Monday, June 28, 2010

summer salads and Betty

"A cruel irony of your life... you are married to a Philistine when it comes to food." So much of who we are... who we think we are, is wrapped up in our perceived opinions of those closest to us. My identity, including my feelings of pride and who I am are wrapped up in food and my ability to shop on a shoestring, create and serve up healthy dishes with some finesse (not to mention "neatness" in the kitchen - I'm a firm believer in CAYG)

My husband, on the other hand, will happily feast on ramin noodles with broccoli, chicken, eggs, or whatever happens to be available in the fridge. He loves to cook, with preparations flying all over the kitchen, preferring clean up when it's all over - he does a great job of clean up and makes fantastic fried rice, I might add, but seems to miss the aesthetic sumptuous of prepartions I adore.

He favors dinner at 3:30, going to work early in the morning and skipping lunch in favor of a two mile run. I, on the other hand, typically have cheese, Hammond pretzels and raisins for lunch at my desk around 2:00 and prefer a European timetable of dinner after 8:00. I relish preparations with a bit of jazz and a glass of wine in hand. Dinner together, I've learned, requires planning ahead - "Honey, can you be sure you have a yogurt or two after your run so we can have dinner later?"

I've found myself missing "family dinners" as a young family in my past life - four kids and a husband who seemed to thoroughly enjoy my cooking. Candles, linen napkins, and an appropriately set table weren't a part of every day, especially with kids running off in different directions to swim and band practice, the gym, or youth group at church, but when we did sit down, we celebrated. I remember cheerful banter about the day, silly songs, and playful fun - even when we were silently suffering through the reality of divorce, dinners remained a constant bright spot. I still relish the opportunity to cook for all of them when they are around.

This afternoon I was bemoaning to myself, my fridge mostly empty after returning from several days on vacation - barren, in fact of anything without preservatives or pickling. I wandered over to my friend Betty's house to water her plants, and remembered she had asked me to clean out the fridge and take anything edible home - dinner! My mouth was watering all the way home with a bag of fresh greens, assorted fruits and vegies, and some leftover grilled salmon. Now you need to know, Betty is an awesome cook, so finding her abandoned salmon was as good as dropping close to $30 on on precooked from an organic gourmet deli!

I decided on my personal version of comfort food - salmon pasta salad and a fresh fruit salad, above. A glass of wine from a bottle of Trader Joe's Coastal Cabernet Sauvingnon, 2006 brought back from vacation in Virginia, and a lovely oboe suite on WITF (which I wish I'd have written down, as one of the middle movements was particularly moving) made for a delicious end to a quiet Monday.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

slaw variation with water chestnuts and sour cherries

Second to slow-broiling in the sun (and yes, I've done my share of baby oil basted, slow cooking), come summer I savor the adventure of inventing recipes using up leftover produce in my refrigerator. Thanks to my brother Brandon, I gathered an interesting mix of ingredients this evening while the chicken breast was doing the cooking instead of me.

This slaw recipe was inspired by Mollie Katzen's "The New Moosewood Cookbook" originally published in 1977. I learned of it after more than one recipe was copied to me from Susan Darling, including one for Gypsy Soup, which happens to include the unexpected combination of sweet potatoes, tomatoes and cinnamon. This was the cookbook I grabbed first for slaw inspiration, and needn't look further. Here is my twist on the Carrot-Yogurt Salad on page 72.

Coarsly cut or chop the following:
4 cups napa cabbage
2 medium-sized carrots
remainder of a small head of raddichio
1 small leek, including most of the greens
1 clove garlic

Whip the following in a glass measuring cup until smooth, then toss with the chopped vegetables:
8 oz. plain greek yogurt
8 oz. real mayonnaise (a household compromise)
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
pinch of celery ceed
dash of lemon pepper
sprinkling of coarse salt
a bit of dried ginger

Add the following additional ingredients and toss until coated with dressing:
1 small can drained, sliced water chestnuts
1 chopped, unpeeled gala apple
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
2 tablespoons dried sour Michigan cherries

Chill briefly to let the flavors meld, and enjoy with whatever if coming off the grill. A simple rice pilaf, leftover pita and ginger curry hummus from market were the perfect compliment, alongside my current house favorite wine, Yellowtail Chardonnay.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

black bean salsa and the graduation party

This week has been a whirlwind of parties and events, with the graduation of child #3, Layne, from highschool. Earlier in the week we celebrated Lynden's 16th birthday and Lorelei's graduation, and I managed to complete my semester finals in the midst of it all. Tonight we are throwing a party to celebrate, and since a trip to Central Market early this morning for produce, I've been happily ensconced in my kitchen with prepartions for the evening.

Top on Layne's food request list, along with Cheez-it's and banana chocolate chip muffins, was "that stuff you make with nacho chips" - Black Bean Salsa. This recipe comes from the Pillsbury Classic Cookbook #172, June 1995 and has been a family favorite ever since, with some minor additions and changes of my own - like ginger, which seems to appear in just about everything I make! It's a labor of love, especially for a big crowd, so I've got everyone lined up to start chopping as soon as I finish this blog entry.


Add the following to an appropriately sized ceramic bowl, worthy of presentation:
(1) 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped seeded cucumber
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 plum tomatoe, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine in a glass mixing cup, wisk together:
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. hot sauce, or more to taste
1/2 tsp. cumin

Wisk with a fork, pour over the vegetables and toss until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate a few hours to blend the flavors. Serve with nacho chips. I love this as a chutney with grilled pork or chicken as well.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Peanut Butter Icing on Lynden's Sixteenth Birthday

Well, it's birthday cake season again (we have several within a few short weeks early summer)and I've got Stella's Wackie Cake in my oven. While it's baking, I went in search of a recipe for Peanut Butter Icing - I recall doing this every year. The cake recipe is easy to find, as it's hand-written in an old Contestoga Composition Book, "property of Bryan Hollinger". Somewhere along the line it became mine, and I spent the summer of 1979 jotting down my favorite recipes from home to take with me to college. Number 15 in my contents on the first page shows "Wackie Cake".

This afternoon I put on my Williams Sonoma black and white ticking apron, a birthday gift from my son Joe and prepared to whip up this delectable cake for Lynden's 16th birthday. Joe sat across the island from me searching thru my digital archives for photos to turn into a slide show to commemorate Lynden's day. It's become a family tradition to show a slide show of the celebrant on our big screen in loft - projecting onto a white, king-sized sheet stretched across the upper railings. I think the first one was for Layne's 16th, and when it was complete I sat and watched it over and over before she came, tears streaming down my face. Nothing like the past going by bigger than life!

Back to my search.. the first place I looked for the icing recipe was on my blog, as I thought I'd been doing a pretty good job of posting my old favorites. But alas, it was missing, so here it is...

Thoroughly combine the following in a mixing bowl:
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup creamy peanut butter

Wipe down the sides of the bowl and mix until there are no lumps, then on slow speed, add a little milk, a little sugar, in small portions at a time, mixing until smooth. Use the following proportions:
3 tablespoons milk
2 cups confectioner's sugar

Beat with happy abandon until smooth, adding a bit more milk to improve spreading consistency.

POSTSCRIPT: We just finished making Grandma Stella's Chocolate Wackie Cake for Layne's nineteenth birthday. She's working at the pool all day and only has a 45 minute break to celebrate, so we're taking pizza, vegies and cupcakes to her. With my niece Maya's help, we made cupcakes and put a mini Reeses peanutbutter cup in each one, frosted them with peanutbutter icing, then decorated them with buckeyes. Yum! Can't wait for dinner - Happy Birthday Layneb!