Celebrate Summer

For me, summer means corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  On the cob, sautéed, in corn pudding.  Corn everywhere.  There really isn’t anything like fresh corn on the cob, with just a little bit of butter and salt.

My grandmother used to come home with sweet corn every. single. day. in the summer because my grandfather loved it so.  He’d eat several ears each night.  Which meant lots of shucking corn took place pre-dinner.  We’d sit on the deck, the afternoon sun turning into a cooler evening one,  a paper bag between us and see who could shuck faster.  It still feels a bit wrong to me to shuck corn inside.

It’s been a bit gray here for the last few days, which is not something I’m complaining about since prior to these dark(er) days, it’s been sunny, 90+ degrees and humid.  It’s nice to have some relief and a change.  It also means that I can use corn in another favorite way, chowder.

Last year I read somewhere about making corn broth.  I tried it and was blown away.  Sweet, light, fresh and delicate.  I put it into a corn chowder and could truly taste the difference.  Of course, I can’t remember where I read about it and I have the suspicious feeling that I may have blogged about it at the time– a quick search through the posts here and I couldn’t find it so maybe I just thought really hard about blogging it.  Or maybe this is my second time talking about it which would suggest that you really should try it; it’s that good.

So, based on my need for corn broth, I threw together this chowder recipe.  It’s more of a soup than a chowder because while it’s cooler here, 70’s does not scream thick, heavy chowder to me.  Let’s call it more of a summer chowder.  Chowder-lite.  Nothing lite about the taste though.  And you’ll still have to shuck corn.  Ready?  Go!

Summer Corn Chowder

Ingredients

4-6 ears of corn, shucked

about 8 small red potatoes (or one to two larger)

half of a large onion or one small onion (I prefer sweet but yellow would be fine)

one half to one of a sweet red pepper (optional for those of you who don’t like pepper)

1 Tablespoon butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2-3 cups corn broth (wait for it, I’ll tell you how) or chicken broth or veg broth or water

1/2-1 cup milk

Directions

First, we make the broth.  Cut the kernels off of the ears of corn.  Set them aside, as we’ll be using them later.  Using a fork, sort of scrape down the ears of corn into a large soup pot.  Throw in the ears themselves and add enough water to cover.  Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for as long as you can.  You may need to add more water if it gets too low (i.e. most of the cob isn’t covered).  I was somewhat lazy when I cut my kernels off.  You can see that there are some still on.

photo 2

After it simmers for at least an hour or longer if you like, take out the ears of corn and discard them.  They’ve served their delicious purpose.  Pour the broth through a fine sieve so that all the solids stay behind.

photo 3You will be left with what looks like, unfortunately, urine.  Which can lead to some funny conversations if left in your fridge in a glass container.  But if you take a spoonful, you will be rewarded with the light, delicate, sweet flavor of corn in liquid form.  Try not to drink it all please.

photo 4Now that the broth is made, get to work on the rest.  Peel and chop your onion.  Clean and chop your pepper and potatoes.  Small dice is good for the onion, a little bit chunkier for the potato.

photo 1Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy soup or stock pot.  Once it’s melted, add the onion and saute until soft- don’t let it burn or brown.  You may need to lower the heat.

photo 5 Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a few more minutes, until they are soft as well.  Nothing should burn or brown.  Sprinkle the flour all over and stir well.  Let it cook over medium heat for a minute in order to get the raw flour taste out.

photo 2Pour the broth in and stir.  It will thicken a bit- I used a bit less flour because I wanted it thick but not too thick- feel free to experiment with this to taste.

photo 3Let everything simmer until the potatoes are soft and then season to taste with salt and pepper.  You can add a little bit of milk as well, to make it even more creamy or you can serve without.  Either way, it’s the perfect cold-for-summer-weather-soup.

photo 4

A Tribute To Julia

As mentioned here, August 15, 2012 would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday.  I’ve mentioned this before, my grandparents were friendly with the Childs.  They bought wine from my grandfather in his store and my grandmother and Julia knew each other through a few gourmet cooking groups.

One of my prize possessions is framed and hanging in my kitchen.  It’s a letter written to my grandmother a few months before her death.  My grandfather had reached out to Julia to let her know that Grandma was sick so she wrote to her in response.

It’s a bit hard to read so I’ll re-type it here:  “Dear Grace, Just a little note to wish you well.  Myron tells me that you have been having a mean rotten time.  No fun!  Things have been going well with me, thank heaven, and we’ve a new television series on Public TV starting in October- hope you’ll see it.  On baking this time- breads, brioches, gooey chocolate cakes and all kind of good things.  Not fattening if you keep to small helpings.  Here’s wishing you all the best, and sending you my love- Julia Child.”

Sadly, my grandmother died almost exactly a month later so she never saw the baking series (it was Baking With Julia).  I found that letter years later when I was going through stuff at our house.  My grandfather had saved it, along with this bill of sale from his store:

Julia and Paul loved their wine!

You’d think with these letters and the connections that I’d remember Julia Child.  I do not.  I recall tall and that’s about it.  I feel connected to her, nonetheless.

As a tribute to Julia and her 100th birthday, a friend and I planned a dinner party composed of her dishes.  My friend made her Beouf Bourguignon, roasted brussel sprouts and potatoes with parsley.  It was all delicious and when we were done, there were no leftovers.  My friend will guest blog that one soon.  It was a meal worthy of Julia- several bottles of wine, lots of laughter and so much good food.

I was in charge of dessert so I made Julia’s Bombe aux Trois Chocolats.  It’s a large chocolate cake filled with chocolate mousse and topped with chocolate ganache.  Incredibly rich and decadent.

While the recipes themselves aren’t complicated, they are a bit time-consuming due to all the steps.  I did mine over the course of two days.  I suppose you could do it all in one day but I think you’d need the whole day.  The recipes are really three separate things plus one set of instructions for putting it all together.  As usual, I ended up putting my own twist on this for reasons I’ll explain as we go.  Rather than making one whole cake, I made individual ones.  Either way, it’s a delicious way to end a meal.

Kate’s Great Chocolate Fudge Cake

Ingredients

1 stick (4oz) of unsalted butter

4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate

1 more stick of unsalted butter

2 cups white sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup of white, all purpose flour

*For this you will need a jelly-roll (sheet) pan, 11 x 17 inches

Instructions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter (or spray) your jelly roll pan and line it with parchment paper.  Leave about two inches hanging over the edge of the pan.  Then butter and flour your parchment. I actually just sprayed mine with baking spray.  It worked just fine.

Make sure to use good quality chocolate.

Melt it with the butter in a double boiler.  Julia says to have about 2-3 inches of water in the bottom of the double boiler and to let it simmer (over low heat).  This will let the chocolate in the top part melt slowly, without scorching.

Combine the butter and the sugar.  Julia actually offers three different ways to do this in her book- by hand, in a mixer or in a food processor.  I chose to use the mixer.

Once the butter and sugar is sort of light and fluffy, add the eggs one by one and mix well.  Add the vanilla and salt.  Then stir in the yummy melted chocolate/butter mixture.

Don’t taste the chocolate mixture- remember that it’s unsweetened chocolate.  Mix it well.

Add the flour (Julia says to do it in thirds but I will admit that I just dumped it all in, lazy cook that I am) and mix well.

Pour it into the sheet pan and spread it evenly.

Bake for 25 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.  It should be set but the top should be spongy.  A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out with a few crumbs on it.  It’s important that it not overcook- you need it to be chewy for texture in the dessert and you need it to be bendy in order to assemble it.

When you take it out to cool, let it sit in the pan for 10 minutes.  Then turn the pan upside down over a cake rack and unmold the cake, gently.  Peel off the parchment and let it cool at least 10 more minutes.  Since I’d made mine the day before, I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and kept it in the fridge overnight.  Before I used it the next day, I let it come to room temperature.

Chocolate Mousse (Chocolate Mougins)

Ingredients

12 ounces semisweet chocolate

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2 1/2 teaspoons plain unflavored gelatin (this was about a packet and a half of the kind I bought)

3 Tablespoons Dark rum, cognac or bourbon whiskey (I used Godiva chocolate liquor)

3 large eggs

2 egg whites (about 4 Tablespoons)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract

large pinch of salt

3 Tablespoons white sugar

Directions

Break up the two chocolates and place them in the top of a double boiler.

Meanwhile, pour the gelatin into a small bowl and pour the liquor over it.  Let it sit while you do the rest and it will soften.  Soften means it will start looking like this:

and end looking like this:

So the chocolate is melting, the gelatin is setting.  Time to get the rest of the mousse going.  Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a mixing bowl and the yolks into a saucepan.

Beat the yolks with a whisk until they are thick and sticky.

Then add the cream and stir it slowly over low heat.  It is important not to let come to a boil or else it will curdle.  If this happens to you, according to the hippo, you can strain it and no one will be the wiser.  (I think that Julia would have liked that tip.)Julia has all kinds of tips to know when the custard is ready.  None of them have worked for me in general.  The only one that sort of works for me is to let it coat the back of the spoon.  Or to let it heat to 156-185 degrees Farenheit.  Either way, immediately remove it from the heat and stir it for a minute so that it stops cooking.

Stir the gelatin into the custard.  It will be in one big lump (actually one big shape of whatever it was in) but keep stirring and it will melt into the custard.  Once it has dissolved into the custard, add vanilla and then the melted chocolate.

Beat the eggs whites (remember them from earlier?) with a mixer at slow speed until they get foamy.  Then add the salt and increase the speed to fast.  Keep beating until the egg whites form soft peaks.  Add the sugar and beat more, until the egg whites are forming stiff, shiny peaks.

The magic of egg whites, they go from this….

….to this. Cooking magic!

Fold these egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  Gently, so as to keep as much of the air as possible. Cover the mousse and put it in the fridge to set.  It should be soft but not runny.

Chocolate Ganache for topping

I improvised a bit here.  Julia uses the same chocolate as the mousse, recipe, melted and drizzled over.  I made a ganache, using the ratio of 3 parts chocolate to 1 part cream.  This means I heated 1 cup of cream over low heat to just under the boiling point and then added 3 cups of milk chocolate (good quality please) chips.  I let it sit off the heat and then whisked it together until smooth.

Putting it all together

Ok so this is where I drove myself a little bit nuts.  Julia calls for a 6 cup bowl, about 8 inches in top diameter.  She says that you could use a charlotte mold “or even a flowerpot could be used, of course, and either is fine because they are both tall enough for drama.”  I found a bowl that fit the requirements and lined it with plastic wrap as Julia instructed.

One of my favorite bowls, given to me at my wedding by a dear Irish friend.

Then it was time to cut out the template.  Julia suggests that you cut out a template using parchment paper so that you know how to cut the cake to line the bowl.  I am  not exaggerating when I tell you that I worked on this for a solid half an hour.  Let’s just say that I am not spatially gifted.

This was the aftermath after a half hour of working on the template. Again, not spatially gifted.

I did finally end up with a template that fit the bowl.

But when I tried it on the cake, I couldn’t see how I was going to have enough cake.  At all.  Aside from the pieces pictured above, I also needed one to “cap” the cake- a round piece the same diameter as the bowl.  I thought for a bit and then decided that I could make individual ones in ramekins.  The best part about that?  I didn’t really need a template.  Though, I did make one- it was slightly easier than the large bowl.  Not much but slightly.

So, this is where Julia and I diverged.  If you want to make one big cake, I hardily recommend you consult her recipe because her instructions for the template are good.  Unless you’re me.  The steps are sort of the same, small or big.

Line each ramekin with plastic wrap.  Place a circular piece of cake on the bottom, good side out (it’s going to be the top of the cake so make it pretty).

Then line the sides.  The cake will sort of squish together, kind of like making pie dough.  Keep the edges of the cake at or just below the edge of the container.

Fill with mousse.

Top with another circle of cake, sort of pushing down in order to keep the mousse inside.

Wrap in plastic wrap (I just pulled up the sides that were overhanging) and put into the fridge to set.  Let them set for six hours or overnight.

When you’re ready to serve, whip up some cream, make or heat up your ganache and then get ready to unmold.  Unwrap the plastic from the top and then place a plate over the opening.  Flip the ramekin over and tap it.  It should come out- you may have to wiggle the plastic wrap a bit.  Peel the plastic wrap off and you should be left with a little chocolate bomb.

Top with the ganache, chopped nuts or sliced strawberries.

There you have it!

Happy birthday Julia.  You are missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Dinner

When I asked a few people long ago what they remember most about my grandmother’s meals, they all replied in the same way.  They said they couldn’t always recall what she made but they did recall how delicious it was and how comfortable and loved they felt while they were eating it.  Of course, then, depending on who replied, they also remembered her chocolate chip cookies, her summer squash and zucchini, and her potatoes.

The other common memory?  Lobstah Dinnahs.

Forever, when the whole family would gather at my grandmother’s house every summer, we’d have a lobster dinner.  Grandpa would pick up lobsters from the harbor and Grandma would set up the pot to boil them.

Grandma would also make corn on the cob, potatoes and salad.  People would generally not have room to eat these sides, but she made them every time.

A side story for you, my grandfather used to buy the lobster bodies only because they were cheap and he’d bring them home for dinner.  This means that anyone who grew up with my grandparents is able to find all the meat in the lobster body- no easy feat.

My father was visiting this week so it meant that we had the perfect excuse for a big lobster dinner.  Everyone was invited and almost everyone came. We ended up with 18 people but lobster is incredibly cheap right now so that was just fine with us.  We gathered around our big table and cracked our way to full bellies.

Another side story for you, when my cousins and I were younger, we had one of these dinners.  My cousin, M., was somewhat inexperienced with lobster so we were coaching her through the process.  As we did, there was much giggling and laughing.  At one point, she cracked a claw and parts of it went flying, just like in Pretty Woman, landing in the living room.  There was much mirth and we’ve never let her forget it.

You know it’s been a good lobster dinner when you’re left with this:  dirty tablecloth, used butter dishes, empty wine and beer bottles and a bowl full of shells.

A bit of lobster info for those not from this area:  there’s hard-shell and soft-shell lobster.  Soft-shell is lobster that has grown and shed the old shell and is just getting comfy in the new one.  The downside of this is that there’s less meat for the weight.  Hard-shell lobster is lobster that has gotten into its shell and has more meat for the weight.  It’s also more expensive.  Since there was an early summer this year (so I’ve been told), there’s an abundance of soft-shell lobster around here.  The nice fishmonger that sold me 20 of them packed them nicely in boxes with damp clothes and ice.

So, we boiled the water.  Lots and lots of water.  Now, my grandfather used to tell me that you can hear the lobster scream when you put them in the pot (untrue).  My father tells me that lobsters can’t feel pain (untrue).  My cousin-in-law and my husband tell me that it doesn’t matter because we are higher up on the food chain (true) and they taste good (also true).  Nonetheless, I can’t put them in the water.  So I called on the aforementioned men to do it for me.

Into the boiling water the creatures went.  Once the water comes back to a boil (putting them in lowers the heat), cook for 7-10 minutes depending on size.  (Useful cooking time chart here).  You can also steam them but that’s not how my grandmother did it, so I don’t either.

It’s impossible to have lobster without butter.

Empty butter dishes, patiently waiting.

 

I melted about a pound and a half of butter.  It’s a lot.  But so worth it.

I also made the requisite sides:  corn and grandma’s potatoes.

I even made mashed potatoes because it’s not a real dinner at my table without them.

Once the lobster was done, the butter was melted and the sides were ready, we put it all out on the table and served, buffet-style.

We all got busy eating.  The table was quiet for a few minutes, just the sounds of cracking, empty shells hitting the sides of the bowl and chomping.  Then, slowly, there was chatting among the adults, the sounds of children babbling and laughter.  Lots and lots of laughter.  People lingered at the table long after the food was gone.  Some of us took the kids swimming in the backyard. Others of us arrived fashionably late, ensuring that the dinner went on for several hours.  In the end, all the lobsters were eaten, all the butter was used up and only a few pieces of corn and potatoes were leftover.  People began to arrive around 4, we sat down at 6 and the last person left at midnight.

It was just as I’d always remembered it.  And for that, I am so very grateful.

Happy summer!!

 

 

 

Bits and Pieces

So, what to do when food is the enemy, your time is limited and your father is in town visiting for a week?

Actually, food is no longer the enemy for me, I seem to have figured out what/how much/when to eat so that my blood sugar is under control and the nausea seems to have subsided for now.  I can’t do much about the heartburn, thank you third trimester.  My time also isn’t as limited as it could be- I am finally, somewhat caught up at work so that I don’t have a mountain of testing reports to write.  Instead, I have a number of kids to test and an equal number of reports to write.  But my father is here visiting for the week and so the free time I have, I want to spend with him.

Playing with her Choo-Choos and Grandpa.

So, I did meal plan for the week and will give you the run down.  I also did a bunch of prep for the week.  And I’m thinking about holiday baking already.  It’s a big day.

Tonight we’re having Asian Chicken Soup.  I’ve baked off the chicken for it, using some salt and some Chinese Five Spice Powder.

Monday we’re havingFalafel and salad.  Tuesday we’ll be eating fish and veggies (or chicken and veggies if you’re my dad).  Wednesday is squash mac and cheese, for which I roasted the squash today.

Thursday is quiche and Friday is african chicken soup.  What can I say?  I’m on a soup kick.

I also made cookie dough today which I will roll into logs and freeze so that a few days before December vacation I can slice them, bake them off and come into school a hero.  I made chocolate peanut butter chip* and an experiment of chocolate peppermint.  Same chocolate dough, but with peppermint extract and crushed peppermint candies.

So there you have it, my week in food.  I promise more exciting posts to come but for now, this will have to do.  I have toddlers with whom I need to play and fathers with whom I need to visit.

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*As I went looking for the link to the recipe, I realized I’ve never posted it, which is shocking!  I’ll post it here but 1) I have no photos and 2) credit goes to the back of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Chip bag.  Every time I make it, I think, “That’s a lot of sugar, I should cut back, I bet it doesn’t need that much.” and every time I make it, I never do.  So, you decide how you want to roll.

Chocolate Cookie

Ingredients

2 cups white flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups butter (about 2 1/2 sticks), soft but not melted

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or peppermint if you’re doing what I did)

1 bag peanut butter chips  (or about 1 bag crushed peppermint candies)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment or silpat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat the sugar and butter until combined and fluffy.  Add eggs and the extract you’re using and mix again.  Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture- it will be messy.  Reese’s bag says to do it in several parts, I always dump it in, as my approach to baking really is pretty loose.  Stir in the chips or peppermints.

Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake 8-9 minutes.  Leave some space between them as the will spread and puff up while baking. They will then also fall a bit when you take them out, which is ok.

 

Day of Atonement

No food today, at least not for many of the Jews in the world.  Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  It’s the day of the year, from sundown to sundown, that you are asked to reflect on your behaviors over the previous year.  You’re asked to forgive those who have hurt, offended or otherwise harmed you.  You ask for forgiveness from those that you have hurt, offended or otherwise harmed.  This is done by fasting and praying.  You also remember those you loved who are now gone and you mourn for them.  At sundown you eat a light meal, generally dairy (if you’re keeping kosher) and go to bed, ready to face the new year, clean, forgiven and in a mindset to do better.  In true Jewish fashion, the day of sadness and seriousness is paired with joy and celebration.  What can I say?  We’re a complex people.

If you’re a child, elderly, sick, pregnant or otherwise health-compromised, you are not required to fast.  This is my third year running without fasting (pregnant/breastfeeding/pregnant) but I’ve lit the memorial candle, I’ve thought about apologies and I’ve tried to breathe in, breathe out and let go of the hurts I’ve been carrying around with me all year.

And I am thinking and remembering those I love who are gone.  Particularly my Grandmother, the inspiration for my cooking and for this blog.

My Grandmother

My family in Israel

 

My grandparents

 

If you are fasting today, may you have an easy fast.

I wish you all peace.

 

Stuff This

As I’ve mentioned before, my grandfather was a fisherman (as well as many other things).  My grandmother cooked a bunch of different fish recipes but one she never made was baked stuffed fish.  This was probably because baked stuff fish isn’t all the good for people with high blood pressure (so much salt!  so much butter! but so good!).  I don’t fish and my husband doesn’t like seafood so we don’t eat much of the sea’s bounty around here.  Which is too bad, as I like seafood and it always reminds me of my grandparents.  Since the husband wasn’t going to be home last night for dinner and since I had some fish in the freezer from the CSA my mother joined this past summer, I decided to just do it. Make fish.  More specifically, make the bake stuffed fish that I love so much.  Mmmmm.

The recipe I used is slightly modified from one I read on a friend of a friend’s blog- but I don’t know the person’s name, so I apologize in advance to whoever the friend of the friend is.  It originally called for cream of celery soup but my fear of canned, condensed soup used in casserole form is well documented here so I made my own.  I improvised.  It was all delicious.  My mom even came over for dinner.  The best part?  There are leftovers waiting for me, since my husband obviously won’t eat them.

Baked Stuffed Fish (in memory of Grandma)

Ingredients

1-2 pounds of white, mild fish (cod or haddock both work) or whatever you happen to have in your freezer.  I might have used monkfish.

1/2 pound of scallops

1/2 pound of shrimp (I used frozen, shell-on, which meant I had to peel them but it’s ok because they were (according to the package) “e-z peel”)

1/2 pound of real crabmeat (not imitation)

1 can cream of celery soup OR make your own-  3 Tb flour, 3 Tb butter, 1-2 cups milk, sprinkle of onion powder, celery seed, salt

2 sleeves ritz crakers, crumbled and crushed

1 stick of butter, melted

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt your butter and then use a little of it to coat your baking dish.  I used an 8×8 dish.

Place your fish in the dish, flat down.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Make your cream of celery soup stand-in.  Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium to high heat.  Once it’s melted, add the 3 tablespoons of flour and whisk.  The flour will sort of absorb the butter.  Cook it for a minute to get rid of the raw flour taste.

Add the milk, a bit at a time, and whisk the lumps out.  Add some onion powder, celery seed, salt, dry mustard and pepper.  Whisk again and cook while whisking until it thickens.

Set this aside to cool so that you don’t burn your hands when you go to mix everything together.

Time to chop your seafood for stuffing.  I threw everything into the food processor because, c’mon, you know me:  LAAAAAZZZZY.

So, however you choose to do it, chop your scallops, shrimp and crab.

Obviously, if you chop by hand it won’t be this finely chopped.  That’s ok.  Throw your crushed ritz crackers, melted butter, soup stand-in and seafood into a bowl and mix.

I use my (clean) hands which just feels like the right thing to do.

Dump all of this atop your fish and spread out evenly.  You’ll have lots more stuffing than fish, which, for me anyway, is totally ok.

Place it in the oven and cook for about 40 minutes, covered.  I didn’t realize until it was in the oven that I don’t really have a good, ovenproof lid for this pan.  So I improvised.

If you have any shrimp leftover, as I did, you should totally roast them.  So good.  Peel them and throw them in a pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic (fresh or granulated).  Roast in the oven at 425 for about 8-10 minutes or until they’re pink.  Then, I dare you to not eat them all while standing over the stove, burning your mouth.  If you can resist, they’re great on pasta- sort of a quick shrimp scampi.

While my fish was cooking, I roasted some broccoli and cauliflower.  See here for tips on roasting veggies.

After 40 minutes, take the lid off the fish pan and bake for another 15 minutes, so the top will get all brown, bubbly and crunchy.

I promise, there’s fish in there.  Serve with veggies or salad.  You don’t so much need a starch as the stuffing works for that.  So good.  Definitely not an everyday meal (the butter!  the calories!) but worth it for a treat now and then.  I imagine you could use the same stuffing, in smaller amounts, to stuff shrimp or clams or lobster or anything else ocean-related.  Mmm.  I’m wishing I’d brought some for lunch today (though, I think shared microwave etiquette demands that you do not re-heat fish or anything similarly smelly at work) instead of this salad.  Sigh.

 

 

Surprisingly Tasty.

Full disclosure:  If you don’t like zucchini (ahem, Hippo, I am looking in your general direction), you will likely not enjoy this recipe.  All others, carry on.

For about a year in high school (I believe it was the year I took Biology), I was a vegetarian.  The idea of eating meat of any kind, along with all the microbiotic creatures that live in it, just turned my stomach.  My grandmother dealt with this as well as she could, making fish (which was sometimes ok), finding recipes with beans and other non-animal proteins and making lots of salad.  My grandfather grumbled and worried that I wasn’t meeting all my nutritional needs.  My mother rolled her eyes and figured it was a phase.

It was, in fact, a phase but what got me out of it wasn’t age or maturity or even a craving (true story, my cousin, M., was also a vegetarian for a time, much longer than I- she broke it one summer when she was at my house and I was cooking pork with brown sugar and soy sauce.  She caved and has been a meat-eater since.), it was politeness.  We went to Israel the summer between my sophomore and junior year and I couldn’t refuse the food offered to me for fear of offending my cousin or the family friends who were coking for us.  I came back from that trip eating meat.

However, I do still try to have one or two meat-free nights a week.  My husband has slowly adjusted to this and no longer asks (a la Wendy’s), “Where’s the beef?” or says “This would be better if it had meat.”  I have a few tried-and-true go-to recipes but am always looking for more.  Often they come from Vegetarian Times which my friend, K., is nice enough to pass on to me when she’s done with them.  These are some hard-core vegetarian recipes, often vegan.  Generally I don’t expect them to be that good as I do love my dairy.  I tend to adjust them, sometimes by using real cheese vs. soy cheese or sometimes by using chicken broth instead of veggie broth.   Sometimes I get lucky and it ends up really good- other times, not so much.  I like to think of my grandmother when I make these- she worked so hard to keep me fed in my veggie-phase and I’d like to think she’d appreciate how much work I’m doing now to ensure that her granddaughter eats the most healthy food she can. I also like to think my grandfather would still be grumbling as I serve up my meat-free meals a few nights a week.

Try this recipe- it was surprisingly tasty.  I did make some changes, which I’ll note here, that make it not vegetarian or vegan. I also think that if I’d had a mandolin I’d have been able to slice the zucchini a bit thinner and that might have been better.  Nonetheless, this one may make it into my weekly rotation.

Zucchini-Quinoa Lasagna

Adapted from Vegetarian Times, August 2011

Ingredients

2 large zucchini (or 4 small to medium), peeled and cut lengthwise into 12  slices about 1/4 inch thick

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups chicken broth (or veg broth)

1 cup quinoa rinsed and drained (I use red quinoa because I like it better but you could use white)

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1/4 cup chopped onion (I used about 1/3 of a medium size onion)

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon oregano (I used fresh)

1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

2-4 tablespoons of cream cheese (or you could use non-dairy cream cheese)

1 25 oz. jar of marinara sauce (I used Paul Newman’s organic and it was pretty good)

1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used mozzarella and parmesan or you could use non-dairy)

Olive oil, salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and slice the zucchini.  Place on paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Cover with paper towels and let them sit so that the water will drain out of them. 

Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in lots of cold water.  Make sure you rinse it well as this will help to minimize the bitterness.

Set aside to drain.  In a small pot, heat some olive oil (maybe 1-2 tablespoons at the most) over medium high heat.  Add the onion and garlic.  Let this cook for about a minute and then add the quinoa.  Let this toast over the heat for several minutes.  This also gets rid of the bitterness.  I think I let mine go somewhere between five and ten minutes, stirring once in a while.  

Add the broth, tomato sauce and oregano.  Bring it to a boil and then cover it, turn the heat down to medium and cook until the broth is absorbed, about 25 minutes.

Pour about 1/3 of a cup of marinara sauce into a square 8 inch pan.  Place four of the zucchini slices on top, as you would for lasagna.

Check your quinoa and if it’s done, add the cream cheese, half the shredded cheese and the herbs (basil and parsley).  I’m lucky enough to have a nice fresh herb garden on my steps, courtesy of my friend K. 

Stir the quinoa and the yummy dairy and herbs you added until everything is melty and combined.  The heat will melt the cheese and it will actually taste really good.  You could use this as a way to serve quinoa, in fact, maybe with a nice salad and some crusty bread.

But we are going to use it for our lasagna.  Spread about half of this mixture over the zucchini slices in the pan.

Top this with 1/3 cup of marinara and then four more zucchini slices, then the rest of the quinoa mixture.

Cover this with the last of the zucchini slices and the rest of the marinara.  Top with the rest of the cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is all brown and bubbly and the zucchini is tender.

This was seriously good.  I mean, no one will ever mistake it for meat lasagna with noodles but if you think of it as more of a zucchini-italian flavored casserole, it’s delicious!  Plus, quinoa is all kinds of good for you and I’m always looking for new ways to make it since the texture is, um, different.  It totally works in this recipe.

Also, in the spirit of organizing (why, no, I haven’t yet alphabetized my recipe index, why?), I re-did our meal planning board to incorporate our shopping list as well as our leftovers list:

Finally, I had some extra veggies (tomatoes, peppers, zucchini) that I needed to use up so I tossed them in a roasting pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper and a few garlic cloves as well as the other 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.

I roasted them at 475 for about 30 minutes. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with them but I’m thinking maybe serve them over rice, kind of like a roasted ratatouille or with pasta as a veggie pasta dish.  I’ll keep you posted.

What We’re Eating Now

My grandmother’s table was always full of food.  There was always more than enough and never just one thing.  One of the consents was salad.  She made salad every single night.  I’m not sure why- perhaps to round out the meal?  Maybe to get some veggies into us?  Her salads were always lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and sometimes carrots and mushrooms.  She had multiple dressings- and when the low-fat dressing craze hit, she had lots of those.  I favored Italian dressing in those days, I think it was Wishbone.  It means that I was not a child who scoffed at salad. However, I know for a fact that my grandfather did not consider salad a meal.  Which might be why it was always a side at her house.

After my father moved out, my mother (who, it is well documented, is wonderful at many things but cooking is not one of them) was in charge of feeding me.  That broke down like this:  2-3 nights eating at my grandmother’s house, 1-2 nights take-out or Friendly’s, 1-2 nights at a friend’s house and then another night hitting up the salad bar at our local Roche Brothers.  This was when salad bars were a new concept.  Mum let me put whatever I wanted into my salad on the basis that it was all healthy.  So my salad bar salads had lettuce, tomatoes, cottage cheese, sunflower seeds, croutons, cheese, cucumbers, peppers, pineapple, bacon bits….  All separated of course, so that nothing could sort of run over into the other parts.  I had a whole system based on the cottage cheese as a barrier.  I think that salad bar at Roche Brothers was the thing I missed the most when we moved.  We were clearly  ok with the salad as a meal concept.

These days I’m not cooking much.  It is suddenly hot here- in New England we go from cold, gray, 40 degrees and rainy to about an hour of warm, gentle spring before we plow full on into summer.  We’ve hit that point here- today was easily 90 degrees.  It means that people are out doing yard work, we’re out trying to wrestle the pool cover off and get the pool filled, my mother is changing her closet from winter to summer…. it’s a busy time.  Plus, the school year is coming to a close so I’m rushing to finish everything before June 22nd.  But I am, if nothing else, my grandmother’s granddaughter!  We’ve been eating salad.  I’ve made big salads each night and thrown some protein on top. Grilled chicken one night, steak another.  When it’s this hot and I’m this busy, it’s hard to stand in a hot kitchen cooking and even harder to do that when juggling everything else. Luckily, my husband is in the salad as a meal club (as long as there’s some protein with it).  Of course, historically, he’ll eat anything as a meal if I put it in front of him (well, except fish.).

So, no recipe today, just some guidelines.

Easy Summer Salad

Ingredients

1 head/box/bag of your green of choice (I like baby romaine or baby spinach or a mix.  Arugula is nice too but my husband hates it.)

1 pint cherry tomatoes (if you can find both the red and the orange kind, you should get both.  The orange ones are like crack, they are so good)

1 cucumber, peeled (or washed well, skin on) and sliced

sweet peppers (I use a red, an orange and a yellow), washed, seeded and sliced

Any other veggies your little heart desires.  I sometimes like broccoli either raw or blanched slightly or sliced mushrooms or carrots.

Favorite salad dressing (My husband is a Ranch man.  I recently found this dressing and am in love.  In a way that might be potentially unhealthy.)

Some kind of protein.  (I generally grill or broil or otherwise cook chicken thighs or breasts or grill some steak)

Directions:

Combine all veggies in a bowl.  My grandmother used a large glass bowl which I still have and use for salad.  In fact, we’ve never used it for anything else except once, when I used it for green beans.  It was completely disconcerting, everyone at the table was freaked out and we never did it again.  It was just….. wrong.

Slice protein.  Serve salad on plate, top with protein and dressing and there you go!  Dinner.

I know I’ve been lax about posting here.  I’ve also moved away from the family history part.  I’m hoping to catch up on both this summer, once things slow down for the year and once I have my laptop back from the Apple store.  Thanks for hanging in with me!

Start Your Engines

Growing up, my grandmother threw huge parties.  Dinner parties, wine tastings, political events… you name it, she hosted it.  Partly because my grandfather owned a wine shop and imported affordable French wine long before anyone else did, partly because she knew all these gourmet chefs and they were always interested in eating well. In fact, just for fun I did a little google search with my grandfather’s name and the name of his store and came across this article. It’s a conversation from September 2005 with Tom Scheisser who is a buyer for  a local wine store.  And he mentions both my grandfather and his store.  I’ll put the direct quote here (FB is the interviewer):

FB: That’s quite a devoted franchise career. You’re as rare as Carl Yastrzemski!

TS: Yes, as the youngsters move up the ranks, I’m now regarded as one of “the old guard” along with people like Roger Ormon (Brookline Liquor Mart), Doug Shaw (MS Walker), Carmine Martignetti (Martignetti Liquors/Carolina Wine), Dellie Rex (formerly an educator at Boston University, now New England Culinary Institute).

FB: Yes, you go back to Myron Norman, who, in his wineshop by Justin Freed’s Coolidge Corner Cinema, weaned me as a BC student, off Ballantine Ale and onto Cler Blanc.

TS: Myron Norman was one of the greats. He was one of the most interesting people in the business. He inspired a lot of us, as did people like Leo Sulkin (Branded Wines), Richie Hogue (Charles Gilman), Bert Miller (Brookline Liquor Mart). They have all left their mark.

So, if people are still referencing him, years and years after the close of his store, you can imagine the crowd at these gatherings.   I wasn’t often invited to these parties, mind you, because I was just a small kiddo but I remember all the planning and preparations.  Wine glasses would need to be washed, the “good” silver would be taken out, seating charts were drawn….  It was lots of work!

Now that I’m a (haha) grown-up, I am in awe of all my grandmother could do.  It’s an amazing amount of work to put something like that together and I don’t remember her ever seeming to be frazzled or overwhelmed.  I’m not sure how she did it.  I mean, I remember the prep work but I don’t remember seeing her make lists or plan things out or organize herself.  I’m sure she did but to me it just seemed effortless.  Easy.  Fun.

Me?  I’m a list person.  The number of lists I have going at any one time is really silly.  I have stickies on the desktop of my computer, I have scraps of paper in my bag and I have more than a few spreadsheets going at once.  I have lists of testing cases, lists of things to do, lists of things to fix, lists of things to buy….  Well, you get the idea.  But it’s how I can organize myself.  It’s how I can manage big dinner parties.  Or you know, holidays.

I’m often asked how I can cook for so many people.  For instance on Monday, for Passover?  I think we’re at about 20 people with about 10 who haven’t replied.  I’m not worried since people drop in and out up until the last minute anyway.  But how do I organize?  Well, a list of course.  Made on a spreadsheet. Naturally.  I have a shopping list and then what needs to happen on what day.  I feel like this is what my grandmother was able to do so effortlessly in her head.  Me?  I need a visual.

Yes, my shopping list is divided into categories. So what?!

So, the menu for Monday? Actually, I’m making another dinner and a lunch before Monday- a Middle Eastern-Themed dinner for some friends on Saturday night and a lunch for a cousin on Sunday.  Truth be told, Sunday is likely to involve a lot of leftovers with maybe a new dessert.  Anyway, the menu for Passover:

Matzo Ball Soup

Hard boiled eggs (Grandma always made these, maybe to symbolize spring?)

Roasted Chicken

Potentially brisket or another meat.  Not sure yet.

Green Beans

Roasted Asparagus

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes (these are a staple, as you know)

Chocolate Carmel Matzo

Passover Brownies

Ice Cream

Plus the traditional charoset for the passover plate/”service”.

And I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting something…  I always do.

SO.  Here we go.  Play along at home- I’ll try to post each night with the progress I’ve made.  This is the one meal it takes me days to make.  So worth it!

Asian Kitchen Fail

Growing up, I heard story after story about my uncles.  I’ve mentioned them briefly  here but for a quick refresher, my mother had two younger brothers, P. and A.  When P. was in high school, he was on the wrestling team with S., a young man from Japan who was boarding with a family while he attended the local high school.  His family was in South America.  Eventually, S. moved into my grandparents’ home and became a member of our family.

S. was born in Japan and continues to travel back and forth often.  He still has an extremely heavy accent and one of my very favorite memories is listening to him talk with my cousin K., who is Israeli.  It was like a meeting of the United Nations in my kitchen.  Actually, to be fair, when my whole family is together, both the blood and adopted relatives, there are often several countries represented.

Since S. lived with my grandparents through college- he attended a local one and so came home on vacations- my grandmother learned how to make sushi and other Japanese dishes (she also learned a bit of Japanese.  Things like, “WAKE UP!”).  As a result, I grew up eating all kinds of “exotic” foods including sushi at a fairly young age.  I can remember tasting saki at one point and wondering why anyone would like it– I’ve since reformed my opinion.  The famous family story is that my grandmother would make chocolate chip cookies for college care packages for my mom and her bio-brothers but sushi care packages for S.  He’s the only one who wasn’t asked to share in his dorm!

This is all a very long-winded way of saying that, despite being Jewish, Asian food is something I grew up eating.  My grandmother learned how to cook authentic Chinese food because a friend of my grandfather’s from his MIT days lived with my grandparents for a bit and his wife taught my grandmother.  That’s actually a story for another post- the couple was here for an MIT reunion but then Tiananmen Square happened and they couldn’t go home.  I promise to tell it sometime.  Anyway, Asian food is as much in my blood as matzo balls.

So it was embarrassing to have a friend join me for dinner and for me to completely screw up the Asian themed menu.

My friend B. is a new friend.  She started working at one of my schools this year and, I will freely admit, I developed a bit of a girl-crush on her.  She’s tall and beautiful and funny and so damn smart.  I have many, many good friends so this is going to sound a bit odd, but I don’t make friends easily.  Most of the friends I have I’ve known for years and years.   Anyway, I decided I wanted to be friends with B.  Luckily, she wanted to be friends with me too and we’ve managed to get together a few times outside of work.  She’s fantastic with my daughter, which of course goes a long way with me, and she’s funny and still so damn smart.  Plus, she got me a job teaching so I feel like I totally owe her.  How do I repay my debts? By cooking for you, of course.  B. contributed wine, a delicious dessert and a fabulous frosted cookie for baby G.  Those were definitely the best parts of dinner!

Sadly, my part did not go well.   I made the yummy asian noodle soup but added too much fish sauce so it was far, far too salty.  B. was nice and choked it down but I felt badly.  I had tried to fix it earlier but to no avail.  That was ok, though, because I had also made a rice-paper-wrapper version of spring rolls.  This was an experiment and I think they were, well, not as big a failure as the soup. I would maybe experiment a bit more with the cooking method because I am not used to deep-frying but I couldn’t make the pan fried ones stay together because the rice paper was so thin.  I was using rice paper wrappers, which are usually used for summer rolls which are not fried, because B. doesn’t eat a whole lot of gluten.  Some, but not a ton.  I’ve made these before with wheat-based wrappers and it does work to pan fry them then.  So I was looking at it as a challenge.  Which I sort of failed.  Sigh.

At any rate, I give you a recipe in process.  Do with it what you will.

Spring Rolls

Ingredients

1/2 package coleslaw mix (I used a small package of “confetti slaw”)

1/2 lb. ground dark meat chicken

1-2 Tb. soy sauce

1-2 Tb. sesame oil

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tb ginger, minced

5-6 rice paper wrappers

Directions:

Heat the sesame oil in a deep pan or wok over medium high heat.  Add the ground chicken and cook through.  I think I may have sprinkled a little bit of Chinese five spice powder in as well but it’s not totally necessary.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for about a minute.  Add the slaw mix and cook for two to three minutes.  You want them soft but not mushy.  Set aside to cool slightly.

If you’re using rice paper wrappers, you’ll need to soak them in hot water for a few seconds on each side in order to make them pliable.  I put water on a plate and soaked the wrappers one by one, switching sides a few times.  I didn’t want them to get soggy but I needed to be able to move them around. Put the soaked wrapper on a flat surface.  Place a few spoonfuls of filling in the upper middle of the wrapper.Wrap the top part over and towards you, pushing the filling together.  Fold in the sides and continue to roll towards you until you have a sort of fat cigar kind of thing.  Set aide and continue until you run out of filling.  Do not stack them, keep them separated on a flat surface.  Also, can’t hurt to cover them with a damp paper towel.  Now, here is where the fail started.  I tried to simply pan-fry these in a little bit of sesame oil.  However, I couldn’t get my pan temperature correct and so the wrapper stuck.  So I decided to deep fry.  I heated up a few inches of canola oil in my iron pot.  I heated to about 360 degrees which is somewhere between french fries and fried chicken temperature.  I dropped a few in at a time and turned them once or twice.  They cooked pretty quickly and only one fell apart.  They were good but a bit oily.  I did let them drain on paper towels which helped.

So not pretty. But somewhat tasty.

They were good, flavor-wise (despite the oil) but I’m sure I could do better.  Definitely not my best work.  I’m going to have to have B. over for dinner again, when I can make something more impressive.

*sorry about the photos- I was using my iphone and didn’t notice the weird lighting in the kitchen.  Clearly, this is an apology post.  Perhaps I’ll have to create a new tag!