April 3, 2015 archive

A Deal to Make a Deal

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

It took a couple of day longer than expected but cool heads prevailed. An agreement on a framework for a permanent accord on Iran’s nuclear energy program was reached this afternoon in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Iran and the world powers said here Thursday that they had reached a surprisingly specific and comprehensive general understanding about the next steps in limiting Tehran’s nuclear program, though Western officials said many details needed to be resolved before a final agreement in June.

Both Germany’s foreign office and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said that the major parameters of a framework for a final accord had been reached, after eight days of intense debate between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

There was no mistaking the upbeat mood surrounding the announcement. “We have stopped a cycle that is not in the interest of anybody,” an exuberant Mr. Zarif said at a news conference after the announcement. [..]

According to European officials, roughly 5,000 centrifuges will remain spinning enriched uranium at the main nuclear site at Natanz, about half the number currently running. The giant underground enrichment site at Fordo – which Israeli and some American officials fear is impervious to bombing – will be partly converted to advanced nuclear research and the production of medical isotopes. Foreign scientists will be present. There will be no fissile material present that could be used to make a bomb.

A major reactor at Arak, which officials feared could produce plutonium, would operate on a limited basis that would not provide enough fuel for a bomb.

In return, the European Union and the United States would begin to lift sanctions, as Iran complied. At a news conference after the announcement, Mr. Zarif said that essentially all sanctions would be lifted after the final agreement is signed.

In spite of all the efforts of the war crazed right wing and Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahou to derail the talks, the P5+1 have moved toward a full agreement that will make the Middle East just a little safer and life better for the Iranians.

What’s Cooking: Dilled Salmon Tartare

[Republished from November 29, 2014.

Although we served this at Thanksgiving, because of its ingredients, it also makes a perfect appetizer for Spring and Easter.

Every Thanksgiving, my daughter includes a new recipe to the menu. This year it was an appetizer, Dilled Salmon Tartare on Whole Grained Bread from Bon Appetit. It was quite a hit. She served it with an oaky Chardonnay and a salad of spring greens with an herb vinaigrette that mirrored the herbs used to marinate the salmon.  She found the whole grained bread slices already toasted at Trader Joe’s. The recipe serves 6 but is easily doubled.

Dilled Salmon Tartare on Whole Grain Bread photo 236498_zpsb6954c74.jpg

Dilled Salmon Tartare on Whole Grain Bread


   1/4 cup honey mustard

   1/4 cup mayonnaise

   1 (1-pound) piece frozen salmon fillet, thawed, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

   1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

   1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

   2 tablespoons drained capers, coarsely chopped

   2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

   2 tablespoons minced shallot

   2 teaspoons olive oil

   3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

   1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

   3 5x3x1/4-inch slices whole grain bread


Mix mustard and mayonnaise in small bowl to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Mix salmon and next 8 ingredients in medium bowl. Cover and chill until cold, at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD Can be made 4 hours ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Spread 1 tablespoon mustard mixture on 1 side of each bread slice. Cut each bread slice into 6 pieces. Divide salmon tartare mixture among bread slices. Transfer to platter and serve.

What’s Cooking: Sweet Potato Mash

Republished from April 24, 2011 for obvious timely reasons.

I love sweet potatoes and not just at Thanksgiving. I like them baked, boiled and mashed and dipped in tempura batter and fried. They are great in breads and baked desserts. They are very nutritional, an excellent source of vitamin A and a good source of potassium and vitamin C, B6, riboflavin, copper, pantothetic acid and folic acid. Sweet potatoes are native to Central America, grown in the Southern US states since the 16th century and are in the same family of plants as Morning Glories. The plant is a trailing vine with a large tuberous root.

Sweet Potatoes are often confused with yams which are native to Africa and relate to lilies and grasses. Even though they are both flowering plants, botanically they are different.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato.’ Unless you specifically search for yams, which are usually found in an international market, you are probably eating sweet potatoes!

A couple of Thanksgivings ago, my daughter decided to ditch the “traditional” candied version topped with marshmallow that would put a normal person into a diabetic coma and went “surfing” for something different. The recipe she found now makes it to our table more often than once a year. It is still sweet but not overwhelming. It’s great served as a side with pork or ham, as well as turkey. Nummy as a midnight snack with a little whipped cream, too.

Bourbon-Walnut Sweet Potato Mash


   4 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes

   1/2 cup whipping cream

   6 tablespoons (3/4 cup) butter

   1/4 cup pure maple syrup

   2 tablespoons bourbon

   1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

   1 teaspoon ground allspice

   3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

   1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped


Preheat oven to 350°F. Roast potatoes on rimmed baking sheet until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh into large bowl; discard skins. Mash hot potatoes until coarse puree forms.

Heat cream and butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat until butter melts, stirring occasionally. Gradually stir hot cream mixture into hot potatoes. Stir in syrup, bourbon, and all spices. Season with salt and pepper.

DO AHEAD: Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm in microwave. Sprinkle nuts over and serve.

What’s Cooking: Baked Rigatoni with Ham and Mushrooms

Republished from April 27, 2011

In case you still have a few slices of that ham left and are truly sick of ham sandwiches, don’t let it go to waste. Here’s an easy recipe that can make use of those last few slices.

Baked Rigatoni with Ham and Mushrooms


* 1/3 oz. dried porcini mushrooms or 6oz. fresh button mushrooms

* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, if using fresh mushrooms, plus 6 tbsp.

* 12 oz Rigatoni

* 1/3 cup all purpose flour

* 2 1/2 cups of milk (low fat is fine)

* pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

* salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

* 4 oz of Fontina or Swiss cheese, cut into julienne strips

* 6 oz ham, roughly chopped


If using porcini, place in a bowl with lukewarm water ans soap until softened about 30 minutes. Drain. squeeze out excess water and chop finely; set aside. . If using fresh mushrooms, cut off and discard the stems, wipe clean with a towel and thinly slice. In a frying pan over medium heat, melt 2 tbsp. butter. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté fir 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

 In a large pot bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add rigatoni and cook for about 6 minutes; they should be very al dente. Drain the pasta and transfer to a bowl. Ass 2 1/2 tbsp of the butter and toss well.

Preheat an oven to 350 F. In a sauce pan melt 2 1/2 tbsp. of the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth, about 2 minutes. Stirring constantly, gradually add the milk. Continue to stir until it thickens and is smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, ass the porcini or fresh mushrooms, sprinkle with the nutmeg and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Grease an 8 by 12 inch oven proof dish with the remaining butter. Arrange 1/3 of the rigatoni in the dish. Sprinkle one third of the cheese and ham over the top and spoon on one third of the sauce. Repeat the layers in the same order two more times, ending with sauce.

Place in the oven and bake until heated through and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve at once.

Serves 6

My daughter says to increase the sauce by half for a creamier dish

What’s Cooking: Ham Bone

Republished from April 25, 2011

The holiday is over, besides the candy, you most likely have a refrigerator full of leftovers and one of them may be a ham bone. Don’t throw it out just yet, there is still another use for it, soup. Served with a salad and a hearty bread, these soups make a hearty, nutritional meal meal that is also budget conscious. Accompanied by a good beer, this is real comfort food on a chilly Spring evening.

One soup recipe that uses a ham bone has been served in the US Senate for over 100 years. The current version does not include potatoes but I like tradition in this case. I also would add a cheese clothe sachet of bay leaf, parsley, peppercorn and thyme for flavor. I also use chicken broth in place of the water. You can play with your own seasoning to taste.

United States Senate Bean Soup

1 lb. dry navy beans

1 ham bone with meat

Soak beans overnight in 3 quarts water. Drain. In a large soup pot put ham bone and beans. Add 2 quarts cold water and simmer for 2 hours. Add:

4 cups mashed potatoes, minimum (more makes soup thicker)

3 medium onions, chopped

2 garlic buds, minced

2 stalks celery, chopped

4 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

1 tsp. salt (optional)

1/4 tsp. pepper

Simmer all for 1 hour more.

And then there is the real traditional that has been around forever. There are numerous versions of this recipe, this one uses ham hocks but the left over ham bone can be substituted.

Split Pea Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons


  2 meaty ham hocks (1 3/4 lb total)

   16 cups water

   4 large carrots

   1 large onion, chopped

   2 celery ribs, chopped

   5 tablespoons olive oil

   1 lb dried split peas (2 1/4 cups), picked over and rinsed

   1 teaspoon table salt

   1/4 teaspoon black pepper

   5 cups 1/2-inch cubes pumpernickel bread (from a 1 1/4-lb loaf)

   1 teaspoon kosher salt

   1 cup frozen peas (not thawed)


Simmer ham hocks in 16 cups water in a deep 6-quart pot, uncovered, until meat is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Transfer ham hocks to a cutting board and measure broth: If it measures more than 12 cups, continue boiling until reduced; if less, add enough water to total 12 cups. When hocks are cool enough to handle, discard skin and cut meat into 1/4-inch pieces (reserve bones).

Chop 2 carrots and cook along with onion and celery in 2 tablespoons oil in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add split peas, table salt, pepper, ham hock broth, and reserved bones and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until peas are falling apart and soup is slightly thickened, about 1 1/2 hours.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F.

While soup simmers, toss bread with remaining 3 tablespoons oil and kosher salt in a large bowl, then spread in 1 layer in a large shallow baking pan and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool croutons in pan on a rack.

Halve remaining 2 carrots lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Remove bones from soup with a slotted spoon and discard. Add carrots and ham pieces to soup and simmer, uncovered, until carrots are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add frozen peas and simmer, uncovered, stirring, until just heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt.

Serve soup with croutons.

Cooks’ notes:

· Croutons can be made 3 days ahead and cooled completely, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

· Soup is best when made, without frozen peas, 1 day ahead (to give flavors time to develop). Cool completely, uncovered, then chill, covered. Reheat and, if necessary, thin with water. Stir in frozen peas while reheating.

What’s Cooking: Baked Ham

Republished from Mar 29, 2013

Easter Ham photo 20HAM_SPAN-articleLarge_zps59ec90b5.jpg

Ham is salty. Whether its smoked or just fully cooked ham is salty. Since many people are trying to reduce the daily intake of salt, this is away to have your ham for Easter and eat your fill. I use chef Julia Child’s method to reduce the salt by boiling the ham first.

  • Remove all wrappings from the ham and wash it under cold water.
  • Place ham in a pot large enough to hold it and the boiling ingredients.

Add to the pot

  • 2 onions, pealed and quartered;
  • 2 carrots, cut in large chunks;
  • 12 parsley sprigs, 6 thyme sprigs, 1 bay leaf, 12 peppercorns, 3 cloves tied in cheesecloth to make a sachet d’épices.
  • Pour in one 750 ml. bottle of dry white wine and one quart of cold water.

Bring it to a boil skimming away any impurities off the top. Simmer 20 min per pound. Ham is done when internal temperature reaches 140ºF

Once cooked, removed from pot and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before pealing away the skin, leaving the fat. With the tip of a very sharp knife, score the fat creating a diamond pattern. Keep warm by tenting with foil and a thick towel.

Pre-heat the oven to 450ºF

I don’t decorate the ham with anything, but I have used this recipe to glaze the ham while it bakes.


  • 1 cup of bourbon
  • 1 cup of cola, preferable Kosher Coke (no high fructose corn syrup)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup dijon mustard
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme tied in cheesecloth to make a sachet d’épices

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan, simmering gently to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the liquid until thick and syrupy and liquid coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Place the ham fat side up on a rack in a large roasting pan. Pour and brush the glaze over the ham. Place in the oven on the lower rack; roast 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. If using glaze, brush on more after first 10 minutes of cooking.  When done, remove from oven, tent with foil and a thick towel. Let stand for 20 to 30 minutes before slicing.

You will be amazed at how tender and tasty this ham will be and nowhere near as salty.

Passover Desserts

Passover begins on Friday evening. Like all Jewish holidays it’s focus is on community, family and food, especially the food. I was born Jewish and raised in an ecumenical household that celebrated both Christian and Jewish holidays. I never kept a kosher home, although my first and current mothers-in-law did.

My favorite part of most meals is dessert. I’ve been the desert lady since I started a catering company some years back as a hobby. Here are some recipes for Passover deserts that I recently found and I’m trying this year.

Chocolate Caramel Macarons

Chocolate Caramel Macarons photo imagesqtbnANd9GcQk4mvSAVJHrPbzMijJ6_zpsc660d142.jpg

Instead of the typical buttercream or ganache filling, there’s a crunchy caramel candy layer in between the cocoa layers. These are fudgy little confections more like candy than cookies. They also happen to be both gluten-free and can be kosher for Passover, if you use kosher-for-Passover confectioners’ sugar.

Matzo Toffee With Candied Ginger

Matzo Toffee With Candied Ginger photo 09APPE1_SPAN-articleLarge_zpsb6ca2f26.jpg

Traditional matzo toffee – a Passover-friendly spin on saltine toffee – is an addictive three-layer confection of crackers, brown sugar toffee and melted chocolate. In this version, the chocolate gets a spicy boost from the addition of both fresh ginger juice and chewy candied ginger.

Hazelnut Citrus Torte

Hazelnut Citrus Torte photo 09APPE2-articleLarge_zps3094b755.jpg

A touch of quinoa flour gives this hazelnut torte an underlying smokiness that makes it more complex than most. It also makes it both gluten-free and kosher for Passover.

Double Chocolate Pavlova with Mascarpone Cream & Raspberries

Double Chocolate Pavlova with Mascarpone Cream & Raspberries photo z9oMgKrr9OxT3WAtDIF2ZjenCwNhwxDPs6g.jpg

Created by a hotel chef in the 1920s in honor of the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova during one of her tours to Australia or New Zealand, a pavlova is a cake-shaped meringue with a soft and marshmallowy center and crisp outer shell, usually topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

In this gorgeous chocolate version, cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate are folded into the meringue – which makes it deliciously fudgy – and mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese) is added to the whipped topping. It’s a wonderfully light, gluten-free dessert.


The Breakfast Club (The Times They Are Changin)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

This Day in History

Martin Luther King Jr. gives speech before assasination; Bruno Richard Hauptmann electrocuted for kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son; President Harry Truman signs Marshall plan; Jesse James shot to death; Pony Express begins service; Marlon Brando is born.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.

Bob Dylan

On This Day In History April 3

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

April 3 is the 93rd day of the year (94th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 272 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1948, President Harry S.Truman signs Foreign Assistance Act.

President Harry S. Truman signs off on legislation establishing the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948, more popularly known as the Marshall Plan. The act eventually provided over $12 billion of assistance to aid in the economic recovery of Western Europe.

In the first years following the end of World War II, the economies of the various nations of Western Europe limped along. Unemployment was high, money was scarce, and homelessness and starvation were not unknown in the war-ravaged countries. U.S. policymakers considered the situation fraught with danger. In the developing Cold War era, some felt that economic privation in Western Europe made for a fertile breeding ground for communist propaganda.

The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was the large-scale economic program, 1947-1951, of the United States for rebuilding and creating a stronger economic foundation for the countries of Europe. The initiative was named after Secretary of State George Marshall and was largely the creation of State Department officials, especially William L. Clayton and George F. Kennan. Marshall spoke of urgent need to help the European recovery in his address at Harvard University in June 1947.

The reconstruction plan, developed at a meeting of the participating European states, was established on June 5, 1947. It offered the same aid to the Soviet Union and its allies, but they did not accept it. The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948. During that period some US $13 billion in economic and technical assistance were given to help the recovery of the European countries that had joined in the Organization for European Economic Co-operation. This $13 billion was in the context of a U.S. GDP of $258 billion in 1948, and was on top of $12 billion in American aid to Europe between the end of the war and the start of the Plan that is counted separately from the Marshall Plan.

The ERP addressed each of the obstacles to postwar recovery. The plan looked to the future, and did not focus on the destruction caused by the war. Much more important were efforts to modernize European industrial and business practices using high-efficiency American models, reduce artificial trade barriers, and instill a sense of hope and self-reliance.

By 1952 as the funding ended, the economy of every participant state had surpassed pre-war levels; for all Marshall Plan recipients, output in 1951 was 35% higher than in 1938.[8] Over the next two decades, Western Europe enjoyed unprecedented growth and prosperity, but economists are not sure what proportion was due directly to the ERP, what proportion indirectly, and how much would have happened without it. The Marshall Plan was one of the first elements of European integration, as it erased trade barriers and set up institutions to coordinate the economy on a continental level-that is, it stimulated the total political reconstruction of western Europe.

Belgian economic historian Herman Van der Wee concludes the Marshall Plan was a “great success”:

   “It gave a new impetus to reconstruction in Western Europe and made a decisive contribution to the renewal of the transport system, the modernization of industrial and agricultural equipment, the resumption of normal production, the raising of productivity, and the facilitating of intra-European trade.”

George Catlett Marshall (December 31, 1880 – October 16, 1959) was an American military leader, Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of State, and the third Secretary of Defense. Once noted as the “organizer of victory” by Winston Churchill for his leadership of the Allied victory in World War II, Marshall served as the United States Army Chief of Staff during the war and as the chief military adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As Secretary of State, his name was given to the Marshall Plan, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

Late Night Karaoke

The Ghost of Chamberlain

Of course the proximate issue is whether the prospective deal with Iran is ‘another Munich’.

Now I’ll leave aside some minor contemporary details like the fact that as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Iran is perfectly within its rights to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes in any way they see fit, and that Ayatollah Khameini “has also issued a fatwa saying the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam.”, and that Pakistan (Sunni) is a non-participant that openly has nuclear weapons and Israel (another non-participant) almost certainly has them but will not admit it, or that Saudi Arabia (participant) has stated that they will purchase them if they deem it desirable.

Let us think instead about Munich.

The logic (in so far as it can be called logic and not simply Islamophobic bigotry or resentment that a popular revolt replaced a US puppet regime of despots and torturers) of those who cry ‘appeasement’ is that it was clear by 1938 that Hitler was a monster who could only be stopped by War.

Well, duh.

That was clear from March 1936 when the Rhineland was re-militarized.

The two Western Allies, Britain and France, immediately launched crash re-armament programs that were none too popular with the war weary taxpayers.  The recently consolidated Soviet Union was understandably deeply suspicious of them since they had just spent the last 10 years trying to roll back the Revolution and restore the Romanovs (or some other non-Communist regime).  In any event its military was in no shape for offensive action against Germany and while it did start a re-armament program (partly for its economic effects) it was made even less effective by Stalin’s paranoia and purges.

I would ask, what makes you think that military action by France and Britain in 1938 supporting an isolated ‘Ally’ a thousand miles away would have been any more effective than when it was actually attempted in 1939 in ‘defense’ of Poland?

May I remind you the result of that was the fall of all of Western Europe with the exception of Britain who barely survived?

Now it is true that several members of the German General Staff thought annexation of the Sudetenland was too ambitious and would result in defeat, but there was opposition in that quarter throughout the War to many of Hitler’s more aggressive plans including the Invasion of France.

There is a body of evidence, not conclusive to be sure but not easily dismissed, that Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier understood the weakness of their militaries and the strategic difficulties of operating so far from their lines of supply.  In any event they didn’t (contrary to popular belief) simply throw Czechoslovakia under the bus.  They got a commitment from Hitler to respect the border of the Czech and Slovak majority areas.

The fact that Hitler ignored it makes it seem worse in 20/20 hindsight, however I once again ask- how could they have achieved better results in 1938 than they ultimately got in 1939?

So what is the position we are in today?

Even the most optimistic war hawks concede that should they decide to do so, conventional military action (and I’m talking full on ground assault and pounding their cities to dust) will prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear capability for at best 5 to 10 years after we end our occupation (Iran is roughly 4 times the size and twice the population of California and, if we sent every single member everywhere of our Armed Forces and Reserves including Generals, would only outnumber us 35 to 1).

But the truth is much, much worse than that.  They will kick our ass.

The latest Russian and Chinese anti-ship missiles are no joke and Carriers are big targets that have no business in a confined space like the Straights of Hormuz.  The Straights are literally carpeted in mines and our Mine Sweeping capability is a joke because no one good wants to Captain a Minesweeper and no Admiral wants to budget for it.  While it might not have the commodity shock it once did it will only take a single hit to close the Straights to commercial traffic.

Should we somehow struggle ashore, how long could we stay?  Hard to say, we’re still in Iraq after all but then again Iraq is almost exactly the size and population density of California.

Nuke ’em from orbit?  Admirable sentiments Ripley and effective against aliens on a planet far, far away.  In the real world nuclear attacks of the level necessary to achieve “victory” would be globally environmentally damaging and probably not something the Russians and Chinese would let pass without some kind of response.  I suspect that even Europe might be a tad upset and if you think the future of US Hegemony is to be found in an alliance with Sunni Muslims led by Saudi Arabia and Israel I might advise you to seek professional help for your delusions.

Creating your own reality is a symptom of severe mental illness you know.