Note to self: French silk pie should be refrigerated before serving

I’d like to apologize to anyone else in the downtown area that might have wanted to purchase some fresh basil yesterday. Because you were denied.

In a pack, on a plant, in a cooler, on a shelf.
I took them, one and all; I took them for myself.

And the double batch of pesto they made was delicious. It’s true, we denuded three whole plants for dinner. I’m hoping the few little baby leaves remaining will be enough to help the plants regrow near a south-facing window. But if not, I hope they feel some plant-y comfort in the knowledge that many people enjoyed their sweet, fragrant leaves and the farfalle pasta they coated so admirably. If not, sucks to be you whiny little basil bush-lets!

Do you like mushrooms? Normally I’m not a fan of them. The texture, the taste, the very concept of them. Fungi. Ugh. But the mushrooms we had today were amazing. Decadent. Anointed. They were also super easy. But at 20 minutes, they were a bit of a time sink as you have to attend to them almost constantly. In other words, they’re the perfect task for that one dinner guest that insists on doing something or a cooking partner who constantly feels the need to poke and pick at anything in a pan. Not that I know anyone like that. Not that I am that person from time to time.

*cough*
Anyway.

Something important to keep in mind is that mushrooms cook down. A lot. Mushrooms are mostly water. Cooking releases that water. A –> B –> rather minimized C. I bought three containers of white button mushrooms, filling a 12″ skillet to almost overflowing. They ended up barely stretching to five diminutive, but oh so savory, servings. Big became little. White became brown. Mouths watered. It was worth it. Thank goodness for the one staunchly anti-mushroom person at the table. The bottom left photo is after a few minutes in the pan. The one on the right is after only a single serving was removed.

What’s that? You want to make them too? I can respect that. Follow along.

Heat 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large (preferably nonstick) skillet over high heat until it shimmers. Dump in 1 1/2 pounds button mushrooms, quartered. Stir them constantly until they’ve given up all their liquid (~8 min). Continue cooking and stirring until they’re deep brown (~10 min more). Add: 1 finely minced shallot, 2 minced garlic cloves, and 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves (discard stalks). Cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant.

Remove from heat. Add: 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon lemon juice (~ 1/2 lemon), 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter. Stir until butter is melted. Taste, add salt/pepper as desired. Serve immediately if you can. (I popped on the lid and covered it with a thick towel for a few minutes tonight.)

We put some fresh bread and butter on the table, poured the wine our guests brought. Dug in.

Oh and that French Silk pie? Yeah, it really should have gone into the refrigerator before dinner. As we didn’t do that, it was a gooey, delicious mess. One pie, six ugly servings, big ass grins digging into it at the dinner table. We had this Brunch Playlist simmering in the background. It can be hard to accommodate everyone’s musical tastes, but it did a good job.

Now, many hours later, I hear the snowplows thumping past the house again, pushing and shoving last night’s contribution toward what might possibly turn into a record annual snowfall. We’ve already hit record low temps this winter. I think more than a few of us are quite done with winter.

19 Truffles with which I pledge my fealty

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I didn’t eat a one before he got home.

Yesterday I had a migraine, a whopper of a migraine, a grand-daddy migraine, a ‘thanks-be to the gods and goddesses that whispered in my ear that I probably wanted to clean the bathroom right now because I was about to get up close and personal with it soon’ migraine.

At 2pm, it was a threat. “Tylenol, some water, it’ll pass.”
By 3pm, I was on the couch hoping a nap would knock it out.
At 4pm, the reality that this was going to be a doozie was all too *gag* clear.

Just before 5pm, Jeff called to say he was going to have to take a visiting colleague out to dinner and then to the airport. I asked if he could pick up our bi-weekly veggie order from the co-op first, as I knew I wouldn’t be in any condition to walk over and get them. Hearing the pain in my voice he, husband of husbands, immediately found someone else to deal with the colleague so he could come straight home. Dude has my back.

After getting me some more meds, water and leaving all the lights very much OFF, he ran to the veggie pick-up, made himself a quick dinner of leftovers, and checked to ensure that I was as comfortable as possible. Then he headed out to the gym for a quick round of weights (at my insistence) but skipped the usual post-weights swim.

Once back, he whipped up some scrambled eggs with the hope I could keep something down but it was a no-go. Two bites in and I had to stop. His beautiful, delicious, it’s-his-new-super-power, perfectly scrambled, light and fluffy eggs ended up in the bin. It was a goddamn high protein tragedy, I assure you.

Clutching the hand-rail and with his arm around me, I climbed the stairs at all of 7:45pm, turned the corner into our room, and crawled straight into bed. Never have I been so thankful for blackout blinds, cozy sheets, cloud-like latex pillows, a warm shoulder to rest on, and a tender hand stroking my hair. I don’t think I woke up once the entire night.

Maybe being sick doesn’t make this such a romantic story for a post on Valentine’s Day, but he was pretty damn loving last night and that’s better than dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant in my book. We’ve never subscribed to the the Big Date aspect of the holiday. A card maybe, certainly a text, an extra kiss during the day. Call it good. Maybe we’re dull by others’ standards, lazy/cheap/curmudgeon-ish in some eyes, or just content with quieter and less date-dictated forms of affection. Whatever, it works for us.

This morning I woke renewed, hit the gym for weights, a dreadmill run, and a quick swim. I walked to the grocery store, picked up the truffles, had a nice chat, and put out the fancy Luxardo cherries I’d found for Jeff. A card AND a gift?!? I know, I was on fire.

For dinner, I made braised chicken legs with white wine, fennel and pancetta over brown rice. I didn’t much like the flavor. It happens. He love, love, loved it though so I’m happy about it in that regard. We drank the rest of the wine with dinner and enjoyed a few of the truffles afterwards. Flowers and candles are per usual on the dinner table, but tonight they both seemed a little more vibrant to me.

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Pasta, Oil, Three Types of Garlic, and van Etten

“You’re very quiet today.”
“I just want to feed people and be silent.”

Today the table offered Pasta with Oil and (3 types of) Garlic, roasted Brussels Sprouts, red wine and chocolate cake.

Pasta with Oil & Garlic
In a large skillet, cover the bottom with olive oil. Smash 4 cloves garlic and sauté until golden – about 4 min. Remove and munch on them when they cool down (or discard). Add 4 cloves sliced garlic and a tablespoon of red pepper flakes. Cook until just beginning to turn golden – about 1 min. Add 4 cloves minced garlic, stir until fragrant – about 30 sec. Remove from heat and set aside. Do not over cook the garlic.

Cook spiral pasta al dente in well-salted water, retain 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain – DO NOT RINSE – and return to pan. Immediately pour garlic oil mixture and half of the retained pasta water over the pasta and mix to coat. Use the rest of the pasta water if needed to get all the pasta coated with sauce. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Serve.

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Pre-heat oven to 500F. Yes, 500F.
Remove ends and discolored or damaged outer leaves from sprouts. Halve the sprouts. In mixing bowl, coat with olive oil, Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Spread on heavy baking sheet or rimmed pan, cut side down. Pop in oven for 10 minutes. Flip onto curved side and check for nice browning. Return to oven for 3-5 minutes more or until sprouts are fork soft, tooth tender and slightly sweet. Serve.

Thank baker for the gorgeous chocolate cake you had the good sense to purchase.
Serve.

Pour wine of your choice throughout the meal.
Sip. Smile at the people gathered around your table. Enjoy their chatter.

Clean up.
Play Sharon van Etten’s brilliant ‘Are We There’ on repeat when you get the house back to yourself again 5+ hours later.

Sometimes you just want to curl up and ignore the weather; this was one of those weeks.

It’s been a weird week, ok, week and a half. But weird as it’s been, all is well. A family member had some sad news, one friend had very exciting news, another was sicker than a dog, an acquaintance made me an interesting offer (which I declined for the most part but embraced partially), and best of all: Jeff embarked on a new workout routine with me. Twelve weeks should find us both in a healthier, leaner, stronger place.

Culinarily, it’s been pretty boring here this week, but much enjoyed: comforting, full of foods we know well, recipes we’ve made before, there was even Jeff’s guilty pleasure of *eyes lowered in shame* tacos from a box tonight. I know. Even he said he thought it felt like cheating, like eating blue box mac & cheese instead of taking 30 minutes to make something worth eating, so a shelve’s worth of cookbooks have been put on hold at the library. Soon we’ll be making proper Mexican food at home: tacos to make you drool, burritos to sell your soul for, tortillas to wrap your hopes and dreams in.

Thursday, in the middle of a freezing cold, icy snow storm, we saw some lovely black and white photography from a pair of local artists at the local botanical gardens. It’s always mid-summer under the dome. My favorite was an abstract stand of thin black trees along the upper third of a snowy background. Friday, we cuddled, held hands, and patted each other’s arms for comfort during the first of three showing of Oscar Shorts. This group was Documentary. Documentaries are usually not too festive, and only the final one was anything even remotely outside of the devastating category. I highly recommend both “Period. End of Sentence.” and “Black Sheep.” One was full of joy and hope; the other broke our hearts.

Three more small bags of things that we didn’t use and don’t need were donated to the local charity shop. Yawn, snore. Nothing new there. Of actual news is that one of my bicycles, an older steel Giant hybrid, is off to a local refugee to help them get around the city more efficiently and cheaply. It’s the end of an era. It’s been loaned out several times, but it’s time to let it go for good. There was an emotional tie with it that was tough to move past. But I have another bike for getting around the city, a road bike for distance riding and triathlons, and a shared gravel bike in the works. I can’t remember the last time I’ve wanted to take the hybrid out for a ride, so it’s been sitting unloved and ignored in between loans for the past couple of years. No more, it’s time for it to be an important and regular part of someone’s life again.

I’ll end this is the exciting fact that we’re watching The Incredibles 2 tonight and I had forgotten how much I adore Edna Mole. I vote for more Edna Mole. So much more Edna Mole. Tomorrow brings pasta with 3 types of garlic and oven roasted brussels sprouts, some good friends for lunch, and who knows what for dessert afterwards – but it’ll most likely involve chocolate!

Random photos are random

Today’s the end of our first month of exclusive home cooking. I’m proud to say that I haven’t cheated even once, despite the lure of my favorite glazed old-fashioned doughnuts while getting groceries, the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee while walking through the skywalks, or the memory of Scenic Route Bakery’s cranberry scones fresh from the oven.  *whelp*  Truth is, the desire comes in waves (hello, PMS, so good of you to join us today) but it’s much much easier now. Making my own KICK ASS gingerbread cookies certainly helped, too.

There’s been a lot of photographing of food around here lately, which has garnered me some much earned mockery. “Can we eat, or do you need a picture first?” I’m falling in love hard with the texture of food though and just can’t seem to get enough of it. Enjoy a few random food-related pics on this OMG cold day. If you want the recipe for anything, just send me a message (made that easier).

 

PS –
Kara: hope you’re enjoying those cookies as much as I am!
Suzette: I’ll address the meat-eating with vegan-focus soon. It’s not as incongruent as it might seem.

Fun Fact: when one smoke alarm goes off in my house, ALL the smoke alarms go off

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Don’t do this to your sweet potatoes

Things you might be wondering:

  • What did sweet potatoes ever do to me?
  • Why would I put these vitamin A bombs through such trauma?
  • How did I manage to burn the crap out of so many while others were left mushy and undercooked?

Well, sunshine, it’s a skill. And I’ve got it.

It turns out that oven roasting sweet potatoes is NOT the same process as oven roasting other types of potatoes because they’re sweet. That’s right! The higher sugar content makes a difference. A big difference. An important difference. Now if I had read the section on sweet potatoes and not just assumed that they would behave the same as regular potatoes, this crime against vegetables, this plant travesty, could have been avoided. But I did not. So I’m having to pay the piper, take my medicine, and swallow my pride.

Now listen to your Auntie Jamie here, boys and girls. If you’re trying something new and you have a recipe or a really cool cookbook devoted to “Better Home Cooking Through Science,” go ahead and take the 10 minutes to read that section on it. I’m not saying study it, commit it to memory or carve it into your forearm for perpetual reference, but go ahead. Get crazy. Read it. Consider following the recipe the first time around.

And if not, make sure you have something else to prepare after you get done fanning the screaming smoke alarm, opening the closest windows, and burying the evidence of your misadventure under onion skins, a mandarin orange netting, and that clump of slimy spinach you didn’t eat fast enough earlier in the week. Not I ever do that.

On the upside, our cyclists can’t make it tomorrow after all so we had plenty of food in the house that could get diverted. Tuscan white bean soup to the rescue.

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Earlier in the week, we made a variation of this Black Bean Soup, substituting veggie broth for the chicken to keep it vegan and using 1 green and 1 red bell pepper instead of 2 green since that’s what we had in the fridge. After cooking, we found the broth not quite as thick as we’d like, so we’ll probably add another can of black beans and reduce the broth by a cup next time. I say next time because the overall flavor was good, it was pretty quick to prepare and clean up was easy. A great option for those nights we need to cook, eat, clean up and get out the door again lickety-split.

Because my sweet tooth needed a reboot – *tears* ok, it soooo didn’t – AND because I made the mistake of reading what sounded like a nice, easy recipe on the NY Times cooking app AND because I had everything I needed already in the cupboard, I made gingerbread cookies to go with my morning cup of tea. They’re so good. I’m both lazy and a fan of efficient storage so I didn’t use cookie cutters or frost them but, instead, cut them into rectangles and patted myself on the back. None of the flavor leaked out. For the record, they freeze really well and re-soften nicely sitting on top of a steaming mug.

PS – The recipe is hidden behind the NYT paywall but if you really want it, let me know. I just might be able to get it to you. If you ask nicely. And you really like gingerbread. I’m not risking my reader-in-good-standing status for someone that’s wishy-washy on the gingerbread front.

Bokeh, baby? Beef, please.

Title doesn’t make sense to you? No worries, in my head it’s quite amusing.

Yesterday I signed up for a class to push my photography knowledge and comfort past the stage that it’s been at for some time. Confession: I hate getting my camera, even just my iPhone, out when other people are around – at home, in public and (especially) around friends. I enjoy taking pictures, but around others I feel clumsy, awkward, skill-deficient, bumbling. So when I’m out in public or roaming with friends, guess what usually gets left in my purse when I see something amazing? Yeah. That needs to change.

It’s especially hard to share my photos with others. A quick iPhone snapshot? Well, not easy but ok. Something I’ve worked at, something I’m proud of: excruciating. If I send a photo I’m proud of to a friend, they’re trusted more than they probably realize. Instagram is my dump file more often than not. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s the way things really are. My skills need work certainly, and I need to practice a lot more to be sure, but more than anything my goal is that this course will help increase my skill set in general and my comfort level in particular – to help me get out of my head so I can share what I see in the world and (more importantly) how I see it. But photography is something I value and I’m willing to work at it, so here goes.

It’s like speaking and writing Dutch. No, it’s not perfect. No, it’s not comfortable. Sometimes it’s not even remotely good. Yes, I make a lot of mistakes. Yes, my accent is atrocious. But I am a foreigner and it’s not a great tragedy when I mess up either; it just feels that way – and I need to commit to doing it more.

Dalla cucina:     (<– infant Italian language skills in action)

Last Sunday Jeff and I faced down another 5 pound roast, went toe to toe with it, prepared it as The Food Lab instructed, rested it two days in the fridge as recommenced, and tonight when we pulled it out, warmed it back up and set to noshing on it, it was… fine. Not as tender as we’d expected, but decent flavor and certainly edible. It was, in short, remarkably similar to the first one we prepared and we’ve conceded defeat with this recipe. It’s frustrating (not to mention expensive!) but not devastating. It’s just dinner. We had a good time making it last weekend, laughing and joking and talking and singing throughout the prep work. It was a pleasure to be in the kitchen together and that’s the most important thing.

I much prefer the pot roasts I’ve made in years past and I think we’ll revert back to that preparation (with the addition of a bottle of wine in the sauce – glug, glug, glug) should we ever decide to make another one (which frankly, I kind of doubt, since we rarely eat that type of food anymore). Having had red meat twice in two weeks, and braised chicken legs last week (omg they were sooooo good), I’ve got a slew of vegan meals lined up for the coming days and weeks to help get our carbon balance and cholesterol levels back on track.

I think I’m going to crank out some gingerbread cookies this week. I’ve a hankering for them again and they’ll go well with my morning cup of tea. Sunday’s Open Table is going to be vegan small plates for some of the summer cycling crew. We’re all cranking out lots of watts on indoor trainers around the city this winter, so Jeff and I are planning to make enough to feed a small army. A wool- vs lycra-wearing small army.

What are you cooking and/or baking this week? Cooking for you or cooking for a crowd?

Shall we meet at Canning Town or Baker Street station?

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Why yes, that is a tea towel map of the London Underground.

Some meals lend themselves better to long-distance (and long-duration) phone calls than others. One-pot soups definitely fill that bill. Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise Sauce, not so much. So today I tucked the phone against my ear and built up a batch of split pea and ham soup while a friend and I talked, teased, gossiped, caught up, kvetched, encouraged, giggled, and lamented a seller’s market.

World problems solved: 0
Minutes spent in a non-stop smile: approximately 90
Vegetables chopped: 3 (onion, carrots, celery)
Freezer bag of leftover ham pieces: 1
Bags of split peas: 1
Cups of veg broth: 3
Cups of water: 4

This is one of my favorite wintertime soups. I make it without even thinking about the fact that there IS a recipe for it, let alone looking at it. It reminds me of cold nights when lake effect snow blew deep, fluffy piles up around our doors and we kids prayed for the all too rare snow day. It reminds me of steamy opaque kitchen windows shining bright while running back to the house after carrying water buckets to the horses in the barn. It reminds me of wet mittens dripping and snow pants drying after a day of sledding The Hill or snowmobiling with grandma and grandpa. It’s simple and non-frills and deeply nourishing. It reminds me of my mom.

Oh, and a big wave to Rachel. I’m not sure what the fascination is, but I hope you like soup.

This is what happened when lazy and cheap met and had a baby on my stovetop.

Pasta e Fagioli
(made about 6-8 Jamie servings, your mileage may vary)

Tonight’s almost vegan soup (I ran low on veggie broth so finished up with some leftover chicken broth blocks from the freezer) got major raves for flavor and was cheap, fast, and easy to boot. 45 minutes and it was in my belly.

My guess is you probably have everything – or at least most – on hand already. Hungry? Ready? Good, me too. Grab a pen.

Melt together on medium heat:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter/butter substitute in a large soup pot

Sautee in the above:
1 medium onion, diced fine
5-6 cloves garlic, minced – I used 6
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes – smoked red pepper if you have it on hand

Add:
28 oz can diced tomatoes
4 cups vegetable/chicken broth
2 – 15 oz cans red kidney beans, the whole thing – liquid and all
2-3  bay leaves
Stir together. Turn heat to high. Bring to a boil.

Lower heat, keep at easy simmer for next 20 minutes, stirring occasionally

Add:
1 cup small pasta, cook until al dente (see package instructions)

Stir in:
2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine (if using dried, add in with the other herbs)
pepper to taste (probably enough salt via the canned veggies)

Serve with:
Good, fresh bread (I chopped a leftover half of French Boule into large cubes)
Jeff’s suggestion: That little bit of leftover, finely shredded parmesan cheese? Add some to each bowl. (Was yummy.)

PS – Toss the bay leaves before eating