Saturday, October 10, 2009

Oh yeah, forgot. (DH here again.)

Easy dad dinner #1--I've been cooking this one for 20 years.

Cheese souffle--3 tbsp butter melted in a 4-cup measure in the microwave; 3 tbsp flour whisked in and nuked for a minute and a half or so; 1 1/2 cups milk whisked in and nuked for 3 minutes; remove, whisk, and run for 3 minutes more. This makes a perfect white sauce every time. This time I got over-excited and I think used too much butter and too much flour and then maybe too much milk and the white sauce set after the first nuking with milk, but it was fine. A bay leaf or three and salt and pepper is good.

Whisk in enough grated cheese. Enough might be 1/2 to a full cup of grated cheese, depending on how cheesy you like your souffle. Don't use cheddar--it melts very badly and leaks whey all over the place. I used fontina which was good but surprisingly salty. Whisk in 3 egg yolks.

Take the whites from those eggs and 2 more and whisk them up separately to shaving-cream consistency. (Julia says "soft peaks" which is fine as a technical description if you know what that is. Think shaving cream.) Fold the egg whites and white sauce mixture together gently (I do it right in the bowl I whisked the eggs in) and pour into a prepared souffle dish. Save the extra egg yolks for the pudding you'll make tomorrow.

I'd gotten away from flouring my souffle dishes, but I did it this time (butter the bottom and sides, sprinkle in some flour, roll it around, knock out the excess) and I am reminded why it's worth doing. It turns into a lovely crust all around the custardy interior and makes for more happiness for the fans of BCBs (Burnt Crispy Bits).

Cook the whole thing at 375 for 20-30 minutes, until it's got some nice toasty brown on top. Ideally it should be crusty on the outside and like custard in the center. These were perfect. I say "these" because my aformentioned over-enthusiasm with the white sauce led to more souffle than would fit in one dish so we had the dual souffle option.

With the souffle went chard from the freezer, put up by the Delight of my Life, and cooked with onions. (Caramelize the onions first, then put the chard in. They're so good they don't need anything more than that. Maybe a little cider vinegar. They'll stand being cooked for a bit, too.)

We also had carrots julienne. This is something I first had in France (dreamy look... where was I? Oh yes) but it's one of those recipes that has sort of evolved over the years. The only problem with it is getting those julienned carrots. You can sometimes buy carrot slaw in the grocery these days (I love these days) and I wouldn't disdain them. You can also get a mandoline at great expense from the French or at very little expense from the Japanese. (The teeth of ours, from the Japanese, have gone astray, so that wasn't an option.) Or you can get a julienne blade for your Cuisinart if you want to go to the trouble of setting it up and cleaning it. What you can't do is use a grater. You want matchsticks, not flat slips of carrot.

So this time, with the souffle in the oven and nothing to do for ten minutes, I julienned by hand. Cut your carrots to 2" lengths; cut those in half and put the flat side against the cutting board; make thin lengthwise vertical slices of those; stack up the slices and slice lengthwise again to make matchsticks. Pretty much fun on a slow day. I worried my matchsticks were too thin, but hah, that's not happening.

Finish with a enough olive oil and good mustard to coat the carrots thinly.

So that's it. Even the dad, who's a slow cook, can do that in 45 minutes from a standing start. And the four of us gobbled up one whole souffle and half the other in a sitting.
Another post by the DH. I have to get it in quick before the Delight of my Life and Desire of my Days posts tonight's dinner, which was a corker.

So: Seafood risotto. In France (and how many sentences around here begin "In France..." accompanied by a slightly dreamy expression), you can get salade au fruites de mer, which generally includes whelks and cockles and things with too many legs. In Italy, you can get risotto ai frutti di mare, which has clams and shrimp and things with too many legs. Here, well, I thought I'd see what I could do.

I'd made risotto before but never a seafood risotto and I wasn't following a recipe because none of them would be what I had in Italy, so why bother? and this is what I got:

Asparagus because they were at the grocery and looked good; scallops ditto; shrimp from the freezer, jumbo and I would have preferred smaller, but that's what they had; bluefish because it was in and I love bluefish; carrots chopped square for color, mushrooms because why even bother be in the kitchen if you're not cooking mushrooms?

So chop an onion and a few cloves of garlic and saute until limp. Add mushrooms and cook till they've given up their water and re-absorbed it. Then the real cooking begins.

2 cups arborio rice, added straight to the onions and mushrooms. I've used sushi rice too, and it's okay, but the truth is arborio rice is better and is generally available at a reasonable price. The sushi rice tends to cook down until there's a tiny little grain of sand at the center of each kernel, and then from there it goes immediately to mush.

1/2 cup of dry white wine added to the rice after you've stirred it around once or twice. Then keep adding water and stirring to maintain a sort of slurry in the pot--wet but not swimming. I do this in a wok, by the way, because it's got the best cure in the kitchen.

While that's going on, I pre-cooked the other ingredients in the microwave. I wasn't sure how long they would take to cook, so I nuked them until they were almost done. Once the rice was almost done I tossed the other ingredients in to finish.

Final touch was a few pats of butter. No cheese for a seafood risotto, but nothing ever was hurt by monte au beurre.

Vegetable was a salad. Enough already with complications in the kitchen.

Enough for the whole (reduced) family of four plus the two grandparents, and it kept even the picky vegetarians at the table. I might not use bluefish next time. The taste was fine but the texture was a bit odd in combination with everything else. Swordfish would go well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fish story

Winnie returned from northern Ontario last night, calling for fresh corn, a request I am always happy to grant. I had already bought swordfish from the general store in Dublin first thing in the morning (they only have fish once a week but it is prime when it arrives -- I often make special plans to go up there on fish day) and I had leftover roasted potatoes from Sunday.

We had potato salad, fresh corn, and grilled swordfish. I slather olive oil on my swordfish (and also on tuna) about an hour before I plan to grill it -- it seems to help keep it from drying out. Normally I choose steaks (fish or other) to be all the same thickness, but I realized last night that in fact having variable thicknesses makes it easier to grant everyone's desires vis a vis doneness. Goody likes her fish cooked quite done and everyone else wants it a little underdone. Voila' all fish were ready to eat at the same time.

I dressed the potatoes with two tablespoons of dijon mustard, two tablespoons of olive oil, three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and a little mayonnaise all shaken up together. If you are dressing leftover potatoes it helps to reheat them before you dress them -- they absorb the dressing better.

All in all, an easy, pleasant weeknight meal. Tonight I we're having a dinner party and I think I'll make blueberry cobbler.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hot night

It's the hottest it's been this summer, tonight, and thankfully the corn is in. Locket, Goody, CB, Miss Bee, and I had fresh corn, steamed; Asian slaw; and grilled salmon tonight. We drank up all the white wine last night so we had iced tea. I've been making a gallon every day for the last few weeks -- and every day I need to make a new gallon.

The slaw is one of my current favorite side dishes: shred cabbage and maybe some red onion and some cucumber if you have it. Make a dressing with rice vinegar, a little soy sauce (tonight's was a little salty), umeboshi plum paste, toasted sesame oil, one clove of garlic, and a tablespoon of pickled ginger. Whizz it all up in the blender and pour over vegetables. It's best made an hour or so ahead and allowed to marinate at room temp.

We ate late, because I had a planning board work session. We spent the meeting talking about how to encourage affordable housing and infill development. Pretty much the same meeting we had in January. The good news is that we're still trying to do the right thing.

Oh, my gosh, it is hot. I may take a leaf from CB and Miss Bee and go over to the pond and sneak in for a late night swim. See you tomorrow.

Formal family dinner

CB and his girlfriend, Miss Bee, are visiting from Santa Fe this week and we had the additional good luck to have her parents and sister spend a couple of nights with us over the weekend. We only had one sit-down meal together so I was determined to make it a good one.

I roasted some of Tim the farmer's new banana fingerling potatoes with a little olive oil and salt; roasted green beans also Tim's) dressed with tamari, minced garlic and rice vinegar; bunny mix (little new lettuces from Tim) with blue cheese and craisins; grilled chicken; and chocolate cake with my new old favorite frosting.

The festival cake of my childhood was red velvet cake, and it always came with a wonderful, rich, creamy, not-too-sweet frosting which I was never able to replicate. It had the consistency of butter and confectioner's sugar frosting, but was nothing like as disgustingly sweet. I have a new-fangled recipe for red velvet cake (from the NY Times and excellent) that calls for a frosting made with cream cheese and marscapone and whipping cream which is just as fabulous as it sounds but it is not the frosting of my childhood. Earlier this summer I googled red velvet cake on a whim and there it was: cooked frosting. I tried it and it was the frosting I remembered and it is not only delicious but really easy. Here it is: Cook 1 cup milk (whole milk, it's frosting for god's sake) with 1/3 c. white flour until it is very thick. Set aside to cool. Meantime, beat 1 cup butter with 1 cup granulated sugar until fluffy. Beat in the cooled (that's important) milk/ flour mixture and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Add a big pinch of salt if you used unsalted butter. Chill until ready to frost your chilled cake.

I put this on my standard chocolate cake and it was really good. Even better if you refrigerate the frosted cake for 6 or 8 hours before serving. Bring it out of the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it.

It was interesting to meet Miss Bee's parents; they were just as congenial and pleasant and cheerful as I had expected. When I mentioned at Salon, my Friday women's group, that I had invited the Bs for the weekend and that Miss Bee was not sure she wanted that much togetherness (or at least that's what Mr. Bee, her father emailed to me) to a woman the group declared that they would never have allowed their parents to visit their boyfriends' parents and many declared they would have prevented that degree of coziness even after they were married.

I have to admit the idea of my parents overlapping with my in-laws makes me feel a little crazed, even now that both my parents are passing judgment on me only from on high. I adore my mother-in-law and always have, since long before she was my MIL, so there was the jealousy problem, and additionally there just wasn't much overlap between the two couples. My mother and my MIL could have talked about teaching school, since they both did, but I don't think there was anything my FIL and my father could have talked about. It was a constant struggle for me to figure out how to balance those relationships and stay fair and honorable and cause the least amount of trauma, and I don't think I was very good at it.

Who knows how long CB and Miss Bee will be partners (although it's been close to two years and the family pattern on both sides is pick 'em young and stick with 'em) but for the duration the two families had a fine time together.

Oh, about the rest of dinner -- really fresh beans only need to roast for about 30 minutes and they cook down to nothing. I cooked 5 pounds for 11 of us and there're only about two servings left. The new potatoes should be started covered -- I use a 11 x 13 pan covered with tin foil -- for about 25 minutes and then uncover them until they are done. Last night I wasn't so clever about starting things in the right order so I just took the beans out when they were done and served them at room temp (which was about 92 degrees) and let the potatoes finish cooking.

For the chicken I cooked two 5 pound free-range birds that I had the butcher spatchcock -- my butcher does it for me or you can do it yourself with a sharp knife. It just means removing the backbone and flattening the bird. Google it if you're confused. I once sent CB to the local market to get a spatchcocked bird and when he asked for it to be done the butcher looked up at him and said "You must be Ivy Vann's son. She's the only person who ever asks for that." Why I don't know, because it makes the birds easy to cook and easy to carve.

I brine my birds for at least an hour and as long as overnight before I cook them. If I'm grilling them (yes, the fire lit for me -- I think DH wasn't holding his mouth right the other night. Or maybe he just dried out the charcoal so it would light yesterday) I precook them in the microwave for 8 or 10 minutes first. It ensures they will cook evenly and relatively quickly and seems to reduce flare-ups, too.

We drank 3 bottles of Salmon Run Riesling with this meal -- some of which went to Kirs beforehand -- and it was pretty tasty all around.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Friday: EZ Dad Dinner #4

This isn't actually Ivy, it's the DH. Today I said to the Light Of My Life and Desire Of My Days (LOML for short) that if I made the dinner I didn't see why I shouldn't post to the blog, and she said she didn't either, so here I am.

Last night's dinner was the dad special, i.e. hamburgers made indoors on the stove instead of outdoors on the grill because the newspaper wouldn't light, which tells you something about the weather we've been having. The hamburger was from Roy's, the buns from the Kernel Bakery and both were good. They were shared by me and the Light and our horsey daughter, the Lockmeister having pledged every evening of her life (two weeks of it anyway) to running the light board at Andy's for their performace of Phantom of the Opera. I'm not exactly sure what she had for dinner--she seems to live on starlight and dew. And protein bars.

Oh, we had salad too, just so there was something green on the table. The mom special: baby lettuce mix, craisins, blue cheese crumble, balsamic vinegar, olive oil. I might have made those french fries if the Light were sharing her recipie but she's not.

For dessert we had Bread Pudding Chez Hélène topped with Crème Angalise--or maybe it was just vanilla custard. Either way it was... okay. Normally Bread Pudding Chez Hélène is what Hera feeds Zeus when she wants to get him in a good mood. It uses a can of evaporated milk, lots of vanilla, and halfway through the cooking you stir it up so all the carmelized bits from around the edge get mixed all through and its all unctuous and caramelized and wonderful.

But I think if you're using frozen bread (I was) you need more liquid... and if you're using unsalted butter (I was) you have to add a bit of salt even if the recipe doesn't call for it. Ah, well. They say that the original meaning of "sin" is to miss the mark; forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday evening

It was a gorgeous day here today. I took my MIL and her dog for a walk this morning, which was very pleasant. My small emergency back-up dog and I need to run, so we run about 90 seconds away from them and a minute back and then we walk a bit and then we do it again. My plan is to be able to run a 5K by September. We'll see, but I am working on it.

DH was away until about 2:30 -- when he got home we took both dogs to the beach and threw tennis balls for them. Our old dog needs exercise and swimming is the easiest on her joints. When we got home I started some chicken breasts and thighs brining (a double handful of kosher salt and a little sugar in enough water to cover the meat) and thawed some green beans I put up last summer.

We had grilled chicken, roasted green beans dressed with tamari, sesame oil, and rice vinegar, mushroom risotto, and a salad. Risotto, by the way, is no where near as difficult and fussy as it is rumored to be. Saute some mushrooms and onions in 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter, then add the washed rice (arborio is best, but you can cheat and use sushi), stir it around for a bit and then add some wine or water or stock -- a cup, maybe, and stir it. When the liquid begins to be absorbed, add a little more and stir it again. Continue until it is done. It does not require constant stirring -- just when you think of it.

DH and I had a glass of Salmon Run Riesling, which we have been enjoying this summer.

Later tonight some friends of friends who are temporarily homeless are coming to look at our attic apartment. I hope they like it, because what we're offering is free housing in return for cleaning the place up. God knows it needs it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Not dead or starving

I cannot believe it has been almost 5 months since I posted. I took a 14-week teaching position in a fourth-grade classroom and it ate every moment of my day.

So what's new: we had a party on May 30 for about 50 people. Winnie and I made tiny spanikopita triangles, maki rolls, chicken satay, and ice cream novelties (brownies with fancy ice cream inside). It was some fun -- we hired the same band we've used for 15 years and they were hotter than ever. I wore a polka-dot dress I had made; it felt good but the photographs show a handsome polka-dot bus.

On the dinner front: Winnie was home but is now in northern Ontario, CB is in Santa Fe, leaving DH, the vegetarian daughters and me. Lots of strata made from bread left-over from community supper, green beans from the freezer (so they're gone before the new ones come -- if they ever do, since we have had nothing but cold weather and rain for the entire month of June).

Right this very weekend it is only Locket and me, as daughter number two is away at a horse show and DH is at an Aikido weekend. I took her out for a shared seafood platter and it was good. I invited people for an impromptu dinner party tomorrow night but since I haven't heard I assume they are not coming. We're having grilled chicken whether they come or not.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Still driving, not cooking

So, it's a week since the last post, which suggests that I've cooked once since then. It's not quite that bad, but close. Locket's performance is this weekend, so life should return to something close to normal soon.

Thursday, Feb. 5 I made cottage cheese pancakes. They are very yummy and pretty good for you -- they're like little souffles. Two cups cottage cheese, 6 eggs separated, 1 cup of flour. Combine the cottage cheese, the egg yolks, the flour, a teaspoon of salt, and a dash of cinnamon. Add beaten egg whites carefully and fry on a buttered griddle.

Friday Feb. 6 I made the Cook's Illustrated ziti again -- still good.

Saturday we went to a church dinner party -- and were served the same chicken main dish we had at the one in January. It's the chicken with prunes and green olives from the original Silver Palate cookbook. It's good, and I'm happy to eat it, but I confess that I couldn't decide whether I did or did not want one of the other guests who had been at the January dinner (guests are supposed to rotate but the stir isn't very thorough) to observe that it was the same main dish. No one did and I guess that's for the best. I am betting on seeing that dish at the March dinner.

It reminds me of my college days, when I was the only one of my circle who could really cook. I made what I thought at the time was a pretty mean lasagna, which I was often asked for the recipe for. The result was that I ate my own lasagna every time I went to somebody else's house.

Sunday I made dinner! For the grandparents, too! Broccoli rabe with lots of garlic, sweet potato/cottage cheese casserole, sausages, and no salad because the greens froze in the fridge. Monday I didn't cook because I was driving Locket to rehearsal; CB made salmon cakes and spinach and salad for DH and Goody.

Tuesday was community supper: chicken and rice, and tomato soups for 89 people. Not a scrap of anything left.

Wednesday, after I drove Locket to rehearsal,I pan-grilled a steak for DH and CB and me, and made mashed potatoes with the ubiquitous cottage cheese, roasted carrots and a salad. I microwaved the carrots until they were about half-done before putting them in to roast -- that worked extremely well.

Tonight I didn't cook but I am making cupcakes for the fourth graders. They are the same ones my mother used to make for me: yellow cake with cream cheese frosting and cinnamon red hots. The red hots bleed a little pink onto the frosting -- part of the charm.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

No dinner, ever

Locket is in a community theater production of "Carousel" and since she doesn't drive yet, I have to. The problem is that the community in question is not our community, it is a community 30 minutes away. We're coming up on the performance and rehearsals are happening almost every night, with the result that I haven't cooked dinner since ... um ... I'm not sure when.

Wednesday last I made pasta. Thursday I went to rehearsal. Friday I can't remember, no, wait, I made a Dutch baby -- DH was in Cambridge at an Aikido workshop. Saturday we went to a dinner party -- Yay! Sunday I went to bed as soon as I got home from rehearsal. Monday I cooked spinach to go with a cooked chicken I bought at the grocery store. Tuesday I made soup for 83, that's EIGHTY-THREE, people. And now it's Wednesday and, wait for it, I went to rehearsal.

Also, it's been in the single digits for weeks and the brown puppy and I are both going crazy; he's going out of his mind with boredom and driving me out of mine in the process. The good news is that the weather is supposed to moderate and the production is over after next weekend. I can't wait.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I try not to cook too many all pasta meals, but today was a snow day and seemed to call for comfort food. The new issue of Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for baked ziti and so that's what I cooked. It was excellent and only required two pots -- not bad, for Cook's Illustrated, where they are capable of telling you that the only way to get decent butter is to keep a Jersey cow.

So we had baked ziti and a salad and a pinot noir and a conversation about geography. Locket had her geography questions, which seemed to be mostly puzzles and only tangentially about geography. One of the answers turned out to be the place where Barack Obama's father was born -- which I have already forgotten.

This is a short post because over on Facebook I just wrote 25 things about myself for a note -- and I'm a little tired on me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Not much cooking

All right, I confess. I didn't make a proper dinner between Dutch baby Friday night and soup for 75 people tonight. Don't I get a little credit for the 75 people? You know, 75 people ate a nice supper -- a nice supper that I cooked. Oh, okay,it's true: I'm a slacker.

Tonight Goodie asked me how Locket got home from school. "Beats me," I answer. "Swell, Mom, great job on the Mom thing." "I told her to find a ride home, and she must have because I didn't hear from her." "And how would you have heard? Since I know you didn't have your phone." "Good point."

I am apparently the meanest, least engaged mother in town. The other day I was talking with part of the carpool (which I now drive in the morning, instead of making Locket depend constantly on the kindness of others) and I was explaining that I would be picking up at 7:30, for a 7:40 drop-off at school. "Well, the kids don't have to be there until 8 a.m. Isn't that awfully early for them to have to get there?" I have to tell you, this is a thought that has never crossed my mind and now that it has: 20 minutes early is not too early. They have a place to go inside; it won't kill them to be early and I need to get to work.

So soup supper tonight: chicken and rice, and roasted butternut squash. Tomorrow is supposed to be terrible weather, so maybe I'll walk to the grocery and get the ingredients for something indulgent and time-consuming. Cook's Illustrated has a great-looking recipe for baked ziti .... maybe I'll make that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Friday visits

I made the dinner tonight that I had planned to make last night: a Dutch baby and chicken sausages. It was very tasty and easy and everyone enjoyed it. CB is off to Montreal this weekend so it was just Goodie and Locket and DH and I and we polished it off in short order, before going upstairs to watch "Mrs. Brown" with Judi Dench. I fear that I look more and more like Judi Dench -- I only hope I'm a smart as she appears to be.

I came home from a somewhat frustrating day as a substitute teacher at the high school. I had three sections of English, two of which were reading "Our Town" out loud. Oh My God the agony. Their oral reading is so awkward and dis-fluent that I could hardly bear to listen. Of course, the only way for their oral reading to get fluent is to practice which means someone has to make them do it. If it were my class I would have them read chorally and then have them practice particular speeches over and over, but I'm only the sub, so I did what I was told to do. I did manage a good discussion with one of the groups so it wasn't a totally wasted day.

Once I got home from school I rushed around doing the tidying up I had planned to do on Thursday night (when instead I was trapped at Starbucks) in advance of my Friday gathering. On Friday afternoons a group of women meet at my house for handwork and talk -- it's the high point of my week. This week the talk was all about schools and teaching and dogs -- the group is just getting to know each other so talking about our dogs is a regular feature. And of course my dogs are underfoot so they're a natural topic. My brother says, and I think he's right, that dogs are the universal topic: you can talk dogs to anyone.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another lost meal

I came home from the barn this afternoon late, cold and stiff from the first ride in three weeks, ran myself a deep, hot bath with Epsom salts, baking soda, and lavender oil. I soaked for half an hour or so and then got out and put on my pajamas. Goodie was expected home from the barn about 6:30, CB was upstairs reading, and Locket was doing homework. Dear Husband was at aikido and not expected home for supper. A perfect night for a Dutch baby and some chicken sausages.

I wandered into the kitchen and turned on the oven. I unpacked the apples I had bought on the way home and was getting out the ingredients for a Yorkshire pudding (that forms the swaddling for the baby -- it gets filled with cooked apples) when Locket drifted in and asked why I was wearing my jammies. "Because I'm not going out again." "Aren't you taking me to rehearsal?" "What rehearsal? You have a rehearsal tonight? You could have let me know." "I though you knew." "I didn't and I guess that means getting dressed again and that's the end of supper." "Oh," says Locket. "I need to go really soon."

In the end I made myself some grits and eggs and called it dinner and made yet another trip to Keene. I spent the rehearsal sitting in Starbucks reading the NY Times and not eating a cupcake.

Last night's dinner did get cooked, by CB, and apparently was quite tasty.

I'll be really glad when this production of Locket's is over; I don't know what I was thinking when I suggested she audition. Actually, I do know. She auditioned in November when January seemed very far away and two rehearsals didn't seem so onerous as they do now that I'm driving 1/2 hour to them. The good news is the production goes up the first week in February and only runs two weekends; until then I guess I'll spend plenty of time in Starbucks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

So, dinner. Tonight I have to drive Locket to Keene for a rehearsal, which I only just found out (at 5:45 p.m.) -- I won't be making dinner but this is what I would have made if I had: salmon patties with chili mayonnaise, green beans with tomatoes and garlic, rice, salad. The green beans are ones that I froze last summer, grown by my somewhat austere truck gardener friend. They are still delicious, even four months away from August.

It's my experience that all truck gardeners are gloomy and melancholy souls, whereas dairy farmers are calm and cheerful.** I think it's because everything conspires against gardeners -- it's too wet for some things and too dry for others, you've got too many bad bugs and not enough of the good ones, you plant a boatload of tomatoes and then nobody wants 'em. It's no wonder they're depressives. I have planted vegetable gardens but I have discovered that I do best when I garden with someone: they keep me from abandoning the thing in late July when it's hot and buggy and muggy and the beans need to be picked everyday, sometimes twice. Right now I'm farming out my farming, as it were, by participating in my farmer friend's virtual farmstand. He posts what he's got available on Wednesday, we order by Thursday evening, and he delivers on Friday. Fabulous.

** Dairy farmers are cheerful and placid because they get to hang around with cheerful and placid cows all day. Plus, they get to stick their fingers in the calves mouths anytime they want. There is nothing so soothing as having a new calf suck on your fingers. Try it, you'll see.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Community supper

Tuesdays are my day to cook community supper at my church. Most of the participants are not church members, just people who need a meal. By "need" I don't necessarily mean "can't afford dinner"; in fact, most of them are fine financially. What they need is company: we get a fair number of single older people who are tired of eating alone, and lots of single parents with small children. People arrange to meet each other at community supper, just as they might arrange to meet at the diner for lunch. They save seats for each other, and I'm always sorry when I have to collect the tablecloths and stack the chairs, because there are often people still visiting.

The supper was my idea and I had to fight hard to get it approved by the church. People weren't sure that the town needed another supper or that the Episcopal church needed to provide it or that there were enough volunteers to make it work or that the menu was okay. I proposed from the beginning that it would be two soups (one vegetarian, one not), salad, cheese, bread and butter, fruit, and dessert. There's already a wonderful spaghetti supper in town and another church does a rotating menu and I believed then (and still believe now) that what was needed was a meal which provided lots of vegetables. Some in church worried that serving soup was somehow demeaning; the people who come apparently don't feel demeaned or deprived.

So, this afternoon I went to the market and bought: 2 roasting chickens, 4 pounds of cheese, 5 pounds of carrots, 2 large cans of chopped tomatoes, 2 packages of frozen collards, 5 pounds of onions, 2 heads of garlic, 5 heads of red-leaf lettuce, 3 heads of romaine lettuce, 6 cans of frozen juice, 2 yellow cake mixes (I'm embarrassed to admit that, but I did), 3 cans of sliced pineapple, 6 pounds of frozen peas, 6 packages of lentils, 6 lemons, and 2 pounds of butter. I think that's what I bought.

I made a giant pot of lemon lentil soup with greens and tomatoes, flavored with some ground cumin. This was the first ever appearance of lentils: some people loved it and came back for seconds, other people hated it. We only had about 4 servings left so I think I'll keep it on the rotation, but I probably won't serve it again for a couple of months.

The other soup was chicken and rice, which I make every week. I used to make chicken noodle but several of my stalwart volunteers can't eat wheat so I made the swap to rice -- no complaints so I think it's a permanent change. I add 5 pounds of chopped carrots and 4 pounds of green peas along with onions, celery and garlic. It gets flavored with Bell's seasoning and a lot of salt. Chicken soup requires an amazing amount of salt and it's the salt that makes it taste good. Sorry, but that's the truth.

We had 47 people, which is about average these days. We started with only 2o or 25 and have gone as high as 90 -- 90 really stretches us thin. I like a 75 night: big but not overwhelming.

I do most of the cooking; my mother-in-law helps and I have an older couple who are nearly always there. They're in Florida this week and next -- I really missed them today. The kitchen clean-up crew is wonderful and faithful, and the real reason the suppers go so well and why I don't mind cooking every week.

About that cake mix: I made pineapple upside down cake. I don't always bake for community supper and I never made a cake before, but you know, today was a great day for all of us and I wanted to celebrate. I couldn't manage an inauguration party but I did produce a cake for community supper.

Monday, January 19, 2009

After planning board

I'm just home from a town planning board meeting (we are struggling with an ordinance which will encourage traditional neighborhoods and infill developments instead of sprawling subdivisions) and I stopped at the neighborhood market to grab a few things for dinner. I bought two chicken breasts and four thighs, a packet of spinach for salad, eggs, milk, and a can of mandarin oranges.

So what's for dinner? A casserole of mashed sweet potatoes (I had the potatoes on hand) with cottage cheese and eggs -- I might separate the eggs and make it more souffle-like, or I might not. A spinach salad with mandarin oranges and toasted walnuts and a garlic vinaigrette dressing; roasted chicken.

Right now the potatoes are simmering and the chicken is brining. I'll put the casserole together and put it in the oven as soon as the potatoes are done; the chicken goes in when Dear Husband arrives. I nearly always brine chicken to make it juicier; I also brine pork. I put a double handful of kosher salt in my big mixing bowl and add water; sometimes I add a little sugar or some peppercorns, but not, I confess, usually.

Winnie is back at school so there are five for dinner tonight: two vegetarians and three meat-eaters. I hope there's a bottle of white down cellar -- it's so cold that it doesn't need to be refrigerated to be at pouring temperature.

Black-eyed peas

This blog starts with what I'm making for dinner or just made for dinner. So here goes: black-eyed peas with homemade chutney, Asian slaw, roasted carrots, plain rice, chorizo, onion relish, and a bottle of pinot noir. We ate that last night at about 8 p.m. with all hands present and accounted for. It's a dinner that makes all six of us happy: the vegetarians get rice and beans and a cooked veg and a raw veg; the rest of us get all that and a sausage, minus rice for those of us who don't eat white food.

I started the beans at about 5:30, before I went out with Locket to deliver soup for her soup business. By the time I was back at 6:30 the beans were almost done. I added some homemade chutney and some salt and pepper and a little lemon juice along with a little more water. Then I peeled and made fingers of the carrots, tossed them with a little olive oil and stuck them in a 425* oven. I julienned half a cabbage (while fending off the brown puppy who loves cabbage) and made a dressing with pickled ginger and rice vinegar. It would have been better with some umeboshi plum paste -- but the pantry seems rather bare of condiments. It must be time for a big shop.

Sausage in the oven in a cast iron frying pan; rice on the stove top. All done and the best thing was it did not require a trip to the store -- everything was in the icebox or in the pantry.

After dinner CB and Goodie and Dear Husband and I watched "The Last Picture Show," which I had somehow missed all these years. Man, is it ever good. I think part of the reason it holds up so well is that it is in black and white -- color seems to date movies more thoroughly.