Monthly Archives

September 2017

Main Dishes

Make-Ahead Pear Bake (w/Vegan Option)

September 28, 2017

Entertaining is exhausting.  By the time I’ve done the planning, shopping, cleaning, arranging, last-minute cooking to have everything timed just right and served hot, not only am I filling the atmosphere with my nervous fussing, I’m  already on to onto the dishes and I’ve missed out on my own party. My solution? Delicious, make-ahead meals that taste out of this world.

I was able to make this entire dish, including my rice and salad, the night before my gathering.
The day of the party, with my meal cooked, tables set, I went to work a full day.

Once home, I simply popped  my make-ahead pear bake into the oven an hour before my guests were to arrive.  20 minutes before, I simple tossed 1/2 a cup of water into the rice (made the night before and  left on the stovetop, unrefrigerated), poured myself a glass of wine and waited for the eaters to show.

It turned out some people were arriving late but no need to panic! You can leave this dish in the oven until the cows come home. It only gets better. And the rice, once warmed, will happily stay that way on the stovetop, covered. Besides, you are going to spoon piping hot broth from the main dish onto the rice so it doesn’t have to be tongue-singeing hot.

My Goddaughter, Connie from New Zealand, inspired the  recipe below whilst visiting us in Panama.
She claimed it was an easy, fail-safe dish that company just adores. And she was correct.
In her recipe, Connie used local vegetables, pears and pork chops.

I decided to change it a bit, using sausage and chicken, and to brown my meats first.
It was a good call! This was absolutely scrumptious, the sauce had some sophisticated, developed flavors,  and the whole meal was an easy self-serve! So, I got to sit with my company and enjoy the conversation.

The bonus is that this dish is even better the next day and, it’s gluten-free if you omit serving with a roll!

Feel free to change this recipe up or down to suit your personal diet but whatever you decide, you must keep the pears, wine, sage and thyme. I am including a VEGETARIAN/VEGAN option below! So veggie folk, scroll down!  

My peeps and I are meat-eaters, so here is what I did.

Baked Pears with Sausage & Chicken

  • 3 Mild Italian Sausages, cut into halves to make 6
  • 3 Hot Italian Sausages, cut into halves to make 6
  • 4 Large chicken breasts, split into halves, making 8  (Or use 6-8 chicken thighs)
  1.  Brown all the meats in 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil into a large frying pan
  2.  Set them into a very large baking pan. I used a big lasagna pan.
  3.  Now, into the lasagna or baking dish, and arranged evenly, add:
  • 6 small new potatoes, halved
  • 1 Sweet potato, chopped into large chunks
    (If you dislike sweet potatoes, don’t worry. You will like them in this dish. I promise!)
  • 10 or 12 chunks of  peeled carrots, cut to 2″ long pieces
  • 1 Large, sweet visalia onion, cut into 8 chunks
  • 5 Bartlet pears, sliced into half-moon wedges. Ripe is great but semi-ripe will work.

4.  Into the juices from the meats in your saucepan, sautée:

  • 4 large cloves of garlic, just crushed
  • 3 or 4 cups of white wine
  • 1 cube of chicken stock (vegetarians, just use a vegetable flavor)

5.  Pour the hot wine, garlic & broth mixture over the entire meat and pears dish.
6.  Sprinkle 2 tbsp. of fresh thyme and 1 tbsp. of fresh, cut sage over the entire dish
7.  Salt and Pepper to taste

Bake 335 for 3 hours.
Serve over rice, with a soft dinner roll for dipping into the delicious broth, and a side of salad.

TIP:  When laying an array of food for self-serve, or buffet style, arrange your table so that your guests can serve from both sides of the table. (In other words, do not have your table up against a wall.) All you have to do is add a utensil on each end of the dish. This speeds up service remarkably!

VEGETARIAN/VEGAN OPTION.  Instead of chicken broth, use your favorite vegetarian flavoring.  And in place of the meat, use large chunks of dried bread. Any type of bread you like but they must dry, in the style of a traditional stuffing.  

You don’t have to purchase packages of stuffing mix, but you can.  I prefer cutting up chunks of a favorite bread and place them on a tray into a low oven until they are very firm. Also, this  is a perfect way to make good use of older bread.

Add the dried bread  chunks in after you have cut and distributed your veggies in the pan.  Now, toss  the bread in with all your vegetables and distribute evenly.

Now you are ready to  pour your wine mixture on top.  It is essential that you add the very fresh thyme and sage. You might want to use more sweet potato as well. This will be delicious. I made something similar for thanksgiving last year.

Breakfast

All Eggs are Not Created Equal

September 27, 2017

I love eggs.  I eat them poached, coddled, fried, boiled, scrambled or as an omelette. Sometimes nothing hits the spot better than a simple egg salad sandwich on squishy white bread with crunchy lettuce. (Okay not healthy, but this is one of my guilty comforts!) When I order Chinese, I always have the Egg Foo Young, basically a Chinese frittata.

Eggs are personal. Some people just can’t eat eggs. On the other hand, I once cooked for an ova-lactate vegetarian who could eat eggs all day long. Then there are my vegan friends who don’t eat any animal products at all. Others eat only the whites, but  I love the entire egg, especially the yolk. These are all personal choices and to be respected.

(Some of my vegans make the argument that they don’t eat eggs because all eggs are a potential life, a position that for me holds no water. Eggs are a byproduct of a hen. Whether there is a Rooster hanging around or not, that little lady is going to drop that egg no matter what. To my thinking, if the egg isn’t fertilized,  it’s not really a potential life, is it?).  

Before moving to Panama, I pretty much thought an egg was an egg was an egg. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but I only knew what was around me.  Before Panama, I had switched to organic eggs after hearing  the Buddhist monk, Thich That Hahn explain that “If you are going to eat an egg, eat a happy egg from a happy hen.”  But I learned that “organic”  doesn’t guarantee the hen is raised in a happy environment and these so-called organic eggs tasted and looked about the same to me with a very pale yellow yolk inside a runny liquid white.

It’s not all about taste for me.  No, I’m not an activist vegan for several reasons, but I do respect their cause and their commitment.  And, if you haven’t gone online to view how hens are treated at the big egg factories, please do. It is not pleasant. There is nothing remotely good,  appetizing or humane about factory farming.  It’s destructive and cruel. But it lines the pockets of the big companies and it does offer a less expensive product for people who need to shop economically.  The latter point I understand and I have chosen, on my tight budget, to cut corners elsewhere so that I can pay for my happy eggs. My local supermarket, Publix, now offers at least three farm-raised egg options, indicating, at least anecdotally, that the mainstream demand for fresher eggs seems to be increasing. (Links to some of these companies are posted, below.)  When I support a company selling “pasture-raised” eggs, I am supporting the local farmers who provide product for these labels. 

It wasn’t until we moved to mountains of Panama where my neighbors had hens that I had my Come-To-Jesus moment.  These eggs, even those from the supermarket, were delicious!  They were rich, rich, rich! The yolks were a deep cadmium yellow, brighter than a school bus, nearly orange and at first I was actually startled by the intensity of color.  These gorgeous yolks sat in a firm albumen that stood up on its own when you cracked it into a pan.

With fresh eggs, the white around the yolk will stand firmly after cracking. Note the color of the yolk.

All Panama eggs have brown shells.  I’ve never seen a white-shelled egg in Panama, but I think this speaks only to the breed of hen. In Mexico, eggs are white and often called  “blanquillos” meaning whites.  The only drawback to having brown eggs is that if you have little ones, it puts a damper on Easter Egg-dyeing fun … but my neighbor’s hens laid pastel colors eggs, shown in the featured picture for this post, and I was able to get some color on these.

Panama spoiled us forever. I could purchase eggs from my neighbor, Rumelia, for .15cents per. Further up the road, Grandma Gloria , who loved my cakes but who was reluctant to use her propane gas for baking, would share her pastel colored eggs in exchange for some of my oven treats. And at one point, we had a few hens of our own and Honey Bun, the prettiest, sweetest and cleanest hen ever, would come up onto my porch at 7 am, sit outside my kitchen, lay an egg and leave it for me under my table.

The flavor of an egg from a pasture-raised hen is so notably richer that my brother Nicholas, who lives lives in California where there’s a lot of conscious eating going on, exclaimed that the eggs he ate at my Panama house  were the best tasting eggs he had ever had. Ever. And he’s traveled the world.

When we moved back to the USA, my son William, who had grown up on Panama eggs, declared that he simply could not eat the supermarket eggs sold in the USA.  So I resolved to spend the big bucks!  A dozen eggs from pasture-raised hens will cost me anywhere from $4.50 to $5.99 (occasionally more). They are not quite as good as our Panama eggs, but they are noticeably better than the factory raised eggs with their pasty yellow yolks and runny whites.

Note of caution:  “Organic” does not mean cage-free. And “Cage-free” does not necessarily mean “Pasture-raised.”  “Free-range” might mean that a hen has one square foot of space.  So it’s best to get acquainted with the companies who are selling you your eggs. It’s not hard to do: A good company will have a website that answers all your questions under it’s FAQ section. Read on for links…

Here are links from two of the companies I purchase eggs from here in Florida.e Happy Eggs,  Nellies.  You will find good explanations of the differences between “free range,” “cage free,” and “pasture raised.”