Tag Archives: Appetizers


Thank you for serving our country. I went through boot camp once, five days being grilled by my mother-in-law, 45 minute interview with my new grandmother (I never got to know my own as they died before I was a year old).

Then there was 12 hours at my new Nanny’s playing with the kids and learning the rules and building a wall of multiple train tracks in a barn.

Don’t say I never went to boot camp. I was there with Margie. She told me how horrible her son was, so meticulous, this beast who she and I know is the greatest person in the world. Thanks, gunny.

Now, when I tell her he’s spent four months finding woodworking tools for our nephew and he’s taking over my kitchen prep space and driving me nuts she says “I told you,” that’s it. She did the classic CYA and now puts it in my face. Oh, I love her.

Margie and I have great cooking bouts that last for days. It is as if we went through boot camp together and it’s now a dance. She’s redone the kitchen and some things have been moved so my pirouettes have come up short from time to time until I find my way around. Get it, pirouette, dance twirl, around?

I don’t know what kind of equipment you have in the kitchen so will give you the basics.


Two 8-oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature, 3Tbsp butter, room temperature, fresh chopped or dried herbs and spices, salt and pepper to taste. Use a food processor, or a fork to mix if needed. Serve on crackers, bread or Texas Toast if you’ve made it.

There’s more tomorrow. Cheers! Dee


Call Me Otis

At 3:30 this morning Zoe the dog got me up by whining to get back up on the bed. So I’m up, I call it Otis-ing and I’m a master. And yes, she knows to come to my side of the bed and whine once and if I don’t get up right away she starts using her nails to scratch the wood on our bed. A half hour later she’ll have moved from the middle to my pillow. Usurper.

Fajitas. It’s one of our favorite meals. Yesterday I bought hand-made tortillas. I was concerned that avocados were quite hard but found the best one. I usually marinate raw chicken in lime juice, ancho chili powder and salt but a couple of days ago I roasted a large (4.25#) chicken on a bed of thyme and sage and that’s enough for at least three meals for us and one tasty chicken salad for lunch.

What made it was the salsa. With one barely ripe avocado I chose a ripe mango. Pit and peel both and mash in a bowl. Add one seeded jalapeno and large clove of garlic, both minced. I added a bit of salt and chipotle powder and juice of a lime and mixed. It was really good.

Toast the flour tortillas in a dry skillet and keep warm. Slice a pepper (color of your choice, yesterday I chose red) and one sweet onion and caramelize in oil in said skillet. I chunked the roasted chicken and added it to re-warm. For serving, have more limes ($.89 apiece now, I’m glad I’m not a Mexican restaurant), the salsa, some shredded cheese, sour cream and ranchero beans and let people serve themselves.

I know, Bobby Flay would have put honey in the salsa….. is there a bee lobbying group that pays him on the side? The mango was my “sweet” and the salsa was very tasty.

My next challenge is an American hors d’oeuvre for a Swedish dinner on Friday. A new Swedish neighbor is having us over for dinner to reciprocate for a meal I cooked for him. His father flew in from the old country to see him and we’ll take them to see two flight museums on Saturday, for fun.

Much of my cooking is inspired by other countries. One gent told me yesterday to make my authentic version of true Texas Pedernales chili, Lady Bird Johnson’s version served to 5,000 guests including JFK in the summer of 1962 as an “amuse.” I must say it was refreshing that in over fifty years on this planet I actually heard a non-gay man refer to an amuse bouche! Guess I don’t hang out with enough chefs.

I’m thinking of slicing and toasting a baguette and making a chicken liver mousse with sweet onion, a Jazz apple cored and peeled, toasted walnuts and a bit of cream cheese. All the veg are minced or food-processed, sauteed. Container of chicken livers, cleaned, is added, sauteed and flamed with cognac, then the entire mess, which at this point looks like baby vomit, goes into the processor and the walnuts are added in the last few seconds and pulsed. Salt and pepper, of course. Place in ramekins, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours to set. Serve on toasts.

Then in addition to a bottle of wine, we may also bring a local delicacy for the Swedes to taste, perhaps en route to the air museums. Remember the “mastitis blanket?” Look it up on this site. Our state is famous for its dairies and m-i-l has given me a wooden picnic basket with cows on it and I may just do lunch for Saturday.

My husband’s parents had a dairy for 30 years and sent the cows along to younger folk a decade ago and started a cattle ranch. But when dairy cows had mastitis they needed treatment so over the years they built up points and cousin Val the Vet got a mastitis blanket and I got the mastitis picnic basket.

Well, the basket has cows on it and even our coffee mugs have cows. First time I went to meet the parents I got up pre-dawn to use the facilities and mistakenly turned on the light. What did I see? Nine pair of bull’s eyes staring at me from about 15′ away. Freaky for a mostly city gal. They thought I was Jim’s father getting ready to feed them. I think my error awakened the household earlier than intended for a Thanksgiving weekend.

Where there is milk there is cheese so I’ll check that out for lunch on Saturday, a picnic if the weather ever clears. There is so much rain that parking garages are partially flooded. But it would be local and American and not what I cook from France, Italy, Greece, Mexico or elsewhere. Ciao, ta ta, Dee


We go over the river and through the woods for Thanksgiving, probably about 60   folks will be there this year at Nanny’s. Luckily the rain is supposed to break and it will be sunny and in the sixties so the kids can play outdoors. In a gullywasher, they all have to stay inside and that can lead to some crying, perhaps young ones and adults!

Today I left my dog and fish with trusted friends. My dog was evicted within the hour from a home she’s stayed at many times. She’s at another trusted friend’s home where she’s never stayed, with two other dogs she’s met before.

I even worry about our Betta, who is probably 95 years old in fish life but is with a neighbor. I have yet to pack for us and leave. No wonder I get pulled over every time for extra scanning. I have to take care of everyone, including my husband, of course I’m frazzled when I’ve brought us down to one bag to share that has everything we need for a five-day trip.

Yes, we have to pay extra for that bag. Should I bring my chef’s knives or his balloons, or both? Will I be able to make it all work under the weight limit?

I’m planning to pack light and the fact that our pets are taken care of takes that weight off my shoulders. We’ll be at Jim’s parents’ place and can run through one load of laundry over four days. that’ll work .

Leaving is always ameliorated with staying somewhere. We don’t go to vacation spots, we see family as that’s what’s important. Leaving one’s home to go to another’s and get up and cook breakfast is a real treat. Jockeying spots on the kitchen counter has become routine with me and Margie, Jim’s mom. We help each other, clean up after each other and hopefully sit for a moment or two at the end of a cooking session to relax and get ready for what’s next.

Leaving is worth it, charges the batteries, renews relationships, creates new ones. And we especially like playing with the younger kids outside after dinner and before supper. I used to teach a cooking class for the older girls but they’ve outgrown it and will have photos to show us about their time overseas.

It is such a joy to see this, now “our” family, grow. Even job recruiters know that if you grew up on a dairy, you have a work ethic that ranks high. And a high ethics ranking as well.

Ah, but this was about seeing Nanny for Thanksgiving. Turkey, ham, brisket, too many sides and desserts to mention. Me? I’m not supposed to bring anything because we’re the only ones flying in. No worries, spiced almonds and cashews are on board and I’ll make boursin and maybe even spinach balls once on the ground.

Leaving hopefully means a coming to something else, like a huge family for Thanksgiving, then returning home. I braved a storm to take our dog to her initial location, tomorrow it should be smooth sailing. Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers, Dee

Food Shopping

New neighbor Kathy and I went to a farmer’s market then specialty grocery/wine/liquor store this afternoon, then tasted some of my food stash before she ran back home to cook for a couple of guys helping a local high school with it’s play. Perhaps it’s a version of Hamlet 2! If so I can’t believe it’s going to open this soon! OK, we saw it and it satirizes inspirational teacher movies among other things.

I put out a plate of fresh strawberries, grapes, figs, and peaches. Small bowl of home-marinated Kalamata olives. Bel Paese and goat cheese, with water crackers. Cetamura Chianti from Badia al Coltibuono.

Jim arrived home tired but we spent an hour having a nice chat. I bought a “naked” hand-tossed Italian pizza crust for dinner. Placed some Greek tomato sauce on top, some pepperoni, Cappiello mozz and Parm. It was tasty and if I need to make quick pizzas without waiting 2 hours to make the dough and proof it and let it rest, I’ll get more.

The fun in it for me is showing a new Texan some of the best places to buy great fruit and veg, and specialty items one cannot buy elsewhere. We didn’t have time to do herbs and spices but that can wait.

All in all it was a nice day. Potential hurricane this weekend and we’ll prep as we can and watch the Weather Channel but otherwise we plan to stay here.


We’re having a few folks over tomorrow for appetizers.  I bought a bottle of Cetamura from Badia al Coltibuono in Chianti country.  First and last time I tried it was at their restaurant.

I’ve some goat cheese, grapes, strawberries, figs and peaches.  Also crackers.  I think I’ll do two large square platters.  Perhaps I’ll pick up another cheese tomorrow.

At La Cucina al Focolare south of Florence, I ate a fresh fig from a tree.  First fig I ever had.  The other day I was given a slice of very spicy sausage with cheese and a slice of fig and it was fantastic.

Cookbooks, Volume 2

Following are some of my favorite cookbooks that are not in my admittedly selective “reference” category.

Author: Beard, James

Title: James Beard’s & Hors D’oeuvre And Canapes (James Beard Library of Great American Cooking, 1)

Publisher: Quill

Notes: Classic appetizers, both hot and cold, plus how to host a proper cocktail party, an invaluable addition to your library.

Author: Jeanne Voltz

Title: Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts, and Other Great Feeds: KCA-pbk (Knopf Cooks American Series)
Publisher: Knopf

Notes: A few years ago I did an exhaustive search for first a particular seasoning rub, then all seasoning rubs and could find but a few. Later on I found out that a lot of BBQ cooks on the circuit don’t want to share their recipes because of arming the competition and because most of them include MSG, something we’ve all been taught to avoid. Ms. Voltz is an exception, and I love her rib rub. She explains basic grilling vs. BBQ and includes a host of recipes for both methods, plus a section on side dishes. Love her Fresh Cucumber Relish.

Author: Walsh, Robb

Title: Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses

Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC

Notes: This is a serious book, recommended to me by Jim’s Uncle Bobby who hand-crafted a smoking rig to tow behind his truck and who thinks nothing of baby-sitting briskets, ribs and sausages overnight. His brisket cooks for 13 hours! So I jumped at the chance to research rib rubs for him. I’m an armchair smoker, as it’s difficult to accomplish in a fourth floor loft, and I don’t think the police horse patrol, right under our windows, would appreciate smoke billowing out of our building. Gentlemen, think of this as a wish book and ladies, Father’s Day is right around the corner.

Author: Fox, Margaret and Bear, John

Title: Cafe Beaujolais

Publisher: Ten Speed Press

Notes: This marvelous restaurant is in picturesque Mendocino CA. While Margaret doesn’t own it anymore she’s still in the neighborhood and working with food. I had the pleasure of doing my culinary apprenticeship there in 1989 and we still keep in touch. I regularly made the apple-pear crisp (because their was a surfeit of apples and pears from her orchard) and a chocolate-raspberry torte that unfortunately is not in this volume. Margaret has a great sense of humor and is one of few writers who write as they speak and endear themselves to readers.

Authors: Child, Julia; Bertholle, Louisette; and Beck, Simone

Title: Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One (1) (Fortieth – 40th – Anniversary Edition)

Publisher: Knopf

Notes: Julia Child came into my consciousness with her first PBS show. Out in the country we only got four channels. These three ladies brought French cuisine to the USA and for this feat should be highly commended. With James Beard, I believe they opened up American cooks’ minds and luckily brought moms everywhere out of the “Take one can cream of mushroom soup…” philosophy of family meals. This belongs as a basic building block but since it’s French, I included it on this list rather than Vol. 1. Ms. Child’s French Onion Soup is worth every second- don’t rush it!

Authors: Child, Julia and Beck, Simone

Title: Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 2 (Paperback)

Publisher: Knopf

Notes: This follow-up to Mastering the Art of French Cooking is also a must-have for the serious cook. Many of the recipes we used at Institute for Culinary Education in NY City were directly from Simone “Simca” Beck because our teacher spent summers at her home in Provence. During my apprenticeship I found Simca’s Cuisine at a used book shop (Knopf, 1972) and it retains its hallowed place on my bookshelves.

Author: Deighton, Len

Title: Basic French Cooking

Publisher: Creative Arts Book Company

Notes: First published in 1979, this small paperback was called “Ou est le Garlique” and it has been out of print for years but is available on Amazon, as I just bought it as a gift for a special student recently. Yes, this is the Len Deighton of spy thriller fame. Even better, it is illustrated by the author with his own drawings. Learn about the batterie de cuisine (pots & pans and stuff), the mother sauces et al in this gem of a book.

Author: Artusi, Pellegrino

Title: The Art of Eating Well: An Italian Cookbook
Publisher: Random House

Notes: I’m told this book is in every Tuscan kitchen. Mr. Artusi was born in 1820 but these classic Italian recipes do not change. What has changed is that now the book has finally been translated into English. Buon appetito.

Author: Kasper, Lynne Rossetto

Title: The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy’s Farmhouse Kitchens

Publisher: Scribner

Notes: I love this book. It’s very easy to use and comes with wonderful stories accompanying each dish, called lagniappes. The page with Spaghetti alla Carbonara is wrinkled and stained but at least I now know how to cook pasta in the style of the charcoal-maker. Another family favorite is Balsamico Roast Chicken and Potatoes, in Italian it’s Pollo Arrosto. Delicious in any language. I often say that Americans live to work, and Italians work to live. Eating is a big part of life in Italy!

Author: Kennedy, Diana

Title: The Art of Mexican Cooking

Publisher: Bantam

Notes: I had the good fortune of meeting this non-Mexican ambassador of Mexican cuisine during my Cafe Beaujolais apprenticeship. The kitchen bustled for days before her arrival and everyone was nervous. A young cook was caught rinsing a roasted pepper and was immediately told that he would wash away the flavor, “and Diana Kennedy is coming.” She made staff an incredible shrimp dish (page 207) called Camarones Enchipotlados or Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce. At the time we had a ton of blackberries in the walk-in and she made ice cream. When I got the chance to drive her into San Francisco, three hours away, I jumped at it. We talked about a lot of things, but what I recall is her looking disdainfully at the Diet Coke I purchased at a rest stop and saying “Ugh, if you keep drinking that you’ll ruin your palate!”

Author: Lewis, Edna

Title: In Pursuit of Flavor (The Virginia Bookshelf)

Publisher: Knopf

Notes: As a “Union” gal, I was transplanted to the South and knew nothing except that “the War of Northern Aggression” is in no way over and I’d better learn about Southern traditions like a mess of greens and sweet tea. You’ll learn about making the most of everything in your larder, even if there’s not much there. Plus Southern staples like Virginia Ham and Buttermilk Biscuits.

Author: Peterson, James

Title: Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making (2nd Edition)

Publisher: Van Nostrand Reinhold (div. of Int’l. Thomson Publishing, Inc.)

Notes: At nearly 600 pages this tome should have been included in Volume 1 as it is a comprehensive reference work. Please don’t think you have to read it from cover to cover in one, or a few, sittings. Keep it on your shelf, however, because it includes every classic and contemporary sauce known to humankind pre-1998 and won the 1991 James Beard Foundation “Cookbook of the Year” award.