Sunday, January 24, 2016

Simple Ham, Potatoes, Green Pepper, Onion Skillet Dish

I created this quick and simple skillet dish this evening with ham steak, potatoes, green pepper, and onions. It took about 10 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to cook. It should serve 4, but the two of us finished it, along with a salad.


- 3 tbsp butter
- 8 oz cooked boneless ham steak, large dice (I used a Smithfield, precooked Hickory-smoked ham steak)
- 3 medium red potatoes, washed but not peeled, large dice (red potatoes stay firmer than some others)
- 1 bell pepper, large dice
- 1/2 a large onion, large dice
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp Italian seasoning


In a large, non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium heat

Add potatoes in a single layer and cook for 5 minutes

Add bell pepper and onions, and continue cooking for 2 minutes

Sprinkle salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning over other ingredients

Add ham and continue cooking for 8 minutes.


Friday, January 22, 2016

A French Dinner at Home with Friends

We recently enjoyed a French dinner at home with two other couples with whom we share an appreciation for French food and France. The emphasis was on Provençal cuisine, but not all of the dishes were unique to Provence. Each of the other couples brought dishes, and I prepared dishes.

The menu was:

Appetizer: Baguette with a Provençal tapenade, which one couple had brought from Provence. The baguette was a Fresh Market artisanal baguette

Soup: Soupe au Pistou, a Provençal soup, which I made with an excellent Ina Garten recipe.

Main Dish: Daube, a Provençal stew, which one friend made. His was much tastier than the daubes I have tried in Provence.

Side Dishes:
1. Pâté de Campagne (country pate), a terrific recipe, which I made.
2. Champignons à la Grecque (Greek mushroom salad - a French recipe. I made it, but thought it was nothing special.)

Dessert: A delicious home-made vanilla ice cream, which one of our friends made. She brought delicious two provençal toppings - chestnut (marrons) and cassis (blackcurrant)

The wines I served were:
- Parallele 45, a Grenache-Syrah Côtes du Rhône by Paul Jaboutlet Aîné - with the appetizer
- 2009 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe "La Crau" Châteauneuf-du-Pape with the soup and main dishes. This elegant wine is a mixture of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Cinsault. It deserves its 94 point rating from Wine Spectator.
- 2005 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel - with the main dishes (This outstanding wine is from Paso Robles, Ca from a winery with roots in the southern Rhone area of France. The grapes are all French types - Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, and Counoise. California wineries that produce such wines are known as, "Rhone Rangers." I strongly recommend visiting this winery if you are in the Paso Robles area. The winery is great and the countryside where it is situated is beautiful.)

Soupe au Pistou - A Wonderful Provençal Soup

Soupe au Pistou is a delicious Provençal vegetable soup. "Pistou" is the French word for Pesto alla Genovese, a basil sauce which originated in Genoa, Italy. The pistou is made separately from the soup and mixed in with the soup when it is served. The main difference between Genoan pesto and the Provençal pistou is that the latter does not have pine nuts.

We served this dish as one course in a French meal we had with friends. 

The recipe I used was an Ina Garten recipe which I found on Food Network ( It is very easy to make, but takes a bit of time. The original recipe states that it yields 6 - 8 servings. I followed the original recipe closely, and it yielded 10 generous servings.

The recipe below is divided into two parts - one for the soup and one for the pistou.

Soup Ingredients

- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 2 cups chopped onions - 2 onions (One large onion did the trick for me.)
- 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts - 2 to 4 leeks (I only need 1 & 1/2 large leeks. It is important to wash leeks carefully because they can easily hold sand. There are on-line videos showing how to do this.)
- 3 cups of 1/2-inch-diced, unpeeled boiling potatoes - 1 pound (Boiling potatoes are potatoes such as red potatoes or Yukon gold. It took me 3 medium potatoes)
- 3 cups of 1/2-inch diced carrots - 1 pound (about 13-14 ounces was what I needed for 3 cups.)
- 1 & 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 quarts homemade chicken stock or canned broth (I used the canned.)
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads (I omitted this ingredient.)
- 1/2 pound haricots verts, with ends removed and cut in 1/2 (I used regular fresh green beans.)
- 4 ounces spaghetti, broken into pieces
- 1 cup pistou 
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Soup Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot. Add the onions and sauté over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.

Add the leeks, potatoes, carrots, salt, and pepper; and sauté over medium heat for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock/broth; bring to a boil; then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender.

Add the haricots verts and spaghetti; and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.

To serve, whisk 1/4 cup of the pistou into the hot soup; then season to taste. Depending on the saltiness of your chicken stock, you may need to add up to another tablespoon of salt. (Mine needed no additional salt.) Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and more pistou.

Pistou Ingredients

- 4 large garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 24 large basil leaves
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup of good olive oil

Pistou Directions

Place the garlic, tomato paste, basil, and Parmesan cheese in a food processor, and purée.

With the food processor motor running, slowly pour the olive oil down the feed tube to make a paste.

Pack into a container; pour a film of olive oil on top; and close the lid.

Refrigerate if not using immediately.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pâté de Campagne - a Terrific French Dish

I recently decided to make Pâté de Campagne for a French dinner with friends. The name means, "country pâté." It is different from pâté de foie gras - goose liver pâté. I was delighted with the results.

I found this recipe on, one of my favorite recipe sites ( There are a couple of things to keep in mind about this recipe:

1. It serves 20, so it would be great to take to a party. If you serve it to a small group, you can freeze what you don't use or you can give your guests some to take home. I did not try to scale it down for our dinner because I was afraid I might miscalculate.
2. It can be made up to 4 days in advance. I would suggest making it at least a day in advance.
3. It involves a fair amount of work, but is fairly easy to follow.
4. The volume of ingredients is probably about 30% larger than the baking dish called for. However, you can use the leftovers to make burger patties.
5. There is A LOT of PORK involved - ground pork, bacon, and ham.

The slices above represent less than half the amount produced by this recipe.

The pâté is best served with a baguette, cornichons (small French pickles), and Dijon mustard.

I recommend reading the reviews on Epicurious before preparing.

Below is the original recipe, modified with my comments and edited to reflect my experience and preferences.

- 3/4 cup of cognac (or something similar - I used Napoleon brandy.)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup minced onion
- 2 & 1/2 pounds ground pork
- 22 slices of bacon (8 -10 slices to be finely chopped and mixed with the pork, and 14 slices for lining the baking dish to wrap the meat mixture)
- 3 garlic cloves pressed
- 2 & 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 & 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons allspice
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/3 cup whipping cream
- one 6-oz ham steak, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick strips. (Some reviewers suggested omitting this ingredient. I kept it and liked it.)
- coarse sea salt (I omitted this ingredient.)
- 1/4 cup sliced/chopped pistachios (This was not in the original recipe. Some reviewers suggested adding these. I did and thought they were a nice addition.)

- cornichons
- Dijon mustard
- baguette


1. Set oven rack to lowest position in oven, and preheat to 350°F.

2. Boil cognac until reduced to 1/2 cup - about 1 & 1/2 minutes. Let cool.

3. Melt butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent, but not brown.

4. Combine ground pork and chopped bacon in large bowl. Using fork or fingertips, mix together until well blended.

5. Add sautéed onion, garlic, 2 & 1/2 teaspoons salt, thyme, allspice, and pepper to bowl with pork mixture, and stir until well blended. Add pistachios, eggs, cream, and reduced cognac, and stir until well blended.

6. Line a 9x5x3 metal loaf pan with the bacon slices, arranging 8 slices across the width of the pan and 3 slices on each short side of the pan and overlapping the pan on all sides. (You want to arrange the bacon slices in a way that allows you to cover the top with the bacon once you have put the meat mixture into the pan. In other words, you should be able to wrap the entire meat mixture with the bacon slices. I did not have a metal pan, so I used a glass baking dish with the same dimensions. Although items in metal normally cook faster than in glass, I did not change the baking temperature or time, and everything worked fine.)

7. Once you have lined the bottom and sides of the baking dish with the bacon slices, use your hands to lightly press half of the meat mixture (about 3&1/4 cups) into the pan. Arrange the ham strips in a single layer over this half of the meat mixture. Then add the remainder of the meat mixture over the ham.

8. Once the meat mixture fills the pan, fold the bacon slices over the top, covering the pâté. Then cover the pan tightly with foil.

9. Place the pan in a 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan and transfer to the oven. Pour boiling water into this larger baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. (I did not have that size metal baking pan, so I used a ceramic baking dish that was about an inch larger in all dimensions. I also found it easier to pour the boiling water into the pan before I put it in the oven.)

10. Bake the pâté until a thermometer inserted through the foil into the center registers 155°F - about 2 hours 15 minutes.

11. Remove the loaf pan from the larger baking pan and transfer it to a rimmed baking sheet. (The reason for having a rimmed baking sheet is that a fair amount of liquid fat will seep out of the loaf pan during the next step. The rim will keep this liquid fat on the baking sheet.)

12. Place a heavy  skillet or 2 - 3 heavy cans atop the pâté to weigh it down. (That will compact the pâté and force out the excess fat.) The approach I took was to cut a piece of heavy cardboard to a size slightly smaller than the top of the loaf pan. I then put two heavy tomato cans atop the cardboard.) Put this weighted-down loaf pan and baking sheet in the refrigerator and chill overnight.

13. When preparing to serve, place the loaf pan in a larger pan with hot water for about 3 minutes to loosen the pâté from the sides and bottom of the baking pan. (It took about 5 minutes in my case. I also had to use a spatula to separate the pâté from the sides of the baking dish. Do not unwrap the bacon. This remains part of the pâté.)

14. Invert the pâté onto a platter; discard the fat from the platter and wipe clean. (I did this step differently. I inverted the pâté onto a cutting board. Then I wiped the excess fat from the cutting board and the outsides of the pâté. Then I slice the pâté per directions in the next step.)

15. Cut the pâté crosswise into 1/2-inch slices and place on serving platter. Serve with baguette slices, cornichons, and Dijon mustard.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Wine Prices - An Example of a Major Difference

There are significant differences in price for the same vintage of the same wine sold in the same area, so it is worth knowing something about wine prices. I have mentioned this in another posting, but thought I would write about a current example

We love Antinori wines. One Antinori wine that we enjoy is Villa Antinori. It is a Tuscan red. There is also a Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva. This posting is about the Tuscan red.

Here are today's prices from four stores within 12 miles of one another:
                            Regular Price       Sale Price          
Whole Foods         $26.99                   $24.99
Publix                   $21.99                   $18.99
Total Wine            $19.99                   $17.99 (case discount)
Norman's               $16.99                   $15.29 (case discount)

It is important to note that there are sometimes coupons, as well as discounts for case prices:
Norman's always offers a 10% discount for any combination of 12 bottles with prices not ending in 7.
Total Wine frequently has coupons in the newspaper or mail for 15% or 20% discounts.

Norman's and Total Wine are my normal go-to stores. Total Wine has a much better selection, but Norman's often has better prices. If I'm looking for a very special wine, I may go to Michael's Wine Cellar. It has some unusual wines, but is more of a drive from my house.

I always buy enough wine at Norman's to get the 10% discount, and I always use Total Wine coupons when shopping at Total Wine.

If I'm in St. Petersburg, FL, I often buy wines from Mazzaro's Italian Market. Their prices are generally higher, but, like Michael's Wine Cellar, they have some interesting wines I cannot find elsewhere. They also often have some really good deals on a few wines.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Super-Easy & Delicious Carrots w. Butter, Honey, & Ginger

I've found another very easy and tasty carrot recipe. This one is from ( It is made with only 5 ingredients. The original recipe serves 6. I cut it in half for the two of us. Below is the smaller recipe I used for us.


- 1/2 pound carrots, sliced (I used baby carrots, and did not slice them.)
- 1 pinch ground ginger
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste. (1/2 tablespoon = 1.5 teaspoons)
- 1 & 1/2 tablespoons honey


1. Bring a 2 qt saucepan with water to a boil. Add the carrots and cook until tender but still firm, about 5 minutes. Drain.

2. In a skillet over low heat, melt the butter with honey. Stir in lemon juice and ginger. Stir in carrots and simmer until heated through.

Barbazzale - Interesting Wine from Mt. Etna

Inexpensive wines from the slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicily are not easy to come by in our area. I have found a red that I like and that is made from two Sicilian grapes. It is Cottanera's 2013 Barbazzale, which I found for $13.99 at Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg.

The Italian wine classification is Etna DOC Rosso (red). It is made from 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio, both grown in the Aurora Vineyards at about 2,300 feet above sea level on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna.

Volcanic soils like those around Mt. Etna are good for wine grapes. The poor quality of the soil requires the plants to grow deep roots, which make for stronger plants. You can find a nice explanation of this question at:

We have a bit of an emotional attachment to Etna wines because we enjoyed a delightful visit to the area, including to the Murgo Winery at the base of the volcano.