In which I think of other things…

I made pad thai courtesy of Pim the other night, but I have had a hard time finding the mojo to cook and write about food when this is happening. My heart breaks a little bit more every time I turn on the television, and I want nothing more in the world than to be there, dispensing potable water and hugs in equal measure. Haiti had nothing to begin with, and now they are surrounded by death and desperation everywhere they turn. I have to hope that there is a silver lining in this cloud of destruction, and that Haiti will rise phoenix-like from the rubble, and with this attention and help that they so desperately need and so rightly deserve, become a thriving, peaceful success story. To the people of Haiti: I grieve for you, I hope for you and I know that your spirit is stronger than your strife. You will rebound and rebuild and recapture the spirit and strength that has sustained you forever.

Lucky.

In which I have company for brunch…

dessert for brunch

Good morrow dear readers! Does good morrow mean good morning? Last Sunday, at the very end of my very extended but felt way too short vacation, the lovely Meredith made her way down from Salem for brunch. It was first time we spent any quality time together pretty much since she moved, and it was way overdue. I’ve missed her terribly. The bellinis were flowing like wine, we ate two different tart/pizza/flatbread things and we chattered away about wedding photographers and the like. And then we had dessert. Because I don’t like ending meals without sweets, especially when I have company. It’s uncivilized. 

I had pears, and wanted to incorporate them into a cake. I was originally thinking about an upside down cake or the like, perhaps with ginger. When I went looking for recipes online, I came across two on my old standby favorite Smitten Kitchen. The pear and bittersweet chocolate cake was just what I was looking for. Easy to put together, and I had all the ingredients. 

the star

The fat in the batter is brown butter, which gives the finished cake a delicious flavor. The crumb is a bit like a coffee cake, definitely dessert but not overly sweet. The fruit gets really soft and the chocolate sinks down into the cake. 

slice of delight

The chocolate was an added bonus, but I actually found myself picking it out and eating it separately. I really preferred just the fruit with the cake. and so next time, I think I am going to increase the fruit and leave out the chocolate, or perhaps change the fruit up and make it cherries and chocolate, or perhaps use a semi sweet chocolate instead of a bittersweet. It may have been the intensity of the cocoa that I didn’t like. I will have to ponder that. But it would also be awesome without the chocolate, and with apples instead of pears or maybe I could somehow work some banana in there, because I think that would be awesome with the brown butter batter (heh) too. 

cake, first attempt

Well friends. This post has taken me DAYS to write, so I have to get it done. I have more posts to write. I have to tell you some more about my free week adventures (I cheated just a little, don’t be mad) and about my favorite free week discovery (I have eaten it FOUR times in the last six days.) Plus I have to tell you about a little experiment I am working on that goes a little something like this: 

just wait...

and like this: 

this is gonna be good.

But before I wrap up with the recipe, between starting this post and now, I have tried the cake again. This time with apples and a caramel sauce. 

second attempt

I was more excited about this than I should have been. It was good, but not right. I don’t think I like the type of apples (macs) and I cooked it for five minutes too long. But I like this cake. A lot. I will be experimenting again. 

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake 

from Al Di La by way of Smitten Kitchen  

1 cup all-purpose flour 

1 tbl baking powder 

1/4 tsp salt 

3 eggs, at room-temperature 

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter 

3/4 cup sugar 

3 pears, peeled, in a small dice 

3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks  

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour, set aside. 

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside. 

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume) 

While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot. 

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more. 

Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one-third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume. 

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 45 minutes or a tester comes out clean.

In which I share the second installment…

Day three of free pay period, and I thought I would share. Two posts in one day is certainly a new thing, but I can’t help myself. This little spot keeps me sane. Work is total drudgery that I will try to refrain from complaining about because it is a sadness of my making, but a sadness nonetheless. 

I was in the mood for absolutely nada when I got home tonight. Well, not nada, I was in the mood for a glass of wine, and luckily the bottle was already open, because I am not even sure I could have come up with the motivation to use a corkscrew. I opened up the fridge a couple of times, and I opened up the cabinets a couple of times, and I checked facebook a couple of times, and I had a couple of sips of wine, and I was still no closer to dinner. And then I remembered a couple of things. 

ciabatta

 

There is a relatively new store at the far end of my street that carries homemade (you can watch her doing it through the window and everything…) pasta at very reasonable prices, and most other Italian ingredients you can think of at not so reasonable prices. But I love it, because the guy that works the register is the very same fellow that made the very best mozzarella cheese in the neighborhood, and was rudely displaced from his storefront this fall. I am thrilled that he is now making his fantastic mozzarella at the new pasta shop. They also sell these ciabattas, which are probably the best I have seen in some time. Or ever -I talk like I have seen a lot of ciabattas in my day. These are very very delicious. The crust is really crusty and the middle is filled with air and it is just generally delightful. And I had one in the freezer. That and the last avocado I bought a while back that was still hanging out in the fridge were dinner. 

avocado.

 

I toasted two slices of bread (and got my arm workout while I was doing it since the loaf was frozen and it took a lot of work to slice through it. As my mom would say, holla!)  Mashed the avocado and squeezed some lemon over it, and then spread the avocado on the toast and sprinkled with sea salt and black pepper. And then two avocado toasts weren’t enough, so I went back for a third. And I was happy. 

This is comforting and filling and delicious and happy-making. And from a work-to-reward-ratio perspective, it totally wins the prize. Monday night came close, but this still wins. And now, as I stay up and wait for the new Mr. and Mrs. to return from their freezing mini honeymoon to Florida so I can pick them up from the airport, I can face the prospect of a couple of hours of work, because I had avocado toasts for dinner, and it comforted me. 

dinner.

 

Also helping? Lyle Lovett and his voice that sounds like what I think caramel would sound like if it could sing. Thanks, Lyle. 

PS The WordPress editor just told me that “motivation” is a cliché. I am at a loss.

In which I begin my adventures in free week…

tasty tasty chickpeas

Free week has begun! Monday night was my first foray into free week and it was a success! Though actually, I thought back and realized that I haven’t purchased anything since New Year’s Eve, but Monday was my first conscience attempt at free week, so I am going to count it starting there.  

I bought all those chickpeas at Costco a while back, and I had fried chickpeas stuck in my head from somewhere, so for a bar snack for NYE I decided to try it. I just fried some chickpeas in oil and then sprinkled them with kosher salt and Pimenton Dulce. I will need to work on actually getting them crispy next time, but they were delicious. And I was totally not expecting to like them. Which is obviously why I bought six cans at Costco. I didn’t really think I cared much for chickpeas. I like hummus, and I love good falafel, but on their own all I ever think of is those gross plastic looking ones that I see and avoid on salad bars. But as it turns out…delicious. My mind is blown. Next stop, Chana Masala, which I desperately want to make, but involves cardamom pods and other things I don’t have, so it will have to wait until after free week.  

Incidentally, last night, for my second attempt a free week dinner, I made fried rice with some pork belly I had in the freezer, bok choy, carrots, frozen corn and dried mushrooms, and I have leftovers so, bonus!  

I have already written about fried rice, so I will give you a picture and call it a day.

But also I made ricotta cheese, with the idea of making ricotta gnocchi this week. And then I realized the obnoxiousness of having “free week” when one of the things I can whip up is ricotta gnocchi. It makes me sound like an ass. Shut it, Meghan. So free week is now free pay period. I will not buy anything foodish until I get paid again, on the 15th. It may be easy now, but it is going to get painful, or maybe it never will, and that will indicate serious issues. I am nervous and excited.  

More in the true spirit of free week, I had a fair amount of fried chickpeas left over from New Year’s, and a red onion and a hunk of parmesan in the fridge. Olive oil in a frying pan, garlic and red onion to soften, chick peas in to warm through.  

almost done already.

I took them out of the frying pan, hit them with a bit more salt, squeezed half a lemon over the bowl, and drizzled just a splash more olive oil over them. Then for the final step, I added some Parmesan that I shaved with the vegetable peeler. And it was done. That was it. I think the whole thing took seven minutes. Now, if the chickpeas hadn’t been fried already, I would have sautéed them a bit longer, and added the onion and garlic after the chickpeas I think, but still, it wouldn’t have been too difficult or taken too long. And it was delicious. I was so excited, because it was unexpected. I had no idea how I would feel about this dinner, and as it turns out, I would eat it even if it wasn’t free week, and plan on doing so. I am pretty excited about that.  

dinner in seven minutes. take that Rachel Ray.

PS WordPress seems to have a new feature in which the editing feature points out the passive voice, complex expressions and clichés. I am pretty sure I am not interested particularly until they learn to recognize the word “yesterday.”

Comfort classic – Tomato Soup…

yum.

So I have some hangups (I know, you are shocked…)

I would like to think I am a pretty low stress, go with the flow kind of girl. And I know, at times, I am. Like the other night, when I was diligently frosting the very top tier of my very favorite cousin’s wedding cake after midnight on Christmas day, and somehow, I still don’t know how, the entire top tier ended up on the floor of my parents’ kitchen. It was like someone sucked the air out of the room. It was the emptiest silence I have ever heard. I looked down, and saw that luckily, the three beautiful layers with their blackberry buttercream filling had landed right side up still on their cardboard base, and that only the bottom layer had been smushed under the weight of the top two. I didn’t blink, I just picked up those top two tiers, straightened them out and put them gently on a new cardboard home, and went on my merry way. AND I DIDN’T EVEN CRY! If that is not low stress and go with the flow, then I am not sure such traits exist.

There are certain things, however, by which I just can’t abide. One of those things, my lovelies, is drinking things that are meant to be eaten. My dad has these adorable european style wine glasses that he uses for tastings at the store. He gave me a couple and they are just perfect for a glass of wine when you just want a little bit, or when you are cooking and don’t want to risk knocking over one of your stemmed glasses. They are very lovely for using them as intended, however, one time when I was home recently, he handed me a little glass of what appeared to be disturbingly thick and grey looking wine. It was my first course, a small amuse of white bean soup. Served without a spoon. I can tolerate a lot of things, but, umm, no. Soup is a FOOD, it is not a beverage. It is nourishing and sating, not refreshing and thirst quenching. It is to be eaten, not drunk* (edited-thanks Gram! I am not sure when I was supposed to have learned that, but if it was in 9th grade, I am sol, my teacher was, quite ironically, a drunk who barely made it to class. No wonder I had never read much Henry James before this weekend.) At any rate,  I am mocked for this by my dad to this day, but I needed a spoon. The soup was delicious, as are all things my dad cooks, but I am not sure I could have choked it down if I was forced to drink it. The thought gives me chills. No one has to point out that this is the dumbest hang up in the world. I am aware, but it is a hang up nonetheless. There are more inconvenient ones, undoubtedly, so I am ok with it. I just avoid those little passed gazpachos that always seem to show up in shot glasses at weddings and cocktail parties. Shudder.

That was pretty rambly wasn’t it? Welcome to my blog. These tales of woe actually have absolutely nothing to do with the most amazing tomato soup I have made recently, save to assure you that every time I have eaten it, is has been with a spoon, like any decent person would.

I love love love grilled cheese and tomato soup. It is one of the most comforting meals I can imagine. I am not sure how that came about, since I don’t recall eating it when I was little, but somewhere along the way I tried the combo, and it has become one of my most sought for meals when I am having a crapfest of a day. My standard for grilled cheese has always been white bread with Land O Lakes white American cheese. These I do remember from my youth. I have always loved grilled cheese, it is just the tomato soup part that came later. I may have picked it up in college, when the grilled cheese had been updated to mozzarella cheese. A mozzarella grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup is heaven. You should try it. Even though at that point, the soup was likely the canned variety. I suspect I made it homemade once or twice, but if I had to bet, most of the time it was the condensed kind in the red and white can. I would add some milk and be off to the races. And most of the time, it was just an outlet for dipping grilled cheese. When I ran out of sandwich, I lost interest in the soup, and would ditch the rest of it. All of that has changed. I have found a tomato soup that is so glorious that I ate a whole bowl of it by itself, with no sandwich in sight. It happened today at lunch as a matter of fact. And after I was finished, I continued to scrape the bottom of the bowl with my spoon to get any remaining drops of flavor. Had I been at home instead of in my cube, I might have licked the bowl.

I have also thoroughly enjoyed it on several occasions with grilled cheeses with mild cheddar on ciabatta, and grilled cheeses with monterey jack and sharp cheddar on homemade sandwich bread, as you will see from the photos, but certainly the most exciting part is how delicious it is without those things, and how much I like it anyway.

This soup is a modification of a soup originally from Cooks Illustrated, but I found it on Smitten Kitchen. I am not totally comfortable with Cooks Illustrated and ATK. Sometimes their stuff just seems so overwrought. I don’t quite know what to make of it, except that it pretty much always ends up worth it, so they clearly know something I don’t. This recipe has some steps that I just didn’t do (and neither did Deb from Smitten Kitchen – and so I didn’t even include them in my version of the recipe) and I can pretty much guarantee, my soup was no worse for the wear. But overall it really is delicious, and the recipe did suggest the very novel idea of roasting canned tomatoes to intensify flavor. Which makes sense, because tomatoes are at their best in the summer, but cream of tomato soup is most definitely a cold weather food.

It starts with butter, shallots and tomato paste and the old standby, ras el-hanout…I need to get more of that and stat.

butter. shallot. tomato paste. also, ras el-hanout.

Actually, back it up, it starts this way…

tomatoes.

Drain the tomatoes, and seed them over the strainer. Then they go onto a cookie sheet with some brown sugar for roasting. Once the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are starting to brown they come out of the oven to cool. Then the butter, shallots, tomato paste and ras el-hanout in a saucepan. Once the shallots are soft, you add flour, chicken stock, the reserved juice from the tomatoes, and the roasted tomatoes. The soup gets boiled until the flavors combine, and then the whole mixture gets pureed with an immersion blender (this is where I strayed from ATK) and then cream and brandy are added.  Voila. Totally delicious.

brandy and cream. oh my.

Aside from the roasting of the tomatoes, the soup only takes about a half hour and is just so good. As I mentioned, most of the time my soup is accompanied by a tasty grilled cheese. The first go round, it was mild cheddar on ciabatta bread, which was really good, the second time, I had been oh so old-timey and I had made my own loaf of white sandwich bread, so I used that. Both times, there was mustard. I love mustard on my grilled cheese. That is a little trick I picked up from an ex-boyfriend, and I must say, I have to thank him for that. The other thing I picked up from him was an unflagging devotion to the Red Sox and Patriots, which sometimes feels more like a communicable disease, but the mustard was a great thing. Delicious.

First attempt.

Second attempt.

So before I leave you to find something else to read – this is getting totally out of control, yesterday, I read A Homemade Life in its entirety, and then this morning I went back through and post-it noted all the recipes I want to try. I am going to be busy – I want to share my latest adventure here with you. We here at Bread & Ginger (and by we I mean me) are embarking on a free week(s). Free week is a little something I picked up while I was getting my act together and living with my aunt and uncle. My aunt has a tendency, like me, to stock up on a bunch of things at the grocery store, and then instead of planning and using it all up, ends up supplementing all the time, until there is a surplus of food in the house. And then she would institute a free week, in which she (and by extension, me) couldn’t buy anything for a week, and we just had to use what was in the house. It is both mortifying and satisfying that I am quite certain I can go two full work weeks from now and still have enough food to feed a small army. So I am having a free week. I am going to have to be creative, but I had my first very successful attempt at it tonight with a dinner of chickpeas with red onion and parmesan. What a revelation! When I bought six cans of chickpeas at Costco a couple of weeks ago I didn’t even know I liked them! If you wonder why I bought them at that point, I will agree that is a very good question, and a good illustration of why, when I told Molly I had gone to the grocery store, her first reaction was “no! You know you are not supposed to go there unsupervised!” But they were  good! So good in fact, that they will get their own blog post soon enough. And in case free week sounds dreadful and boring, I am going to supplement it with tales of cakes and flat breads that I made for brunch this weekend, so stay tuned. I will leave you now, as dishes and bed are calling my name.

Cream of Tomato Soup (serves 6)

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, which in turn adapted it from The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved

1 1/2 tbls dark brown sugar

4 tbls unsalted butter

2 large shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup) (so here’s the thing, in the original recipe they call for four large shallots. That is A LOT of shallot, way more than 1/2 cup. I adjusted)

1 tbl tomato paste

1 tbl ras el-hanout

2 tbls all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tbls brandy or dry sherry

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. With fingers, carefully open whole tomatoes over strainer set in bowl and remove seeds, and reserve strained juices. Spread seeded tomatoes in single layer on foil and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and the edges of the tomatoes begin to brown, about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside.

Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan or dutch oven, add shallots, tomato paste and ras el-hanout. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Whisk in flour and stir constantly until combined, about 30 seconds. Whisk in chicken stock; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors combine, about 10 minutes.

Puree soup until fairly smooth with an immersion blender. Add cream and simmer for a minute to allow flavors to combine. Turn off heat and add brandy and serve. Soup freezes and reheats well (I even did it in the microwave with no ill effects.)

In which I make The Eggs…

This is for Sarah…

This is NOT for the faint of heart, or for those suffering from high cholesterol. And after eating these, I may be one of them.

I not a huge breakfast food person. There are days when I want some pancakes, and some days when eggs would suit well, but most days, a grilled cheese or a blt beats breakfast hands down, no matter what time of day. However, when I have the gang over for breakfast, I know that breakfast food is required, so I break out my “secret” eggs. People swoon. They are pretty tasty. Tasty enough, in fact, that I had them for DINNER last night. There is a first for everything. I have discovered that when I make these for the gang, it creates a mood of well-being (or lethargy??) so grand that everyone hangs around all day watching movies and taking naps, and when I am really lucky, ordering obscene amounts of chinese food and sushi before we all call it a day. It is heaven. This has happened more than once. They are truly my secret weapon.

Last night I found myself facing down the demons that were the glasses left over from New Year’s Eve. (Please don’t count days since New Year’s Eve. I am embarrassed.)

terror alert at level orange

How many weekends of sadness will I have to endure before I realize that until I have a dishwasher, paper or plastic should be the drinking vessel of choice? This is frightening, and every time I see it I become so dejected I burrow back into the couch for another hour of television. Which is very anti-resolution of me. Anyway, because I was hungry, but could not in good conscience make a dinner mess when the glasses were still mocking me, I decided on eggs. No muss, no fuss, and totally filling. Though I do not recommend eating these by yourself, lest you immediately drop to the floor with a heart attack. You may need someone to call 911.

Three basic ingredients. Eggs, cream and butter. Five if you count salt and pepper. Six or seven if you add herbs or some kind of cheese. The scary part is the proportion of these ingredients to each other. The reason these are so good is their very creamy custardy texture. Which requires cream, obviously. I did this last night just for me. I used four eggs and a 1/4 cup of heavy cream. There were more than I could eat. I would suggest that tripling this would easily feed four.

Eggs and cream whisked together.

looks harmless enough...

Then butter (2 tablespoons of shameful shameful delight) is melted over medium low heat.

slow and steady...

Please note, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, once the butter is melted, the heat must be turned down to low before the eggs are added. Pour in the eggs and cream, and start stirring.

stir and scrape.

Pretty immediately you want to start stirring the eggs and scraping the bottom of the pan with a (heat proof) rubber spatula. What you want to avoid is crusty overcooked eggs forming on the bottom layer, so stir and scrape to avoid this. It will start to look like this.

curdly...

And then you will continue to stir and scrape, and add salt and pepper to taste, and it will look like this.

peppery...

And then you stir and scrape just a little longer. I like my eggs loose and not cooked too much at all, so when I am finished, they still look wet and like they could cook just a little bit longer. But they are delicious.

finished.

I toasted up a couple of slices of ciabatta that I had in the freezer, hit the eggs with another sprinkle of salt and some chopped tarragon (have you ever had tarragon with eggs? Dreamy.) and poured myself a glass of 2008 Cotes de Luberon left over from NYE and I was set. Dinner was served.

breakfast for dinner

And the strangest thing happened. While I was cooking up my eggs, I got the most overwhelming urge to read Henry James. Don’t hate me. That sounds so pretentious I want to punch myself in the face, but I assure you, it doesn’t happen, well, ever, and it was the most bizarre thing. Not just the urge to read, the actual desire to read Henry James specifically. I have never even read more than parts of anything James wrote, but I do have Henry James on hand, so I promptly sat down and read Daisy Miller from start to finish. And it made me want to say things like “I should like to know blah blah blah” or “I wished to beg you to cease your relations with so and so.” I am confident the cosmos are tired of my being a lazy, slothful tv watching bum, and want me to stick to my resolutions, because not only did I have a hankering for Daisy Miller, but apparently there was a House marathon on Bravo yesterday that I didn’t even know about…how I missed it, I do not know, but I did. Victory!

And now, with great sadness, it is time to return to reality, and start thinking about that little thing called work, that I managed to pay minimal attention to for 10 whole days, and is now filling me with feelings of dread and despair. Blerg.

Scrambled Eggs (serves more than one, triple this to serve 4)

4 large eggs

1/4 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

2 tbl butter (do NOT triple this if you are multiplying the recipe. That would be appalling, 3-4 tbls will be MORE than enough.)

chopped tarragon (or herb of your choice, but try tarragon) for serving.

Whisk together the eggs and heavy cream. Melt the butter in a 10″ (nonstick would be ideal) frying pan over medium low heat. When butter is melted, reduce heat to low and add egg mixture to the pan. Stir the eggs and scrape the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula, until the eggs begin to set and form fluffy curds. For large quantities this could take more than 10 minutes. Remember, quality, not speed. When eggs are almost cooked to your liking, add kosher or sea salt, and pepper to taste. Feel free to add goat or various other cheeses at this point too, if you feel the urge. When the eggs are cooked to your liking, spoon onto a plate and sprinkle with chopped herbs of your choice. Enjoy.

Oh the greatness that awaits...

In which I recover…

2009 had its fantastic moments. I made my first wedding cake. I made my second wedding cake (picture forthcoming.) I had a temp roomie. I had some dinner parties. I went to some amazing celebrations. I turned 30. I ate here (friends, if only this little blog existed then. The story I would have told.) I drank great wine. I saw a lot of my family. I made some great new friends. And perhaps most importantly, from the perspective of my flailing sanity, a blog was born.   

In spite of all the greatness though, I am ready for a new year. I am resolving to do many things. I shouldn’t bother, since in all of my 30 years I have managed to keep ONE new years resolution, but these will stick, I am sure of it. I am determined to run more. I am determined to be better about money. I am determined to spend more time volunteering. I am determined to talk to more strangers. I am determined to turn off the tv and open a book now and again. I am determined to cook something new at least once a week. And I am determined to stop screwing around and find something that makes me truly happy. Totally doable.   

In the meantime, my short-term resolution is to finally clean out my photo archives and share some of my previous experiments with you, so in the off-chance that your resolution involves cooking more, perhaps you will find some inspiration.   

But first I want to talk about Christmas. Because Santa Claus was really good to me. It was a very kitchen centric holiday.  Behold:   

Wustof Classic 8" Chef's knife

How I did not already have one of these, I do not know, but my life is now complete. It is so sharp I am scared of it…   

And to store it…   

kapoosh knife block

This is the raddest thing I have ever seen. It is a knife block filled with perhaps graphite?? rods that shift around to accomodate whatever knives you have, so you can have all different brands and still store them in the same place! Fantastic.   

And this:   

Krups coffee grinder

For grinding my spices.   

And then the reading material:   

another year...thanks Gram!

The Williamsburg Art of Cookery

This sweet little book was a Christmas gift from my Fairy Blogmother, and I can’t wait to read it cover to cover. It is a compilation of colonial recipes for things like Jugged Hare that the people of Colonial Williamsburg put together in 1938. It is very cute.   

Then this:   

A Homemade Life

This is by Molly Wizenberg, who writes the blog Orangette. I love her writing and I love her recipes, and she met her husband because he read her blog and decided he might be in love with her. She is my hero.   

Lastly, the piece de resistance…   

Oh boy

This is the brain child of the new New York restaurant wunderkind, David Chang. I started reading it on Christmas Day and I am about a third of the way through (pesky weddings and New Year’s parties keep interrupting me.) I CANNOT wait to try some of these recipes. Especially the pork belly buns…   

May I interject briefly to share that I am currently watching my former boss (who shall remain nameless, though faithful regular readers will probably be able to figure it out if you read closely) on his food show on PBS. I will politely say his tv personality leaves something to be desired. Also, his hair is weird this episode. Apologies for the interruption.   

To round out my Christmas holiday, I got some fantastic little appetizer plates, my grandmother’s old angel food pan, and an antique angel food cake cutter. Did you know you needed one of those? I don’t know what I did before I had it!   

Now I am ready for a party...

I may be using these this afternoon.

And last, but not least, my stocking…   

Check this out…   

Am I spoiled or what?

Check out that saffron!! I will go out on a limb and suggest that the jar has at least $100 in saffron in it, but thanks to the littlest and her world traveling friends, it ended up in my stocking!!   

So many thanks to Louise and the littlest for my presents and my stocking, and to my aunt for the plates and the angel food…I have so much fun ahead of me!   

Ok, back to business. First on the docket, pork and clams.   

sausage and clams for a weeknight dinner.

This is so very quick. Pick up a pound of cockles (or littlnecks) and some sweet italian sausage on your way home from work. Remove the skins and brown the crumbled sausage. Remove the sausage from the pan, add a little bit of butter, and then saute some minced white onion or shallot until it is soft. Add some white wine, a couple sprigs of thyme, and the cockles. Cover the pan and steam the clams until they open.   

cockles.

Add the sausage back in to the pot to heat through, then serve in bowls with some toasted bread. Voila, dinner in minutes.   

dinner is served

Next on the list? Salmon cakes. This is one of my dad’s standard go to weeknight dinners or first courses. A while back I helped throw a bridal shower for Molly, my very closest friend and cousin in the world. Incidentally, she got married on Sunday, and was the most gorgeous bride in the world. Yay for Molly and Larry. I was left after the shower with an extra filet of poached sockeye salmon that didn’t get eaten. I snatched it right up, and took it home to make some salmon cakes. If you don’t have cooked salmon already, buy a filet and roast it quickly first, and then proceed.   

I crumbled the salmon and added some minced shallot.   

the beginning.

I happened to have a jar of piquillo peppers that I brought home from my trip to Spain last year   

imported from Spain.

I chopped them up and added them, though if you are not lucky enough to have piquillo peppers, a roasted red pepper would work beautifully as well.   

Lastly, I added a lot of minced dill, about a cup of panko bread crumbs, and 2 or 3 eggs to hold it together.   

Almost there.

I formed the mixture into cakes and coated them with panko bread crumbs.   

cakes

At this point I flash froze all but two of the cakes, for individual freezer storage for an even quicker dinner some other time. I sautéed the two cakes in shallow hot oil until the bread crumbs were golden brown and the cakes were hot all the way through. I plated them and this time around, used a mustard-wine-shallot-cream sauce and some fresh chopped dill. Delish.   

perfecto dinner for one.

The second time I did these, I didn’t have the left over mustard-wine-shallot-cream sauce, so I did a more standard (for my dad, anyway) red pepper cream sauce. Often he roasts a red pepper over a gas flame, and then purees it with some heavy cream, salt and pepper for an easy, basic sauce. I used some of those piquillos again, and I sautéed them with not an insignificant amount of butter, and some minced shallot. When everything was soft, I put it in the blender with some sour cream, since that is what I had, and some salt and pepper. I will tell you, the sauce was unbelievable and I ate the leftovers with a spoon. I am thinking it was the butter.   

salmon cakes redux

Now a couple of pasta recipes to round out my weeknight cooking repertoire.   

Baked Lemon pasta is a recipe I got from here. Friends, if you haven’t noticed, I am a food blog reader. I read many and I read them often. I love all the different styles and recipes and fun. Blogging is a curious animal, it is fascinating to see what different people do with it.   

Baked lemon pasta is pretty straightforward, butter, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest and sour cream. Coat cooked pasta with the sauce, and bake it until it is hot.

Melt the butter and oil and heat the garlic until it is soft. Add the lemon juice and then the sour cream and lemon zest and some salt. Dunzo. It cooks for a total of about 25 minutes.   

butter and oil

with garlic

plus lemon juice

mmmm, sour cream.

zest, salt and pepper

cooked pasta

bake for 25...

I covered the pasta for the first 15 minutes or so of cooking, and then removed the foil for the final push. I sprinkled the pasta with some chopped rosemary, parmesan cheese and additional lemon zest, and so it was written.   

baked lemon pasta

Lastly, because this is getting verbose, and I have cooking adventures to get to this afternoon, I will conclude with a little gem I picked up from Orangette. 5 ingredients, and one is the pasta. Thick cut proscuitto, cut into pieces, butter, salt and parmesan sprinkled on top.   

First up, melt one tablspoon of unsalted butter and add the proscuitto. You want about one ounce of proscuitto cut about 1/8 inch thick, a half inch wide and an inch long.   

butter

proscuitto

butter and proscuitto

You want to cook the proscuitto just for a minute, you don’t want it to brown, just to look less “raw.” Then you add the cooked pasta (I stopped at the pasta store on the way home and got some “fresh” slightly dried pasta. I used a quarter of a pound.)   

add the pasta and parmesan

and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Serve and enjoy!   

Dunzo

This is by far the fastest recipe, and is definitely my current favorite.   

And now, since this has gone on forever, and I would like to make an apple tart this afternoon, I will leave you now. I volunteered this morning, and I have shared these meals with you, so I feel well on my way to the new me with all my resolutions. I am, of course, sitting in front of the tv, but we will take it in baby steps. The last two months have been totally overwhelming, and I am finally feeling a bit recovered. Back to normal on Monday, but in the meantime, back to the kitchen.   

Happy New Year! May 2010 bring you good health, good food and, if you are like me, a good kick in the ass.