Overthinking a Meal


Monday night, without my kids, but with two of my nieces, my sister-in-law, and Grandma and WG, we sat down to a meal of: pappardelle with bolognese sauce, salad, garlic bread, ice cream with raspberries and chocolate sauce. It was the last night of a visit, after all. The dinner was fairly uncomplicated, when you think about it. Then again, when I consider what it takes to put food on our table I become overwhelmed by the enormity of the process.

Over educated though I am, I wouldn’t consider myself a deep thinker. I have a lousy memory, especially for history and important facts (but an exacting one for minutia). And, even though I try to “get the big picture” – a phrase I fondly remember from driver’s education when I was seventeen – I become stuck in the narrow tunnel of everyday life. Suddenly, though, I’ll find myself in, say, a restaurant and I’ll begin to imagine all of the people involved in getting my dinner on the plate. I don’t mean just the servers and cooks. I mean EVERYTHING, down to the carpeting, the napkins, each element of the food (who made the big cans that held the tomatoes for the sauce?), the cooks’ uniforms, the wood for the tables, the plate itself (china made in China?). The web of people, industries, transportation, raw materials, machinery, etc., becomes so intricate that it is overwhelming to me. The sheer number of people who touch my life each day, who I don’t know, but are probably within six degrees of separation, is unfathomable. The global economy that supports the system is even more baffling. How can and does it all work?
Continue reading

Alfajores – Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies


The first time I had an alfajor cookie was at our local tacqueria. Two thin shortbread cookies with that mellow caramel, dulce de leche, in between, rolled in powdered sugar (as if it weren’t already sweet enough). It was soooo decadent and delicious. As is my usual, I thought, “I can make these”. But, finding a recipe was difficult. And, seemingly, there are several different varieties of alfajores depending on the country of origin.

There are cookies that are more crumbly, others that are more crisp. There are those that are flat, others that are domed. Alfajores can also be rolled in shredded coconut on the edges, instead of powdered sugar. I’ve seen recipes for the cookies to be dipped in dark chocolate. One can use dulce de leche made from cow’s milk, or the kind made from goat’s milk (cajeta). Many recipes use a lot of cornstarch, and little flour – perhaps because corn is such a staple of South America. Then there is also a Spanish variety that is not a cookie at all, but a candy made of almonds, sugar and spices. I received some Spanish alfajores as a gift last year when I was in recuperation mode.


Continue reading

Menu for the Week


For some reason, it has been hard to get back on track with writing. I’ve taken a lot of pictures, but I really haven’t been inspired to write about much of what I’ve been cooking. On the other hand, some meals have been very memorable – like the shellfish stew last week. I also made a pasta dish with sardines (inspired by Mark Bittman’s) that was fantastic, but I took no pictures, made no measurements and won’t be able to make it again unless J is out of town again. Additionally, I’ve been keeping the sugar companies in business by making lots of jam (more than 3 dozen jars). And, birthday cakes. For Grandma’s birthday, I made a new hot fudge sauce for the secret family ice cream cake. It was so richly chocolate flavored, thick, and luscious that I made it again yesterday for J’s end of school party. This sauce is the one for which I’ve been searching.
Continue reading

Spicy Seafood Stew


J is away for the week, which is a good opportunity to eat the foods that she won’t eat. Last night, we went out for Indian food. The night before, we had chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and ricotta, a dish that L has been asking me to make for a while.

Tonight, we had additional foods that J dislikes: shell fish. I got the idea to make something with mussels from a new cookbook that a friend gave me. But, I didn’t feel like following a recipe. When I went to the market the mussels looked good, and they also had cleaned squid. I had some frozen, jumbo shrimp at home, along with some small dutch fingerling potatoes. Olive oil, leeks, garlic, tomatoes, saffron, vermouth and white wine, salt, pepper, thyme and red pepper flakes.

Big, big success that L declared to be one of my best dishes ever. I served it with a simple salad and a baguette.

I didn’t use any measuring cups, so the amounts are approximate. Here is how I made it:

Spicy Seafood Stew

serves 4

Next time, I would probably add about 1/2 bulb of fennel, chopped. I tried to this time, but there was no fennel at the market. Too bad. On the other hand, this really was a keeper as is.

1 1/2 lbs. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
1/2 lb. cleaned squid, cut into rings, squiggly parts left in tact
12 jumbo shrimps, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green parts, cleaned and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
3/4 cup dry vermouth
3/4 cup white wine
3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp. saffron threads
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large (12 in.) deep frying pan over medium heat and saute leeks until soft and beginning to barely brown. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another couple of minutes. Add the vermouth, wine, and saffron. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the liquid has reduced a bit. Add potatoes and about 3/4 cup water, enough so that there is enough liquid to cook the potatoes. Cover the pan and simmer for 5 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Remove the cover and add the chopped tomatoes, thyme, dried red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes longer, if the mixture gets dry, add additional wine. Add the seafood, and cook until the shrimp is opaque throughout and the mussels have opened, approximately 3-5 more minutes.