October 12th, 2012 / Comments
Is it just me, or has planning the menu for a dinner party become more complicated than coordinating colors and patterns for a crazy quilt?
In the 20th century, creating the menu for a dinner part was as simple as choosing a main dish, usually meat or chicken; a vegetable, anything green; something to pour sauce or gravy on, either potatoes, rice or noodles; and, something sweet to finish – a pie, a cake or something chocolate. Alas, those days are gone. … read more
November 9th, 2011 / comments
Soon it will be Cooking Season. Thanksgiving is coming and then there’s December, filled with family birthdays, parties and holidays. Lots of time will be spent at the market gathering food to refill the fridge and pantry.
There will be weeks of marathon of mixing, stirring, slicing, dicing, creaming and blending. It was time to make meals that are simple to prepare, have a limited number of ingredients and are even better the second time around. Corn Chowder is one way to do that. … read more
March 16th, 2011 / comments
The negozio alimentare or ‘shop of food’ closest to our apartment is the source of ciabatta. Ciabatta is a broad, flat, crusty loaf of bread. It is also the Italian word for slipper – perhaps Gepetto used his carpentry skills and two loaves of stale ciabatta to make slippers for Pinocchio. Fresh from the market, sliced horizontally, topped with cheese, slices of tomato and a few drops of oil, it is the perfect foundation for a mid-day sandwich. When I want garlic bread, I slice it, smear it with a mixture of olive oil, minced fresh garlic, dried oregano and ground black pepper and toast it in the oven. I make “toasterless” toast by sautéing it in butter until golden.
Ciabatta more than three days old was too hard to eat until it had been softened. I cut it in quarter-inch chunks, added it to a green salad, poured salad dressing onto it, waited five minutes and then enjoyed it. On Monday, Italian French toast was the recipe of last resort to use the stale end of the loaf. Charles cut the ciabatta into four one-inch thick slices and put them into a single layer in a shallow baking pan. I mixed together one egg and two thirds of a cup of milk, poured it over the bread and refrigerated it for three hours while we were at the market choosing food for dinner. When we got back to our apartment, I sauteed the now very soft bread in butter over medium heat until it was golden on both sides. I put the finished pieces into the toaster oven to stay warm while I sauteed one sliced banana in a bit more butter, and made a small fruit salad with the remaining pear, a few strawberries, a teaspoon of orange blossom honey and a squeeze of lemon juice. This meal was sunny enough to counter the gray sky and chilly wind blowing in from the sea.
Our son Matthew arrived Monday evening for a three-week visit and I made dinner to welcome him. Because we had started the Italian French toast before going out, we were late getting to the market and there was less fish than usual. Angelo Cappucio, my favorite fish vendor, waved to me and showed me his last piece of salmon. Timing and friendship are everything at the market.
I bought a bunch of carrots with feathery greens, four tender-skinned new potatoes and a kilo of the fava beans that marked the arrival of spring in the market. Fava beans are in the same category of food as artichokes, corn on the cob, lobsters and crabs – when you have finished eating any of these things, the pile of debris that remains is larger than the initial serving, apparently disproving the law of Conservation of Mass. In any case, after more than an hour of shelling, blanching and husking a kilo, a bit more than two pounds, of fava beans I had 147 grams, about five ounces, of edible beans and a large bag full of inedible pods and husks.
We expected Matthew on the eight o’clock bus, so I put three thinly sliced new potatoes into a shallow baking pan, drizzling on two tablespoons of olive oil, dusted the top with dried oregano and black pepper. I put them into the toaster oven. The temperature dial on the toaster oven is in centigrade so I turned the dial to point to ‘seven o’clock’ and hoped for the best.
I simmered two thinly sliced carrots with a pinch of salt in a quarter of a cup of water. When the carrots were tender and the water nearly evaporated, I added the blanched, shelled fava beans and a teaspoon of butter to the pan and turned off the heat.
Matthew arrived at 8:20 and after quick hellos and hugs all around I cooked the salmon while Charles and Matthew made plans over glasses of wine. Here’s how I did it: … read more
October 20th, 2010 / comments
In the mid 1980’s, at the end of a two-month trip that took us, with our five year old son, through Asia and Russia, we stopped in Sweden on our way home.
We had been living in Singapore for two years, enjoying an incredible variety of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Indonesian food. Our first meal in Stockholm was gastronomic culture shock. There were endless varieties of meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, breads and berries artfully arranged on a breakfast buffet. I began by tasting a little bit of almost everything. When I tasted the thinly sliced, cured salmon I was expecting salty lox and was surprised by the fresh, slightly sweet, dill flavor and delighted by the sauce that accompanied it.
I went back to the buffet for a second helping and knew that I would order it at every meal until we left Stockholm. A friendly Swede at the buffet table explained that what I had fallen in love with was called gravlax. She explained that the word gravlax is a combination of two Scandinavian words – grav meaning grave and lax meaning salmon – and was in fact a description of how fishermen in the Middle Ages prepared salmon by salting it and burying it in the sand, above the high tide line, to ferment. Fortunately the salmon on the buffet had been cured with salt, sugar and fresh dill in a refrigerator rather than fermented in sand. It was a lovely shade of orange, thinly sliced, served with buttered brown bread and a sweet mustard, dill sauce called hovastarsas. Months later, after we had recovered from our trip half way around the world, I remembered my salmon binge in Stockholm and decided to try to make gravlax. It was a remarkably simple process and I make it frequently.
Salmon and trout are in the same family with the distinction that salmon migrate and trout don’t. Salmon come from both the Atlantic and Pacific and may be either wild or farmed. Varieties of salmon include: Chinook, Coho, pink, sockeye, steelhead and chum. Gravlax can be made with any variety of salmon, and I choose the variety based on guidance I get from Alex, the guy behind the fish counter at my market.
The last time I made it was for a dinner party to welcome our friend, Kay, back from her recent trip to Sweden. Following Alex’s recommendation, I chose a one-pound fillet of steel head.
I prepared it three days before the party so that it would have time to cure. Here’s how I did it:
… read more
August 2nd, 2010 / comments
April 29th, 2010 / Comments
With Julia’s method, I was able to sauté mushrooms to add to omelets, soups, pastas, pizzas and more.
I made a mushroom soufflé for lunch to thank a friend who took care of my mail while I was away. We chatted about my adventures in Italy and her experiences with late winter in Vermont while the soufflé baked. A soufflé sounds complicated but it is just a seasoned white sauce lightened with egg whites that is baked. Here’s how I made it: … read more