“Dining Experiences” and Cancer

It is Evil
There is Pain
The Unknown Creates Stress
My dad has cancer.  It is bad~~really bad.  There are so many unknowns~~he was healthy, he exercised, he is only 75, he has a wife, four children, and eleven grandchildren.  However, cancer doesn’t care about any of those things.  How do we care for him and care for ourselves while we wait in the hospital, wait at home, make difficult decisions, and try to find answers for our questions?
In spite of the cancer, we all have to eat.  Most of the time when we are taking care of someone who is sick, we aren’t looking for a “dining experience.”  We just need nourishment and if the food we eat happens to taste good, it is a bonus.
While there are many negatives surrounding cancer, there are a few positive outcomes too.  One revolves around food.  Have you noticed when someone is sick, suddenly food appears seemingly out of no where?  It is true.  While some days I might be a bit of a food snob in terms of food, when I am driving three hours to see my dad, waiting in the hospital room, or sitting at home with my mom,  “dining experience” meals are not what I am expecting.  Matter of fact, the simple sack lunch given to me by my friend Debbie tasted amazing.  Seriously, peanut butter and jam sandwich on sourdough, fresh strawberries, fresh grapes, and homemade cookies.  If I would have made the lunch, it wouldn’t have been as good~~the extra love provided by my friend made the food taste better.
Yet, some of the very meals I might consider “off limits,” can taste awfully good at 9:00 PM after a long day at the hospital.  For example, my brother’s girl friend dropped off a turkey noodle casserole topped with bread crumbs, a great salad, and ice cream with hot fudge for dessert.
I might have turned my nose to eating at the country bar too and missed a great dinner and evening.  My brother seemed to know everyone in the bar and suggested the Juicy Lucy burgers with sweet potato fries.  Wow, I am still thinking about my delicious burger~~ jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, caramelized onions, and a mixture of sweet potato and regular fries.  I have not had such an amazing burger for a long time!
My mom also received a roasted chicken from her neighbor.  There are so many ways to serve chicken:  whole grain bread topped with thick slices of chicken, sliced tomatoes, then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with freshly cracked pepper and sea salt is an easy dinner.  Our family favorite uses slices of roasted chicken, fresh Mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, prepared pesto sauce, a little Ranch dressing, and crisp lettuce leaves all served on fresh Ciabatta rolls.   An extra bonus is to use the leftover chicken and bones and make an easy homemade chicken stock with the addition of water, celery, carrots, onion, leeks, Bouquet Garni, peppercorns, and fresh parsley.  Yum, I can smell the stock cooking now.
My dad is home now.  I expect I will take homemade chicken noodle soup with me this weekend.  I make my Grandma’s recipe (my dad’s mom’s recipe), and it has the super secret ingredient of a few caraway seeds tossed into the soup.  It would be unusual for anyone to pick out the taste of the caraway seeds, yet if they are not used, the soup isn’t as good.  They are sort of the “umami” of chicken noodle soup.
This soup is for you, Dad.  I love you.
Grandma’s Sega’s Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups sliced celery
2 cups chopped onion
6 cups homemade chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
8 to 10 caraway seeds
2 bay leaves
3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley leaves
1 (14 1/2 –ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, OPTIONAL
4 cups cooked egg noodles
In Dutch oven heat oil over medium high heat.  Add carrots, celery, and onion.  Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften slightly (5 to 6 minutes).  Add chicken stock, marjoram leaves, salt, pepper, caraway seeds, and bay leaves.  Cover; turn heat to high and bring to a boil (6 to 7 minutes).  Reduce heat to medium low; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened (20 to 25 minutes).  Add chicken, parsley leaves, and if desired the drained tomatoes.  Continue cooking until heated through
(5 to 8 minutes).  Serve soup in bowls topped with egg noodles.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Happy Valentine’s Day Chocolate Pecan Truffle Tart

Happy Valentine’s Day

It is utterly impossible for me to think of Valentine’s Day without thinking of chocolate~~it is part of my daily diet.  I like just about any kind of chocolate including candy bars, chocolate mocha shakes, imported chocolate, chocolate raspberry lattes, candy bars from Co-ops, a handful of M & M’s, or even a fresh Hershey’s Bar.  Yes, I really do like a fresh American chocolate candy bar~~ the taste reminds me of growing up in Duluth, MN when as a little child my mom would break one candy bar into four pieces for myself and my three siblings.  It was such a rare and great treat; I must have had food lover genes even as an 8 year old because I used to let the chocolate slowly melt in my mouth, seriously savoring every bite.

Now that I am MUCH older and sophisticated, and a mom myself, my two favorite chocolate desserts include Caffe Latte’s Chocolate Turtle Cake and a homemade Chocolate Pecan Truffle Tart.  My favorite recipe was developed when I was on staff at Land O’ Lakes years ago.  Since then, I tried various combinations of crusts, fillings, fruits, and sauces; however, I always go back to using fresh pecans, fresh butter, good chocolate ganache filling, and homemade caramel sauce.

Let me share a few thoughts about ingredients.  The crust I prefer is a mixture of pecans, graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and fresh butter.  The pecans I use are from my sister Theresa’s pecan trees in Winchestar, TN.  My mom painstakingly gathered, cleaned, and shelled pounds and pounds of pecans in the fall, carefully packed them in heavy doubled plastic bags, then froze the pecans for future use.  While the charts typically say to use frozen nuts within 6 months, I have had mine in the freezer for over a year and they taste great.  The key is to have the pecans packed as air tight as possible, then slightly toast them in the oven or on the stove top before using them in a recipe.  Once lightly toasted the flavor of the pecans is incredible~~Tip number one.

Fresh butter is Tip number two.  Assuming butter is handled properly once packaged and shipped, the code date is about 4 to 5 months.   I always check out the code dates before I buy butter~~butter is coded with the date of production, so buy butter as close to production date as possible.  In addition, place butter in plastic zip lock bags with air removed to help keep butter fresh.  Because basic butter is 80% fat, any odors or strong smells from the refrigerator or freezer will be absorbed, tainting the butter~~ old butter will make any recipe taste bad~~locally produced butters will have the best flavors.

Tip number 3 is to use good quality chocolate with at least 55% cacao.  I can find good chocolate chips at most grocery stores, some Co-ops, and even Costco.  To get a smooth melt, heat the whipping cream just to a boil, remove the pan from the heat, then stir in chocolate chips with a wire whisk.

Superb caramel sauce is the last Tip, it is very easy to make, and is so much better than a purchased sauce.  Once made, cooled, and covered, the caramel sauce will stay fresh in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Caramel sauce tastes great stirred into coffee, hot chocolate, drizzled on top of pancakes or waffles, or even a spoonful for an afternoon snack!  Enjoy your Valentine’s Day.

Valentine Chocolate Pecan Truffle Tart

Makes 16 servings

Original recipe developed for Land O’Lakes



¾ cup very finely chopped, toasted pecans

¾ cup graham cracker crumbs

½  cup sugar

¼ cup melted butter


2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream

3 cups high quality chocolate chips

Caramel Sauce

¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar

¾ cup sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup butter

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Fresh berries for garnish, optional


Heat oven to 350F.  In medium bowl stir together all crust ingredients.  Firmly press on bottom and up sides of a 12-inch tart pan with removable bottom.  Place on cookie sheet; bake until lightly browned (12 to 14 minutes).   Cool.

In 2-quart saucepan, over medium high heat, bring 2 cups whipping cream just to a boil (5 to 6 minutes).  Remove from heat; with wire whisk, stir in chocolate chips until smooth and creamy (2 to 3 minutes).  Pour filling into cooled crust and refrigerate until chilled 2 to 3 hours.

Meanwhile, in 2-quart saucepan combine all sauce ingredients except 2/3 cup whipping cream.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a full boil (5 to 6 minutes).  Cool 10 minutes; using wire whisk, stir in 2/3 cup whipping cream until smooth.  Serve small wedges of tart with caramel sauce and fresh berries, if desired.  Refrigerate leftovers.



Fantastic Foods from Chile~~Exceptional Winter Ideas

It is the middle of a long winter in Minnesota~cooking healthy meals can be a challenge.  However, thanks to the abundance of delicious foods from Chile, eating well is not difficult.   Scouring the local stores this week I found fresh blueberries, strawberries, and grapes, there was fresh salmon and delicious Chilean olive oil, and a remarkable variety of Chilean wine.

We were up at 4:00 AM today, so breakfast consisted of Banana Cake with fresh Chilean blueberries.  Once cooled and dusted with confectioners’ sugar, the cake was served with strawberries, blueberries, and grapes.

I found four delicious wines including a Chardonnay Viognier, and a Reserva Merlot.  When combined with cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, and a secret ingredient– Tellicherry peppercorns, the resulting aromatic dark sauce was the perfect companion as a topping for salmon or as a remarkable sauce for homemade vanilla bean ice cream.  The remaining wine was perfect with a blond brownie after our two little children were tucked in bed!

Whether snacking on fresh toasted almonds tossed with sea salt or sliced apples spread with goat cheese, you will not be disappointed when you use fresh foods from Chile in your meals.