[This is a post that I wrote months ago and never put on the blog. No picture, just a fantastic recipe.]
During this health “event”, I have been so lucky to have the support of friends and family. My oldest (not in age) friend in CA, ABM, arranged a schedule for people to come over to my house and bring lunch to me, hang out, and take a walk. It has been such a blessing because I’ve been able to see friends, catch up and have some excellent meals! Even though, especially in the first few weeks, I haven’t been able to leave home so often, I’ve felt like these lunches have kept me in the social loop.
One of these lunches was generously prepared by my friend JT. She had a big task because she not only brought lunch to me, but my sister was in town helping me, and S & J were unexpectedly home for lunch. Luckily, JT loves to feed people and arrived with a lot of delicious, hearty soup and a beautiful loaf of bread – all beautifully presented in big mason jars inside a basket lined with linens and everything she needed to serve lunch. My sister and I loved the soup so much, we wouldn’t let JT leave the house without extracting a promise to share the soup recipe with us.
My brother-in-law made an interesting comment to me regarding our divergent cooking styles. It turns out, that because of this blog, he thought that I cooked from recipes whereas he cooks without them. In reality, I use recipes as guidelines, and much of what I have posted (except for breads and sweets) I have measured along the way so that I could post a “recipe”. So, for instance, I generally don’t use measurements for meatballs, or tomato sauce, or even frogs legs chicken (now that I know how to make that by heart!).
On the otherhand, because I have wanted to try new preparations, I have been using more recipes and ideas from magazines and cookbooks than I have in the past – like for the turkey burgers with tomato jam, and the Vietnamese Chicken Salad. I’ve definitely expanded my repetoire of meals because of trying new dishes. Which is a good thing, I think.
When I haven’t been trying out new recipes this summer, I have been cooking with ingredients that we have on hand, or with inspiration from the bounty of the summer months. I’ve been buying most of our food from the Farmer’s Market – everything is so fresh and bright at this time of year. Without the girls at home, S & I have been eating a lot more vegetables as a percentage of the food on our plates – a good thing. Most vegetables have been unadorned, save for a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper – if that.
When we were in Italy, almost 3 years ago, we took a family cooking class in Tuscany. It was a blast. The cooking class took place at the home of the cooking instructor. Some of the participants were staying at the instructor’s home to cook for the week. We were only there for a morning/afternoon of fun. We cooked from about 10 am until about 1 pm, when we all sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor together – complete with the instructor’s family. Husband, children, grandpa (who grated the parmesan), the whole crew.
We dined on some great food that day, but the recipe that we always come back to is Salsa Agli Aromi: tomato sauce with garlic and herbs. The girls got a chance to do a lot of chopping of herbs that day, with a mezzaluna. The sauce we made had lots of fresh herbs, onions, garlic and tomatoes. We also added a nice bit of cream to half the sauce, so that we could learn that the sauce could be served either way: simple or creamy. The creamy one was our favorite, though the simple sauce was divine, too.
Tonight, I was a little stretched for time. Lots of packing to do – and Open House at school. And, my herb pot is not in full production, yet. I improvised on our favorite sauce and cooked up a quick version. I also used a new pasta for us, Barilla Plus, which has more fiber (but is not totally whole grain). The new pasta is a keeper.
Lesson: read the recipe.
For last night’s dinner, I tried a new recipe: Orecchiette with chicken sausage and broccoli rabe. Up until just this minute when I was looking for the recipe to link on-line, I thought I had followed the recipe. But, I hadn’t. The recipe said to blanch the broccoli rabe in boiling, salted water – which is how you get rid of some of its bitterness. I didn’t do this step.
I just didn’t read the recipe through. And, as I ate the bitter broccoli (mine, L’s and J’s), I wondered: “This is so bitter. Why didn’t the recipe have you blanch the broccoli rabe?”
Nonetheless, the broccoli rabe to pasta ratio was too high in my opinion. And, there wasn’t enough sausage. And, the recipe had you add vinegar. It smelled good while it was cooking, but, well, I can’t blame the recipe that I didn’t follow. It may very well be fantastic.
We had ice cream for dessert because dinner was lousy. A silver lining of mint chip.
So, there is no link and I won’t try the recipe again. But, I’ve learned a lesson.
Read the recipe.
When we were on the East coast visiting during winter break, we took a little side trip to visit my brother in Philadelphia. It was a quick visit, but we had a very memorable meal. My sister-in-law, AAB, is a great cook. She always makes special treats for us when we visit, an effort which is not lost on any of us food lovers!
Dinner was so good on our recent visit, that I’ve made her recipes multiple times. One of them, I’ve written about: Speedy No-Knead Bread. For tonight’s bread, I added some lemon zest and rosemary to this simple bread. It was great, as usual. The girls still put honey on the bread, as my nieces did in Philly. Is there anything better than fresh bread with butter and honey? Such total comfort food.
The other dish that AAB cooked was Pasta e Fagioli (pasta fazoole), a hearty bean and pasta soup. The recipe that she used is from Cook’s Illustrated. She modified it to make it a little lighter by using Canadian bacon instead of pancetta. I’ve further changed it to make it a little more liquid by cooking the pasta separately. This helps because the recipe makes a lot of soup (it says it serves 8-10, but I think it is more like 6-8). By cooking the pasta separately, you can save and/or freeze the leftover soup for another day. I also add some chopped carrot. Tonight, when I made the soup, I threw in some green beans because I had them in the house. So the soup was more like a minestrone consistency, with the flavor of the Pasta e Fagioli.
Last week, my friend MKG asked me if I had a meatball recipe.
Her request had great timing because it gave me an idea. Meatballs and spaghetti would be the perfect dinner for a crowd. So, I asked her if she would mind waiting a week for the recipe and she said, “No problem.” It has taken me a bit longer to post the recipe than I’d planned!
Last Tuesday, I made the meatballs for Wednesday night’s dinner. I was a bit ambitious in my proportions because I thought we’d be 10 for dinner, but we were only 9. And, I thought my nieces liked meatballs, but they only like meat sauce. Oh, well – they were just fine having spaghetti with tomato sauce and no meat. Once they knew that there were meatballs, we couldn’t smoosh the meatballs and disguise the sauce as meat sauce.
Tonight, we couldn’t figure out if we wanted Puttanesca Sauce with our pasta or Amatriciana Sauce. J wanted only Amatriciana, L wanted Puttanesca, S didn’t care, and I was willing to make both and try a new recipe and freeze the leftovers.
I had decided on Puttanesca earlier in the week, without thinking about a recipe. Then, in trying to minimize a pile of old magazines, I started flipping through an old Food & Wine, with an Italian focus from September, 2007. And, there it was, a recipe for classic marinara, with variations for Puttanesca, Amatriciana and Vodka sauces. Perfect and the timing was right! I was a bit disorganized while cooking and my mise-en-place wasn’t very well place-d, so no photos of the preparations. But, suffice it to say, that S, L & I tried both sauces. J only tried the Amatriciana (and had 2 big portions). Favorites were difficult to choose, but L & S liked the Puttanesca better and I like the Amatriciana better. It was very close, both were excellent. I’m glad that issue of Food & Wine was in the pile!
For dessert, we had an old standby. From the Zap It! section of an old Everyday Food Magazine (I found the link on their PBS web-site, but not on Martha Stewart’s), we’ve been making poached pears for several years. It literally takes about 10 minutes prep and 10 minutes to cook, because you make these poached pears in the microwave. And, the sauce is made by melting vanilla ice cream in the liquid that is generated by the pears, butter and brown sugar while they are cooking.
We didn’t add the vanilla ice cream tonight (a little too rich after all that pasta). You would never know that the pears are made in the microwave, and because good vanilla ice creams are basically Creme Anglaise, the sauce seems pretty decadent. Even without the ice cream, the sauce is just the pear juice that is released during the cooking, a little butter and brown sugar. Can’t go wrong there.
Mmmm. I feel foodier tonight than I did last night, even with the microwave portion of the meal.