Testing: My New Dishes

In the whole universe there are a lot of people who love bargains. In that ranking, I must be close to the top 10%. I find; I buy and I worry (what you-know-who will say). Why do I worry if it's a really great bargain? Because he cares about dishes, place mats, fabrics for furniture and other such things that a lot of guys would completely ignore and say--"whatever you like, Honey, is fine with me". I am NOT married to this kind of guy.


Recently, I volunteered at a booth at a local farmer's market. The person who is responsible for my angst over a new set of dishes is Liz Cipro. (She was the chairwoman of the culinary yard sale booth and is the executive chef at a catering company, A Legendary Event). My woman's professional culinary group (Les Dames d'Escoffier) participated at the market. We raise money for Gerogia organic farmers and give scholarships to women interested in a culinary career. For our booth, members donated gently used cookbooks and other "treasures" of the kitchen and dining.


Upon arrival and right after orientation, Liz whipped out a place setting of dishes that were donated and being offered for $25 for a (5 piece place setting) set (40 pieces). With 3 seconds of thoughtfulness, I said "I'll take them". For the next 2 1/2 hours in the 90 degree heat, I worried what would happen when I bought them home. Forty dishes is not something that's easy to "sneak in" as if I'd ever do such a thing. Mercy, me. I would never do that (unless I was forced to). We live in a condo which means--if something comes in--somtheing of equal size has to go out. Not a good thing for someone who cannot part with "things." (I'm the one who saves clothes for sentimental reasons, not because I think I'll ever wear them again.)




The Dishes in Question


Long story short: The dishes passed muster and we both think they are wonderful. You'll be seeing them in upcoming posts. In the meantime, I've given away a compete set of dishes that made another person happy. Isn't that a perfect ending? Why wouldn't I be happy with a new set of dishes that retails for $35.99 per place setting that cost me $25.


See me smile.





Cooking (not Dancing) in the Dark: Testing Shells with Shrimp, Peas and Walnuts

I consider it a good quality when a person can laugh at herself. I seem to do it alot, meaning that I'm often doing something worthy of a laugh-at-myself moment. Eg, something stupid.


During a big summer storm last week, we lost power right around dinner prep time. Of course, I had a recipe to test that needed doing that night (shrimp that had to be cooked or tossed). I tried the old "let's- go-out-tonight-and-stay-at-home-tomorrow-night" routine but I got no where. Then, I pulled myself up off the couch and headed to the kitchen.


Darn my gas stove, she said to herself, meaning I didn't have that excuse to let me off the hook either.


Actually seeing what was in the skillet was the problem. Boiling the pasta was the easy part. My husband, the ever-inventive light guy, suggested using his head lamp that he uses for various home repair projects. (Guys do have an array of funny tools for various jobs. We girls don't get it; we have shoes.) Anyway, here he comes with the head lamp. He'll do almost anythng for a home-cooked meal. (He's quite spoiled.)




Don't you think the EverReady people would like this? Or, whoever makes Energizer.




Success! Shells with Shrimp, Peas and Walnuts. I forgot only one ingredient--the goat cheese that was to be stirred into the hot pasta and more crumbled over the top. Well! I was cooking in the dark so I gave myself a pass on this omission. What do you think? Me, too....the goat cheese would have been a good addition. Next time, when the lights go out and the candles go on.



Touring and Tasting: Baltimore and Wilmington DE Area

Last week, I had a terrific time in Wilmington, Delaware, area where I spoke at the Delaware Dietetic Association's annual meeting in Claymont. The hosts took me to dinner at a local spot, Sullivan's Steak House. I skipped the steak and ordered Sea Bass which was good except for the saltiness.


Sea Bass with Salty Broth (my name, not theirs)


I settled in on the train from Wilmington to Baltimore to meet a friend. (What a civilized way to travel.) Friend and I spent Friday in Annapolis (a short drive from Baltimore) taking tours and walking the "Yard" at the Naval Academy with a few food breaks in between.




Just so you know where you are, a few steps from downtown Annapolis.




Officers live here. Must be nice after being at sea for months on end. Many astronauts graduated from USNA but only one president. Do you know which one?


On to Baltimore!


Naturally, being in Baltimore, I ordered crab cakes every time I could. I do love blue crab.


Baltimore performed beautifully on Saturday with perfect weather after many days of rain. I had to go to one of my favorite dining spots, Miss Shirley's, (www.MissShirleysCafe.com) where the corporate chef is the daughter of my friend.




Corporate Chef, Brigitte Bledsoe


Yes, we had good treatment. Even if I didn't have connections, I'd be right there enjoying the food. Miss Shirley's does a good job and has many happy guests to prove it. I didn't see any frowns anywhere. The only person who frowned (once) was yours truly when they said they didn't have Diet Coke, but would go across the street to get me one. That's service! I was a big girl, didn't whine (too much) and drank the other diet drink. I had a yum-yum yummy BLT with Avocado and a side of Coleslaw. I skipped the grilled chicken that's usually added. Of course, I had a side of fries. My name is Susan Nicholson.




One darned good BLT with Avocado. Miss Shirley gives you thick slices of tomatoes and that makes me very happy. I hate wimpy slices of tomato.




My friend had a Soft Shell Crab and Fried Green Tomatoes (those tomatoes made me think about Georgia)....the crabs are in season right now, so hurry.


Before more food and drink, we walked off a few caloires at the American Visionary Art Museum. Go there when you're in Baltimore. There's no place like it.




American Visionary Art Museum's entrance (www.avam.org).




The current exhibit--"What makes us smile?" (and, smile you will)


Party Time!


We visited the Cat's Eye Pub (www.catseyepub.com) for blues, beer and good will. Those folks know how to have fun (and, drink beer)! I heard they have live music every night.




Having fun at the Cat's Eye Pub




View from my barstool at The Cat's Eye Pub in Fell's Point 


So, ends my wonderful weekend. I really love Baltimore and could live there except for that pesky winter weather. I'm not a good cold-weather person; that's why I left Virginia in the first place.



Testing: Herb-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

One of my favorite company entrees is pork tenderoin. The price is usually affordable for a special meal, it's easy to cook and has a good flavor if it's not over-cooked. It's perfectly fine to show some "pink" when it goes to the table. No longer does pork require "battleship grey" as was the criteria for the former Navy cook who ran the food service in the VA hospital where I worked years ago. Your thermomter is your best friend. I aim for 150 to 155 degrees internal temperature when I remove it from the oven. I always tent it with foil and let it stand for 5 minutes. By that time, it's perfect for carving.


It's a side-dish-freindly protein, too. You can pair with any starch and vegetable. When I tested this recipe, I added Roasted Red Potatoes and Green Beans garnished with Sliced Amonds. Sweet potatoes, brown rice or any whole grain would have worked well, too.




 Herbed Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary Roasted Red Potatoes and Green Beans with Sliced Almonds

Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives: Part 3 -- Testing Tagine of Salmon with Lemon and Capers

I do love chef-prepared food. Preparing a dish from a chef-recipe is not quite as much fun. I'd enjoyed this salmon recipe presented by Chef Bill Briwa when I was at the CIA's west coast campus in Napa and it looked easy enough for a home-cook. All this has led to including the recipe in my "7-Day Menu Planner" newspaper column to appear some time in July. Chef Briwa gave us a lot of "you-can-do-it's" so I took the challenge.


Of course, we home cooks have to remember, we don't have the kitchen assistants that the culinary school chefs do. Those are the student assistants who fetch, chop, clean and generally help the chef-teachers. Nonetheless, I rose to the challenge sans assistants. Yes, I must confess I did grumble about the "work", but when the final product hit my taste buds, I jumped for joy at the fantasitic flavor. In other words, it's worth it if for a company meal. I would not prepare this during the hectic work week.


A tagine, by definition is any of various Moroccan stews gently simmered with vegatbles and other seasonings. Often preserved lemons are used. (I used lemon juice which the chef approves.) This recipe required a herb, olive oil coating/marinade for the salmon. I let it sit a couple of hours, refrigerated. Once marinated, I placed it on a bed of vegetables. Both the marinade and the vegetable base included garlic and olive oil in addition to spices.




The bed of vegetables




Ready for the oven after covering tightly with foil. Bake 425 for 25 minutes; cool 5 minutes




Right out of the oven




Ready to eat over brown rice. Couscous would be good, too.



Menu Planning: Testing Shrimp with Pasta and Asparagus

On Sunday's, I'm not usually enthusiastic about testing recipes even though I often must test anyway. Yesterday, I found a large container of bow tie pasta from a previous testing earlier in the week, looming in the refrigerator! What do to? Shrimp is always an easy protein and the cleaned variety was on sale for $7.99 a pound. These two facts convinced me that I could make a good meal by combining "forces." Along the way, I found some asparagus lingering that needed immediate attention. What a deal!


I sauteed the shrimp in olive oil and added some crushed red pepper along with the asparagus (stems cut on the diagonal). This was the topping for the already cooked bow tie pasta tossed with pesto and grape tomaotes. It made a pretty plate and had a great flavor. It was a happy ending. (I could have garnised the plate with fresly grated parmesan. Next time.)



Shrimp with Pasta (leftover) and Asparagus 


Menu Planning: Testing Risotto with Spinach and Peas

We're crazy about risotto--eating it, that is. When it comes to making it, I don't like the blister I get from stirring 20 to 30 minutes to make it perfect. I've tried it the conventional way (with the blister), in the pressure cooker, the microwave and in the oven. All have their benefits. What I usually look for is the method that is as low-maintenance as possible. For Risotto with Spinach and Peas (adapted from Real Simple), I tried the oven method with a little pre-sauteeing on top of the stove. The results were quite good and we both liked the end product.


To go along with the risotto, I sauteed some shrimp and added Creole seasoning for extra flavor. That, plus a green salad with sliced avocado, completed our meal.




The final result of Risotto with Spinach and Peas



Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives in Napa: Part 2

The speakers at the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference are an impressive group. I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with many of them. One of these was Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, the Surgeon General of the United States. I had the good fortune of meeting Dr Benjamin formally at a press conference and informally at the San Francisco airport. It's easy to see why she was selected to be the person to provide the best scientic information available on how to improve our health and the health of the nation. Besides her many distinguised qualifications, she's a very charming person.




Dr Benjamin at the press conference


Other presenters at the conference were Helen Delichatsios, MD, SM, a Clinician-Educator at Massachusetts General Hospital. One of her important roles is teaching nutrition to medical students for all four years of medical school.


David Eisenberg, MD, is the Bernard Osher Distinguished Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is the engine behind the scientific parts of the conference. His credits are far too long to list but suffice it to say, Dr. Eisenberg puts on a mean cooking demonstration! He walks the talk.


Kathy McManus, MS, RD, LDN who is Director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham and Woman's Hospital is a dietitian's dietitian. She has presented her research nationally and internationally. I always learn from her presentations. 


If Dr Eisenberg is the engine, Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RD, is the oil that keeps the engine running smoothly. No doubt that she faces many challenges in putting this incredible conference together. She does it in a cool, calm and collected way.


Then, last but certainly not least, is Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Just to mention a few accomplishments, Dr. Willett has published more that 1200 scientific articles, a textbook and three books for consumers. Besides all of his many accomplishemnts, he's a really nice guy. Rumor has it that he even eats one doughnut a year.



The CIA hosted cookbook and scientific book authors at a book signing where Dr Willet and I shared a table. To show what a good sport he is, we swapped our books for a photograph at the book signing. (He sold more books than I did at the conference! I'm trying to get over that.)


Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives in Napa: Part 1

The Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives (HK/HL) conference is held in the spring at the Culinary Institute of American's (CIA) west coast campus, called Greystone, in the Napa Valley. Greystone along with the Harvard School of Medicine are the two sponsors of the conference. Greystone is in St Helena a town of about 5000. It's a unique conference in that it's a combination of science, cooking demos and hands-on cooking (taught by CIA chefs) experiences that show how to put the science into practical everyday cooking and eating. Lars Kronmark, CWP, led my class.


Outstanding chefs (Suvir Saran, Joyce Goldstein and Mark Furstenberg) do many of the cooking demos along with CIA chefs who join in for hands-on and other classes and tastings. The Harvard faculty is headed by David Eisenberg, MD and Walther Willett, MD. Amy M Miller, MSRD is the dietitian leader of the conference.


This year over 450 attended the conferece which included MD's, RD's, RN's and other health care providers with a keen interest in healthy cooking and eating for their patients and themselves. The conference has become so popular that it sells out in the fall for the spring event. This is the second conference I've attended, this year as a speaker. The presenters were honored at a dinner in the Board Room at Greystone. I was lucky to attend it.




The Board Room at Greystone




Halibut with Cannellini Beans




With a little dessert of Chocolate Cake and Sorbet


California Asparagus or Redwood Trees??

I'd forgotten what real asparagus looks like until a box of the California stalks arrived. Growing up, we had asparagus that came back every year. My mother loved it. Being a dumb kid, I didn't. The last asparagus I cooked was about as thick as a pencil. This was more like a tree. It's "rested" in the sink after I soaked it in ice water upon arrival (as directed on the package).




Asparagus is naturally low in calories and sodium. It was popular with the acient Romans for it's delicate flavor and elegant appearance (I guess the Romans like these "trees" as much as I did). There are 20 edible varieties of the 300 known ones. Handle asparagus like fresh flowers; trim stems.


The recipe I tried was Sweet and Spicy Szechwan Asparagus (below) and it was a hit. Look for it in the 7-Day Menu Planner this summer.




This asparagus was sent to me by the California Asparagus Commission.






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Susan Nicholson is an Atlanta-based cookbook author and registered dietitian.

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