Libra Lentil Salad

I realized last October that I have a bevy of Libra friends.From late September until late October, it is a birthday bonanza and I only celebrate about half of them. I mean really...as hard as I try, I can only fit so many parties into one month. This year, I decided to honor a whole group of my Libra friends with a Libra Luncheon. I narrowed it down to only women, and only those who live near me. And we still had lots of lovely Libra's in attendance. What is it with me and Libra's? I just love them!

Garden Fig Jam for party favors!

I organized a beach walk party followed by a buffet lunch of salads. Since I have a few vegetarian friends, my first thought when planning was a lentil salad that can be made the night before and served room temperature. I got the idea for combining a spicy sauce with lentils from a dish that my friend Maili made for me a few years ago called Lentils with Tofu and Chimichurri Sauce. I love the spice and parsley with the heartiness of the black lentils. I made it a few times after Maili gave me the recipe and everyone loved it. And then I got lazy. And I threw together some similar things to create my lazy-girl lentil salad.

It's definitely not the same so be sure to try Maili's lentils too because they are truly delicious and honestly also super easy to prepare. But the Libra gals seemed pretty happy with their lentil salad and I promised them the recipe so here goes. This is what I did for the Libra Luncheon.

Please take note that this is a very forgiving dish. You can add more or less of most things. You can leave some things out. (I've made it with just onions, lentils, hot sauce and dry parsley.) You can throw in other things you like. (I've added shrimp.) It is really hard to screw it up. And if you ask me to bring it to your next party, it will likely be different. It is the kind of recipe I love.

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“Celebrate true friends. They are a part of you that always sparkles.” ― Amy Leigh Mercree

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Libra Lentil Salad

2 T Olive OIl 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion 1 tsp salt 1 package Trader Joe's steamed black lentils (or 2-3 cups cooked lentils) 1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (or 1/4 cup dry parsley if you are really desperate) 1 cup fresh arrugula or spinach, optional 3-5 T Frank's original hot sauce or similar red hot sauce 2 tsp lemon juice, optional 1 tsp agave nectar, optional fresh feta cheese to serve

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat and sauté onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, lentils and parsley and combine well. If using packaged lentils, be sure to break up all the clumps to separate the lentils. Stir in arrugula and add 3 T hot sauce.  Taste and add more hot sauce if desired. Stir in lemon juice and agave. Cool, stir well and refrigerate overnight. I like to serve it warm or at room temperature with crumbled feta on top.

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Poblano Chicken for Virginia

When I first met Virginia she was dressed as Mrs. Claus.She came with her friend Russell who was dressed as Santa, or Father Christmas as they call him in Australia where we were at the time.  The occasion was an annual black tie dinner for a group of about ten or twelve people. But due to tradition, that started back when the men were at University, Russell came dressed as Father Christmas.  So Virginia came as Mrs. Claus. I can't tell you any more about the event or they will have to kill me.

I liked Virginia the moment I met her. It might have been that she was dressed like Mrs. Claus and had a twinkle in her eye like Mrs. Claus should.  But I think it was the contrast between that twinkly exterior and the realness of Virginia that I really loved.  Cocktail in hand, I believe the first sentence she said to me contained expletives about how hot she was in that damned Claus suit and she would love to go outside for a cigarette.  Genuine personality just burst out of Virginia. I knew we would be friends.

It took quite a while, many years of our annual dinners, before Virginia and I crossed over to friends outside the dinner group. Perhaps we got a bit closer when I presented her with a special gift one year. Taking to heart her dismay over the uncomfortable heat of her outfit, I had come across a new one for her that would alleviate the problem. It fit into a very small bag as it consisted of a red velvet g-string with fur trim and a matching hat. Her twinkle got brighter when she opened it, realizing I may have a streak of kindred mischieviousness that she had yet to see.

But I believe the crossover really came when we ended up at an after-hours gathering one night with Russell and Hubby and a few bottles of wine. After hours of  stomach-clenching laughter, we had bonded.  And once Virginia traveled around the globe to visit us in California, the deal was sealed that there was much fun to be had in our future.

Sadly, I don't see Virginia much since she lives in Australia and I live in California. But Facebook has come to the rescue in continuing our friendship. She posts things that make me laugh out loud and I post my blog entries which she reads and comments on faithfully.  Which brings me to the chicken.

Nearly a year ago I posted Agnes' Green Chicken, one of Firstborn Daughter's favorite dishes. Virginia wrote back immediately that she wanted to make it but Australia did not have Cheez Whiz (Don't get me started on the merits of that!) She needed a substitute. I promised to follow up. Well a year isn't so bad is it Virginia?  Similar to thank-you's for wedding gifts.  Anything under a year is considered proper etiquette.

Firstborn Daughter was home for Labor Day Weekend and she wanted to make Green Chicken. I told her about Virginia's request and she was up for the challenge. We experimented, refined it, and presto! We created Green Chicken without Cheez Whiz and I believe it is even better than the original.  It is cleaner.  Has more poblano taste and less CHEEZ taste while still capturing that spicy smooth flavor. Thank you my friend Virginia for putting out the challenge. This is for you.

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"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." -Marcel Proust

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Poblano Chicken for Virginia

2 cups cream, separated  1/4 medium white or yellow onion, chopped 1/4 tsp dry mustard 1/4 tsp salt 1/8 tsp pepper 4 T unsalted butter 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated 1/2 cup milk 7 poblano chiles, roasted and peeled, seeds and stems removed* 6-8 servings of cooked chicken, skinless, any cut you prefer

Pour 1 cup of cream into a large saucepan and add the onion. Cook on medium-high heat until bubbling.  Turn heat down and continue to cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently until reduced by about a half and slightly thick. It starts to turn a bit tan in color. But not much. Just a little. Add dry mustard, salt, pepper and butter.  Stir until incorporated.  Add grated cheese and continue to stir until completely melted. Add the remaining 1 cup of cream and 1/2 cup milk and heat through, continuing to stir. Cool slightly. Blend cheese sauce and roasted chiles in a blender or Vitamix until smooth. Return sauce to pan and add chicken pieces, immersing the chicken in the sauce. At this point, you can cool and refrigerate until ready to serve. Heat through before serving. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice, mashed potatoes or pureed cauliflower.

*I explain the roasted chiles in Agnes' Green Chicken. Or go on the internet for a demo. There are many methods that work including oven broil or over flame.

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Julia's Steak Diane

Julia Child and Hubby were great friends that shared the same birthday on August 15th.Two headstrong Leos that found kinship. She loved his interest in business and the world and they would talk for hours on current topics of the day.  She asked his opinions on wine and politicians and people.  She was curious about everything.

Julia and I were friends too, but I have no illusions that she loved me like she loved Hubby.  I enjoyed being with her and her friends,  and talking about food and cooking and life, but she got a special sparkle in her eye when she conversed with Hubby.

And being with Julia was always fun.  We had dinner with Julia when the New York Times article was published about the now-famous blogger Julie Powell, and it sparked a great conversation about blogging which was new to all three of us in 2003.  Oh how I wish I could hear Julia's thoughts on food blogs today!

Julia loved films and I remember when she joined our family to see Holes, a PG movie that was mostly for our kids but Julia thought it was funny and entertaining and she just loved to be out and about, not exactly blending in but not minding either. She also liked Costco hot dogs and In-N-Out burgers and we would indulge her with those on occasion.  She loved oysters and restaurants and trying new things.  Julia wanted to experience life and was interested in everything, which made it a joy to be with her.  She inspired me greatly.

Hubby truly loved her.  He sat at her bedside holding her hand the day she died.  Following her death, Hubby became one of three trustees of The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.  He was honored and pleased and it gave him a way to stay connected to her memory.

Image Shortly after she passed, I was feeling reflective about Julia and thought I would take a look through the box of Julia's DVDs and books that were given to Hubby to review.  I was watching “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home,” when I came across a recipe I thought my family would like... “Steak Diane.”  I starting glancing through my Julia cookbooks to find the recipe and, much to my surprise, I could not find it.  I tried an internet search and still no luck.  So I sat down and watched the show again, taking notes of the recipe as they prepared it on the show and I made it that night for the family.  One and Only Son LOVED it and it is probably his most requested meal behind Reme’s Enchiladas when he returns home for visits.  Firstborn Daughter also loves it, second only to Green Chicken.  And Baby Girl and Hubby just plain love it.  It is one of the only meals I make that is a favorite to all members of my family. Julia was a darn good cook.

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"The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook." -Julia Child

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Julia’s Steak Diane

Summarized and interpreted from “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" No measurements were given so I have included my measurements and added my notes about how to prepare.  Serves 4.

2 Rib-eye steaks, well-trimmed and pounded to 1/4” thickness* 2 tsp soy sauce 2 tsp olive oil 3 T. clarified butter** 1-2 T shallots, finely chopped 1 T dijon mustard 1/4 to 1/3 cup beef stock fresh parsley, finely chopped

Drizzle soy sauce and olive oil onto the steaks.  Use your hands and massage into the steaks well.  The steaks can sit for up to 30 minutes while you chop the shallots and parsley.  Saute steaks in 1 to 2 T. of clarified butter over medium high heat, just a couple of minutes per side.  They may not fully brown but you don’t want to overcook them.  Remove the steaks to a plate when still rare. Turn heat to medium low, add more butter to the pan and stir in the shallots.  Stir for a minute or so and be careful not to burn the shallots! Mix mustard with 1/4 cup of stock and pour into pan with shallots.  Reduce the liquid down a few minutes.  Add more stock if the sauce is too thick. Add steaks back to pan just long enough to heat through.  Remove steaks to plate, spoon sauce over and garnish with parsley.

*When the steaks are pounded, they become quite large in size.  I usually cut each in half before cooking.  Julia and Jacques cooked them whole but suggested two people could share one.

**Clarified butter can be purchased at some grocery stores.  Ghee can be substituted but it has a nutty taste that clarified butter does not.  I like to make my own. Put 1/2 pound of unsalted butter into a heavy-bottomed pan.  Over low heat, melt the butter and continue to cook over low.  It will start to bubble and foam as the water boils off.  The milk solids will sink to the bottom and the middle will be a clear liquid which is the clarified butter.  There will eventually be very little foam on top and you will see the golden clear liquid.  This can take up to 30 minutes depending on your pan.  When the foam is nearly gone and bubbling stops, remove from heat immediately so it doesn’t burn.  You can then pour off the liquid into a container, skimming off the foam and leaving the milk solids in the bottom.  Or strain through a cheese cloth or coffee filter to separate the clear liquid from the milk solids.  If it is well strained, the clarified butter can stay at room temperature but it is best to refrigerate and it will last for months.

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