My First Mushroom

Someone asked me today what got me started in my business; where did this passion come from?  I had to sit back a minute and think about it.  After all, I’ve been doing it for such a long time that I feel it was always there, but there is always a beginning to every story, and this is mine.

Growing up, I couldn’t really cook.  My parents were of the era where meat was cooked until it turned to shoe leather, vegetables came from a can, and the trend for convenience and budget meant potato spuds from a box.  I rarely liked what was put in front of me, with few exceptions.

Money was used to pay bills and not to go to college, so after I graduated high school, I went to an art school in Pittsburgh via student loans.  In order to pay for room and board, I stayed with a French family and watched their young daughter and helped with the cooking.  This was an introduction into another life I had never experienced.  I was 19 and tasted my very first mushroom!  Imagine a mushroom being the catalyst to buying my first cookbook.  I actually still have it in my collection so many years later, and I am sharing my first recipe ever made that I still make to this day.

I enjoyed following the recipes and even more so, I enjoyed the results.  Little by little, without realizing it, I was laying the foundation for what would become my passion.

And then life happened.  I got married, started a family, got a divorce, and had to get a job.  I went to work for a mortgage company and ended up settling in for sixteen years.  Cooking and baking were on the back burner.

Fast forward ten years.  I remarried, and my children were pretty much grown and doing their own thing.  I had more time but still didn’t really think of food as my passion, as much as it was a necessity.  I enjoyed entertaining and creating little bites for my friends that would ooh and aah, but I believe I thought it was more about the entertaining.  Then one day, I was watching a show about making cupcakes.  It was a contest, it was fun, and I started thinking what flavor I would make; I then, of course, had to make them.   How hard could cupcakes be?  After all, I was pretty good with a recipe. With a huge amount of confidence, I made my special flavor, and when I pulled them out of the oven, I was aghast to see all I had made were hockey pucks.  What?  The second try resulted in the same disgusting manner.  The challenge was on, and I was going to win.

With determination and malice, I rose to the cause of defeating my nemesis.   I researched, I watched, I read, and I discovered what I was doing wrong. Finally after several attempts: voila!   I had created a light, fluffy, and moist cupcake.  I took them into work, and they were devoured.  So naturally, I had to make more…. and then I made even more.  It was almost like once I had succeeded, the underlying bug in my bed of creativity was awoken and all I wanted to do was cook or bake.

I was like a sponge.  I couldn’t read enough food magazines, watch an overabundance of food shows, or practice on too many people.  I would take my samples into my work kitchen and watch everyone enjoy.  I was loving what I could accomplish.                                

Then the market dropped out, and within a short span, my father and my youngest brother died.  It was almost like I died.  The only thing that seemed to keep me going was stirring a bowl of chocolate or finding some new hors d’oeuvre to try.  I was losing my desire to go to work.  I didn’t know what to do until a friend sat me down and said, “Do what you love.”  But at my age, the fear of starting over was a little overwhelming.  It wasn’t until I went to my last closing and noticed “the sign” on a cup of coffee; this little quote on the side of a cup was what made me decide to take the leap.  “Follow your passion and you will find your purpose.”

Today, it’s been three years to the month that I have been the owner of The Twisted-Fork, and I haven’t looked back. It hasn’t been without difficulty, but every day is a new day, and I love it. There are learning curves everywhere, and every day I move forward with new knowledge of something to continue making my food beautiful and tasty.  I know this is the right path for me because truly… “if you follow your passion, you will find your purpose.”

 

 

Bah Humbug

Christmas will be here in one week.  I’m sure for many of you it’s panic time.  You still have shopping to do or dinner plans to make, wrapping gifts or just trying to squeeze in all the friends and family time.  I’m usually there with you..  but not this year.  This year brings a feeling of dread.  The closer to the day at hand there is a suffocating presence, a desire to run and hide, a feeling of emptiness.

Christmas has always been my favorite of the holidays.  It’s all I can do to get beyond Thanksgiving so I can decorate my house, plan not only a special dinner but also the dessert of all desserts.  I shop, I wrap, I look for the best of gifts to fit into a stocking so personal that it is like pulling love out with every little surprise.  My house looks like Christmas threw up in it and I can’t wait for any visitor to come by just so they can see how happy it makes me.

Things changed so drastically this year.  I tried to feel the same but it never came.  I managed to get a tree up but it’s the smallest one we had and there are no decorations on it, save for one that I just bought at my favorite little French store, Le Marche.  I don’t want to shop or wrap or even (gasp) plan a dinner.  I think I’m going to end up being like the person who burnt the turkey or something equally crazy and they go to the one Chinese restaurant that is open.  Although right now it’s not a bad option.

Now before you try to have me committed or cross this off as an over-indulgent pity party for one, I have to explain why.  The reason is, for the first time in about seventeen years, my children will not be here.  (commence rolling of eyes)  My daughter is leading the life of an international world-famous teacher in China and I miss her horribly.  My son is still deciding if he wants to acknowledge he has parents or not but for the first time in a long time is fortunate enough to spend some time with his grandmother.  As a mother this can be devastatingly lonely.  I know people have put up with much worse, husbands or wives off to war, spouses or children no longer with us.  I get it.  I’m being absurdly pathetic.  But for me , it’s now just like any other day.  Nothing exciting to look forward to, no special visitors and certainly no family.  There will be no grandchildren, which is an entirely different and much longer story, and isn’t Christmas all about the children?  The Elf on the Shelf is still on the shelf…in the closet.  How does one adjust to this type of change?  Why can’t I be the person that can adapt and move on?

Luckily, I have been very fortunate and very busy with holiday business.  It’s been a great divergent and quite fulfilling.  Peter, my husband, and I have been able to spend a little more time together which is also good for the heart.  So I am out there trying.  I even bought a couple of gifts the other day. No need for the straight jacket yet.

Why do I tell you all of this?  Why after all of this time do I expose my inner-most feelings and angst with the couple of thousand people who thought I had disappeared, never to return?  I’ve gotten away from this cathartic writing.  I’ve wanted to return, sharing stories and recipes with friends that I don’t yet know but there has been this block of what to say and to top everything off, this blog has been experiencing hundreds of spam postings.  However, I am finally now here again, bemoaning my lack of holiday spirit…..but at least I’m here. I am once again sharing something.  I know it’s not a recipe, but it is a beginning.

2017 is right around the corner, a new beginning.  It can be a fresh page for anything and everything.  I can try writing again, I can share some recipes with you and I can start planning for maybe a better holiday next year.

It is exactly like Scarlet O’Hara once said, “After all, tomorrow is another day!”  For all of you I wish you a very merry Christmas, but for me I think I look forward to a brand New Year.

Candied Bacon

We all know the food groups that were part of our learning as we were growing up.  Vegetables and Fruit, Grains and Cereals, Protein, Milk and Dairy and Sugars and Fats.  No where in that learning did we cover the sixth and barely known food group… Bacon.  People of the world…wake up!  Bacon is not a new discovery, but it has become an important part of our daily lives.  Well, unless you don’t eat meat, I guess.   It’s everywhere now.  There is bacon and maple donuts, bacon chocolate, bacon flavored gum, bacon cupcakes. Need I say more?  I have said all along it should be its own food group.   I think you too will agree with me once you try this little gem of a recipe I found in Food & Wine.

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Candied Bacon.  I made it for Super Bowl and it was gone in minutes.  It’s like food crack.  You can’t stop eating it.  Sweet and savory, salty and crisp…it’s addictive.   It might not be the healthiest thing to eat, but let’s face it, this isn’t something you’re going to eat every day.  (although I really could).  It’s super easy and one of those dishes that once you make it,  everyone wants to know how you did it.

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Trust me on this one….  Bacon and easy to make.  You can’t go wrong with this.

People of the world!  I give you Candied Bacon!

 

 

Garlic Shrimp

When I go to a restaurant I am my husband’s – and probably the wait staff’s – worst nightmare.  I must have it my way.  A little of this and a little of that.  If I could take a bit from each entrée it would be perfect because it seems there is always something I don’t like on every item, but something I do like on every item.

Such is the way when I look at a new recipe.  I become inspired by one recipe, but like ingredients from another and pretty soon I have a collaboration of two or three different recipes.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I think tonight’s adventure did.

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This is a marriage of ingredients from 3 different recipes, inspired mostly from a Food and Wine recipe I found online.  It was a fairly quick meal to fix and although I paired it with coconut rice, you could serve it with a salad or crusty bread and it would still be a filling meal for you.

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Just make sure when you eat this, share the joy.  There is a lot of garlic in it and you know they always say that if one eats garlic, then everyone should.  Don’t worry, they’ll all love it.

On a side note…no vampires will be visiting for a while.

Split Pea Soup, Split Decision

When it comes to the standard way of making things, or trying something new, my husband and I are typically at odds.  For Peter, lobster has to be served steamed in a shell, shrimp can be with a cocktail sauce or in scampi.  You can’t have pizza with goat cheese and you certainly can’t have pea soup without green peas.  Until now that is, because I live by a different set of rules.

Let me just give you a little background on this.  I grew up with pea soup.  It was always a staple when we had leftover ham.  It was green and thick and not very appetizing.  So it was a huge mistake on my part, when I mentioned after our ham dinner, the idea of making soup.  It turns out, much to my dismay, that he loved pea soup.

Well, I half-thought about it and when I was at the market, I picked up a bag of split peas.  Peter would be so surprised if I actually made this for him.  But visions flashed before me of the thick green paste and I immediately scrubbed that idea and threw the peas back on the shelf.  I started to walk away and out of the corner of my eyes I saw a bag with split yellow peas.  That’s right….YELLOW peas.  I never had them before, but after looking at the back of the bag and the recipe idea it gave, I thought I could make it work.  It was a good compromise.

That weekend, since it was cold and definitely feeling like a soup day, I decided to give it a try.  I cooked my ham bone down and reserved the broth and although I did refer to the bag recipe, I did change the recipe quite a bit to make it more my style.  This was working!

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The flavor was really good and the texture of the broth was more like a vegetable broth.  I was so happy because I thought his was something I could eat and Peter would love that we had split pea soup.  I really believed this was our soup of compromise.

Until my husband sat down to dinner that is.  He took a bite and it wasn’t so bad.  He took another bite and it was ok.  The third bite, he decided to tell me that pea soup was meant to be green and mushy.  This simply was NOT going to do.

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So once again we were at odds.  I loved it and he did not.  He wanted his green thick mush and I liked the texture more like a broth.  And it’s okay.  It’s okay if he doesn’t like it, because he doesn’t have to love everything I make and he has his standards.  But I will probably make it again and he will probably eat it again and complain again.   And have another two helpings again.

Do you really have two helpings if you don’t like something?

 

A New Squash Appreciation

When I was a little girl and was given squash for dinner, I had a couple of different ideas on how to handle this undesirable vegetable.  None of them included eating it.  I either dropped it on the floor for the dog to eat, left it on my plate until it was much to cold to eat or my favorite was to mix it with cranberry sauce and pretend I was eating peanut butter and jelly.  I said it was my favorite idea, just not a good tasting one.

Over the years, I tried in vain to acquire a taste for it.  I would think I liked the way it was prepared but when I ate it or tried to make it myself it had that same appeal that it had when I was a child.  I felt I would never grow to like squash, in any form.

Lately, however, I have been venturing out and a desire for different types of squash is burning.  I have had it pan-fried in hash and roasted in soups.  When I was at the market the other day, I went totally out of the box and picked up a spaghetti squash.  I didn’t even know how I was going to prepare it, but I knew I was going to do something!

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Imagine the odds when a couple of days later I came across this recipe from Half Baked Harvest’s blog for Roasted Garlic Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boats.  I immediately went out, bought my ingredients and prepared my version of her recipe.

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I was totally amazed!  This had everything I loved about lasagna but was made with squash.  Could it be?  Could I actually have found a squash that I really loved?  I think the answer was a big yes.  I can’t really call this a healthy meal because of the cheese in it, but I do have to say it’s slightly better than eating a dish of lasagna.  Squash versus pasta equals a healthy alternative, so we have a partial win with this one.

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To make this easier if you’re in a pinch you can always use your favorite jarred sauce and for the cheese sauce, just layer parmesan and mozzarella cheese as you would in the traditional recipe.  If you do have the time however, go all out and do it as the recipe states.  It is so worth it.

Take it from a former squash hater.  This is one recipe you’ll keep!

 

 

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Apple Cider Gravy

There are always those times when you want something easy but a bit more than a soup and sandwich.  Maybe it’s mid-week busy night or a Saturday evening with friends.  And of course it has to turn out right every time.

In conjunction with my last post this Crispy Chicken Thigh recipe from Bon Appétit goes very well with the Farro Risotto.  I have made this chicken several times and it comes out perfect every time.  If you aren’t confident in the kitchen you can still pull this off looking like a pro and the flavors will make everyone think you spent all day in the kitchen.

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The sauce is interchangeable.  If you don’t want it as sweet, use a tart apple and add more mustard.  It is really all about what you like.  Just have fun with it.  You can start with the basics of what I’ve given you and make it your own.  This is the reason I love cooking so much.

Have fun and invite friends over.  Let them think you worked all day.  Share what you love because this is what it is all about.

Farro Risotto with Roasted Squash, Apple and Kale

I love this time of year.  I’m ready after the humid, muggy summer to breathe in some fresh crisp air.  I long for my sweaters and log fires to warm the evenings.  With the falling leaves comes the desire of using the abundance of fall flavors such as sage, pumpkins, squash and apples.

Did I mention I love fall?

I’m obsessed with apples right now.  I brought several different types of apples home with me the other day from the market, preparing for an all out apple fest.  I dove in, ready to conquer the sweet to the savory. The only thing I was missing was the road side apple cider stand.

So I have my apples, I love the fall and now I have to do something with all of it.  Well, that’s easy.  I decided to make this combination of a couple of recipes I had seen…  it was everything the autumn season is all about.  Farro Risotto with Apples, Squash, Kale and Sage.  My husband is loving me so much right now.  This meal is on his diet plan since it’s fairly healthy, but it’s also got flavor, texture and comfort, and it doesn’t taste like it’s a diet plan.

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I paired this with crispy chicken thighs and an apple cider gravy which will be coming in my next post, but for now try this out.   It’s in the top ten of my husband’s all time favorites, so I think you will like it.

Put on a sweater and fill your belly with the taste of fall.  It’s a yum on the food meter!

 

 

Cold Weather and Soup

There comes a point in time when I am tired of the summer weather.  I know many of you won’t agree with me but I long for sweaters and fires and cozy comfort.  That is probably one reason why I decided I needed to ignore the 75 degree weather in the beginning of October and make some soup.

I love soup.  It takes me back to those childhood days of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches my mom would make me.  It was soup out of a can but it still gave you the warmth and cozy home feeling after the chill of the autumn air.

I had seen this soup recipe in our local newspaper and of course I couldn’t leave it alone…I had to put my own spin on it.  I am so glad I did because as we were sitting around the table in our shorts and flip-flops, my husband said to me that if we weren’t already married, after eating this soup he would have married me!  How is that for a testimonial on how good this was?

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This is super easy to make so even on a busy day, you can have this for your family dinner.   A salad and some crusty bread will make it a complete meal.

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Cold weather will be here soon and I will be making this again.  Heavy socks, a warm sweater and a bowl of this soup will take me back to my mom’s kitchen.  I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t get any better than that.

 

Dinner for one

There are all forms of entertaining.  Of course there are the big parties, dinners and events.  There are also smaller and more intimate settings when you have another couple over or it’s a special dinner just for the two of you. You plan, you do the shopping, the preparation and then hope everyone oohs and ahhs.  It’s validation for the work and time you put into it and you go to sleep thinking everything was worth all the effort.  But have you ever thought of putting that same effort into a dinner for one?

What do people do when they eat alone?  I know when I was single and just starting out, dinner usually consisted of a bowl of cereal or a bag of popcorn.  I never thought of making an effort for myself.  I’m going to assume that a lot of single people have the same way of looking at things as I do.  We just do whatever is the easiest.

Tonight however, I changed my mind about things.  My husband was going to play cards with the guys and I was going to be alone for the evening.  In the past I would have eaten something I could just grab.   Not that there is anything wrong with a bowl of cereal or grabbing what ever is in the refrigerator at the moment, but I decided with the lifestyle changes we are making in our home I should make the effort and do the same for myself as I would anyone else that would be eating dinner in my home.  I was going to make myself a real dinner.

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I was inspired by a recipe in Bon Appétit that sounded so good, but my husband wasn’t as excited about this meal as I was.  It calls for adding lobster to pasta.  What was I thinking?  Doing something with it other than boil it and dip it in butter?  It was the perfect opportunity to try this…and I’m so glad I did!   Not only was this very tasty, it was also relatively easy.  The lobster was still tender and sweet with a nice spicy complement from the pasta and sauce.

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You could of course do this meal for your guests and still get the oohs and ahhs.  They won’t know how easy it was or that most of it could be done in advance.  Or you could wait until that one night when you’re sitting all alone and don’t want a bag of popcorn for dinner.  Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy your own company.  It’s worth the oohs and ahhs you’re going to give yourself.

 

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