Home and Home Cooking

After a week and a half away, S & I returned home on Friday…exhausted. We were in New York, for my parents 50th wedding anniversary, and in Washington, D.C., for a grand tour. Before returning home, we sent the girls off to camp for the summer. We came home kid-free and slept-in on Saturday, which was pretty luxurious.

Upon our return, S & I were ready for some home cooking. When you are on the road for a long time, food at restaurants gets old and it is hard to control yourself when the food is good – which it was.

We did have a couple of very memorable home cooked meals while we were gone: my sister, K, made grilled pizza one night, among other fantastic food; our friend, JS, made Maryland crab cakes, while we were visiting the D.C. area, that were, frankly, stupendous (and she also made fabulous pesto pasta and chocolate souffle); and finally, we had an incomparable breakfast at S’s cousins’ home – they made a full list of J’s favorite breakfast foods.

Nonetheless, we arrived home craving fresh fruit and vegetables, less salt, and, actually, a little less of everything. I will be mostly cooking for 2-4-dinner for the summer, except when guests are here. And, that has already occurred. Saturday night, Grandma and WG were here for dinner. Here is the menu we had:
Hummus and chips (while I was cooking)
*Chicken – roasted on the barbeque in a cast iron pan (too hot to use the oven)
*Asparagus vinaigrette
*Sliced fresh tomatoes

I don’t like to tamper too much with vegetables when they are so perfect at this time of year. Just a little salt, pepper and olive oil. Or, plain. This dinner was great kick-off to healthier eating. The chicken was from the farmers market and was a real “range” chicken. No cage, no all-day coup. Lean and delicious.

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Menu for the “Week”

It feels like I’ve done a lot of cooking and recording so far this year. In looking back, I’ve made some meals and dishes that we’ve loved and some, well, we didn’t.

I haven’t intentionally tried to keep attempting new recipes with such frequency, but as it turns out, I haven’t done a lot of repeating and haven’t made some of our favorite foods in a while. The girls are about to embark on their summer camp adventure, so they have gotten to choose dinner for the past couple of nights. They won’t have my cooking for a couple of months. It will be 2-4-dinner for most of the summer, me and S.

Here are the girls choices for their last meals at home:

Sunday (last night): Pasta with tomato cream sauce, salad
Monday (tonight): Frogs legs chicken, green bean salad, “Masa” brown rice (a local brown rice), key lime pie

Today, I spent a couple of hours making strawberry jam with some friends, after a pretty busy few weeks. That was very fun. Making jam is an activity that seems to be best done with lots of hands – rinsing, drying, hulling, crushing, stirring, funneling, etc. We made two different types: with pectin and without. My personal preference is without pectin. I think it has a more intense flavor. But, the pectin variety is delicious, as well, and tastes more “fresh”. I didn’t take any photos of the process, so I will need to just post the pictures of the jam on some toast. Can’t wait until it sets.

That is it for a while. We are hitting the road for a couple of weeks. I’ve got many recipes saved up and photographed, but with the end of school, it has been hard to find the time to sit and write. The end of the school year is usually pretty harried. This year has been no exception. I’m going to re-ignite my cooking while the girls are away. S and I will try some new and interesting recipes, I hope.

Watermelon Seeds

Watermelon seeds make me feel old.

I know that sounds strange, but it is not easy to find a watermelon with seeds these days. Most watermelons at the grocery store are seedless, including the new mini-watermelons. And, those “watermelons” don’t even make sense to me – since watermelon seems to be about abundance and summer excess.

Today, we are having a watermelon seed spitting contest at the 4th Grade end-of-year party. My task is to bring an old fashioned watermelon. Luckily, my favorite grocery store had them in stock (bless them). I bought one that is, I think, more than 20 lbs. An early season monster.

I’ll be curious to know if any of the kids exclaim, “Watermelons have seeds?!!” And, with all those leftover seeds on the field, will we have a new crop of seeded watermelon growing in the autumn?

5 Minute Bread

Above are some pictures of the bread that I’ve been baking from the book that I just bought, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I’m all for easy and quick recipes and this book is just that (not including the time it takes to rise and bake the bread).

I’m loving the book. I’ve made the Pain d’Epi, twice (from one mix of the bread), and the Peasant Loaf, once (served last night with the soup). I’ve got the rest of the dough in the refrigerator.

The bread takes literally 5 minutes to mix, similar to No-Knead Bread. And, it is pretty comparable. This style just makes more per batch, and has more recipes. The premise is that you mix the dough in a relatively large batch, no kneading, let it rise at room temperature for a couple of hours and then throw the whole thing in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. The dough lasts in the fridge for up to two weeks – the flavors continue to develop over time. When you are ready to bake the dough into bread, you cut off the amount you want to use, shape it, let it rest for a short time while your oven is heating, then bake it. That’s it. You do need a baking stone, but that is the only extra equipment. Actually, I tried the Peasant Loaf baked in a covered pan, like No-Knead bread. It seemed to work just fine. I may try bagels or bialys next.

I have found that the book’s proportions aren’t exact in terms of the number of pounds of bread that each recipe makes. A recipe that indicates that it makes 4 pounds of bread really only makes about 3 1/4 to 3 1/2. But, the bread is really good! The Pain d’Epi is pretty impressive looking, like from a Parisian bakery. The texture is somewhat heavier than traditional french bread, big holes but a dense crumb. Nonetheless, a great crust and wonderful flavor.

Here is a link to Zoe Francois’s blog!


Frogs Legs…Fish?

Frogs Legs Fish
When we were in Seattle visiting family, my sister-in-law was reading a cookbook called Olives and Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. It is a beautiful cookbook – nice looking recipes and gorgeous photographs of food. A feast for the eyes.

One recipe that caught both of our eyes was a recipe for Roasted Scallops with Snail Butter. It had no snails, just the garlic-parsley butter like you would have with escargot, that is impossible not to love. I looked for the recipe on line, because I didn’t copy it and found it here. The recipe still looks appealing, but I wasn’t sure whether it would work for a weekday meal or whether the girls would like it.

Nonetheless, it gave me an idea. Why couldn’t you make Jaques Pepin’s, Chicken Breasts with Garlic and Parsley, using fish? I thought that the firmness of tilapia would work well with the cooking method.

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Menu for the Week

Maybe it is the weather (not quite summery), maybe it is the time of year (last week of school), maybe it is the fact that we are going away soon and I haven’t quite gotten back into a groove. But, I’m not in the mood to cook and I’m having a little inertia around it.

So, after I dropped off the girls’ camp duffles at UPS for their cross country journey, I drove to the grocery store and sat in the car, NPR on the radio, and hoped for some inspiration. Interesting piece on the Terry Gross program about Satchel Paige, but no thunderbolts of cooking ideas.

Here’s what I came up with, but it is subject to change. I only bought groceries for tonight, so I’m not committed to anything beyond. I wasn’t sure about what we already had in the fridge beyond lots of berries from the farmers market, and some english peas (but the girls like those for a snack). I want to take inventory (at least mentally) before doing the big weekday marketing. I know I bought a piece of lemongrass, but I can’t remember where the recipe is that I want to make. I’ll have to do a little investigating.

Here is the flexible plan:

Monday: Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage
Tuesday: Tomato Soup with Bread (new recipe) and Salad
Wednesday: Ribs, Potato Salad, Green Bean Salad
Thursday: Grilled Chicken, Veggies, Hummus, Pita
Friday: Leftover Delight (or go out to celebrate the end of school)

I bought a new cookbook that I’m excited about called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I’m looking forward to trying some new recipes. And, I have a post queued up from last week that I’ll post as soon as I upload the pictures.

With any luck, I’ll be back to my usual self soon.

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Ambrosia. Strawberry rhubarb compote is food for the gods.

I love rhubarb. I love strawberry rhubarb pie.

Rhubarb is such an incongruous plant. It is sometimes called, “pie plant”. The leaves are poisonous. The stems are edible, but very sour and must be cooked with some sugar in order to be palatable. But, not too much sugar, or the vegetable becomes cloying.

Last year, I had a rhubarb tart at a restaurant (Scala’s Bistro in San Francisco) that was so delicious, I still dream about it. In fact, I asked for the recipe the last time we went to the restaurant , and the pastry chef graciously sent the recipe to me. Unfortunately, it makes a little too large a quantity of dough and the filling part is in chef-speak. I think you just have to have a good feel for the ingredient and fillings to know how long to cook it. If I ever attempt the recipe, in a small quantity, I’ll post the result.

Anyway, a couple of years ago, I bought some rhubarb at the market – brilliant crimson and stalky. I had never bought it before, never cooked with it. I thought the girls might like it (a vegetable for dessert) and looked in my trusty Joy of Cooking for a recipe. Not wanting to make a whole pie, I happened upon the compote recipe. I haven’t looked back. Like many recipes in cooking bibles, the ingredient list leaves some room for interpretation – 1/2 to 1 cup sugar. There is a lot of room for defining your own recipe.

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