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I love it when I make something from scratch and have enough left over to store some in the freezer.  It makes me feel so prepared… so wholesome (which is excellent since “prepared” and “wholesome” probably aren’t the first words that come to mind when describing myself).  It also makes me feel smart, because making something from scratch that you would normally buy jarred from the store tends to be much tastier, much cheaper, and much better for you.   

the components

In fact, I love this so much that one may assume by the looks of my freezer that an eighty-five year old woman lives at my house.  My freezer is full of little labeled bags, each one containing enough of some little morsel or ingredient to be used for a specific serving amount.  Didn’t use an entire can of tomato paste or chipotle chiles?  Just divide the rest up and put it in a little bag, I say!  Who doesn’t love stretching one dollar across four meals?!  If only I exercised this level of mindfulness and precision with my laundry or, I don’t know, our budget.

accidental art

Back to making things from scratch; I’ve been really into this lately.  The discovery of very inexpensive spices that can be found at international markets (basically any place that sells food outside of your conventional chain grocery store) opens up a new world of possibilities in this realm.  I’ve always been a relative purist in terms of cooking meals from scratch; I keep it simple and fresh with veggies, grains, meats and bread.  Now I’m moving on to condiments.  I have big plans for some Guiness mustard, a fantastic worsteshire sauce, Harissa paste and maybe ketsup.   Once you deconstruct a sauce or flavor component that you use regularly and typically pick up at the store, you discover that the ingredients in a store bought item tend towards fillers and artificial ingredients that diminish flavor and aren’t really good for you.  Homemade marinara or Bolognese sauce, for instance, is a revelation after years of stuff from a jar.

possibilities

Anyway, I started this journey with Thai Red Curry paste.  The beauty of Thai Red Curry paste (aside from the fact that it is utterly delicious) is that it has so many uses: stir a little into noodles, add some to rice, slather on meat for a marinade, whisk some into soup, add to oil and vinegar for a unique salad dressing… Having some of this curry paste on hand means that a can of coconut milk, shallots, lime and a pound of mussels is all it takes to quickly put together an elegant and exotic meal.  I love this!  I enjoy so much the complilation of all these ingredients, coming together to make something fantastic.  There may be a little extra work on the front end, but I’m so thankful when I pull my well marked baggie out of the freezer for instant flavor.  This little trend has started to extend to a multitude of other genres… spice blends, jams and jellies… I’m actually dreaming of getting my hands on some veal bones to make my own demi glace this Fall.  

the end result

In the meantime, I’ll just share this recipe that I used from Saveur; I hope someone will try it and share with me in the unusual satisfaction that comes from a freezer full of tiny baggies.  

thai red curry paste

  • 8 dried chiles de arbol, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 tbsp corriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp white peppercorns
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, with stems
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 5 gloves of garlic, smashed
  • 3 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 holland or fresno chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, tough outer layers discarded, tender interior layers finely chopped
  • 1 one inch piece of ginger peeled and roughly chopped
  1. break the chiles de arbol into pieces, transfer to a small bowl, and cover with one cup of boiling water; let them soak until softened – about 20 minutes
  2. meanwhile, add corriander, cumin, peppercorns, and cardamom to a small skillet over meadium head; toast spices, swirling constantly, until very fragrant – about 4 minutes
  3. transfer spices to a grinder (I use an electric coffee grinder) and grind to a fine poweder – set aside – (if you’re feeling really rustic, you could smash and grind them with a mortar and pestle)
  4. strain the chiles de arbol through a sieve, reserving the soaking liquid
  5. in a food processor, combine chiles de arbol, ground spices, fish sauce, cilantro, oil, salt, nutmeg, garlic, shallots, fresh holland chiles, lemongrass and ginger – puree until paste is smooth, about 2 minutes (sprinkle in a tbsp or two of reserved chile soaking water to help paste grind)
  6. refrigerate for up to three weeks or freeze for up to three months

Thai Red Curry paste doesn’t have the flavor that many people associate with the traditional Indian Yellow Curry; the word “curry” is used in both Indian and Thai cuisines to indicate a pungeant and flavorful spice paste or mixture, and is not indicative of one specific flavor or aroma.

summer on a plate

summer on a plate

Summer is almost over, my friends.  It’s going to be hard for me to say goodbye to the berries, the peaches, the summer squash – all of the beautiful produce that is overflowing at the market right now.  I’m clinging to this food season with every meal, and tonight was quintessential summer. 

Roasted baby tomatoes and a fresh and lively vinaigrette go perfectly with simple pan sauteed chicken; shallots and the sweetness of the tomatoes add a mellow balance to the assertive flavors of dill, mustard and champagne vinegar.    We ate this with fresh yellow corn on the cob, slathered in butter and seasoned simply with salt and pepper.  The corn is really so delicious that it doesn’t need anything, but I look for any excuse to eat a little melted butter. 

Even though it’s been raining for at least five days straight in Atlanta, I felt so summery while we ate dinner… I gnawed (literally) on my tender little corn and imagined that I was sitting at a picnic table somewhere outside near some tall, climbing trees, a canopy of twilight stars over my head, warm summer breeze on my face and a show of fireflies twinkling through the trees… I could almost smell freshly mown grass and honeysuckle… Yes – buttery, perfectly in-season corn can cause me to wax poetic; I might have even burst out with a rendition of Billie Holiday’s Summertime if a pitcher of homemade lemonade had graced our table.  Jon broke up my mental reverie by announcing that our dinner made him nostalgic for the summers of his childhood when he and his family would pick corn from a neighbor’s field.  I love food that is so firmly planted in a season or a memory that each bite, each taste, transports you to a cherished place or time. 

I should also mention that his warm and fuzzy recollection was followed by a comment that corn on the cob is really better eaten at home than in public.  I chose not to ask about the inspiration for this proclamation, but instead to wipe the butter and corn from my chin and cheeks. 

This was ready and on the table in less than thirty minutes; it would be a tragedy for others that I know and love to not share in the final stages of summertime deliciousness by eating this fantastic meal.  The original recipe came from Gourmet and can be found here; the recipe below is with my modifications. 

As for my bizarre three week absence from the blog, I have no explanation.  All I can say is that I’m back!  Thanks to those of you who encouraged me to get writing again.

chicken paillards with tangy tomato-dill relish and tender buttered corn

  • four skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped shallot
  • 1 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 1 tbsp champagne or white wine vinegar (or red wine, if you don’t have either of those two)
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved (I like to scoop out the seeds with my finger)
  • fresh corn on the cob, shucked
  • butter, salt and pepper to taste
  1. preheat oven to 425 degrees and set a large pot of water to boil
  2. pound the chicken breasts to 1/4 of an inch thickness between two sheets of plastic wrap with a meat mallet or rolling pin
  3. whisk together oil, dill, shallot, mustard and vinegar in a large bowl
  4. toss the halved tomatoes with a few spoonfuls of the vinaigrette mixture and roast in the oven for seven to ten minutes
  5. meanwhile, season the chicken breasts with a little kosher salt and pepper and spoon some of the vinaigrette over one side of each breast
  6. add chicken breasts to a skillet heated over medium heat, vinaigrette side down; spoon more vinaigrette over the unseasoned sides of the chicken in the pan; cook chicken three to four minutes per side, adding the remaining vinaigrette at the end of cooking
  7. while chicken is cooking, add corn to boiling water and cook for five to six minutes
  8. serve the chicken with the roasted tomatoes scattered on top – buttery corn on the side – prepare to reminisce in happiness

This recipe serves four, but I made the full amount of vinaigrette for our two pieces of chicken because I like things saucy and extra flavorful; if serving four you may want to make some extra vinaigrette.

I generally use this method for cooking chicken; splitting a chicken breast between two people is actually an appropriate portion size, saving money and extra calories.  Pounding the chicken flat allows for quicker, more even cooking and a seemingly larger size.  This is a great, everyday method.

 

you be the chef

 

The sky is the limit.

Money is no object.

Add anything you like.

Use all of these ingredients.

What is your creation?

tastes as beautiful as it looks

tastes as beautiful as it looks

If you want to sing because you have just eaten something delectable – if you want to feel like you are dining in the manner of aristocrats – if you want an absolute slurpy flavor explosion with each little bite of food, then you need to prepare and eat the mussels that I just had for lunch.  Seriously.  I’m getting really passionate again about my lunch but it’s completely valid. 

Mussels are so good and easy to make.  The strangest thing is trying to guard their little lives so much from store to home, then confirm that they’re all healthy and thriving, only to quickly extinguish those little lives in a steaming pot.  I would be kind of sad about it if they weren’t so extravagantly delicious. 

I have been craving mussels and a  smattering of left over ingredients from the week came together very quickly to make an absolutely glorious broth that obviously gets me very excited.  A pinch of saffron and the addition of a tiny anchovy filet (both pantry staples in my house) added an extra layer of flavor to ingredients that are already outstanding.   Imagine this bite: one tender little mussel swimming in a fragrant broth that tastes of wine and lemon and garlic and fresh parsley and summer with a hint of thyme and saffron.  I realize that I sound a bit over dramatic sometimes when I talk about some of these things, but when food tastes this good it makes me want write poetry.  And love letters.  Food love letters, if you will. 

We ate these mussels with some toasted slices of french baguette, rubbed with a clove of raw garlic and drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper.  If you haven’t eaten bread this way, you are missing out on one of life’s great and simple pleasures.   

The recipe below serves two and the entire meal took about twenty minutes to prepare; there really isn’t any excuse for you to not share in this experience with me.  I want everyone to experience these little tastes of the good life – together.  Let’s start with these mussels. 

tender mussels in fragrant wine broth

  • a pound and a half of mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary
  • a cup and a half of white wine
  • three cloves of garlic, chopped
  • a quarter of an onion or a couple of shallots, chopped
  • a generous handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • four or five sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
  • half of a lemon (meyer is best)
  • one little anchovy fillet
  • a pinch of saffron (maybe five or six small threads)
  • one tbsp of butter
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • about one tsp of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. add the saffron to the wine and let soak while you begin cooking
  2. heat the butter and olive oil in an appropriately sized sauce pan over medium heat, and add the chopped onions, salt and pepper and stir frequently for about two minutes
  3. add the garlic, anchovy and thyme and cook for a minute or two more, stirring frequently
  4. add the wine (with saffron) and about two thirds of the fresh parsley and bring to a boil
  5. gently add the mussels, cover and reduce to medium, cooking for six to seven minutes (all mussels should be open – discard any that do not open)
  6. ladle the mussels and plenty of the broth into wide bowls and garnish with the rest of the fresh parsley; serve with crusty garlic bread

All mussels should be scrubbed and inspected before cooking; discard any mussels that have cracked or broken shells.  If a mussel is open, gently tap it on the shell; if it doesn’t close it should also be discarded. 

grandmas wordsMy Grandma Cecil had a habit of writing her thoughts down on little pieces of paper.  These little paper gems were tucked away all over her house; in drawers, inside of books, in glass dishes, posted on the giant bulletin board that occupied one of her kitchen walls.  Now that she is gone, and now that I am a grown woman with a lot of questions for her, I cherish each of the few little scraps that I have salvaged as insight into her thoughts, her hopes, her affirmations, her struggles, her wisdom, her encouragement.   I am so thankful for the things that she taught me as a young girl, but these little notes must suffice as answers to my grown up questions.  These notes must suffice as the means to understand who she was, woman to woman.   

Perhaps I also assign great value to these little notes because I am a note taker myself.  I know the weight of the good intentions, the proclaimed mantras, the reminders jotted down on small pieces of paper.  Little notes and index cards abound in my house in all of the same places; between the pages of books, posted to the fridge, in pockets of pants, purses and notebooks.  These little notes are my best attempt at bringing some order out of the chaos of my brain. 

About six months ago I came across the thoughts that I frantically scribbled on a flight from Germany to Los Angeles.  I was contemplating some of the biggest decisions of my life; breaking off an engagement, moving away from my family, free education and apartment by the beach in California, pursuing a very intriguing man that I had just met in Israel… lots of things to think about.  I knew that these could be the absolute best or absolute worst decisions of my life.  For whatever reason, Psalm chapter one forty three, verses five through twelve were my prayer.  Each line was a cry for wisdom – each verse had specific meaning to me personally.  I’ve since broken off that engagement, moved from California and married that intriguing man, and my life is the most beautiful it has ever been.  I have revisited that passage of scripture many, many times.  I know it by heart.  It is my personal liturgy when I am seeking wisdom, comfort or council.

So you can imagine my delight and amazement when I opened the pages of a book and out fell a little card with my Grandma’s distinctive script, recording the very same verse that carries so much meaning and significance to me.  I smiled all the way down to my bones. 

 

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.  I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.  Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails.  Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down in the pit.  Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.  Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you.  Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good spirit lead me on level ground.  For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.  In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.  Psalm 143:5-12

tastiness abounds

tastiness abounds

Last week was so crazy (hence the single post).  Weeks of going through closets and boxes culminated in a very successful garage sale.  Yippee!  To celebrate, I got everything I needed for a recipe that I was saving from Saveur.  Oooohhh I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone; snapper baked in foil with clams, lemon, smoked sausage, fennel, olives, orange zest, shallots, fingerling potatoes, white wine… sounds amazing, right?  It wasn’t.  It just wasn’t good.  DANGIT.  I hate it when that happens! 

So, I’ll share a faithful old stand-by instead.  I used to make this all the time when I first started cooking… somehow it has left the regular rotation.  We had it for lunch today and I was reminded of why we used to eat it so frequently!  This is a very elegant take on red beans and rice; it’s extremely comforting but also a little refined.  I love the soft orzo and the mixture of sweet peas, salty prosciutto and freshly grated parmesan.  It’s herby, elegant, delicious, and you can get it on the table in about thirty minutes.  Nice!  Today I added a little green salad on the side with a quick dressing made from lemon, dijon, marmalade and white wine vinegar, topped with toasted, slivered almonds.  It was the perfect compliment. 

I have big plans for the rest of the week – lots of things from scratch – thai red curry paste, worsteshire sauce, pickled okra and fresh ricotta ravioli (my first attempt at homemade pasta) – I’ll keep you posted!  In the meantime, let me know if you make this and what you think of it.  Oh, and if anyone has any tips on making pasta dough, I will be very grateful!

red beans and orzo

  • 2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/3 cups orzo
  • heaping 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • heaping tsp of italian seasoning or herbes de provence
  • one can of red beans, rinsed and drained (use dried of you’re feeling extra special)
  • one ounce of proscuitto (de parma is best) cut into little strips (you can use ham if you must, or smoked turkey if you don’t eat pork)
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh sweat green peas
  • a good handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • a generous handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese for each serving
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. bring broth and water to boil in a medium saucepan
  2. add orzo, herbs, onion and a generous amount of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper; reduce to a simmer and cook for twelve to fifteen minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed and the orzo is tender (do remember to stir every now and then)
  3. add beans and peas, and cook for a minute or two more to warm through
  4. stir in the prosciutto and serve with freshly grated parmesan on top – be comforted! 
vernazza - there is life outside my garage

vernazza - there is life outside my garage

Wow – I haven’t posted all week.  Terrible.  I haven’t really even wanted to cook.

There.  I said it.  I can’t believe it.  But it’s good to be honest.  The truth is, I’m in garage sale hell.  I am surrounded by boxes and old items and clothes and dust that seem to be multiplying magically, dividing and reproducing like little single celled organisms.  This was a fun project when it started (seems like one hundred years ago); I have really enjoyed seeing little awards, drawings and photos from my husband’s past.  It feels good to cleanse and purge. 

Now I feel condemned to this bizarre purgatory of boxes and upheaval; I am counting down the days until Saturday!  While I haven’t been inspired to cook (although I did have the eggwich for lunch again yesterday!) and therefore not inspired to post, I have continued to be refreshed by your responses to my questions from the last few weeks.  Every time I read about lavender or basil or strawberries I feel a little breath of fresh air.  Aaahhhh…

So my question this week is about your past – specifically what are some things from your childhood that you cherish or have held on to?  What’s hiding in your garage or tucked away in your closet?

For me:

1. my books

2. letters and cards from family

3. drawings and photographs (although I can’t find hardly any)

4. crayons

5. christmas ornaments