Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rest in peace Virginia ‘Ginny’ Harris

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Virginia Grant Harris

November 6, 1924 – November 27, 2009

At this time of Thanksgiving, we are thankful for the life of my dear mother-in-law, Virginia Grant Harris, who passed away after a long illness on Friday.  She was married to Teague ‘Bucky’ Harris for 64 years.  They raised two exemplary sons, Teague and John, of whom she was very proud. 

Ginny grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and spent many happy days at the family farm near Ware Shoals.  An x-ray technician during WWII, she later became a devoted military wife and enjoyed assignments in Panama, California, Hawaii, Washington D.C., Alabama, Texas, and Athens, Greece.  As the air force base commander’s wife in Athens, Mrs. Harris put her refined entertaining skills to good use.  Her fine china, crystal and silverware were placed on pure Irish linen tablecloths;  her menu was always relevant.

A Southern lady to the core, her delicate hands were often clothed in one of many in her impressive collection of stylish ladies’ gloves that could rival the Queen’s!  Many of her elegant outfits were custom made and she was partial to cashmere sweater sets.  Ginny was also an accomplished Bridge player, an avid reader, and a lover of Welsh Corgis.  She enjoyed a good joke and delivered a particularly racy one in her Southern drawl…now that’s nice!

Mrs. Harris was an all-round homemaker and an accomplished cook.  She baked her son, my husband, his favorite Caramel cake every year for his birthday.  She hosted many Thanksgiving meals and taught me how to roast a turkey to perfection.  She shared her recipes for Southern style Macaroni and cheese, Banana bread, Cole slaw, Pecan pralines, Banana pudding (with extra egg yolks, of course!), Peach pickle and many more.

She embraced me like the daughter she never had and loved my family of foreigners, including their unusual names, customs and accents!  She taught me that the word ‘hair’ is a two syllable word pronounced hay-a

We will miss you Ginny, Mom and Grandma!

Bucky, Timmy, John, Susan, Dragana, your grandchildren Alexander, Emilia and Haley, and a host of family and friends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Italian Green Sauce – Salsa Verde


Have you ever seen such a beautiful bouquet of flat-leaf parsley?   This organically grown herb grows in one of the vegetable beds at Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary School in Houston.  In the shadow of the Williams Tower (formerly Transco Tower see it in the top right hand corner?)  this notable school hosts the Recipe for Success program that I praised in my previous post.  I picked a lovely bunch and admired my fresh arrangement at home for several days – pinching leaves and enjoying the crisp green taste in my mouth it’s a great breath freshener!

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Remember when curly parsley was merely a colorful decoration on your dinner plate, left untouched, then dumped in the rubbish bin?   Fresh parsley has since taken top billing in our kitchens in the likes of tabbouleh, chimichurri and pesto.  It’s a subtle flavoring in many other dishes including dressings, stocks and sauces.  Loaded with Vitamin C (it has three times the amount in oranges), Vitamins A and K, iron and folate, parsley also has therapeutic value as a diuretic.  When used to make tea, it can reduce high blood pressure.  It can also help to settle an upset stomach and is rich in antioxidants.  Because it is so readily available, don’t even think about buying the dried, dead leaves in a jar to cook with – it just won’t cut it and I’ll come and admonish you!

I looked for a recipe that used a generous amount of fresh parsley.  Green Sauce, or Salsa Verde comes from Mario Batali’s Molto Mario cookbook.  Batali serves this sauce with a variety of meats (calf tongue, veal, brisket, beef cheeks, sausage, capon and turkey) in broth.   With all of those meats in a bowl, Mario found a way to add a seafood component as well, so…salt-packed anchovies come on the scene via a flavorful and complex sauce.  After test-tasting the mixture, I added a clove of garlic – and WOW – it’s the bomb!   Not only is it delicious, it’s also very versatile - you can use it as a dipping sauce or in an appetizer (see my crostini below).  We enjoyed the sauce with roasted chicken breasts the other night and on broiled fish and sweet potatoes last night. 

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Italian Green Sauce – Salsa Verde     Adapted from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano cookbook.

I bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, rinsed, leaves only

4 salt-packed anchovies (canned), rinsed and picked over for visible bones (anchovy bones are very soft, small and edible so you don’t have to remove them all)

1 small bunch mint, rinsed, leaves only

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

1 hard-boiled egg, cooled

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 cornichons or ½ large kosher dill

2 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place parsley, anchovies, mint, capers, egg, garlic, cornichons, vinegar, olive oil and black pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Serve at room temperature.

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And just because I’m my father’s daughter and I have the stomach and taste buds that can handle intense flavors, I made crostini with toasted sesame bread and green sauce.  I topped them each with a tiny, briny, oily and pungent anchovy filet - not for the squeamish…but give it a try!

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Recipe for Success foundation and 1-2-3 Salad

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Ever the diligent volunteers, my friend Chantal and I arrived at Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary School to support our new pet project, Recipe for Success.  Founded by philanthropist Gracie Cavnar, Recipe for Success is a non-profit charity that has been active in five fortunate Houston I.S.D. schools for the last four years. 

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The primary goal of RFS is to combat childhood obesity.  Students are taught that nutritious food comes from the ground and not at a drive-thru window or in a sealed plastic bag or box.  The Foundation hopes to increase the students’ awareness and appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables by teaching them how to garden and harvest their crops.  They then use the produce in simple recipes using basic cooking techniques.

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To help inspire the kids, well-known local chefs volunteer their time in the classrooms.  With the help of Houston’s own Monica Pope of t’afia, chef participation has grown to include the likes of chefs Randy Evans, Robert Del Grande, David Luna, Randy Rucker, Bryan Caswell, Chris Shepherd, Ryan Pera and many, many more.

Rodriguez Elementary is lucky to have chef Mark Wilson as its full-time instructor.  Here he assists students with the dressing for 1-2-3 Salad.


A former Broadway actor, musician and playwright, chef Wilson does an excellent job of capturing the students’ attention!

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Students took turns at whisking the vinaigrette to the count of 10.  As an added bonus, the ever enthusiastic Chantal, a Belgian Francophile, broke out into her native French and taught the kids to count from 1 – 10!  They also learned a new word – emulsion.  They’re not just making any old salad – this is a gourmet salad with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, feta cheese and walnuts.  Love it!056 v1

At each participating campus, the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program uses an organic garden as an outdoor classroom.  This expansive garden at Rodriguez Elementary has about 18 raised beds.  Each grade level is responsible for three of them.  I came away with a bunch of the most beautiful flat-leaf parsley that you will see in my next post.

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Let’s see how big this pumpkin can grow!

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These basil plants are setting their seeds.  Here the students learn about perennials and planting from seed. 

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Newly harvested sweet potatoes and delicate lettuce leaves.  Look at the size of those tubers!

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Believe it or not, after the dressing was made, there was a mad dash to do the dishes, which I’m sure rarely happens at home!  Chef Dwain, an intern with RFS, prepares sweet, salty, bitter and sour ingredients for a tasting of flavors – and a fancy new word entered their culinary vocabulary:  UMAMI

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The view from the dishwashing stand is to this pretty atrium: bird feeders, a small pond, fruit trees, potted herbs, raised beds, a compost barrel and a busy teacher named Mrs. Silverstone!

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Decorated pots in the atrium.

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This cutie enjoyed sweeping the floor. 

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All in all, the students are exposed to healthy cooking ingredients which have sadly become foreign to many households.   Most students loved the salad and also the feta cheese and asked for more - a sure sign that young palates are much more receptive to delicious and healthy fare than we give them credit for. 

Our beautiful Houston fall weather prompted a fun picnic between the vegetable beds.  Students lined up for a ‘wrap’ of salad greens served with their own home-made salad dressing served by Mrs. Silverstone and Chantal.  Many came back for more…and more.  It was an encouraging sight!

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This 1-2-3 Salad includes fresh mixed salad greens and is supplemented with nuts, grains, cheese and just a little bit of sugar (in the form of honey in this recipe).  It provides more precious nutrients than the oppressively sweet cereals and processed foods targeted at our school-aged children.

1-2-3 Salad, adapted from the original recipe by chef Monica Pope

4 servings

2 - 3 large handfuls of mixed lettuce (choose a mixture for color, texture and flavor), washed and patted dry on a towel

¼ cup nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)

½ cup fruit (dried or fresh)

¼ cup cooked grains or pasta (quinoa, orzo, couscous)

¼ cup cheese (feta, parmesan, blue cheese)

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For the dressing: (use about half of this recipe for 4 people)

1/8 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Make the dressing by putting balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk quickly to combine. Add olive oil, drop by drop, as you whisk the dressing quickly. The dressing will thicken and emulsify and resemble a deep caramel color. Set aside.

To assemble the salad place in a bowl the lettuce mix, nuts, fruit, grains and cheese.  Check the dressing: if it is very thick, add a little lemon juice or water to it.  Add 1/4 cup of dressing and toss to combine all ingredients. Add more dressing, if desired. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, if necessary.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Randy Rucker and a wine tasting dinner

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How does he do it, this chef Randy Rucker guy?

He arrives at our host’s studio at 3:30 in the afternoon to start prepping our wine dinner for that very evening!   All by himself…eight courses…and after fishing with his family off Bolivar all morning! 

Randy’s motto reads “Mother nature gave us perfect food, my job is not to mess it up”.   To begin with, he acquires the freshest local ingredients.  Heavy on seafood courses (no complaints from me here!) his light-handed touch in preparing seafood harkens back to days in Peru learning tiradito.  East meets west in tiradito:  Japanese immigrants introduced Peruvians to sashimi – sliced raw fish, not cubed; in a light dressing and not acid-cooked (as in ceviche).

The first course (pictured above) was bay scallops, sashimi style, with orange zest and serrano chile, served with a Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne.  Divine!

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Black Drum dressed in miso, shiro dashi and herbs was served with wakame and green apple - to bring out the fruit in the wine - a Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Sauvignon Blanc.  The leche de chile (juices) on the bottom tasted like nectar!

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Golden Croaker, caught that morning by Randy himself, was marinated in lime, cream sake, basil, and dashi (made with the Croaker heads and bones and mushroom stems);  finished with purple basil and thinly sliced serrano peppers.  The accompanying wine was perfect with this dish:  K Vintners 2008 Columbia Valley Viogner.

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Randy was lucky Helen didn’t inhale the bok choy sautéed in duck fat, as Jeff listens.

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Pork Belly - fatty and luscious with a thick and crispy crust, ciccarones (niblets of pork skin), trumpet royale mushrooms and baby bok choy.  I’ve never eaten so much pork fat in one sitting and enjoyed it so much!  To cut the fat:  K Vintners 2006 Morrison Lane Syrah.  A theme begins to emerge – complex and flavorful wines of Washington State.

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Doris and Bode chat while Nina watches Randy pour.

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Kabocha squash soup - creamy but cream less, with cinnamon butter, zests of lemon, lime and orange.  Finished with fresh basil and oregano, and served with a white wine - K Vintners Columbia Valley 2008 Viogner, just to keep our taste buds hopping!  The tartness of the wine was offset by the sweetness of the soup.

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Nope.  Doris and Nina didn’t like it very much!

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It was a blind tasting…each bottle was wrapped twice so that Tim couldn’t cheat!  Mwahahaha!

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Duck confit, roasted duck and cedar infused parsnip puree – another perfect match with Quilceda Creek’s 2003 Merlot. 

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Randy plates the beef ribs braised in kabajaki sauce, served with Yukon gold potatoes and maitaki mushrooms.  Served with K Vintners 2006 Walla Walla Valley Grenache (with 6% Syrah).

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Not your ordinary chocolate mousse – here’s it’s made with goat’s milk and spiced with lots of cayenne pepper.  Acutely spicy and strong enough to put hair on one’s chest, I was the last one standing and begging for more!   Lionetti 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 100 points Quilceda Creek 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon.

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And to top it all off, a Humboldt Fog with whole grain crackers…oozing, rich and a magnificent way to end the dinner.

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Thanks Ralph for hosting another memorable wine tasting!  You have raised the bar once again!

Read about Randy’s Tenacity dinner (held at the studio) by clicking on the link.