ear today…

food detective

Categories: Veggies and Sides, Supper, Dinner Party, Sources, Posted on August 5, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (0)

Summertime in southern Ohio it’s easy to believe that sweet corn will always be around. But as the dog days of summer come to a close, so will corn’s window. It’s always a sad moment when I drive by the farm stand on Stroop Road and their wooden cart is bare. Because once the corn is gone, it’s gone for good.

But while it’s still here, I am going to take full advantage of the local crop. One of my favorite ways to prepare freshly picked corn is a recipe by Thomas Keller. The secret to his creamed corn is freshly grated lime zest and big spritz of lime juice. 

If you’ve never cooked out of one of Thomas Keller’s tabletop cookbooks you’re missing out. This famed chef from Napa Valley’s French Laundry and New York’s Per Se has hit a homerun with Ad Hoc at Home.

With a sharp knife, holding the cob of corn vertically, slice off the kernels.

Place the kernels into a large bowl. Here’s a Keller tip. Dip your hand in a small bowl of water then run your hand through the cut kernels. Rinse your hand in the bowl of water to get rid of any loose silks from the corn. Repeat as needed.

Hold each cob over the bowl and with a large spoon scrape any remaining corn and milk from the cob into the bowl.

Grate the zest of the lime with a microplane grater, set aside. Cut the lime in half.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the corn and squeeze about one tablespoon of lime juice over the corn and season with salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the corn begins to sizzle, about 15-17 minutes.

Stir in ¾ cup cream, the cayenne and the lime zest. 

Continue to cook for 6-8 minutes until the cream is absorbed by the corn. 

Add salt to taste and stir in the freshly chopped chives.

Once you give this recipe a try I’m sure you too will find it is truly the cream of the crop.

good evening vietnam

making it for two

Categories: Grains and Pasta, Dinner for Two, Supper, Posted on July 20, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (0)

Forget the take-out. Here’s an off the chart Vietnamese noodle dish that is incredibly bright and fresh. The best part, it’s a cinch to make in-home. And with a few tweaks to the ingredients it’s as easy to shop for as it is to prepare.

If you live in LA or NYC fabulous ethnic food is within reach. But for the majority of us take-out often means a soggy container of beige MSG-laden fare. Reading recipes about food that I can’t find where I live tends to heighten my cravings and sets me on a search to see if I can recreate them in my own kitchen.

Many authentic ethnic dishes often call for just a teaspoon or pinch of some obscure ingredient. When you go to google the item, you discover it’s only available in some ridiculously large quantity. The days of me filling my cupboards with one-time use ingredients is over. Now I find myself going back to google and searching for adequate substitutes instead. 

The following recipe originally called for black vinegar. I searched the Asian shelves of several local markets in vain. Then I found a suitable swap using balsamic and rice vinegar with a pinch of sugar. The same was true when I looked for Sichuan preserved vegetables. Instead I whipped together some quick pickles. They are the perfect accompaniment to this Asian bowl. 

You’ll be impressed at how quick and easy these quick pickles are to make.

Thinly slice two persian cucumbers, preferably with a mandolin slicer.

Be sure to always use a guard so you don’t slice your fingers. One of my favorite kitchen tools is my iron mesh glove.

Toss with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, gently massage the cucumber slices with your hands and place in a colander to dispel their liquid. Let drain for at least 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, thinly slice the whites and light green parts of two scallions.

Transfer the cucumbers to a bowl and toss with the scallions, two teaspoons of rice vinegar and ¼ teaspoon of sesame oil.  Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Set aside until ready to use or place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three days.

For the vietnamese rice noodles with spicy pork and herbs start with one-third pound thin, round rice noodles. They look like translucent spaghetti. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package, taking care to not overcook or they will turn gummy. Immediately drain the noodles and run them under cold water until they are cool to the touch. Drain well and set aside.

For the dressing whisk together one tablespoon rice vinegar, two teaspoons soy sauce, one teaspoon balsamic vinegar, one teaspoon chile oil and one teaspoon sugar until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

For the pork topping heat one tablespoon vegetable or canola oil over medium heat then add the half-pound ground pork and teaspoon of salt. Pan-fry, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink and there is no liquid remaining in the pan, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, ginger and scallion whites, and stir occasionally until the raw vegetable smell disappears and the meat starts to brown in places, about 5 minutes.

Add a tablespoon or two of water and cook for another two minutes until the mixture darkens and becomes thick. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Toss together a handful of washed and dried fresh mint, basil and cilantro leaves.

Coarsely chop and set aside.

Chop two tablespoons of salted, roasted peanuts and set aside.

Thinly slice two radishes and set aside. Note that all of these components can be prepped in advance. 

When you’re ready to serve, divide the cool, drained noodles into two individual bowls. 

Top each with a tablespoon of vinegar dressing.

follow with a pile of ground pork.

Then the chopped herbs, chopped peanuts and sliced radishes, to taste. Spoon quick pickles along one third of the edge of each bowl. Scatter the sliced green scallions on top. Serve with any remaining garnishes and additional dressing on the side.

Try making this “in” for your next dinner for two. Your chopsticks will thank you!

a fool for you

making it for two

Categories: Desserts, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Posted on July 9, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (1)

How often do you find a great recipe only to discover it’s scaled for a crowd? In this next series entitled “making it for two” I am going to pare down not only the ingredients but also the prep time so that cooking for two won’t take an eternity. Leaving you more time to spend time with the one you love.

My sweet husband has an incredible sweet tooth. Personally, I don’t. Dessert is rarely on the menu, simply because it’s not on my radar screen. When I do provide him with a post-dinner treat he coos with delight. It can be a simple as a bakery bought frosted brownie cut into four triangles with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle. But with all the fresh fruit at the farm stands right now I would be a fool not to try to incorporate more of it into our dining repertoire. 

I was just reading an article on an Eton Mess. It appeared to be a fresh strawberry parfait that they must have served at the British college. As I scrolled through the recipe I realized that my hubby would swoon over this one, so I set out to surprise him for tonight’s quiet dinner at home. Turns out an Eton Mess is a breeze to make.

All you need is a basket of fresh strawberries, a few store-bought meringue cookies, a cup of heavy cream, and a spoonful of sugar.

Hull and quarter a half pound of strawberries.

Toss the hulled and quartered berries with one tablespoon of sugar. Add 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and toss again. 

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature to macerate, at least 30 minutes and up to a few hours.

Meanwhile whip the heavy cream with one tablespoon sugar and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate.

This desert is a cinch when you pick up store bought meringues. I found these at Trader Joe’s.

Coarsely chop the meringue cookies. Set aside.

When ready to serve- place a large spoonful of whipped cream in the bottom of two 8-ounce glasses. 

Top with a spoonful of chopped meringue.

Then a spoonful of macerated strawberries. Repeat with smaller spoonfuls of whipped cream, meringue and berries. Drizzle with the top with berry juice and garnish with a mint sprig.

This one will have your significant other drooling like pavlova’s dog- tally ho!

toss up

food detective

Categories: Salads and Dressings, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Lunch, Posted on June 26, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (2)

Being active in my local and national garden club has many benefits. One that always thrills and delights me is when we are invited to lunch. I rarely go to lunch. Since I retired from teaching, my noon day fare is usually something I can piece together out of the frig or a bite on the road. So, when an invitation to a proper lunch comes my way I most certainly accept with glee.

The women of the Garden Club of America and their affiliate club members are not only a force when it comes to conservation, preservation, and beautification. They are also awesome entertainers who have incredible flair when it comes to table settings, floral arrangements, invitations, and scrumptious menus. 

This past spring, I was lucky enough to go to two such lunches. The first was a luncheon following a biedermeir floral design workshop. Biedermeirs are beautiful low arrangements that consist of tight circles of symmetrically placed blooms. We learned how easy it was to create one, thanks to the wonderful instruction of two Garden Club of Dayton members. Of equal interest was the incredible salad served at the post-workshop lunch. It was a symphony of crunchy and tender greens. The flavors were bright and intriguing. The conversation at my table quickly went from floral design to what was in this spectacular salad.

The one elusive part was the dressing. So, under the ruse of pouring myself another glass of ice tea I went into the kitchen to ask one of our hostesses how that phenomenal dressing was made. She brightly replied, “it’s Garlic Expressions!”

This brings me to my second memorable luncheon. I was fortunate to be asked to judge a fabulous flower show in Perrysburg, Ohio. It was a creative event housed in their local library. Kudos to the Country Garden Club for their innovative schedule and commitment to having their show in such an accessible and public venue. The judges’ luncheon was notable on many counts. First the tables were unbelievably creative, mirroring the literary theme of their show. The lunch was simply delicious and made us all feel like queens. And to top it off we each received a gift bag containing several treats from this Toledo suburb. One was a bottle of Garlic Expressions. Who knew this wonderful dressing was made and bottled in Northern Ohio?

It’s the secret ingredient in this edamame and avocado salad.

Start with four generous handfuls mixed baby greens.

Thinly slice two small Persian cucumbers.

Dice one ripe avocado.

Thinly slice four radishes.

Thinly slice the white light green parts of a small bunch of scallions.

Add one half cup of shelled edamame beans, either fresh or thawed and drained from the freezer.

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle with Garlic Expressions dressing to taste. Toss lightly.

This is sure to win a blue ribbon every time!

life is sweet

food detective

Categories: Desserts, Dinner for Two, Dinner Party, Lunch, Breakfast/Brunch, Well Equipped, Posted on June 9, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

Many of you will be reading this on June 13th, the day my bi-monthly email blast goes out and wonder what the heck is she doing making cheesecake when her daughter is getting married in three days!

I assure you I didn’t wake up at 5 AM to make these little bites. I made them the week before. Experimenting in the kitchen is one of the ways I unwind. I like to tinker with recipes. And with a wedding rapidly approaching it’s always a good idea to take a beat to clear one’s mind.

Another way I relax is reading recipes. I rip them out of magazines. Copy them off of boxes. Download from online. And I don’t know about you, but rarely at first glance does a recipe make perfect sense, and often if I follow the recipe just as it is printed it seldom comes out the way I would like. Hence the tinkering.

Last Sunday as my sweet daughter and I were on the phone finalizing the table seating I opened a cupboard and found my mini muffin tins. As I started clanking away my daughter asked what I was up to. I replied that I wanted to reinvent a miniature version of a Mexican chili soufflé and some bite-sized lemon cheesecakes from an old cookbook I had discovered. She went on to run some errands in LA and continued to destroy my kitchen in Ohio.

A few hours later she called back. The tables fell into perfect place. But she what she really wanted to know was how the soufflés and cakes turned out. The soufflés were a bit of a bust, another day I will have to go back to the drawing board on that one. But the cheesecakes were amazing. And the best part is that cheesecake freezes wonderfully. Making these lemon cheesecake bites the perfect do-ahead dessert.

This recipe is a breeze to execute if you have everything measured out in advance. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, go onto Amazon and get one. It really is an essential tool that you will use over and over.

Simply place a container on top of the scale, press the on button to calibrate the current weight to zero, then add your ingredients. Baking is all about precise measurements. That’s probably why I’m not very good at it. I have a tendency to eyeball and wing things. A weight is always more exact than a volume measurement.

Divide the shortbread cookies.

Pulse 2 ½ ounces of the shortbread cookies in a food processor until finely crushed.

Spoon into a small bowl, mix in one tablespoon of sugar, then the one tablespoon of melted butter.

Press one teaspoon of the prepared crumbs into 24 paper lined mini muffin tins.

Melt one ounce of white chocolate chips in the microwave at 50% power for 1-2 minutes, until just melted.

Beat the soften cream cheese, vanilla and ¼ cup sugar in a bowl with a mixer until well blended.

Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and melted white chocolate, mix well. Add the egg and beat on low until just incorporated.

Spoon a tablespoon of the batter over the pressed crusts.

Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 12-20 minutes or until centers are almost set. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Meanwhile coarsely chop the remaining cookies with a knife (note you will most likely not need them all).

Sprinkle some of the chopped cookies on top of the cooled cheesecakes.

Melt the remaining one ounce of white chocolate chips in the microwave at 50% power for 1-2 minutes, until just melted. Put the melted chocolate into a small Ziploc bag and cut a small snip into one of the corners. Drizzle chocolate over the cookie topped cheese cakes.

Place in the refrigerator uncovered until completely set. When the chocolate is firm carefully pop out of the muffin tins with the tip of a paring knife, then place the mini cheesecakes in Ziploc bags and freeze for up to two months. To serve carefully remove the paper liner. Place on a decorative plate with raspberries.

This recipe came from something old, was reinvented to become something new, feel free to borrow it, then pop one in your mouth anytime you’re feeling blue. 

real men eat quiche

food detective

Categories: Breads, Pizza, Tarts, Dinner for Two, Supper, Lunch, Breakfast/Brunch, Posted on May 27, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

I came of age at a time when it was considered chic to dine on quiche and crepes. There were entire restaurants devoted to this fare. I loved the savory creamed chicken crepes, the studded quiche with its flaky crust, and the crocks of cheese capped French onion soup. But just as jumpsuits and wide-collared shirts went out of fashion, quiche seemed to drop out of favor.

Recently I was shopping with my daughters in L.A. and I felt like I was having a flashback. I had to sit down on an overpriced tuffet as they pulled the Mohair sweater vests, rompers, and pantsuits off the racks. And while no one is ever going to see me in a romper again (cringe-worthy confession I did once romp in one for a short stint in the seventies), I am here to say quiche should definitely make a comeback.

While you can make your own crust, I think Trader Joe’s frozen pie crust is amazing. Just be sure to thaw it either overnight in the refrigerator or on the counter for several hours so that it is completely at room temperature. Drape the pie crust into a deep 9-inch pie plate. Remove any excess crust from the rim, then flute the edge.

Sauté the onions over medium to medium-low heat in one to two tablespoons of canola oil. Cook stirring often until the onions are cooked down and just golden, but not brown, about 15 minutes. Spoon into a bowl and set aside.

Sauté the bacon over medium heat until just crisp. Drain and combine with the onions.

Grate ¾ cup of Gruyere or Jarlsberg cheese. Set aside.

In a deep bowl combine the half and half, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

With a hand blender blend until frothy. The froth is important as it will keep the layers of ingredients suspended in the pie crust while it cooks.

Scatter half of the onion-bacon mixture into the pie shell.

Pour half the frothy custard over the mixture.

Sprinkle with half the cheese.

Layer with the remaining onion-bacon mixture.

Re-froth the batter and pour the rest into the shell.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Place the filled pie plate on a foil covered, rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until the center is just set. Note that the time may vary from 35 minutes to an hour. Cover the top loosely with foil if the quiche appears to be browning too quickly. A paring knife should come out clean when inserted in the center, but there should still be some jiggle to the center. Cool on a wire rack for at least a half an hour to set the quiche before slicing and serving. The quiche can be served warm or at room temperature. The quiche can be made a day or two ahead of time. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate. To serve hot, slice and reheat for 10-15 minutes in a 375-degree oven on a sheet pan lined with parchment or lightly oiled pie of foil.

My man knows this classic never goes out of style.

with a grain of salt

food detective

Categories: Beverages, Cocktail Party, Dinner Party, Posted on May 14, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

I pulled into my desert house right after my 26-year-old daughter and her friends had driven off after a little Cinco de Mayo girls’ weekend. I was truly impressed that they had left the house just as they had found it. And even more elated when I opened the freezer to find a large bottle of top shelf tequila chilling on its side. Let’s get serious- when do parents ever come home after their children have had a fiesta to find their house cleaner and with more liquor?

I went about my usual home-opening tasks- drawing the shutters, cutting flowers, putting out pool towels. Another is to fill the hummingbird feeder outside the bay window of my kitchen. I have two hummingbirds that buzz the house whenever they see me first drive in. Their little faces appear at each window and sliding glass door beckoning me to give them something to drink.

Right as I was boiling up the sugar syrup for their feeder I thought why don’t I make a little nectar for myself to go with that chilled bottle I just discovered? On his last trip out, my son-in-law-to-be taught me how to make the best fresh lime margaritas. Looking out the window I surmised that it would soon be cinco o’clock for me and my feathered friends.

Hummingbird food is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Bring to a boil, cool completely, then either refrigerate or fill your feeder.

Simple syrup for cocktails is 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Just as above, bring the sugar and water to a boil, cool completely and refrigerate until needed.

The breakdown for a fresh margarita is simply 1 part freshly squeezed lime juice, 2 parts good tequila, 1 part Grand Marnier or triple sec, and ½  part simple syrup.

1 part freshly squeezed lime juice.

2 parts good tequila.

1 part Grand Marnier or triple sec.

1/2 part simple syrup.

Stir well and serve over ice or give a quick whirl in your blender with a few ice cubes.

Run the rim of your glasses with a cut lime, then dip in coarse salt.

And pour yourself a cocktail.

It’s always more fun to drink with a friend. olé!

in the bag

entertaining with style- making it work for you

Categories: Sources, Setting the Stage, Posted on April 28, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

There are so many things to love about Trader Joe’s. They always have a beautiful array of fresh vegetables. There’s their convenience items like steamed and peeled baby beets or ready to serve lentils. Affordable finds such as creamy burrata. I’m simply mad about their pita crackers. And then there are the flowers. No one has an excuse not to have fresh blooms in their home when a Trader Joe’s is nearby.

I get so excited when the cut tulips and potted daffodils finally arrive. Each week I fill paper bags full of them, then create simple arrangements for all the rooms in my home. So no matter the weather outside, spring shines brightly inside.

Here is a floral display that is literally as easy as… 1, 2, 3.

First head off to a craft store and pick up three decorative 5-inch pots. Remember in floral design there’s magic in odd numbers.

Next, pick up three miniature daffodils.

Remove the daffodils from their plastic and paper sleeves.

Place each inside one of the decorative pots.

Line them up for a sunny show all season long.

When the blooms fade, replace the daffodils and plant the spent bulbs outside and they will come up in your yard next spring.

You’ve got this one in the bag!

april (snow) showers

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Desserts, Posted on April 17, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

It’s April 17th and I woke to my flower beds covered in a blanket of snow. As I put on my boots and hat and mittens to take my dog Willie out, we were greeted with frigid winds and pelting hail. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for a weather change. And while we can’t do a thing to influence Mother Nature, here's a way to bring a little sunshine into your home.

How about a sunny lemon pie? Those of you who know me, know that I am not much of a baker. And if you aren’t either, then you’re going to like this one too.  Turns out this Carolina Lemon Pie is… easy as pie.

The secret to the crust is that it’s made from saltine crackers. You’ll need one and half sleeves.

Break up the saltines and place in the bowl of the food processor with 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

Pulse to coarse crumbs, about 15 pulses.

Add the melted butter and corn syrup.

Pulse until crumbs are broken down into oatmeal-size pieces, about 15 pulses.

Transfer the saltine mixture to a greased 9-inch pie plate.

Using the bottom of a dry measuring cup, press crumbs into even layer on bottom and sides of plate. Use your hand to keep the crumbs from spilling over the plate edge.

Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake the crust until light golden brown and fragrant, about 16 to 19 minutes.

Meanwhile zest one to two lemons to for a full tablespoon of lemon zest.

Then squeeze three lemons to yield a half cup of fresh juice.

Whisk together the condensed milk, egg yolks, cream, lemon zest, and salt in bowl until fully combined.

Whisk in the lemon juice until fully incorporated.

With the pie plate still on sheet, pour the filling into baked crust (note: the crust needn’t be cool).

Bake the pie until the edges are beginning to set but center still jiggles when shaken, about 15 to 17 minutes. Place the pie on a wire rack and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate the pie until fully chilled, about 4 hours or overnight.

With an electric mixer whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla until stiff peaks form.

Right before serving, top the pie with the whipped cream.

Spread the whipped cream almost to the edge of the pie.

Everyone is going to want a slice of this sunshine right about now.

I want pie.

break for this

food detective

Categories: Breads, Pizza, Tarts, Eggs, Breakfast/Brunch, Posted on April 3, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

This is probably the most incredible breakfast sandwich… ever. Best part you can make all the components a couple hours ahead of time, then it’s just a quick griddle until you plate it up. And while it’s uncommonly light and airy it’s actually pretty sturdy, so you can take this toasty on the road.

If you feel the need to add a meat serve it on the side. Not only is this breakfast sandwich perfect all on its own, adding bacon or sausage might disrupt the way it all aligns like a dream.

There are two secrets to making this breakfast scramble sandwich, the first is whisking the eggs constantly over medium to medium-high heat so that they make a small curd. Then when they are firmly set, whisk in some cream cheese (I like to use whipped Philly) to give it added creaminess and to help bind it all together.

Don’t get jazzy with the cheese. This one calls for American all the way. And for the bread choose a good old fashioned white sandwich bread sliced thick.

Whisk four eggs and a small pinch of cayenne in a small bowl; season generously with salt.

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium to medium-high heat.

Add the eggs.

Cook, whisking constantly, until they have set in small curds and are beginning to look dry, about 1 minute.

Immediately remove from heat and whisk in the cream cheese.

The eggs can be scrambled 2 hours ahead. Cover tightly and store at room temperature.

Put two slices of cheese on two of the slices of bread.

Top the other two slices with the egg mixture. Close the sandwiches up.

Heat a dry large skillet over medium-low heat, then brush very lightly with butter.

Toast the sandwiches until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.

These became instant family favorites with my crew over the past holiday. It’s sure to become your morning go-to too.

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