Thursday, April 28, 2011

7 Quick Takes, The Easter 2011 Edition


We spent a lovely Easter weekend at my in-laws' house. One nice thing about spending holidays with my mother-in-law has always been that she sets the table for the dinner at least a day ahead of time. Unlike me, who is frantically trying to get the table set with dinner nearly ready. After fifteen years of marriage, you'd think I'd have learned that from her by now.

Grandma B always has the most wonderful centerpieces on her holiday table!


Dinner was a delicious roast filet, roasted potatoes and carrots, a beautiful tossed salad that their neighbors, who joined us for dinner, had brought, and Grandma B's TOP SECRET Easter pies.

For appetizers, my mother-in-law fixed some deviled eggs to die for. Truffled Deviled Eggs...

...and everyone's favorite, Tyler Florence's Lobster Deviled Eggs. Instead of lobster, do you know what Grandma used? Crayfish. Delicious.

Look how much butter Grandma covered the filet with!

The roast potatoes and carrots are Joe's favorite, and they were delicious.

Dang, I forgot to take a picture of the pies. Maybe next year I'll try to make them and share a photo with you if they look any good. I just won't be able to share the recipe with you, or my mother-in-law will disown me.


Guess what I found at our local butcher's this week? Pasture-raised veal. I'm almost certain there wasn't any there when I got the tenderloin for our marsala pork, but the lady told me that it's something that they almost always have. If I run across any more veal in Nick's books, I won't need to substitute pork or chicken. Hooray! (Joe still says he'd rather just have a steak. We'll see.)


I've started re-reading True Believer. It's the first part of a two-book series; the second book is At First Sight. Curly noticed that the picture on the cover of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse seems out-of-date, because it appears to be standing in its original location even though it was moved in 1999 to save it from the encroaching ocean waves. We were there last summer and saw it for ourselves

Here's the book...

...and here's the actual lighthouse.

It's a long way to the top.

Looking out you can see the place where the lighthouse once stood, 2,900 feet from its present location. (Learn more about moving Cape Hatteras Lighthouse here and here.)

What's on the cover isn't important, anyway; it's the story inside.

(If you want, you can check out this post for more from our visit to the Outer Banks last summer. If you're interested.)


I still haven't decided whether or not to re-read Nick's memoir, Three Weeks With My Brother, for this blog. I know I will eventually read it again ; I love the moving story Nick tells of his life from childhood to bestselling author, about the tragic deaths of both his parents, and about losing his younger sister to cancer when she was only thirty-three. He also recalls the around-the-world adventure trip he took with his brother Micah, and how that three-week-long journey helped their already close relationship grow even stronger.

I don't know if there is anything I could cook that would tie into Three Weeks With My Brother. (I do recall an instance of Nick and Micah reluctantly sampling a roast guinea pig in Peru or some such place. We won't be having guinea pig here.) Anyhow, I won't know until I read it again whether or not to include it in this journey through Nick's books, will I?


If I had one of these...

I wonder if I would drink less coffee? If I would need to make my coffee one cup at a time, rather than a pot full that I just keep refilling my cup with, would I drink fewer cups? Then again, I might drink even more, since one cup only takes like thirty seconds. If I didn't already have a perfectly good coffee maker I would be sorely tempted to buy one. They've got them at Costco...Hmmmm....


Have you noticed anything different about this blog lately? Probably not. Recently I took photos of all of my Nicholas Sparks books, and used them to replace the images of the book covers that I pulled from the Internet. I've also taken down a few miscellaneous images, including the ones from Nick's films. I don't know whether or not this is an improvement, but mostly I want to make sure that every photo I post here is my own. I've been exploring ways to use images from the Internet without breaking any copyright laws, but for now I'm having fun figuring out creative ways to use my own photos in my blogs. (I'm open to suggestions!)

Check out my 7 Quick Takes post from a couple weeks back that I posted on Musings of a Catholic Mom for more about my blog de-cluttering project.

And be sure to check out Jen Fulwiler's Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Have a great week; may it be full of good food and good books!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Wedding: Chicken Cordon Bleu

Wilson Lewis loves to cook. That's why, when his wife Jane comes home exhausted after another long day of helping their daughter, Anna, plan her upcoming wedding, Wilson has a delicious dinner of Chicken Cordon Bleu waiting for her. (Read more about their story here.)

Now, I'm about seventy-five per cent sure that it was Chicken Cordon Bleu that was served at our own wedding nearly sixteen years ago. (I know it was a delicious chicken dish, anyway.) I realized that in the fifteen-plus years that Joe and I have been married, I have NEVER made Chicken Cordon Bleu. Why? I have no idea. Maybe I figured it would be too difficult and complex. Boy was I wrong about that! I perused the many cookbooks on my shelf for a recipe, but guess what? None of them have a recipe for Chicken Cordon Bleu. Maybe that's why I never tried to make it.

After browsing the Internet for one, I finally chose a recipe from Food Network's Tyler Florence:


4 double chicken breasts (about 7-ounces each), skinless and boneless
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 thin slices deli ham
16 thin slices Gruyere or Swiss cheese
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup flour
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons water

(My gluten-free and egg-free supplies...)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lay the chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently pound the chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Take care not to pound too hard because the meat may tear or create holes. Lay 2 slices of cheese on each breast, followed by 2 slices of ham, and 2 more of cheese; leaving a 1/2-inch margin on all sides to help seal the roll. Tuck in the sides of the breast and roll up tight like a jellyroll. Squeeze the log gently to seal.

Season the flour with salt and pepper; spread out on waxed paper or in a flat dish. Mix the breadcrumbs with thyme, kosher salt, pepper, and oil. The oil will help the crust brown. Beat together the eggs and water, the mixture should be fluid. Lightly dust the chicken with flour, then dip in the egg mixture. Gently coat in the bread crumbs. Carefully transfer the roulades to a baking pan and bake for 20 minutes until browned and cooked through. Cut into pinwheels before serving.

(I even made a few for Moe without cheese--can you spot them?)

When the family sat down at the table, Joe observed that there was no sauce with it, because isn't Chicken Cordon Bleu supposed to be served with sauce? Some of the recipes I found did have a sauce, but some didn't. After his first bite, he decided it didn't need a sauce. And I concluded that it's really and truly possible to make a gluten-free version of a gluten-rich dish, and it will taste just as good.


Wilson sauteed some unspecified vegetables to go with the chicken (as I observed in my last post, that's a very common side dish in Nick's books) so I grabbed some green beans and zucchini at Our Favorite Supermarket and cooked them in olive oil with some salt, pepper, and some of the fresh thyme left over from the chicken.


Speaking of gluten-free foods that taste good, I picked up a cake mix that my G-Free friend Wendy recommended, and whipped together a quick spice cake for dessert. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted! It was a little dry around the edges; next time I'll either reduce the cooking time or make cupcakes instead. (Plus I had to throw a lot of it away after a few days because, as I'm finding out, Gluten-free baked goods tend to get stale very quickly. If I make cupcakes I can throw them in the freezer.)

I can't wait to try the chocolate and vanilla cake versions. We ARE cooking The Wedding, after all; what's a wedding without a cake?

Next Up: Crab-Stuffed Sole, Round Two. Nick's characters seem to make this a lot (Julie made it for Mike in The Guardian, but I skipped that one), and I hope the next one will be even better than the stuffed halibut I made. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Wedding: Pork Medallions in Marsala Sauce, vegetables sauteed with orange and balsamic, and a stuffed mushroom appetizer

Background: Wilson Lewis has been married to his wife Jane for thirty years. Jane's father, Noah Calhoun, (yes, the same Noah Calhoun from The Notebook) lives in a nursing home. His beloved wife, Allie, has passed away after many years with Alzheimer's. Wilson is close to his father-in-law, and visits Noah often. Jane and Wilson's marriage is on the verge of collapse, and Wilson is determined to win back Jane's heart. He often turns to Noah for wisdom and advice.

One day, Wilson and Jane's daughter, Anna, comes home and announces that she and her boyfriend are planning to marry. Next week. On the day of Wilson and Jane's wedding anniversary. This could pose quite a problem, because last year Wilson forgot their anniversary, and Jane still hasn't forgiven him for that. Jane and Wilson were hoping to celebrate their anniversary this year properly, and hopefully rekindle their marriage. The rest of the story centers around the last-minute planning of the wedding. While Jane and Anna spend their days shopping for dresses, shoes, flowers, and caterers, Wilson visits Noah and oversees the preparations being done at the Calhoun family home by the river. The one Noah had fixed up so many years ago, and where he and Allie shared a romantic dinner of freshly-caught crabs. The house has fallen into disrepair over the years since Noah and Allie moved into the nursing home, and Wilson has hired someone to fix it up again and beautify the gardens outside. Wilson, Jane, and Anna decide that the newly-renovated Calhoun place would be the perfect backdrop for the wedding.

Every night when Jane comes home after a long day of wedding preparations, Wilson and Jane have dinner together and talk about how the plans are going. Most nights, Wilson cooks (except for the one or two nights they order in). The first evening, Wilson prepares mushrooms stuffed with sausage and cream cheese for an appetizer, and as he and Jane are enjoying those and winding down with a glass of wine, he finishes cooking dinner: veal marsala with sauteed vegetables and a salad.

We're not big fans of veal. (Here is where I could easily go off on a tangent about how squeamish we are about buying meat that's raised in less-than ideal conditions, and how I found veal once at Whole Foods labeled "free-range" but we don't have a Whole Foods near us and I couldn't find veal with that label anywhere around here, and how hypocritical I am about that whole meat-buying issue because the sausage I bought for the mushrooms was almost surely raised on a factory farm, and Joe doesn't like veal anyway because it doesn't taste all that great, and that on the gazillion-to-one chance Nick might read this, I want to be clear that I absolutely positively don't want to pass judgment on anyone who eats veal or any other meat that isn't raised on some idyllic, spacious organic farm, 'cuz, geez, I cringe every time I see a cut of free-range local organic meat that costs two or three times as much as the one I can get at the grocery store, and how many times have I decided to buy the cheaper one? If you like veal, please don't think I want you to stop eating it on account of me. But if you really want to know how veal is raised, click here. And you can get free-range veal at Whole Foods.) Whew! Glad I got that outta the way. I was going to opt for chicken marsala, until I found a recipe for pork medallions in Marsala sauce. (I couldn't get local free-range pork yet because the farmers' market still hadn't opened for the season, but I found a "humanely-raised" tenderloin at our local butcher. Whatever that means.)

But first, the appetizer:


2 (12 ounce) packages white button mushrooms, cap size doesn't really matter

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese

1 (8 ounce) package sausage

1/4 cup butter (melted, quite optional!)

Directions: (Prep Time: 30 mins Total Time: 1 1/4 hr)

1 Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

2 Separate caps and stems while cleaning the mushrooms.

3 If cleaning with water, let them drain for a bit.

4 Start cooking the sausage in frying pan, at a medium to medium/high temperature.

5 While the sausage is cooking, put the cream cheese into a mixing bowl so it can soften and mince the stem pieces.

6 Spice the sausage to taste. Garlic is a good addition.

7 Just before the sausage is done, add the stem pieces and finish cooking.

8 Drain off the excess grease and add the sausage/stem mixture into the cream cheese.

9 Mix together well using a wooden spoon or your hands. Be careful, as it will be rather hot.

10 Set the caps into a 13x9 pan (or larger) with sides.

11 Optional! Melt enough butter to just put a little in the bottom of each cap or just brush some over the top of each after they're filled. You can put any extra butter in the bottom of the pan.

12 Fill the caps with the cream cheese/sausage/stem mix.

13 Add a small amount of water to the bottom of the pan, just enough to cover the bottom.

14 Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the tops are crusty and the mushrooms have turned dark.

15 Scoop them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and arrange them on a plate.

16 Serve warm. They reheat well, so you can make them ahead of time.

17 *VARIATION 1: Add dried bread crumbs to the mix to make a larger batch without adding more cream cheese or sausage. Onions are also another popular addition.

18 *VARIATION 2: Use one 8oz. box of cream cheese to two 8oz. pkgs of sausage. It makes for a larger batch that is less rich and tastes just as good.

19 *FUN HINTS: The cream cheese mix is also very good on bread or crackers! This comes in handy if you you think there might be someone who doesn't like mushrooms - save some of the mix to the side for them to dip with.


These were a HUGE hit!! It was hard not to eat too many and run out of room for dinner. I even made a few without cream cheese for Moe.


I was searching the Internet for a good Chicken Marsala recipe, when I came across this one, and when I saw it came from Fine Cooking, I couldn't resist trying it.


1-1/2 lb. pork tenderloin (1 large or 2 small), trimmed of fat and cut on the diagonal into 1-1/2-inch rounds (about 8)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 large shallot, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)

1-1/2 cups (1 oz.) dried mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped, plus 3/4 cup soaking liquid (I used some assorted sliced fresh mushrooms I found)

1/3 cup dry Marsala wine

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Sprinkle the pork with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Put the flour in a small bowl, and then dredge the pork in the flour, shaking off any excess. Heat 1 Tbs. oil and the butter in a large (12-inch) heavy-duty skillet over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the pork and cook, without touching, until it starts to brown nicely and easily releases from the pan, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook the other sides in the same manner until the pork is cooked through and then transfer to a large serving platter. Cover loosely with foil.

To make the sauce, add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil and shallot to the pan, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring, until the shallot softens and becomes translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the Marsala, raise the heat to high, and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits, until the liquid has almost completely reduced, about 2 minutes. Stir in the mushroom soaking liquid (Since I didn't have this, I added a little chicken broth) and cook until it reduces by about half, about 4 minutes. Whisk in the cream and bring to a boil. Take the sauce off the heat and spoon it over the pork. Serve sprinkled with parsley. Serving Suggestions Serve the pork and sauce over egg noodles or with an herb risotto on the side. (Source:

That looks like more than 8 1-1/2 inch rounds. Good thing; that wouldn't have been enough for my growing boys.

I found this mix to use as a substitute for the flour. It's also egg- and dairy-free, so it's safe for Moe as well.

I didn't really want to buy Marsala wine. I didn't quite know what it was until I did some research and discovered it's a sweet, fortified wine kind of like Port, which we don't really like. Fortunately there are substitutes you can use, and I opted for a mixture of 1 teaspoon brandy to 1/4 cup dry white wine; both of which I happened to have on hand. (Click here for more ideas)

Wilson served bowtie pasta with his veal marsala; of course I had to do the same.


I'm finding that Nick's characters like to have sautee'd vegetables with their meals, and for this one I wanted to try something unique. I found this recipe in a recent issue of my favorite magazine, Fine Cooking:


1/2 lb haricots verts (What the...??) or thin green beans, trimmed

2 Tbs. olive oil

2 medium shallots, halved and thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)

1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

1 medium yellow bell pepper, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick

3 Tbs. fresh orange juice

1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. finely grated orange zest

3 cups lightly packed fresh baby spinach leaves

Sea salt (I use Kosher salt) and freshly ground black pepper

In a pot fitted with a steamer basket, bring 1 to 2 inches of water to a boil. Put the haricots verts in the steamer basket, cover, and steam until bright green and just beginning to soften, 2 minutes. Transfer the haricots verts to a bowl and set aside.

Ok, let me pause here for just a minute. I love Fine Cooking magazine. I've found over the years that the recipes, no matter how fancy they seem, are often easier to prepare than I expect. The same can be said for this one. But let me just say that I have never heard of haricots verts, and to be honest I didn't even bother trying to find out what they were, or how to pronounce them even. (I keep thinking of "varicose veins.") My guess is they're some variety of green bean. And since I'm a person who likes to make things as simple as possible, I put the BEANS in a dish with a little water and microwaved them for a couple of minutes rather than fooling with a steamer and boiling water and all that nonsense. This meal was time-consuming enough as it was.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and rosemary and cook, stirring, until the shallots begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the haricots verts (*cough,* beans) and bell peppers and cook, stirring, until the pepper begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the orange juice, balsamic vinegar, and orange zest. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until just wilted, about 20 seconds. Remove from the heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. (From the April/May 2011 issue of Fine Cooking, p. 37)

It looked almost like the one in the photo!


The salad was just an improvisation--some assorted little tomatoes I found at Our Favorite Grocery Store (the one that, since it opened less than two years ago, the other grocery stores in our area have been dropping like flies because nobody shops at them anymore. I kinda feel bad for them, but...) tossed with some cucumber, basil, and fresh mozzarella balls I found on the olive bar at Our Favorite Grocery Store.

Here's my plate, with gluten-free rice rotini instead of bowtie pasta. It's almost as good. It is a rare evening--even on a weekend--that I decide to make an appetizer AND a main dish AND a side dish AND a salad, all from scratch; but that's what I love about writing this blog--it makes me go outside of my comfort zone and try things I might not normally do. (Case in point--my near-fiasco with a hunk of deer meat.) Thank you to all who are taking this journey with me through Nick's books and all the yummy adventures that go with them. I hope you'll have enough patience to stick with me--and if you like what we're doing, invite others to come along! Even my family, who are not Nicholas Sparks fans, love this blog because they get to eat all this great food I'm preparing for them. Until next time, then!

Next Up: Chicken Cordon Bleu. A great one for this book since it's what was served at OUR wedding!