Tag Archives: Recipes

Odd Little Heirlooms

“I bought some salmon,” she said, as we were talking about meals for this busy week. “And feta.” I didn’t realize at first that she was talking about smoked salmon, so I didn’t make the connection right away; I didn’t realize she was talking about a salad she makes from salmon, feta, and soba noodles. Having caught on, I was completely in favor. It’s not something I’d ever had before we met, but I like it a lot; Neither one of us, in fact, could remember making it since we’d moved into the Country House. So it was very definitely time.

When we started our life together, we brought lots of things from our pasts. We spent a fair amount of time comparing and deciding which to keep—or sometimes both, and occasionally neither. There are some things that each of us brought that delight the other. How I ever lived without a wide-mouthed funnel is a great mystery to me. She used to hate driving, but loves being behind the wheel of the Prius.

We both brought recipes, too. Some from our families—her aunt Donna’s Lemon Squares are not to be trifled with!—and some we’d collected ourselves. And some from—well, where did they come from?

Salmon-Feta-Soba Salad

Cook the soba noodles according to package directions—usually about 7 minutes. That’s planty of time flake the 6-oz package of smoked salmon and to crumble the feta if it didn’t come that way already, and to chop a bunch of parsley. If it’s been an especially rough July and the parsley in the kitchen garden has wilted from too much sun and too little care, don’t beat yourself up; seven minutes is still plenty of time to see what you can use instead. One of you can harvest some chives from the pot on the porch while the other chops a cucumber, a couple of carrots, some tomatoes, a rib of celery, and, what the heck, a fat handful of kale that you chop and put into a steamer over the pot of noodles.

Then, not at all long after, when the noodles have been drained, combine everything in a big salad bowl; add a pepper to taste—you won’t need salt, since the salmon and feta bring plenty. Squeeze some lemon juice overtop if you feel like it. Maybe drizzle a little olive oil, too—but, really, no dressing is required.

At some length, we figured it out: this is a recipe she’d been introduced to by somebody she once thought she’d marry. That relationship didn’t work out—and much to our eventual and current happiness. But it’s the only recipe she could think of that she kept from that relationship—an unusual keepsake. An odd little heirloom.

This salad can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature. It’s hearty without being heavy; it’s nothing like any mayo-glopped pasta salad you’ve ever encountered. The bunch of parsley originally called for brings plenty of brightness; the assortment of vegetables I substituted were chosen for convenience and availability and because of the moisture they’d bring to balance the salty, fishy, buckwheat-y goodness brought by the original ingredients. But, really, use whatever you’ve got. If the tomatoes at hand are odd little heirlooms, they’ll be wonderful. But a handful of slightly-withered grape tomatoes from the supermarket will work, too.

Honor the past, be grateful for the present, look forward to the future.

No-fault Pasta

Painted in Waterlogue

A friend of ours got married on Sunday.

Another friend didn’t.

You get the idea, I think: those two friends once expected to be married to each other, and that marriage did not come to pass. Their relationship is not the point of this story; what is the point is that the friend who wasn’t putting on a tux this weekend wanted to have other things to think about than the friend who was putting on a pretty dress. We picked him up near relatives we were visiting and brought him home with us.

It was a perfect Sunday for a road trip: not too hot, not too humid, and lots of traffic. That might not seem like a good thing, but it gave my navigator an excuse to show her skills. We spent most of the day on back roads and small state routes that avoided the blockages and gave us much prettier scenery.

We stopped for lunch at a terrific—and uncrowded—place in a town I didn’t know anything about, and enjoyed grinders, salads, fish and chips and clam chowder, with a little Food Network in the background on the bar TV. We stopped at an outlet mall and did a little shopping, amusing ourselves greatly at the gender-stereotype-busting of the girl buying far less than the guys. Unfortunately, the stereo speakers I’d been looking for were out of stock. (Side note: Honey, I just ordered them from Amazon.)

By the time we got home and met the hungry cats, we were hungry, too, but not for anything big and heavy. And, remember, it was Sunday night—a veg box will arrive Tuesday morning, and there were still plenty of things in the crisper. While she made up the guest room, I chatted with our guest and made dinner. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but there was no question that it would contain plenty of vegetables. Sometimes you just have to start cooking and figure it out along the way.

No-Fault Pasta

Clearing out the crisper, discover:
1/2 lb. green beans
1/3 lb. asparagus
4 small cucumbers
half a bag of baby carrots brought home from someone’s lunch
4 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms
half a bunch of celery
1 celtuce
1 or 2 garlic scapes (Note that there are more, but that common decency suggests their judicious use–and that they still look plenty sturdy. Plan to regret this decision if next week’s box contains more.)

Elsewhere in the fridge, find:
A jar of chive vinegar
4 oz. chive-and-spinach pesto
a big hunk of parmesan cheese
a container of bite-sized mozzarella balls.

From the freezer, retrieve
4 oz. bulk Italian sausage

On the counter, catch sight of:
half a tub of week-old grape tomatoes, their skin just starting to wrinkle
the bottle of rosemary simple syrup used to sweeten the iced tea you took upstairs to the room-straightener.

From the pantry, retrieve:
A box of fettuccini

Note also the bounty of dill and oregano in the herb-garden-basket hung by the kitchen window.

Set a pot of salted water to boil.

Slice the cucumbers into a bowl, tossing with a couple teaspoons of the vinegar, a splash of rosemary simple syrup, and a couple of sprigs of dill from the kitchen garden.

Open a bottle of red wine; pour each of you a glass. Toast to friends, and to happiness. 

Rinse and trim the asparagus and green beans; cut them into bite-size pieces and toss in a big bowl. Don’t bother to dry them; instead, put a paper towel over the bowl; microwave 90 seconds to just-barely-steam the vegetables. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage; drain and remove.

Peel the celtuce as you would a broccoli stem; slice into coins about 1/4 inch thick. Taste raw, noting that it really does have a little celery flavor, but is much denser–almost like a water chestnut. Set aside.

When the water boils, add the fettuccini, stirring occasionally. (The clock is now ticking: finish everything else by the time the pasta cooks).

Dice an onion, which you’ve dispatched your guest to retrieve from the pantry-in-the-garage. Sauté it and a couple stalks of celery in a little olive oil until the onion is barely translucent. Finely slice the garlic scape and add it, along with the beans and asparagus; since they’re mostly cooked, the point is just to get everything combined without browning too much. Slice the baby carrots and add them; they’ll still be mostly crunchy when you’re done. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine. Clean and slice the mushrooms, but if your guest isn’t a fan of them, sauté them alone in a small skillet. (This is why stoves have several heating elements.)

Hand a hunk of cheese, the grater, and a collecting bowl to your guest.

Halve the grape tomatoes. When the sautéed vegetables are almost tender, add them to the skillet, along with the celtuce coins and the sausage. Toss to combine, then reduce the heat to low. Add 3 or 4 tbsp of the pesto to the center of the pan, but just let it sit on top to warm gently.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and divide into serving bowls.

Add a splash of the pasta water to the skillet; give everything a gentle toss to combine; taste and adjust seasoning, then spoon the seriously veggie sauce over the pasta. Add mushrooms or not. Sprinkle some fresh oregano on top, then let each diner add cheese to taste. Serve with the quick-pickled cucumbers.

Serves 3, who will be happy enough that everyone will forget about dessert.

If you’ve read more than one Dinner at the Country House post, you know perfectly well that this is not so much a recipe as a story about an adventure shared with others. If there had been chicken instead of sausage, I would have happily used that; if there had been no pesto, I might have used soy sauce and made rice instead of noodles. If any of a great many things had been different, I might have written about a wedding feast a couple years ago, rather than a not-wedding dinner last night, or served four instead of three, or gone to the movies by myself. It’s nobody’s fault. This is what happened. This is how we made the best of it. This is how we spent the day. This is how life goes on.

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Adaptation

Painted in WaterlogueAdaptation is a tricky business. What you change, or omit, when going from one medium to another may be the very thing that someone else loved about the original. What you add may be the ingredient that spoils the stew. Ask her sometime about the film versions of the Harry Potter stories. (But don’t do it if you don’t have time for a lengthy and passionate response.) Sometimes, though, the adaptation can surpass the original. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a campy, silly film; the TV series of the same name is delightfully fun but deepens the metaphor of adolescence-is-like-living-on-the-mouth-of-hell. Sometimes both can co-exist admirably: Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories aren’t diminished by the existence of the musical Fiddler on the Roof—and although the stage version by necessity leaves out many details from the original and alters others, the result is a coherent and highly satisfying work of dramatic and musical literature.

She loves muffins. Well, not all muffins; she’s not indiscriminate. Her favorite is an orange-cranberry muffin from our local market. Muffin is perhaps the wrong word; they’re shaped like small loaves, and come in a package of six. I like them, too, but find them a little too sweet, and a little too moist. I don’t mean to say that they’re not properly baked, but that they almost fall apart when you slice them. And toasting? Don’t turn your back on the skillet; they’ll burn in a heartbeat. But she likes them a lot, so as the weekend approached I planned to pick up a package.

And then it was Saturday morning, and I hadn’t. And she wanted to get started right away making applesauce from the half-bushel we’d bought at an orchard last weekend.

I made us coffee and tea, and helped with the peeling and coring—and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make orange-cranberry muffins, if only because we don’t have muffin tins. But we do have a loaf pan, and I know that it isn’t far from muffin to quick bread. So I compared a few recipes, thought about what I found lacking in the market’s cranberry-orange muffins, and set to work.

I used dried cranberries soaked in orange juice; substituted whole-wheat flour for a quarter of the usual all-purpose; added a quarter-cup each of old-fashioned oats and walnuts; and increased the liquid by a third and the leaveners by half. And, at risk of making anyone think I was trying to turn muffins into health food, I made a glaze of orange juice and confectioner’s sugar.

Cranberry-Orange Loaf

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Zest
1 orange

In a measuring cup or small bowl, soak for about half an hour
1-1/2 cups dried cranberries
in
1 cup orange juice (start with the orange you just tested, and go from there).

Sift together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In another bowl, whisk together until light:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
Then add to that same bowl
1 egg
Mix until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry; stir just to combine. Add the cranberries, zest, along with
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake about 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for about 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. 

If you want to gild the lily, mix together
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp orange juice (add more, a few drops at a time, until just spreadable)

Spread the cooled loaf with the glaze. Or don’t, if you’re feeling noble.

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This bread is heartier than the muffins—denser, but not heavy, just not as light as boxed-mix cake. It’s not a replacement, not a home-cook’s duplication of a store-bought item; it’s an adaptation.

I prefer Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady to Shaw’s Pygmalion, but that’s just me; if you like your Eliza Doolittle without songs, I won’t complain. If you want to debate with her the canon of Arthurian legend from Le Morte d’Arthur to Camelot, I won’t have much to add to the discussion, but I’ll happily serve coffee and tea while you do. And maybe muffins. Or perhaps an adaptation.

Sweater-weather Breakfast

Painted in Waterlogue

“You two like butter,” our next-door neighbor said, handing us a stack of recipes she’d torn from magazines. I’d say that seemed like an odd thing to say, but our neighbor has been described as “like the kooky neighbor from a sitcom.” It’s a pretty apt description. She pops in unexpectedly, often to vent about something that’s happened in her workday or with a story about her cat, then disappears just as fast. But she’s also a very faithful cat-sitter and a good friend. And she brings recipes.

They weren’t just recipes featuring butter, it turned out; they were recipes featuring brown butter. Tidying up papers around the dining room before starting a work-from-home day, she looked through the sheaf of pages and showed me one: Apple Cardamom Dutch Baby. “Could we make this on Saturday?” “Sure,” I said. “Or today.” (I had forgotten to start a pot of oatmeal last night, and didn’t have any better breakfast ideas.) She set up her work station and prepared for a conference call, and I got to work in the kitchen.

It took me a minute to find the cardamom. To be honest, it took me a minute to remember what cardamom is. I knew it wasn’t a kind of sweater, so it wouldn’t be in my closet. It was with the baking spices, of course. She’s organized the cupboards to keep the “cooking” spices separate from the “baking” spices, although in the case of cardamom it might well have been stored with the “mostly ignored” spices. The jar had a label from the market near the City House, so it surely wasn’t optimally fresh. Still, it smelled interesting, so I decided to use it.

While the butter browned-but-did-not-scorch, I assembled the rest of the ingredients and whisked together the batter; the baking time neatly coincided with the rest of her phone meeting.

Dutch Baby is one of those dishes that always looks great in recipes, but often disappoints me on the plate. The pancake comes out of the oven brilliantly inflated, but collapses in the seconds it takes to serve it, leaving a dense, too-sweet mass. This one was different. The brown butter brought toasty notes; the cardamom was tart and earthy; and the apples, soft but not mushy, gave the pancake more substance than a jelly-topped version would.

I don’t know how long our neighbor had been gathering the recipes, but I’m glad she brought them to us when she did. With the leaves starting to turn in our part of New England, the cool nights and crisp mornings, and the sweaters coming out of storage, it’s perfect brown butter time. It’s probably time to buy some fresh cardamom, too; we’ll be  be making this again.

Apple Cardamom Dutch Baby
Adapted from a page torn from Martha Stewart Living magazine (sorry, the page didn’t have a date)

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 medium-sized crisp apple (Honeycrisp, Gala, Granny Smith–whatever you like, but something that won’t turn to mush)
  • Sour creme or plain yogurt for serving

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, brown the butter–stirring occasionally, to make sure it doesn’t burn, and to make sure the bottom of the pan is coated. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cardamom.

Peel and core the apple, and slice about 1/8 inch thick.

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy. (I used an immersion blender in a 1-quart plastic tub.) Add the salt, vanilla, and flour, and 1 tbsp of the cardamom sugar, and whisk to combine. (The batter will be thin.)

Lay the apple slices gently in the hot pan; pour the batter over the apples, then bake about 20 minutes until puffy and golden.

Sprinkle with the remaining sugar, cut into wedges, and serve immediately, garnished with a little sour creme or yogurt.

Don’t Fritter, Don’t Waffle, and Definitely Don’t Disappoint

Painted in Waterlogue

I used to joke that if I wanted to change careers, I could become an interior decorator for extremely patient clients. I could look at every towel rack in a three-county area before choosing one. Sometimes I have a problem being decisive.

I love lasagne. But I hardly ever order it in a restaurant, because I’m always disappointed. It never comes out of the kitchen the way I think it ought to. I’m looking for thick, sturdy layers of noodles and fillings and cheese—the important word being sturdy. I expect it to have the structural integrity of a slice of cake, not a messy plate of pasta.

Similarly, I love apple fritters. Or, at least, I love the idea of apple fritters. Chopped apples, held together by a little dough, fried and lightly glazed. On those rare occasions I go to the donut shop, I choose one, thinking, this will be great! And better than just a donut. What do I get? A pile of glaze-covered dough, in which you’d need a geiger counter to find the apples. Or, if I’m lucky, a gloppy spoonful of canned apple pie filling.

I have no problem with a nice glazed donut. I like apple pie (though I’d prefer the filling not come from a can). But that’s not what I’m looking for.

This, however, is.

Apple Decisive
(no waffling, no frittering)

Pre-heat a waffle iron and coat lightly with non-stick spray.
Set a cooling rack over a section of the newspaper you weren’t going to read anyway.

Combine in a large bowl:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine in a small bowl:
1 cup milk

1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Make a well in the dry ingredients and stir in the wet, mixing just enough to combine, then fold in
3 cups chopped apples
(That seems like a lot, but apple is the star; pastry is the supporting player.)

Spoon the mixture, which will be thick and chunky, into the waffle iron and bake until golden brown and immensely fragrant. Remove each Decisive to the rack.

Mix in a small bowl:
4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons apple cider (a few drops more, as needed)

If you want the glaze to set up, beautiful and shiny, wait ’til the Decisives are cool to apply it. We chose not to wait that long.

It is possible that the lasagne I’ve been getting in restaurants is exactly as it is meant to be, and the stuff I make is the casserole of a Philistine. It is possible that a Fritter is supposed to be a fried lump of dough faintly smelling of apple. I don’t care.

It might take a while for me to pick a towel rack, but when it comes to Sunday breakfast, I’m being decisive.

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Not So Fast

IMG_0092Although my Lenten Friday lunch was delicious and made from ingredients-on-hand, it didn’t mean I had no intention of not buying groceries or cooking something wonderful, or even going out for dinner sometime. Especially since it was the Friday before our first Valentine’s Day as newlyweds–and doubly-especially since my Valentine’s Day itself was overscheduled with church, a condo association meeting, and a long evening rehearsal.

I left my office when she left hers, and headed out to do some marketing. (Her commute is much longer than mine; I knew it allowed for errands.) By the time her train was approaching the station, I had developed a dinner idea and sourced the few ingredients I knew we didn’t have–and found and installed a new bathroom shower-head (her real Valentine’s surprise).

While she decompressed from the workday and warmed up from the frigid outdoors, I cleaned a half-pound of shrimp, then tossed the shrimp with the juice of a lime, a pinch each of salt and chili powder, and a shot of tequila. While the shrimp marinated, I grated some cheese, chopped a handful of cilantro, mashed an avocado, and found a jar of her excellent salsa in the cupboard.

She made a salad while I gave the shrimp few moments in a hot cast-iron skillet–seriously moments; it was maybe a minute-thirty tops. I chopped the shrimp roughly and started making assembling quesadillas. A tortilla, some grated cheese, a bit of shrimp, a little more cheese, a second tortilla; flip carefully to lightly brown the second side and melt the rest of the cheese.  I slid the finished product onto a plate and stashed it in a warm oven while I repeated the process, then sliced each double-disc of cheesy, shrimpy goodness into wedges, and plated the wedges with dabs of avocado, sour creme, and salsa for topping.

She took a bite and mmmmmmmdd pretty expansively. I took that as a good sign. “Dinner’s okay?” I asked. “Omigod,” she said. Leaving theology out of it, I joked, “It’s just a grilled cheese sandwich.”

“It is not just a grilled cheese sandwich.”

“Well, no. There’s seafood. And a white sauce. It’s just a few breadcrumbs away from being a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish!” She grimaced.

Of course, it wasn’t really that either. But it wasn’t much harder to make than it would be to get a fish sandwich from a drive-through. And it was much better.

It wasn’t fasting, and it wasn’t fast food. There wasn’t much of the sacrificial about this meal—abstinence in name only, but we never said we’d be ascetic. We were grateful to be well-fed, and grateful to be together.

 

 

Travel

There’s a song we sing at the beginning of every car trip–well, every trip that’s longer than an excursion to the grocery store. The song is from a musical I’ve never seen, based on a Rumor Godden novel I haven’t read, but I love the original cast recording. The song is great fun to sing as we venture down whatever highway is next.

Take me where you want to go, make it anywhere at all…

A weekend jaunt to Paris would be nice.  Christmas in the Bahamas sounds like fun.  A marathon run along the Great Wall of China would certainly be memorable.  But those destinations and a thousand more are still a little out of reach.  We’ve gone to the theatre many times, visited family and friends, and become regulars at Home Depot, but time, energy, and budget have not yet permitted more extravagant travel.

For my birthday, she gave me a subscription to a service called Taste the World.  Every two months for a year, we’ll receive a package that takes us on a virtual-culinary visit to someplace new.  In addition to food, each trip-in-a-box contains recipes, cultural information, and a playlist of appropriate music. Of course we could go to a French or Szechwan or Ethiopian restaurant, but cooking with the ingredients ourselves seems more fun than choosing something from a menu.

The first box arrived. It’s very classy looking, about 8 inches square and 4 inches tall, pale green in a shade that reminds me of Tiffany blue–but maybe I’m thinking of jewelry stores more than usual these days. We opened the box with anticipation. We’re going to Marrakesh!

The box contained organic couscous, orange-peel cookies, tinned sardines, kefta rub, couscous sauce, and culinary Argan oil.

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The accompanying booklet was filled with poetry, beautiful photographs, a link to the on-line playlist, and a few recipes. Oddly, they weren’t recipes that call for the items in the box.

We put the booklet aside, ported the playlist to the stereo, and figured out what to do for dinner.

The couscous was simple enough: toast it in a dry pan, add some boiling water, cover, and wait, then fluff with a fork.

I was a little disappointed in finding pre-made sauce–at first thought, it seemed like using a jar of Ragu to represent a trip to Italy. But there was a time when tomato sauce was exotic to American cooks, so I tempered my expectations and opened the jar. The sauce was sweet, a little smoky, and a little tangy, tomato-based and fairly thin. Pouring it over couscous alone sounded awfully boring, and not much of a main dish.  She doesn’t like sardines–and after my tinned-fish pizza experience, I wasn’t game for them either–so I pulled some chicken out of the fridge and simmered it in the sauce along with a little onion and red pepper.  Chick peas would have been appropriate, too, but we only had dry ones at hand and didn’t want to wait until morning for dinner.  I chopped some spinach and added it, too–there should be greens! She was concerned that it was such a lot of spinach, but it cooked down to almost nothing in no time flat.

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Dinner was great. Was it authentic? I don’t know. We poured a jar of sauce into a pan and cooked some chicken and vegetables in it. We probably had all the ingredients for the sauce in our pantry, though we might not have used them in the same combination. (Without a recipe, who knows?) The couscous tasted like any other couscous I’ve had–microscopic grains of pasta. We didn’t use the kefta rub on the chicken, fearing the sauce would be too spicy. The argan oil will wait for a day when we have flatbread in the house.

The orange cookies were breakfast on Saturday morning. They’re cute little things, looking as much like dog biscuits as treats for people–dense and grainy, made partly from almond flour, faintly sweet and nuttily fragrant, with a piece of candied orange peel in the center. They were fun, served with a ramekin of whipped cream for dipping. I wouldn’t buy them from a market shelf, but they might be fun to make if we had a recipe.

Based on this box, I’m not inclined to call my travel agent and book a trip to Marrakesh. Based on this box, I might not even be really inclined to order a second Taste the World box. But I do look forward to finding out what’s in the next one, and to where we might “go.” And to where we might go.

As the boat says to the river…

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