Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Egging Him On

Spring cleaning is a hallowed tradition, but not one that My Beloved and I really adhere to. We tend to leave cleaning until there is absolutely nothing else in the entire world to do, or when we can no longer function in our space, whichever comes first.

Inevitably, it's the latter.

We always groan and roll our eyes when that day comes, but we do finally bite the bullet. This week, it was the garage. Because My Beloved works from home and represents several factories, we have an ever-changing inventory of samples, pamphlets, leaflets, returns, defectives, empty boxes, packing materials and just plain junk in our garage sharing space with my collection of toolbox, gardening and cleaning supplies and tools, saddle, bridle, boots (haven't owned a horse in 15 years but I cherish my tack), brooms, buckets, spare paint cans, shipping boxes, seasonal decorations - the list is epic and mostly boring. That's what garages are for, right?

Every now and then, when the jumble-sale-to-be that is our garage becomes totally unworkable, we get down to business and recycle his outdated literature, cut up the extra boxes for recycling, corral the so-annoying packaging "peanuts" and get down to where the floor can actually be swept. We do have very nice shelves all around the periphery of the garage, so it shouldn't get this bad, nor should righting it take this long but, *sigh*, it always does.

He does most of the work, since only he can make sense out of his stuff; mostly, I'm just out there sweeping around him and egging him on.

The other thing we are trying to clean out is our double supply of eggs. So, when we had put two solid hours into the garage reorganization and decontamination project, I decided he had earned a hearty lunch. Searching through the fridge, I found the makings for a perfect lunch to keep his energy up for the afternoon - poached eggs on Pain au Levain from Acme, with Swiss cheese and asparagus.

There isn't much to tell you about how to do this but, for what it's worth, here's what I did. Got a pan of water boiling that was big and deep enough for all the eggs, then added the asparagus to it after washing and snapping the ends. The asparagus simmered for only about three minutes, as they were the nice little thin ones, before I scooped them out and set them aside. To the same, now faintly green, water I added the eggs. I don't swirl the water to keep the whites together and I detest the practice of adding vinegar to the water to achieve that goal. Vinegar changes the texture of the whites and leaves an aftertaste. Yes, I lose some of the white where it thins out and sometimes tears, but I prefer that to textural and taste losses.

While the eggs poached for a few minutes, I cut the center slices from a loaf of Pain au Levain and toasted them, buttering while still hot (a
single center slice of that bread is so big that it easily accommodated two eggs) and topping them with a slice of Swiss cheese. I love the combination of the nutty cheese with the rich eggs and fresh asparagus.

I sliced the asparagus lengthwise in half, to make a firmer foundation for the slippery eggs - those went on top of the cheese, laid like cord wood.

I test the eggs for doneness by gently pressing the thickest part of the white. When it is firm all the way through, the eggs are done. My Beloved likes runny yolks, so I lifted his from the water first and prepped his plate. The extra 30 seconds or minute in the water was enough to firm up the outside of my yolks, just the way I like them. Fresh ground pepper and a tiny spritz of the Hawaiian sea salt that was my Christmas present. That's really all there is to it. No foolin'.

We fell upon this lunch like the proverbial pack of wolves. Having consumed the protein that would fuel the rest of the work, we each ate a couple of tangerines for quick carbo energy and, thus fortified, hit the decks for another two hours of sorting, organizing, cleaning and recycling. We filled our recycling bin entirely (it is chest high on me) and invaded our neighbors' as well. I'm proud to report that one can now walk entirely around the car, even with the garage door closed, without tripping over a single thing.

We keep opening the garage door just to gaze at our shining achievement. It should stay pretty for, oh, a week or two, tops.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pappardelle and Peapods

Okay, I'm speechless, a rare event around here. This is one of the best meals I have ever cooked in my life and I can't find words sufficiently compelling to describe it.

No kidding! The ingredients were terrific but they doubled each other down. It's simple, fresh - just the way I like to cook - but with a spin of quiet sophistication that we really loved. The peas tasted of pure spring, the pasta was rich and brightly yellow and the shrimp sweet and mellow. I can't find the words to describe it and yet I can't say enough about it. You'd just have to make it to see what I mean.

Pappardelle with Peapods and Shrimp, Serves 4

10-12 oz raw small shrimp (I used frozen, thawed)
1 package papardelle pasta, I used Rustichella brand egg noodles
2-3 cups sugar snap peas, de-stringed
2-3 Tbs unsalted butter, divided
1 cup dry white wine
2-3 small tomatoes, finely chopped (I used canned, chopped tomatoes as fresh are still nasty here)
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbs fresh oregano, chopped

While this is a pretty simple recipe, I'd suggest having all the ingredients on hand and prepped before you begin, as the dish comes together fast at the end and you want it to be nice and hot when served.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente - about 10-12 minutes. Three minutes before the pasta is done, stir in the peas and let them finish together. Drain and transfer to big bowl. Toss with 1-2 Tbs butter and salt and pepper to taste.

While the pasta and peas cook, season the shrimp with salt and pepper to taste. Heat another tablespoon of butter in a wide frying pan over medium high heat. When the foam subsides, add the shrimp and any shrimp juice, sauté, flipping a couple of times until just done, perhaps 3 minutes total - they will get lightly pink when they are done. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate, retaining any pan juices - this stuff is pure gold!

In the same pan, to the juices add the wine, tomatoes and sugar and cook, stirring, until the tomato breaks down, about 4 minutes. Return the shrimp to the skillet and stir in the fresh oregano, tossing together.

Serve the shrimp over the pasta/pea melange and spoon the pan sauce over the top. Let the drooling begin!

I did wonder if a little ParmReg would enhance the dish but we didn't use it this first time and, honestly, it was not missed. We might try it next time but, then again, we might just leave it to the pure, uncomplicated flavors of shrimp and fresh peas that transported us. Win-win situation, huh?

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Easter (Week) Eggs

Can you think of anything as versatile as eggs? I can't, and I suppose that's why I found myself with two dozen of the little beauties this week - I bought a dozen at Marin Sun Farms' butcher shop last weekend when we drove out to Point Reyes Station for fun and forgot that I had another dozen of organic eggs from a larger farm in the fridge.

So, I've been finding all kinds of ways to serve eggs, but this was easily the simplest and one of the best. Poached eggs on English muffins with sautéed mushrooms. One pan, ten minutes and you have dinner.

I sliced and sautéed the 'shrooms in a healthy pat of butter, then drizzled in a tad of lemon juice before spooning them on top of the toasted, buttered muffins. Added water to the same pan and poached the eggs once it had come to a boil. Slid them on top (it's all slippery - be careful!), salted, peppered and there you have it. Maybe shoulda wandered out to the herb patch for some fresh ones but I didn't. Served alongside a cold artichoke with lemon-mayo dipping sauce, spring dinner par excellence!

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happy 101

I received this award from my blogging friend, KatieZ, whom I have never met - we feel like good friends nonetheless. All I know about her and her husband, who are busily renovating a marvelous-sounding old stone house and barn in France into a livable home (I'm secretly hoping they will open it as a B&B once they have finished), I have learned through the nearly-daily reading of her blog. She reads mine, too, and often leaves funny comments that make me smile. Plus, she tagged me for award just when I was out of ideas for a new post. Perfect!

Here's the drill with this award - I have to think of 10 things that make me happy and tell you about them. Then, I have to tag 10 other bloggers who make me smile, and lay the award on them. This tagging thing is precarious - sometimes, the tagees are not all that pleased. Me? I'm thrilled, so I'm gonna do it.

10 Happy Things (most won't surprise my regulars) in no particular order:

1. Always at the top of my list is My Beloved. I'm not kidding when I tell you he's a peach, the best man I know and the kindest, sweetest, funniest, goofiest, most adventurous, most loving human being ever to wear pants. I'm nuts about the guy.

2. The new deck. It's a daily pleasure when the sun is shining. We eat out there, we sit and enjoy the sunny days. We read in dappled morning sun and evening shade. Recently, we got the idea to have "movie nights" on the deck through the summer, projecting movies on the side of the house and inviting the neighbors to bring deck chairs, sleeping bags and popcorn.

3. Cora. Every single day since she came to us more than a year ago, she has gotten me out to enjoy a walk and made me smile with her antics.

4. Our Granddaughter. I don't see her nearly often enough, as she lives far away, but her mother sends me pictures frequently and her visits are true highlights of the year. My refrigerator is plastered with her images. I'm in love.

5. Letters, emails and calls from my sister. In recent years, we seem to have put aside our sibling rivalry and gotten closer. It's all good.

6. Potboilers. I just love trashy novels. I do read a variety of books but I have to admit to a special relish for a book with a little mystery, a little danger, a little sex, a lot of romance and the guarantee of a happy ending. Love 'em!

7. California. Being a transplant from another state that wasn't as sunny, as diverse, or as tolerant of individual differences, I have loved my years in California and the marvelous people who have befriended me here, both in person and through the blog. People from other states make slighting comments about California because they are jealous.

8. My local cousins. Jan and Sherry add to my life immeasurably.

9. Fixing stuff myself. I love a trip to the hardware store and a chance to use my power drill. I am fiercely protective of my tool box and become unreasonably angry when it is violated by persons unnamed whom I may love dearly but who sometimes borrow my tools and don't return them exactly where they found them - ahem! Most recently, I installed simple motion-sensitive lights on our porch and carport to discourage car thieves and got a ridiculously smug sense of satisfaction from, basically, putting in four screws.

10. Poking through thrift shops.

Now, on to the tagging. If you follow these links to these blogs, you'll see why they make me happy. What an amazing bunch of characters!

Margaret and Helen
Dancing Morgan Mouse
Mad Meat Genius
Philosophy of Fun
San Francisco Daily Photo
Tea and Cookies
I'm Mad and I Eat
and, of course,
Thyme for Cooking

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sweets From The Sweet

My friend Maria is one of the sweetest people I know. She not only goes to church, she actually practices her religion between church services, frequently engaging in animated conversations with her God. I have to laugh when she tells me all the stuff they talk about. I miss having faith like that.

She also takes pity on the hapless priests in her parish and brings them dinner. Right after I saw her, she was headed down to Santa Cruz to help her son's young family - almost everyone in the family is sick, so she's volunteering to care for her very lively 3 year old grandson, who isn't. And she makes traditional Chilean birthday cakes for her coworkers. Oh, baby, check this out!

Six layer cake, made from scratch after dinner the night before she was to drive to Santa Cruz after work (see what I mean?), complete with dulce de leche caramel (with a spritz of cognac) between the layers and handmade meringue icing with colorful sprinks on the outside. I asked how she made the cake part, which was tasty all by itself - apparently, you basically beat the batter until your arm falls off, then proceed. The yellow cake was dense but moist and tasted richly of butter; the brown layer was, of course, chocolate. Each layer had its own flavor, like Neapolitan ice cream, and there is something just special about a cake with that many layers and flavors.

You may have noted that Maria has a sweet tooth; her cake satisfied all the rest of the sweet teeth in the room, as well. She even cut an extra piece for me to take home for My Beloved's dessert. Sweets from the sweet.

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Friday, March 26, 2010


It all began with stale bread, a lovely loaf of herb slab from the Acme Bakery that I forgot to serve with the beef stew. I hate it when that happens! So, here I was with a boatload of rapidly ossifying bread and My Beloved out of town on a business trip, so there was no one to help me eat it. Well, Cora would gladly help but my vet would have a fit.

Croutons are always a solution - and I made some - but there was still plenty of bread. Then, I remembered a wonderful chicken dish that I had at the Universal Café many moons ago, one that had a sort of bread salad underneath the succulent chicken, and that released my mind to think of bread as an ingredient rather than a side dish and that seemed like pure genius since we are trying to eat a meatless meal a week, anyway.

So, I looked over some quick recipes for panzanella but they all seemed to feature nice, ripe, summer tomatoes, an ingredient in very short supply in California del
Norte right now. I could have bought lots of ripe ones from Mexico where they have a more salubrious climate for tomatoes but then there's the whole "eat locally" thing. Sheesh!

Nothing to do but invent. I had half a small yam, a couple of fresh carrots, a leek that needed eating, two or three shallots, and a handful of fresh asparagus in the fridge. No tomatoes. So, cut up the yam and carrots into bite-size pieces, washed and sliced the leek into sections, peeled the shallots and left them whole, and snapped the ends off the asparagus. I tossed the veggies in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, put the carrots and yam pieces into a large baking pan and slid them into a 350 degree oven, setting the timer for 20 minutes.

While those veggies were roasting, I cubed some of the herbalicious bread and tossed it with a little olive oil, as well. When the timer rang, I added the bread cubes and the sliced leek to the roasting pan, stirred them around with the other veggies, and set the timer for another 10 minutes. When the bell rang again, I threw in the asparagus and stirred everything one more time. Five minutes later, the asparagus were still brightly green and a little crisp, the bread cubes had toasted nicely and the rest of the veggies were richly caramelized. The thinnest leeks had gone over to the crispy-chewy side, a great place to be if you're a leek.

The resulting plate was crunchy-crispy-chewy-sweet-mellow-and-caramely dinner for one, as good a solo dinner as I have ever made. All because I had too much bread.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Hypertension. I have high blood pressure. It was diagnosed last week when I went to see my doc about a sore shoulder. I should know better than to go in there - they always find something else wrong with you that you didn't know you had, like hypertension.

I shouldn't be surprised - absolutely everyone in my family has it, too - but I had managed to escape the pill brigade until now. I felt blessed by being free of pills and doctor visits and emails with the medical community, except for my semiannual eye exams and tooth cleanings. This feels like the beginning of true aging.

I've been thankfully free of the arthritis, insomnia and irregularity that some of my friends complain about and I still walk with Cora at least a couple of miles per day. When the young man at the grocery store asks if I need help out, I am always able to say with a smile, "No, thanks! I'm stronger than I look."

Oh, my hair has been gray and my face wrinkled and my figure round for quite some time - it's not as if there were no signs of advancing years around here. I wear glasses and I really relish my afternoon nap. Somewhere along the line, however, I learned to equate pill taking with truly getting older.

What has this to do with beef stew? Nothing much, except that on a recent afternoon when I arose from my nap feeling a little weak from the side effect of my new medicine (my cheerful young doc assures me that once I adjust to it, I won't feel this way any longer), I decided to make stew instead of doing some laps in the local high school pool as I had planned.

I hauled out my new Staub dutch oven and thoroughly browned big chunks of grass-fed chuck roast in a little olive oil on top of the stove, added onion, garlic, red wine, beef broth, carrots, parsnips and mushrooms, placed the lid on the bubbling proto-stew and set it in a slow oven to do its magic. I have some really lovely thyme going gangbusters out in the garden, so I added that and a couple of bay leaves, too.

After it bubbled along for a few hours, I took it out, let it cool, and put it in the fridge. To me, stews always taste better the next day and taking this step allows the fat to rise to the top and congeal so it's easily removed.

The final step to this true comfort food is to reheat it, remove the stew to a warm platter, cook down the juices with a little tomato paste until they are thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, then serve it all with buttered noodles or chunks of potato cooked in the goozle.

Comfort food. Maybe that's why it seemed like a good idea to return to wintry fare when spring is bounding along outside - just needed a little comfort as I contemplate aging.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fork Sushi

Peter's recent blog post about making a wrap with collards inspired our latest meat-free meal. I'm calling them Fork Sushi. That's because no one, not even the most accomplished chop stick wielder, could possibly eat these without a fork. The Swiss chard wrapping I used wasn't big enough to fully enclose the filling and, besides, it's so tender it tears. But, oh, the flavors! This was a big improv success, endorsed both by me and by My Beloved.

The preparation was more involved than most meals I throw together but it was worth the effort. First, I put some brown Massa rice (the best!) on to cook, as per the package directions - it takes about 50 minutes, plus time to cool, so I started that in the morning and let it sit once it was tender. In the afternoon, I dressed it with a splash of rice vinegar, a pinch of sugar and a brief shake of salt heated together just to dissolve the crystals and drizzled over the rice while tossing it to distribute the vinegar mixture evenly.

Then, I sliced, olive oiled and grilled the veggie stuffings on my Jennair grill (if you don't have one, I think a grill pan would be fine or, if you already have the barbecue fired up, that would be even better). Set them aside to cool.

Next, I washed some of my Swiss chard leaves, removed the tough part of the central rib with a sharp knife and sautéed them in a little butter and pressed garlic, just until they softened but were still nicely green. Set them aside to cool.

To assemble the sushi rolls, I spread out a leaf at a time, distributed a small finger of rice along the rib, placed the grilled veggies parallel to the rice, rolled them up carefully (the rice is sticky and the leaves tear easily), then cut them into one-inch pieces to show off the pretty colors within and, sliding the knife blade carefully under them, placed them deftly on the serving plate.

Then, I made a dipping sauce from soy sauce thinned with a splash of water, horseradish mustard (since I had no wasabi on hand), and a tiny grating of fresh ginger.

As I mentioned, the Fork Sushi are very fragile, so slide your fork underneath and lower them into your dipping sauce before popping them into your mouth. Sounds like a lot of hassle but it really wasn't and I'm sure it will be even easier the second time I make them. We will definitely have this again - it was clean and fresh and layered with tasty treats inside, plus a pleasure for the eyes as well as the palate.

Fork Sushi, with a nod to Peter

1/2 cup brown rice, preferably Massa
1 cup water
3Tbs rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

4 asparagus spears, ends snapped
1/2 small yam, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/4" wide strips
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced lengthwise into 1/4" wide strips
1 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4" wide strips
2 slices red onion, about 1/4" thick
4 green onions, green part only, blanched
A drizzle of olive oil

6 or so leaves of Swiss chard (mine are only about 8" long - if you use bigger ones, they may wrap more securely around)
1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
2 tsp butter

Dipping sauce

1 Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp water
1/2 tsp horseradish mustard, or wasabi to taste
1 knob of fresh ginger about the size of your smallest finger joint, peeled and grated, or to taste


Cook the rice as per package directions and set aside to cool - it should be sticky, not fluffy rice. I used one cup of water to 1/2 cup rice. Mix the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small pan and heat, stirring just until the crystals dissolve; don't boil. Drizzle over the rice while tossing to distribute evenly.

Slice the veggies into thin strips of about the same thickness. Toss in a little olive oil just 'til softly shiny. Grill until black stripes appear and the veggies are still crisp but tender. Set aside to cool.

Melt the butter in a wide pan and add the garlic. Cook for a few minutes to soften the garlic, then add the Swiss chard with the washing water still clinging to the leaves. Sauté/steam the Swiss chard very briefly to wilt, tossing the leaves in the garlic butter to coat. Set aside to cool.

When all the ingredients are ready, spread out a leaf of chard at a time, put a finger of rice down the rib and put some of each of the other veggies parallel to the rice, making sure that they are evenly placed so each round will have all the colors and flavors. Carefully roll up the leaves to cover the fillings (I don't have one of those bamboo sushi mats but that might make this process easier). Cut the resulting "logs" crosswise with a sharp knife to reveal the colorful veggies, and place each round carefully (they will want to unroll) on a serving plate. Mix the dipping sauce and sit down with a fork to enjoy.


Monday, March 22, 2010


My Dad frequently exclaimed, "It's the berries!" to signify something that got his enthusiastic approval. He would use it for things as various as foods he liked, experiences he relished and people he enjoyed. It was his go-to expression of pleasure and there was a lot in life that he enjoyed.

One day in summer in Connecticut, when we were all staying at my grandmother's house in Connecticut, Mom bought fresh strawberries for dessert and we all pigged out. When we could eat no more, it was my turn to do the dishes and I noted that there were just enough berries left for one person to have for breakfast. Mentally, I "dibsed" those few berries as I wrapped them and put them in the fridge.

When I awoke the next morning, my very first thought was of those strawberries. The rest of the family seemed still soundly asleep, so I crept downstairs and opened the fridge - no berries! Just then, my older brother came in from jogging and when I asked him, "What happened to the strawberries??" with more than a little whine to my voice, he grinned broadly and stole Dad's line, "I ate them," he said, "and they were the berries!"

These days, I'm still that young girl who hoards her berries, but now I make sure I get my share! The other day, I made berry scones using Molly Wizenberg's*** recipe from her book, "A Homemade Life." Her scones are simply out of this world, smaller and lighter than the triangular bricks one sometimes finds and yet not like cake, either. She makes them with ginger and lemon but suggested a handful of berries would make a good substitute for the ginger (which I didn't have) so I used some frozen mixed berries and they made spectacular wedgies filled with pockets of berries bursting with juice and flavor.

What I shoulda done that bright summer morning long ago was take my smug older brother by the waistband of his jogging shorts and given him a wedgie of an entirely different sort!

***Molly is coming again to the bay area on a book tour as her charming memoir-with-recipes, "A Homemade Life" is released in paperback. You can hear her talk and have her sign your copy in Seattle, Boston, Oklahoma City or New York, but it's easier just to come to Corte Madera
on March 29th for her talk and book signing at Book Passage bookstore at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public. She is a charming speaker as well as writer - don't miss it!

If you don't live in the bay area, go to Orangette and click on the link under the photo of her book to find out where else you can meet Molly and ask her to sign your copy.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Queen of Salad

We were sadly predictable children in some ways, turning up our noses at liver, spinach, etc. Sometimes, I look back and wonder where our mother found the patience to raise four of us with a Navy husband who was often away for long periods. I'd probably have drowned us all shortly after birth. She, however, was made of queenly stuff. A few silly kids were not going to defeat her!

So, when we refused to eat chicken livers, she always said with a regal smile, "Fine! All the more for me!" She sautéed them in butter with herbs, deglazed the pan with just a splash of white wine, got out her finest china and silver, and served them to herself over buttered toast points, clearly relishing every bite.

In the fullness of time, I discovered that she was right all along - chicken livers are really tasty. Sautéed with butter and garlic, then whirled in a blender, they make a fine paté. Cooked gently with mushrooms and onions, they are delicious over toast. They also make a great salad addition, served piping hot over the greens.

The ticket with chicken livers is, as with all liver, not to overcook them. Melt some butter in a sauté pan, and let it get pretty hot (but not browned or smoking), then add the livers. (Before cooking, I trim off the connective tissue and those mysterious white things). Don't crowd them in the pan or they will steam rather than caramelize. Sauté lightly until they are just done, still pink in the interior - they will feel still slightly soft. Decorate your already-dressed (vinaigrette is best) salad with a few of these little brown beauties, perhaps a crouton or two, and sit down to a meal fit for my mother, the queen.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Parched Halibut

I'm not the first ever to state the obvious - English is a weird language. How come the verb "to parch" and "parchment" have nothing in common? They really should. And parchment paper makes no sense, either, since parchment is actually made of skin, not of wood fibers.

Okay, enough of that. No one will ever be able to make sense of English, we just have to embrace its oddities.

I'm embracing the heck out of parchment paper these days, such a useful tool in the kitchen! You can bake on it or stew in it, raise a collar for a tall soufflé or line the bottom of a cake pan to keep things from sticking. My favorite way to use it this week is to make fish packets for dinner.

Halibut is a lovely fish, firm and white and mild - but it can be a little, shall we say, flat? All those flat fishes are like that - sole, sanddabs, halibut, all nice and mild, but a bit boring - but they are also wonderfully good for you, still sustainably fished, and easy to tweak in new ways.

This time, I had a couple of nice fillets of halibut, about 1.5 inches thick, and some of the prettiest, freshest asparagus I've seen. To a generous sheet of parchment paper, I added five or six spears of asparagus, half of a chopped leek (white and yellowish parts only), a slice of lime from Jeanne's tree, fresh chopped oregano from the garden, sliced leftover cooked potatoes (two walnut size ones per packet) and a dab of butter, wrapped it up securely by folding the top over several times and gathering the ends and giving them a good firm pinch. One packet for me, one for My Beloved. They fit easily side-by-side on a rimmed baking sheet (in case the goozle escaped) and I slid them into a preheated 350 degree oven.

When you cook fish this way, it makes its own sauce from the mingled juices of the fish and veggies. You could add a sprinkle of white wine, but it really isn't necessary. Fifteen minutes (less if your fish is thinner) and the asparagus is perfect - still brightly green but tender - and all the ingredients have had a happy slumber party in which they all got to know each other very well.

To serve, you can simply slide the packets onto a plate and let each open his own, releasing the fragrant steam as the world's best appetizer, or you can flip them over fold-side down and slash a bold X into the paper with a sharp knife or a razor and peel it back to reveal the asparagus topping the fish. Either way, it's a dramatically beautiful plateful and you will get oohs and aahs from the Beloveds.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Minted Hen

Every now and then, My Beloved likes to be treated to a Cornish hen. To me, they taste so much like chicken that I might as well make a full-sized bird, but there is something festive and special to him about these funny little birds so I humor him.

Roasting the hen makes the skin nicely brown and crisp, but these diminutive birds need some stuffing to keep the white meat moist. This time, I stuffed the cavity with two lime quarters that I had squeezed over the olive-oiled skin and added a wadded handful of fresh mint, stems and all. Stuffing the bird shaped the breast as well as keeping it moist and the fresh mint pervades the meat with a mint-but-not-sweet flavor. Oddly, these tiny critters take the same amount of time to roast as a big chicken does - about 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

After roasting, I used kitchen shears to cut our hen in half, the perfect amount for each of us to enjoy with our wild and brown rice medley and some bright green broccoli.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Now I Know Why They Use Black Beans For Soup

Because brown beans aren't pretty.

I used the leftover pinto beans from my lamb shanks to make a bean soup, simply whirling them with a tad of extra water in a blender. The beans had absorbed lovely flavor layers from the onions, shallots, carrots, bay leaves, broth, and lamb, so the soup was mighty good, thick and smooth and hearty.

But homely, just mid-brown and boring, like milk chocolate pudding. Even the dab of tzatziki I added didn't do much to make it look pretty, although it did add a nice, fresh flavor and a little texture to the slow-cooked savor of the beans.

Next time, perhaps I'll try the black beans with the lamb shanks, just for fun. Then I'd get pretty soup.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Eating Of The Green

I'm as Irish as Paddy's pig. I love the idea of leprechauns and spirits. I enjoy potatoes and lamb and, of course, corned beef. Soda bread is in my blood. I like sentimental songs like "Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." I enjoy spinning stories and naughty Limericks and I hope someday to visit Ireland, from whence came half of my heritage but, when it comes to drinking green beer, I draw the line.

First, I don't really like beer very much (except the beers I tried in Belgium, which are the best of the brewer's art). My Dad frequently had a beer after playing strenuous tennis and he'd let me have the first sip. I don't know how this ritual began but it is as old as my memories of my father - even as a small child I got the first sip of his beer - and I was always glad to surrender the rest of it to him after the first taste. Now, all these years later, the first sip of a beer still brings his memory back and makes me feel privileged.

But, not being a big beer lover, I tend to look for other ways to incorporate green into my St. Patrick's Day celebrations. One year, I bought Dad a green plastic derby that delighted him - he wore it while lustily singing "Irish Eyes" that year. This year, I have purchased a pair of green-tinted sunglasses with lenses shaped like shamrocks. And, although it's not strictly Irish, I'm serving this brilliant green Swiss chard with dinner this evening, probably lamb and potatoes, or perhaps corned beef.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Irish Flag Bread

I only make Irish soda bread every now and then, mainly because it's so damn good that if I made it more often, My Beloved and I might have to pay for the dreaded gym membership, something we have successfully avoided thus far. There is something magical about the combination of caraway and raisins flavoring what might otherwise be a pretty dull loaf.

With St. Patrick's Day coming soon, I gave in to the temptation to make it for the holiday. In the past, I had some oranges to add even more flavor to the bread and that was so good that I wanted to do something similar this time. I had clementine tangerines on hand so I zested one of those and one of the so-fragrant limes that pal Jeanne gave us when we were visiting her in LA - Jeanne's limes smell like the Buddha's Hand citron, flowery as well as citrusy. It also seemed perfect that the colors of the lime and the tangerine are on the Irish flag.

The result was a marvelous little round crusty loaf of Irish heaven in which the citrus played off the sweet raisins and herbal caraway flavors. The crust was crisp and chewy, the crumb tender. I cut the recipe down from last year's bread, as we only need one loaf for at least three meals. Below you'll find what I did this year; hope your St. Patrick's Day experiments are equally blessed.

Irish Flag Bread, adapted from Gourmet Magazine, October 1991

2 cups flour (I use unbleached white)
1-1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
a generous 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup raisins or currants, rinsed in hot water and patted dry
1-1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
zest of one tangerine and one lime
1 cup buttermilk (I used kefir this time)

Into a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and stir in the raisins, caraway seeds and citrus zest. Add the buttermilk and stir the mixture until it forms a dough. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead briefly, about one minute.

Shape into a round loaf and place on buttered parchment paper on a baking sheet. Cut an X 1/4 inch deep across the top with a sharp knife and bake the loaf in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 45-55 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Monday, March 15, 2010

Maiden Voyage

Tasty, richly flavorful and inexpensive, lamb shanks deliver a lot of punch for the money. They do take a long time to cook, however, and back in my working days, I usually only had them in restaurants where someone else was taking the time to make them tender and delicious.

Now that I'm retired, I have made them several times - time is no longer the scarce commodity. And, now that I have my wonderful new Dutch oven, I can even brown the shanks and braise them in the same pot - no loss of flavor and only one pot to clean up!

Here's the maiden voyage of my cast iron wonder - lamb shanks with pinto beans. The meat was so tender as to make chewing virtually unnecessary and the beans had made very good friends with the other veggies I added to the pot. And the goozle! OMG, the goozle! My kingdom for some good bread to sop up this goozle!

I think you can tell I like my new Dutch oven. Here's the recipe for this little taste of heaven, should you already have a Dutch oven. You could do this in a crock pot, too, but be sure to transfer all the browned stuff from the browning pan into the crock pot or you'll miss all kinds of flavor.

Brown Braised Lamb Shanks with Pinto Beans. Serves four hearty eaters.

4 large shallots, halved through the stem end
6 small boiling onions, halved through the stem end
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 lamb shanks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 bay leaves
2 big pinches of Herbes de Provence
1 big pinch lavender
1 quart beef stock or a mixture of beef stock and a stout red wine
1/2 lb. dried pinto beans (I had these on hand but any dried beans would do) 1/4 lb would be plenty if you don't want leftovers.
Olive oil sufficient for browning the shanks

In the morning, wash and cover with 2" of water the beans. Leave them to soak for at least two hours.

After lunch, slowly bring the Dutch oven up to temperature and brown the lamb shanks in olive oil in the bottom of the Dutch oven, giving them a good sear to caramelize the juices and give the shanks an appealing shade of brown. Remove the shanks to a plate. Add the onions and shallots, cut side down, and brown them in the same pot. Sprinkle the garlic slices over the other alliums and cook for a few minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, topping them with the shanks, pouring over any accumulated juices from the plate and bringing to a boil before covering and placing in a slow (250-300 degree) oven. No need to preheat the oven.

The shanks will cook for about four hours or so. If you're a fussy cook like me, you might want to turn the shanks once or twice during the cooking, but it's not essential.

We found this to be plenty for two meals for us, plus leftover beans for the freezer and to make soup with. If you don't want leftovers, reduce the amount of beans by half or more, and reduce the amount of broth by a like amount, as well.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

From Paris With Love

When I went online to order a book, another one caught my eye. There seems to be a whole new genre of food writing these days, charming stories with recipes. In the past year, I've read Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life, Jason Epstein's Eating, Tara Austen Weaver's The Butcher and the Vegetarian and now Elizabeth Bard's Lunch in Paris. All were charming, well written, interesting glimpses into other food lovers' lives, and each had some wonderful-sounding recipes based on the stories in the books.

You'd like this one, especially if you are a Francophile like me. Elizabeth Bard knows how to grab the reader from the first sentence: "I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date." I'll admit that that one got my attention. She then goes on to describe the difference between French and American cultures in an amusing way that points out the foibles of each and emphasizes her respect for each, as well.

Her recipes sound good, too, and for the most part very easy and quick. I can tell this one will be well-thumbed in no time.

If you local readers would like to borrow it rather than buy it, let me know. I learned how to share back in kindergarten.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ironclad Excuse

He looks a little like a pheasant when viewed from above, but he's really a cocky little rooster. The decorative (and surprisingly functional), handle on the lid of my new Dutch oven.

I had been lusting after one of these for a long time, visiting them in the kitchen store, stroking their smooth enameled sides and murmuring about the beeeyoootifoool music we could make together but I needed a good excuse for spending that much money on a single pot. Ouch!

Also, which size? Did I want more than one small one, or one large enough to feed an army? The small ones are undeniably cute and we are only two here most of the time. The large ones weigh a ton and take up more storage space, but the lure of cooking once and having several yummy meals was irresistible.

The change in the weather back to winter was all the excuse I needed. My Beloved and I whisked out to the cooking store - on a day in which it rained, shone, hailed and sleeted all in the same few hours - to ponder colors and shapes briefly before choosing this lovely six-quart behemoth in silvery gray. It is oval in shape, so I'm imagining whole chickens in there or oblong loaves of bread or the perfect positioning those awkward lamb shanks. I'm also thinking that the oval shape will be easier to store in my already-cramped kitchen.

My head is full of enticing recipes and ideas, now that I've had my excuse. How does brown-braised lamb shanks with beans and alliums sound to you?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Right On 'Cue

A couple of weeks ago, I scored a marvelous, thick, bone-in rib eye steak from Prather Ranch via the farmer's market but the weather wasn't cooperating. No warm, sunny days, just rain, rain, rain.

Here in NOCA, we need all the rain we squeeze in between the end of October and the end of March, our rainy season. It rarely rains the rest of the year so we have to make the most of the wet.

However, we've had some years of light rain recently, during which we all got royally spoiled by day after day of sunshine, so now we are all whining and carrying on about what is actually a pretty normal rainy season. I am the Queen of the Whiners.

When we finally, finally scored a lovely, warm, sunshiny day, I whipped that steak out of the freezer, thawed it in the sun, and fired up the barbecue. It probably didn't need another thing but we coated it with a little garlic-and-herb seasoning anyway and slapped it on the grill. While it was resting, I nipped outside to cut about 10 of the big Swiss chard leaves that are loving all this rain in my garden, and butter steamed them with some garlic.

The steak was perfect, pink and beyond scrumptious. My Beloved even gnawed on the bone like a caveman and enjoyed every growl and gnash. As the sun set behind Mount Tam, instead of behind a bank of clouds, we enjoyed the first barbecued dinner of the season, right on cue.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Green Eggs, No Ham

Okay, so here I was with a pot full of green garlic and collard greens, swimming in a soup of chicken broth tinted green from the veggies. I still plan to make soup, but I had the idea to poach eggs in the soupy part first and serve them on toast with a collard cushion in between.

The eggs turned green as they poached, perhaps not the single most appetizing looking meal I've ever made.

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, green eggs may taste fine, but...maybe it's the ham that rescues the dish?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Green and Greens

I probably should save this post for St. Patrick's Day - it's all about green, albeit the wrong green for St. Patty. I've been trying all kinds of different vegetables this winter, hoping to hit on some new favorites to spark up our winter menus. Inspired by the poached egg on collard greens and spuds that I enjoyed in SOCA a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try collard greens again this week.

According to my foodie friends and to most of the online recipes I consulted, collard greens need a long, slow cooking to bring out their best. I lucked into some green garlic last time I was at the farmer's market, so I thought to add three or four spears of that as well. I sautéed the sliced garlic in a little bacon fat, then added the greens to wilt them and enough chicken stock to cover them halfway. Covered the pot and left it to simmer quietly for about an hour, just returning to stir them around about halfway through the cooking time.

Honestly, I think they could easily stand up to a stronger garlic flavor - they are pretty muscular greens and tended to overwhelm the mild green garlic.
And, served with ham, they would have been better than next to my roasted chicken. My Beloved didn't finish his, a sure indication that this is a green he would prefer that I fixed when he's away on business. However, I thought it was good in that homey, soft, seriously cooked way that greens often seem, when the first bright color has given way to a green reminiscent of kelp or Army vehicles.

I plan to use the rest of the broth to make soup, perhaps adding some ham to that concoction; that sounds good in my head. Hope it will be - and that My Beloved will be on a business trip when it makes its debut.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I'm very fond of hot dogs, a trait My Beloved shares but with far less fervor. I maintain it's because he doesn't use enough condiments on his hot dogs, but we've debated that hotly for nearly 15 years and I haven't detected any "give" on either side of the issue.

Anyway, I use almost any excuse to eat a hot dog - ball games, backyard barbecues, rainy days, sunny days - you get the drift. So, when I heard that Acme bakery makes hot dog as well as hamburger buns, I was all about buying those and stopping on the way home to pick up a package of hot dogs, as well.

Here's the result. I grilled the buns on the Jennair, boiled the hot dogs until they swelled and split, and added dollops of relish, Dijon mustard and June Taylor's celestial ketchup. My Beloved is a mustard purist who turns his nose up at further adornment to his dogs, the poor dear.

These buns are really special; I may be spoiled for all time. I've been known to take my own maple syrup to a pancake breakfast to get the real thing - does this mean I'll be carrying my own hot dog buns to future ballgames and backyard barbecues?

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Humble Beginnings

My Beloved and I have a new resolution - to have one meatless day a week. Today was the first day.

For lunch, we reheated some of that parsnip soup that I made a few days ago and served it with those avocado toasts that I posted about yesterday. It helped us get through the tax preparation and fueled an afternoon of serious estate work.

We had an old, rusty wire fence running halfway between our house and the neighbors' - it was never connected so it didn't keep anyone in or out and the soil is nicely soft now after all the rain, so it was time to wiggle those posts out and roll up the rusty wire, not a fun task on such a steep hill. I'm glad I recently got a tetanus shot but mostly I'm just glad it's done. My good neighbor will help me take the rusty wire to the dump.

Tonight's dinner was a baked potato topped with white cheddar cheese sauce and broccoli. My Beloved made his even more beautiful by adding some crispy onions. There's something very humble about a baked potato for dinner, but it's a good beginning for one meatless meal per week.

Simple Cheese Sauce

1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. flour
1 cup milk
1/4 pound white cheddar cheese*, sliced or grated

In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes - this is an important step; it keeps the sauce from becoming lumpy and it dispels that "raw flour" flatness that so many sauces and gravies suffer from. Once the roux is ready, milk a bit at a time, whisking constantly. It will thicken as you add; keep adding until all the milk is incorporated smoothly, then add the cheese, stirring over lowered heat until the sauce is smooth and all the cheese has melted. You may enjoy a stronger cheese flavor by adding additional cheese.

*White cheddar cheese is preferable because it doesn't contain the dye that cheesemakers use to make cheddar orangey yellow. It is naturally a pale cream color but tastes the same as the yellow kind.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spring Hat Trick

A couple of my Navy friends were coming for lunch one day last week - Sunny and Bonnie, whom I met when we three were more or less imprisoned in a French boarding school back when President Kennedy was refusing to let the Russians place missiles in Cuba. Of the ten or so American girls at the school, only four of us have stayed in touch and three of us live locally so we get together three times a year to swap stories and catch up.

Spring may not be here officially yet, but signs of it are everywhere - daffodils and flowering trees are brightening the landscape, it's no longer pitch black dark at dinner time and the neighbor's kids have switched from hockey to baseball. Best of all, new potatoes and asparagus from Zuckerman and green garlic are in the markets. With a hat trick like that, it seemed perfect to tip winter into spring by serving a raclette version with green garlic over those tender little spuds and nestled next to some grilled asparagus.

There isn't really even a recipe for a meal so simple and direct. Slice some green garlic, sauté it in a little butter. Steam some little potatoes and cut them into more or less bite-size pieces. Mix the potatoes and the green garlic together and top with slices of raclette cheese. Run under the broiler until the cheese melts, bubbles and just lightly browns.

Drizzle a minimal amount of olive oil over some fresh, washed asparagus once the ends are snapped off. Arrange them on a hot grill (I used my Jennair, since it was raining outside by then, but a grill pan works just as well and, if it's sunny, a barbecue is the best for smoky flavor) and roll them around as they brown and even blacken in spots. If the heat is very hot, watch them carefully - this only takes a very few minutes. Serve hot or cold or room temp - they are deliciously sweet any way they come!

Sunny and I walked Cora around the town while we waited for Bonnie to arrive, then we all sat outside for a few minutes on the new deck, enjoying the fresh air just before the rain moved in (again!) and catching up with each others' lives. Bonnie will have a third grandchild in the summer. Sunny's husband is publishing a book. I'm anticipating an Easter visit from our granddaughter. Sharing a meal and a natter with these women is my idea of a hat trick.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Taxing Lunch

We put aside an entire Saturday for this chore. As I write, we are assembling the annual information for our accountant to do our taxes. Ugh. For all-out boredom punctuated by chills of fear, I can't think of a rival for filling out tax forms. Neither My Beloved nor I are any good at math, or keeping records, or anything requiring diligence, so this yearly event is our nadir.

When one is struggling and swearing one's way through the tax form nightmare, spectacularly tasty lunches are in order to keep spirits and energy high. Luckily, ingredients for just such a lunch were in the house.

A Della Fattoria campagne loaf, Bellwether Farms farmer's cheese and Jeanne's Mom's unbelievably good avocado. Toast the bread, spread the cheese, slice the avo, drizzle a little EVOO, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and a tiny spritz of Hawaiian red salt and you've got lunch that will sustain calculations throughout a long, taxing afternoon.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Consolation Prize

My Beloved's car was stolen. Never mind the shock at finding that it was stolen right out of our carport, not 20 feet from where we were watching TV. So brazen! My Beloved makes his living by driving about 600 miles per week, so it's not just his baby, it's his livelihood. It was there when I walked Cora at 6:30 before starting dinner prep; it was gone by 10:00 when I took her out for her last spin of the day. Of course, our ferocious watchdog slept through the whole event.

The police think we may get the car back, after the bad guys have had their wicked way with it, but in the meantime, we are making lists of all the contents of the car, spending a lot of time on the phone with our insurance company and becoming best friends with young cops in two counties. One of the items in the stolen car was My Beloved's FastTrack transponder so we know the thieves have been to Marin and Contra Costa counties so far. The bastards seem to be having quite a fine joy ride on our dime.

All this as prelude to a nifty discovery. After driving My Beloved to Berkeley to pick up his rental car, I stopped in at the Acme Bakery store just up the street to buy some bread for that evening's dinner and discovered that they make hamburger buns as well as more exalted forms of the baker's art.

I chucked all previous dinner plans and decided to make hamburgers. I bought several of the oven-fresh, fragrant buns and detoured to my favorite grocery store for a top round steak and a huge, ripe, heirloom tomato from Mexico. When one's car has been purloined, to hell with trying to be a locavore; we needed comfort food in the worst way!

I chopped the steak in my food processor, toasted the buttered buns on the Jennair grill, divided that beautiful tomato, sliced our last gorgeous avocado from Jeanne's Mom's garden and some red onion, and caramelized the burgers in a wide frying pan. Steam a few spears of asparagus, stack up those killer ingredients and take a huge bite! The buns were ever so much tastier, heftier and textured than the regular store-bought ones. They were actually functional as well as tasty, too; they didn't fall apart or become soggy. The loss of a wonderful car doesn't seem quite so bad when the juice from a nice, rare burger with all the trimmings is dripping down one's chin.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Friends In High Places

Our Norwalk friend Jeanne has a wonderful yard full of fruit trees. In front, she has lemons and limes. In back, oranges. Southern California is loaded with citrus trees and I can now attest to how much better those taste when freshly picked.

Jeanne's parents, however, are the true friends in high places - or at least they have fruit in high places - a wonderful avocado tree that produces the creamiest, butteriest, most unctuous alligator pears it has ever been my pleasure to devour.

Usually, we are partial to the Haas avocados that are easier to find in our markets. Rough skinned and black when ripe, they have a wonderful taste and texture. Jeanne's parents' tree, however, produces the smooth green variety, which I approached with caution, having found this type to be stringy and watery in the past.

Well, let me tell you, when they are picked just ripe and eaten as soon as they soften with just a little vinaigrette made with a lemon from Jeanne's bushes drizzled over them, they are food for the gods and eating them makes me feel godlike. What a heavenly taste and texture! They aren't kidding when they say it's good to have friends in high places.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Handy Giftie

Cousin J-Yah is one of those talented folks who is clever about finding the perfect gift. For example, on my last birthday, she somehow found kitchen towels with an embroidered dog that, while cartooned, looks much like my Cora. There were other treats, too, and each had the charm of being perfect for me.

Here's another example, a small glass bowl with hearts painted in several bright colors around the outside. Since my birthday falls on Valentine's Day and I love bright colors, I was delighted but I didn't fully appreciate it until I made some tuna salad in the bowl and was able to simply snap on the plastic cover to keep the rest of it fresh for another meal. I'm loving this little bowl that raises the mundane task of keeping food fresh to a prettier level. You can keep your Tupperware and your Ziploc bags - I've got the perfect gift from Cousin J-Yah.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cauliflower Challenge

Do you have trouble getting your family to eat cauliflower? I don't, and here's why.

Cheese-frosted cauliflower.

I learned this method of preparing cauliflower back in the Dark Ages and have loved it ever since. Basically, all you do is mix mustard and mayo in proportions to your taste, smear the top of a steamed cauliflower with said mixture, top with cheese and run it under the broiler to melt.

As usual, I had one ingredient for a favorite dish but none of the rest, so I had to improvise. Some of my best meals begin this way, with hands thrown up in the air as I discover that some key ingredient is missing.

This time, I had the nice, big head of pure white cauliflower. I broke off some florets to nibble while fixing the dish and gave some to Cora, who is very partial to cauliflower, and the rest I cored and popped into a big pot with about an inch of water in the bottom to steam just until tender but not so soft that it falls apart as you lift it out of the pot.

While the cauliflower was steaming, I mixed up a dab of mayo with about three tablespoons of Dijon mustard but, interestingly, this was not my usual Grey Poupon but a new-to-me brand called Edmond Fallot, which My Beloved's daughters brought me from their last trip to La Belle France. It looks more yellow, like ballpark mustard, but the flavor is more like traditional Dijon, only somehow mellower. This I smeared all over the head of cauliflower, letting it drip thickly down the sides and into the skillet.

Next, I went into the fridge for my usual cheddar cheese - and realized I forgot to buy some last time I was at the store. (Hand throwing here, with heavy sighs). However, I did have some raclette cheese left from the last time we had that meal, so I sliced that up and positioned the slices all over the cauliflower before popping it under the broiler with the rack set very low in the oven.

That last part is the only reason I didn't burn the bejaysus out of our dinner - I got distracted trying to get my computer to print out a recipe and you know the rest of that story. Luckily, My Beloved remembered and pulled it out just prior to the disaster point. Usually, I just melt the cheese - this time, I crisped it. And it was delicious! The crispy coating hid a softer layer of mustardy sauce that had melted down between the florets to flavor the whole head. The stinkier cheese was a delicious change of pace from the cheddar, as well.

I guess the moral of the story is "don't be afraid to innovate" and "don't get distracted when broiling." Cauliflower can be a challenge but it's easy if you're paying attention.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Peaceful Soup

In a comment on my previous post about parsnips, Morgan had suggested using them in soup, which seemed nothing short of brilliant to me, so I set out to make a pot. As usual, I didn't have all the ingredients for the soup recipe I had researched online and with a stinky head cold I wasn't inclined to go out in search of them, but I have discovered that that isn't always necessary for success.

Contemplating soup construction, I just think about what flavors I'd enjoy together if they were arranged side-by-side on a plate - and then chuck them all in the pot with liquid. This time, parsnips sounded like the perfect accompaniment to shallots, leeks and apples and, since I had all those things clamoring to be used, I decided to give them a shot.

Lots of peeling and chopping ensued, but when all the chopping is done, the rest of the preparation is dead easy. I sautéed the chopped shallots and leeks in butter until they were soft, then added the rest of the ingredients and let them simmer together for about 20 minutes before blending. Once blended and back in a big pot, I added just a touch of half and half to smooth it and adjusted the seasonings with salt and pepper.

The soup is nothing to look at but the flavor is sublime. Not as sweet as butternut soup, but there's a hint of sweetness. Not as savory as leek and potato soup, but there's a savory layer in there. The celery leaves lightened it up a bit and gave it some spark without being the dominant flavor. It was like a peaceful kindergarten class where all the children are playing nicely together and no one is snatching all the toys.

Peaceful Soup

2 parsnips, peeled and finely chopped
3 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 large leek, white and pale green parts only, carefully washed and chopped
2 Pink Lady apples, peeled and coarsely chopped (I suspect just about any nice apple would do)
3 Tbs. or so of fresh celery leaves, roughly chopped
4 cups chicken broth (I used the organic kind in a box)
2-3 Tbs butter
1/4 cup half and half or light cream
salt and pepper to taste (I don't cook with salt, only add it at the table. It's important in this soup, which was a tad bland until we added a light spritz of Hawaiian red salt and a nice pinch of freshly ground pepper).

Sauté the leek and shallots together in the butter (in melting my butter, it got a little brown, and that was a good thing) until they are softened, then add all other ingredients except the half and half. Simmer together, covered, for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then blend in batches in a blender, (or use one of those nifty hand blenders if you have one) pouring the blended soup into a large clean pot. Once all is blended, heat the soup gently and add the half and half, stirring to mix it in. Serve hot. Some croutons or cheese toasts would be a nice accompaniment.

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