oysters and arugula


Dr. S

Cooking for One

My daughters are spending the April vacation with their father, and the needs of family and work are taking a big part of Dr. S’s time at the moment.  Thus I have found myself somewhat at loose ends recently when it comes to my evening meals.  One night was cheddar, crackers, and wine, while Skyping with my dad, but last night I spent a few minutes in the kitchen, determined to make dinner for one from my almost-empty fridge.  (With the girls gone, why grocery shop?)  I found a red pepper and a nice bunch of basil.  I channeled that most fabulous former Gourmet writer and novelist Laurie Colwin (don’t tell me you don’t own Home Cooking), and slowly sauteed that red pepper in olive oil and garlic, while I brought water to a boil and julienned the basil.  Into the water went some penne, and when it was almost done I threw a huge handful of basil in with the now quite softened red pepper and garlic.  A big grinding of pepper, little salt to taste, and the sauce was done.  I tossed the cooked pasta into the red pepper pan, poured it into a bowl, added a very generous grating of parmesan, poured a glass of wine, and sat myself down in front of “The Black Swan”.

If poor “White Swan/Black Swan” Nina could only have contented herself in the same fashion, I think things may have turned out quite differently for her.

Almost Friday . . .At Least in My Kitchen

My apartment smells of toasting cheese – Comté, to be exact – and scallions.   In the oven is a loaf of Dorie Greenspan‘s cheese and chive bread, though I’ve taken her bonne idée, substituting scallions for chives and throwing in a handful of toasted walnuts, as well.   Cooking this bread is my way of hurrying the start of my weekend, because as I chopped and stirred and now enjoy the warm scents drifting through the apartment, I am thinking of tomorrow night, when this bread will be the accompaniment to a well-deserved glass of Friday-night scotch for an overworked, carbohydrate-loving doctor I know.

Two Cooks in the Kitchen

Confession:  I am one of those cooks who is a bit territorial in the kitchen.  Some of it stems from the fact that my kitchens have always been quite small and therefore difficult spaces in which to operate with more than one person.  But I’ll admit it, I also have a bit of a control issue in the kitchen.  I am an oldest child, and true to my birth order, do tend to believe that if  I want something done properly, it’s generally best to do it myself. (My sister would say “yes, you’re a know-it-all.”)   A number of recent events, however, have begun to move me in a new and surprising direction.

First was the “dinner is served” experience, though I believe things began to brew at the cheese counter on the evening of that salad and cheese dinner.   Next, the joint effort that resulted in the (largely) successful recreation of Effie Ophelia’s roasted carrot and fennel salad.  And then there was the double play of Christmas Eve.

I had decided to make spaghetti with Littleneck clams for our Christmas Eve lunch.  Dr. S was joining us, as my daughters had made an expressed request to spend some time with him, having had only a brief introduction to him one Saturday evening.

While he and the girls wrapped presents in the living room, I went about my business in the kitchen.  All was going well until I dug my spoon under the pile of Littlenecks, into the bottom of the pot to ladle out some broth.  To my horror, the broth was a deep and troubling gray, almost black.  I looked at the clams I had just spooned onto a dish of spaghetti and saw that one of them was filled with black mud, which had now spilled onto the spaghetti.  My cries of distress brought Dr. S to the kitchen.  After a peek in the pot, and a moment of thought, he asked if I had a gravy separator.  I did. While he poured the broth into the separator, I began to heat some oil and garlic, adding white wine and bottled clam juice, as a substitute sauce.  My level-headed friend suggested we stick the clams in a low oven to keep them warm in the meantime.

While the broth never did clear, it was an excellent idea and may well have worked if we had had more time.  Though not exactly the meal I had planned, the lunch was a success in the more important ways.

After the Christmas Eve Mass, my children left to spend the rest of the evening with their father and his family, and Dr. S and I headed to the home of good friends for a pre-dinner glass of wine.

Our menu for the evening was the same as my friend, Julie, had planned for her family –  Ina Garten’s Seafood Gratin.  While having our drink, Julie shared her frustration about how much prep time had been required.

“What?  I read that it takes only 20 minutes!”

“Ha!  It took forEVER to reduce that sauce!  And have you julienned the vegetables yet?  If you haven’t, you can forget about eating before 10.”

Well, as it happens, my physician had actually exercised his knife skills while the girls and I were at Mass.  But Julie is an experienced and good cook, so if this recipe had given her grief, there was reason to be concerned.

Once back in my apartment, we headed immediately for the kitchen. I began to clean the shrimp and prepare the scallops while Dr. S sautéed the leeks and carrots, started the sauce and picked through the lobster meat.  I chopped herbs then moved onto blanching the seafood while Dr. S melted butter and prepared the herbed breadcrumb topping.  While I reduced the sauce, the doctor sliced endive and whipped up a salad dressing.  Within 35 minutes we were sliding the casserole dish into the oven.  We sent Julie a text message 25 minutes later to let her know we were sitting down to dinner!

In my tiny railroad-style kitchen we had gracefully made this Christmas Eve dinner together.  And I had felt neither the need nor desire to provide my new kitchen companion with any instruction other than the next step in the recipe.

I think I could kinda love sharing my kitchen.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

At my physician’s suggestion (and invitation), I recently spent a weekend exploring Lancaster County, PA.  While this little trip did nothing to improve my aforementioned chronic condition, it resulted in a number of delightful eating experiences.

After booking our room (the Duchess) at King’s Cottage Bed and Breakfast, Dr. S received from the owners a comprehensive list of nearby restaurants.  Aided by this list and the recommendations of the ever-helpful Chowhound message boards, we had pretty much decided on Effie Ophelia in downtown Lancaster for dinner the first night.  But when we learned that the restaurant was scheduled to close in just two weeks time, due to a job-related relocation for the chef’s spouse, the decision was sealed.  Of course we must eat there!  If not now, when?!  And upon strolling by and peeking in the windows on the afternoon of our arrival in town, we were gleeful in our choice. (OK, perhaps “gleeful” better describes my reaction, but Dr. S certainly agreed that it looked like a great spot.)  We saw an intimate space, seating only 30, made cozier by the dark wood of the interior, the cushioned benches, and the red velvet drape protecting diners from the opening and closing of the front door.   Anticipation for dinner now beginning to build, and having skipped lunch after having eaten a rather late breakfast, we rushed off for the sustaining distraction of a hot chocolate with whipped cream.

A few hours later we were seated in that candle-lit room, sharing our two first courses, and making mental notes as to how we could recreate one of them at home.  While the sea scallops served over a mound of whipped parsnip and pear puree were perfectly seared and comforting on what was a chilly night, it was the roasted carrot and chickpea salad that captured our full attention.

We had not expected that the salad would be served warm, but it was.  It arrived at the table in a perfectly round form, a low cylinder, about 2 1/2 inches high.  Jutting out from the compressed form of chickpeas, spinach and roasted fennel, were roasted carrot batons, and a spiral of honey curry vinegar circled the plate.  After a few bites, it was quite clear that this was an example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.   Nothing fussy was going on here, just simple roasted vegetables with this interesting honey curry dressing.  As much as we enjoyed the sugar barbecued pork loin and striped bass that came next, the carrot and fennel salad remained on our minds.

And so it was that two nights later we decided to try to recreate it as part of our Sunday night dinner.

Clearly the carrots and fennel had been roasted, but we weren’t sure what the treatment had been for the chickpeas.  Because we they were somewhat flattened and blackened on one side, we surmised that they, along with the roasted vegetables, had perhaps been seared on a flat griddle beneath a heavy spatula, and then everything spooned into a cylindrical mold.  Not having a griddle, I decided to just toss the chickpeas in to roast along with the carrots and fennel.  (This would turn out to be a bad move.)  Determining that the spinach would need only a quick wilting, we turned to the honey curry vinegar.

With the discovery that his cupboard was bare of curry, Dr. S made a “kitchen emergency” call to his neighbor, and returned bearing a restaurant kitchen-sized container of Madras curry, but also somewhat soggier due to the torrents of rain he had to brave in the process.  We mixed, we tested, we added, and we learned a few things:

Number one:  it’s helpful to heat the curry in a little bit of oil in order to best bring out the flavor

Number two:  it’s helpful to heat the honey a wee bit, as well.

Number three: mix the curry and honey first and add the vinegar (we used rice vinegar) drop by drop.  You want the consistency to remain honey-like.  The object is a sauce with a sweet, hot taste, zinged up with a bit of vinegar.

The vegetables done, we were ready to compose!  Foregoing any attempt at a mold, we served the dish as a traditional salad, with a drizzle of honey vinegar.  The result . . .

Success – almost!!!

As I alluded to above, the chickpeas had not been properly handled.  They were crunchy.  And though I understand that some folks like crunchy, roasted chickpeas as a snack, they were out of place here.  After discussion, Dr. S and I agreed that the next time they should be thrown in for only the last few minutes of roasting, or perhaps even just heated in a bit of (curried?) oil.  But other than that, we were pretty pleased with our experiment.  It was the first time either of us had tried to recreate something we’d eaten in a restaurant and it was great fun!  I do believe we may do it again.

Thanks, Effie Ophelia!

Under a Doctor’s Care

Due to what threatens to become a chronic condition, I’ve been under a doctor’s care recently.  Fortunately for me, I’ve found it quite easy to schedule appointments with him, and he’s exceptionally attentive.  He even made me dinner this past weekend!

After a rather long and trying week, I somewhat miraculously found myself hanging out on a couch with a book, sipping a glass of Lagavulin and nibbling on Chimay and olives, while this good doctor toiled away, quite happily, in the kitchen.  Sounds of sautéing and scents of garlic and onion drifted into the living room.  A table was set, candles were lit, and a pinot noir was poured.  I was called to dinner.

When he’s not waging war against Alzheimer’s disease, this doctor can sometimes be found putting in a little time at a local farm, in exchange for a share of the harvest.   He thus found himself with a few pumpkins in his pantry and decided to prepare “Sicilian Spicy Pumpkin” as an accompaniment to the seared tuna and spinach with pine nuts and raisins.   It was an inspired choice.  The pumpkin was not so much spicy as it was sweet and sour, and played nicely against simple white rice.  For the seared tuna, my host encouraged a dollop of saffron and shallot butter.

And with this meal, though I did indeed find myself restored from the work week, the above-referenced condition was far from improved.  Turns out a home-cooked Friday night dinner serves merely to exacerbate the symptoms. . .

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