Thursday, August 25, 2011
One Saturday I made nectarine preserves from a bag of $5 fruit purchased from the sale bin at the farmer's market. The round salesman claimed the fruit was there because it was bruised. But when I came home and started cutting out the battered parts there were few, and it cooked up into a gorgeous pink-hued jam.
A week later I was back in the kitchen, using my grandmother's copper pots to make peach preserves. Now, these orange and pink jars line my shelves and I'm almost excited to crack them open on a chilly January day. Next will come petite jars of apple jelly made from a brown paper bag full of Sonoma Gravenstein apples.
Around this period of furious preserving, we received our bi-weekly CSA delivery: greens, tomatoes (big and small), peaches, plums, squash, an eggplant and watermelon. Nearly all of it was fragrant, soft to the touch, ripe and ready to go.
I was torn between two urges: Use it up! All of it! At once! and Save these flavors, preserve them for later, enjoy.
We did a little of both.
Ripe plums were cut, muddled, and shaken with brandy, chartreuse, and lemon juice to make a cocktail called the Sweet Louise. Tomatoes, eggplant, patty pan, baby squash and cilantro were layered into a stoneware baking dish and cooked into a bright and juicy ratatouille.
The recipe was my take on an old favorite. The original recipe called for parsley instead of cilantro, and peppers of various colors. I decided to work with what I had, and found that I actually preferred the cilantro to parsley, and liked the the more delicate flavors and textures of the eggplant, squash and tomatoes.
I served it both warm and at room temperature, with big hunks of toasted Acme walnut bread spread think with goat cheese, and a little wine. Oh la la.
But do what you will. For me, the end of summer is all about preserving: preserving fruits and vegetables, preserving the feeling of long sunny days, preserving the feeling of me -- legs bared, hair wet, light in my eyes, peach juice on my fingers and the pages of my journal -- to keep me warm and satisfied as we move into autumn.
It's a balance, a balance, between Eat it up! All of it! At once, at once! and save, preserve, enjoy.
End of Summer Ratatouille, adapted from Marguerite Marceau Henderson's cookbook Savor the Memories
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium eggplant, diced into 1-inch cubes
2 pattypan squash, thinly sliced
2 yellow squash, thinly sliced into round coins
3 large ripe tomatoes coarsely chopped or 1 pint baby tomatoes, cut in half
Topping: fresh chopped cilantro
In a small bowl combine cilantro, red onion, garlic, kosher salt, pepper, and olive oil.
In a medium skillet, heat oil. Saute eggplant until soft, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Transfer eggplant and oil from pan to decorative 4-quart baking dish. Layer vegetables in the order given, spreading a bit of the dressing mix in between each layer. Finish with tomatoes on top. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Before serving, scatter with fresh cilantro. Serves 8.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
In late Spring, The Kitchn came over to check out my kitchen. We toured the dishes, the pots and pans, even the dark little cupboard corners.
The result was a peek into my Real World. Unless I'm writing, the kitchen is where I hang out most of the time, and I consider it a surprisingly intimate space. So today I feel a little bit like the whole world just got a look at the lingerie drawer in my bedroom. Funny, huh?
You can see and read more here.
P.S. I'm reminded today of this blog post by the amazing Bon Appetempt about the subtle pain of art and exposure (and chicken with hot-sauce butter). If you're in the business of creativity, make some time for this, too.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
I bought the book Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, because I heard him reading from it on the radio. As he introduced me to Patty and Walter Berglund -- the stars of this sweeping novel -- he supplied a list of the habits and possessions that helped to make them who they are. Of Patty, he said:
"Behind her you could see the baby-encumbered preparations for a morning of baby-encumbered errands; ahead of her, an afternoon of public radio, The Silver Palate Cookbook, cloth diapers, drywall compound, and latex paint; and then Goodnight Moon, then zinfandel. She was already fully the thing that was just starting to happen to the rest of the street."
In just a few lines Franzen captured so much of my 1980s childhood: the colorful picture books, the toddling baby brother in droopy cloth diapers, the drone of NPR while mom cooked and I waited for Dad to arrive home from work.
The Silver Palate Cookbook was on our kitchen shelf, but I'm not sure I cracked the cover until I was an adult. That's when my boss, Maria, arrived at work one day with a slightly-battered copy she'd found at a garage sale.
"Do you have this?" she asked.
When I told her I didn't, she reached for a pen and began skimming the pages. She made notes and starred what she considered to be the best recipes. "Kate's favorite" she put by the chocolate-peanut butter balls. "The best!" next to a tiered lemon cake. And alongside a recipe for Chicken Marbella, "Delicious and perfect for a crowd."
I love my notated version of The Silver Palate but I've only made a few things. Most recipes are more suitable for grand entertaining than everyday eating. There's a chocolate layer cake with crushed hazelnut and ganache, and mousses of every color and flavor.
But Chicken Marbella is just what Maria promised -- a recipe that's perfect for entertaining and ideal for eating at home.
I made it on a Saturday afternoon and took it later that night to dinner with friends who just had a baby. The next evening I served it to an out-of-town guest. I intended to stick the rest of the leftovers in the freezer but instead they became another dinner and a lunch... or two.
It's sophisticated. It's homey. It's delicious. I'm going to make it again and again. And it has me thinking about cookbooks and recipes. Instead of searching the web and printing something new, I'm vowing to dig into the cookbooks I own.
We're encouraged to be so of-the-moment, so aware of trends and news. But it's worth it to look back a little bit. Those favored cookbooks on my shelf? They are there because they are time-tested and dependable. I reach for them when I am busy and tired. I curl up with them on the weekend while I dream about what to make for dinner.
They are there, they are beautiful, and they are filled with good ideas and meals to make. It's yet another reminder that creative inspiration is always within reach.
Chicken Marbella -- From The Silver Palate Cookbook
4 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered (I used the equivalent weight in thighs)
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1/2 cup brown sugar (The original recipe calls for 1 cup -- too much sweetness for me)
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
Thursday, August 11, 2011
I am a creature of habit. I wake up at the same time almost every day and regularly eat the same breakfast for mornings in a row. My lack of variation becomes even worse at lunchtime. Nearly every day at noon I eat this: toasted Acme walnut bread spread thick with avocado. Sometimes there is hummus, occasionally soft egg on top or green salad on the side. But I never manage to get too far from the original. It's simple and satisfying. It works.
It's this habit to be habitual that led me last week to banana bread. Banana bread, you say? But it's August. Shouldn't you be making something with berries or peaches?
The simple answer is yes. The more complicated answer involves the late hour and the understocked pantry. We were out of bread and the only things I had on hand that would help make something satisfying and toastable for the morning were baking basics and a lone banana. So I did what I always did in a similar predicament. I made banana bread.
As I was working, melting and sifting, I heard a strange noise and looked up to see a dog in the kitchen. Bowie, the upstairs pet, had poked his grey and white head through our apartment's unused pet door and decided to climb on through. We stared at each other tentatively.
Bowie spends much of the day barking at the mailman, the fedex guy, and me. I wasn't sure quite what would happen when he realized he wasn't in the right kitchen. In my surprise, I dumped the melted butter into the dry ingredients and began stirring madly, forgetting the egg and the greek yogurt and everything else that was wet. I laughed while Bowie watched and sniffed at my feet.
The resulting banana bread (put into bake after luring Bowie outside) was just fine, even though I'd entirely messed with the method. The bread itself is not very sweet, which we liked, and is ok because it has a crumb topping.
Normally, I'd stray away from a crumb top. I like my bread simple and nutty not crunchy and sweet. But since I've been thinking a lot about my habits, and trying to shake them up a bit, I tried something new. I know, I know... since when is a different banana bread trying something new? But it's a process, right?
The point is, I think, that you can have old habits and new habits at the same time. Your go-to banana bread becomes something new thanks to the crumb topping and the greek yogurt in the batter. Your regular world gets shaken up a bit by the presence of a shaggy dog with bright blue eyes.
Be they little movements or big ones, it's all motion.
Banana Bread with Crumb Topping
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 plain greek yogurt (non-fat ok!)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. butter at room temperature
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 300°.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. Stir in the melted butter and the greek yogurt Add egg and stir until well combined. Add banana. Stir until well combined. Spread the batter into pan.
4. Make the crumb topping by mashing together butter, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Distribute topping evenly over batter. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 min, then allow to finish cooling on rack.
Recipe adapted from Mag Hungry
Thursday, August 04, 2011
When I decided to get married four months after announcing my engagement, I did it with some trepidation. It wasn't because I was nervous about the wedding planning or the small, but oh-so-important details. It wasn't because I was anxious about marrying my mate. It was because I was worried about August.
August: when the days get long and hot. August: the month when peaches plump and basil bursts; when the French go on long vacations and we Americans become frantic, trying to squeeze everything in before Labor Day.
But in August, in San Francisco, the days are long and cool -- and often grey. And for me, a newly minted married woman, sans major project, loafing around looking for a book proposal, a project, a job, August would be treacherous.
Oh, August. I wish I could say you surprised me. But you haven't. Admittedly, I'm a little fickle. There's been sunshine, I'm sure of it. But right now what I see outside my window is dismal and grey. And I've got projects -- the little book I'm editing is nearly finished!-- but I want more projects, bigger ones.
It might be the worst part of my personality, this tendency to never be satisfied. But it might also be the best. It's what keeps me pushing ahead, whether it be writing and networking, or granola baking, floor scouring, and thank-you note writing.
And so, these long slow days of summer demand deeper introspection. Perhaps I've been too quick to plow ahead (I've been accused of this); maybe I'm a bit dramatic?
For there are some August surprises: the CSA box bursting with peaches, tomatoes, and corn also arrived with an array of purple treats that remind me that autumn will come. There are sweet purple grapes and large pungent onions. When have I ever had the time to consider what to do with two pounds of purple onions?
But wait, there's more. Even though I've an abundance of time these days, perfect for elaborate meal planning and execution, there's a new cook in the kitchen. He used to appear sporadically, but this month he's been in the kitchen twice. I even caught him pawing through a Marcella Hazan cookbook after dinner.
The other night he took stock of the vegetable drawer. Next, he found a recipe -- Mark Bittman's Pasta with Corn, Zucchini, and Tomatoes -- and gently pushed me out of the kitchen while he got to work. The end result: barely cooked red and yellow vegetables tossed with tangled ropes of fresh pasta and sprinkled with tarragon.
He says he's cooking again tonight. Oh, August. How you surprise me.
Pasta with Corn, Zucchini and Tomatoes -- recipe by Mark Bittman
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup corn kernels ( cut from 2 or 3 ears)
1 cup diced zucchini or summer squash (from 2 or 3 small vegetables -- we used pattypan)
1 medium onion or 3 or 4 shallots, diced
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 sprigs tarragon or a tablespoon dry
4 plum or 2 large tomatoes, diced
1 pound cut pasta, like penne (imperative so that bits and juices can become lodged in the tubes!)