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Friday, July 30, 2010

Roulade

It has been a tedious week, so I needed to try something new in the kitchen.  At Mr. Wonderful's "suggestion," I made a veal roulade last night.  Never did it before, and used what I had on hand -- except the veal, which he had bought so it just "happened" to be in the refrigerator.


Roulades can be sweet (say, jelly roll, apple strudel, or ice cream roll) or savory (say, beef, turkey, or pork rolls).  They were special treats when I was growing up.  Now I know why.  Making them is a lot of work.  You have to prepare the filling, then the wrapper, then assemble it all, then cook.

To help out with his "suggestion" about dinner, Mr. Wonderful fulfilled a few sous-chef duties:  he finely diced and minced onions, garlic and mushrooms.  Then he disappeared until it was time to eat.  It was safer that way.

Nonetheless, despite the work and lack of a definitive recipe, my foray into veal roulade worked out well.  We enjoyed a good dinner and a new wine: Jayson 2006, a pinot noir Mr. Wonderful liked so much that a case is now on its way to our address.  And, tonight, it's roulade leftovers with baby broccoli and more Jayson pinot noir.

Veal Roulade
Outer wrap:
5 veal scallopini filets
Ham, thin slices from the deli (optional)
Filling:
1/2 c. wild rice pilaf from Uncle Ben's
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. pealed pistachio nuts
1 c. sliced mushrooms
1 small onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. cognac
cream (optional)
Salt, pepper
and
1/2 stick butter
olive oil
Canola oil
Twine

Pound the scallopini filets on each side with a large-toothed mallet.  This will make them thinner and larger and you'll get rid of some aggression.  Set the meat aside.

To make the filling:  first prepare the rice pilaf per package instructions.  While the rice is cooking, saute the onions and mushrooms on high heat in olive oil for 5 minutes; then add the garlic.  When the onion mixture is golden brown lower the heat, add the pistachios and raisins, stir, then add the cognac and cover for a few minutes.  Remove the cover, increase the heat and stir until most of the liquid evaporates.  Add a touch of cream and pepper to taste  When the rice pilaf is done, add a 1/2 cup to the onion mixture.  Add any salt to taste at this point since the Uncle Ben's pilaf comes with a spice packet and you don't want to over salt things.

Assembly:  Lay out a pounded veal filet.  Put a slice of ham on top [the ham slice might be smaller than the filet, but no problem; just place it at one end].  Spread a few tablespoons of the filling on the ham slice.  Roll it up and secure the roll with twine. [I tied the rolls both length wise and across.]  Repeat.  Add any left over filling to the remaining pilaf and serve later.

Cooking:  On high heat in a heavy and deep pan, melt the butter and add some Canola oil.  When the butter and oil are hot, brown the veal rolls on each side.  Then cover the pan and put in a 375 F oven for 15 minutes.

Serve with rice pilaf on the side, a vegetable, and red wine.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Akhal Teke Horses

Akhal Teke horses are an ancient pure breed from Central Asia. They are exceptionally fast, tough, and large, averaging 14.3 and 16.3 hands. [A hand is about four inches. A horse is measured, on a flat surface, from the ground to the withers, which is the bump that joins the back and the neck.]   Able to endure extreme temperatures and privations, they were a horse of choice in the harsh lands of the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan and in Russia.

Not far from the outskirts of Ashgabat, we visited a farm where Akhal Teke horses are bred and trained. They were lovely with shiny coats and long necks and soft eyes. A number of beauties were brought out and put through their paces.

While we were on the farm it started to rain and the farm hands quickly shooed the horses into their barn. Unfortunately, the tall horses didn’t duck when entering the barn though its low-beamed door. Nor did the farm hands pull down on the reins to get the horses to lower their heads. Each time a horse hit its head on the lintel, there was a burst of laughter. Not very pleasant for us or the Akhal Tekes. Like a lot of things in Turkmenistan, it was odd. And very unlike the bird farm near Alamty, where the workers clearly loved and cared for their animals and kept things in pristine conditions.
For more information about Akhal Teke horses, go to the Akhal Teke Ranch website and see the well cared for horses in Idaho.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Don't Leave Home Without It

For most of my life I have been lucky enough to travel (for school, work, fun) to places near and far in conditions that run the spectrum from luxurious to Spartan.


Back home for a few months, we are again in the process of planning another complicated trip in November, and I have spent the afternoon filling out visa applications to various countries.  Trip planning reminds me to check and update my carry-on bag of necessities. 


Before setting off on exotic or even semi exotic travel, here are ten necessary things I don't leave home without:



1. Medications.
Pre-departure, get your inoculations. Also pack hand sanitizer, aspirin, “Z-pack,” eye drops, sunscreen, and tummy meds to address problems in both directions.


2. Headgear.
A hat or scarf and a folding umbrella for rain and sun protection. A head covering is sometimes needed for women to enter certain houses of worship or cemeteries.


3. Cash, Credit and/or Debit cards.
The few ATM machines we have encountered in Africa and Central Asia had rather low cash withdrawal limits. US dollars and Euros were accepted everywhere we’ve traveled, and we do not always purchase much local currency (especially if it is not readily convertible back to dollars). In Europe and Central Asia, Visa cards seem to have more acceptance than MasterCard or American Express. But, the more remote the location, the fewer merchants accepted plastic.


4. Toiletries.
In addition to the obvious basics, take soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion -– don’t assume that hotels and inns provide any or all of these. Some hotel soaps can be tiny and very perfume-laden; shampoo can be limited and conditioner almost unheard of.


5. Tissues.
Take along many pocket-sized packages of tissues –- always have a packet with you. Even better if you buy them in Europe, where they are 3-ply. Need one explain why?


6. Shoes.
Comfortable well broken-in walking shoes that you should be willing to discard at the end of the trip. When you realize just where those shoes have walked, you will never want them to step on your floors or carpets. Also, take a pair of disposable slippers to use in hotel rooms.


7. Old clothes.
While one dressy outfit will come in handy, focus on taking casual comfortable older clothes that can be layered for warmth or coolness and that can be discarded if you need more room in your suitcase for all those “must have” souvenirs. Also, I’d advise against shorts and low-cut tops. While many countries seem secular, cultural norms are different -- more conservative than in the west. There is no need to insult the local people or to call too much attention to oneself.


8. Flashlight
A good small flashlight comes in handy when walking on dark rutted streets -– even the paved ones are uneven. It can also illuminate architectural details or art in dusky buildings.


9. Wires.
Camera batteries, mobile phones, laptops, all need to be recharged; we put all of our wires and plug in a separate zippered bag that we keep with our carry-on luggage. If you don’t have your wires with you, odds are you’ll be off the grid.


10. Sense of Humor
Despite the inconveniences, travel is an adventure. Most people we run unto are decent and friendly. Things can go wrong, misunderstandings arise, and paper work can be complicated. Transcend the negatives –- they are not forever; enjoy the countless positives.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Good-Bye Mini Good-Bye

We sold the Mini Cooper S. Good bye but not good riddance. This is the car which taught me how to drive a stick shift.


There is a saying, attributed to Einstein, that when you turn 50 you should learn to play a musical instrument or learn a new language. My husband decided to learn Russian around the time he turned 50. He enrolled in classes at UCLA and got hooked by the Cyrillic alphabet.

When I turned 50, I did not follow Einstein’s advice. A little later, Mr. Wonderful made the decision for me. He surprised me with a Mini Cooper S for my birthday. He is enamored of manual transmissions and thought that my learning how to use one would be like learning a musical instrument. He was partially correct.

Learning to drive the Mini was certainly musical. It was opera  -- tragic opera -- until the day it became second nature. When it was time to sell it, however, it was a bittersweet parting. I took my last drive and shifted gears like moving through soft butter:  smooth, assured, natural.

Twice in the past, Mr. Wonderful had tried to teach me how to drive stick. It was in Europe and the pressure was on. He’d say things like "don’t pop the clutch," and I’d say "what’s a clutch" and "what’s pop?"  He’d give me lots of words, detail, and theory, while I sat with beads of sweat on my upper lip, a death grip on the wheel and the shuttering stop of a stall out at a red light. There were a few times when I did “get the car in gear” and drive along a county road, but each time I had to start from a full stop felt like mission impossible.

Finally, I decided that I really should know how to drive a car with a manual transmission if we were going to be renting cars in countries where they actually apologize if all they have is an automatic. Besides, I am a terrible passenger and prefer to do more than my share of the driving. So, I started talking about how cute Minis are.

My Mini was dark green with black roof and two black stripes on the hood. The interior was black and the car was equipped with Bluetooth and an iPod connector. It was surprisingly spacious and with the back seats folded down, it was even big enough for a Costco run. The “S” meant that it had more zip.

Mr. Wonderful was still providing me with too much information on what it took to get out of park into first gear and then into second. After second gear it was easy, but the low gear beginning was a terror. "Give it more gas," he kept saying. "More gas? I don’t want the car to jump out and hit anything," I’d respond.

After several tries with my dearly beloved issuing instructions from the passenger seat, the stress was too much. Luckily, my computer came to the rescue. The Internet provided articles on driving stick and there are videos on YouTube. I’d watch the videos, realize that I was not the only one having difficulties learning this “instrument” and feel better about myself. In the evenings, I began taking my Mini out for a spin around the neighborhood. Stop signs became learning experiences … practice. Little hills became challenges. Actually, my eye suddenly could discern the tiniest of inclines where I’d seen none before. In a short time I was driving on the freeway to work.

Although there were lots of rough starts and bumpy shifts into first gear, I thought I was making progress. Until one day I had a crisis point. During lunch hour I needed to drive to the drug store to buy something. I left my office and got out of the parking lot. Then the trouble started. It seemed that I hit every red light between my office and the store. There was a slight uphill incline at each light. The only turns were left turns on busy multi-lane streets. I stalled out at each stop, and not just once. The drivers behind me were irritated and showed it. The two miles to the store seemed to take a lifetime to transit. Finally, stressed and sweaty, I got to the store and parked.

At the drug store I was walking down the center aisle in one direction while having my head turned to the right to read the signs above each aisle indicating what’s there. Suddenly, bang! I bumped into a clerk wheeling a dolly loaded with products. I got a small cut on my foot. Tears started flowing and flowing. All the while I was assuring the stocking clerk that he did not have to call his manager, that I did not need a chair and that I was really OK.

Still in tears I walked out of the store and got into the Mini. I thought of calling Mr. Wonderful to “save” me, but he was playing golf that day and he never keeps his cell phone on. Then I thought of calling my friend Paul at work, he is a buddy and a car collector. Then I realized that if anyone “saved” me from driving the Mini, I’d never drive it again and I’d never learn stick shift. I buckled the seat belt, took a deep breath, and put the clutch into reverse. Reverse is really what saved me. When moving in reverse, there is a natural tendency to take one’s time, to release the clutch slowly and smoothly while giving the engine gas with the other foot. Made it. Now, I just had to apply the same principle when going forward. It worked –- not beautifully but it worked. I got back to the office. My meltdown became a positive turning point.

It took more time to get the hang of things and to be confident enough to go up steeper hills. Although I still stalled out from time to time, my confidence never fled again. I got to know what to do and how. Ultimately, smooth like a hot knife through butter. Yeah!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Salad


It has been a hot week and humid ... not that “dry heat” we all pretend to love.  Cooking has been minimal ... some grilling to keep the house cooler and lots of salads.  Today I remembered one my mother makes on hot summer days.  She learned the recipe from her father, who got it from his mother and so on.  Suffice it to say, the family has been happily eating this crunchy, tart, and cool salad for a couple of centuries,
The proportions of the ingredients are flexible, it all depends on how much is available and how much you like any particular item:
2 cups sour kraut*, drained and with excess liquid squeezed out
1 large carrot, Julianned or shredded 
4 scallions, chopped
1 red apple, chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup oil [light olive or any mild flavored oil]
Salt, pepper
Combine the sour kraut, carrot, scallions, apple and walnuts.  Toss with half the oil.  Add salt, pepper and more oil to taste.  Cover and chill for at least two hours.  Enjoy.
*  Note, the sour kraut called for is the naturally brined variety -- kraut, water, salt -- and not the kind made with any vinegar.  If you only have the kind made with vinegar, rinse it  with cold water before draining and squeezing out the water.   


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grunwald 1410

Today is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald, fought near StÄ™bark, Poland, where the the armies of the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and their Tatar allies defeated the Teutonic Knights.  For more infomation go here and here.

The family protoplast (i.e., my great-great-etc.-grandfather) and his sons fought there.  This weekend, some 2000 "knights" will engage in a reenactment of the battle.  Wish I could be there to see it. 

Instead, I will peruse and reread my favorite parts of the wonderful Henryk Sienkiewicz book [translated into English by Alicia Tyszkiewicz and excellently edited and revised by Miroslaw Lipinski] about the casus belli and the colorful and passionate historic figures who took part.

P.S., the painting at the top of this post is The Battle of Grunwald by Jan Matejko.  Painted in 1878, it measures 4.26 x 9.87 meters and is on display at the National Museum in Warsaw.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Julia Child DVDs

I found Julia Child's DVDs at the bookstore a few days ago and was glued to the large screen TV all weekend. There was a chicken fricassee on the stove yesterday!

I've had her book, The Way to Cook, on my shelf for years.  It's big and filled with lush photos.  But, the DVDs make it better since you actually see how she does it and how things look in different stages of preparation and when done.

A glass of chilled Chardonnay with Julia Child made my weekend a Bon Appetit event!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Osso Buco

We have a friend staying with us for the holiday weekend and I am in the mood to cook.  Last night I made Osso Buco [veal shank] rich with marrow bones, vegetables and sauce.  It takes a bit of prep and time in the oven, but the fall-off-the-bone tenderness is worth the wait.
Here is the recipe I used:
4 center cut veal shanks, cut 2-1/2 inches thick
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Lawry's seasoned salt
Pepper
1/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. vegetable oil (if needed)
1 large onion
5 ribs celery, chopped
5 carrots, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup tomatoes, chopped and drained
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 c. water
1 c. white wine
Chicken or vegetable broth

Season both sides of the veal shanks with the Lawry's seasoned salt and pepper and dredge them in the flour.  Heat the olive oil in a deep heavy pot and brown the veal shanks on all sides.  [If the oil smokes, add a bit of vegetable oil, which can stand higher temperatures than olive oil.  As the browning process goes on, some of the flour darkens and causes a bit of smoke, that's OK.] After the veal shanks are browned, remove them from the pot and set aside.  Add the chopped carrots, onions and celery to the hot oil in the pot, stir and cover for about 5 minutes.  Next add the garlic, stir and cook uncovered for a minute.  Stir the tomato paste in the cup of water and add to the vegetables, then add the chopped tomatoes and the white wine; cook and stir for another minute.  Return the veal shanks to the pot and nestle in between the vegetables. Pour in enough chicken and/or vegetable broth to almost cover the veal.  Bring everything to a boil, cover then put in a 350 F degree oven for 2 hours.  Enjoy.

These are the basics.  If you like bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, parsley and other spices, feel free to add.  Mr. Wonderful does not like most herbs and spices so I rarely use them or "sneak" in small amounts.  Same with the vegetables; I did not want to leave a lone carrot  or garlic clove in the refrigerator so I used all that were in the drawer.  It worked.

What We Are Reading Now

It's a long holiday weekend and besides cooking, eating and relaxing, we have a new stack of books to enjoy.

A Question of Belief: A Commissario Guido Brunetti MysteryI finished the new Donna Leon mystery, A Question of Belief: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery, last night after a dinner of Osso Buco.  One of my favorite aspects of this series of mysteries, besides wry observations of the human condition, is the characters' enjoyment of food both at home and in little cafes.

We are also reading:

4th of July

Happy 4th of July!!

The day started out overcast and cool and was perfect for wearing my once a year cotton sweater with a Betsy Ross themed flag.  Last year I couldn't find it.  This year I not only found where I'd put it away but I found it on time for the holiday.
Our community always has a neighborhood parade.  Golf carts and bicycles, pogo sticks and skate boards.  Even pets participate. 

Or want to.
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