In which I choose my own adventure…

I did a little home re-org yesterday, and here is a picture of something that makes me really happy…

there they are...

there they are...

All my cookbooks, right where they belong, all together in one colorful little community of knowledge. I can reach all of them, and more importantly, I can just look at them all the time. Yay. Moving all the cookbooks also made room for this…

improved accessibility

improved accessibility

And lastly, one more pic of my favorite new kitchen toy. It really has taken to its new home…also please note the jungle growing right on the table, my aunt trimmed more sage than I could ever use from her garden yesterday, and brought it over to me…now I have to come up with a fabulous way to use it…

like it's been there forever

like it's been there forever

And there you go, even though you never asked, you received a tour of my apartment. You are welcome. I’m such a giver. It’s my blog, I can do that if I want to.

Now, onto the good stuff. I have some excellent friends. One of them, good old Meredith, is staying with me for a month until she closes on her exciting new condo in Salem, yay for her! Another, Jeremy, is headed for greener pastures today, so we decided to have a little dinner last night to hang out before J left. I went down to the fish market and found these…

Cod

Cod

I decided to cook them in parchment packets, or en papillote en francaise. Parchment cooking is like a choose your own adventure book. Most anything goes, and you can work with what you have on hand. I also picked up some littlenecks from the market, and the rest of the ingredients came from stuff I already had. Except for these…

just a few hours old...

just a few hours old...

My aunt brought these over yesterday. She picked them from her garden a few hours before, little skinny leeks with dirt still on them, that were perfect for my cod packages…I had some lemon, potatoes, and tomatoes, and I was in business. They all go into the package with the cod, a little olive oil and a splash of white wine, and plenty of salt and pepper…there is nothing easier…

ready to go...

ready to go...

pack it up...

pack it up...

These went onto a cookie sheet that had been preheated in a 400 degree oven. You want to make sure the parchment is sealed so the steam can’t escape during cooking…

boats of deliciousness.

boats of deliciousness.

I cooked these for 22 minutes to start. I ended up sticking them back in for another five, because of the potatoes and clams, which took a bit longer than the other stuff. I still probably should have cut the potatoes a bit smaller, and I may have gone with cockles instead of littlenecks, as they are smaller, and the clams and potatoes were not quite as done as I would have liked.

steamy...

steamy...

delectable...

delectable...

They came out great. The fish was cooked really nicely, the broth in the bottom of the packet was great. Really tasty, really easy and healthy! The littlenecks have a great flavor, and taste so different from the cod, and it is a great contrast. And these could really be done so many different ways. You could add any variation on the vegetables, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, spinach. You could do it with Asian flavors: rice vinegar, soy sauce, scallions, grated ginger, bok choy, miso; Italian: fresh oregano, tomatoes, lemon, fennel, rosemary, garlic; Indian: curry powder, cauliflower, some lentils; French: butter, garlic, thyme, shallots, a little cream. The opportunities are endless. Easy, versatile, delicious, might become a regular. I could post a recipe, but there isn’t really one, so I will just tell you exactly what I used:

Cod En Papillote (serves 3)

3 6 oz. cod fillets

24 littlenecks

5 small new potatoes, cut into eighths

2 plum tomatoes, cut in a large dice

4 skinny leeks or scallions, cut in 2 inch lengths and halved lengthwise

One lemon cut into sixths

3 tbls olive oil

6 tbls white wine

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven and a cookie sheet to 400 degrees. Salt and pepper each cod fillet liberally. Lay each cod fillet on a piece of parchment about 18″ in length. Portion the potatoes, tomatoes, leeks, lemon and littlenecks equally in each packet. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and two tablespoons of wine to each packet, sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper, and seal the parchment to prevent the escape of steam. Put the packets on the hot cookie sheet, and cook for 22 minutes. Remove from the oven and test for fish and vegetable doneness. Place each packet on a plate and open the top of the parchment to serve.

In which I eat only vegetables, and I like it…

So I finally had my hours of chicken stock simmering come to fruition with udon noodles for lunch yesterday…

so simple and so delish

so simple and so delish

I found “fresh” (fresh meaning not dried, but in vacuum sealed packages at Costco, so not like, fresh out of a Japanese chef’s kitchen fresh, more like Bertolli pasta that you find in the refrigerated section of the grocery store fresh) udon noodles a while back, and snapped them up, because dried udon is never as pillowy and slippery as “fresh.” They aren’t bad at all, actually, and I think I will get them again next time I head out on one of my bulk warehouse store runs. I took some of my chicken stock that had simmered down enough to make it gelatinous when cold – precisely what I was going for – and brought it to a boil, added some soy sauce, grated some fresh ginger into it, and some chopped scallion greens, and added the noodles. I cooked them until they were heated through, and voila! Lunch! Yesterday was a Thursday, and I am not typically home on a Thursday with my stove and pans and fresh scallions at my disposal, but I had forgotten to bring a wayward router that needed to be sent back to work with me yesterday, so I ran home (I live close to work, which is quite lovely) to pick it up and made myself lunch. I repeated the process this morning and brought my concoction with me to reheat today, and it was delightful. There is still plenty of stock to make wonton soup this weekend. Perhaps Sunday. Not tomorrow though, because tomorrow I will be enjoying the really crappy and rainy weather with my friends the Allman Brothers, tailgating and concert going at an outdoor venue. All day. In the rain. Zoinks. I don’t remember the last time I tailgated all day at a concert under the best of circumstances, and tomorrow, at the ripe old age of 30, I will be tailgating for an Allman Brothers concert. In the rain. All day. But I’ll have chicken wings! And that means I will blog about the food adventure. Oh sweet, I just checked the weather. You know what Sunday is supposed to be like? Gorgeous and 80. I don’t have plans to tailgate on Sunday. Just Saturday. Awesome.

Anywho, the udon was delightful, and would be even more so with the addition of some shredded chicken perhaps, or some bok choy or cabbage or the like. That would be dinner worthy.

Next up, vegetables for dinner, but first, these…

The boys and girls of summer...

The boys and girls of summer...

a little closer...

a little closer...

How stunning are they? I want to wallpaper my house with pictures of these beauties. All my favorite colors right there in food form. Gorgeous. They were going to be halved and dressed with tomato vinaigrette to accompany the corn fritters for dinner.

I went back to the well that is Local Flavors by Deborah Madison for the corn fritters recipe. These are fritters in that they have egg and flour in them, but they are not excessively battery-in fact, they are really mostly corn. Very little batter at all. Just enough to barely keep them together when fried, and enough to give them just a hint of comfort food. They have a ton of fresh herbiness and cheese finishes it off. Very satisfying while not being overly filling or fried feeling…

the canvas...

the canvas...

the batter...

the batter...

The result.

The result.

These were tasty, and I didn’t miss a traditional protein at all. They were also really really pretty to look at. Because the tomatoes were heirloom and not bright red, it wasn’t quite as colorful as I had pictured, since the tomatoes didn’t stand out on top of the corn, but I wouldn’t trade the heirlooms for anything, and I could have added some greens to make the colors pop easily. This would be great for brunch or lunch, and they could be served as a side if you needed to have a meat to complete the meal. Shrimp would be great with this. I loved the herbs here. They looked great and were really tasty. I used dill and parsley. You could swap the dill out for basil or something else if you wanted, but I adore dill, and I love it with corn, so I went with that. And now, because its Friday, and because I think it would be nice, and because, ultimately, I think people would like it, and I am nothing if not a people pleaser, I am going to include the actual recipe for Corn Fritters with Tomato Shallot Vinaigrette. Without further ado…

Corn Fritters

Adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

 

3-4 cups of corn kernels (from 4-6 ears of corn)

4 scallions – whites and about an inch of greens, finely chopped

2 tbls chopped dill

¼ cup chopped parsley

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese (aged is even better!)

2-3 eggs

1/3 to ½ cup all purpose flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Butter or oil (or a combination of the two) for pan frying

Cut the kernels off enough ears of corn to get three to four cups. (The book was more specific. It said to cut the top of the kernels off six ears of corn to get three cups. It also said to then go back over the cobs with the back of your knife to scrape out the “milk.” I recently sharpened my knife, and there was no cutting off of just the tops of the kernels. My knife went to town and I ended up with whole kernels in there, which was fine by me, but it meant I needed less than six ears of corn to get the requisite three cups-I needed four to get four cups-but it also meant that the milk came with the kernels, so there was no need to scrape. I am not sure what Deborah would say to this, but I think it worked out just fine. The additional corn is why the egg and flour amounts are not right on. I am trying with these recipes people, just work with me at the beginning here.) Add the scallions, herbs, cheese, salt and pepper to the corn. Beat two eggs together, and add them to the corn mixture. If it still seems too dry (but mind you, we are not looking for a liqudy mixture at all, we just want all the corn to be coated with egg) beat another egg and add that to the mixture as well. Start with 1/3 cup of the flour and add that to the mixture. If the batter absorbs the flour easily, and looks like it could handle more, add a bit more, until the batter holds together when scooped.

Add a couple of tablespoons of butter, and enough oil to reach about 1/4 inch depth to a frying pan. The goal is not to deep fry,  but these won’t give off any fat of their own, and we need enough oil/butter so they don’t stick. Heat the frying pan over medium high heat, and then add about a half cup of the mixture to the frying pan and press down a bit to make a pancake shape. I used my 10″ pan and was able to fry two at a time. Fry for two or three minutes on the first side, until the fritter is able to be flipped easily, and then flip and fry the other side. Both sides should be brown and caramelized. I made four fritters and saved the rest of the batter to use this weekend.

Meanwhile, in another frying pan, I melted a pat of butter and a  bit of olive oil over medium heat. I added one small shallot that I had minced, and let it soften, then added about a 1/4 cup of sherry vinegar. Balsamic would work as well. I let that reduce for a minute or two, added one more small pat of butter, and poured it over the tomatoes and some shredded basil to wilt them a little bit.

I dressed the fritters with the warm tomato dressing and poured a lovely glass of gruner veltliner, and dinner was served…

A close up...very high corn to batter ratio.

A close up...very high corn to batter ratio.

PS: WordPress spell check is bananas. It was trying to tell me that yesterday was spelled incorrectly, because in all the places that “yesterday” was written, it refused to acknowledge that a “y” was there, and didn’t know the word “esterday.” It does this a lot. But the words gruner veltliner? Didn’t flinch. And they might actually be spelled wrong! Like I said, bananas.

In which I eat my words…

I was standing around, making some crepes and stir frying up some shrimp, and getting ready to tell you that scallion crepes with stir fried shrimp and pea greens was stupid and wretched and not worth it and kind of a bust, and then I ate it. It is none of those things. Well, it may not be totally worth it, but it is pretty tasty. The shrimp and greens were easy peasy, the crepes, less so, Crepes are finicky and easier to mess up than get right, though I think if you go into making them knowing this, which I totally should have, since I have made crepes before, then you will have the patience and wherewithal to make this happen without too much difficulty.

This dinner came together from a couple different sources. The crepes came from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison. I am a carnivore – rather I would say I am an omnivore. I am a believer in the food chain. We are lucky enough to be at the top of it, and as long as the creatures are treated humanely I don’t have guilt about eating them. If evolution turns the tables on the food chain, and we are no longer at the top, I will attempt to build a community on the moon where we can once again reign supreme. Join me, won’t you? For real though, I do my very best to avoid factory farmed meat, both because of the way the animals are treated and because of they way they taste, which is pretty much like nothing, but I am very aware that that stance is an expensive and inconvenient luxury-and also sometimes I like a Micky D’s double cheeseburger. I am a study in contrasts. All this rambling had a point that was actually related to the cookbook I was using last night, and the point is this: Local Flavors is a mostly vegetarian cookbook, since it focuses on the vegetables you find a local farmers markets, so I went it to it with a healthy amount of skepticism, but the book is amazing. All of the recipes are enticing and great sounding and totally made me forget that I was only reading about vegetables. That is to say it was magical. And now, because there has been far too much chatter, and I am not ready to show the pics of what I actually made last night since I have lots more chattering about that to do, I am going to include a totally unrelated picture so I don’t lose any of you…

Saturday breakfast

Saturday breakfast

Ahh, that’s better. Stay with me people.

So the shrimp portion of the meal came from The Chinese Kitchen by Yin-Fei Lo. The crepes came first, and the idea in Local Flavors was to stir fry bok choy and pea greens to go with, which sounded lovely, but again, omnivore, and a meat-type protein was missing, so I thought of shrimp, and went looking for a good stir fry recipe . The Chinese Kitchen is lovely and they had just such a recipe. Actually it was shrimp stir fried with bok choy, and I bought bok choy the other day, but I am saving it for wonton or udon noodle soup with my chicken stock (it is supposed to get cooler at the end of the week, so I’ve been told, I’ll believe it when I see it.) I also had pea shoots, and I love the way they taste, so I thought I would use those. It was a pretty good idea, as they came out nicely.

The crepe batter comes together easily, you just throw everything in a blender until it’s mixed up. You need to chop scallions fairly small to sprinkle on there once the crepe is in the pan, but the batter is definitely not the difficult part. Crepe batter is really thin, and, ideally, a thin layer coats the whole bottom of the pan and cooks really quickly. Almost always you lose the first two because the pan is too hot or not oiled enough, but you can usually get the logistics perfect after one or two IF YOU ARE PATIENT. Last night was a week night, a MONDAY night even. I wasn’t patient. Only the last two stupid crepes came out of the EIGHT I made. This is totally my own fault. I could have mitigated this circumstance by not being a total impatient stress case. I have made many a successful crepe before. Blerg. The first one looked so promising and innocent in the pan…

making me complacent...

making me complacent...

I will say, there is a bit too much batter in the pan, that was my first mistake, but I was following the instructions, and they were a little off. I will not show you what an unholy mess this turned out to be, as I am too embarrassed and didn’t take pictures, but nevertheless, by the time I got around to the seventh and eighth crepe, I was in business (photo to follow) and the messed up ones were really very good to pick at as the disaster was unfolding.

On to the stir fry. Really really easy and straightforward, in fact here are the key ingredients…

stir fry mis en place

stir fry mis en place

On the right there is garlic and ginger, and then about a half pound of shrimp, some pea shoots and a sauce that consisted of soy sauce, cornstarch, sesame oil and chicken stock (which just happened to be simmering away on the next burner…needed some more time to get chicken-y.) Stir frying happens quickly so it all has to be ready before you start. Hot pan, add the oil, add the aromatics, cook for ten seconds, add the shrimp, turn when they start to get pink, add the pea shoots and the sauce, let sauce thicken for a minute, done. The crepes were in the low heat toaster oven while I was cooking the shrimp, I pulled the crepes out, set them on a plate, and dispersed the shrimp between the two. I only needed one to fill me up, and I kept the other for lunch, but larger appetites, or someone that didn’t stuff their face with the messed up crepes before cooking was finished might need two…

tasty, but not for the impatient...

tasty, but not for the impatient...

The overall download on this dish is that I would make it again, but I would be more patient and particular about getting the temperature of the pan for the crepes right after the first misstep, and then I would be in business…and I will definitely do the shrimp again with some rice or udon or something.

In which I love a good Sunday…

Yesterday was ultimately pretty productive, I wore my eye mask to bed Saturday night, so I slept until about 9. This is not classically productive, but I desperately needed sleep, so I am checking “got appropriate amount of sleep” off my list, and if I can check it off my list, it means productivity. Then I engaged it my most favorite Sunday morning activity-I watched CBS Sunday Morning.Again, it may not sound super productive, but I learn stuff, so I totally count it. Like, for instance, I learned that Wilco’s lead singer and songwriter is an oldish guy, which I didn’t expect. I also learned that they have never had a commercial hit – shame on you commercial radio. All the thinking about Wilco made me want to listen to it, which made me think of my iPod, which made me think of my kitchen, since that is where my iPod is, which makes me think of cooking, and I was thusly motivated.

I have not blogged for a week, and I am feeling some guilt about that. Last week was not a good cooking week. I made a beet carpaccio one night that I didn’t love and that didn’t photograph particularly well, though it had a ginger miso vinaigrette that I will be making again. Other than that, not so much with the cooking. But I did get THIS…

my new favorite thing...

my new favorite thing...

I am so very excited about my new kitchen table. So excited, in fact, that I ignored the very prominent instructions to wait until I had two adults to put it together. I don’t have two adults hanging around here, and patience is a virtue, but it doesn’t happen to be one of mine, so I wrestled with some heavy furniture and got it set up. No major mishaps, though I now have bruises that make me look like I have been beaten about the legs by a popsicle stick wielding garden gnome. A small price to pay for my fantastic new toy. Perfect for holding cookbooks that I am using so they don’t take up my limited counter space, and it is close to the window so it provides an excellent backdrop for using the macro function on my camera in the natural daylight (thanks for the tip, Bhavani!) I have been practicing this new method a lot, here are some of the shots…

a close up

a close up

really close up...

really close up...

pretty pretty

pretty pretty

still life with garlic

still life with garlic

The macro function gets two very enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

Anyway-yesterday. I pulled out my copy of Deborah Madison’s Local Flavorsand I have no idea why I haven’t done this before. The book is about all the delightfulness you can find at farmers’ markets, and the recipes are fantastic, and because of the lack of blogging and residual guilt, I planned several things to make this week and headed out to the store to stock up. I tried to be very good, because I have this disease that makes me buy all sorts of things that I don’t need every time I walk into a grocery store. I was pretty good yesterday and only came home with a couple of things that weren’t on the list. One of which was soba noodles. Add it to my never ending collection of Asian noodles that could feed a large family, were there ever a need to feed a large family with Asian noodles.

I also ended up with this…

come to mama

come to mama

A tartare was in order…

I love love love tuna tartare. I cut the tuna into a rough dice – rustic we’ll call it, because it sounds nicer. I also peeled, seeded and chopped half a small cucumber to toss in with it for textural purposes. I made a dressing with shiro miso (2 tsp), soy (2 tsp), mirin (1 tsp), rice vinegar (1 tsp), siracha (1 tsp) and ginger (not sure, just grated a bit right into the dressing). I juiced one not so juicy lemon over the tuna and cucumber, and sprinkled with a bit of salt and some chopped green onions, and then tossed it with the dressing. I fried up some wantons to use as a vehicle, and diced half an avocado to serve with it…Behold.

mmmmmm...

mmmmmm...

This was a fantastic little Sunday snack, though I will probably cut back a little on the siracha next time. There was definitely some residual heat, which I am not always a huge fan of, but it wasn’t too much even for me, so if you like that, keep the siracha proportions the way they are. There is some leftover, and since tuna tartare doesn’t really stick around long, I will having the leftovers for lunch today. Not a bad Monday bonus.

Also on the docket for Sunday afternoon: chicken stock. Chicken stock is one of those things I feel guilty buying because it is quite easy to make, and pretty much every chef and cookbook in the world tells you that you are a total idiot if you don’t make and freeze your own chicken stock because it is SOOOO easy, and SOOO much better than anything you can buy, so ok, fine. I figured I would make a lot because I want to make some wonton soup this week (perfect for this heat wave!) and I want to have some left over, so that the chefs and cookbook authors don’t make me feel shameful when I look into my devoid of chicken stock freezer. No more!

Everyone of those chefs and cookbook authors have their own method of making chicken stock, but I read somewhere that for a white chicken stock (one that uses raw chicken rather than bones from a cooked chicken) that chicken wings have the best bone-collagen-skin-fat-meat ratio for stock, or something. I have no idea if this is true, but chicken wings are pretty cheap and I have thus far been pleased with the results. I used about 3.5 lbs of chicken wings and my 12 qt stock pot. I filled the pot with water and the wings and brought it to a boil, and then drained the chicken wings and cleaned out the pot. This apparently gets rid of a lot of the chicken sludge that has to be skimmed off the top of a stock. The chicken goes back into the pot with water, carrots, garlic, celery and onion (in this case, green, as I thought it was a bit more asian-y.)

ready for duty.

ready for duty.

The amount of celery, green onions, garlic and carrots I added was based on the very precise measurement of what I had in the fridge yesterday, in case you are writing this down. I also added some bay leaves and whole peppercorns, and then for this particular stock, I added a couple decent sized pieces of peeled ginger and some lemongrass. I would suggest getting some stalks of lemongrass and cutting them into pieces, but my friendly neighborhood grocery didn’t have any, so I had to use the dried lemongrass that I had in my cabinet, and I didn’t have any cheesecloth to wrap it into a little bundle so I just had to dump it in. I do not recommend this method-it is going to be a pain in the a to strain this stock, but I’ll deal with that when the time comes…

mmm, stock-y

mmm, stock-y (see all that lemongrass floating around in there? blerg.)

I brought it to a boil and let it simmer for about an hour, and then I was going out, so I turned off the burner and let it cool on the stove. I refrigerated it overnight after it was cool. I will taste it today and decide if it needs some more simmering.

Tonight-finishing the stock and scallion crepes with sir fried shrimp and pea shoots. Just because. And I leave you with another gratuitous tuna tartare shot. Because I can.

scrumpty...

scrumpty...just look at all that macro-ness

In which we remember…

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray you, love, remember!" - Hamlet

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray you, love, remember!" - Hamlet

Crazy week this week. Interns in the office, social events to attend, mysterious inability to sleep very well, and desserts for 75 to make. Friday I did my grocery shopping for the desserts, and then decided to make my new favorite quick dinner. Garlic Scallion Noodles from here,  they can’t possibly be good for me, but it is quick and super delicious.

Starts with butter, then saute garlic and scallions, until aromatics are soft, making sure not to burn them…

The greatest smell in the world...

The greatest smell in the world...

Add brown sugar, oyster sauce and fish sauce…

doesn't look like much yet...

doesn't look like much yet...

Stir together to make a sauce and cook for a minute or two, and then add some egg noodles that you have soaked.

takin a bath...

takin a bath...

Toss in the sauce and cook for a minute or two to combine. Plate and serve…

oh boy...

oh boy...

Kind of monotone, but beware, this stuff is addictive. Garlicky and kind of sweetish, and VERY comforting…butter, sugar, garlic, carbs…awesome. This picture is better if you really want to be tantalized…

Then there were desserts.

I needed to make a couple of different options, and I planned on making about two per person. I decided on small pound cakes that could be sliced and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, miniature tarts (not this size, unfortunately-but I didn’t have to buy a new pan or anything) with lemon curd and blueberries, and a couple of variations on the slice and bake cookie idea from here. I did lemon poppy seed and mini chocolate chip. I also made Dorie Greenspan’sWorld Peace Cookies, which I have been dying to try for awhile and they were WELL worth it. They are delicious. Chocolatey, with chocolate pieces and a sea salt finish that is unbelievable. They all came out pretty well, and none were on their own particularly time consuming, but since I was totally exhausted (not from the baking, mind you, from the carousing and lack of sleep) and on the verge of tears (I am like a small child – I am a very cranky tired person – and you don’t want to see me hungry, meltdown city) this was not as enjoyable an experience as it usually is. However, I persevered, and had way more sweets than I needed for the reception…some examples.

The tarts

The tarts

The mini chips

The mini chips

The whole shebang

The whole shebang

My aunt did the most gorgeous cheese tray, and my pops brought some delicious bruschetta (and all of the wine…I just love when he visits!!)

I would like to live on that tray.

I would like to live on that tray.

a splash of color

a splash of color

When the reception was over we went down to my Gram’s apartment for dinner with the fam. It started with this…

Shellfish nirvana

Shellfish nirvana

You have to watch your fingers around shellfish at a Hargraves gathering. You are likely to lose one or two if you get to close to the raw bar, the way the vultures circle. Move quickly, stock up and step away.

To cap off the weekend, I had a Sunday Funday on the TestaRossa with my aunt, uncle and cousin.

My new favorite way to spend a Sunday...

My new favorite way to spend a Sunday...

Johnny Depp was also there…

The Vajoliroja

The Vajoliroja

Just kidding, we didn’t actually see him, but that is his boat, parked in Charlestown, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I love pretending I am a boat person. Boat people are cool.

And we had some delicious boat snacks…

Add a margarita, and all is right with the world...

Add a margarita, and all is right with the world...

We don’t mess around on the TestaRossa. Food is definitely not an afterthought. Which is as it should be. I have now enjoyed clams, oysters, shrimp, sausages, crudites, lamb sandwiches, rolled flank steak, arugula and goat cheese wraps and some delightful beverages aboard the TestaRossa at one time or another…doesn’t get better than that. Grampie would have loved it. We will miss him.

In which I go running and have a salad for dinner…

It’s like  bizarro world up in here. I am not sure what came over me tonight, but I am not going to question it. If I spend too much time wondering about the motivation, it might go away.

I had a craving for a caesar salad (or is it Caesar Salad, or Caesar’s Salad?) The dressing is pretty easy to whip up in the blender, and I knew I had everything but the croutons. I ran down to the new pasta store to pick up a baguette – I had to pay in quarters because I had broken all my bills to do laundry (most. productive. night. ever.) luckily my friendly mozzarella making man was working, and he didn’t mind, I was only mildly embarrassed.

I toasted the bread for croutons.

croutons

croutons

Caesar dressing is anchovies (don’t tell my mom) garlic, egg yolk, dijon, lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper and olive oil. It emulsifies and gets creamy and delicious.

Hail Ceasar!

Hail Caesar!

I like to keep the romaine leaves whole, for aesthetics mostly, they are pretty when they are whole.

rabbit food

rabbit food

I tossed the leaves and the croutons with the dressing, and shaved Parmesan on top. It was delicious and light and perfect for a hot night with a glass of wine.

The whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts...

The whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts...

ready for its closeup...tastes great, less filling

ready for its closeup...tastes great, less filling

Now I am sitting on the couch, listening to the thunder, staring at a mountain of laundry that needs to be folded, and trying not sweat my face off. My next adventure is preparing dessert for 75 people for Grampie’s memorial reception on Saturday. It should be an adventure. Stay tuned…

I leave you with some of my other food shots from the last week…

Sunday night's pan fried pork chops and panzanella

Sunday night's pan fried pork chops and panzanella

thyme from Grammie's garden

thyme from Grammie's garden

summer's finest

summer's finest

CSA last week...ready for another round tomorrow.

CSA last week...ready for another round tomorrow.

In which I make summer food for a summer lunch…

There is not much more perfect than summer foods. The exception might be avocados, which are actually in season in winter, which makes no sense to me, but aside from that, summer foods are where it’s at. I found this gorgeousness at the farmers market.

beauties

beauties

the smell of summer

the smell of summer

There is nothing better in the summer than a bread salad (except for having the windows open in the apartment and have a strange man singing opera right outside, which is actually happening right now. He might be crazy, he might be an actual Italian opera singer enjoying the summer weather, either is equally possible in my ‘hood.) So food wise, there is nothing better than a bread salad. It is so simple, and so awesomely delicious. It starts like this…

the beginning of all good things

the beginning of all good things

I like to make panzanella with croutons rather than “raw” bread cubes. I softened some garlic in olive oil over low heat to flavor the oil, I threw in the bread crumbs and let them get brown and toasty. They went into a large bowl with some very thinly sliced onion and some salt and pepper. I cut each tomato into pieces and threw them in the bowl. I also added the kernals from two ears of corn, and a white nectarine and a white peach sliced (I only had one of each, so I added them both.) I added some fresh mozzarella from the farmers market, and chiffonade of basil finished it off. I dressed a small bowl of it very simply with sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. (I didn’t dress the whole thing – leftovers will keep better without dressing.)

naked

naked

dressed and ready for lunch

dressed and ready for lunch

This salad is perfect and easy, and great for picnics and potlucks. It would be a great side for steak or burgers on the grill, or you could add some chicken to it for a one dish lunch. It gets better as it sits for a while, because juices from everything that goes into it gets absorbed by the bread – that’s why I like to use toasted bread, it doesn’t get super soggy right away. You could add some peppers, cucumbers, chiles if you want to spice it up, whatever you would like. The basic tomato and bread starter is a vehicle for all sorts of combinations. The options are endless!

In which I comfort myself by cooking…

My Grampie died yesterday. It happened quickly but was a long time coming. It feels strange. I visited my Gram and Gramp a lot when I was little. I used to go by myself and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. Grampie taught me to ride horses and to keep my elbows off the table. Gram gave me the cooking gene and my first subscription to Fine Cooking. She also had a convertible, which is about the coolest thing ever for a grandmother to have. They had raspberry patches and a goldfish pond, a greenhouse and a closet in their bedroom that connected to the garage. It was a very odd set up, but I thought it was my very own closet to Narnia.

My parents and aunt and uncle and I spent the afternoon with Grammie yesterday, and my parents stayed over last night. When they left today, I needed to cook something.

I found these at the farmers’ market.

zucchini blossoms

zucchini blossoms

Years ago when I was still working at Olives one of the chefs made deep fried zucchini blossoms for a snack before the restaurant opened, and I have thought about them ever since. I have always wanted to recreate them.

I had these left from a couple of weeks ago.

looks like summer

looks like summer

I sauteed them in a little butter with shallots, salt and pepper. Once they were soft, I ran them through the food processor, and added some fresh ricotta. I stuffed the zucchini blossoms with a pastry bag, and made a tempura batter with club soda.

stuffed.

stuffed.

fried

fried

These aren’t standard comfort food, but the process was therapeutic and the results were delicious. The batter was so crispy, and the oil was really hot so they didn’t end up greasy at all. I wish zucchini blossoms were easier to come by, because I could totally impress my friends all the time with these.

I love you, Grampie, my cup runneth over.

In which I make a questionable decision that works out beautifully…

When I have an annoying day, I usually like to eat pasta. When I have a particularly stressful day, I like to make pasta from scratch. This is not a difficult task, but it does take time, and it should come as no surprise that my particularly stressful days do not typically fall on Saturdays, Sundays, or any other day that does not involve a trip into the office. Which means I generally choose to start the pasta from scratch making process AFTER work. And on particularly stressful days, that after work time frame starts closer to 6:30 or 7 than it does 5:30 or 5:45. As was the story last night. So deciding to make pasta was a very questionable decision. The fact that I walk by the neighborhood fish market on my way home from work and they often have cockles, which are my most favorite clams for linguine with clam sauce, meant my fate was sealed. As it happens, practice makes for more efficient pasta making, and I am getting good, and I was able to eat at the very reasonable hour of 8:30. That’s like the early bird special for a Hargraves.

The pasta dough has to sit for at least 45 minutes before it can be rolled out, so I started that process before I even changed my shoes. I make my pasta dough in the food processor. I am sure plenty of Italian grandmothers and Mario Batali would have my head to hear such a thing, but after work pasta needs to be efficient pasta, and I have had the greatest luck and the nicest dough come out of the Cuisinart, and until it fails me, or someone can convince me that making a well in a pile of flour and trying to wrangle eggs and keep them from running all over the counter produces a pasta that is so far superior to mine that it is worth it, I am sticking with the food processor. 2 cups of flour, a pinch of salt, 2 eggs, and 4 tbls of water (look a recipe!) into the processor, and turn it on until the dough comes together. I don’t really have a good word to describe what the dough looks like at this stage, and in the pursuit of speed, I didn’t take pictures. Sorry, next time. Turn it out onto the floured counter and knead for ten minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Then cover with plastic, change your shoes, make a gimlet, and watch a half hour of Friends.

After 45 minutes or an hour, time to roll out the dough. I have had a pasta machine forever. I asked my grandmother for one for Christmas one year, I don’t remember which. I might have been in college, which would have been weird. I don’t remember the first time I used it, but I am certain I didn’t use it with any regularity until I moved back into my apartment three years ago, so it just hung out. It is a hand crank machine and I love it. It has an attachment to cut linguine or angel hair which I almost never use, because I have not yet figured out how to get the pasta sheets to be the perfect shape when I roll them out, so I usually just cut them by hand. Anyway, if you don’t have a pasta machine, you can roll out the dough with a rolling pin, though I can’t imagine that would be particularly efficient, so it has no place in after work pasta making. Get a pasta machine, or an attachment for a standing mixer. You won’t be sorry.

So I rolled out the sheets of pasta, folded them up and then cut them into strips like so…

almost in straight lines...

almost in straight lines...

Then pull the pieces apart, dust them with flour, and put them aside. The less you touch them the better.

ready for the bath.

ready for the bath.

Fresh pasta takes no time to cook, so you essentially want the sauce to be finished before you drop the pasta in the water. I started with bacon. I used like three or four pieces cut into small bits. I like to eat some before I add it to the pasta, which is why I used that many pieces, and I like them to be small and crispy so they are texturally different from the rest of the pasta, which is why I cut them so small.

All is right in the world.

All is right in the world.

Once they were nice and crispy, I took them out of the pan, drained the fat, and added a little bit of olive oil, a little bit of butter, and some shallots and garlic to the pan.

Smells like heaven.

Smells like heaven.

Then I deglazed the pan with white wine (always a good idea to have wine open, for just such a situation) and added the cockles. Oh, I forgot a step, when I got home I put the cockles in a shallow dish with water, ice and a little bit of cornmeal, the water keeps them alive, the ice keeps them cold, the cornmeal makes them open up a little and purge the sand that is inside. Don’t know why, just does. (Incidentally, when I bought the clams, I was trying to be a good earth protector and not take another plastic bag, and just put the mesh clam bag in the shopping bag I already had. The fishmonger told me that I better take the bag, because clams might spit. I didn’t flinch. She was correct and I would have had clam spit in my bag. There must be some sort of milestone that I have hit, when considering clam spit becomes a normal part of the day. Also, is fishmonger an okay word for a woman that sells me fish and shellfish? It doesn’t sound particularly nice.)

purging.

purging.

In you go!

In you go!

Cockles cook quickly, and so I cooked the pasta at this point too. In just a few short minutes, they looked like this…

delicious and sand free

delicious and sand free

Then I added the pasta, some chives, lemon zest and the bacon that I hadn’t eaten and it looked like this

Tasty and not too late!

Tasty and not too late!

It was delicious. I had the leftovers for lunch today, and I was a happy girl.

In which I fall in love all over again with a vegetable…

If I could, I think I might marry a leek. There would be complications I know, but I am sure I could be happy for the rest of my life.

If you are not familiar with leeks I beg you, nay-implore you, to run to your local food emporium and pick some up. Leeks are related to onions and garlic. They look like grown up scallions. Like this…

hello my love...

hello my love...

When leeks are cooked they get sweet and creamy. I am not sure how or why, but it’s true. And it doesn’t take a long time. I did it tonight in a half hour. Growing up we ate chicken and leeks all the time, brown the chicken pieces in a dutch oven, throw the leeks in the pot with a little bit of olive oil, cook them for awhile until they get soft and slightly brown, add a little wine, a little chicken stock put the chicken back in the pot, throw it in the oven for 20 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through, and serve the chicken and leeks over egg noodles. But I didn’t do that tonight. Tonight I made a tart. Again. Apparently I’m into that these days. I cooked the leeks with butter and salt over low heat for a half hour. They started like this…

the beginning.

the beginning.

I didn’t get a picture of how they ended because I was eating them with a spoon. That probably could have been dinner. But instead, I made a tart shell…

on your mark...

on your mark...

I filled the shell with crumbled goat cheese, and a layer of fresh onion…

get set...

get set...

And then the cooked leeks…

go...

go...

I baked it for an hour.

oh boy.

oh boy.

Y’all, I wish you had smell-o-vision. It would totally add to the experience. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but toot toot. This was delectable. I will surely be making it again. Did I mention how much I love leeks? The leeks and the goat cheese combo here is fantastic. This would be a great brunch or lunch, too. Or for a picnic, especially if they were minature. I could make fourteen of them, have a picnic with all my friends. Who’s in? I added a salad with the rest of the beets and a little more goat cheese, and that was dinner. You need to make this like yesterday. I promise. And I wouldn’t steer you wrong.

dinner

dinner