Tuesday, November 13, 2012

pasta with friends

November 13,2012

Good conversation and lots of laughs with good friends Dick and Richard and my daughter,Rachel the other night, and a pasta dish I'd not prepared before. We started at the table with a salad of mixed greens, roasted beets  and goat cheese, topped with glazed walnuts. The main course was whole wheat spaghetti mixed with caramelized onions that had slowly browned over a bit less than two hours - fresh thyme and bay leaves were in the mixture and, when they were ready, some white wine added, then cooked down. Each serving was topped with thick yogurt and chopped parsley-different and delicious. The accompaniment was green beans and crusty country bread. For dessert I served butter pecan ice cream topped  with warm caramel sauce and a new chocolate chip cookie I"d baked a couple of hours before dinner - flat, rich and lightly salty. They all took some home. Now I begin Thanksgiving preparations.Yesterday I  made pie crust dought and froze it, today I'll prepare a grapefruit and cranberry chutney . Now I"m off to my voice lesson which I hugely enjoy, with no expectations I'll be performing in public - but I do a lot of singing in the  kitchen.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

shoppin at the mideastern store

I took a trip across town to the middle eastern grocery, hoping their new crop of walnuts had arrived - they had and there is no comparison to prepackaged nuts at the average grocery. These are divinely fresh, and when I return from Italy I'll put them to immediate use. I also purchased a lovely, full-bodied olive oil and, from the poultry case, glistening in their ice bath, precious little poussins beckoned - irresistible. The next evening son number two came for dinner and I served the tiny chickens. I roughly cut some parsnips, carrots, shallots and apples, a perfect bed for the birds. I basted them with a combination of hard cider and dry white wine and when they were bronzed and ready to serve I accompanied them with roasted acorn squash sections. We began with a simple salad of baby greens ( there's a thread of infanticide in this blog)  tossed with chevre and dried cranberries. It was a most pleasant evening, I enjoy our conversations.

The leaves are  changing,lots of copper, yellow and orange and all that's left in the vegetable garden is swiss chard - lots of it. I diced some stems rather finely and sauteed them at gentle heat  in olive oil - tasty.

No more cooking for the next ten days, but lots of good eating in Bologna,  Parma, Modena and, briefly, Milan. Arrivederci.

Monday, October 8, 2012

cool weather cooking

Monday, October 8

Overcast and chilly - I'll postpone garden cleanup for a less gloomy and more sunny day. The chard is enormous and I'd better harvest it before it's taller than I.  A friend is coming for dinner tomorrow evening, and  ale-braised chicken with its hit of chili powder and red pepper sounds perfect for a cool fall evening. I'll serve some of the aforementioned chard with it and soft polenta. A green salad to start and glazed pumpkin cookies for dessert. The herb garden will probably get hit by a night frost by the time I return from Italy so it behooves me to get out there and harvest some lemon verbena for drying, as well as mint, sage and lovage. I'll puree the sorrel that's done so well this year and freeze it. It was truly  a banner year for the herb garden. Today I'll practice for tomorrow's voice lesson, then bake some butterscotch cookies to have on hand. And practice some key phrases of Italian for my upcoming trip.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

a rainy day's memories

thursday, october 4

Autumn , "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" . John Keats. I've always loved those introductory words. It's been more than  misty these past few days, with occasional fierce downpours and slow, steady soft rain. It's brought a bit of melancholy, transitory, and some indoor efforts including baking cookies for Halloween when the kids in the neighborhood implore their parents to bring them here first for "homemade stuff". I'm  making them now and freezing them as I don't return from Italy until the night before trick or treat takes place. I also prepared dinner to bring over to my son who is under the weather with pneumonia. His favorite part of the meal was the salad, a mix of pea shoots, radicchio,blue cheese and pear slices  The pears brought memories of my husband, Dean who planted an orchard at our country inn, researching it in his scientific way, deciding an espaliered approach was best and discussing it all in detail with orchardists.He built supports and wired the apples, pears, apricots and plums to them, planting those bloomed first up front and the last to bear fruit at the rear. We went out to the gardens every night after dinner and one evening as we approached the apples I noticed that the trees reputed to bear fruit in October were laden with apples, in August.  When I pointed this out to Dean he  was horrified - science  had failed him. The more crestfallen he became the more I became gripped by hysterical laughter. He'd done all the research, he couldn't believe this. I fell  on the ground, unable to stop laughing,  He was not amused.
As if this blow to scientific research was not sufficiently astonishing and disappointing to my beloved, there was more to come. After a long and busy day and a full house of guests I sat out on the patio after dinner and glanced at the stuccoed wall where Dean had espaliered in a most artful fashion non-bearing pear trees - the owners of the orchard from whom he  bought them assured him that though there would never be fruit, the trees would be marvelously decorative - and they were. After a second glance I walked over to the wall and oh my god  there were more than  fifty large and perfect green pears. I called out to Dean and pointed this out to him. Incroyable - he had to sit down. I did a better job of concealing my  amusement and promised him all sorms of dishes from this totally unexpected lagniappe and that perhaps soothed his soul - a bit! I made good on my promise - pear sauce, pear muffins,  pear cake, pears  baked and napped with a custard sauce. And some guests left with little bags of our unexpected bounty.
Tomorrow evening my great pals Jim and Jane are coming to dinner.We'll start with drinks and a little autumnal plate of deglat noor dates, a chunk of good parmesan and some roasted almonds. At table a simple salad and a whole fluke resting on a layer of potatoes with lots of lemon slices and some rosemary. I' make a light lemon vinaigrette to sprinkle on the fish. With this, snow peas and tiny turnips, caramelized in the oven. For dessert, apple charlotte, a perfect fall dessert. I love being with these two, lots of  easy conversation and laughs.
ah,  there's a bit of sun peeking from behind the clouds - may in hang around for a while.

Monday, October 1, 2012

a happy meeting

I had an injection today, administered painlessly by a warm and charming nurse, Jeannie. After, we talked for a  long while, she was a kindred soul, who spoke of her happy childhood with a dairy-farmer father and hardworking mother, loving parents who instilled in their kids a strong work ethic. The talk turned,  as  it often does, to food. Everything was homemade and most of it came  from their farm, and sitting down togethr each night for dinner was a given - they always waited for their dad to come in from the field, no matter what time that might be. She spoke of her grandma's root cellar, filled with the pickles and applesauce and other foods her grandmother put up, and the baskets of potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables that sat on the cellar floor. Today, Jeannie cooks very much in that style, with a husband who enjoys food enormously. Our conversation was an unexpected treat and one that I'll remember. I'll think of her tomorrow when I bake apple bars and, if I have time, a batch of applesauce.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

autumnal thoughts

There's a hint of chill in the air meaning my food preoccupations turn to heartier food, root vegetables, apples, squash,soups, stews and more. This morning I drove to the Sunday farmer's market held in a bank's parking lot, hoping I'd find tiny japanese turnips, my little jewels,and after visiting several stalls I came upon a farmer with beautiful bunches of these beautiful treasures. Two for me, two for a friend who fell in love with them, eating them for the first time having dinner chez moi. I also purchased lovely pea shoots, heirloom tomatoes and two breads - a fig-anise loaf and a crisp crusted ring of potato bread. On to the apple stand where I was guided to a bourbony, crisp fruit to eat out of hand and some
large, crisp/sweet apples for the apple brownies I'll make tomorrow.

I just made creme fraiche,with heavy cream, buttermil and fresh lemon juice. I'll utilize it tomorrow, when I'll prepare chicken  paprikash for dinner. I like it over egg noodles and, to start, a refreshing orange,grapefruit and fennel salad. Tonight is simple, a spaghetti and scallop mix with a light tomato sauce and some of the gorgeous basil that seems to be flourishing at this late date.

Perhaps because her birthday would be tomorrow I'm thinking about my mother often. She was a gifted cook and it was her way of giving. She wasn't particularly demonstrative but showed love to family and friends through her terrific meals, for which she was celebrated but received little praise from my father, who expected and took for granted sitting down to a fine dinner every night. She was a master at cake baking though pies eluded her - she was convinced that she  could not make a good crust. Her brisket was without peer and among the many other dishes I remember were perfectly prepared whitefish, abundant in Chicago, where I grew up.  We all ate meat in those  days,and oxtail stew, gelatinous and bursting with flavor, was frequently on the menu as well as world-class sweetbreads,various stews and standing rib roast. My parents entertained frequently, and we kids would sit on the stairs, waiting to attack leftovers, convinced that shrimp impaled on frilled toothpick's and speared int upside down grapefruit halves was the height of sophistication..
For our birthdays Ma would make each kid's favorite cake. When I was very little it was white cake with strawberry frosting and little men made of marshmallows and later my treat of choice was yellow cake with caramel frosting - I  loved licking the bowl of  caramel  icing clean  after the cake was frosted. Food figured prominantly  in  our home and there was always an abundance. Small wonder my friends loved coming over.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

dinner with a son

The other night son number two came for a chicken dinner. For dessert I made deeply chocolate, espresso infused brownies  which, the minute  they emerged from the oven I poured homemade caramel sauce over, finishing with a sprinkling of flaky maldon sea salt. I'm an anomaly in the family as I'm not a chocolate lover, but they went over  very well indeed. And after eating we talked for a long while, perhaps more openly than in many years and I shared aspects of my family life growing up that I'd not spoken about up to that point. It was an evening of  comfort food and just "comfort."

Today I made up two casseroled of macaroni, one for Tony,the above-mentioned son and one for me. I enveloped the pasta in a cream sauce, rich with extra-sharp cheddar and some minced chipotle pepper, the dish topped with garlicy, browned in oil bread crumbs. I look forward to dinner tonight: the macaroni, flounder sauteed, with capers, lemon and parsley and some broccoli. To start, a small salad of roasted beets and mixed greens. Tomorrow night's dinner will begin with a light, flavorful butternut squash soup that includes cider and a bit of lowfat sour cream. I'll dice up  some honeycrisp apple  to top the soup - a pretty, crunchy touch. Tony will take home a jar of this along with the pasta casserole.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

food shopping in the autumn mode

I started out early today - a good workout,then a visit to the country cemetery where my husband,love of my life is buried on this anniversary of his passing. I brought an enormous pot of bronze mums and told him this, my favorite season, brings memories of wonderful shared repasts. Then, on to the farmers market, where I purchased two home-grown heads of broccoli, a few slender parsnips and two boxes of baby turnips. tiny jewels that give me little frissons of anticipation. Next, the poultry counter for a fat roasting chicken. Last, the fishmonger for two thick fillets of  haddock, glistening on their bed of ice. Tomorrow, I'll coat the chicken with good mustard, fill the cavity with half a lemon, some onion and lemon thyme from the garden. I'll set the bird  on a bed of  slightly dried sourdough bread to be saturated with the drippings and become a toasty, crisp brown. I'll roast the parsnips and turnips as an accompniment and start the meal with a salad of bitter greens, pear and gorgonzola. As Ina Garten would say, "how good is that?"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

an intimation of autumn dinner

There's a bit of chill in the air and I'm feeling autumnal, so for my dinner tonight I roasted some butternut squash until it was satisfyingly caramelized, combined it with a saute of just-harvested chard,garlic and a hit of hot pepper flakes. I added some cannelini beans, combined it with penne rigate, set out a chunk of parmesan and enjoyed!! I have a shelf in the kitchen to hold some cookbooks that I"m currently using frequently - I returned some others to the shelves that house the majority of my sizable collection. Among those I'm perusing now is Melissa Clark's "In The Kitchen With A Good Appetite" and this weekend I"ll make her roast chicken coated with mustard and  roasted atop some sourdought bread cubes./ And a nice mix of  root vegetables, roasted. That and a green salad and perhaps  a lovely glass of wine will be something soothing to my soul..

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Fiesta

Sunday,September 9,2012

Last night my niece, Sam, and I made a “Mexican Fiesta” dinner for my daughter, Rachel, to celebrate her birthday. Sam was the decorator – lots of candles, color, lanterns, and an extravagance of flowers in yellow, salmon, pink, fuchsia and cream, bought for a song at our local Produce Junction. The table was set with a striped cloth in yellow, blue, red and green with bright yellow napkins and a pitcher filled with a fat bunch of sunflowers, the stems cut short. We started with icy margaritas to accompany guacamole, crudités and a spicy roasted peanut and pumpkin seed mix I roasted till the nuts were glazed with the chili powder. On to dinner. Chicken Mole, Enchiladas Suisse, filled with roasted vegetables, sitting on and coated with a sauce of roasted tomatillos, garlic, onions, chiles and spices, enriched with cream – luscious. The rolled up enchiladas were then topped with grated  Monterey Jack cheese and baked. Also on the serving counter seared corn and green chiles lavished with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro - and yellow rice. The birthday cake was a seven-layer chocolate  concoction filled and topped with a rich bittersweet  chocolate ganache, finished with a sprinklong of chocolate curls. It was an evening of love, laughter and celebration with family.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

a busy day

Unable to sleep I got an early start on the day. First, out to the vegetable garden for the day's harvest of tomatoes. I grew them all from Italian seed,  including Costuloto, which compensates for its peculiar, flattish and wedged appearance with great flavor. Then, after a wonderfully satisfying breakfast of fresh figs and yogurt I decided to utilize the last of the season's blueberries in three coffeecakes, two for the freezer. The cakes, baked in eight-inch square pans are comprised of two thin layers of a light batter, the first topped with a generous covering of cinnamon sugar and the second layer topped with the berries,which had been tossed with some panko. Atop that, a streusel. They are delicious!! My next project was a "drunken fig jam", a delightful conserve to be served with cheese. I processed the jars so they needn't be refrigerated. A heady mixture due to the brandy-marinated fruit. Then, out of the kitchen and out to the garden to attack the onerous weeds and some serious deadheading.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

dinner with bill

It's always a pleasure to cook for my friend Bill, who loves food and has a hearty appetite. We started with  a salad  of just-harvested arugula, grown from Italian seed and with a piquant pepperiness. I dressed it with a fig vinaigrette, it's slight sweetness a nice counterpoint to the bitter green. Next, curried chicken with peaches, a perfect dish at this time of year with such a bounty of gorgeous peaches. I served it with rice and roasted pepper strips and put out small bowls of chutney and peanuts. Dessert was a plum tart, the glazed plum slices resting on a lemon shortbread crust. With the scent of the herbs growing just outside carried in by a nice breeze it was a perfect evening.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Saturday night dinner with friends

Good friends Jane and Jim were here for a casual dinner filled as usual when we're together with nonstop conversation and hearty appetites. We started with flatbread pizzas - I used naan - topped with herbed oil and a sprinkle of grey salt, then thin slices of baby eggplant, zucchini and new potato. Atop this,a generous sprinkling of torn basil leaves, more salt and a few turns of the pepper mill, and voila, a tasty and quickly baked appetizer to accompany chilled white wine. At the table, a salad of mixed greens, quarters of marvelously voluptuous fresh calimyrna figs and goat cheese, dressed with my favorite fig dresssing. The garden determined my main course, stuffed chard leaves, the stuffing made up of sauteed chard stems, onions and garlic mixed with drained ricotta, then baked with the lightest of tomato sauces, topped with grated parmesan. Accompanying this, cappelini with tarragon pesto and freshly picked wax beans dressed simply with thyme and olive oil and served at room temp. Dessert was an Italian olive oil and rosemary cake served with a few berries topped with limoncello flavored mascarpone cream. The weather was hot and humid, but in the cool of the house a good time was had by all.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

a summer lunch

August 9, 2012 My good friend came over on this hot and humid day to help with my computer and to have lunch. I wanted to prepare a quck and summery repast that would refresh and satisfy. I pan-grilled some vertical slices of pink skinned eggplant which I did not peel, some sliced young zucchini and a few large mushrooms. I added some corn, garlic and shallots. When it was all beautifully bronzed it went on an oval green and yellow platter decorated with raised ears of corn.I added some lusciously ripe quarters of apricot, sliced yellow tomatoes and cherry and plum tomatoes from the garden, good jarred Italian tuna, chunks of parmesan and a generous showering of basil, finished it off with a generous sprinkling of black pepper and grey salt and served the platter with a carafe of fragrant olive oil. Some grilled toasts completed our summer lunch. Perfect for this day, accompanied by lots of conversation with my good pal.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

a happy weekend

Last weekend was such a treat - my best friend came in from Brooklyn and we talked and cooked. Dinner for Saturday night, with three good friend and us was fun,delicious and full of the warmth that comes with friendship and lovingly prepared food. With drinks, belgian endive leaves and a green goddess dip. Dinner was oven fried fish - thick filets of haddock dipped first in milk, then panko seasoned with marjoram, thyme, salt and pepper and baked at a high temp. With this. a terrific slaw and old-fashioned potato salad, along with just-baked cornbread. Dessert, and indulgent it was, was a coffee ice cream pie on an almond meal crust, which had been painted with bittersweet chocolate. And, to gild the lily, more chocolate drizzled over the ice cream. A wonderful time was had by all

Thursday, February 9, 2012

a birthday dinner

Last night, a birthday dinner for a dear friend. Five of us gathered in the living room for drinks and a platter of fried bocconcini served with a bowl of spicy marinara. On to the dining room and a salad of thin-sliced green apple,celery and fennel with mache, dressed with a lemony vinaigrette and tossed with shredded basil, then topped with toasted,seasoned bread crumbs, grated parm and marcona almonds. A refreshing intro to the chicken cacciatora that included marinated green olives, fennel and freshly roasted red peppers. I served it with a saffron risooto mixed with sauteed mushrooms and crusty bread. The birthday dessert was an unrepentantly rich chocolate cheesecake. Lots of lively conversation, laughs and the warm satisfaction that comes with great friendship.