Archive for September 2010

Earthy Delights

September 30th, 2010 — 8:00am

Mushroom Soup

Moving on to our second hearty soup we come to the venerable mushroom soup. This is one of those soups that Campbell’s has given a bad rap. Most people associate mushroom soup with the cream variety concentrated to a gelatinous goop inside a small can wrapped in red and white paper. Admittedly this soup has its purposes. It goes well with the “French” style green beans in the green bean casserole. If you are trying to make any kind of quick casserole its neutral flavor goes with just about anything. Unfortunately the earthy goodness of the mushrooms is completely lost in all the cream and salt.

The real mushroom soup is a very basic combination of mushrooms and broth. There are very few other ingredients; a bit of salt and pepper and maybe an herb or two. The mushrooms can stand up on their own. This is of course the purpose of the soup, to taste the mushrooms.

When it comes to mushroom soup I think the simpler the better. In my search for recipes I found the one by Anthony Bourdain to be the least complicated. As with all recipes I find a substitution here and there makes the soup a bit more to my liking. So my mushroom soup recipe combined the best of Fannie Farmer and Anthony Bourdain; an ironic combination of Yankee Puritan and New York Bad Boy. No matter. It tastes really good.

Pacific Cod in a White Wine, Lemon, Butter Sauce

Because for some reason soup is not allowed to be served as an entree, this mushroom soup was followed by a piece of pacific cod in the usual white wine, lemon and butter sauce along with a spinach salad topped

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with some pickled onions and ginger. It was not too bad either.

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Autumn Transitions

September 28th, 2010 — 9:45am

Butternut Squash Soup with a Southwestern Flair

I had to fly off to Houston on Friday. The weather had been consistently in the low 90’s all week with nighttime lows in the middle 70’s. When I returned Sunday night the temperatures had dropped into the low 70’s and the nighttime low was 52 degrees. Seasonal transitions in Texas are very quick. Although I will not rule out a few more days in the high 90’s.

Cooler weather also brings about my seasonal cooking transition. I will keep using the grill, unless by some miracle it gets buried in snow over the winter. The sound of the convection oven was heard in the kitchen last night for the first time in a long time. The sound of the air conditioner was not heard at all yesterday. I suppose you have to trade one spinning fan blade for another.

When I think of autumn and winter I usually think of soup. There is nothing better than something warming on a coolish or cold night. So this week I thought we would revisit some hearty soup recipes. The kind that can serve as a meal. The kind that brings a broad smile to your face.

I will begin with the most obvious suspect; butternut squash soup. The variety of liquids used including water, broth and cream and the variety of flavorings used including honey, maple syrup, and sage vary across the food spectrum. I decided to stay away from the cream and sugary flavorings and developed a recipe for the soup using roasted

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squash (plenty of sweetness there) and took a decidedly southwestern turn by using jalapeno, cumin, and cilantro for the flavorings. If you want a little less heat but still want to taste some of the pepper you can use the diced green chiles you find in the small cans in the supermarket. It will give the soup some of that smoky pepper flavor.

Salad with Salami, Mozzarella, and Capers

Of course when I mentioned having soup for dinner Will wanted to know what entree I was serving. I told him that the soup was the entree. In order to wipe the look of incredulity off his face I made a salad with Italian salami, fresh mozzarella, and some capers. It was kind of like a charcuterie plate over some greens. It turned out to be a good accompaniment with the soup. I just gave you the recipe above so no need to post it under the recipe section.

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Table for One

September 25th, 2010 — 8:00am

Table for One

While reading through M.F.K. Fisher for the first time, I am struck by how she accurately captures the feeling of something so simple as dining alone in public. In her case, in the 1930’s, she made a few ocean liner voyages between New York and ports in Europe. In many instances she traveled on her own, which was a rarity all by itself. Equally unusual she chose to dine alone instead of trying to find some companions to dine with every night. This not only confounded the rest of her fellow travelers. It also created quite a stir from the staff on the boat. What exactly were they to think of someone so obviously happy to be alone?

As someone who has had to travel for business over the past thirty years you often find yourself in the same predicament when traveling alone. The option is to choose room service and eat in your room. Or you could make the bold move and ask for a table for one at a nearby restaurant. I have to admit early on it was a bit hard to get used to the idea of dining alone. It seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do for breakfast or lunch. But dinner seemed to present a whole other set of circumstances. I was not sure if the people staring at me were disapproving of me eating all by yourself, or maybe they just felt sorry for me. Either way, as a bit of an introvert, it always took a little bit to muster up the strength to eat a really nice meal all alone.

At some point in your life though you reach a tipping point and the questioning stares of total strangers are easy to ignore. Not only do you choose to dine alone, you adopt the M.F.K. Fisher method and work hard to show everybody how much fun you are having while doing it. Especially if you are eating at a fancier sort of establishment it is not time to order a salad and a steak and call it a night. You take time to have a cocktail or an aperitif, you peruse the menu longingly, you banter back and forth with the wait staff, and you choose a meal to eat as if four of your best friends were sharing the evening with you. Do not forget the wine! And order a whole bottle. Show everyone just how glad you are to be eating all by yourself. It sounds strange but it works. I am glad to say that M.F.K. Fisher followed this method long before I figured this out on my own.

There is a certain ritual now about dining at a table for one, especially in major cities famous for their cuisine. I used to attend a trade show twice each year in New York City. During my stay in the city I would eat at one particular cafe at least one night at a table for one. Inevitably on the same night a certain woman who was also attending the trade show would be there sitting at a table for one. Although we never conversed we always gave each other a very understanding and pleasant glance when we saw one another. While the cafe was all hubbub with staff running everywhere and conversation rising to a high decibel level we quietly enjoyed our meals not skipping one course. Not skipping the bottle of wine either. If I left before her I wished her a pleasant evening. If she left before me, she wished me the same. I suppose we could have dined together. We also knew that at least in this case, dining alone was the very best option.

2 comments » | Musings

Advantageous Alignments

September 22nd, 2010 — 9:42am

Simple Tomato and Cucumber Salad

I have been reading many of the works by M.F.K. Fisher lately along with the most recent biography of her life. For those of you who do not know her she was the first person in the last century to write about food, wine and the pleasures of the table and arguably one of the most influential food writers of her time. Most of her work is autobiographical, describing the people and events surrounding her life with food. One of the themes she presents quite frequently is that some of the best meals she ever had in her life were total accidents. She, or whoever was feeding her, had a certain amount of ingredients on hand and simply had to use that mix of ingredients to make a meal.

When you are in the midst of reading the works of a certain author their ideas attach themselves to your consciousness. I was struck over the last two days of how pleasurable it was to make a very simple salad and how certain ingredients align themselves in our pantries or refrigerators to present an opportunity to create something new. The salad is something I make regularly during the summer; tomatoes, cucumbers, some onion, maybe some basil, some savories such as capers and a vinaigrette. The recipe changes with the whims of the moment and the pantry. As the summer progresses I get lazier and the ingredients are barely chopped and the basil is thrown in whole. Yet the whole thing always makes me smile. Such a simple mixture tasting so good.

I also had some things on hand, leftovers mostly (a pejorative that M.F.K. Fisher despises as much as I do), that sounded good on their own. I was not sure how they would come together as a meal; polish sausage, bacon and pesto. I decided the polish sausage was not good enough on its own so after I browned the bacon I cooked the sausage in the bacon fat (Emeril Legasee would be proud of me). The crumbled bacon, the sliced sausage, and the pesto were mixed with the pasta. It was deliciously fulfilling, and a bit rich to eat every night. However, if you think comfort food this would fit right in. The sausage cooked in the bacon was a flavor sensation all its own. I do not think I have ever described a sausage before as decadent; this one was.

Pesto Bacon and Sausage Pasta

The recipes will be added as alternatives under the already posted cucumber and tomato salad, and under the pesto pasta with chicken. If you do not happen to have a sausage on hand. Some crumbled bacon in the pesto would be just as rich. And the next time you are making a simple salad think of how wonderful a concoction it truly is; without even turning on the cook top or stove.

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Crack Pot

September 19th, 2010 — 8:00am

The Very Busy, Busy Gourmand Workplace

You know you have devolved to the ultimate in laziness when you start converting complicated recipes into crock-pot-friendly ones. This usually comes as a result of someone asking you to make something complicated when you simply do not have the time or ambition to create the real deal. In my last post I talked about how Will has been picking the dinner menu of late. He even got me to make a roast leg of lamb. It is not a dish I dream about so it took some persuading to get it done. With roast lamb you get lamb leftovers which of course lead to cassoulet (perhaps not a succession you follow but one that makes sense in our household).

Cassoulet is a delicious if slightly complicated dish incorporating “peasant” foods like beans, sausage and leftover lamb into a very delicious pot of stew. Obviously the peasants who developed this dish had much time on their hands.  In its most complicated form the preparer uses duck confit, which can take days to make. I am a fan of cassoulet. I do make it, usually in the winter months on a day when we are iced in to the house. It takes the better part of an afternoon to make it correctly. Making cassoulet while in vacation mode was a nonstarter for me.

As the saying goes, “Whatever Lola wants Lola gets,” and Will’s desire for cassoulet needed to be sated. So in a very uncharacteristic mood I dusted off the crock pot, literally, and proceeded to throw all the ingredients for a cassoulet into the pot. I turned it on low, left it for about eight hours and, voila, crock pot cassoulet. I have to admit it turned out a lot better than I thought it would. For the lazy man’s version it tasted as good as some I have been served in restaurants.  For a Busy Gourmand it was quite acceptable. You are welcome to try the crock pot cassoulet on your own. I am posting the recipe despite my fear of being labeled a crack pot.

Oh, before I forget, the reason I have been so unavailable for food preparation this week is that The Busy Gourmand migrated over to Mac this week. I could not stand the slow, plodding, hanging of the PC anymore. As you can see from the picture The Busy Gourmand put on his geek hat this week and cluttered his work surface with cords, cables, monitors and the other flotsam and jetsam of the techno world. One must endure a little pain to make progress. I am still having problems with the photo portion of the Mac. Hopefully next week I can start showing you what my recipes look like again.

2 comments » | Recipes

Dual Purpose

September 17th, 2010 — 9:10am

Rotterdam in Tracy Arm Fjord

If there is a way to take a short cut I am the guy who will probably find it. I hate to burn off perfectly good calories wasting time on some long drawn out method when I could have achieved almost the same result in half the time while reading a good book. The key word in the phrase is of course “almost.” Sometimes good enough is fine for me. Especially when I am short on time.

There are of course the “maximizers,” the perfectionists out there who have to have everything done just right. I admire you. I want to be just like you. But, let’s face it, it is never going to be. The extra time it takes to make it just right could be taken up with day dreaming, nap time, or cocktail hour. Somehow these have grown very high on my list of priorities.

Since our trip I have given over the “whats for dinner?” question to Will. I am suffering from what they would call in physics, inertia. A body at rest wants to stay at rest until a strong enough force is exerted to overcome the inertia. So Will decides what we will eat for dinner, and I just go ahead and make it, moving as few body parts as possible. However, all is not lost. I have actually come up with some interesting short cuts. The first was a simple pork tenderloin with a dual purpose honey and mustard basting/marinating sauce. I used it to marinate the tenderloin first for about twenty minutes. When it was grilled the tenderloin was basted with the sauce creating a sweet and savory crust. With very little effort a very good pork tenderloin was created.

As you have probably noticed the picture above has nothing to do with a pork tenderloin or food for that matter. Wielding a camera to take one more picture of a pork tenderloin just did not appeal to me this week. Instead you get to see the cruise ship Rotterdam in the Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska. A place I cannot seem to get out of my mind. And speaking of inertia, the immutable force that is overcoming mine is my dwindling bank account. I have to go back to work today. All good things truly do have to come to an end.

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Recovery Mode

September 14th, 2010 — 10:20am

Flowers Public Market Seattle

For some reason recovering from our recent trip has been slow in coming. I am not sure if it is the time change or detoxing from all the rich food and wine. I am still not 100% back to normal (whatever normal is). I have been in a really grouchy mood. This could be from lack of sleep, the two cats following me around the house every minute since I have been home, or that fact that it is still in the mid-90’s every day when the high temperature in Seattle when we left was

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going to be 61. I am definitely ready for the autumn weather.

While in this funk I have been busy using up stuff in the refrigerator that is about to go out of date. My race against time has yielded a couple of interesting recipes; one a variation on a theme, the other a variation on somebody else’s theme. I needed to use up some chicken, tomato sauce and some half-and-half. I opted for penne alla vodka with chicken and peas. Once again this is all substitution for the basic rigatoni alla vodka recipe. I place my new version at the bottom of the page of the old version.

I also watched David Rocco make lasagna with tomato sauce and béchamel sauce instead of the usual ricotta. It sounded interesting. But I did not have enough half-and-half after making my penne alla vodka. So I made lasagna for two using half portions of half-and-half and whole milk yogurt for the béchamel. I am not sure it would be everybody’s cup of tea. I liked the sour taste of the yogurt with the sweetness of the tomato sauce. And it was the perfect size for two people. I did use the no-boil lasagna which I am sure will place me in some sort of culinary hell. I was in a hurry! Geesh! You are welcome to try lasagna al rocco.

I have no pictures of either. So you can look at flowers in the Public Market in Seattle instead. They are probably more inspiring than another picture of lasagna.

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Back to Reality

September 12th, 2010 — 11:13am

Sunrise Near Tracy Arm Fjord Alaska

We are back from our Cruise to Alaska and British Columbia. It was a mixture of awe inspiring and disappointing. The natural beauty of Alaska and Western Canada is hard to describe especially in the areas that are relatively untouched by the tourism industry. We were fortunate enough to traverse the length of the Tracy Arm Fjord and see the Sawyer Glacier give up large chunks of ice (referred to as calving). It is an amazing sight that very few people ever see due to restrictions on the types of vessels allowed into the area. Our ship also struck a very large ice berg inside the fjord, causing the ship to shudder and shake, prompting the captain to announce that it “barely scratched the paint.” Good thing the ship is heading to dry dock soon.

The behavior of our fellow humans when they are in close proximity to unlimited food and tourist trinkets was nothing short of depressing. Most of the people on our cruise ship of 2,000 people never even got close to an outdoor adventure unless you consider shopping in Juneau a reason to go to Alaska. I do not know when traveling became such a passive activity. Spending all that money to look out at all that Alaska and Canada has to offer from the deck of a ship is a bit off-putting. I think cruising will once again drop to my least preferred method of travel as it did in the 1980’s.

Before we left on the cruise we did have a day to explore Seattle. We stumbled upon Café Campagne on our way to the Public Market. This was a very lucky find and led to the most memorable meal of the trip. I wrote up a review under the restaurant section. If you are ever in Seattle this is a stop worth making. We also had a nice dinner at Red Fin, which was primarily sushi, the less adventurous maki variety. I am not an aficionado of sushi so I did not write a review. It all seemed quite good to me. I also followed up the next morning with a breakfast at Red Fin, which was attached to our hotel, the Hotel Max. The breakfast was an interesting “hash” of sausage, chicken, and pickled vegetables complemented by a red pepper coulis; an unusual but delicious combination. I highly recommend the Hotel Max; funky, modern, chic and not so very expensive.

I also could not pass up the opportunity to write about the food on the cruise ship Celebrity Infinity. With the way people were consuming the food you would think the place had five Michelin stars. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the concepts for the food were interesting the actual food itself made Olive Garden look good. Oh well. At least I got to see a few whales along the way.

6 comments » | Musings, Restaurants, Travel

One Year Anniversary!

September 8th, 2010 — 8:00am

Spanish Spice Peppers

From a very humble one paragraph post on September 8, 2009 I began The Busy Gourmand with a bit of a whimper. I was quite intimidated by not only writing on a regular basis, but also by having to use the software to make the blog at least somewhat interesting. I think I have found my voice. And by using the Word Press platform it has been relatively easy to manage not only the posts but also the pictures and pages that all make up a blog. I also had some help from Jason at ZoopMedia. If you need some help with Word Press I highly recommend his services.

When you write a blog you learn a lot about yourself and also a lot about the people who read your blog. Unfortunately most of my feedback has been in person instead of comments on the blog. I will take feedback any way I can. But please feel free to write your comments on the blog so others can read them. It’s OK to tell me that you hate my photography (Norman told me in a text message), or that I misspelled Ipswich (from an e-mail from my sister Terry), or that the recipe for borracho beans is really great (which I heard in person from everyone at every pool party this summer), or that some of my Italian recipes are not always authentic (Christian tells me every time I see him). I do have a faithful commenter in Jon who also usually enjoys the blog most when I make fun of myself. It’s my blog I will make fun of whomever I want.

There are a number of interesting statistics for the blog for the past year. I have posted 116 recipes over the past year; closer to 200 if you account for the variations on a theme that I include with most of the recipes. Through software that allows me to track the traffic to the site I can tell you that Middle Eastern Orzo, followed by Pork Schnitzel, followed by the Quinoa Veggie Patty are the top three recipes in terms of views over the past year. The site Epicurious sends a lot of people my way for the “Chicken, Artichoke, and Rice Casserole.”

My restaurant reviews from my trip to Buenos Aires generated a lot of traffic from the national tourism office in Argentina. I am not sure they liked or disliked my reviews. You can see that they are on their toes down there in Buenos Aires.

I have also posted five of my blog posts in article format on the site These articles have been reposted, with permission, a total of 18 times on other web sites. The number one article is my review of Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential.

My favorite post of the past year was September 30, 2009 when I rhapsodized about my gas grill in Grillinovations. My favorite new recipe would have to be the Catalan Savory Pastis which I posted on July 5, 2010. My favorite travel writing would have to be about Genoa, Italy which was posted on November 28, 2009.

And finally, you know when you have really made it when “Jeremy Bacon” was invited to a gala fundraiser on October 17 in Dallas for the local food bank. I will probably attend just to see how long it will take me to blurt out my real name and blow my cover. Celebrity has its pitfalls.

PS  As you are reading this I am somewhere off the coast of Alaska.  Even Busy Gourmands need to take a break once in awhile.

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