Friday, October 31, 2008

happy halloween...

True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and very few have truly seen. ~ François de la Rochefoucauld

Just a quick note to wish a Happy Halloween to all my faithful blog readers...

Have a frightfully wonderful day safe from ghosts, goblins and
things that goes bump in the night...

...or any femme fantôme that floats down your lane...
like Resurrection Mary thumbing for a ride home to the cemetery.

Wishing you pumpkin smiles and lots of chocolats in your trick or treat bags...
Happy Halloween...! ! !

Thursday, October 30, 2008

ancient soul food

I remember more dearly autumn afternoons that lay intensely silent
under old great trees. ~ C.S.Lewis

Today our autumn weather turned balmy and beautiful.
I put aside my chores and cares and walked for hours around the grounds of Graue Mill and along the trails near beautiful Salt Creek.
I come here quite often, to walk, to dream, to think, as this area is very beautiful on any day of the year.
But on this soft autumn afternoon, with red and gold leaves ablaze, taking this walk is a brilliant experience…one to remember.

I came upon the set of ancient millstones or Buhrstones that have ground corn and other grains for decades. These beautiful and ancient buhrstones are set outside of Graue Mill as a reminder of times past and the work these mighty stones had done to nourish this community.

I had walked over these humble stones a hundred times...maybe more…

I have sloshed over them in spring rain puddles,
stubbed my toe on the moss that grows around them in the summer
and totally ignored them when I trudged through the snow that buried them in a foot of winter white.

But today...the low autumn sun perfectly showcased these treasures and I saw them I had never seen them before.

I was in awe.

There was a subtle but a sublime beauty in their textures that whispered of their labor.

In the past, these simple stones helped to feed the people of this community.
This day, these ancient and beautiful stones fed my soul.

P.S. Joyeux anniversaire, dearest mama…

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

kitchen tip Tuesday…tomato powder

Yesterday morning I picked all the tomatoes that remained on my vines before the sleet-snow and freeze we were expecting hit here in the afternoon as predicted.
Some of the tomatoes were ripe and ready to eat.
But I had more red, ripe tomatoes than I could consume in salads the next few days, but not quite enough for lazy me to go through the canning process for a small batch of tomatoes.
(I also have quite enough canned to last me through the winter months.)

Then, I remembered that I had seen a segment on Gourmet Magazine TV: Diary of a Foodie, that aired on my PBS station last Sunday. A recipe that was featuerd was an ingenious method to make tomato powder.

I was intrigued.
This recipe seemed like a perfect solution to preserve the tomatoes that I had just harvested.

I had to try this method…!

And try I did... and it was a simple, fabulous, and a very different way to use tomatoes in a recipe
So I will to share my new-found kitchen magic with all of you, my dear blog readers.

tomato powder
(recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine TV: Diary of a Foodie, Season Two: The Inventors.)


ripe tomatoes


In a sheetpan, place a non-stick liner (such as a Silpat mat).
Preheat oven to 175ºF with rack placed in the center of the oven.

Cut the tomatoes crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices and arrange in a single layer on the non-stick mat.
Dry the tomato slices in oven, turning over once, until completely dehydrated and crisp.

In my temperamental oven, the drying time took 5 hours.
It make take a bit less so watch carefully near about the 4 hour mark.

I did not mind being a ”tomato sentry” for an hour as the gentle warmth of the stove was welcomed as I sat in my kitchen nook, watched the first dusting of wet snow out the window, read emails and wrote a blog post for another day.

When all the tomato slices felt crisp and crumbly to the touch, I moved the silpat off the warm sheet pan and set it on the counter to let the dried tomato slices cool throughly.

When cool, crumble the tomato slices into an electric coffee/spice grinder.
Grind to a fine powder.

Transfer the ground essence from the grinder to a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl.
Use a wooden or metal spoon to push powder through sieve.
Discard any pieces or seeds that remain.

Each 8 ounces of fresh tomatoes that I dried, (2 medium tomatoes),
yielded about 2 Tablespoons of the bright and intensely flavored Tomato Powder.

In an airtight container at room temperature, this tomato powder keeps indefinitely.
I stored mine in an old French jam jar with a rubber seal.

This rich tasting Tomato Powder is delicious tossed with garlic-buttered pasta or sprinkled over a fresh green salad that has been dressed with a vinegarette.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

A Bonus Tuesday Tip:
Cleaning the Spice Grinder

I have small electric grinder that I reserve solely for spices and my home-dried herbs.
At present I use a 5 year-old Krups coffee grinder.
But whatever you have (and there are some great spiffy new models out there) it needs to be cleaned between uses.

After use, I tap the body of the grinder and dump the dregs, then I gently wipe with a barely damp cloth.
Then I grind two or three batches of plain inexpensive white rice to remove the remains of the spice that was ground. I find that this also effectively removes the aroma as well.

After I dispose of the last batch of ground rice, I wipe the cap and grinder interior with a slightly damp cloth (unplug FIRST please…! )
Let the grinder air dry, et viola..!

You now have a clean, fresh grinder without residue or odors for your next batch of your own personal blend of fresh spices.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

half-price inspiration. and fun...

The book is there for inspiration and as a foundation,
the fundamentals on which to build.
Food should be fun.
~ Thomas Keller

I have wanted this book for ages and ages, since 2000 to be exact...!
But I just could not find it in my budget for many reasons.

Today I was so fortunate to find this books at the the Half-Price Bookstore

Not only are the books half-price, but I can exchange my books, magazines, CDs and DVDs for credits, so this exquisite $50.00+ book that was in perfect condition and with the credits I recieved, became well within my tiny, tiny book budget.
But no matter,
I am jubilant to have this big beautiful book filled with amazing images and culinary inspiration at such a tiny price...
woo-hoo...! ! !

I intend to try to cook some of the recipes in this wonderful book from a Chef that I have much admired for ages and feature them on this blog…definitely not all the recipes.

For that you have to go to the wonderful blog French Laundry at Home

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

make ahead…

With Halloween right around the corner, I have been gathering recipe ideas to bring to a Halloween bash and will also be adaptable for the upcoming holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In particular I have been searching for fast recipes that I can make ahead to have on hand for my parties and also to bring to family gatherings.

I really liked this recipe as it is a festive, colorful, decadent and delicious desert that holds up beautiful when make in advance. And because this recipe is so rich, I make them in the regular size for a dessert cupcake and in super-mini size for just a taste of indulgence.

I hope that you enjoy this recipe.

Mini Cheesecakes with Jam
Adapted form a recipe from Food and Wine Magazine 30th anniversary issue.


Vegetable Oil spray

24 plain Vanilla Wafer cookies, (like the Nabisco brand, but I used an organic brand from Whole Foods that I love. The organic band is less sweet, with a richer vanilla flavor, and is actually cheaper than the Nabisco brand.)

3 tablespoons unsalted Butter, melted.

1/4 cup Sugar

2 large Eggs

8 ounces Cream Cheese, at room temperature

2/3 cup Crème fraîche (6 ounces), at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure Vanilla extract (I also added the scrapings of the middle of one Vanilla bean as I love the depth of flavor and the speckled look that it adds.

1/4 cup preserves, warmed (Depending what I am making these cheesecakes for, I use various colors of preserves for different occasions: red raspberry and lime curd for Christmas, lingonberry, apricot or orange marmalade for Halloween, spiced plum for Thanksgiving, lemon curd of fresh cherry preserves for a summer desert. The combinations are up to you.)


Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with foil baking cups and spray the cups with vegetable oil spray. In a food processor, crush the vanilla wafer cookies.

Add the butter and process until fine crumbs form.

Spoon the cookie crumbs into the prepared baking cups and press with the bottom of a glass to compact.
Bake for 5 minutes, or until almost set.

Leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar at medium speed until smooth. Beat in the fromage blanc, then add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.
Pour the cheesecake batter into the baking cups, filling them three-quarters full.
Bake the cheesecakes for 15 minutes, or until slightly jiggly in the center.

Remove from the oven and spread 1 teaspoon of the warmed preserves on top of each cheesecake.

Transfer the muffin tin to the refrigerator and chill the cheesecakes until set, about 20-30 minutes.
Remove the cheesecakes from the pan and peel off the foil baking cups.

Transfer the cheesecakes to a platter and serve.

The cheesecakes can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
These also freeze very well because of their moderately high fat content and dense texture. The fat in the cream cheese and crème fraîche helps keep the ice crystals that form during freezing separate and small.

Be sure that you cool the cheesecakes completely before wrapping and freezing to keep extra moisture from condensing inside the wrapping.

Defrost ahead in the refrigerator the morning before your party.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

kitchen tip Tuesday…fresh herb preservation

I am introducing a new feature to feasting…on pixels that I am calling kitchen tip Tuesday.
It will highlight a new kitchen tip each week either from my personal collection of tips I discovered over the years, from cooking classes and trial and error discoveries.

I will also feature information on a new kitchen product trends that I discovered in my food discovery travels or a tip from my kitchen reference library volumes as:
How to Break an Egg,
How to Peel a Peach,
Food Lover’s Companion,
Cooking School Secrets for the Real World ,
Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks,
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,
Chef's Secrets: Insider Techniques from Today's Culinary Masters ,
I’m Just here for the Food, and many, many other sources.

The reference books that I own have so many real world handy techniques, kitchen tips, substitutions and emergency fixes that have helped me to me a better and more efficient cook. But I have to say they are not always the books that I curl up with on a cold winter’s night.

The brain child of this weekly feature is two fold: one of course is to bring you a small piece of kitchen help that I or others have amassed over the years or a brand new exciting food or kitchen trend.

The other driving force was to make use of all the food reference books and magazines that line my shelves and are piled on the floor in my workspace.
I know that I have not made the best use of all these food references that stuff my library walls or the kitchen tips that are stuffed in my brain.
So I guess you are helping me help you in a round about way…

fresh herb preservation

My favorite cooking herbs that I grow in my kitchen garden are chives, parsley, basil and oregano. In my small kitchen, there is not a great deal of counter space under the “gro-light” for herbs to live during the winter months. With that in mind, I harvest all that I can from those plants I cannot bring indoors.

Working in batches according to herb, I remove the parsley, oregano and basil leaves from the stems, wash them and give them a ride in the salad spinner.
Then I spread the herbes in a single layer of paper toweling to air dry on my counter.

I do the same for the chives, but instead of chopping them on a cutting board, I clip them with kitchen shears. I use a rubber band to hold the herbs together, and you clip the stems, simply move the rubber band back. The elastic will keep the chives taut and steady, making them easier to scissor through and less likely to get squashed if you had chopped them on a board.
I put each batch of herbs into the microwave separately and nuke the batches at 20 second intervals on high checking for dryness to touch between each turn.
The herbs usually take about 1- 2 minutes total for each batch.

Be particularly careful with the basil leaves as these tender leaves are easily burnt.
Discard any that get brown before storing.
Set each batch on its paper towel on the counter to cool.
If herbs are dry to the touch, store in an airtight container away from light and heat.

Although this method is a bit time consuming, the final result is that the herbs remain green, fragrant, and much more flavorful than the dry herbs from the mega-mart. Plus I know that they were grown with pesticides.

And in the dead of winter while I am making a rich stew, a warming soup, a savory pasta sauce or adding an herb garnish, I have these aromatic herbs put by not only as a reminder of my summer herb garden, but a promise of flavorful recipes all winter.

Monday, October 20, 2008

of pumpkins…(part trois) ~ pumpkins and Halloween

The origin of Halloween dates back at least 3,000 years to the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-ain). The festival was held starting at sundown on October 31st and lasted until sundown on November 1st. It was similar to the modern practice of the New Years celebration.

On this magical night, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones, but also to act as protection against malevolent spirits. Burning lumps of coal were used inside as a source of light, later to be replaced by candles.

Samhain was not the name of a Lord of the Dead, no historical evidence has ever been found to back this up, it was simply the name of the festival and meant Summer's End.
It was believed that the souls of the dead were closest to this world and was the best time to contact them to say good bye or ask for assistance. It was also a celebration of the harvest.
It is still treated as such today by those who practice Wicca or other nature based religions.
It has absolutely nothing to do with Satan, who was a creation of the Christian church.

When European settlers, particularly the Irish, arrived in America they found the native pumpkin to be larger, easier to carve and seemed the perfect choice for jack-o-lanterns. Halloween didn't really catch on big in this country until the late 1800's and has been celebrated in many ways ever since.

The Rouge Vif d'Estampes is bright red French pumpkin,
which means vivid red. It is shaped looking like rather a red cheese wheel is deep red-orange, and heavily sutured.

The moderately sweet, orange flesh is suited for pumpkin or squash pie.
Also known as the Cinderella pumpkin, as it was the prototype for
Walt Disney’s Cinderella's pumpkin carriage...

A very old French heirloom, this was the most common pumpkin in the marché Les Halles or Central Market in Paris back in the 1880’s.
The flesh is tasty in pies or baked.
This one can also be picked small, like summer squash, and fried.

I love this one to carve as it has such an unusual bright orange and a lovely textured exterior that sets it apart from the other Jack-o-lanterns on the street…
This heirloom pumpkin as most has lovely green seeds that can be toasted and salted in the conventional manner.

I have just once undertaken the laborious process of shelling raw pumpkin seeds for the following seasonal and yummy recipe that follows…yikes.
Since then I have purchased raw pepitas no shell pumpkin seeds from this online source.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle
(recipe courtesy of Alton Brown)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil, plus additional for coating

7 ounces hulled pumpkin seeds (these are the green ones)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound 6 ounces granulated sugar

12 ounces water


Place the oil and seeds into a 10-inch sauté pan and set over medium-high heat.
Toast the seeds while constantly moving the pan.
You will smell their aroma and hear some of them begin to crackle when they are toasted, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a small mixing bowl, add the cayenne, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine.

Line a half sheet pan with a silicone (Silpat mat) baking mat.
Place a 3-quart saucier inside a large cast iron skillet.
Add the sugar and water to the saucepan, and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it comes to a boil. Stop stirring, cover and cook for 3 minutes.

Uncover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the sugar is a light amber color, approximately 25 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the pumpkin seed mixture. This will greatly reduce the temperature of the sugar, so work quickly.

Once evenly mixed, pour the mixture onto the prepared half sheet pan.
Using an oiled spatula, spread thin over the silicone mat.
You will have to work quickly when pouring out and spreading the mixture in the pan.
Cool completely, approximately 30 minutes, and then break into pieces.
Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (if it lasts that long…)

I package my Pumpkin Brittle in small candy bags for Halloween gifts for those little goblins that ring my bell on Halloween night.

We fancy that we are individuals; so are pumpkins.
Every pumpkin in the field goes through every point of pumpkin history.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, October 17, 2008

edible history…Graue Mill (part two)

I often take a drive to Graue Mill (as it is about 15 minutes from my home), to walk the picturesque trail along Salt Creek, eat a picnic lunch in the shaded grove and take advantage of the many photographic opportunities at this beautiful and historic location.

But this day was different, I was going to Graue Mill to learn about edible history at the Cooking with Cast Iron demonstration given by Chef Ian Rittof.
A more perfect an autumn day could not have been imagined. The sky was a brilliant sapphire blue that made the brilliance of the orange, yellow and red foliage pop and provided beautiful dappled sunlight areas to sit and watch chef at work. As I walked up the path over the Salt Creek to the Mill, the soft autumn air was redolent with wood smoke and spicy-sweet aromas.

As I rounded the corner of the Mill house, I saw an outdoor kitchen set in the small clearing not far from the entrance to the mill house and museum.
A huge black pot filled with green liquid bubbled on a tri-pod stand over a fragrant wood fire. I found the source of the delicious and heady aromas and was anxious to taste what was being prepared.

Chef Ian was simultaneously serving a fresh from the cast iron pot corn bread, stirring his soup and tasting it to adjust the seasonings and fielding questions from the audience that eagerly were sampling the warm cornbread.
He explained that the cornbread recipe he used for this demonstration was a simple one-to-one-to-one ratio; one part cornmeal, one part all purpose flour and one part water. Many cornbread recipes that I have baked call for milk or buttermilk as the liquid ingredient. But in this rustic setting and as a demonstration of the recreation of cooking of 100 years past, it made perfect sense to use water given the lack of any on site refrigeration.

Prior to adding the batter to the cast iron pot, (for the purpose of expedience, I imagine) he sprayed the pot well with a non-stick cooking spray.
(I also imagine that those that prepared a similar cornbread in that past century may have used some sort on animal fat that was available to them.)

Rich golden batter was ladled into a heavy black kettle, placed on a bed of white hot coals, the heavy lid was placed firmly on the pot and more coals were layer over the lid.

I asked Chef Ian what the cooking time would be for the bread in this method of open hearth baking and he state that it took about 20 – 30 minutes to achieve a crusty golden cornbread. According to the recipes that I have that is close to 425 degrees F in a conventional oven.

Is it soup yet…?

red and green sweet peppers (all of the above cut in a rough quarter-inch dice)
black beans (pre-cooked or canned)
roasted green chili peppers (canned)
cayenne pepper

a huge black cast iron pot…
an open wood fire
time, heat, and water…

the result was not a murky, boring homogenous soup
an autumn soup that sings like a barbershop quartet…
spicy, rich, flavorful, filling and truly delicious.

Each ingredient note in this recipe, harmonized with the other to bring out the best in the other, like classical music and fine wine.

Yes I am waxing lyrical here, but this was really damn good soup…
cooked in the open on a wood fire in cast iron.
It takes quite a bit to impress me with food.
I was indeed impressed and fed...and fed well.

The best way I can describe Chef Ian Rittof is a man with generous graceful unassuming artistry as a chef. He seems to love to feed people and make them feel welcome to eat the food he had prepared.

I was so very impressed at the way he orchestrated the demonstration of cast iron cooking at Graue Mill. No question I asked about his cooking methods, recipes or request for a photo was too small or too large.
Each interruption by the audience was handled with gentle grace and panache and a great sense of humor.
He ladled his soup creation to each of us as though it was 5-star cuisine and we were bejeweled and tuxedoed patrons.
(Which may I say was superb and delicious…)

I was impressed that he just thoroughly enjoyed feeding people with the best he could offer. The people passing after a bike-hike on Salt Creek trail, elderly in wheel chair, tiny girls in pink dresses and even skeptical foodie-photographer dressed in black with a Hermès scarf fell victim to the charm of his simple food.

Chef Ian quietly embodies one who truly loves what he does.
He is a great example of what we all seek, to follow our passion and in doing so, we are an inspiration to all that see us.
When we have passion in what we do, even in our smallest actions are inspiring.

Perhaps that is the reason all the recipes that he produced in cast iron vessels over a wood fire and under wood coals were mouth-watering.
Today the food was much more than sustenance, it was an experience.

The dishes Chef Ian made were very simple and simply delicious and are easily translated to duplicate in your own kitchen. If you have any questions, please email me at

3800 York Road Oak Brook, IL 60523
Museum (630) 655-2090
Office (630) 920-9720

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

living history…Graue Mill (part one)

Graue Mill and Museum is an operating waterwheel grist mill and homestead, and is dedicated to maintaining a bridge between past and present generations in the belief that understanding our history is vital to our future. Graue Mill is living history and illustrates the way of life of area residents between 1850 and 1890 and the impact mills such as Graue Mill had on our culture.

Frederick Graue opened the mill in 1852 on Salt Creek in what is now Oak Brook, Illinois. Graue Mill is the only operating waterwheel gristmill in Illinois.

I paid a visit to Graue Mill for several hours the day before I was to photograph the Cooking with Cast Iron demo to check out the lighting at the exact site where the demo would be held.
But most importantly, I went to replenish my supply of freshly ground cornmeal for my autumn baking. I love that I know where the corn was grown and seeing it ground fresh and bagged right before my eyes.
Although the Graue Mill officially closes for the season to visitors in November, you can call the mill and schedule to pick up sacks of fresh-ground corn meal off-season.

If you live nearby, it is worth a visit this month to tour the Mill and Museum and pick up a bag of corn meal and free delicious recipes.
Standing adjacent to the mill is the Frederick Graue House, a stunning example of early Victorian Italianate architecture. It has been beautifully restored with respect to historical accuracy.
After visiting these historic buildings, I would highly suggest a walk on the trail running along Salt Creek into Fullersburg Woods to the nature center. It is comfortable half-mile walk. I love to take a picnic and sit admire (and photograph) the colorful fall foliage and equally colorful water fowl that make this picturesque spot their home.

(Just a note...the Graue Mill area and the Salt Creek Woods is very handicapped accessible.)

3800 York Road Oak Brook, IL 60523
Museum (630) 655-2090
Office (630) 920-9720

My next post will be about the edible history that I experienced at the Cooking with Cast Iron demonstration by Chef Ian Rittof.