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Archive for the ‘comfort food’ Category

On Saturday night we had “fake Valentine’s Day” here at our house. We had company last weekend and Robert and I spent a good part of the week bickering, so we designated Saturday for a nice dinner together. I decided to do my pork belly experiment because, hey, we love pig fat. It was a reasonably successful attempt, but not exactly right. I have to work on it a little more. Any dish that comes to me in a dream deserves a few attempts at perfection.

If you recall from my last post, I dreamed about pork belly that was braised in pear eau de vie. I did find the eau de vie, but wow, it was pricey. The one kind that was a true dry style was $43 a bottle. I just couldn’t do it. I ended up buying a bottle of sweet pear liqueur made in Portland. It was also expensive, but it came in smaller bottles and looked like something I would want to drink if nothing else. Braising in this costly liquid was out so I had to come up with another plan. I ended up browning the meat and some aromatic vegetables and then cooking it in a combination of chicken broth and white wine. I stuck the whole thing in the oven at 350 degrees and cooked it for about 3 1/2 hours.

raw pork belly

ready to go into the oven

When it came out it was falling apart and had given up a lot of the fat.  I removed the meat and strained the cooking juices into my gravy separator to get out most of the fat. I added some pear cider to the juices and then reduced them to a syrupy sauce.  I cut the meat into four pieces and rolled them around in the sauce and put them back in the oven at 425 degrees to crisp up.  I think that the meat would have benefited greatly from a 24 hour brining or a dry rub, something to cure it a little bit.  I think some salt, sugar, cloves and black pepper would make a really good dry rub for this meat.  But anyhow…

I decided to serve the pork with blue cheese polenta, kale with shallots and toasted hazelnuts, and roasted pears.  The roasted pears were maybe the best part of the dinner and also the most dangerous.  I cut them into quarters and brushed them with a healthy amount (I guess I should say a not-so-healthy amount) of melted butter.  I stuck them in the oven at 425 with the pork to cook.  They weren’t browning a much as I wanted, so when the pork was done I put them under the broiler.  I also poured in some of my tasty pear liqueur.  This is when things got exciting.  I was busy, stirring polenta, checking the greens, just the general puttering that goes on just before you sit down to eat, when I heard a WHOOSH! in the oven and the door banged open and then shut again.  I looked in and there were big blue flames.  Lots of big blue flames.  I hadn’t even thought that the alcohol in the liqueur could catch fire from the broiler, but it did.  It was a lucky mistake though, the pears were divine and I didn’t even singe my eyebrows off.  Here’s the final product:

Fake Valentine's Dinner

All in all I give it a 7.8.  I put too much blue cheese in the polenta, and I will try a few other things with the pork next time.   But it’s worth trying again (and again).  Pork belly is just uncured bacon after all.

Side note: Sunday night I made a tasty carbonara pasta with the leftover pork.  Eggs, cheese, belly of pig, a few cherry tomatoes and some fresh basil.  Easy and pretty darn good.

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I have a skinny husband. As a cook I feel ashamed of this. I do feed him, I really do, but he stays skinny. And recently he has lost some weight. It probably has something to do with how very hard he is working to get our new house finished, but in any case he can’t afford to lose weight. When he told me that he has had to punch a third new hole in his belt, just so his pants will stay up, I decided it was time to do something. So now I am on a mission to put some meat on his bony body and it’s pretty fun. I love thinking up ways to get more calories into something instead of less. The problem of course is that I do not need fattening up. I have been making Robert a special extra creamy Ovaltine drink every evening and even though I am not drinking it I can feel my body reacting like I am. It seems that the act of cooking up something decadent is the same as eating it. Not fair. (By the way, have you had Ovaltine lately? It’s pretty darn good. Especially if you make it with hazelnut milk instead of regular milk and you add a couple tablespoons of cream to your cup. But I’m not drinking it, I just had a sip, I swear.)

I made a great quiche the other night in my effort to plump Robert up. Quiche by nature is pretty rich so I don’t make it that often, but it sounded like a good thing for him to take in his lunch. And it sounded pretty good for dinner too. I have a recipe that came from a teacher I had in cooking school that calls for six eggs and a pint, yes a pint, of cream per nine inch quiche. It’s very good that way, oh yes, and great for a treat, but I usually use half milk and half cream and it’s perfectly acceptable. I put in some delicious leeks that I got from my friend Lauren who works at Wobbly Cart Farm, a few stray leaves of chard, and some good gruyere cheese. Here is the un-recipe.

Leek and Gruyere Quiche

1 recipe of pie dough (I like to use half whole wheat flour when making quiche, but it’s up to you.)

6 eggs

2 cups cream or a combination of cream and milk

a little freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper (white pepper is especially good here)

olive oil

2-3 leeks, depending on the size

a little fresh or dried thyme

1 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

Roll out your pie crust, put it in your dish and crimp the edge. I like to blind bake (pre-cook) my crust so that it is nice and crisp. Line the inside of the crust with parchment paper and put in a cup or so of dried beans and then bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Carefully lift out the parchment and beans and continue to bake it for another 10 minutes or until it starts to get brown. Make sure you keep an eye on the crust during the last part of the cooking to make sure it isn’t puffing up. If it does, just pat it down gently or poke a little hole in it with a fork.

While the crust is baking, clean and chop your leeks, the white and tender green parts. Saute them in a little oil and until they are tender and just starting to brown. If you have any chard around, you can slice up a few leaves and throw that into the leeks while they are cooking. Season to taste with salt and thyme.

Cooked leeks

Cooked leeks

Beat the eggs and cream together and season with salt, pepper and the grated nutmeg.

Egg mixture

Egg mixture

When your crust comes out of the oven, turn the heat up to 400 degrees. Layer the leeks and the grated cheese in the crust and pour the egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle on any extra cheese.

Quiche, ready to bake.

Quiche, ready to bake.

Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 325 and continue to bake until the center of the quiche is set, about 20 minutes more. You can poke into the center with the tip of a knife to check on it.

Finished quiche

Oops! I forgot to take a picture before cutting into it!

Quiche is great any time of day but I especially like it for lunch with a simple salad dressed with lemon and olive oil. Though this is pretty rich, it is not unhealthful and winter is coming so a little fattening up is not a bad thing!

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The other night Robert asked me to imagine a scenario where we would be stranded at our house, like in a snow storm or some other kind of natural disaster. We wouldn’t be able to get out even to walk to the store or anything, but we would still have power. His question was, how long could we last? How much food do we have around here? How well could we eat? I have to admit that I really like thinking about this. I like to think of how I could best use the food I have, what I would run out of first, and how I could still make tasty and interesting meals without going to the store. Here is what would happen at my house.

If we had power to keep the refrigerator and freezer working we would be in good shape for quite a while. We have meat enough to support us for many weeks thanks to buying part of a grass fed cow last winter and the fact that I can’t pass up a sale on pork roast or whole chickens. So we are good there.

Vegetables would get to be a problem pretty quick. I don’t tend to keep many frozen vegetables on hand, maybe a couple packages of frozen peas or corn. I have all those artichokes that I roasted and froze, they would be a treat. I would run out of onions and garlic pretty quick and that would make it hard to cook a good meal. At the moment I have a lot of canned tomatoes, but after a week or so that would be the only vegetable matter we would have.

I don’t feel like I have a lot of starches and grains on hand, but after looking a little bit I discovered that I have more than I thought. I have full jars of rice and polenta, at least five packages of pasta, and lots of flour, though most of it is white and not whole wheat. I’ve also got a little of this and that, quinoa, cornmeal, farro, oatmeal, etc. I could make that work.

When Robert posed this question on Sunday night I was in desperate need of a trip to Costco, mainly because our fat supply was low. I always buy my olive oil and butter there. I went a couple of days ago though and I am up to my normal levels (thank God we didn’t get stranded here before that, it would have been awful!) I now have a gallon of olive oil and two and a half pounds of butter in the house. I worry a little about the butter. It would be one of the first things I run out of. I used to keep way more butter around, I would buy it four pounds at a time and always had at least that much socked away. But I have been trying to do less baking (actually I have been trying to do less eating and it helps if I do less baking) so I haven’t been going through butter at the same rate. I also try to only buy organic butter now and it gets pricey to buy that much all at once. So if we are stranded there will be butter rationing.

Great news! Even though we don’t have a lot of vegetables, we won’t get scurvy! You know that I’m a berry glutton, right? I have 17 gallon bags of frozen berries that I picked or bought over the summer. That stockpile is my pride and joy. That and the jam I made. Wow, do we ever have jam! I’m going to digress for a moment here to tell you about it. On my pantry shelf I have over 70 jars that I made this year. Most of those are little half cup jars, but still I have over three gallons all together. I made seven kinds this year, peach, strawberry, bing cherry, rainier cherry, golden raspberry, gooseberry, and dewberry. I also made pear butter and two kinds of conserves (apricot and Italian plum). I don’t even eat that much jam, but I love to make it and give it away at Christmas. Robert has learned that even though we have 70 jars he had better think long and hard before opening one.  I like to save the special jam, and what jam is special depends on a number of things, how many jars we have, how long it took me to pick or deal with the fruit, how much I like the jam, how many scratches or other injuries I sustained in the jam making process… It is a big decision for him, one not to be made without major consideration. OK, now back to surviving the disaster.

Sugar. I wouldn’t have bought the ten pound bag at Costco the other day if I hadn’t been thinking about this. But I realized that I only had a couple of pounds and if we are going to be stranded here we are going to need sugar! The brown sugar is a little low too, but we can get by with white.

If we could make it to the chicken house then we could get eggs, but if this disaster is so bad that we are stuck here for weeks the chickens might not be laying very well. I better not count on having many eggs.

Hmmm. I just started to think about things like salt, baking powder and spices. Interesting. The baking powder wouldn’t last all that long, but neither would the butter, so I might not need it. I have sour dough starter that I could use to leaven bread. I should buy salt before it gets too low. I’m good on spices.

I don’t have the most exciting selection of cheese on hand right now, but it could be worse. I have a bunch of shredded mozzarella in the freezer, a big log of cheddar, some Parmesan, and a little hunk of Point Reyes blue cheese. Also quite a bit of ricotta. I can work with that.

As far as drinks go, we have quite a bit of tea. Since we would run out of milk in a few days we wouldn’t be drinking nearly as much black tea, and we have lots of herb tea. Lola could drink Emergen-C, we have some of that. We would have to ration the wine, along with the butter. We have maybe fifteen bottles or so, but if we are going to be stuck here wine will be important. Maybe I should stock up.

So, in conclusion, here at our house the disaster would look like this: Lots of tomatoey beef dishes. Pot roast. Lasagna. Chicken and rice. Pasta with roasted artichokes. Pork roast with cheesey polenta. White bread with jam but no butter. Frozen berries. Tea with no milk. Berry crisps and cobblers. Homemade ravioli. Not enough wine. My guess is that we could go for a month or so before things got really dismal. Maybe longer.

If you made it all the way through this post you deserve an award. I am realizing that probably not many people out there are very interested in what food stores I have at my house. My fascination with surviving without help from the outside world probably comes partly from the connection to Little House on the Prairie that I wrote about a while ago. And a fear of being hungry. If you were able to stay interested through this long post (without even any pictures) then you must be as food obsessed as I am. So what about you?

What will you be eating when disaster (but not power outage) strikes?

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I just had to share my recent popcorn success. After reading the helpful comments I got on my post about things I can’t cook I went out an bought a fresh bag of popcorn on Saturday. I wanted to find a way to pop regular popcorn in the microwave without the special bowl that Sue has. A little internet research led me to the paper bag method and I actually made a delicious bowl of popcorn, and the house didn’t stink! Robert and I had a good night eating popcorn, drinking Champagne and watching Weeds. I interrupted the show a couple times (OK, three or four times) to say ‘This is great! I’m so proud of myself!’ I felt like a real kitchen pro, popping corn and being able to eat it and all.

For those of you who want to try my new paper bag popcorn method, here’s how:

Put a generous 1/2 cup of popcorn in a paper bag. Squeeze out the air and fold the top over a few times. Put it in the microwave and turn it on. Nuke it until you stop hearing lots of popping. I think it took about five minutes in my microwave, but it is old and crappy so yours might be quicker.

Paper bag popcorn

Paper bag popcorn

Put popcorn into a bowl and pour melted butter over it. I ground up some salt in a mortar and pestle to sprinkle over. The powdered salt sticks to the popcorn better, I highly recommend it.

I can't believe I made this!

I can't believe I made this!

Robert and I have been really stressed out by our house building project lately. We’re feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and out of money. But the new popcorn development has been a bright spot in our life. I told Robert as he was heading up to bed that we need to think of something to do tomorrow to make it feel like Friday night without spending any money. He said “We could have popcorn…” We laughed a lot thinking of all the days we are going to have to make special by eating popcorn. It’s good to laugh.

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Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl

Today my sweet Lola turned six. We had a family party this evening with my parents, my brother, and my grandma. For her birthday dinner Lola requested “chanterelles in a creamy sauce” on homemade pasta and “green beans from Costco, fried brown.” Do you know how happy that makes me? To have my daughter request chanterelles and homemade pasta for her birthday? I am so lucky. And I have to say, those green beans from Costco are really good too, especially when you cook them in butter and top them with lemon juice and good salt. The grownups at the party also had an arugula salad with Parmesan and toasted walnuts. I have only one terrible picture of the pasta that we had because I was rushing around and forgot to take pictures before we ate. Here is what was left at the end:

chanterelles in a creamy sauce on homemade pasta

chanterelles in a creamy sauce on homemade pasta

Her cake is one that I am not proud of. She wanted a yellow cake with chocolate frosting which is easy enough, but she wanted me to draw a chicken on it and she wanted the chicken to be saying “Happy Birthday Lola”. Our day didn’t go as planned, in fact my whole weekend didn’t go as planned, and I ended up with an undecorated cake at 5:00 and people were coming at 5:30. So I couldn’t take the time that I normally would to decorate the cake. And it showed. This next picture is a humiliation. I mean, I used to decorate cakes for a job! This looks like it was done by a second grader. But Lola has a good imagination and she didn’t mind. And we cut it up and ate it pretty quickly.

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake

Today was beautiful and sunny, just like the day Lola arrived. She was born in my parents living room just before ten o’clock in the evening and there were thirteen people waiting to greet her and love her. What a welcome she received.

I have never felt quite so cared for as I did in the week after she was born. When I think back on that time I remember the overwhelming love for my baby and my husband, a love that consumed me. But I also remember the love that was showered on our family by everyone around us. And the food, oh my. We ate so well. There was my mom’s Chinese chicken soup, and her tuna casserole (never have you eaten a tuna casserole like this, with fresh tuna, Italian egg noodles, lemon zest and herbs, oooh). There was tapioca pudding and homemade ravioli from Sue, blackberry pie from Sara, beef stew from Kathy, macaroni and cheese from Winoma, oatmeal cookies from Lauren… There was multi grain bread spread with triple cream Brie. There was apple and onion frittata. There was tomato salad from just about everyone (it was a good tomato year). There was food from people we hardly knew. For a few days after the birth I didn’t have much of an appetite, very rare for me, but I was still nourished and tempted into eating by all the carefully prepared food. And when my appetite came back with a vengeance I had the best of the best to choose from.

From the night she was born, Lola has been surrounded by good food. She knows how to appreciate the work that goes into a good meal. She loves that her birthday is during chanterelle season. She has the words and the knowledge to ask for exactly the meal that she wants to eat. What a gift that she has so many good cooks in her life. And what a gift she is to all of us.

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Potato-Leek Soup for a Sad Day

Potato-Leek Soup for a Sad Day

Today was not a good day. I was intending to do a different kind of post, but life got in the way. Our very special kitty named Olive is missing and I have some furry evidence that points to a coyote. I spent the morning looking for her, calling and calling, but to no avail. I had to break the news to Lola this afternoon and it’s just wretched to have to bring that kind of pain into someone’s life. She and Olive have a special bond. Ever since Lola was born, Olive has run to her side whenever she cries, which is a lot. She put up with all the abuses that a little person can dish out without ever scratching or biting. Lola’s first word was not ‘mama’, but ‘kitty’. She is handling it remarkably well, considering, but it’s hard to know if a little girl really comprehends the whole life and death thing, especially when we can’t tell her for sure what happened.

It was a day full of strife. Full of parental angst and tears all around. So I made potato-leek soup. With trouble comes food, but different food than usual. After Lola had a good cry this afternoon I just wanted to make her feel better no matter what it took. “Do you want tea? Do you want honey in it? How about two spoonfuls? How about a popsicle? Bread with jam? Candy? A big bowl of sugar?” But it came down to potato-leek soup. There is nothing like potatoes and cream for soothing the soul.

I had planed to do a post today about ‘Un-Recipes’. I rarely cook using a recipe and I think that food suffers when people just follow along in a cookbook doing whatever they are told. To really cook, you need to look at your food, not the recipe. You need to taste, to watch, to listen to the food and adjust it when necessary. You need to start with an idea and then adapt it to what you have in your kitchen. When you cook this way you are free to really give yourself to the dish and consequentially to the people who eat it. You are able to let go and fill up that bubbling pot with love.

This is not to say that I don’t like recipes. I read cookbooks all the time. I am constantly getting new ideas or learning new techniques from reading a recipe. When I bake I am much more precise and hang on a little tighter to the words on the page. But it is rare that I follow any recipe exactly. Something in my makeup won’t let me stop fiddling around and making it my own. This means that I am not always very consistent, but it also means that my food was made for that time and that place and that person. For better or worse.

Here is my un-recipe for potato-leek soup. Feel free to change it as you see fit!

Potato-Leek Soup for a Sad Day

Melt a goodly amount of butter in your soup pot, at least a few tablespoons. Clean and chop a bunch of leeks (I used four large ones, but it doesn’t matter that much) into the shape that pleases you and put them in the pot with the butter. Cook the leeks with the butter until they are melted and starting to get a little brown and sticky. I like to cook the leeks with the lid on the pot. Then add some chicken stock, I think I used about two quarts or so. The better the quality of your stock, the better your soup will be. Thinly slice some potatoes, I like little red and yellow ones but any kind will do, and add them to the pot. I don’t peel mine unless they look like they need it. Bring to a simmer and add salt to taste and a little freshly grated nutmeg (or not, I have made it without and that is good too). Cook until the potatoes are tender and then add a bunch of chopped up chard. I always use the kind with the white stems, not the red ones because they turn the soup an icky color. Cook for another five minutes or so and then add some cream, maybe half a cup. Taste for salt and add some white pepper. Serve with snipped chives on top.

Tonight I cut some nice little island grown zucchini up into strips and cooked them in butter to put on top of the soup with the chives. You could also add a swirl of sour cream or some grated Parmesan.

I made some little toasts with herbed goat cheese on them to go with the soup but I left them under the broiler too long and had to trim off the edges. They were too ugly to take a picture of but they tasted good. Lola thought that the little pieces of thyme on hers were dead bugs. So much for presentation.

P.S. Thank you all for your kind comments and encouragement. It means a lot to me to have that sort of support in this new endeavor.

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