Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kitchen Mania

I'm on sort of a cooking frenzy lately.  I guess I'm trying to fatten us up for winter. (No problem!  Bring it on!)  Notable recipes include: Lentils with sausages, Pork Ragu, Salted Caramel Almond Macaroons, and  Smoky Tomato Soup.  I'll start with the Lentil thing.

This is from Saveur Magazine a year or two ago.  Whatever issue that was featured some obscure corner of France where they have really good regional specialities.  Are there any corners of France that do not feature really good regional specialties?  I did see a KFC at the Clingancourt Metro Station on my way to the flea market.  I guess that answers my question.  Avoid that corner next time you're in Paris and you're home free:  all good food, all the time.

Back to the Lentil thing:  if you have kids who don't eat mixed up soupy things, you can still pull this off, just give them bread and maybe some of the sausage.  If you are a vegetarian it would probably be pretty good without the bacon and sausage, but I would add some smoked paprika to get that smokey flavor.  Here is how it goes:

4 slices smoked bacon
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
4 sprigs thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
12 oz. green Puy lentils, 
   rinsed and drained
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly 
   ground black pepper, to taste
8 fresh pork sausages, such as 
   sweet Italian sausages
1 cup white wine
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Fry up the bacon and set it aside. Hide it from your kids or they will eat it.  I have to hide it from myself, too. Or I just cook extra.  I told you, I'm preparing to hibernate.  Add the butter, onions, carrot, and celery, cook until softened. Add the vinegar,wine, green lentils, parsley, thyme and bay.  Simmer the lentils until they're soft.  This can vary from 30 minutes to an hour.  It seems to depend on the lentils.  You may need to add water.  Just don't let the lentils burn--that's a horrible mess and smells awful.  Take it from one who knows. The specific little green lentils are particularly good, they sort of pop in your mouth into mealy savoriness when you bite into them, but I have used other kinds (red, black, regular brown-ish) and they're perfectly fine.  Anyway, you can brown the sausages separately and then add them whole to simmer until it's all done, or you could just chuck them in and not worry about the browning.  You could probably do the whole thing (except for frying the bacon) in a crock pot, actually.  Add the mustard, salt and pepper to taste near the end.  The mustard is key.  That's what cuts the rich/savory/salty stew features.  Without the mustard, it's nothing.  I crumble up the bacon and stir it in just before serving, so it still has some crunch. 

Serve this with green salad with a zippy lemony garlicky dressing and a red wine, or a white like a gevurtztraminer--something with some backbone.  If I were so organized that I planned and made dessert, I'd have lemon sorbet and gingerbread But I never do that and we usually just scrounge for chocolate chips that I have hidden in the freezer. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

She Knows Me So Well

Last night I was hustling over to parent council meeting at our school.  I was late, and dreading what I was going to hear about budget cuts and layoffs.  I called my mother to vent:

Me:  It's so demoralizing.  We just want our kids to have a good education and their teachers to be treated fairly.  I can't stand it.  I wrote a letter to the editor, which made me feel better.

Bad Grandma:  What did you say?

Me:  Well, nothing too dramatic.  I had The Man Who Lives In My House vet it before I sent it off.

Bad Grandma:  That's good, because you probably shot your mouth off.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Perilous Gardner

Gardening is often mistaken as a peaceful hobby suited for little old ladies.  This is wrong!  Gardening is fraught with peril.  It involves the forces of goodness against the forces of darkness.  Plus you might get a blister.  I was ripping out some evil, pernicious english ivy when an evil, pernicious yellow jacket stung my left forearm.

I was forced to retreat.  I ran into the kitchen, flinging away my shears and my gloves and my jacket, and shrieking because I was sure that little eff-er and maybe a zillion of it's friends were flying up my sleeve.  Fortunately I got away.  Barely.

Now my arm hurts and itches.  And it looks grotesquely distorted and red.  It's hot to the touch.  Wah.  So I'm showing everybody.  A lot.  Especially The Man Who Lives In My House.  I just showed him again, because I thought he'd want to see how it's progressing--which it's not, as a matter of fact.  It still itches and hurts.  Thanks for your concern.

 His suggestion, "Maybe you should take your arm on tour.  Oh wait, you already are."

What?  You want to see pictures?  Oh well, if you insist.
Extreme close up.  See how red and puffy it is?
This is my tragic and pitiful look.   I think it's working. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010


My association with Sherry (the drink) is positive.  My first year teaching was the first time I ever experienced the feeling of "I need a drink!" at the end of the day.  Fortunately my parents' house was on my way home, and Nana was visiting for the month of September.  Nana is very civilized:  she has a beer with her lunch every day at eleven, and a glass of sherry before dinner.
What's in that cup, Nana?  Just coffee, today dear. 

I would roll in around sherry time and she would pour.  Lately, I've been watching Miss Marple while I cook.  She reminds me of Nana: a cute little old lady with an edge.  (Generally people don't die every time Nana enters the picture, which is a relief.) From time to time, Miss Marple pours a medicinal glass of sherry for a friend who's had a shock.  I like to join them, it's thematic.

The other night our friends Andy and Lauren came over to help us eat apple pie.  We had some wine, but it didn't seem quite right, so I broke out the sherry.  There was a collective "Eeeeugh!" noise from everyone but Andy.  "I drank a lot of sherry when we went to Spain," he told us.  "I'll try it.  In Spain, sherry is macho.  It's a bullfighter's drink.  Earnest Hemingway liked it."  I poured him a little glass.  He made a face,"Out of context, I've got to say, it's fairly nasty."  No problem, I finished his.

Last night we were out to dinner with friends and the subject of favorite drinks came up. Scotch?  Gin?  Tequila? Beer? What's your poison?  The Man Who Lives In My House outed me re: my preference for sherry.  "Oh God," said my friend, (whom I won't identify out of respect for her privacy).  "Here's my association with Sherry:  I got my first period, so I went to find my mom to discuss--well, just because it seemed like she should know.  And I said I was going to go lie down, and could she please NOT tell dad.  Next thing I know, my mom is coming into my room an dumping piles of tampax, pads, you name it in my drawer and RIGHT behind her is my dad, bearing a bottle of sherry and some glasses, because he thinks we should TOAST the occasion.  No thank you. No sherry."

Well, more for me and Nana, I guess.  I like a nice amontillado, with some blue cheese and pears.

In which I divulge that I digress, and we diverge.

One of us (not me) was making pancakes.  And fretting because there might not be enough butter.  The other one was making a grocery list.
Me:  After we go to the grocery store, it would be fun to re-arrange some furniture!
The Man Who Lives In My House:  That sentence doesn't work for me.

Monday, October 11, 2010


A good rummage sale, walking distance from my house, on a fall morning is pretty much my favorite form of thrift.  The Man Who Lives In My House took the Larger Hooligan to his soccer game, leaving me with the Smaller Hooligan, coffee, and craigslist. Smaller Hooligan was initially reluctant to leave his mound of legos.   I had to lure him with the possibility of donuts.  The local Episcopalians came through with donuts and treasure.  I love these people.  Here's what I found:

A digger truck ($1) for Senor Cupcake (My Nephew), who was coming to visit later that day)
A fleet of little cars (4/$1), also for Senor Cupcake.

A greenish pottery bowl ((50 cents), made by one of the church ladies.

And the Find that made the Smaller Hooligan glad he'd agreed to come:  Vintage old school legos, complete in their original box.  I have a feeling I could re-coup my $5 and then some if I sold these on E-Bay, but that's not how I roll.  Maybe someday, but for now, when I see something re-sale-able, I generally leave it for the e-bay sellers.  I only buy stuff we will actually use.  


Friday, October 8, 2010

Cool moms

Most moms are cooler.  This was abundantly clear in the last 24 hours.  I took the boys to visit some friends who've moved away. It was awesome.  Their new house is vast.  A mid century rambling rancher with a daylight basement on a big hillside lot:  holes to dig, rocks to climb, ice cream bars in the freezer, big views of mountains and sky.  Plus they have reptiles--a snake and a turtle.  AND a baby tarantula.   My sons kept acting uncharacteristically affectionate, coming up and slinging an arm around my neck--then laughing their heads off when I screamed upon seeing the snake peeking out of a sleeve.  I am deeply grateful that neither had much interest in the tarantula.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chicken coconut soup

The stock:

Boil a chicken in enough water (about 6 cups) to completely cover it for 40 minutes.  Remove chicken.  Cool.  Pick the meat off the carcass and place in the fridge.  Return bones and skin to the pot.  Add a chopped onion, six cloves of garlic, a thumb sized hunk of ginger, zest of one lime, two or three chopped lemon grass stalks, one or two chili peppers,  stems of one bunch of cilantro, stems of one bunch of basil, a stick of cinnamon, one anise star.  Simmer for at least two hours.  Cool.  If you have time to refrigerate, you can skim off the fat more easily. Strain out all that stuff and discard.  Taste.  Add lime juice, soy sauce, and fish sauce to taste.  For me, it's juice of 3 limes, 1/4 cup soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Plus a pinch of sugar and a teaspoon of sambal alek- -that really hot chili garlic sauce.  Just keep adding and tasting until you like it.    Now you can add your soup ingredients to this base, or you can dump in a can of coconut milk and then add the ingredients.  When I add coconut milk I increase the chilis and skip the sugar, as the sweet creaminess allows for more spice and eliminates the need for sugar.

The stock will freeze or keep in the fridge for a few days,  When you're in the mood for soup, add any of the following:

Basil leaves
chopped chicken (cooked)
pork (cooked)
green onions
chopped tomatoes
bean sprouts

Serve very hot, with rice and extra sambal alek, lime wedges,  and soy sauce for your guests to add.  It's fun to make a vat of the soup stock and prep the additions, and then let everyone put the things they like in their bowls and pour the hot stock over.

I like to have this with rose, and maybe some mango sorbet for dessert.  If you can talk your guests into bringing over pot stickers or salad rolls, it's even better.