  blogsite

When you explore Enss's  very creative website be sure to click on author button for photos of the author dressed in period costumes. She lives and breathes the Wild West past. 
Most extraordinary and compelling to read in this book were the stories of mail order brides who came west for a better life. Many found their soul mates while others found themselves in desperate situations. Complete with actual advertisements from both women seeking husbands and males seeking brides, New York Times bestselling book ''Hearts West" includes twelve stories of courageous mail order brides and their exploits. Some were fortunate enough to marry good men and live happily ever after; still others found themselves in desperate situations that robbed them of their youth and sometimes their lives.
When all those men wound up on the frontier working gold claims, building businesses, and starting farms and ranches, the one thing that was in very short supply was women. It wasn't long until weekly newspapers like the Matrimonial News began circulation in an attempt to match men and women in marital bliss.
The Matrimonial News, a San Francisco match making newspaper, was dedicated to promoting honorable matrimonial engagements through personal advertisements. It seemed to me this newspaper was the forerunner of all the matchmaking/computer dating services we have today. Candidates were screened and ads were numbered for publication. 
I should think this woman would get a quick response
I am a lonely, unencumbered widow;age 48; weight 165;height, 3 feet 6 inches; big blue eyes; brown hair; fair complexion; American; religion, Methodist. I have property worth $30, 000. A sunny disposition; considered very good looking. Would like to hear from some good business man. Object, matrimony.
page 96 "Hearts West"    
Enss tells the reader that it was estimated in the three decades (1870's, '80s '90s) the paper was in existence, more than 2,600 couples who advertised with the newspaper corresponded, exchanged photos and eventually married. 
The book is a quick read at 108 pages and gives a lens into a fascinating piece of history. The book will whet your appetite to seek out  more information on mail order brides. The National Archive Department in Washington believes that mail-order brides produced a high percentage of permanent marriages. Advertisements placed in papers were candid and direct in their explanation of exactly what they wanted and expected from a prospective  spouse. 
Now here is where "Hearts West" meets "Frontier Fare."
The last chapter of "Frontier Fare" Holidays and Celebrations in the West features Weddings on the Frontier. Often mail order brides stepped off the train or stagecoach and were immediately hustled down the street to a justice of peace to get married. The ceremonies were quiet affairs with small if any receptions. But some mail order brides found housing and took time to get to know their suitor before the wedding, which often took place in a home followed by a dinner. According to Monahan, chicken frequently appeared on the wedding menu. She posted a recipe for chicken salad adapted from Omaha, Nebraska's World Herald July 1, 1895. 
Cook's notes: Since I did not have all the necessary ingredients to make homemade mayonnaise I substituted store bought mayonnaise. Two chopped hard boiled eggs, a bit of fresh parsley, dill and mustard were my additions.
Chicken Salad-serves 2
2 cups cooked chicken, cut or torn into bite size pieces
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 -1/2 cup mayonnaise
lettuce leaves
capers, optional for garnish
Combine chicken, celery and mayonnaise in a bowl.  Place a scoop of chicken salad on a lettuce leaf and garnish with a few capers.  
Homemade Mayonnaise
1 hard boiled egg yolk
1 raw egg yolk
1/2 tsp. salt
dash cayenne pepper
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1.2 tsp. yellow mustard
1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
2 cups oil
Combine the eggs in a bowl and whip well. Add salt, pepper, vinegar,  mustard and lemon juice. Slowly add the oil, drop by drop, while whipping the entire time. Do this until all the oil is gone and you have a smooth, creamy mayonnaise.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Baked Pork Chops with Peach Whiskey Sauce-Roasted Red Potatoes and Asparagus

As the snow melts and daylight stretches into evening, people who like to eat with the seasons know what's coming: asparagus.
Asparagus is a spring vegetable. Take advantage of grocery sales and head to the kitchen for a first taste of spring.

Asparagus 101: Choose spears with bright green stalks and purple tinted tips. Make sure asparagus is dry before using as you don't want water to steam the asparagus in oven. If grilling asparagus make sure the heat is not too hot and use spears that are thicker . 
Baked Pork Chops with Peach Whiskey Sauce
Asparagus and Roasted Red Potatoes 
Cook's notes: When it's too cold to grill but you're craving barbecue, turn on the oven and bake pork chops in a sweet and spicy sauce.  Your taste buds might just think its spring.
I am not a food scientist on the 'why' but the combination of flavors using whiskey, cinnamon and balsamic vinegar were amazing when put together.  You just might find yourself licking the pan.  A ham steak could be substituted for the pork chops.
Cooking Tip: a reminder that liquor stores carry small airline size bottles of any kind of liquor and liqueur imaginable perfect for your cooking.  
Recipe adapted from "Southwest Comfort Foods" by Marilyn Noble  
  • 4 pork loin chops
  • 1 cup peach preserves 
  • 3 TB. whiskey
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or Black Cherry Balsamic
  • 1 TB. lemon juice  
  • dash ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper
  • optional a dash of hot sauce
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a baking dish.
  • In a small saucepan over medium heat melt peach preserves. Stir in whisky, vinegar, lemon juice, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat, stirring often until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Taste first before adding in hot sauce. It might be spicy enough for your taste buds.  
  • Remove pan from heat. Set aside 1/4 cup whiskey sauce.
  • Pour remaining sauce over pork chops, and cover with foil. Bake for 40 minutes.  Let meat rest covered for 5 minutes.
  • Reheat reserved sauce and spoon over pork chops. 
Roasted Red Potatoes 
  • 6 medium sized red potatoes
  • 2 TB. Extra Virgin Olive oil or Tuscan Herb Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • combination mixture of 2 -3 TB. of spices such as rosemary and parsley flakes
  • Line a large rimmed baking pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 
  • Since potatoes will take about 25 minutes and asparagus only 12-14 minutes, start potatoes first.  
  • Scrub potatoes and cube. In a bowl combine olive oil and spices. Add in potatoes and coat well. Salt and pepper.
  • Spread out on half of the sheet and bake until fork tender. Stir once during the baking time.
  • 1 bunch of asparagus spears, woody stems removed
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Blood Orange Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves, minced
  • drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • sprinkle of sesame seeds 
  • 2-3 lemon slices, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
Cooking tip:: Asparagus spears can be cooked on same baking sheet with potatoes.
  • Remove baking sheet from oven and arrange spears on other half of baking sheet. Coat with olive oil and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Arrange cloves in between the spears. Sprinkle with salt and place lemon slices on top.
  • Roast 12-15 minutes or until al dente not limp. Stir once during cooking time. 
  • Optional adding shaved Asiago cheese when serving.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Billy Collins and Banana Nut Cake with Penuche frosting

Billy Collins is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York and is the Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute, Florida. Collins was recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004-2006. His poems appeal to a wide range of literary tastes. He is a master at capturing the nuances of everyday life and inspiring readers to wonder and think about the simple things in their lives. Often Collin's wry sense of humor comes across in the poems. He does not take himself too seriously. Collins is a master at engaging his reader in the first stanza by starting small not making too many demands and setting up the scene. Then he makes the poem more complicated and a little more demanding as he moves it along to completion.
Two years ago I was fortunate to hear him speak at Brainerd Lakes Community College.  
Some memorable lines from his presentation included: 
  • Revision is not cleaning up after the party, it is the party.
  • It is hard to fake humor, but one can fake seriousness.
  • Most poets find a voice and stick with that. The better you get the less you revise.
  • Poems take turns and you as a poet have to be ready to take turns and keep an open mind.
His most recent published book "Aimless Love" 2013, is a compilation of over 50 new poems and some selected poems from four of his previous books, "Nine Horses", "The Trouble with Poetry", "Ballistic" and "Horoscope for the Dead".
Envoy is a clever poem written on the back flap of the "Aimless Love".
by Billy Collins

Go, little book,
out of this house and into the world,

carriage made of paper rolling toward town
bearing a single passenger
beyond the reach of this jittery pen
and far from the desk and the nosy gooseneck lamp.

It is time to decamp,
put on a jacket and venture outside,
time to be regarded by other eyes,
bound to be held in foreign hands.

So off you go, infants of the brain,
with a wave and some bits of fatherly advice:

stay out as late as you like,
don’t bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can.

Billy Collins was the U.S. poet laureate at the time of the 9/11 attacks. A year later, he wrote "The Names" in honor of the victims. Collins read the poem before a special joint session of Congress held in New York City in 2002.

The Names

by Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.

A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,

And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,

I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,

Then Baxter and Calabro,

Davis and Eberling, names falling into place

As droplets fell through the dark.

Names printed on the ceiling of the night.

Names slipping around a watery bend.

Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.

In the morning, I walked out barefoot

Among thousands of flowers

Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,

And each had a name --

Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal

Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.

Names written in the air

And stitched into the cloth of the day.

A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.

Monogram on a torn shirt,

I see you spelled out on storefront windows

And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.

I say the syllables as I turn a corner --

Kelly and Lee,

Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.

When I peer into the woods,

I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden

As in a puzzle concocted for children.

Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,

Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,

Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.

Names written in the pale sky.

Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.

Names silent in stone

Or cried out behind a door.

Names blown over the earth and out to sea.

In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.

A boy on a lake lifts his oars.

A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,

And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --

Vanacore and Wallace,

(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)

Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.

Names etched on the head of a pin.

One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.

A blue name needled into the skin.

Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,

The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.

Alphabet of names in a green field.

Names in the small tracks of birds.

Names lifted from a hat

Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.

Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.

So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

Billy Collins March 22, 1941
Cook's notes: A sweet treat  perfect for his birthday. The cake is moist and a great use for over ripe bananas but it was the Penuche frosting that totally won me over. It is rich and creamy made from brown sugar, milk or cream and vanilla. You could just eat it from the bowl! 
I used a food processor to mash bananas and then added in cinnamon. Refrigerate frosted cake as it keeps better. 
Back to healthy on Monday. Blog postings resume with featured recipes using asparagus. 
Banana Nut Cake with Penuche Frosting
Cake Ingredients:
  • 2 cups of flour 
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder 
  • dash of salt 
  • 1/3 cup softened butter 
  • 1 cup white sugar 
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 beaten eggs 
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk 
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 mashed bananas (about 1-1/2 cups) 
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts 

Cake Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13 x 9 pan.
  • Sift flour, baking powder and salt-set aside. 
  • In a bowl cream butter, sugar and beaten eggs.
  • Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk and add to sugar mixture 
  • Combine with dry ingredients 
  • Add in lemon juice, cinnamon and mashed bananas, mix well. 
  • Stir in nuts and bake for 30 minutes or until center comes clean with a toothpick 
  • Cool before frosting 
Frosting Ingredients:
  • 3 TB. butter 
  • 1/2-3/4 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/4 cup milk (may need more) 
  • dash salt 
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 2-1/2 cups powdered sugar 
Frosting Directions:
  • In a saucepan melt butter on low heat, stir in brown sugar, milk, salt and vanilla. 
  • Use a whisk and stir on low heat until sugar dissolved and smooth about 2 minutes. 
  • Remove pan from heat and stir in powdered sugar. 
  • Use a hand mixer beat frosting in the saucepan until smooth. May need to add more milk for right consistency. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Asparagus-A Spring Vegetable Star

Whether it's grilled, roasted, or baked, asparagus is a refreshing way to add flavor and nutrients to any meal. And with so many ways to prepare asparagus, the variety of recipes seems endless. The tender veggie adds sophistication as a side dish, an appetizer, or part of your main course. 

This week's Spring feature: Asparagus
This succulent, savory vegetable contains a stimulating blend of nutrients, making this a fantastic food for your health.

  • Asparagus is a good source of fiber and protein, both essential for good digestion and immunity.
  • It contains a number of anti-inflammatory compounds that protect you from type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • It has antioxidants, including one called glutathione, which is known to protect the skin from sun damage, pollution and the effects of aging.
  • The Vitamin K in asparagus is excellent for healthy blood clotting and strengthening bones.
  • Asparagus contains a unique carb called inulin, which remains undigested until it reaches the large intestine, where it helps to absorb nutrients better, and cut the risk of colon cancer.
  • Good news for those struggling to manage their blood sugar: asparagus is a rich source of B vitamins, which are known to regulate blood sugar levels.
Cook's Notes: This recipe comes from JoAnne.
The freshness of the asparagus and the smokiness of the bacon makes this side dish so appetizing and delicious. This asparagus dish was prepared on the grill but you could use the oven to make the dish.  
Directions in her words...
  • Wrap asparagus spear in half strip of bacon, grill till bacon done and then squeeze lemon over it all when plated. The lemon combined with the bacon makes a surprising sweet caramel like taste.  If using the larger asparagus I suggest blanching before grilling. I used the skinny stalks so bundled them in threes with the bacon wrap and did not blanch first.

Salmon Asparagus Salad with Orzo and a Lemon Dill Vinaigrette
recipe from Cooking Light
Cook's notes: This savory salad epitomizes the concept of fresh food fast. It's quick, easy and loaded with flavorful ingredients..
Serves 4.
  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 1 cup uncooked orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 1 (1- 1/4-pound) skinless salmon fillet
  • 1/4 tsp.salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  •  1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette
  • Preheat broiler
  • Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add asparagus; cook 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove asparagus from water with tongs or a slotted spoon, reserving water in pan. Plunge asparagus into ice water; drain and set aside.
  • Return reserved water to a boil. Add orzo, and cook according to package directions. 
  • While orzo cooks, sprinkle fillet evenly with salt and pepper. Add two lemon slices and a drizzle of butter over the fillet. Place on a foil-lined broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Broil 5 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Using 2 forks, break fish into large chunks. Combine fish, orzo, asparagus, onion, and Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette in a large bowl; toss gently to coat.
Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup (1.3 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 TB. chopped fresh dill
  • 3 TB. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp.freshly ground black pepper
  • Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

Friday, March 20, 2015

First Taste of Spring

"That is one good thing about this world...
there are always sure to be more springs."
-L.M.Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
Cook's notes: An easy healthy salad to start off spring.
 Chopped Chicken and Blueberry Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Cook's notes: A time saver buying a rotisserie chicken from the deli.
Serves 4
  • 4 cups chopped cooked chicken  
  • 5 cups mixed greens
  • 1-pint of blueberries
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • feta, goat or another soft cheese
  • optional-diced red onions
  • Plate salad in following order: greens, chopped chicken, blueberries, cranberries, pecans, shredded or crumbled cheese
  • Drizzle homemade dressing or a prepared blueberry vinaigrette over the top.
Balsamic Dressing
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or Wild Blueberry, Black Currant or Blackberry Ginger Balsamic
  • 1-2 tsp. brown sugar 
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Blood Orange Olive Oil
  • Place all ingredients in blender except olive oil. Blend until smooth.
  • Slowly pour in olive oil and mix well.  
  • Keep refrigerated in a container with a lid.
by Billy Collins
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

Source: Poetry (April 2000).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fish Tostadas with Chili-Lime Cream

there is a helpful and informative link that explores the ins and outs of shopping at Dollar Stores

Fish Tostadas with Chili-Lime Cream
Cook's notes: This is a healthy dinner recipe served southwest style though my husband neglected to read this tagline. He was quite generous with the chili-lime cream when really a dollop will do. No need to overpower the fish taste. Using corn tortillas enhanced the flavor. 
Make the chili-lime cream early in day for flavors to meld.  Recipe serves 4.
Recipe inspiration from Midwest Living and BHG.
  • 1 lb. fresh tilapia 
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika or smoked paprika
  • 2 lemon slices 
  • dash of salt
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1 lime halved
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup lite sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp. chili or chipotle powder
  • 8- 6 inch corn tostada shells
  • 1 cup shredded coleslaw mix or cabbage
  • 1/3 cup each diced cherry tomatoes, green pepper and red onions
  • 1 avocado, halved, pitted and sliced
  • Chili-Lime Dressing-mix sour cream or yogurt with chili or chipotle powder, garlic powder and 2 teaspoons of juice from half of the lime. Cover and refrigerate several hours.   
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking pan and lay fish on bottom of pan. Sprinkle paprika on fish, dot with butter and dash of salt. Lay lemon slices on top of fish. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork. Break into chunks. 
  • Mix coleslaw, tomatoes, green pepper and onions. 
  • Serve tostadas  with cabbage mixture, avocado slices, chili-lime cream and a lime slice from other half of the lime.