Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Friday, June 26, 2009

Standing on the Diving Board

When I was a kid, I had to take swimming lessons, which inevitably progressed toward the use of the diving board. I can remember the particular texture of the board, the slight sway and bounce of it, holding my breath and looking down at the smooth clear water and the blue pool floor, getting up the nerve to jump. I was never particularly good at it, and never graduated to the high dive.

I have spent a good part of the past two weeks getting a manuscript ready to send in, writing a cover letter, writing agonized emails to my friends, and moping around at home, alternately optimistic and despondent. I have nipped, tucked, spell-checked, formatted, and moved scenes around, and very soon I am going to have to stop that. I have pictured someone actually opening the thing up and reading the first page, wondering what their expression will say. "Oh God, not another one?" A speculative frown? A sigh, and the thump of 300 more pages hitting the recycling bin?

Makes it hard to sleep.

Stuff My Mom Makes II

I quite like cooking breakfast, but I hardly ever get to do it. No one else in my family seems to be big on the meal, except for special occasions. Sometimes they don't eat it at all, a fact that never fails to boggle my mind, since I not only absolutely require something solid for breakfast but a sustaining snack around 10. On Sundays, lately, I've been making pancakes, which is always nice. One thing that I would like to make more of some day is quiche. I will not, however, make it when my mother is visiting, because I feel that would be rude: broccoli quiche is the one real food tradition we have going on our visits to her house.

Here it is.

Zucchini or Broccoli Quiche Pie

3 c grated zucchini or broccoli
1/2 c oil
1/2 c Parmesan
4 eggs
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 c sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt, pepper, and garlic powder
1 c Bisquick

Mix all ingredients. Place in a large pie pan or casserole dish. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes.
We unfailingly eat the entire thing. Thanks, Mom!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Sorry for the loss of momentum here again--I've actually been working on writing, of all things, and might blog about that later. It seems that I can only keep two creative endeavors going at the same time without losing all headway elsewhere. Perhaps I need to schedule myself more.

But anyway, back to the food. Father's Day is one of those occasions when we lean on sexual stereotyping. The menu has to include meat, cooked in as primitive a fashion as possible. Since I didn't have a lot of time to think about it, this ended up being our menu:
  • Ginger-Soy Grilled Steak. On the rare occasions I make steak, I love this recipe. It is ludicrously simple and very good.
  • Ina Garten's French Potato Salad. My store had fingerlings, so I used those instead of the "new" potatoes, which are never new and that day looked particularly pathetic. I have abandoned her perverse-seeming instruction to cut up the potatoes after cooking them; it always seems to shred the skins, never mind what it does to my fingers!
  • A green salad with dried cranberries and goat cheese
  • Chocolate cake I've blogged before, with a simple and very sweet frosting from Martha.
It was a quiet day. Dave and his dad went off to the Higgins Armory for the afternoon, his mom played with the kids, and I watched some Torchwood.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Stuff My Mom Makes I

As I've probably mentioned here before, my mother isn't much for cooking; as far as I can tell, when she's not having company, she lives on coffee, soy patties and granola bars. When we come to visit, takeout Chinese is traditional for the first night, and generally we visit my grandparents another night. That leaves at least one night, however, when it is necessary to cook something. If nothing else, it gives us an excuse to visit Wegmans, where I can drool over the miles of cheese (one of these days I really will bring a cooler along on the trip) and whimper about how unfair it is that her grocery store has daikon and mine does not.

This is one of the recipes she makes for us sometimes. It's a little heavy on the cheese, but good. She leaves out the almonds, which none of us care for, but I'm sure other nuts could be used instead.

Cheese and Almond Stuffed Zucchini

3 medium zucchini
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 c finely chopped onion
1 tsp salt
6 oz cream cheese in small cubes
1 1/2 c finely chopped almonds
1/2 c bread crumbs
7 oz grated Swiss cheese
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Scoop out and reserve the centers. Saute the onion in the oil until translucent. Ad salt and chopped zucchini pulp, and cook until soft. Remove from heat. Stir in cream cheese and cover for several minutes.

In a bowl, mix almonds, bread crumbs, Swiss cheese, and spices. Add the cream cheese mixture. Fill the zucchini shells and place them in an oiled 9x13 baking pan. Add water to about 1/4 inch. Tightly cover the pan, and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes to brown.

From New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, which suggests serving it on a bed of rice alongside Artichoke Heart & Tomato Salad.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Blueberry Crumble Bars

Work has slowed down some. I have time and mental energy to do other things, and I find myself spending a great deal of time thinking about food. This feels both pleasant and right, a return to the self I am used to having around. I've been catching up on my magazines, reading a lot of food blogs, enjoying the glimpses of other people's lives, sometimes wondering if all of this new media might have a salutary effect, making us slightly more empathetic toward one another.

I zipped through The Omnivore's Dilemma in slightly more than one day, and I have put it on the list of "books I think absolutely everyone should read." Even if you come away from it unchanged in your opinions, it's good to have them challenged. I haven't exactly "read" my other new book in quite the same way, but I have been opening Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet in random moments and marveling at the art, and at the authors, who are more open to adventure than I will ever be.

On Sunday I got my act together and did some baking while everyone else was out. It had been weeks since I made any bread, and I was getting tired of store-bought. Besides which, L will only eat what she calls "yellow bread" from the store, but she'll eat my half-whole-wheat--not sure why. Texture, perhaps, as I do tend to make my sandwich bread relatively soft. Anway. I did that, and I made some mini-muffins, the same recipe I always use because I always have the stuff around.

And I made blueberry bars. The advent of famer's market season means that new berries will soon be moving in. I had a bag left over from last year and needed to do something with them--something that wouldn't make a big deal of the fact that they were not particularly pretty. I had made this recipe once before and thought it was all right, and a change from my usual cakes. I made up a pan of these and brought most of them in to the office on Tuesday.

Nearly every single person who had one thanked me. I got one audible, "Oh my God!" and two requests for the recipe. I didn't get that reaction last time, but I'll take it any day!

Blueberry Crumble Bars
Tish Boyle, "The Good Cookie"

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2/3 c firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
11 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Blueberry Filling:
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 c blueberries

Crumb Topping:
1 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Make the crust:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan.

Place the flour, brown sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Scatter the butter cubes over the flour mixture and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-sized pieces of butter, about six seconds.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, lemon zest, and vanilla extract until blended. Add the egg mixture to the food processor and process for a few seconds, just until the dough is blended but still crumbly. (Do not allow the dough to form a ball around the blade, or the crust will be tough.)

Turn the dough out into the prepared pan. With floured fingertips, press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan.

(Note: Do *not* prepake this crust.)

Make the filling:

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and ginger. Add the blueberries and toss to coat well. Spread the mixture evenly over the crust.

Make the topping:

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until blended. Stir in the melted butter until the mixture comes together. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the blueberry filling.

Bake the bars for 48-50 minutes, until the topping is lightly browned and the filling is bubbling. Cool the bars completely in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 24 bars.

Monday, June 8, 2009

June Supper Club: Fruit

It seems that we are going to try to keep the club going, though perhaps going down to bi-monthly meetings--at least, we're skipping July, given how busy everyone is at the start of that month.

The theme this month was Fruit, and this was our menu:
  • Me: Appetizer, Watermelon and Kiwi Skewers. I had actually had in mind another recipe I saw, but was then unable to find -- I think it had poppy seeds in the "sauce."
  • D: Chicken with apricot. The chicken turned out tender and just a bit sweet, very good. And a green salad.
  • F: Potato salad with, um, lots of other things, I remember grape tomatoes, raisins, and olives.
  • H: Orange rolls.
  • K: Not sure what this was called, it was a sort of eggless bread pudding with pineapple. Very sweet, we all agreed that it could have done duty for dessert. Which she also brought, a tart strewn with blueberries and raspberries and was, I think, the high point of the meal.
Not sure yet what we'll do in August, perhaps all go out to eat somewhere. It was nice to see everyone and have some time away from the apartment, after a day otherwise spent baking and cleaning (I know, a beautiful day and I spent the vast majority of it inside? We did go out to Elm Park on Saturday, where I got a slight sunburn).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

New Recipes for the First Week of June

Having finally been inspired to put together a nearly-full slate of new recipes for the week, I have not been organized enough to blog about them individually, so here's a catch-up post. After the crap we ate on the road Saturday, I felt a serious urge to make good things that at least nodded in the direction of healthfulness. (I have also been working out every day this week, have traded in my beloved bagels for yogurt and fruit, and my supper glass of wine for milk--though that last is at least partially because I have a cold, and one does not mix wine and NyQuil).
  • Monday - Spicy Orange Chicken Stir-Fry. This one is a definite keeper. I've tried orange sauces before and always been put off by them, but this strikes the right balance between the sweet and other notes for my taste.
  • Tuesday - Orecchiette with Caramelized Onions, Sugar Snap Peas, and Ricotta Cheese. Reserving judgment. There was no fresh basil at the store, and I think that would have made a big difference. The onions turned out nicely, but the dish as a whole was on the bland side. We'll try this one again before deciding if we really like it. Also had to use frozen sugar snaps, which I'm sure didn't help.
  • Thursday -Pasta with Goat Cheese, Lemon, and Asparagus. I made this with fresh local asparagus from the farmers market, and it was very good and easy to put together. No tarragon at hand, so I used some herbes de Provence, which provided a nice flavor, if not quite what the recipe developer had in mind. A good one to keep in the spur-of-the-moment file, since most of the ingredients are things one usually has on hand. My only regret was not having bought even more asparagus than I did!
  • Friday -Hoisin Pork Tenderloin with Asian Carrot Salad. Lest you think that we've gone vegetarian over here. My store was out of pork tenderloin. Which was supposed to be on sale this week--a buying error, the butcher explained a bit sheepishly, and gave me some pork loin at a markdown to apologize. It worked reasonably well. This is another simple one, hard to go wrong. For the dressing I used Newman's Own low-fat sesame-ginger, which is okay for a bottled dressing (why do they all have so much sugar? the fabled American sweet tooth at work?).
Also on Friday, my birthday presents from D arrived: a copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. I have started reading the former, and am learning fascinating things about corn sex.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Yet Another Lemon Cake

Honestly, you would think I lived on the things. Which I don't. But at some point in the recent past (seriously, I am losing track of the weeks here... vacations do that), I had some free time and the baking bug. I wanted to bring something along on the visit to my mother, and she really, really likes lemon--she asked for the recipe for this after trying it. So that's a major vote in favor, I'd say.

I do love making loaf cakes. They're easy to make, easy to carry around, and so, so tasty. This one is good even if you don't have enough lemons to make the soaking glaze, which I didn't.

make 2 eight-inch loaves

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 c sugar, divided
4 large or extra-large eggs, room temp
1/3 c grated lemon zest (6-8 large lemons)
3 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking sada
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 c freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 buttermilk, room temp
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 c confectioners sugar, sifted
3 1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease, flour, and line the bottom of two 8x4-inch loaf pans with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and 2 cups of the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the lemon juice, the buttermilk, and the vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.

When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a rack set over a tray. Spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kendall Square Farmer's Maket is Open!

I went over with another writer during a brief break between my morning meeting and the departmental lunch. There were a handful of vendors there, mostly of prepared foods and people selling potted herbs, but Lanni Farms were there, bless 'em, and I bought a couple bunches of asparagus and a basket of strawberries which, I was told, had been picked a mere two hours previously. I was even happier than I thought I would be at the sight.

The asparagus went into that night's dinner, and we nibbled the berries while I cooked. Summer is on the way!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Weight Obsession

The big thing right now seems to be weighing ingredients. Cooking Light has switched to weights for their baking recipes, and I've seen a few other bloggers rhapsodizing about the importance of weighing your ingredients.

I would certainly never tell anyone not to weigh. Kitchen scales can be fun, and I'm sure the accuracy is good to have. But I've never, ever, had a recipe not turn out because of, well, because of anything other than "I entirely forgot to add something," so I don't understand all the excitement.

Goal Roundup: May

Much better than last month!
  • House: Had planned a visit, but the place sold while we were out of town. So, I guess a C.
  • Decluttering: No progress. F
  • Financial: On target. A
  • Health: Joined the gym! A
  • Food: Getting enthusiasm back, new recipes on the way this week B
Overall: B+