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Happy Birthday to Me

Though I had been toying with the idea for a little while, the final decision to host a dinner party on my birthday weekend was made only hours before the event itself.  I had not thrown a party in a while, and I considered the menu planning and grocery shopping a gift to myself.

Had I made this decision a day beforehand, I might have tried out the cassoulet recipe in The NY Times magazine last Sunday.  It’s still chilly enough in the Northeast to make the idea of a cassoulet party very appealing.  And it’s been something I wanted to try – such a project.  Bean-soaking, confit-making, in addition to providing another opportunity for me to confront my lamb issues.  But it may just have to wait until next winter.  Instead, I built the menu around a recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, something called a sweet-salty potato far.  It involves grated potato, raisins, prunes, and a crepe-like batter.  (Oh, I can just hear the groans of raisin detractors far and near!)  Dorie’s description, and its Breton roots captured my imagination.  The infinitely more common version of the recipe is the traditional far breton, a clafoutis-type dessert, studded with prunes. Continue reading “Happy Birthday to Me”

Pre-Dinner Brussels Sprouts

On a recent evening, as my sister and I surveyed my mother’s cabinets for the makings of pre-dinner hors d’oeurves to accompany pre-dinner drinks, Greta piped up with an offer to roast some brussels sprouts.  Hmmm, brussels sprouts for cocktail hour . . . well, sure, why not?  Thanks, Greta! Continue reading “Pre-Dinner Brussels Sprouts”

My Daughters, the Sous-Chefs

Leslie Kaufman’s recent NY Times article, “My Sons, the Sous-Chefs”, is inspirational.  It describes the results of an experiment, now in its 6-month, requiring each of her sons, ages 14 and 10, to cook dinner for the family once a week.  They must decide what they will prepare ahead of time, to allow for mom’s yay or nay (the menu must be balanced, fairly healthful) and the requisite grocery shopping.  Much has been learned by all involved.  Mom has learned to curb her kitchen-control and I-can-do-it-quicker impulses, and the boys have learned about planning and experienced the pride and satisfaction that comes from seeing your loved ones enjoy a meal of your making. Continue reading “My Daughters, the Sous-Chefs”

If You’re Not Makin’ Whoopee . . .

How about makin’ whoopie pies instead!

Seeing the delight on the faces of the loved ones who are the fortunate recipients of these all-grown-up Devil Dogs will bring its own special satisfaction.  I used a 2003 Gourmet recipe, and so should you.

Dinner with Jean

There is much to enjoy about Downton Abbey, but Violet, aka Dowager Countess of Grantham, as portrayed by Maggie Smith, is the creme de la creme.  Which is what led me to rent The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for a recent movie-watching evening with “my gerls”  (can’t you hear Miss Brodie and her Scottish accent now?)  To the enormous pleasure of spending an evening in the company of the romantic and passionate Miss Brodie, we added the pleasures of rib-eye steak, pommes dauphinois and Toutoune’s Winter Salad. Continue reading “Dinner with Jean”

Bisquick Be Gone


My mom is a fabulous cook.

I just wanted to put that out there before telling you that the pancakes of my youth involved Bisquick.  Continue reading “Bisquick Be Gone”

Going Nordic

I think I may have been the last person in the country to have read the “Dragon Tattoo” trilogy, and I really can’t believe I waited so long.  Being more than a little partial to Jane Austen, I just couldn’t imagine that I’d be captured by a Scandinavian thriller series, involving a heavily pierced and tattooed, reclusive female protagonist.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I devoured these books, completely captivated by the characters, particularly our heroine.  She really is a role model for all women, young and old, who have ever been inclined to put up with a bit too much – of anything.

So engrossed did I become that I have watched the Swedish movie versions of the first and second novel, saving the third and the American first in order to prolong my involvement.  And perhaps it can be chalked up to the once-you-buy-a-Passat VW-everyone-has-a-Passat VW phenomenon, but it seems that I now cannot escape all things Nordic.  In sorting through the various sections of the NY Times that I had held aside for follow-up reading, I discovered “An Open Invitation to Eat in Copenhagen”, quickly followed by Mimi Sheraton’s ode to Nordic cuisine, “Nordic Once, Nordic Twice.”  And on the list of “Where Will You Go in 2012?”  Why, Helsinki, Finland, of course.

I was therefore not terribly surprised to run across Trina Hahnemann‘s recipe for Nordic Winter Vegetable Soup in a back issue of Food and Wine while hanging out at Kathleen’s house recently.   Barley, leeks, celery root, parsnips, thyme, spinach.  A perfect early January post-holiday meal.  I “borrowed” the magazine and headed home.

I chopped, I sautéed, I simmered, and I browned some bratwurst.  Eventually I buttered some rustic rye bread.  And when I had tucked my daughters into bed, after this perfect wintry meal, I checked the airline prices for Stockholm.

Good Luck for 2012!

Ok, so mixed results from last year’s lentils.  Could be because I didn’t eat the lentils on New Year’s Day itself.  This year, however, I was determined to do all I could to ensure a luck-filled year.  And since the tarot card reader Celtic Cricket had informed me that I was in for some tough going in the early months, it was important that I make a strong culinary choice on New Year’s Day.  What to do?  12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the year, like the Spaniards?  Or should I go with the Danes and serve myself up a nice dish of stewed kale sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon?    Perhaps a little mashed sweet potato with chestnut, some simmered burdock root, a spoonful of sweet black beans, and some fish cakes – a few of the components of the Japanese osechi-ryori would be the way to go.  But the decision was made when I received an invitation from a close friend to attend his family’s annual pork and sauerkraut party.  Though of Italian descent himself, his wife hails from western Pennsylvania, where New Year’s Day pork and sauerkraut eating is a given.

Though some Pennsylvanians declare there to be no reasoning behind it, it’s simply the thing that you do, a number of sources claim that pigs root forward to look for food, and therefore the eating of pork symbolizes forward movement into the future.  Pigs are apparently also symbolic of prosperity and wealth.

And so I welcomed 2012 with a plate of roast pork, sauerkraut, and linguiça (a nod to my friend’s love of New Bedford’s Portuguese restaurants).  How about we touch base in mid-year to see how the luck is going?

Confession

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have had a bit of a problem when it comes to lamb.   I can’t quite put my finger on when it began, perhaps in my childhood when my mother occasionally served us what was probably an inexpensive cut, but somewhere along the way I developed an aversion to the taste.   In all the exploratory cooking of my college and post-college years, I stayed far away from any racks, legs, and chops.  It wasn’t a philosophical problem; it was a taste problem.  Gamey.  An intolerable gameyness on those few occasions that I gave it try.

A little anecdote from my honeymoon might help to give you the picture. . . We were staying in the unelectrified cottage of a friend, deep in a valley outside of Killarney.  When the lights were off at night, it was black and quiet as a tomb.  And cold – it was early April in Ireland.   After several nights of soup and sandwiches in the cottage, punctuated by a pub dinner here and there, we decided to have dinner at the cottage across the meadow, that also functioned as a B&B.  This meant crossing a pitch-black cow pasture (remember that scene on the moor in American Werewolf in London where Griffin Dunne meets his fate?) before arriving at the cottage, to find we were the only guests.  And with a guest list so small, we were dining Chez Panisse style – no choices.   It was lambing season.  Dinner was Irish stew – lamb, potatoes, carrots.  For this I had braved the werewolf-infested field?!!!  And would have to return across it, belly empty???  If I recall correctly, a few tears were shed.

But fast forward!  It’s 2011 and I find myself at a raucous dinner party in West Dover, Vermont, at the home of a hostess who never seems to hit a wrong note.  On this occasion, the centerpiece of the wooden farm table is an enormous casserole of moussaka, the Greek dish consisting of eggplant, ground lamb, garlic and bechamel.   As I considered the possibility of simply filling my plate with salad, I decided it was high time I faced my lamb issues.  A little gameyness wasn’t going to kill me afterall.  But surprise, surprise, not only no gameyness, but one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten!  I went back for seconds.  And then I spoke with Fiona, creator of this dish, to learn what sort of lamb she had used – perhaps that was the secret.  She had purchased a shoulder and had the butcher grind it for her.  I made a mental note.

A few weeks later, I happened upon Melissa Clark‘s recipe for Pasta with Turkish-Style Lamb, Eggplant, and Yogurt Sauce, from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite.  I remembered the moussaka.  I had the butcher grind some lamb shoulder.  I prepared a lamb dish for the first time in my life.

When the pasta was ready, I spooned it into a bowl and hesitated.  Could the moussaka incident have been a fluke?  Would I be digging through my fridge for an alternative dinner of cheese and bread in a few minutes?

No!  Dripping with garlicky yogurt and melted browned butter, it could not have been better.  I may not yet be ready to move on to racks and chops, but I’m a long way from Killarney!

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