by Irene Morse
The Cookers & Kibitzers Club is a group of women in Visalia who get together each month to enjoy cooking good food and having great conversation. See what they have for us this month-there are recipes at the end of this article.
The Cookers & Kibitzers were planning on taking a road trip in September but it didn’t come off as intended. The idea was to hire a limo and driver for a day of wine-tasting in the Paso Robles area. Not all of us could make the trip and the cost was above what the rest of us wanted to pay.
We have not ruled out the adventure; the idea is just too good to lose. After all threat of fog has passed this spring, we’ll rent a van and take Carol’s husband up on his generous offer to be our designated driver. We think George is a brave man indeed; there will be a heady mix of alcohol and estrogen in that vehicle.
Francie and her husband have bought a retirement home in Paso Robles so she is our official winery scout. When she is in the area, she’ll seek out small, out of the way wineries with great wines that can’t be found in stores. We are all hopeful that we can fill our wine racks with delicious little-known wines and gather some good stories while we’re there.
There wasn’t a lot of planning time for our September meal after we dropped the trip so we decided on a menu of items that were on our list of things individuals in the group wanted to try.
Beth was our Farmers’ Market shopper and she was able to grab a bag of the last corn of the season. She also got some delicious pluots and some kind of green plums for our dessert.
Served seven of us, with leftovers, for $10 each (not including wine)
Parmesan Garlic Breadsticks
Lemon Roasted Chicken with Tarragon
Shredded Garlic Zucchini
Fresh Fruit Parfait
A couple of people brought champagne so we sipped and chatted for a few minutes and then everyone chose a “work station” to begin cooking.
I have a rather large kitchen with a lot of counter space but it begins to feel smaller and smaller as cooks reach for utensils and ingredients. There is a lot of “Is that my champagne or yours?” involved.
Janet, our non-cook who has become a great cook, volunteered to make the soup. She had been chopping potatoes for a while when she asked if I thought the chunks were too big. I suggested that they could be a little smaller.
In the spirit of our cooks, each of whom “owns” the dish she is working on, she decided to cut the rest of the potatoes smaller but leave what she had already done. This interchange also prompted my Tip of the Month entry.
A bonus tip came when I scurried out the back door to take something directly to the garbage cans. I was preoccupied and tripped over a step; fortunately the biggest bruise was to my ego. We all agreed, however, that one “must wear good shoes and walk slowly when drinking champagne.”
Meanwhile, Beth sliced fruit and whipped cream for the parfaits; Margaret seasoned the chicken and stuffed it with lemon slices and tarragon and Carol pre-prepped the zucchini.
Chris chose to be a kibitzer this month and Deb was busy with her camera work. I rotated as usual and prepped the breadsticks.
We needed six to eight shredded zucchini so I got out the food processor. Carol, who had never used this utensil before, was surprised that the shredding was done in the blink of an eye.
Some of the rest of us stopped what we were doing and just watched her. We were mesmerized watching someone use a food processor for the first time. Carol decided that, while it might very well be an “essential” cooking tool, she wasn’t planning on getting one any time soon.
Finally, the parfaits were assembled and refrigerated, the zucchini was shredded and put to one side to drain and the chicken was ready for the oven. While the soup simmered away, blending the delicious ingredients, we spent a leisurely half hour relaxing outside on the deck with our champagne.
When it was ready, we opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio and one of Chardonnay (to satisfy our disparate preferences) and sat down to enjoy our soup with the bread sticks. We like to chat over a first course and are never in a hurry to rush the meal to the table.
Janet, who took some of the leftover soup home, reported, “The soup was fantastic warmed up today for lunch. That recipe is a keeper!”
Later, while Margaret carved the roasted chicken, Carol finished preparing the zucchini. We devoured the entrée and then it was on to dessert.
Heavy with calories, the remainder of the afternoon was given over to conversation–some loud and raucous, some more mundane. The women in our group are all intelligent; most of us like to debate issues, and we don’t shy away from any topic. Everything, as they say, is on the table (Sorry). When it’s time to go our separate ways, we hug each other and look forward to our next meeting.
Cooking Tip of the Month: When dicing ingredients that will join together in a dish, it is best to try to make them as close to uniform in size as possible. The cooking time will be more consistent and the dish will be more attractive. Having said that, the potatoes in our corn chowder were perfect and the soup was wonderful!
Recipes: We did a fair amount of substituting in these recipes and, in one case, we just made it up but this is the way we did it.
Emeril’s Pennsylvania Dutch Corn Chowder, serves 8*: This is an Emeril Lagasse recipe from Foodnetwork.com
4 Cups Fresh Corn**
9 Oz Diced Pancetta***
3 Cups Diced Yellow Onion
1 tsp Herbes De Provence****
½ tsp Ground Red Pepper*****
2 tsp Minced Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
3 Cups Diced Baking Potatoes–Russets
8 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Cup Milk
1 Cup Heavy Cream
½ Cup Chopped Green Onions–green part only
Salt and Pepper to taste
* The original recipe says it serves 6; it served 7 of us with leftovers.
** The recipe calls for shaker dried corn or fresh corn. We bought fresh corn and removed it from the cob ourselves.
*** The recipe called for ½ lb diced salt pork. We substituted three packages of diced pancetta. It adds good flavor with less fat.
**** The recipe called for 1 tsp celery salt. We substituted a like amount of the Herbes De Provence.
***** The recipe called for ½ tsp Cayenne Pepper. We substituted a like amount of ground red pepper.
NOTE: I thought I had both celery salt and cayenne pepper in my cupboard and when we found I didn’t, we made the substitutions. What the heck; it was our recipe now. Next time I might use Essence of Emeril (go on-line for the recipe–it’s a wonderful seasoning if you like a little “bam!”).
• Put a thin layer of olive oil in a soup pot. Add the pancetta and cook over medium heat until it begins to crisp; about 5 minutes.
• Add the onions, Herbes De Provence (or celery salt) and pepper. Cook until the onions are soft; about 4 minutes.
• Add the garlic and bay leaf; stir. Add the potatoes and corn; stir and cook about 1 minute.
• Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring often, until the potatoes are tender; about 20 to 25 minutes.
• Add the milk and the cream and simmer for 5 more minutes.
• Remove the bay leaf; adjust the seasonings to taste and ladle into soup bowls. Float a garnish of chopped green onions on each bowl. The red pepper gave it a delicious “kick.”
Parmesan Garlic Breadsticks, makes 10: I don’t remember where I got this recipe
1 Package Refrigerator Breadsticks
¾ Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Finely Grated Parmesan Cheese
¼ Cup Garlic Powder
• Pre-heat the oven to 400.
• Open the package of breadsticks and separate the dough into individual sticks.
• Put the olive oil in a pie pan and mix the cheese and garlic powder together in another pie pan.
• Dredge each breadstick first in olive oil and then in the cheese/garlic mixture. Rotate the dough into loosely twisted sticks and place on an ungreased baking sheet.
• Bake according to the package directions.
• These are great with soups or salads.
I made a variation of these one day with my Great Granddaughter, McKenzie. We used melted butter and cinnamon sugar instead of garlic and cheese. Yummy!
Lemon Roasted Chicken, serves 8 (after doubling the recipe): Our entrée recipes came from Great Meals in Minutes published by Time-Life Books. I don’t know if this series is still in print but they are the beginning cook’s best friend.
4 lb Roasting Chickens (2)
10-12 Sprigs Fresh Tarragon*
Salt and Pepper to taste
* The recipe does not call for tarragon. We added it because we thought it sounded good.
• Pre-heat oven to 400.
• Cut one lemon into slices for each chicken. Season the chickens inside and out with salt and pepper and place lemon slices inside the cavity. We stuffed the cavity with tarragon sprigs also.
• Close the neck and tail cavities with skewers. We didn’t have any and I was out of string as well so we just forgot this instruction. Worked out fine.
• Place chickens, breast side down in a well-oiled baking pan or skillet. Roast for 15 minutes.
• With the aid of spatulas or large spoons, carefully turn the chickens so they are breast side up.
• Roast for about 45 more minutes. Test for doneness (juices should run clear when breast is pierced slightly with a knife).
• Let the chickens rest for 5 minutes before carving. Heat the pan juices and pour over the carved chicken. Garnish with more lemon slices.
Shredded Zucchini with Garlic, serves 8
6-8 Medium Zucchini (about 2 lbs)
8 Tbsp Butter (1 stick)
2 Large Cloves Garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
• Cut off ends of zucchini and shred with a hand shredder or a food processor. Do not peel.
• Wrap zucchini in a clean dish towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.
• Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it bubbles.
• Add zucchini, garlic and seasonings.
• Sauté about 2 minutes, turning with a spatula. Zucchini should be heated through, barely tender and still crisp.
• Serve immediately.
Fresh Fruit Parfait, serves 8: I don’t know when I first made this dessert or where I learned how–I may have just made it up
Fresh Fruit or Berries (We used six Pluots and two Green Plums)
8 Oz Package Mascarpone Cheese
1 Pint Heavy Whipping Cream
• Whip the cream until just beginning to set–it will make soft peaks, not stiff ones. Whip the Mascarpone until it is soft and buttery. Combine the two.
• Toast the almonds just enough to bring out the flavor
• Thinly slice the fruit and arrange a layer in each of eight wine glasses or glass dessert dishes. Add a drizzle of honey if the fruit is a little tart.
• Add a few sliced almonds. Then a layer of cream/cheese mixture.
• Continue layering until glasses are full. End with cream/cheese mixture on top and maybe a few almonds.
• Chill and serve.
Learn more about the Cookers & Kibitzers Club in Irene’s first article here at KRL.
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