Posted by: Rachel | December 25, 2018

chestnuts and mushrooms and chevre, oh my!

I got this recipe a few days ago in an email newsletter. Allow me to back up…

A few months ago, one of the free ebook emails I get daily had a link to something called My Grape Year. The price was right (free that day, after all) and it sounded like fun so I downloaded it. I so enjoyed Laura Bradbury’s writing that I ended up buying the other books in her “Grape” memoir series. Then, in true fan fashion I signed up for her newsletter. That’s how I got this recipe.

I want to share it here just as she sent it out, then tell you what I changed the first time I made it and what I will change next time (and there *will* be a next time – it was good!). Here’s Laura Bradbury‘s recipe word for word:

Savory Tarte of Chestnuts, Goat Cheese, and Mushrooms
To begin, you’ll need a batch of Marie’s French pastry. If you follow the directions below, divide the pastry ball in half and freeze the half you don’t use.
Marie’s French Pastry

2 cups (250 grams) flour
1 cup (125 grams) salted or half-salted butter 1/2 small glass (about 1/3 cup) water
Pinch of salt
Brace yourselves. This is tough.
1. Measure ingredients and add in no particular order into a food processor with an “S” blade, a stand mixer, or a humble bowl.
2. Press the “mix” option button or squish with your hands until ingredients have formed a ball-like object that has detached from the sides of mixer or bowl—about a minute or two.
3. Remove pastry (voilà, you have just made pastry!) ball from food processor, wrap in
cellophane, flatten a bit into a disk, and put in fridge for at least an hour before using.
4. 1 pastry ball is the perfect amount for a 6–8 person quiche or tart. You may have a bit left over (minitarts!). Lasts 3–4 days in the fridge and freezes wonderfully, so you can always have some pastry on hand.
To make the tarte

Half ball of Marie’s French pastry
3 to 4 cups (500 grams) button mushrooms—you can freestyle the mushroom variety
1/2 log plain goat cheese (I usually add more because I love goat cheese)
1/2 cup (10 cl) heavy cream or crème fraiche
1 egg
1 tbsp (15 grams) butter
3/4 cup (50 grams) prepared chestnuts, quartered
salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
2. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry, and lay in quiche dish.
3. Cut off the mushroom feet, and slice the caps.
4. Melt butter in a large pan, and add mushrooms. Stir until all the moisture from the
mushrooms is absorbed and they are nicely browned.
5. Add pinch of salt and pepper.
6. In a bowl, stir the egg and cream until mixed.
7. Place the mushrooms and chestnuts evenly on the pastry in your quiche dish.
8. Slice goat cheese into rounds, and arrange them evenly on top of the mushrooms and chestnuts.
9. Pour the egg and cream mixture over top. 10. Bake for 25 minutes.
Wonderful served with a lovely green salad—baby arugula with freshly grated parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and generous pepper. Bon appétit!
Nothing too complicated here. In fact the most difficult part might be finding chestnuts other than in the winter. I have a few jars in my pantry, so that wasn’t an issue. A bit vague on the size and kind of pan as well, but if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that I can be, um, a tad loose on details myself, so that served me right.

I’ve been cooking for myself long enough that I think I can usually “taste” a recipe just from reading it and this sounded really good, so I gave it a shot. I warned my good friends that I was bringing an untried dish and, because they are good friends, no one groaned. Happily it turned out fine.

Now, oddly I couldn’t find a log of goat cheese here in central Texas right before Christmas. I was told “there seems to be a problem with the goats”. I have no idea what that means but I found goat cheese “crumbles” and they worked fine. Next time, though, I’ll hope to find a log as described above as the crumbles did tend to fall off when I sliced the tarte.

chestnuts and goat cheese and ‘shrooms, oh my!

Next time I plan to add another 1/2 cup of cream and one more egg to make it a bit more quiche-y. I think that will hold the ‘shrooms together a bit better for serving. And, as I said, she doesn’t mention what sort or size of quiche/tarte pan she uses. Mine is ceramic so I kept the oven temperature the same but added about 15 minutes to the cooking time. Perfect.

I made a half recipe of pastry, easy enough. Figure I’ll make more fresh next time. So it was 1 cup of flour, 1 stick of salted butter, a pinch of salt, a couple of dashes of cold water… but you could buy a pre-made crust (shhhhh) or even a GF one… as suits you. Oh, and I docked the dough, of course… but you know to do that, right?

Anything I’m forgetting to mention? Just all the best for a happy healthy New Year and, as always, bon appétit!!

Posted by: Rachel | October 24, 2018

water water everywhere…

Mind you, we need the rain. But I’m not sure we need a whole year’s worth in the space of a few weeks. That’s Texas, though… seems like just yesterday I was worrying about the drought and wondering if we’d continue to have water every time we turned the tap on.

Now we’re drowning.

OK, maybe not literally, but near enough. The ground is completely saturated, lakes and rivers are overfull, and still it rains. And, odd as it may seem (and it certainly seems odd to me even though I understand it) we have more severe water restrictions in place now than we did during the drought! The city purification system just simply can’t handle how filthy (silt, sediment, and debris) the water is that’s tumbling downstream to here from the lakes. The system is choking.

We’ve been told by the city of Austin that until further notice we’re to boil all tap water for drinking or otherwise ingesting for at least 3 minutes, then cool. Also any water used for washing dishes. They do tell us it is still safe to shower, just don’t brush your teeth or really open your mouth at all while you’re in there!

I’m fine with boiling the drinking water, but managing dishwashing is a bit tricky. I do have a dishwasher but they say that’s not hot enough to kill any potential critters in the water. And, if you know me you know that paper plates and plasticware isn’t my cuppa…

That’s why I’m trying to come up with things that don’t require lots of fixing. Bananas are good. No washing required, just peel and eat. Other fruits can use more utensils or handwashing (oranges and melons come to mind) or at least require washing (grapes).

And that’s why I find myself eating hard-boiled eggs. Easy to make, no silverware required, and good for you (at least in moderation). Crazy, right? I’m not making them the way I usually do (put them in tapwater, bring to a boil, turn off and let them cool in the water). That system just doesn’t have a long enough boiling period for food safety. So, just in case you find yourself in a situation like this (and I hope you don’t unless you’re traveling somewhere interesting!), here’s my “recipe”:

10-minute Eggs

Put eggs in a pan. Cover by an inch or so with tap water. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to a more gentle boil. Boil for 6 minutes. Turn off heat and let eggs rest for another 4 minutes. Remove eggs from still very hot water using a slotted spoon. Let eggs cool a bit before putting them in the fridge. Use the still hot and now “purified” water to rinse any utensils or dishes.


So far the city hasn’t given any firm indication of when the water issues will be resolved. Theoretically we are to have a dry sunny beautiful weekend and no rain is forecast until next week sometime. We’ll see. Meantime I have plenty of seemingly safe water in the fridge and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Until next time, enjoy your ready-to-drink tap water and stay safe!

Posted by: Rachel | October 2, 2018

walk with me (west coast edition 2)

Spent a few days in California with my friends again. Ahhhhhh… being out of the Texas heat was gift enough!

It was a birthday week for one of my friends and we celebrated every day. Lots of amazing food, and lots of fun. And, something completely new to me – we had dinner one night at a place called Hang 10 Boiler.

Now I have another reason to go to Hawaii. If this is really what they eat there, wow! You pick your seafood, determine how many pounds you want, decide which “sauce” (I don’t know quite how else to describe it), vegetables, and they bring big bowls of yummy amazingness to your table.

Its a you-shuck’em sort of deal, we peeled our shrimp and slurped down the largest (and possible tenderest!) mussels I’ve ever seen. It was heavenly.

nom nom!

Please forgive me; by the time I came up for air this is all that was left! And all I can tell you is that it seemed to involve lots (and lots) of butter, garlic, maybe something like curry… wow! Oh, and lots of paper towels, too. Messy good!

All in all, it was a rather sloppy, highly seasoned, delicious meal, made better, of course by the company. Oh my!

Happily, the next day involved a bit of hiking. Its all about balance, right? It was beautiful and the weather was (happily for hikers, sadly for the fire danger) dry and crisp. The path was dusty but fairly easy for the most part with some fantastic views,

and it sure didn’t look like anything around here. Beautiful.

That’s about it for the moment. More travel news soon, but meantime stay well, stay safe, and stay in touch!

Posted by: Rachel | August 28, 2018

harness the sun 2018 edition

Its still hot. Of course, we’re only nearing the end of August… so we can expect at least another month (or two) of heat here in central Texas. We sigh, stay inside, and make the best of it.

The weather and news folks remind us daily not to leave kids, pets, or anything we care about in our cars even for a few minutes. My poor car sits out in an unshaded driveway all day and yes, it gets brutally hot inside. If I don’t leave the windows open, here’s what it looks like:

oven thermometer reading about 160F

too darn hot!

In case you can’t make it out, it reads about 160F. Of course, that’s on the dashboard in the sun, but wowza…

That being said, I got to thinking about what I could “cook” in the car this year. Over the years I’ve dehydrated fruit, mushrooms, made fruit leather, and sun-dried tomatoes. I mean, why waste the heat?

This year I was looking for something different and wondered about sweet potato chips. I love sweet potatoes but its been to hot to enjoy them as I usually do and the sweet potato chips I saw at the store all had oil involved. I wondered if I couldn’t make them at home cheaper, easier, and less caloric.

Yes, yes I did.

All I did was slice them thin, lay them out on cooling racks over a cookie sheet and put them on the dash in full sun. I waited until about 11 AM so the car was nice and toasty, make sure the windows were rolled up tight, and let the sun have its way. Nothing to do but wait.


By 4 that afternoon I had lovely crisp crunchy sweet potato chips.

crispy crunchy!

I’m not suggesting that you try this at home – there are too many variables and it isn’t as perfect as oven dehydrating. It worked for me, though, and the car smelled great! Perhaps the folks who make those hanging “air fresheners” could learn a thing or two…

Hopefully in a few months it will be cool enough to get back to cooking/baking inside without cranking down the AC. Meantime, lots of yogurt and fruit (see last month) and crunchy sweet potato chips will get me through I think.

Quick question for you raw food aficionados: if you dry food in a car is it still raw??

Stay cool, be well, and hope for rain!!!

Posted by: Rachel | July 31, 2018

when is a soup not a soup?

If you put it in a bowl and eat it with a spoon, is it soup? Possibly, or, it might be stew, cereal, pudding… what makes soup actually soup?

My dictionary says soup is “a liquid dish, typically made by boiling meat, fish, or vegetables, etc., in stock or water”. This recipe has no meat, no fish, no boiling, and only a splash of water. Hmmm…

I’ve recently started watching Diane Kochilas’ “My Greek Table. She’s delightful and her show makes my mouth water; the food and the locales. This is her recipe, don’t blame me! (grin)

She calls this “soup”, so it must be.

When I first read the recipe I wasn’t sure if it was a starter, dessert, or maybe breakfast. I’ve now enjoyed it as all three and what I can tell you is, soup or not it sure is good!

I made a few changes, of course, but overall I’ve stuck with her original recipe. I thought I had some fig vinegar but I couldn’t put my hands on it so I used lemon balsamic. Also, I added a few mint leaves to the mix. I mean, it’s summer in Texas after all, and what’s more summery than lemon and mint?

Note: The only difficult thing about this is the waiting. Trust me, though, it’s worth it!

In any event, here’s her recipe:

Diane Kochilas’ Chilled Peach Soup with Ginger, Honey & Yogurt
or, what I call
20 Minute 2-day Peachy Yogurt Delight

4 large, ripe peaches, peeled and chopped*
1 small yellow or red bell pepper [seeded], finely diced
3 fresh ripe apricots, seeded and chopped**
1 tablespoon diced fresh ginger*
4 tablespoons Greek honey***
1 tablespoon balsamic or fig vinegar
1 cup Greek yogurt
Salt to taste
Mint leaves for garnish
Greek honey for garnish
Pink peppercorns for garnish****

Not soup yet…

Macerate the peaches, pepper, apricots, ginger, honey, salt, balsamic or fig vinegar, and half the yogurt in a bowl overnight, refrigerated.

Transfer the contents to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, adding the remaining yogurt and enough water to reach a velvety, silky consistency. Season to taste with salt and additional honey or vinegar. Refrigerate to chill, for about 1 hour.

Pour the soup into shallow bowls and garnish with a drizzling of honey, fresh mint and a pinch of pink peppercorns.

Note: You can also sprinkle a little Greek feta or manouri cheese on top, or serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Good enough to drink!

About those asterisks above. *If you can’t get decent fresh peaches, you could use frozen or even (gasp) canned. Ginger, same – if you can’t get fresh you can certainly use powder. **You can definitely make this with dried apricots. I know this is true because my sister did and it was fine. Just chop ’em up. ***I cut the honey to 2 tablespoons and it was still plenty sweet. If you don’t have Greek honey, any good local honey is fine. **** I skipped these entirely and didn’t miss them. Oh, and I left the salt out. Also, I recommend sweet red bell pepper for the color. The final result is so pretty!

Use what you can find – the yogurt doesn’t have to be Greek any more than the honey does. I’m currently keeping a bowl of the macerating “fixings” in the fridge and having “soup” for breakfast until it runs out. Then I’ll start over (and over and over) until the relentless Texas summer breaks. So, when is a soup not a soup? When its a smoothie!

Mmmmmmmm…. Enjoy and stay cool!

Posted by: Rachel | June 28, 2018

if it is as they say…

If a picture is really worth 1000 words, then this about says it all:

Yup, ’tis the season! Mmmm…

Stay safe and cool, and enjoy the fruits of summer!

Posted by: Rachel | May 28, 2018

in a pickle

I’ve heard about refrigerator pickles for years. They pop up every so often in those “10 must have foods for summer picnics” sort of articles, and this summer I started to wonder if they were really as easy to make as those articles said. Then I got en email from my local grocery with what appeared to be a very simple recipe. I figured why not try.

Wish I’d tried years ago!

Yes, it is that easy. The hardest part, I think, is slicing the cucumbers. I let my mandoline do the work, though. I set it to about 1/4 inch and (using great care, of course) had at it!

I followed the recipe exactly and ended up with a pickle that is a tiny bit more tart than I like. I think next time I’ll try adding maybe a tablespoon of sugar to the “brine”. And more fennel but more about that shortly.

See, at the end of their recipe they make suggestions for spicing up your pickles. You may know, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, that I love fennel (almost as much as the black swallowtail caterpillars do!). My yard has several nice stands and rather than harvesting the bulbs, I use the fronds. They’re dandy on salads, in smoothies, or just for munching. And, they are delicious chopped and added to cucumber pickles!

Here’s the short version of what I did. Only thing is, do be careful about the cukes. Grocery cukes are often waxed and for pickles you don’t really want to peel them. I recommend either the “English” or seedless kind – the long skinny ones that come in plastic wrap, or going to your farmer’s market and buying fresh off the vine.

Truly Easy Refrigerator Pickles

1 English/seedless cuke
1/4 cup chopped fennel fronds (optional)
1 Tbsp cumin seed (optional)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
1 tsp salt
(1 tbsp sugar – optional)

Put everything but the cuke, fennel, and cumin in a stainless steel or glass pot, heat to boiling, remove from heat. Cut the cucumber into roughly 1/4 inch rounds. Pack into a clean glass jar, interspersing the layers or cucumber with some fennel, some cumin, and the barely-boiled garlic.

ready to pickle!

Pack tightly. Once that is done and the liquid has cooled for about 5 minutes, pour the liquid over the cucumbers et al to cover. Let cool to room temperature, cover tightly and store in fridge.

pretty pickled

The recipe says to wait 3 days for best flavor, but you know I just couldn’t. I tried them after 24 hours and they were good. They do get stronger in flavor after a few days, though. My question to you is, does it count as “raw” if the brine is boiled? The cukes aren’t…

In any event, I’m envisioning a long hot summer of pickling a variety of vegetables. And, of course, sun-drying something or other in the car but that’s another story!

Stay hydrated and wear your sunscreen!!

Posted by: Rachel | April 28, 2018

all shook up

I needed some lemons, three to be precise, for a flower arrangement I was entering in a show. Once the show was over (and it was great fun I must say) I wasn’t about to let the gorgeous lemons go to waste!

Grandmother’s Pantry was the theme. Yup. (grin)

Now, it may be spring in much of the world, but here in central Texas it is feeling summery. Hot during the days already and, while it is still cooling off somewhat at night I got to thinking about lemonade.

There’s a grocery near here that carries what they tout as “gingerade”. I love the stuff and figured I could come close here at home. Here’s all I did.

my take on “Gingerade”

fresh-squeezed juice of one large beautiful lemon
2 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 cup simple syrup**
12 oz or so cold water

Put everything in a shaker bottle or any bottle with a tight fitting cap. Shake well!! Chill, and shake again before drinking. Mmmmmm… refreshing!!

**I used the same “syrup” I feed to the hummingbirds. I keep a pitcher of it in the fridge so I can fill their feeders as needed.

There, that’s easy enough, and I like it fine. And, if my lemon trees do what I’m hoping for, I’ll be making a Meyer variety of this in the late fall. We’ll see – I’ll let you know. Meantime, stay safe, stay well, and stay hydrated!

Posted by: Rachel | March 25, 2018

walk with me (west coast edition)

A few weeks ago I visited my friends in California. We were lucky with the weather and I had a great time. One day we drove up to the town of Napa, famed in song and story for wine, but I will always think of the olive oil.

We enjoyed tapas at Zuzu for lunch, walked around the town, and visited the town’s visitor center. The back room is filled with bottles of local olive oil in a variety of infused flavors and balsamic vinegars from Modena many of which are also infused. I tasted a maple infused balsamic that was the best thing I’ve had in I don’t know when. Oh my.

My friends (who are very very good friends, mind you) bought a big bottle to take home, and bought a small bottle (airline requirements for carry-ons and all that) for me as well. Oh la la… we drizzled it on our oatmeal and blueberries the next morning!

maple balsamic, indeed!

I’d be happy to stop right there and go fix myself a bowl of yogurt and maple balsamic, but first I want to share a little more about the trip.

After lunch we went to the Oxbow Market.

I got so involved in everything I was seeing in this huge covered market that I forgot to take pictures! I’m sorry…

It reminded me a little of the Marche Victor Hugo in Toulouse. Lots of vendors and each display more intriguing than the last. I definitely recommend that, should you have lunch plans, you go there after or you might (or at least *I* certainly would) nibble, nosh, snack, and sample through the market and never make lunch at all.

Because they are very good friends and they know me all too well, we spent another day at the Ferry Building Marketplace. We actually took the ferry to it, got off, poked around, ate lunch and ferried ourselves home!

This time I remembered. Walk (and ferry) with me…

It was a foggy ride over.

foggy morning

But it was warm and enticing inside. Mmmmmm…

almost enough choices…

moi aussi! mmm…

Lots of things to taste, too.

how to choose, how to choose…

And beautiful implements as well. Oh la la…

so pretty

And tastes from everywhere that have me rethinking “local”.

a tad hot for me but oh, so tasty

And bonbons like bijous. I’ve never seen a candy store like this!

truly amazing!

The whole visit was a lot of fun, fascinating, intriguing, appetizing, and all in all just grand. Thanks again to my friends, and looking forward to our next time together, where ever it may be! Mmmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | February 27, 2018

what’s in a name?

A few years ago I was lucky enough travel in Tuscany with my mother. It was our first trip together and our first ever traveling with a tour group. We had a wonderful trip, stayed in Sienna and visited a number of the hill towns in the area. The hotel had a very good kitchen, so good that we ate there almost every night!

One night they served us a cup of tomato soup for our starter. It was thick but not heavy, and like no other tomato soup I’d ever had. I asked one of our tour guides if she could give me the recipe. She looked askance at this request, shook her head and informed me that she was from Umbria. Mind you, that’s all of 10 miles down the road. Gives on a whole new slant on “local”, for certain!

The menu called it “pappa al pomodoro”. Apparently “pappa” translates as baby food or “pap”. It may sound less than appetizing, but I’ve found salads and soups in France, Spain, and Italy that incorporate yesterday’s bread and I am a fan. Remember this no-cook soup? This is almost as simple.

Actually, I hadn’t planned on making soup just now. I was inspired by a gift. A friend brought me a bag of croutons from a French bakery here in town. They were beautiful, scented with herbes de Provence and lavender, and I enjoyed some on salads but I got to thinking about this soup.

This is one of those “un-recipe” recipes. I’ll tell you what I did as best I can, but you’ll have to play with it to get it the way you want. You can add herbs, fresh or dried, you can top it with cheese with you serve it; you could even serve it in a bread bowl, I suppose. Have fun!

Here’s my cheater’s version of all-too-easy tomato bread soup. Enjoy!

can you smell it? mmm…

Quick Pappa al Pomodoro

1 medium onion, rough chopped
olive oil
fresh or dried herbs**
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes
1 15 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
vegetable broth
slightly dry good sourdough bread, cut in cubes, to make about 4-6 cups

In a heavy soup pot, sautee the onion in the olive oil until the onion is translucent. (**I added some fresh chopped rosemary and some fennel seed) Add the canned tomatoes, about 1 cup of vegetable broth and the bread. Simmer for an hour, covered, then puree with a stick blender (or in a blender but, of course, be careful!!). Add more broth if you think it is too thick, add more bread if you think it is too thin.


If you grow your own tomatoes then make this in the summer with your harvest! I’ll stick with buying good canned product and make this year-round! Enjoy!

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