Saturday, June 19, 2010


I've been cooking, but not writing, so here is some catch-up (not ketchup).

I am not sure I have ever had sorrel soup before, let alone made it, which seemed incentive enough to try. We had some crossed wires, though, and ended up with not nearly enough sorrel for a decent sized pot. Fortunately for me, there were only two of us. The sorrel cooked quickly to almost nothing, and we ended up with barely two cups. I'm not sure I would make this soup again. It was very strong. To accompany it, I fixed a pot of penne pasta, to which I added roasted cauliflower and chopped walnuts. I also made a mistake here -- I wasn't thinking when I was marketing and bought the house brand of Parmesan, which is not nearly as flavorful as the type that is properly made and aged. All in all, this was a very pretty meal -- and not much more.

One of the better meals I made, and very simple, was grouper. I prepared the sauce in advance by skinning a tomato and adding capers, balsamic, and herbs. This was an excellent, pungent sauce and very easy to make. I cooked the fish on the stove top, with lots of butter, then ladled the topping over it after it had finished cooking. For a side dish, I again turned to the penne, mixing in three types of mushrooms. Oh my gosh. I have to make this one again.

I was itching to do something with hamburgers. I had read the best way is to grind your own meat in a food processor, but Darien gave me a Look, so I backed off. Instead, I just mixed in to the patties some Dijon mustard with cognac and chives. I also read that the meat should not be too lean; the fat enhances the flavor as it grills and helps to prevent the burgers from drying out. As a side dish, I made a bow tie pasta salad with grilled asparagus and red peppers. Both of these dishes turned out well. I can't say as much for the pear dessert I prepared. I simmered the pears in sugar and butter. They were supposed to caramelize, but they cooked a lot faster than I anticipated and the mixture burned. I placed them on puff pastry and topped with whipped cream and sour cream -- which sounds odd, but actually worked. Some of the Speckled Bird got in on the food action, so we had entertainment as well.

My latest effort was a berry pie. This is berry season, and we have been getting bushels from our community share. Antonia came over and directed, while I more or less implemented. Tart cherries, along with both red and black raspberries, was the call of the day. Antonia let them sit in a sugar and port sauce while I made the crust. I followed Julia Child's instruction to get my fingers into the dough. It was like making mud pies. The result was not pretty, but tasty. We drained the berries and boiled the juice down to pour over the pie after it came out of the oven. The pie baked for a full hour and a half. I have to say, I'm sorry I had to share this one. It was berry, berry good.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Out of the frying pan

I had been thinking for some time about trying my hand at pizza. I wanted to make my own dough, and Antonia had talked about cooking it on the grill, so I decided to give it a shot.

Because I can't seem to approach any cooking task with simplicity in mind, I elected to make a dough with herbs in it. The recipe I found called for herbes de Provence. I had no idea what they were, so I did some quick research and started to mix up a batch from what I could find in the spice cabinet. Then I noticed that Darien already had a jar of the herbs she had bought at the market. Oh. Next step, mince some garlic, saute it with the herbs, and prepare to add to the dough.

The dough turned out to be an issue. It called for bread flour (which I had to purchase) and cornmeal, and for mixing in a food processor. The sugar and yeast mixture seemed to work well, but in mixing everything together, the dough seemed too sticky and glutinous. I ended up adding more flour than I think I should have, which ended up being a theme for the evening. Just as the dough was forming into a ball like it was supposed to, the Cuisinart froze. This was going to be an expensive pizza.

I kneaded the dough ball a bit and left to rise. Meanwhile, I started on the toppings. I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, so I put together my own, basing it around roasted tomatoes brushed with oil and herbs, a fennel/garlic/onion saute, and barbecued shrimp, planning to top everything with goat cheese. What I neglected was to adjust the size of the recipes appropriately, so I ended up with several times as much as was sufficient. Antonia helped out by consuming vast quantities of the shrimp before dinner.

I made a Dijon based dressing (red wine vinegar, shallots, garlic, thyme, olive oil), while Antonia put together the romaine salad with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and salami, proudly cut matchstick style.

The dough rose nicely and I began rolling out the pies. I had to use a lot of flour to keep things from sticking, and I think I could have rolled them all thinner. I stacked them up as I finished, just as the recipe called for, but this proved to be a problem later. When I was grilling one set of pies, the others that were sitting began to stick together. I had to do emergency surgery with a bag of flour while standing at the grill, trying not to let the others burn. It was not a pretty sight.

I put everything together and popped the pies in the oven to melt the cheese. In spite of the stress, and the rather dilapidated look of the pizza, it actually didn't taste all that bad. And it didn't end up costing all that much either -- I just found out that the food processor was not permanently damaged. Whew.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

A simple meal

With Peter coming home for Easter last weekend, we decided to celebrate Darien's birthday a week early. We asked her what she wanted for her meal, and she told  us "to keep it as simple as possible."

Right. Like that was going to happen.

Antonia did some initial scouting around, and we decided that a French dinner would be appropriate, given that we will be going to France this summer. We smiled and told Darien we were following her dinner suggestions exactly as she wished.

I went shopping on Saturday and picked up most of what we needed. Since we would be slicing so many vegetables, and some needed to be julienned, Antonia decided that a mandoline slicer would make an excellent present from the boys. She purchased one and I picked it up from her cabin and secreted it away. So far, so good.

While Antonia and Darien were singing in church on Sunday, I got busy. After some fumbling around, I was able to julienne the carrots, celery, leeks, and other toppings for the sole. Since we were doing French, of course the whole pile was sauteed in a mound of butter. I added sliced mushrooms at the very end, and set everything aside in the refrigerator for later use. I then got to work on the crust for the tarte. This was the part that made me nervous, but it was surprisingly easy -- mix the dry ingredients, then add a slightly beaten egg and softened butter in a little crater and mash the whole thing together. I rolled it all into a ball and set it in the refrigerator to chill.

When Antonia arrived, we switched it into high gear. We gave Darien firm instructions not to enter the kitchen after she exclaimed how nice the salmon looked.

I started chopping and Antonia worked on the fish -- sole, not salmon -- preparing it in a baking dish for poaching. I put the mandoline to good use, slicing a the potatoes to a nice thinness, followed by the zucchini. I sliced the apples razor thin with the mandoline and Antonia placed them artistically on the pie dough that she had formed into a rough approximation of a circle. She then heaped a mound of sugar on top. It was so much sugar she didn't have the heart to use all the recipe called for, especially after she dribbled the honey on it. Maybe that is what made it taste so good.

This was a good dinner. I would never have been able to pull everything together without A., so props to her.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mushroom mania

I need to learn to moderate my ambitions. One complex recipe is enough for a meal. Two or three just lead to stress and mistimings.

Thankfully, Antonia stepped up and offered to be my sous-chef. She did a marvelous job, other than putting the tarragon and parsley in the wrong dish. Oh well.

I didn't look at the cooking times closely enough in the beginning, so I started with the four vegetable soup. I had to make the broth first -- carrot, celery, onions, shallot, leek, garlic, thyme, pepper, parsley. Rather than the canned chicken broth that the recipe called for, I used some of Darien's homemade vegetable broth made from leftover trimmings from various meals. After the broth was made, I added the potatoes, leeks, peas, and spinach. I had to cut up some more tarragon and parsley, after my sous-chef's misappropriation.

Antonia actually did most of the preparation for the main dish, a mushroom risotto. It called for over a pound of crimini mushrooms, in addition to a dried porcini (which Darien couldn't find, so she found a nice substitute). I should have started on this dish first, since I had to keep adding liquid, stirring, and cooking until the Arborio rice was plump and tender. The Parmesan and fresh parsley at the end were nice additions.

The last dish was a fresh broccoflower salad. What really made this dish was the tart dressing -- oil mixed with a yellow hard boiled yolk, garlic, and sherry vinegar. The broccoli was tossed with watercress, scallions, celery, pimento olives, capers, parsley, and the remainder of the egg.

I didn't have everything ready to go at once, so some things had to sit while the rest of the dishes caught up. After having eaten spoonfuls of rice as it was cooking, I was no longer in the mood for bread, so I dropped that from the menu. I also realized that rice in the risotto and potatoes in the soup was probably not the wisest decision. The meal was still tasty, however, and afforded us plenty of leftovers.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Peter's special meal

Peter was coming home for spring break, so I decided to try and make him something. I initially wanted a crock pot recipe, but wasn't coming up with anything that appealed to me, so I settled on a shish kabob. I selected lamb since we don't have it often, and built the rest of the dishes around that.

I diced the lamb and then marinaded it for 24 hours in yogurt, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cilantro, minced garlic, curry powder, and ground black pepper. But before the meat was even ready for grilling, disaster loomed. Peter's ride to South Carolina got complicated, and he decided not to come home. Like any good chef, I improvised. I invited the Speckled Bird over instead and the dinner proceeded.

The next evening the rest of the meal went together fairly easily. I started with the cucumber salad, since I had to leach much of the liquid out by salting the pieces and weighting them down in a colander for three hours. The bismati rice pilaf called for cardamom pods, which I didn't have, so I substituted powder, the only real variation I had to make. The cloves and cinnamon stick that I cooked in gave the rice an unusual flavor. While the pilaf cooked, I finished up the salad with a yogurt dressing, adding oil, mint, cumin, and garlic. Antonia cut up some fresh vegetables I had purchased. I rubbed oil on them and added some mint, then grilled them in a basket next to the lamb. I had some mini whole wheat pita pockets that I wrapped in foil and warmed up in the barbecue to complete the meal.

After dinner, the band broke the silence of the lamb and practiced in the front room. I think this was my best meal yet, both for the food and the company. Next time, Peter, you better come home when you say you will. I only have a few of these up my sleeve.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Darien Defaults

I think I might have missed a week or two somewhere. But anyway ...

I flunked the bedtime last week. Totally. But that inspires me to do better this week.
On the gym front I didn't do too well either ... only two days.

On the Good News front I totally rocked with my new, New Year Revolution, which is to throw out one item a day. I have achieved this goal for the past three weeks, and have pictures to prove it.

Week six tackled by Darien

Ok, I kind of failed on the early to bed routine last week. Just one or two nights out of four. I'll do better this week ... starting tonight!

On the exercise front, I made it to the gym four times. My session with fitness coach Camille was really worthwhile, and I'm finding that forgotten muscles are talking to me.

As far as my Valentine's Day Revolution, a picture is worth ... how many words?


So, for Valentine's Day I made another "revolution" and "gave" it to John.
My new resolution is to throw out one item a day. I start a new pile each week, adding to it each day and documenting it with a picture on Sunday. Then, everything gets sorted into three piles in the staging room: Goodwill, consignment, trash. Some weeks there is a give away to family members pile too. Staging room, you ask? That's the advantage of having a house that is too big. My goal is to get rid of enough stuff to enable us to move into the Condemnation Plantation--yay!