September, 2006 Archive

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


giardiniera 1

I got a real hoot (yup, said it) out of Molly’s entry a few weeks ago as her significant other and mine are clearly plucked from similar brine, that is, packed with a penchance for the pickled. (I’ll be here all week.)

One of the first big family events Alex took me to shortly after we began dating was a 55th birthday party for his father, no small affair, at a Russian restaurant. Course after course, platters arrived with pickled celery, lettuce and – I kid you not – watermelon to accompany the smoked fish, dumplings, caviar and all sorts of gamey meats. Do I need to mention the vodka? No, didn’t think so.

Nobody warns you that the food will not.stop.coming, thusly, don’t bother eating more than two bites of any course if you wish to make it to the end. I think its part of the fun for them, luring these newcomers in and watching them nod off at the table after too many sour cream-laden crepes and a misbegotten belief that they can handle their vodka like those from the old country. In fact, one of his family’s favorite stories to retell is when Alex brought home a friend from grad school and his mother laid out her typical 20-dish, 6-course feast (“I am worried I will not have enough food.”) including their favorite, pickled tomatoes. The friend had bragged that he couldn’t wait to try them, as they sounded delicious, but nearly spat his first bite across the table: “I didn’t know it was going to taste like a pickle!” he frantically tried to cover his tracks with while they laughed and laughed.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

summer squash soup

summer-squash soup with parsley mint pistou

I find it funny now — what with my obvious fascination with stirring up soups aplenty — that a couple years ago I didn’t care for them at all. Everything about the taste of vegetables boiled in flavored water until their structures compromised made my stomach turn and to this day, even the liveliest minestrone invokes a bad memory of flavor-sapped herbs and formless noodles. Even those that came close to passing muster were so laden with salt, I’d find myself aching for a glass of water after a bowl of something that was supposed to be soothing.

I think the turning point came with the Cuisinart Immersion Blender gift from our wedding registry. Nobody better describes my affection for it than Julie Powell: “Have I mentioned to you that I love love love my handy-dandy cuisinart wand? I love it the way other women love their vibrators.”

In one minute flat, it converts everything in the pot into a velvety consommé, bridging the disparity between ingredients (“No! I don’t want to hang out with the icky squash!” whines the orange-fleshed potato) like a mother insisting her children play nicely together. No more alarming boiled vegetable flavor, no more awkward, thin spaces between ingredients, with each spoonful the same as the last, I find these soups contemplative; a calm brought on by the knowledge that every spoonful will taste the same as the one before.

The pistou, which I was as skeptical of as I had been of the lettuce pesto, really brightened up the fall flavor and color with some spring, kind of like eating an orange soup on an 80-degree September day.

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Saturday, September 9, 2006

romaine pesto and egg-stuffed tomatoes

romaine pesto and egg-stuffed tomatoes

“Romaine? Like the lettuce?”
“Like the lettuce. And parsley, you make it into a pesto.”
“But not with basil?”
“No. And then you scoop out a tomato and you put it in the bottom and bake an egg in it.”
“I don’t know, Deb, it sounds kind of weird.”
“It does, right? I mean, pureed lettuce? Blech.”
“So why make it?”
“It’s calling to me.”

Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, and my husband — who was just going to grab some Murray’s Bagels for us — has pretty much given up trying to understand. But, I’ve had a whole week of errands, working late and after-work engagements and I haven’t had a single home-cooked anything since those wee tartlets and I was fiending for the kitchen by Saturday morning. Fiending.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2006

key lime tart

ina garten's key lime tart(lets)

From the self-indicting delight of tiny infant fists gripping grownup forefingers to the calculated pinhole photography that lines my cubicle, I’m one of those girls, it seems, that can’t get enough of diminutive proportions. This absorption extends to the culinary world; from miniature artichokes and petite eggplants to pearl onions and microscopic zucchini, I find Lilliputian produce irresistible, and am incapable of not bringing them home by the bagful and readying them for their close-ups.

Baked goods are in no way spared these indignities. Puny cupcakes are always chosen over their brawny siblings, as are cheese puffs, scones and black-and-white cookies. “The more, the merrier!” I cheer until every flat surface (all three of them, that is) in our also-tiny apartment are filled with rows of one-bite delicacies and I exhaustedly wonder why I created three times the amount of work for myself.

ina garten's key lime tart(lets)

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Sunday, September 3, 2006

silky cauliflower soup

silky cauliflower soup

Look, I’m not going to call Friday night’s dinner a disaster. For one, my husband would jump its undeserving defense and hey, nobody went to bed hungry, did they? But, I hated it. It was a tremendous amount of labor for a just shy of average outcome, none of the dishes lived up to my taste bud’s anticipation of them and even looking at the photos as well as the ample leftovers the next morning, ugh, I just wanted it all to go away. We can’t be great cooks every night, can we? I suppose some disappointing baigan bharta, oily cauliflower with onions and tomatoes and lackluster naan are small prices to pay for lucking out round one with garlic soups and sable cookies.

Because I’m just not the kind of person who handles disappointment well, or without immediately seeking out karmic retribution, on a bleary, rainy Saturday night when after a day of running exhausting errands, my husband and I lacked motivation to do anything but take in some back-episodes of The Wire, I cooked some foods that never fail me.

caesar salad with garlic-rubbed croutons

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