Saturday, March 29, 2008

How to have a swell dinner party!

1) Have a house that is a complete disaster and has not been cleaned since maybe the previous Halloween. (very scary)
2) Have your husband/chef be out of town for the past couple of days.
3) Invite a bunch of people over you know pretty well, but maybe have never had over all at the same time before. Hope you can remember how many people said they will come.

Here's what will happen:
A) Your fabulous friend Annie, known for her incredible soups and stews, will volunteer to make Columbian Chicken Stew and show up with said stew, all the accoutrements, so that you can clean the Haunted House and only need to provide salad (mixed greens with broccoli and tomatoes in lemon vinaigrette), cornbread, and dessert (currant cookies, we keep the dough in the freezer on the ever ready, and a Mrs. Rizzo's Lemon cake leftover from Wedneday's birthday party) and some fruit salad (mango, tangelo, kiwi).

b) Other fabulous friends will bring delicious appetizers - melon wrapped in prosciutto, and furthermore volunteer to take care of Coco during the French Expedition.

C) Wine, including the ever popular Veramonte SB will show up.

D) It will be a sunny day.

E) John will get back just as the dinner is served.

It will be a swell party.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Italian flag dinner

Nancy on meetings, John on dinner.

Time to paint the Main Hall at the Armory, so let's schedule a weekend painting party. BUT WAIT! There are no free weekends until mid-June or later! Now what?

Fettucini with prawns, Swiss Chard, and tomatoes, Zucchini with tomatoes, onions, and basil. D'Anjou Pears and kiwi. The plates were colorfully Italian red white green, and the dinner was delicious. Veramonte, the wine it is too easy to drink quite a bit of.

Conversation circled around what to do with the dog while John & the dog's best friend, Charlotte, are in Anchorage the same day that Nancy has concerts and consultants all day. YIKES.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pasta with Ham and peas

The good news is that we came home from Easter dinner with ham, cheesecake, and salad. Guess what we had for dinner?
Pasta with ham and peas, added a bit of fresh salad to last night's, had some fruit, and cheesecake for dessert.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ham of God

Probably going to roast in hell for this (is hell capitalized? Hell?) but for Easter weekend, I worked on the taxes. Saturday all day, getting the bookkeeping caught up and figuring out how much the forged checks ran to, then Sunday all day doing first the kids' taxes and then chipping away at ours, since WE WILL BE IN FRANCE when tax day is.

Often, Easter dinner is at our house, but this year, no way. Luckily, Saturday, Lynn got back from Spokane and called to see if we'd like to come for Easter dinner? YOU BET. (the photo is of Easter Past. Obviously Lynn is thinking about a better Easter to come....)

They got a Jerry's ham, and soaked it over night, and then went straight for the traditional Easter ham dinner with a sweet honey glaze, scalloped potatoes (scalped ham and potatoes is the family term in Lynn's house), the fabulous no-knead bread, fresh asparagus and hollandaise, and the Nordstrom's salad with champagne vinaigrette, pears, candied waluts, red peppers, and greens. Of course some deviled eggs as appetizers. (YES!). We slaved over a hot stove chilling a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne, and life is good, spring is coming, the evenings are lighter, and holy cow there's Honey Cheesecake with raspberry sauce and ganache!

Life is good.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Food Fans

Last night it was my turn to cook, after a week where poor John even had to cook his own birthday dinner and all of us (Henry is home for the week for spring break!) were too tired to eat it. So there was this big fat rib eye and way more bok choy in the frig than you'd really imagine we could eat. I dibs cooking for the night, and told the menage that there would be beef and bok choy for dinner. They looked thrilled.

So I got home, and first of all rinsed a cup of quinoa, diced a 1/2 cup of onions and sautéed them in butter, put in the grains, and added a cup of water. To the boil covered, and then on low for the durations. Little salt in there too.

Then I dealt with the massive bok choy pile. I love roasting vegetables, so put the oven on 450, pulled the bok choy apart and washed, doused it in garlic and olive oil, little salt & pepper, and arranged it decoratively (all the stems at one side, all the leaves at the other) in a shallow roasting pan. Mixed up a little lemon zest, lemon juice, mirin, tarragon in a bowl and set that all aside.
Made the fruit plate: A beautiful d'anjou pear (usually I don't like those, but these are sweet and buttery in texture. very nice), two kiwis and a blood orange, all carefully sliced into half-moons and arranged decoratively in a fan shape around the plate. Very nice.
Took out the steak, rubbed well with fresh black pepper and kosher salt, and into a hot pan, fat side first to get some of the beef fat to fry it in (I'm sure it is endorsed by your heart doctor), and then seared on each side. Popped it into the oven to finish, and put the bok choy in too. About three minutes into this, turned the bok choy over in the pan to evenly cook. About three minutes later, pull everything out of the oven. Pour the reserved lemon mix over the bok choy. Take the steak out of its pan to rest, and put the pan on high heat with a good splash of red wine, a dollop of mustard, and a dollop of butter.
Make sure the bok choy is still nicely arranged, and put it on the table.
Slice the steak thinly, as for London Broil, and fan it nicely on the serving platter.
Shake up the sauce, and napé the steak fan.

A whole table of food fans.

Woop Woop (Australian Shiraz)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I eat tartes and macarons just to be with her alone, Angelina

Today Laura and I had a very decadent and cliché Parisian afternoon. After doing some shopping (finding nothing but tourists and pushy old french ladies) at the the Galerie Lafayette and Printempts we wandered down to a café called Angelina on Rue de Rivoli, famous for it's hot chocolate. The café was darling, very Marie Antoinette/Petit Trianon, while also being ever so slightly touristy, which I imagine is inescapable on Rue de Rivoli. I had helped Laura edit an application she was working on for money that would allow her to spend a few weeks in Paris researching American writers in Paris, and she said that she was treating me to hot chocolate chez Angelina as a thank you. Once we got there, we realized that we were going to have to order a pastry too. The pastries were gorgeous and all looked amazing. We were seated on the second floor, which overlooks the entry, so we had a nice view of people coming in and all of the pastries, which came in handy when trying to decide which one to order. Laura ordered something that was kind of like a light cheesecake with a raspberry core, but it was oh, so darling and oh, so Marie Antoinette, that it didn't really matter what was inside, it was just too darling not to order it. I had spotted a macaron pastry and I'm ashamed now to admit that I had never had a macaron in Paris and was excited to try one. It was a kind of macaron sandwich, filled with rasperries, violet creme et raspberry and strawberry jelly. It was HEAVEN. Why have I resisted the macaron for so long? Why? The hot chocolate was also fantastic- very dark and seasoned with a little bit of something but I couldn't tell you what it was. Laura and I shared one, and it came in a little pitcher and was accompanied by a little bowl of whipped cream. It was a vachement fabulous afternoon. Merci, Laura!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lamb Curry and Wikis

Yesterday was my day to take a meal to our friend who just had open heart surgery, and I had made an arrangement to have dinner with an old friend and former co-worker to learn just enough about wikis to be dangerous (read: offer a workshop in them next Sunday).

I was puzzling out what I could make in advance that would still be tasty and easy to heat up and get out to our friend and back in time to get the dinner on the table at our house: Ta Da! Lamb Curry! The recipe is originally from the blue Craig Claibourne NYTimes Cookbook and is one we used at the Fiddlehead.

So: Lamb Curry over brown rice, with a green salad and a fruit salad of mango, blackberries, strawberries, kiwi, and mandarines. some CMS red wine, a shortbread cookie, and long discussions of the difference between blogs, wikis, Google docs, and when to use each tool, and is the universe a better place because of them or should we be concerned about texting and how can we use cell phones or texts to rally a spontaneous ballroom dance on the new roundabout? Many thanks to Tom McKenna for his, as usual, thoughtful comments and guidance on the subject.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Chocolate CHIP ice cream

Aunt Martha - this one's for you. We had the best ice cream ever tonight. Vanilla + real little chocolate chips. I've never had anything that tasted so pure and delicious.
During the winter our CSA doesn't deliver any produce. We usually go to a little grocery store called Sigona's, or better known as Begonia's in our family, to pick up our fruit and vegetables. It's a family-run store and they carry a lot of locally grown produce, which we like.
They also have a little freezer section with ice cream. Most of the ice cream is packed in little white containers from a local shop called Marianne's in Santa Cruz. They have all sorts of interesting flavors including ginger and I can't remember the others. I went for something tame and boy was it good.
Next time you come up to visit, we'll have to go there!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Lemon-y Un-Birthday Dinner

We were happy to help ourselves to some of the California lemons & rosemary that were up for the taking at the Arts & Culture Center not so long ago, and made it into a Lemon Night. In our family, we celebrate half-birthdays, with a dinner menu and dessert of choice for the lucky one who's halfway to the next date. Late last month, our 7-year-old turned 7 1/2. She chose for dinner a Lemon Roast Chicken from the Sesame Street cookbook she got as a Christmas gift. Grandma helped slice the lemons very thin, mix sage, rosemary, olive oil and pepper, and lift the skin to rub that underneath, then put the lemon slices on top of the herb mix, but still under the skin. Roast as usual, and it was moist and delicious. The kids drank lemonade, the parents had lemon water with their wine, and Grandma made lemon bars for dessert. After dinner the kids put on a show and collected donations to send to Senegal, which the unbirthday girl had studied at Girl Scout Thinking Day. Thanks for sharing, Nancy.

My grandfather's legacy

John's away in Chile and Argentina (oh darn, those pesky business trips) and so lately, I've been eating like my grandfather: When my grandmother was dying, she taught him to make a couple of his favorite dishes - green beans cooked long and hard with bacon (actually quite good, I didn't know green beans came in any other color than olive drab until I went away to college), spaghetti. He'd make up a pot of spaghetti or beans, and because the family had been a big one, the recipes made a pretty large pot, and then just eat it every day until gone.
So, I went to the store and got a package of ground round, and have been every night having a little hamburger pattie fried up, with some version of starch, some version of green vegetable, and some version of fruit every night. Quick and tasty. Last night it was hash browns of Yukon Gold, beet greens, and a mango, blackberry, kiwi, orange salad and a glass of Marques de Caceres.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

France France Underpants

Things have been exciting here in France these days. My host parent's kitchen is being remodeled right now so there is no stove, oven, or dish washer and my host father is in a wheelchair after having his Achilles tendon operated on. For a couple days there was no water in my bathroom and yesterday there was no heat. Needless to say, my host mother is feeling a little frazzled. But, the culinary adventures have been exciting and it's amazing what things come out of the microwave. It appears that the french take microwave dinners just as seriously as they take any other kind of dinner. There's even a special store called Picard that sells only frozen food. And it's really good. They do a nice bechemel sauce and we've been eating a lot of moussaka, which my host mother "adores." She's also been feeding me the ultimate decadent food: veal meat loaf. I know. I feel so guilty when eating it because it's so tender and yummy! It comes in little balls that I think she gets at the butcher and you just pop it into the microwave for 3 minutes and poof! veal meat loaf.

I have also just returned from Edinburgh to visit my very good friends Katy and Neela and the culinary adventures were no less exciting. Katy is a pro when it comes to baked chicken, and as a roast chicken lover, I was very appreciative. Her secret is to peel the skin away from the breasts and stuff it with butter. Very low in calories. Good for the diet. I also found gin and tonics in cans and found this very amusing. The Edinburgh newspaper was having a deal where one could go to a restaurant and order a three course meal for only 10 pounds and as the dollar is doing so badly and we're all poor college students, we jumped at the opportunity. We went to a mexican restaurant on "cockburn" street (pronounced co-burn, oh those scottish) and we were pleasantly surprised when it was good! *gasp!* We ate our weights in guacamole and sour cream and refried beens. It was fabulous, as the french haven't really grasped the concept of mexican food yet and good refried beens are not to be found. All in all, eating has been going well on this continent and I'm anxious to see what comes out of the microwave ce soir....

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Kitchen Libraries

This entry is for those folks that do not meet all of the following criteria:

1. You have sat at the dining table next to the kitchen while Nancy or John prepares a meal.

2. You have watched, fascinated, while they throw various and sundry vegetables, meats, and spices into pots, bowls, and pans.

3. You realized that there was nary a book in sight.

4. You felt that number three was a perfectly normal state of affairs. (No book, not the realization)

If you meet all of the above conditions, then you may move on down your blog roll to some other blog, thanks for your attention.

For the rest, what are the most used cookbooks, recipe collections, or sources that you use?
I have a weakness for older cookbooks and our kitchen shelves reflect this. But that is just curiosity. No, what I am looking for are the ones that have dog-eared pages, dark smudges throughout, and little bits of packaging material stuck in as bookmarks.

Debi and I have a habit of making a cookbook ours. On the flyleaves, we will list favorite recipes and the page numbers. At the recipe itself, we write the date that we first used it. We try to use the recipe as written the first time*. After that, any changes we make or want to make the next time, are written in, in the margins. That is why, when I write out recipes here on the blog, the basic recipe is there and our changes in (parenthesis).

So, the most used books at SapperHall (not in any particular order):

Cooking Under Pressure, Lorna Sass; William Morrow and Co, 1989
We use the heck out of this book. If you have not used a pressure cooker before, this is a great source. Easy to read, not real elaborate, and very complete.

The Complete Book of Soups and Stews, Bernard Clayton, Jr.; A Fireside Book by Simon and Schuster; 1984
Everything soupy. Again, very easy to use. Chock full of great recipes, from boiled water (garlic), to more elaborate preps. I write most of my recipes out using Clayton's basic form.

The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, Fannie Farmer; Little-Brown and Company; 1st printing of the 1941 edition
There are some books that cannot be replaced. Copied, yes, replaced, no. It may lack in some finer details of dish assembly, but it has all the solid American recipes that I grew up on. None of this fancy Julia Child stuff in the Davis household. On the flyleaf of this copy is written "...10/15/42 To keep Bob happy - Ann". To me, the story here is that it was given by a mother-in-law to a new daughter.

The Minimalist Cooks at Home, Mark Bittman; Broadway Books; 1999
Not being a NYT (hack, gack) fan, I had no idea who Bittman was. I am sure glad that I found this book. Quick, simple meals. There are not too many dishes with more than about 10 ingredients. Every dish has a list of alternative ingredients to take it further or to adapt to what you actually have in the pantry. That formula is shared by our next entry,

How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman; Wiley Publishing; 1998
We use this a lot. Our favorite saying about this book is "...[Bittman] has never let us down." I have found a few items that are not mentioned in here and I have emailed Bittman at the NYT (hack, gack), but have not heard from him.

The New Professional Chef, Culinary Institute of America (various); Van Nostrand Reinhold Publishing; 5th edition, 1991
This was a gift from my mother-in-law and I cannot stop thanking her. Little by little I am learning some small skill at the prep table and it is all because of this book. And I do use it for the recipes, even when it makes a gallon of dressing. The beauty of it is that it can be easily adapted for smaller preparations without needing a math degree. Love the Ceaser-style dressing and the seviche recipes.

The Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking, Jeni Wright (Editor); Crescent Books; 1st English edition, 1981
We do not use this one as much as the others, but when we need it, I am sure glad that it is here. The only thing that I have really changed is that I do not make risotto in the pan, I use the pressure cooker.

So there you have 'em, the cook books that get the most use here. Unlisted are all of the Cook's Illustrated, the Saveurs, and all of the other collected collections that fill the shelves.

What do you use?

*True except for garlic. We are not afraid to boost the blessed herb. Most recipes seem to think that garlic is a spice instead of a vegetable.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Am I the only one eating?

Spent the week in Washington DC at the lovely Hyatt Regancy on Capitol Hill, very nice, but erratic internet. (Anyone with me on the Let's make wireless a given? Part of your water and sewer bill?)

Lunched en route at Anthony's in the SeaTac Airport, had their ever delicious clam chowder with crab & grapefruit salad.

Arrived late Tuesday evening, and had a light supper in the hotel not memorable except for the $12 Kim Crawford.

Wednesday wandered about a bit and ended up at the perfect restaurant, why we ever went anywhere after that I don't know, Bistro Bis, just around the corner from the hotel. Perfect cozy but stylish atmosphere, perfect service, perfect French Onion Soup, perfect roasted beet salad with feta and walnuts, perfect Spanish Cava, and a great night's sleep. I wanted to make reservations to eat there for the rest of my life.

Thursday, The Kennedy Center provided a lovely banquet in their dining room, all done up with pink, black and white polka dots, and martini glasses along the theme of "Think Pink": The keynote speaker was Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and a pretty funny speaker, and then we were treated to the National Symphony Orchestra performing with the Pink Martinis, favorites from Portland, and a refreshing evening it was. Oh yes, the menu: Mixed greens with roasted beets, feta and glazed nuts, roasted chicken breast with herbs and fresh steamed root vegetables, and a grapefruit and white chocolate mousse served in a martini glass with very clever and yummy truffles rolled in green pistachios with a dab of red at the end and stuck on a cocktail pic to resemble olives. I had the Kenwood Chardonnay, thank you very much. The Kennedy Center believes in eating well.

Friday, the regulars from Alaska said we must go to Filamena Ristorante in Georgetown. Very delightful Italian place, downstairs, all decked out in Easter bunnies and eggs and stuff, very fun, great waiters, Zenato Pinot Grigio while they looked for our reservation. We had a perfect little round table for the seven of us, easy to visit over. Revelation: Arancini. Wonderfully light, delicate flavorful golf ball sized rice fritters. The words don't do justice. Unfortunate choice of main course on my part: Cavatelli. "One of Italy’s oldest handmade pastas ~ The Pasta Mamma’s handmade tender Ricotta Dumplings tossed in a light Sauce of Tomato, Fresh Sage and a touch of browned butter." Leaden. Heavy. drat. So I ordered a dessert, a fruit tart. Pretty enough (see the photo) but the crust was hard and not yummy. Next time, go back to Bistro Bis.

Saturday, I came down with traveler's flu, and slept the whole day in a fever. My traveling companion kindly brought me some matzo ball soup and fruit juice in the afternoon, and I lived through it, thankful that I didn't have to fly until Sunday.

Sunday, we crept early into a TGIFriday's and begged for tea and toast (have you ever gone for breakfast at a Friday's? Everything on the menu is $6.99 and involves omelettes, way too much invalids and early mornings.) which the nice young lady brought us, causing the folks at the next table to also beg for tea and toast.

Lunch at Anthony's again, with the clam chowder and crab salad, and a Bernard Griffin Fume Blanc that just was not as good as I remember.

Home and John had prepared a lovely fresh crab and prawns salad, with a Jerusalem Artichoke and Roasted Pepper dressing, with a glass of Dry Creek Fume Blanc (now we're talking) which I managed to eat 1/2 of before toddling off to bed.

So the rest of you, did you eat?