Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: "Hag-Seed" by Margaret Atwood

Many authors have re-envisioned Shakespeare's plays using contemporary settings and contemporary language, with  varying degrees of success.  What makes Margaret Atwood's "Hag-Seed", a re-envisioning of Shakespeare's "The Tempest", so interesting is that it includes a re-envisioned performance of the play within a reimagined and modernized version of the plot.  It is, essentially, Shakespeare within Shakespeare.

The inner version of the play is a performance put on by prison inmates.  They paraphrase and modernize the language, creatively interpret the costuming, and stage the performance by way of video editing rather than a strictly traditional live performance.  The outer version of the play is the story within which the actual play is produced, a story which parallels the plot of "The Tempest."

Director and actor Felix has had a highly successful run of organizing (and directing, and starring in) an annual Shakespeare festival, staging new versions of many of Shakespeare's plays. That is, until his assistant Tony stages a coup, takes over his position, and gets Felix blacklisted.  Felix, devastated, withdraws from society and the theatre scene.  We learn that Felix had lost his wife in childbirth and then his beloved daughter to an illness only a few years later.  He imagines that his daughter, Miranda, is still with him, growing up and becoming a young woman.  He knows it is only a fantasy, but it keeps him sane to imagine being with her in his self-induced exile.  After a few years he is ready to reenter the theatre world, but only under a pseudonym, and only with actors who have no chance of recognizing him from his former life.  He gets a job teaching English literature to medium security prison inmates (under the pseudonym Mr. Duke), and he uses Shakespearean drama as his main teaching tool.  After several successful years, he discovers that his old nemesis, Tony, along with several other important politicians, plans to visit the prison, with the intention of canceling the funding of the English program.  Felix plots his revenge using a production of The Tempest and the assistance of several technologically savvy inmates. (Atwood cleverly weaves in some themes from Hamlet, a bit of "the play's the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.")

Admittedly, there are several aspects of the plot which are dubious, at best.  It takes some willing suspension of disbelief to accept that a prison would hire a teacher without a full background check, that important politicians would enter a prison unescorted by armed guards of any kind, or that they would willingly eat food at the prison after being attacked and restrained by the inmates.  However, the characters and the plot are intriguing enough for the reader to skip over minor plot holes such as this.

As a fan of Shakespeare in general, and of "The Tempest" in particular, I really enjoyed the parallels between the outer story and the original material.  I suspect there are some parallels and details that would be missed by a reader with less familiarity with the original play, but the story is interesting enough and well-told enough that it is worth reading even for a reader who has never read "The Tempest."  The plot of the play within the story is explained enough to make many of the parallels clear without any previous familiarity with Shakespeare's work. In addition, the inmates' final analysis of their characters is a fascinating study that is likely to encourage the reader to go back and read (or re-read) Shakespeare's play. 

I enjoyed this novel very much, and would recommend it to Shakespeare fans and non-fans, alike. 

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books. For more information about Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, please see the Penguin Random House website.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

No-Cook Recipes

My husband is fond of saying that he doesn't cook, he just heats. But some recipes don't even require heating - and in the summertime, that's often exactly what I'm looking for. Admittedly, there aren't a lot of entrees in this category, but on a hot, sticky summer night, sometimes a few cold appetizers or side dishes are all I want for dinner. Here are some of my favorite non-cooked recipes.

Million Dollar Dip
5 green onions, chopped
2 cups shredded cheddar
1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup real bacon bits (or crumbled bacon; we often save leftover breakfast bacon so I don't count this as cooking)
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Stir together all ingredients and chill for at least 2 hours. Serve with crackers, apple slices, or sweet bell pepper wedges.

Ricotta Lemon Basil Bruschetta
1 cup ricotta
zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp shredded basil leaves
1 baguette, sliced

Stir the lemon zest into the ricotta and spread on baguette slices. (If you DO want to cook, you can briefly broil the bread, then turn over, drizzle with olive oil, and broil again until lightly browned before spreading.) Sprinkle basil over bruschetta and drizzle lightly with honey before serving.

Chicken Salad Topped Apples
Granny Smith apples
canned chicken
celery, chopped
candied pecans
salt and pepper

Drain the canned chicken and break it up with a fork. Stir in mayonnaise, celery, craisins, and salt and pepper to desired taste and consistency. Core the apples and slice thinly. Top each slice with a large scoop of chicken salad and top with a few pecans. Serve immediately.

Southwest Chicken Dip
1-1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 cups shredded or diced chicken (leftover or canned)
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 large bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange), diced
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1-3/4 cups frozen corn, thawed
salt to taste

Stir together yogurt and seasonings and set aside. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients except salt. Stir in yogurt mixture and add salt to taste. Chill in refrigerator for at least an hour. Serve with tortilla chips.

Herbed and Spiced Goat Cheese Balls
1-1/4 lbs soft goat cheese
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
2 tbsp finely chopped pecans
1 tbsp freshly cracked black pepper
2 tsp paprika
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Line a cookie sheet or flat platter with parchment paper. Form goat cheese into 1-tbsp balls and place on parchment. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to set slightly. Place the parsley, dill, pecans, and black pepper in 4 separate small bowls. Roll several balls in each to coat and set aside. Sprinkle the paprika in a thin straight line on a cutting board and straighten edges of the line with a knife. Roll some of the balls down the line to form a neat red band. Pour the olive oil on a serving platter and sprinkle with red pepper. arrange balls on platter and serve with toothpicks.

Apple Dip
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey

Combine all ingredients and serve with tart apple slices.

Caprese Salad
Fresh tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Fresh basil leaves (and/or pesto)
Balsamic vinegar or glaze

Thickly slice tomatoes. Top each with a slice of mozzarella and a single basil leaf (and/or a small spoonful of pesto). Drizzle with balsamic vinegar or glaze and serve immediately. (Note: If using vinegar rather than glaze, you may also drizzle with a little olive oil.)

Chickpea Salad
2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 small bell pepper, finely chopped
2 ribs of celery with leaves, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic, ground into a paste with salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Mix together all ingredients except vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. Combine remaining ingredients, drizzle over salad, and toss well to coat.

Chopped Salad
1 Romaine heart, chopped (about 6 cups)
6 oz fresh mozzarella, diced
4 oz salami or pepperoni, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 12-oz jar marinated artichokes, drained and chopped and the liquid reserved
10-12 large fresh basil leaves, chopped

Toss together all except basil and reserved liquid from artichokes. Drizzle with just enough reserved liquid to moisten, then top with basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss till combined.

Summer Squash Carpaccio
1 summer squash
1 zucchini
minced shallots
several tbsp chopped fresh herbs (whatever you have on hand)
lemon juice
olive oil
grated pecorino

Thinly slice the squash and zucchini lengthwise, using a mandolin. Arrange a few slices on a plate in a single layer. Sprinkle with shallots and herbs then drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Repeat until there are about 5 layers. Top with pecorino and allow to marinate for 20 minutes before serving.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

2017 Tony Awards: Red Carpet Review

Sadly, the red carpet for the Tony awards gets much less coverage that most red carpet events.  I'm not sure why, because most theatrical performers are, not surprisingly, dramatic.  And we all love to dress up at the drop of a hat.  Yet I struggled to find a complete collection of red carpet photographs from last night's Tonys.  However, I did find photos of enough interesting looks to put together a review.  Here goes!

Kate Baldwin's one-shouldered cobalt blue satin wrap gown was stunning, particularly with her beautiful red bob and peaches-and-cream complexion.  The fabric was a bit wrinkled, but that almost worked into the intriguing seaming, and the tailoring was excellent. I loved the slight puffiness of the short train, which lent it some nice structure.  The cut was simple with just enough interesting details to be striking. A really lovely look.

I loved the fabric of Amanza Smith Brown's gown, with its embroidered red flowers on a white chiffon background.  I loved the way the A-line skirt flared softly and I liked the three white bands around the waist, but the bodice was not shaped correctly and looked very uncomfortable as well as overly revealing.  A slightly narrower V in the bodice and this look would have knocked it out of the park.

I wasn't sure if I liked Glenn Close's gown when I saw her sitting down, but I really liked it in full view.  I thought the patterning of the fabric was interesting and graceful, and almost slightly geometric.  The squared neckline was flattering, as was the slit in the wrapped skirt, both of which allowed some skin to show but in a restrained and classy way.  The styling was age appropriate without being matronly.  And the silvery blue color was stunning with Close's close-cropped silver hair, which set off those incredible cheekbones and intense eyes. A beautiful and elegant look.

Jenn Colella's dramatic black and white ensemble was one of the most striking looks of the evening, and one of my personal favorites.  Her slim black skirt was topped with a structured white bodice and full cutaway front overlay skirt.  The sharp diagonal angles of the neckline were balanced beautifully by the soft draping at the waist, and the tiny pops of bright red in her bag and lipstick were the perfect accents. She would have looked right at home on a Paris runway.

I liked Tina Fey's dress at a distance better than close up.  The fringe at the bottom of her openwork sheath dress worked for me, creating a subtle, textured flare, but the bits of eyelash fabric on the main body of the dress just looked messy and actually detracted from the lovely openwork of the fabric. The dress was a great silhouette on her, though, so overall, it was a nice look.

Sally Field also wore an age appropriate gown that was far from matronly.  Her midnight blue, off the shoulder lace sheath with train was flattering, if unremarkable. She wears this color often, and it sets off her dramatic coloring beautifully. The most positive aspect of this gown is that it fades into the background so that you focus on the wearer, not the dress. Which is not a bad thing.

Sutton Foster opted for a very traditional black beaded gown with plunging neckline and slightly full skirt.  Black is always lovely with her dark hair and pale skin, and the halter style bodice showed off her tall and slender figure to perfection.  Proof that simple can be striking.

Jane Houdyshell, Paula Vogel, and Anna Fausto-Sterling were three of several older women wearing striking pantsuits.  All three wore loose-fitting black pants and tunic style blouses topped with long, loose silver jackets.  Elegant, if a bit casual, these ladies looked comfortable but still right at home on the red carpet. Extra points to Fausto-Sterling for the touch of color in her soft turquoise scarf.

Keltie Knight sometimes hits and sometimes misses on the red carpet, but she's never afraid to take a risk.  In this case, however, that risk did not pay off.  The shape of the neckline is quite pretty, with its black scalloped lace, but the shoulders are too square and puffy, and the black granny panties with tight, see through lace pants were just plain ugly.  And her nearly nude makeup and boring hair aren't helping any. She's a stunningly beautiful woman, but this outfit does its best to conceal that fact.

I loved Mimi Lien's metallic gold flapper inspired gown.  The angled hemline was graceful and the horizontal bands of fabric across the bodice concealed just enough skin to avoid looking trashy.  I'm not sure whether the multiple gold chokers were part of the dress or not, but I loved them. There were just enough non-period details to make the dress couture instead of costumey. And the dress had really beautiful movement and swing. But the best part of the gown was how perfectly it echoed her fascinatingly melded vintage/contemporary design for Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, for which she won the Tony for Best Scenic Design of a Musical.

I wanted to love Laura Linney's dress, I really did.  And I do love the silhouette, especially the shape of the bodice and the narrow belt tying in one of the colors of the print.  But the hem was too long and the fabric pattern was too busy.  I think I might have liked it at a cocktail length, but as a full length gown it was just too much and too busy.

Bette Midler's gown was surprisingly bland.  I loved the flared ruffles on the sleeves and the overall silhouette, but the simple neckline and drab fabric were just boring.  Change the neckline to a V or square neck and change the color to emerald or scarlet and it would have worked. Midler is just too big of a personality to wear such a bland dress. She did, however, end up taking home the Tony for Beat Leading Actress in a Musical, so that was a pretty nice accessory. 

Patina Miller's electric pink maternity gown was simple but pretty.  The color was terrific on her, but I would have loved just a few more interesting details.  Perhaps a touch of lace or scalloped finish at the neckline or a statement necklace or bracelet, or even a whimsical clutch would have given her that needed pop. But her pregnancy glow was the best accessory she could have had, and she did look truly lovely.

I loved the geometric patterns of Eva Noblezada's black and white ethnic inspired dress.  The chain of circles at the shoulders and hem softened the straight lines, and the peeps of skin at cleavage, waist, and thigh were modestly covered with lacing.  It was both visually interesting and flattering, and she wore it beautifully.

If I could have chosen any gown from the Tony awards to add to my own closet, it would have been this stunning jeweled halter worn by Cristina Ottaviano.  The bodice was encrusted with dark and light purple and amber jewels, which were spaced further and further apart towards the bottom of the dress, until revealing black fabric from the knees down.  It was a truly striking look, further emphasized by her sleek and hair and understated makeup.

Sarah Paulson is often a disaster on the red carpet, but in this case she was definitely on the well dressed list.  Her two piece gauzy white column puddled gracefully at the hem, and the texture of the fabric was just enough detail to make it interesting.The slight flare at the hem of the bodice broke up the silhouette beautifully and was a lovely change from a standard fitted sheath. Her deep red handbag and diamond chandelier earrings were the perfect finishing touches.

Cobie Smulders sported a whimsical ball gown with an interesting print that reminded me of Eric Carle illustrations.  The simple bodice and flared skirt needed no fancy details other than the bold print, and her simple shiny bob and minimal makeup gave her a fresh youthful look. A slightly different and very pretty look.

Rebecca Taichman wore another of my favorite looks of the evening.  Her flowing gown consisted of bands of black, silver, and copper, with just a few hints of see-through panels.  The beautifully curved diagonal lines were graceful and flattering, and the lightweight fabric looked airy and comfortable.  It was a lovely and subtle upgrade from basic black. Taichman took home the Tony for Best Direction of a Play, but she easily held her own fashion-wise with any of the on-stage performers. 

Chrissy Teigen's white and gold art deco column emphasized her curves in all the right places.  I loved the notched bodice and plain white skirt with two simple gold lines.  And of course, John Legend on your arm is always the perfect accessory.

I'm not sure what Uma Thurman was thinking in this shapeless black sack.  The deep v neckline was pretty, but the pushed-up sleeves, slightly too short skirt, and the pockets which were not big enough for her hands (which did not stop her from trying to use them, however) were simply not right for a red carpet event.  Too bad she didn't reuse one of her gowns from Cannes!

Liu Wen, on the arm of designer Zach Posen, looked positively ethereal in this floating, off the shoulder, floral print ball gown.  The softness of the fabric, paired with the fitted bodice, came off as feminine without being girly.  And the dark background of the print brings a certain maturity. Everything about this gown was well-thought-out and carefully designed, and the result was simply gorgeous.

And finally, we have Olivia Wilde in her bright red bathrobe.  The sleeves are a little too wide, the hem is a little too long, the front is a little too open, and the silhouette is a little too shapeless.  It just comes off as drab, which isn't easy to do in a red spangled gown. But it serves to prove that the devil really is in the details, and balance and proportion are crucial in any design.

 It would be unfair to close this review without including the award winners who were not pictured in my original photo source, so here is the list of major award winners for whom I could find photos. (Women only, simply because the men were uniformly well-dressed, and where's the fun in critiquing that?)

Best Leading Actress in a Play, Laurie Metcalf, wore a deep green satin gown with a heavily draped neckline and a-line skirt with a knee-length slit. From the front, the dress was almost dowdy, but the back featured a wide keyhole opening that was a startlingly sexy contrast to the restrained front, and bumped my opinion of the dress up several notches. Shame on the photographers for not capturing a rear view.

Best Featured Actress in a Play, Cynthia Nixon, wore a pale pink satin sheath with a huge bow and trailing tails at the back. The color was perfect on her, as was the silhouette. My only quibbles were that the hem was just a hair too short, and the deep orange shoes didn't work for me. But still, it was a simple and elegant look that suited her well.

Another of my favorite looks of the night was worn by Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Rachel Bay Jones. Her strapless, Tiffany blue ballgown featured a full, flared skirt and a wide self-belt with buckle, and it really didn't need any other details. The fabric had such gorgeous body and structure that it floated instead of looking heavy or bulky as ballgowns sometimes do. And her softly waved blond hair and light, fresh makeup were just right for the simple style.

I am always fascinated by the range of outfits worn by costume designers on the red carpet, from completely bland to completely outrageous, but Jane Greenwood, who won for Best Costume Design of a Play, struck a beautiful middle ground. Her full black satin skirt and plain black round-necked top were basic, but served as the perfect canvas for her beautifully-tailored, Asian-inspired, watercolor print jacket. I loved the simple accessories of a black neck scarf, large black frogs on the jacket, and a small silver pendant. This is a designer who clearly knows her stuff.

Any fashions that caught your eye that I missed? Let me know in the comments!!

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Unusual Recipes That I'd Really like to Try

I'm an adventurous cook in the sense that I like to try out new recipes, but not in the sense of trying out recipes with especially unusual ingredients or techniques. My family is somewhat picky, and I don't want to end up throwing out an entire meal (or eating the leftovers myself at every meal for a week). But there are definitely some recipes on my mental list that I'd love to try to make...someday. Here are a few of them.

Chicken Tikka Masala
I love Indian food. No, I ADORE Indian food. But my family members are not fans, and most Indian recipes call for a number of spices and ingredients that I don't keep on hand. So I satisfy my cravings for Indian food mainly through patronizing restaurant booths at fairs and carnivals. But someday I'd love to try this recipe!
2 lbs chicken breasts, cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 (29 oz) can tomato sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (adjust to your personal heat preference)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp cornstarch
juice of 1/2 lemon (~1 tbsp)

Combine all ingredients except bay leaves, cream, cornstarch, and lemon juice, stirring with a large spatula until chicken is well coated. Grease the inside of the crockpot crock or line with a crockpot liner. Pour chicken inside and place the bay leaves on top. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours (or on high for 4 hours). When done, combine cream and cornstarch and gently stir into chicken. Cover and cook on low for 20 more minutes to thicken. Gently stir in lemon juice just before serving.

Beef and Cheese Empanadas
Another somewhat spicy dish that my family wouldn't enjoy, this recipe calls for just a few unusual ingredients (such as adobo), but also a few techniques that I'm admittedly weak on, such as sealing dough pockets. But someday maybe I'll get brave and give these a shot.

3-1/4 cup flour
2 tsp salt, divided
3/4 cup butter (cold)
3 eggs, divided
1/2 cup very cold water
1-1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 onion, chopped
oil for sauteing
1 lb ground beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 chipotles in adobo
1 tbsp adobo sauce
1-2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
ground black pepper
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, cut into small chunks

Whisk together flour and 1-1/2 tsp salt. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to flour. Using your fingers, crumble the butter into the flour. Mix just enough to get a crumbly texture with a few lumps of butter remaining.

In a bowl, combine 2 eggs, vinegar, and cold water. Add to flour and blend with a fork. Combine just enough to form a cohesive ball but do not knead. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Saute the onion in a small amount of oil over medium-high heat for several minutes. Add the beef and cook until browned. Drain fat. Add minced garlic and saute briefly. Add chipotles, adobo, chili powder, cumin, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper. Add a splash of water and simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently.

When dough is chilled, roll it out on a floured surface, dividing in quarters or thirds if you have a small work surface. Roll out to no more than 1/4" thickness. Using a biscuit cutter or a large glass, cut out rounds. Place 1-2 tbsp of beef mixture and a few chunks of cheese on each round. Lift both edges of the round and seal with fingers, then lay flat and seal further with a fork. Beat the remaining egg with a splash of water and brush each empanada with egg wash. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Venison Jerky
I've only eaten venison a few times, but I find it absolutely delicious. And I love the salty spiciness of jerky. So if any of my hunter friends ever see fit to provide me with a few pounds of venison, I'd love to try this recipe.
4 lbs venison
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp Hungarian hot paprika (adjust to taste)
1 tsp liquid smoke
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp hot sauce (adjust to taste)

Trim any fat from meat and cut into 4-inch strips, 1/4"-1/2" thick. (This is easier if the meat is partially frozen.) Pound lightly and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour over meat, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Line cookie sheets with foil and lay meat out in a single layer. Bake at 150-175 degrees (whatever the lowest setting your oven allows) for 3 hours, then turn over and bake 3 more hours, until meat is dry.

Venison Loin with Chocolate-Infused Sauce
This sounds both delicious and vaguely bizarre. Red wine with red meat is wonderful; red wine with dark chocolate is wonderful; why not combine all three? Yeah, I'd totally try this some time.
1-1/2 pound venison loin
4 cups red wine
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme (plus more for garnish)
4 cups venison (or beef) stock
1/4 cup semisweet dark chocolate chips
salt and pepper
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 cup honey
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 lb chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1-12/ lbs braising greens (collards, chard, bok choy, radicchio, turnip greens, mustard greens)
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Place the venison in a glass bowl or baking dish and add wine, bay leaves, and thyme. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Remove meat from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Pour marinade into non-reactive (stainless steel, glass, enamel) saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add the stock and reduce heat to medium-low. Reduce again by half and remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Season the venison with salt and pepper. in an oven-safe saute pan over medium-high heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil. Sear the loin on one side until golden brown; turn over and place pan in 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the loin registers 130 degrees (medium rare). Remove from pan and allow to rest.

In a saute pan over high heat, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add chanterelles and season with salt and pepper. Saute 4-6 minutes, until tender. Set aside.

In another saute pan over medium-high heat, heat the remaining tbsp of oil and saute garlic until golden, about 30 seconds. Quickly add braising greens and lemon juice. Saute until tender, stirring frequently. Reserve.

In a small bowl, combine the pecans and honey. Roll the venison in the mixture and slice into 4 portions. To serve, drizzle some chocolate sauce on each plate and then layer braising greens, chanterelles, and sliced venison. Drizzle with honey-pecan mixture and garnish with a sprig of thyme.

Spicy Thai Lobster Soup
I love spicy food, I love Thai food, I love lobster, and I love soup. Nothing more need be said.
2 lobster tails, cooked
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 to 1-1/2 tbsp Asian Blend (commercially available spice blend, or make your own with this recipe)
4 cups fish (or chicken) broth
1 tbsp fresh lime zest
1/3 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
6 large mushrooms, sliced
2 green onions, chopped
1 thai or bird chile, halved
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp fresh lime juice

Remove lobster meat from shell. Slice and set aside. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in Asian Blend and saute for 1 minute. Add broth and lime zest and bring to a boil. Stir in rice. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and mushrooms; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in lobster, green onion, chile, and cilantro and cook 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Garnish with fresh cilantro and a lime wedge.

Let's be honest: The reason I'm never going to make this is not because it's difficult or because it calls for exotic ingredients. The reason I'm never going to make this is because it's a lot of work and I'm lazy. And the Costco bakery has really good baklava on a regular basis. But someday I'll get inspired to try it myself. Maybe.
1 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed in fridge for 24 hours and left at room temperature for 1 hour before using (Note: remove only the sheets you immediately need; cover remaining dough with plastic wrap and a damp towel until ready to use)
4 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup butter
2 cups honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp vanilla

Toss together the nuts and cinnamon and set aside. Butter a rectangular baking pan that's no large than a sheet of phyllo (you can trim the phyllo if it's too big). Brush the top sheet of phyllo with melted butter and grab it and the next sheet of dough and set in buttered pan, butter side down. Press lightly into pan. Repeat twice, so you have 6 sheets of dough in the pan, 3 of them buttered. Cover with a layer of nuts. Butter two sheets of phyllo as before and place on top of the nuts. Add another layer of nuts then two more sheets of phyllo, buttered. Repeat until nuts are used up. Top with 4 more sheets of buttered phyllo, ending with a buttered top. Cut diagonally into diamonds with a sharp knife. bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until very golden brown.

While baking, combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. When baklava come out of the oven, drizzle half the mixture over the top. Allow to sit and absorb for a few minutes, then drizzle on more until thoroughly moistened. You may not use the entire mixture. Allow to cool (uncovered) for several hours before serving.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Best Herb Recipes

I love this time of year for a lot of reasons, one of which is that my herb garden is happily thriving. I love using fresh herbs in all kinds of recipes. Here are some of my favorite recipes for cooking and cocktails.

Basil is a staple in my herb garden. We only have basic sweet basil this year, but in past years we've had purple basil (especially pretty in cocktails), and many other varieties are available, including cinnamon basil, lemon basil, sweet Thai basil, and licorice basil. Basil is fantastic in Italian recipes, especially anything involving pasta, tomatoes, cheese, and/or chicken.

Tomato Basil Pasta
A quick summer dinner or side dish, delicious served hot or cold. Use fresh tomatoes if you have them; if not, canned are fine (either plain or with added herbs or garlic).

10 oz dry pasta (any shape)
6 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic (or 2 tsp minced)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups diced tomatoes (or 1 can tomatoes, undrained and omit salt)
6 leaves fresh basil, torn or chiffonaded
3 tbsp grated Parmesan
3/4 cups crumbled feta
Salt and pepper
Optional: 1 can chicken, drained and broken apart with a fork

Cook pasta as directed and drain. Combine olive oil, garlic, onion, tomatoes and basil in a small bowl; let sit at room temperature. Toss pasta with Parmesan and feta. Stir in tomato mixture and chicken (if using); add salt and pepper to taste. Top with additional Parmesan if desired. Serve immediately or chill thoroughly and serve cold.

Caprese Chicken
An easy skillet meal that's delicious any time of year, but especially when the tomatoes and basil are fresh from your garden. If you want to use full-sized tomatoes instead of grape or cherry tomatoes, just cut them into large chunks. 
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb. chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 2 tsp minced garlic)
1 pint grape (or cherry) tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp shredded fresh basil
4 slices mozzarella

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook until golden and cooked through; about 6 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Add vinegar to skillet and deglaze, then add garlic and stir for about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and season with salt. Let simmer until soft, 5-7 minutes. Stir in basil. Return chicken to skillet and nestle in tomatoes. Top chicken with mozzarella and cover pan; allow to melt. Spoon tomatoes over cheese and serve immediately. 

Basil Lemonade (cocktail or mocktail)
Basil and lemon are a wonderfully refreshing combination, in food or in drinks. For a non-alcoholic version, simply omit the vodka and use a little extra water. For extra fun, top with a splash of seltzer or lemon-lime soda. 
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon simple syrup, 1/4 cup water, a handful of basil leaves, and 1 oz vodka (if using). Feel free to adjust amounts to your preferred sweet-tart ratio. Shake until well chilled and strain into a glass with ice. Garnish with basil leaves and a lemon wedge. 

Rosemary is another wonderfully versatile herb that works well with both sweet and savory ingredients. It's especially complementary with lamb, but works well with just about any meat. 

Honey Rosemary Pork Chops
Grilled pork chops are frequently on the summer dinner menu at my house, and I'm always looking for new recipes. This one is a bit unusual, and very tasty. 

Vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
4 6-ounce boneless pork chops, each about 3/4-inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat a clean grill to medium-high with the lid closed for 8-10 minutes. Lightly brush the grates with oil.

In a small bowl whisk together the honey, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and rosemary. Transfer half to a small bowl to glaze the pork chops. Reserve the remaining glaze to brush on the cooked chops.

Lightly brush the pork chops with the remaining olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Lightly brush the honey-rosemary glaze on both sides of each chop.

Place the chops on the grill. Close the lid and cook until golden brown and slightly charred, about 5 to 6 minutes. Turn the chops. Continue cooking for 6 to 8 more minutes for medium. Remove the chops from the heat, brush with more glaze, and set aside to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Crispy Rosemary Sweet Potatoes
I made these for Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago and they became an instant tradition. Even my non-vegetable-loving kids cleaned their plates. Just keep an eye for that last 10-15 minutes so they don't burn. 

3 Tablespoons butter, melted
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary, or 1/2 tsp. fresh
3 lbs. (3-4 medium) sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1 shallot, peeled and sliced thinly
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Combine melted butter, oil and crushed rosemary in a small bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons of butter-oil mixture in the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish. Arrange potato slices vertically in the dish. Add a sliver of shallot between every few slices of potato. Brush top with remaining butter-oil mixture. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Cover dish with foil and roast at 400 for 1 hour, covered, until potatoes are tender (thick slices may take extra time). Increase oven heat to 450 degrees. Remove foil and roast another 10-15 minutes, until tops of potatoes are browned and crisp.

Rosemary Mule
A friend introduced me to the delightful combination of rosemary and ginger beer in cocktails, and this simple variation on a Moscow Mule makes the most of it. You can also add a splash of cranberry juice. 
In a copper mug (or tall glass) with ice, combine 1 oz vodka and 1 tablespoon lime juice, then top with ginger beer. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a wedge of lime. 

Like rosemary, mint is especially wonderful with lamb, but will pair with many sweet and savory ingredients. 

Mint Jelly
I grew up eating ground lamb patties topped with bright green mint jelly from the store, but homemade mint jelly is even better (albeit not naturally green - just add a bit of food coloring if you prefer it green). If your mint grows as profusely as mine, you'll have more than enough to make it worth canning a batch of your own homemade jelly.

1 1/2 cups fresh mint, washed and packed
3 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 (1 3/4 ounce) box pectin
4 cups granulated sugar

Crush mint leaves. Add water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 10 minutes. Strain and measure 3 cups of mint infusion. Add lemon juice (and, if desired, 2-3 drops green food coloring). Add pectin, dissolve, and bring to a rapid boil. Add sugar. Cook fast, stirring occasionally until it comes to a rapid boil that cannot be stirred down, then cook 1 minute more. Pour into sterilized jelly glasses and seal. 

Minted Peas
Mint and peas are a surprisingly complementary combination, and another dish which is even more delicious if the ingredients are fresh from your garden. Great as a side dish or on toasted bread as bruschetta.
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 small bunch fresh mint
boiling water
salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil

Put the peas in a small (cold) saucepan and lay the mint on top. Pour in just enough boiling water to cover, then put the lid on. Return to a boil over high heat and cook for a few minutes until peas are just tender. Drain in a colander and place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add vinegar. Add olive oil and mix well. Let sit for half an hour before serving. 

Minted Arnold Palmer (cocktail or mocktail)
I love mint leaves added to both lemonade and iced tea, so why not add them to an Arnold Palmer? As with the basil lemonade above, simply omit the vodka for the non-alcoholic version. 
In a cocktail shaker, muddle a few mint leaves with the back of a spoon, then add crushed ice. Add a 1:1 ratio of prepared lemonade and iced tea, or a spoonful of each mix and water. Add 1 oz vodka, if desired. Shake until well blended and chilled, then strain over ice in a tall glass and garnish with a mint sprig. 

I love the pungent bite of chives, alone or mixed with other herbs. It pairs especially well with potatoes and chicken. It does not do well in cocktails, however, so no drink recipes for this one. 

Garlic and Chive Mashed Potatoes
Sour cream for richness and garlic and chives for flavor - yummy!

4 lb Yukon Gold potatoes (about 10), peeled and quartered
1-1/3 cups milk
2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tbsp fresh chives, chopped (plus additional for garnish)
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 12-14 minutes, until tender. While potatoes are cooking, place milk and garlic cloves in a small pot and bring just to a boil then remove from heat and let stand. Drain the cooked potatoes and mash with a hand masher, then beat with an electric mixer. Return to the stove over medium heat for about 2 minutes until slightly dry then remove from heat. Discard the garlic cloves from milk mixture and add the milk to the potatoes. Stir in butter, sour cream, chives, salt, and pepper, mixing until well combined. Garnish with additional chives. 

Sauteed Chicken in Creamy Chive Sauce
Rich enough to be a winter recipe but convenient stovetop cooking makes is great for summer as well. Serve with mashed potatoes and whatever fresh vegetable is in season. 
4 chicken breasts
Flour for dredging
3 tsp olive oil, divided
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1-3/4 cups chicken broth 
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped chives

Pound chicken breasts to an even thickness of about 1/2-inch. Season both sides with salt. Dredge the chicken in flour, both sides. Heat 2 tsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. 

Heat the remaining tsp of oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring constantly and scraping up any browned bits, until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp flour and stir to coat. Add wine, chicken broth, and 1/2 tsp salt and bring to boil, stirring often. 

Return the chicken and any accumulating juices to the pan, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until heated through and no longer pink in the center, about 6 minutes. Stir in sour cream and mustard until smooth; turn chicken to coat with sauce. Stir in chives and serve immediately. 

Sour Cream Chive Rolls
Herbs in bread are delicious, and the bite of the chives is nicely balanced here by the creamy tartness of the sour cream.
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups flour
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

In a small saucepan, heat sour cream until very hot. Stir in salt, sugar, and melted butter and allow to cool to lukewarm. 

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Mix in sour cream mixture, eggs, flour, and chives. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 

Divide dough into 4 parts; shape each into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap when not working with them. Roll each ball into a 10-inch circle, allowing each to rest before proceeding. Cut each circle into 12 wedges using a pizza cutter or large knife. Starting at the wide end, roll each wedge, ending with the point and curving in the ends to form crescents. Place point-side down on greased (or parchment paper lined) cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Allow to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. 

Mixed Herbs
There are lots of recipes that call for various combinations of herbs, so I'm including a few that work well with whatever happens to be most plentiful in your herb garden that day. Have fun experimenting with combinations and proportions!

Herbed Rice
1-1/2 cups basmati rice
1-1/2 cups chopped mixed herbs (cilantro, dill, chives, tarragon, flat-leaf parsley, etc.)
4 medium scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and add rice. Boil, stirring occasionally, until slightly undercooked, about 10 minutes. Stir in herbs and scallions and drain with a strainer. In the empty saucepan, melt half the butter over moderately low heat. Return the rice to the pan and add the remaining butter. Stir gently and season with salt. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Fluff with fork before serving. 

Tuscan Herb Bread
2 tbsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp honey
4 cups all-purpose flour (plus additional for kneading)
4 cups whole-wheat flour
2 tsp salt
2 cups warm water
4 tbsp olive oil
Generous 1/4 cup fresh minced Italian parsley
Generous 2 tbsp fresh minced sage
Generous 2 tbsp fresh minced rosemary
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup cornmeal

Combine 1/2 cup lukewarm water, yeast, and honey in a small bowl and allow to stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. 

In a large bowl, combine both flours and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in yeast mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine a little of the flour. Add half the remaining water and continue to stir. Add the oil and the rest of the water and continue mixing, until most of the flour is mixed in and it becomes hard to stir. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. 

Gather dough together and knead for 5-10 minutes, sprinkling with flour as needed, if sticky, Dough will be heavy. Turn into a lightly oiled large bowl, cover with a damp towel, and allow to rise. If allowing to rise overnight, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. If doubled, punch down, knead a few times, turn it over, and either allow to rise again or prepare to shape the loaves. 

Combine the herbs and onion. Divide the dough in half and knead each portion, gently flattening the dough. Spread 1/4 of the herb mixture on the flattened dough; fold in half to cover herbs and knead. Flatten the dough again and spread another 1/4 of the herbs; fold and knead until the herbs are well worked into the dough. then shape into a loaf. Repeat with remaining dough and herbs. 

Lightly sprinkle a cookie sheet with cornmeal. Places the loaves on the sheet with space in between and sprinkle tops with cornmeal. With a sharp knife, make 2 or 3 diagonal slashes, about 1/2-inch deep, across the tops of the loaves. Place a towel over the loaves and allow to rise in a warm place until almost doubled. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack. 

Roasted Parmesan and Herb Potatoes
2-1/2 lbs baby red potatoes, halved (or quartered, if large)
2-1/2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra
3/4 cup shredded parmesan
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (can use any combination of herbs)
3/4 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a large mixing bowl, toss potatoes with 2-1/2 tbsp olive oil. Add parmesan, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper, and toss to coat. Spray or drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil and spread potatoes evenly. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes, then remove and toss (use large spatula if potatoes stick). Return to oven for 20 additional minutes, until golden and crisp on the outside. Serve immediately. 

Now go get picking and then go get cooking (and then go get eating)!!!

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