Bacon jam – the best recipe yet

Bacon jam – the best recipe yet

December 14, 2011. My 21st anniversary of meeting LL and the 20th anniversary of our engagement. An occasion that called for – at the very least – a dinner treat – but dinner was elusive that night. Kid Two had a 6:00 keyboard lesson, his first with a new teacher, former Doobie Brother Dale Ockerman. While he was making music I drove to Whole Paycheck – I mean Whole Foods – to find something to make for dinner. The pizza boys were too busy shuffling around looking busy to help me out, the salad bar was a bit wilted, and the fish department smelled fishy. Feeling put out, I left, mentally figuring out Plan B. We stopped by Gayle’s Bakery on the way home but the Blue Plate Special had sold out by 7:30 and I didn’t feel like ficelles and twice-baked potatoes. So. I dropped Kid Two off at home and went for the big splurge – take-out from Bittersweet Bistro. Turned out to be a serendipitous choice  . . . one of their dinner specials was Bacon Jam Pizza! I’d already made two batches of my own bacon jam in search of the perfect recipe, and finally something to compare my effort to. And Bittersweet’s pizzas are nicely done; a plate-sized pie with thin crust and tasty toppings applied sparingly. So I loaded up, and by 9pm – on a school night –  we finally all sat down to dinner: sliders for Kid Two, steak sandwich for Kid One, Mediterranean pasta for Mija, beef stroganoff for LL. Sadly, though, my bacon jam pizza manifested itself as a Bacon Chicken...

Eating with Uncle Sam

Downtown Tom first got me hooked on the National Archives, where you can see everything from the handwritten police blotter entry detailing Lincoln’s assassination to Dorothea Lange’s haunting photos to an image of the dinner menu from Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. History is much more poignant and immediate when you can experience bits and pieces as it was documented.  Check it out sometime. If you make National Archives is one of you Facebook friends you can get a goodie almost every day. Food-related items are unusual, so I have to share what I got this morning this in my feed: I love the retro-homey design; it totally takes me back to the avocado kitchens and orange and brown plaid layered shirts of my childhood.  And politics aside, it looks easy and tasty enough to try out at Thanksgiving. This recipe card is part of the “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” exhibit running at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. right now, and since a big part of cooking is smelling, they’ve added an aroma to the show . . . the sweet and spicy scent of apple pie. I wonder if that’s one of our instinctively engaging scents? I like to burn an apple and spice candle when it’s cold to feel more cozy, and I’ve heard real estate agents often have a freshly-baked apple on the kitchen counter during showings to make a house more homey. Simmering cloves, cinnamon, and apple peel gives the same effect but not as delicious-looking. Or maybe it’s just easy and inexpensive to reproduce without the fake/chemical notes I often find with candles? I like the smell but...
Pan Am and bacon jam

Pan Am and bacon jam

Think All My Children at 30,000 feet. James Bond in a girdle. My new favorite show, and certainly in the running for Best Show Ever, is Pan Am. Last night I watched all 4 episodes and was completely hooked; LL tells me I actually smiled the whole way through. Sure it lacks nuance, especially when compared to Mad Men, its smarter older brother. The plot points are more like exclamation marks, and surprise character development is neatly tucked in between commercials. But I don’t care. It was cotton candy for my brain, spun with fantasy and glamour. Drama without angst. Christina Ricci with awesome crazy eyes. And best of all – the stewardess is a spy! In my book, you just can’t get more ridiculous and fun than that. I had originally wanted to check out the show if only to cringe and groan. I read Nancy Franklin’s New Yorker piece on Pan Am and The Playboy Club and heard author Ann Hood’s take on her time as a TWA flight attendant on NPR’s The Story. Took note of online grumbles about today’s depiction of women as well as arguments about the show ranging from sexy feminism to rewriting history. But no one mentioned that it’s just plain entertaining. And like a medieval queen, at the end of the day I appreciate a little pure entertainment. I also appreciate a little supper. Earlier in the day LL emailed me this bit he read on SFGate.com: The infamous Butter Burger will return to Maverick next week on the 18th, and going forward, it will be on the menu every Tuesday in limited number. It is made of 70% Meyer...
How to stuff a wild zucchini

How to stuff a wild zucchini

The zucchini have gone completely wild this year. It didn’t start out that way; they were actually slow to grow. I planted the 4″ starts the second week of May; by the third week of June they’d barely doubled in size. So I worked a handful of Dr. Earth into the soil and got the drip irrigation going. Drip, drop, drip, drop, 1 gallon psi for 30 minutes every other day. With a week 3 foot high stems sporting dinner plate-sized leaves waved high in the air. One day I found a monstrous 3 pound zucchini I swear hadn’t existed the day before. I went away the second week of July and, returning home, discovered the zucchini had gone completely wild. They’d snuck out of their raised bed, crowded out the cucumber and spinach, and sported platter-sized leaves. Hidden underneath were dozens of tastefully-sized baby zucchini . . . dinner! I’d just been reading the Southwest Airlines flight magazine featuring this recipe for zucchini carpaccio recipe, so we were on. I didn’t worry too much about arranging the thinly sliced squash in lovely pattern on the plate, just sliced, sprinkled drizzled, and ate – and it was so good! Dinner from the garden – a fantasy coming true. We’ve made it several time since, occasionally using white balsamic vinegar and leaving out the olive oil and lemon, depending on what’s handy. Then we started harvesting zucchini blossoms – they’ve starred in over a dozen meals over the last 8 weeks – and they really are the best part of the plant.  We’ve eaten them stuffed with mozzarella and chives, dredged in...
Tartiflette

Tartiflette

Short days and cool nights often call for a rich, hearty entree. Try this tartiflette, a type of potatoes au gratin with ham that is made using the distinctive reblochon cheese. Delicious!

Grilled pizza how-to

Grilled pizza how-to

Jack Prelutsky’s pizza poem made me hungry! Since I’m thinking about pizza I thought I should let you in on the secrets of one thing I do really, really well – handmade barbecued pizza.

In a pickle

In a pickle

Most recently, my universe wanted pickled red onions.

It started one afternoon when Kid Two and his Buddy sat here after school and ate an entire jar of baby dill pickles and a one of cornichons for their snack.

Pork ragu inspired by La Posta

Tomorrow is our 19th wedding anniversary – 19 truly blissful years of living a cozy family-centric life by the sea. I’m completely appreciative of this life and these years, because it wasn’t always like this. Before LL I lived a comparatively vampirish life as a twenty-something back in St. Louis, energy waxing with sunset and waning at sunrise, tending bar until 1am then hitting a late-night spot or two to unwind. Moving through florescent and neon in a smoky haze. Weekend or weekday. Watching. Waiting. Wishing. Then I made the cross-country move and discovered what I was looking for en plein air, life softly lit by the sea. I met LL and we were married in fairly short order, a family of two we quickly doubled in size. Old habits died fast and hard with babies and bills to take care of, and over the years my weeknight schedule has been unvarying: homework, dinner, TV, tuck-ins, books, and bed. A couple glasses of wine thrown in for good measure. But the boys are older now, and life continues to change. Kid One spent last month in Argentina and Kid Two, of legal age to stay home alone, spent much of his winter break playing computer games with a new friend in Tasmania. So one Tuesday LL and I went out – at night! on a school night! – to join friends for dinner. Child-free and driving in the dark, two things I used to do every single night felt very strange to me now. We calculated that this most likely was literally the first time in our 19 year marriage...

A tale of two sausages

It wasn’t unusual that LL and I were each reading last weekend. It was unusual, though, that at the exact same moment each of us reached a page in our respective books that contained a recipe. Recipes written by people famous for something other than cooking. Plus, neither book was a cookbook. And each recipe involved sausage. My book was As Always, Julia, a book I’ve been savoring in small bites for several weeks now, completely impressed with how incredibly smart, thoughtful, busy, and passionate these two women were. And they knew everyone! One of my favorite bits is this excerpt from a letter Avis deVoto wrote to Julia Child about making her special spaghetti sauce, a recipe given to her by the poet John Ciardi – how cool is that? It was a blast from the past; I loved the word histories he did for NPR that I listened to back in my college-public-radio-reporting days. Here’s the recipe, which Avis wrote takes about five hours to make: 5 large onions sliced and softened in nearly a cup of olive oil, then two cans tomato paste, two cans tomato sauce, quart can solid pack tomatoes – garlic salt, bay leaf, caraway, basil, Italian parsley. Then eighteen Italian sausages fried gently and simmered in the sauce for couple hours. These are the fresh sausages made of pork butt and Marsala and garlic, fat and marbled pink and white – nothing like ordinary pork sausages and they don’t cook apart, they’re quite firm and rich and garlicky. The onions cook away to nothing and the sauce is intensely tomatoey. Then imported pasta cooked at the...

California cassoulet

The the very best of my recent experiments in leftover land turned out to be a stew LL dubbed California cassoulet. It lacks beans but really, I couldn’t resist the alliteration. The process is fairly typical of the way I cook that basically guarantees I’ll never be able to duplicate a recipe. But I did jot it all down after we figured out how mouthwateringly good it is, so I have hope. Here’s the “recipe” – Day 1: chicken stock. I had a leftover rotisserie chicken, half a large red onion, looking a little dry on the edges, and celery tops. Tossed in a stockpot and simmered with pepper and salt for several hours. Cooled then strained out all the bones, veg, and meat and tossed them out. Day 2: vegetable soup. I sauteed a VERY large julienned leek in a bit of olive oil, added two chopped peeled parsenips, two chopped peeled carrots and two chopped ribs of celery. Added the chicken stock and simmered for a couple of hours. Cooled and divided into two batches; one in the fridge and one in the freezer. Day 3. Nothing. The vegetable soup wasn’t very exciting so I just let it sit in the fridge for another day while I decided what to do with it. Hoped I’d remember to use it before it went bad. Remembered a cold, foggy day last summer when Kid Two astonished me by asking for chicken stew with polenta for dinner. It threw me because I’d never made chicken stew OR polenta. Turns out he’d had it at his Buddy’s house, who was unfortunately out...
Jordan Marsh blueberry “muffin” cake

Jordan Marsh blueberry “muffin” cake

This recipe card fell out of my old Fannie Farmer cookbook while I was rummaging around trying to remember which pancake recipe the boys like best: A forgotten recipe! I remember writing out this card; I was 16 and on a trip to Connecticut with a high school friend; we were visiting her aunt and her aunt’s best friend and roommate, who I realized some years later was really her partner. I have such clear memories of that trip; they were very gracious hostesses, taking us on a tour of the prep school where one worked and then on a docent-led tour of Yale. They took us on the train into New York where we looked out over the skyline from the top of the World Trade Center then ate an early dinner at Tavern on the Green. They even took us to spend the weekend on the Cape, soaking up the energy of Provincetown in the morning, traipsing through the dunes at the very windy Cape Cod National Seashore in the afternoon, and grilling steaks at our small rental house in West Dennis in the evening. I must have really enjoyed their cooking, because before we left they offered to share several recipes with me, which I copied sitting at the small kitchen table in their condo. One was pork chops placed on top of sliced potatoes in a casserole dish, topped with two cans cream of mushroom soup, and baked. The other was similar – chicken breasts on top of Minute Rice with a splash of orange juice and two cans cream of celery soup, then baked....
Umami artichoke soup recipe

Umami artichoke soup recipe

Somewhere along the line I picked up an excellent cookbook called Soups of Italy: Cooking over 130 Soups the Italian Way by Norma Wasserman-Miller. Her short history of Italian soup in the first chapter is really interesting; she writes that zuppa, the Italian word for soup, derives from the Gothic word suppa, defined as “a slice of bread, soaking.” I did have to look this up: it was by the end of the third century that the Goths and Romans crossed paths via Gothic incursion. I imagine Gothic warriors gathered around a fire, soaking up the juices from some spit-roasted wild game with big hunks of rye bread – did they share with the Romans after battle? Did the Romans eye their meal hungrily? Did the Goths share? Either way, it’s an interesting example of cultural exchange during warfare. Soups of Italy is also more than just a collection of recipes; she teaches the language and techniques of soup-making, breaking the process down into its basic components. Battuto is the aromatic starter, such as garlic or onion. Sapori are the main ingredients, the vegetables or meat. Brodo is the liquid component, and condimenti – pasta and grated cheese – finish a soup. It’s possible to improvise an entire symphony of soups once you know the basic construction. Not just with Italian flavors; I’ve been able to create nice Chinese and Mexican inspired soups by transposing the basic components to a different geographic key. But I promised you artichokes. Wasserman-Miller’s recipe for Artichoke and Pasta soup, Minestra de Carciofi e Pasta, was the first one I tried. The tomato-artichoke flavor combination is irresistible ....