A happy hour beet and fig tart

June 21, 2011 § 26 Comments

Is it just me, or does the advent of summer put you the mood for happy hour too? Potentially even a daily happy hour. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? 😉

I suppose that, technically, happy hours are called happy because of the inclusion of alcohol, but I think they’re happy in so many other ways. It’s a celebration of porches or patios! And evening breezes! And of the fact that you can laze about for an hour (or two) after work, enjoying some ridiculously buttery cheeses and crisp breads and a little glass of wine, and it will still be light out when you get around to dinner!

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Broccoli Ginger Dumplings

March 21, 2011 § 26 Comments

I recently learned the term “your growing edge.” I really like it. I had heard about your comfort zone, and your growth zone, and so forth before, but not the actual growing edge. The growing edge is that area where your zones are pushing out, your comfort zone expanding into what used to be your growth zone and your growth zone dipping a tentative toe into your danger zone. It’s the space right when you go from skiing speedily down a slope concentrating on tough terrain to plunking yourself on the ground and bursting into tears because you find yourself surrounded by trees and signs warning of cliffs and it’s just not fun anymore. Or when you’re learning to drive a stick shift and you know you can get your d@#$ car into gear and started when you’re in a parking lot, but then you’re on a (admittedly not busy) road next to the parking lot, with a bus bearing down on you and your blinker is signaling that you’re going left, except you kill the car 3 times in a row and find yourself feeling thoroughly mired in the middle of the intersection, and, well, bursting into tears. And of course, the growing edge includes bigger moments of growth, pushing yourself in your work, in your ability to face your fears, in your acceptance of others. Like your lengthening legs during your teen years, your growing edge can give you a little pain, whether or not it’s serious.

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Darling carrot and pea hand pies

March 6, 2011 § 6 Comments

Well, now that you know how I felt about cauliflower when I was little, you know how I felt about most vegetables.  It’s hard to believe that the farm-share buying, garden planting, vegetable fiend I am now actually grew out of that prissy little girl whose heart grew faint and lip trembled at the thought of eating leaf and root matter of any sort.  I had a very few exceptions to my no vegetables rule.  A few vegetables that were inoffensive enough I would deign to consider them foodstuffs.  I liked cucumbers.  In fact, cucumber and mayonnaise sandwiches were one of my favorite summer dinners (this was my escape hatch when all the grown ups were eating their open faced shrimp sandwiches).  I would eat carrots if they were shredded and mixed with ranch dressing, and I would eat peas if they were cooked and drowned in my mother’s magnificent gravy.  That was about my limit.  So, peas and carrots it frequently was.

However, in spite of the lore around peas and carrots (I’ve heard that an old joke/admonishment in many families was to tell the children to “eat every carrot and pea on your plate,” hehe) we never actually ate them together.  It was either peas or carrots.  Not peas and carrots.  I knew, in a sense, that they were supposed to go together.  Two of my best friends and I even dressed up as peas and a carrot for Halloween once!  But still, never did the twain meet on my dinner plate.  Up until a couple of days ago that is.  In my mind’s peripatetic wanderings last week  I stopped to rest awhile upon this idea and decided that it was finally time to eat peas and carrots together.  But, I didn’t manage to stop there.  No sooner had I settle on it, I had quickly moved on from the idea of just eating plain old peas and carrots and started thinking of pot pie.  And then I started thinking of hand pies. « Read the rest of this entry »

Goat cheese crostini with Meyer lemon, olive, and fig relish

February 28, 2011 § 8 Comments

I had never cooked with Meyer lemon before this winter.  In fact, I don’t think I’d ever even tried Meyer lemon before this winter.  Not that this need be particularly surprising.  After all, Meyer lemons tend to be the provenance of California back yards and farmer’s markets, neither of which are exactly easy to find in New England.  And, if you’re not in California it’s a little bit harder to come by Meyer lemons because they have a delicate constitution and don’t much like traveling.  So, you mostly have to head to high end or specialty grocer’s to find them.  And there they cost a few pretty pennies more than your plain old workhorse lemons, which has always led me to pass them by.

But somehow about a month ago I found myself with my hand hovering over the sunny pile of Meyer’s tumbling voluptuously out of a barrel at the market.  I mean, maybe it was time to find out what all the fuss was about.  Or maybe it was just that the saturated goldenrod color of the lemons, the same radiant hue as the yolk of an egg from a very happy chicken, was too appealing in cold, dark mid-January to pass by.  I bought one.  Then I had to start searching for what to do with it.  There is certainly no shortage of options.  You can add zest and juice from Meyer lemons to pastas, sauces and soups or any variety of baked goods.  Because the skin of the Meyer is paper thin and supple you can eat it along with the rest of the lemon, allowing you to slice the lemon thinly and tuck it within the folds of the batter of cakes or quick breads or casseroles.  You can even batter and fry pieces of the lemon as a crispy appetizer.  I decided to go with making a tart.  Which was lovely, but left me with the distinct feeling that the custard filling of the tart was actually enveloping some of the character of the lemon in a haze (albeit a delicious creamy haze), preventing it from shining as much as I had a sneaking suspicion it could. « Read the rest of this entry »

Spinach pancakes with mint-lime yogurt sauce

January 6, 2011 § 18 Comments

I’m really into “nibbles” right now.  Ooh, doesn’t that just sound shee-shee and a little obnoxious when I say it?!  “Why yes, dah-ling, I’m ever so posh, and I just adore nibbles.  Don’t you?”…Oh well.  So be it.  Because I am.  First off, I love the way the word sounds.  It’s so much more fun than “hors d’oeuvres” (which is nearly impossible to spell, anyway), and way more fun than “small-plates.”  I suppose I could go with “tapas”, but I just like “nibbles” better.  And, of course, I also love eating them.  In my mind nibbles are dishes that are small but immensely satisfying.  Bites that explode with flavors and textures in your mouth!  And because they are just little mouthfuls, you can have a wide variety of them in one meal, giving you a chance to sample a bit of this and a bit of that without finding yourself bursting your belt buckle by the end of the evening.

Because of this, lately I’ve frequently been finding myself creating meals that feature a spectrum of nibbles rather than a single coordinated main dish with sides.  Especially for parties (which there was a rash of lately.  What’s that about??!  Joking.).  You can coax your nibbles into a lovely unified theme, if you wish.  All Italian or Eastern Asian, perhaps.  But, because you eat each piece separately you can also give in to the desire to have a profusion of flavors with morsels representing cuisines from across the globe, or maybe just from your imagination.

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December 31, 2010 § 48 Comments

I’m finding it remarkably difficult to write this post.  It’s always hard for me when I really, really care about something.  You see, lefse for me, and many of my friends, is not just lefse.  It’s so much more.  But, maybe for the sake of those of you who haven’t had it – or haven’t even heard of it – I’ll start with what it is.

Homemade lefse (particularly when fresh) is hands-down one of the best foods on the face of this earth.  Truffles, caviar, foi gras, lobster, you’ve got nothin’ on lefse.  It is an inordinately traditional Norwegian potato flatbread.  Simple.  Soft and supple, a bit like a tortilla, but almost lacy thin and seductively buttery.  Hot off the griddle, they are absolutely unbelievable.  Our favorite – and the most traditional – ways of serving lefse are either wrapped around a hot dog and ketchup (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!  You’ll never look back.) or spread with butter and cinnamon-sugar (brown sugar is equally tempting and adds a lovely caramel accent).  Really you could use them to wrap up just about anything, including, it turns out, the phenomenal combo of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.  They are so good, I can’t even begin to wax adequately eloquent about them.  I would have to be a bard of potatoes.

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Blue cheese latkes

December 16, 2010 § 3 Comments

I’m considering making a cross-stitch pillow (you know, the kind that usually says something like: “God bless this house”) with the sage words, “deadlines are the mother of productivity,” probably in a nice shade of blue.  We all know it’s true, even you crazy people who are good at spreading your workload out over time.  Then again, there’s a catch.  The deadline has to be close enough, otherwise it becomes the mother of determined and inventive procrastination.  That’s how I found myself today, attempting to figure out the origins of the phrase “A day late and a dollar short.”  I started musing about it yesterday, and it kept nagging at me until finally today I turned to the internets to try to figure it out.  And yes, I do have access to, YouTube and Facebook and Minesweeper, so I had absolutely no excuse for phrase etymology being my chosen form of mindless amusement, but whatever.  Oh and in case you’re wondering, there’s not much out there about the phrase, though I did find that – maybe – the first written use of it was in a comic strip in the late 1930’s.

I’m hoping that this sudden concern with a saying that basically means “too little, too late” isn’t my subconscious reminding me about the direction my work may be heading if I keep letting myself procrastinate like this.  I would say that I was thinking about it in relation to the fact that I’m giving you a latke recipe today, when Hanukkah ended last week, but actually that would make it several days late, but definitely not a dollar short.  I’d say it’s worth at least, like, $7-12 more than you could possibly wind up paying for them!

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Melted onions

September 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

We had to get up to catch a flight at 4:15 am this morning, also known as waaaaaaaaaaaaay too early o’clock.  And let me tell you, I am not a very highly functioning person when I’ve only gotten a few hours of sleep.  Most of my thoughts are about as coherent as, “ooooh, that’s a red thing!” or “hey! Birds fly. And planes fly too!  But planes do not have feathers.  Hmmm.”  Or, as I survey my pretty barren pantry, “butter is good.  Onions are good.  Butter and onions are good.”

And that’s about all you need to know for this recipe.  Butter and onions are good.  And, when they’re slow cooked together with a pinch of herbs and just a little port to enhance the sweetness of the onions, then they are meltingly tender, fragrant, sweet, and luxurious.  Oh, and good.  You can make these onions and serve them over pretty much any roasted or grilled meat.  You can serve them on bruschetta or crackers with soft cheese, cured meats (like prosciutto or salami), or add them to sandwiches (especially roast beef!) or use them as a bottom layer for a pizza or savory tart.  For example, try these onions on a pizza with blue cheese, chicken, and sauteed summer squash or greens.  Or with goat cheese, prosciutto, figs (or grilled peaches), and arugula.  Oooh, I know what I’m having for dinner…once I take a nap.

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Goat cheese stuffed grape leaves with olives, raisins, and mint

June 29, 2010 § 5 Comments

San Francisco was a whirlwind.  Actually, to be more accurate I should probably say it was a fog.  Anyway, it was a little crazy busy, so let’s set it aside for a moment to address these amazing stuffed grape leaves instead.

The first time I ever made stuffed grape leaves it was summer and I was out on an island.  Doesn’t that just sound exciting and exotic?  Unfortunately, it was an island in the Boston harbor, not off the coast of Greece or anything.  But actually, apart from that little fact, the whole experience definitely tended toward the exotic side.  I was there for an art encampment that a good friend of mine curates each year.  In an homage to the Homestead Act, groups of artists “stake a claim” on pieces the island for 5 days and “improve” it by creating installations or performances using only what they can carry on their backs or find on the island.  The whole encampment is open to the public for exploration and interaction.  The installations range from a Museum of Island Artifacts (my favorite artifact was the “petrified jellyfish,” which looked suspiciously like sea glass), to an island gamelan, to a trans harbor tin can telephone.

Joel and I were there to be the practical people (translation: make sure that the artists survived camping on an island for 5 days).  This also translated into being the occasional camp cook.  (The first night, on super short notice, we managed to whip up grilled pizzas for 30 over an open fire with a grate.  It was kind of awesome.)  The last night of the encampment we iron-cheffed, in a kind of grand experiment to see what we could create out of everyone’s leftovers and what we could forage.  This is how I wound up stuffing some grape leaves – also some kelp, which I’ll have you know is very, very rubbery – with bruised avocado, sun dried tomatoes, and some very near the borderline of too old goat cheese.  They were actually pretty good.  But, they didn’t inspire me to make grape leaves again, until now.

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Two Turkish stuffed flatbreads (one savory, one sweet)

June 22, 2010 § 6 Comments

If you picture yourself walking down the path of your life, what do you see?  A straight path?  Hilly with amazing vistas?  Through deep dark woods?  All of the above?  I’m starting to feel like in my own life, I’m taking a rather circuitous, meandering route.  It’s as though I’m putsing and poking about, the actual path way off somewhere to the left.  Back there, before I got distracted by a berry bush or a patch of wildflowers and wandered off.  Sometimes it feels as if there is no continuity, no path at all.  But, then I find myself looking at a familiar tree or rock and thinking, ‘hey!  I’ve been this way before!’ And, each time I touch back onto the path, I have come at least a very short distance further than I had before.  It’s another way in which my cooking, amusingly, mirrors life.

Maybe you do this too.  You discover a recipe, or try making something new, and fall in love with it.  So you go through a spurt of making it over and over and over.  Until it starts to come burbling out of your ears, and then you stop.  And completely forget about it.  Until you come across it in your old notes to yourself, or a meal somewhere else jogs your memory, or, I don’t know, it comes to you in a dream.  Then you start making it again, maybe tweaking it or experimenting with it, making it more your own, and you wonder, ‘Why on earth did I ever stop making this?  It’s totally the bomb!’  (yes, I’m sorry to say that inside your mind you still call things ‘the bomb’).  But, eventually you stop making it and forget about it, until you rediscover it and reclaim it once more.

Okay, maybe you actually don’t do this, but I can tell you for certain that I do.  And, these Turkish flatbreads are a prime example of it.  I first encountered a description of Turkish flatbread a few years ago in the great Paula Wolfert’s, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. It’s one of a small handful of foods in the book that don’t take between 4 hours and a week to cook, but even if it had, I probably would have made it.  In the preface to the recipe Ms. Wolfert conjurs up the aura of a steamy, bustling marketplace in Turkey where she bought slices of the slightly flaky, fragrant bread, bubbling and oozing  with pungent cheese, still scalding hot from a coal fired oven.  Upon reading it, I  immediately went and checked on the price of tickets to Turkey.  Yikes!  Nothing doing.  So, I settled for baking flatbread, though settled is hardly the right word for it.  Her version calls for simply stuffing them with runny, stinky (in the good way) teleme cheese, which is what I did.  And, for several weeks I did my best to monopolize the local cheese shop’s supply of teleme, and baked veritable stacks of flatbread.  But, as suddenly as I started, I stopped.  I probably got distracted by a desire to eat tomatoes, or kale, or something.

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