Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Goat’s Cheese

Alas! My camera has died! RIP, camera! Never mind, Dollinks. Ill improvise. Most of the time, all you ever see in the photos that accompany this blog are my hands. Hands, I can give you! They just wont be my hands and they just wont be cooking

From ...

There! That should satisfy your desire for hands that tell a story. Today (because I urgently need a break from other writing projects), I have a delicious and wildly simple recipe for a cauliflower soup that tastes like “more” - because thats what youll want once you try it. You’ll love this velvety soup and its gluten-free thickener!

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Goat’s Cheese:

1 tbsp. butter or margarine
2 leeks, white part only, sliced thinly (see Note)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
2 c. chicken stock (see Another Note
4 c. water
1 large cauliflower, sliced as flowerets, small stems remaining
1/4 c. uncooked white rice (no substitutions)
1 large bay leaf
3/4-to-1 c. drained, crumbled goat’s cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Flurry of fresh parsley, finely chopped, as garnish (optional)

In a large pot, melt butter or margarine over low heat. Add leeks, onion, and celery; cover 5 min. to “sweat (see Another Note - Re-e-ally?), stirring occasionally. Add stock, water, cauliflower, rice, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 20 min., until rice is cooked and vegetables are soft. 

Cool almost to room temperature. Remove bay leaf. Add to blender goblet 2 c. at a time, blending on “high” until mixture is smooth and creamy. Wipe pot to remove any remaining solids such as bits of leek. Return soup to pot on medium heat. Stir in crumbled goat’s cheese. Season to taste. Garnish with parsley. Serves 6.   

Note: Leeks are expensive. Instead, I use sliced, dried leek stems, available in Persian food stores and in the ethnic foods section of large grocery stores. The taste is indistinguishable from the flavor of fresh leeks, at a fraction of the price.

Another Note: If youre keen to make it yourself, see the Index for How to Make Stock (Poultry).

 Another Note - Re-e-ally? The veggies, Dollinks - not you.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Butchart Gardens’ Ginger Scones

Picture this: It’s bedtime in the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where I Live (“Nicole! Come to bed! Itbedtime in the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where We Live!”). Ron will just have to wait! I don’t check this blog’s mail very often these days, because I’m not blogging recipes at the moment, but I happened to check it late this evening. Zounds! 

A very kind reader has searched out the Ginger Scones recipe she and I were both looking for in November, 2012. This recipe comes to you courtesy of the world-famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. I was so excited to see it that I yelled “Stop the presses!” even though they werent actually running. 

I’m sorry I can’t give this lovely lady the proper thank you she deserves, but she didn’t leave her name in the note she sent me just moments before I logged on. So here’s the scoop: I’m giving you the web link she gave me. The recipe’s right near the bottom, but first, you may want to pore through page after page of sumptuous photos of the (once again) world-famous Butchart Gardens. 

The photos are almost as delicious as the recipe! Thank you, madam! I’m grateful not just for the photos; not just for the recipe; but for being able to use the words “stop the presses!” and “scoop” in this blog. I’ve always wanted to say that, and you gave me the opportunity.

“Nicole! Come to bed! Yes, I will ... Ginger scones in the morning?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dinner Party Series: Meringue for Pies

The scene: A small, intimate dinner party. The meal: Smoked Salmon Penne (recipe to come another time). Dessert: No-Crust Lemon Meringue PieThe lemon recipe? None. Heres the dish:

And heres the secret - a commercially made lemon filling mix. No one knew the difference and everyone offered accolades. Pour the hot, cooked mix into six 1/2 c.-sized ramekins. The Meringue recipe? A snap! 

Meringue for Pies:

3 egg whites, chilled and beaten to form soft peaks 
3/4 c. granulated sugar

Gradually beat in sugar until Meringue stands in stiff peaks and no grainy feeling remains when mixture is rubbed between thumb and forefinger. Heap Meringue high over the hot lemon mixture (if its hot, the Meringue won’t shrink). Bake at 425 deg. F. for 3-5 min. or until Meringue is lightly browned. This makes enough Meringue for 4-to-6 ramekins or an 8-in. pie. 

Havent I always told you that presentation fools the taste buds? If this persuades you to give a Dinner Party, go ahead and use a mix - and don’t feel guilty!

Note: Make and consume Meringue-Topped Pies on the same day. If you don’t, the Meringue will be rubbery and tasteless.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year: Grease (Remover - Not the Musical)

And so the holidays draw to a close ... A recap of the season?

YIKES! But a tip of the hat to the very talented John Roberts.

And now a small gift wrapped in a non-food recipe,  just for you. My oven caught fire the other day, thanks to the thick coat of grease pooled at the bottom. Ron to the rescue! He found this recipe goodness-knows-where and (miracle of miracles!) it actually did what it promised, which was to degrease the interior of my oven. I regularly say Ill do the same thing, but never do. So here’s the concoction that did the trick!

Grease (Remover - Not the Musical):

1/4 c. liquid dishwashing detergent (the kind you use in the sink)
1/2 c. lemon juice (the bottled type ... why waste lemons?)
1 c. white vinegar
1-1/4 c. cold water

Combine in plastic spray bottle. Spritz the stuff all over your oven’s bottom, walls, and the glass of your oven door. Then cool your jets overnight while you guzzle champagne, wear a lampshade, and do all the other stoopid stuff everyone does on New Year’s Eve.

In the morning ... Voilà! A grease-free oven! Using a metal spatula as a scraper, pile the remaining gunk from the bottom of your oven onto paper towels and discard. Accept that you’ve won the prize for the neighborhood’s dirtiest oven and don’t let it ruin your New Year. Resolve that you will never allow your oven to look like this again and then fuddedaboudit. At least, that’s what I do. 

But put the oven on its self-cleaning cycle, regardless. With 95% of the grease and gunk gone, you won’t need to wear a gas mask as your oven transforms the residue of gunk into a fine while powder.

Wot??? You don’t have an oven that cleans itself??? Dollinks, I will rush right over to scrub it out! 

(S*I*G*H! Another New Year’s promise broken!) Happy New Year, possums!  xox  Nicole

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays and New Year!

Although I’m still not blogging recipes, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to say I hope you had a blessed Hanukkah; to wish you a very happy Christmas; and to wish you a fine new year. Our holiday table will always have space for you!

Ron and I have just returned from Washington State: There, we saw our dear friend Darryl, who has contributed to this blog before. Darryl gave us our holiday gifts - Italian seasoning salt for me and a pirate’s “piece of eight” for Ron that Darryl found on ebay. 

So this is the series of thank you notes I penned the next day: 

7:00 am
Dear Darryl:

The seasoning salt is delicious! I used it to flavor chicken soup. Ron is so excited about his “piece of eight” that he plans to buy the other seven pieces on ebay. He wants to take out a mortgage to do this. You have ruined our lives.

Love, Nicole 

8:00 am
Dear Darryl:

Ron woke up with pink eye and I am seeing red. He’s made himself a black leather eye patch, and says he’ll wear it forever. I blame you

Love, Nicole

9:00 am
Dear Darryl:

Ever since you gave Ron that wretched piece of eight, he’s been telling me to “Avast, Matey!” The dictionary says this means “Stop, young man!” I think Ron is bisexual. This is all your fault.

Love, Nicole 

10 am
Dear Darryl:

Ron has started to wear one of my gold hoop earrings. He says he wants to grow his hair into a ponytail tied back with a ribbon. I don’t think he’s bisexual, anymore. I think he’s gay. Because of you, I am broken-hearted.

Love, Nicole

11 am 
Dear Darryl:

You know the phrase “I’d cut off my right arm for a friend”? Ron thinks so highly of you - especially since you gave him that #$@! piece of eight - that he wants to cut off his right leg. I told him that if he does that, he won’t have a peg leg to stand on when I divorce him. You did this.

Love, Nicole

12 pm
Dear Darryl:

Ron has bought himself a parrot. It’s sitting on his shoulder as we speak. I’m an animal lover, but the thing poops all over the kitchen floor. There are feathers that have never met a chicken in my chicken soup. By giving Ron that damned piece of eight, you encouraged him to do this. You are my sworn enemy.

Love and curses, Nicole

1 pm 
Dear Darryl:

Problem solved! I used the piece of eight to buy a plank at Lowe’s. I made Ron and his bleeping bird walk it. Hey, big guy! Want to drop over for lunch? I’ve got homemade chicken soup! All I need to do is strain out a few feathers.

Love, Nicole

Enjoy the rest of the holiday season, readers!  xox  Nicole

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fa-la-la-Land, Part 2

When my pal Graham Harrop read that I wasn’t going to mail out any more paper holiday cards (, he drew one just for me. Graham is an artist of considerable note: His work graces editorial cartoons, books, and a number of Internet sites. Should you find this card too small to read (it is, after all, a card and not a poster), simply click on the image to enlarge it.

Not everyone has Graham’s knack for drawing, but I firmly believe everyone has a talent. I, myself, am particularly skilled at tap dancing. Unfortunately, when a gossip-loving friend misheard me, she spread the word that I was a talented lap dancer, which landed me many unsought-after invitations to stag parties. I can say (with some modesty) that I’m not a bad pole dancer, either. During the holiday season, I favor the north pole in the living room, rather than the south pole in the bedroom. My husband can hardly wait for summer in the northern hemisphere, when things switch over.

Whatever your talent, use and share it, just as the little drummer boy did. I’m glad my friend Graham shared his talent with me - and thus, with all of you - xox   Nicole

Friday, December 12, 2014


Dear Friends: 

This is the Christmas card you never got. Then again, you may have got it, or may yet get it … I can’t be sure. Some of you will receive at least two of the same card. Others will get nothing - not even a lump of coal. I’ve been makin’ a list, checkin’ it twice, but don’t give a rat’s ass who’s naughty and nice. What I really want to do is curl into a fetal position and thuck my thumb.

This year, I told Ron, we’re going to play it smart! This year, there’s no way we’re spending hundreds of dollars on cards and stamps, or devoting precious hours to signing and addressing cards (a job that seems simple, but isn’t, when your computer doesn’t understand the words “mailing label”). 

This year, we’re not slaving over our usual uplifting holiday message: “Ron’s receding gums are bleeding less and orthotics have helped my plantar fascism plantar fascititis foot problem.”

To be honest, despite the guilt trip our costly holiday words laid on their recipients, mailing some 250 cards (25 of them to friends; the rest, to bill collectors) has never been the social entré we hoped it would be:

• “Oh, Charlie! Another beautiful card from that Parton woman and that hopeless Ron Fisher! You know, we really should send them a card. (S-i-g-h!) Yes, Charlie, you’re probably right. I remember the year Nicole tripped into the china cabinet, smashing all that crystal. And the year Ron wouldn’t stop talking about his receding gums at our cocktail party. If we run into them, we can always say we lost their address.” Or, at another household …

• “Who are those idiots who send us a card every year? Haven’t they figured out we’re the wrong Wilsons?” Or, at yet another home … 

• “Harold Shmuckley’s still getting cards from the Parton-Fishers! Don’t those morons know he’s in the Witness Protection Program? Even his mother has no idea where he is. Which is a good thing, considering it was his testimony that sent her up the river.” 

Well, no more paper cards from us! But what we planned to send in their stead hasn’t exactly worked out. This year, we were going to email you that: “In keeping with the spirit of a green Christmas, we’ve gone digital! We hope you enjoy our electronic holiday card!”

I hunted-and-pecked 250 names and email addresses into a swishy electronic card program. The card I chose had gen-u-wine animated falling snow and seasonal music to accompany the fine phrases I stole from my friend Saleena, who sent us the best holiday card ever

I told Ron: “Once I program these cards, I’ll be one click away from finishing with these suckers!” I meant the cards - not you, dear friends. 

Then I remembered that some of you celebrate Hanukkah. Somehow, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to switch those cards from those that played O Tannenbaum to cards featuring the Dreidel-Dreidel-Dreidel song. I had to start from scratch, reposting Saleena’s best-ever message for our Jewish friends.

Then I also remembered that some of you are atheists and agnostics, so I found some electronic cards with digitized Santas hula-hooping “Ho-ho-ho!”

Then I noticed I’d made some spelling and other mistakes, like forgetting that He Who Shall Not Be Named ran away with She Who Shall Not Be Named while each was married to someone else. But that was last February and this is December and the scarlet letter and the gossip have finally faded, so it’s probably socially acceptable to send them a card. Besides, all they want for Christmas is a divorce from their former partners, nudge-nudge, wink-wink. 

Which brought up another card conundrum. Spouses and partners ought to get joint cards rather than individual ones, I thought. I retyped my list. But then I also thought: “What if their partner doesn’t show them our card?” So I changed things back. 

Then I also noticed that while some of my changes had gone through, many people were getting two electronic cards - one single, one spousal. Our Jewish friends were getting a card that played O Tannenbaum, and our Christian friends were about to be treated to the Dreidel-Dreidel-Dreidel song. Two of our friends are having December birthdays. With horror, I realized that their cards read “Happy Hanukkah!” Non-believers were getting a bit of everything - drifting snow (I-used-to-be-snow-white-but-I-drifted-ha-ha), spinning dreidels, and hula-hooping Santas playing the slots in Vegas. 

Worse yet, this is our fish Frankie’s first Christmas, so I sent Ron an electronic card featuring half-a-dozen little fish in Santa hats. Signing the card “I wuv woo - Fwankie,” I didn’t realize I’d clicked on the wrong “Ron.” In milliseconds, the card zipped off to an old boyfriend. Naming me as the cards actual sender, the card company’s tracking program showed the other Ron opening the card immediately. The note he sent seconds later said he was between liaisons and happy to hear I still had “feelings” for him.  

With every correction I made, the card company’s computer program tossed every name on my list into the air, rearranging it with no alphabetization and no relationship to the pattern of names I’d seen only moments ago. Trying to fix this mess took me three days. Three! Long! Days! I’ve given birth faster than that.

Our electronic cards are programmed to go out Dec. 20th. Yes, I know the Hanukkah date is wrong, but trying to fix it defeated me. If you don’t get our card, Saleena’s perfect message reads: Wishing you a beautiful holiday season filled with love, joy, peace, health, and happiness! May you have an amazing 2015! Which about sums it up. 

Ho-ho-ho and Xs and Os from Nicole and Ron

Nicole will return to blogging recipes once she finishes work on two books. Fortunately for you, shes a slow writer.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Zucchini Loaf. Or Loaves. Be Warned.

Having been otherwise occupied, I haven’t cooked or baked for four months. So it’s fair to say I’m a little rusty. Hmmm … Maybe a whole lot rusty. But this is how one learns new skills, Dollinks! What I learned was to let my Significant Other get out in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans. I’d even settle for an Insignificant Other, as long as it was the pots and pans being rattled, rather than I.

So this is the mmm-mmm-good Zucchini Loaf I made early this morning, on a rare foray into the kitchen. Doesn’t this loaf look scrumptious? Perhaps not. But believe me, that’s how it tasted! This is the best loaf I’ve ever made! The worst, you don’t want to see.

Our recipe began peacefully enough, as morning crept into the Parton kitchen and I crept in there, too - never suspecting the horror that lay in wait.

Zucchini Loaf. Or Loaves. Be Warned. 

3 c. all-purpose flour minus 2 tbsp.
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. cinnamon
3 eggs
1 c. canola oil
2-1/4 c. granulated sugar
2-to-3 tsp. vanilla extract
1 medium zucchini, peeled, grated, and loosely packed to equal 2 c. 
1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted (see Note)

Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Line bottom of greased 9 x 5-in. loaf pan with parchment paper (See Scary Foreboding Noteand set aside.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in medium bowl. In large bowl, beat eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla at high speed, using electric mixer. Gradually add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, beating well at low speed. Combine remaining 2 tbsp. flour with grated zucchini. Hand-stir zucchini-flour mixture into batter. Add nuts, combining well. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

It all started with one medium zucchini. 

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, yada-yada-yada.

Grate zucchini. After which everything went sideways.

My baked loaf sagged in the center.

It spilled over the sides of the pan.

It was misshapen.

It was moist in the middle. Too moist, if you ask,
which you actually didn
’t, but who cares? It was.

Bake 1-1/4 hr., or until skewer inserted at center of loaf comes out clean. Loaf will resemble Hunchback of Notre Dame. Carry on and keep calm. Swig scotch, if you must. Resist urge to commit hari-kari with bread knife. Cool loaf pan on wire rack for 20 min. Turn loaf from pan to cool completely. Yields one. Consider yourself warned.

Note: See Index for How to Toast Nuts and Seeds. Toasting the nuts in this recipe makes a huge difference to its taste. When taste is all this loaf has going for it, you’ll want to be sure to toast your nuts. That advice applies to women, too.

Scary Foreboding Note: The original recipe called for two 8 x 4-in. loaf pans. If you have loaf pans in this size, divide batter between them, baking 40-to-60 min. and everyone will live happily ever after. If you have only a standard 9 x 5-in. loaf pan, fill it 2/3 full (not almost to the top, as I did), using remaining batter to make muffins. Otherwise, use all the batter to make Zucchini Muffins, baking 20 min. This should yield about 2-1/2 doz. muffins.

As I wrote in my last blog, our paths may cross again “somewhere, somehow, sometime.” If you love good cooking, pray really, really hard that they won’t. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Somewhere, Somehow, Sometime ...

The outstanding dish below this post - Ron’s Five-Spice Chinese Braised Duck - is the last of my favorite recipes. All things come to an end, and this is my final post. Just as I’m delighted to have been part of your life for more than three years, I’m also delighted to leave you with the recipe below. In my books, its gourmet - and very easy to make! 

Special thanks go to my husband, Ron Fisher, not only for his photographic contributions to this blog, but also for his excellent cooking. If its possible to do such a thing, I’d also like to thank my (non-existent) Anonymous Taste-Testing Panel, my sweet but dumb fish, Frankie, and his over-sexed (and also non-existent) friend, Sadie, all of which added a little fun to this recipe blog. I also owe a debt of thanks to my daughter, Erin Parton, who prompted me to share my favorite recipes.

Make every occasion festive!
Shortly after this blog began, I invited my pal Shelley to my place for lunch. Shelley and I have known one another nearly 40 years. I was very busy when I asked Shelley over, and didn’t have time to cook. So I set a beautiful table, served pre-packaged foods and only pre-packaged foods, and kept quiet about my little deception.

Shelley didn’t suspect a thing. She especially loved “my chocolate mousse. Using tiny gold spoons, we spooned it from white demitasse cups on saucers trimmed with gold. Everything tasted about as good as pre-packaged foods can taste, but the presentation made it more than it was. 

When Shelley said: “This must have taken you forever! I replied: “It was easy!” Which, of course, it was. 

The point of this story is that while you might dream over recipes, you may not have the time or the energy to prepare them. My advice to you: If you can’t make it, fake it! No one’s going to know - as long as you don’t tell. And everyone’s going to think you’re an incredible cook. 

I once knew a woman who put a pip into the lemon meringue pies she prepared from a mix so its finder would think she’d “missed it” in making her pies “from scratch. That home cook had the right idea. Don’t sweat the small stuff - or the big stuff, either.

Thank you for reading this blog, Dollinks! May we meet again - somewhere, somehow, sometime.  xox  Nicole

Ron’s Five-Spice Chinese Braised Duck

I’ve saved the best for last! The photos say it all ... You’ll most certainly want to make this recipe as soon as you finish reading it! Ron slightly modified this dish from one titled Oil-Braised Duck (The Encyclopedia of Asian Cooking, Octopus Books Limited, London, 1980). Although time-consuming, this delicious duck and its wonderful sauce are surprisingly easy to prepare.  

Ron’s Five-Spice Chinese Braised Duck:

One 4-to-4-1/2 lb. (1.75-to-2 kg) duckling, cleaned and plucked
1/4 c. orange juice
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 c. soy sauce
4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. dry sherry
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. five-spice powder
1 slice fresh ginger root, peeled, about 3 x 1/2 in.
2-1/2 c. chicken stock
A few tbsp. cornstarch, as required, to thicken cooking liquid
Approximately 5 c. peanut oil for deep-fat frying
1 large orange, unpeeled, halved and sliced, as garnish
Parsley bunches, as garnish (optional)

Read recipe carefully and have all ingredients assembled before you begin. In a large pot over high heat, plunge duckling into enough boiling water to cover. Boil 4 min. Drain. 

After boiling away fat, transfer duckling to clean pot.

Transfer duckling to clean pot, adding all remaining ingredients except cornstarch, oil, and garnishes. Bring just to a boil before lowering heat. 

Cover and simmer 45 min., turning duckling at least twice during cooking. Remove duckling from pot, draining and drying very thoroughly. Cooking liquid is the basis of the sauce for the duckling: Treat it with loving care. Over low heat, simmer liquid, uncovered, to reduce and thicken it. 

Simmer cooking liquid to reduce and thicken it.

Over medium-high stove setting, heat oil in wok to a depth of about 4 in. (see Note). Carefully and securely lower duckling into oil (Ron uses a meat fork to do this). 

Carefully and securely lower duckling into oil.

Oil will bubble around lower half of duckling and inside cavity. 

Oil will bubble inside and outside duckling.

Also carefully and securely, turn duckling over to brown on all sides. This will take about 5 min.

Turn duckling.

Turn again, until browned all over.

When duckling is crisp and golden, remove from hot oil. 

Remove from hot oil, draining well.

Transfer wok or deep-fat fryer to a safe, stable spot away from pets and children’s reach. Let oil cool for later safe disposal or straining and recycling. 

Return duckling to simmering sauce, turning several times to coat. 

Sauce will start to reduce and thicken. If sauce needs further
thickening, add a little cornstarch as per method below.

If sauce appears too thin, decant about 1/4 c. to small bowl, cooling before stirring in cornstarch, as needed. Return cooled liquid to simmering sauce, blending in well until sauce thickens as desired.

Remove coated duckling from sauce. Transfer to chopping block, sectioning into small pieces with cleaver or heavy knife

Ron sections duckling into small pieces.

Heap chopped duckling onto serving platter.

Onto the platter goes the duckling!

Pour hot sauce over duckling. 

Onto the duckling goes the sauce!

Garnish with orange slices and parsley. Serve at once. 

Garnished duckling.

This dish is extremely rich. Ron recommends you keep your servings small. Serves 8-to-10 as main course.   

Note: Home-use deep-fat fryers are safer than oil-filled woks, but produce less satisfactory results. The maximum temperature of the oil in a deep-fat fryer is often lower than the temperature of the oil in a wok on the stoves highest setting. The duckling may also not fit into a home-use deep-fat fryer. Use extreme caution when deep-fat frying. Allow enough room for the oil’s displacement as you lower the duckling into the wok or deep-fat fryer.