Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's so very French

I love the cooking show, "French Food at Home".  Watching it makes me feel sophisticated, chic and oh so in a word: French.  I am seduced by the simple recipes and how everything seems to go so well with a glass of wine or even champagne.   Blank explains how to elegantly present basic meals, small bites and desserts in her funny French Canadian accent.  The set is quaint little cottage.  The shows image is that of an effortless chic I can only dream about.
Because I still have lots of tomatoes to devour before the fruit flies get to them first, I made two recipes that would surely win a spot on my new favorite guilty pleasure.  The first from Peter Rabbit's Natural Foods Cookbook.  Yes, the very one that Val gave to me when I was about 9 years old.  Duchess and Ribby's (famous from their starring roles in "The Pie and the Patty Pan" by Beatrix Potter) Tomato and Cheese Pie is quintessentially English but I think would translate well to an afternoon picnic in Provence especially if served with a slightly chilled Beaujolais Nouveau . 

The second from the cook book of my dreams: "Tartine" by Chad Robertson. This recipe for Tomatoes Provencal would go nicely at the picnic as well for obvious reasons.

Since I am on Cape Cod instead of in the south of France, I determined to make the best of it. A leisurely lunch on my deck overlooking my wild and woolly garden I have decided is better than being to far away from home, anyway.

Duchess and Ribby's Tomato Cheese Pie
(serves 6)

4 slices stale bread
2 medium tomatoes
one handful of fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
3 dashes hot sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a pie plate or 8x8 baking pan.
Tear the bread into small pieces and place them in pan.  Slice the tomatoes into small pieces and arrange them over the bread.  Tear the basil into small pieces and arrange over the tomatoes.  Sprinkle the cheese over the basil.  Beat the egg and combine with the milk, salt, pepper and hot sauce.  Pour mixture evenly over the cheese.  Place pan on a rimmed baking sheet and put into the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes until browned and bubbly.  Remove from oven and cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tomatoes Provencal adapted from "Tartine" by Chad Robertson
(Serves 4 to 6)

4 medium-large ripe tomatoes, or use whatever size you have
olive oil
for bread crumbs:
2 slices day old bread
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Slice tomatoes crosswise and arrange on a baking sheet, cut side up.  Spoon olive oil ( I use a squeeze bottle) onto each tomato half and season with salt.  Bake until the tops start to slightly carmelize, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make bread crumbs.  Place the  bread in a food processor and pulse to fine crumbs. Add the herbs, lemon zest, Parmesan and olive oil and pulse to combine.

Remove tomatoes from oven and spoon bread crumb mixture onto the tomato halves.  Bake until the crumbs are toasted and browned, about 15 minutes.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tomato Pie Revision or How to Eat a Bumper Crop

The tomatoes are ridiculously abundant in Val's garden this year.  I have been picking them like crazy and insisting that friends take them. (I'm not sure how much longer they will remain friends with me at this point as they are all likely sick of my pushing fresh tomatoes on them.) Believe it or not, I am getting a bit tired of "The Most Amazing Tomato Sandwich...EVER!"  I can only serve cherry tomatoes to the one child of mine who will actually eat them, so many nights at dinner.  I have begun to look through cook books to see what can be made with the delightful fruit.  I know I will mourn its passing once October rolls around.  Until then, I am on a quest to use it as many ways as possible to enjoy the @#$% out of what is here now.
There is a delicious looking recipe in Tartine by Chad Robertson for "Tomatoes Provencal".  I'm sure I will be trying that one out in some fashion to use up the multiple bags of cherry tomatoes I continue to harvest almost daily. But today I don't have any fresh breadcrumbs readily available and the toasting then the dirtying of the food processor has me in a snit. I'm looking for something just as satisfying with less demanding clean- up.
One of the entries in the September chapter of the VCCK cook book named "Summer Harvest" is "Tomato Pie with Herbed Whole Wheat Crust".  I really want to eat it for dinner tonight but I am also too tired to make the pie crust.  Here is a version with puffed pastry for those of you who are as lazy as I am. 

 Tomato and Cheddar Tarte
(serves 6 or more)

approx 3 tablespoons flour for rolling out dough
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg and water for egg wash
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
6 medium sized fresh tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Dust work surface with flour and roll out puff pastry .  Transfer pastry to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment.  Brush with egg wash.  Fold in all sides of the pastry about 1/2" and press down with tines of a fork.  Brush the folded edges with egg wash.  Prick entire surface of puff pastry with a fork to create air holes.  Bake pastry for approximately 10 minutes to par cook the dough.
Meanwhile, grate the cheese and slice the tomatoes. Combine nutmeg through pepper in a small dish.  Set aside.
Remove pastry from oven.  Cover inside edges of pastry with cheese and top with tomato slices.  Sprinkle with herb mixture.  Drizzle olive oil over the dried herbs to moisten.  Place tarte in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until edges are golden brown and tomatoes and cheese are bubbling.  Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.  Remove tarte from pan to cutting board.  Cut into squares and serve warm.

If you a lucky there will be leftovers to reheat in your toaster oven for a snack or for a delicious breakfast rounded out with scrambled eggs.  If you are like me, someone else in your house already had this idea before you got up the next morning. That someone ate the rest of the tomato tarte disregarding rule #1:  Leave all last servings of anything especially baked items for the cook/baker.  I'm about to write someone up for breaking the rules.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Don't Have The Recipe: Asian Chicken Stir Fry

 The kids went back to school today.  Declan already has Tae Kwan Do at 6:00pm tonight so that throws a wrench into our dinner time.  I need to make something that is easy and fast.  Thankfully, I have time to prep it before the kids get out of school but this one can be done even if you don't have extra time.  It's based on one of Val's go to dishes: "Chinese" Chicken Stir Fry.  "Chinese" because in 1970's white America, everything Asian was dubbed "Chinese".  We didn't know anything about all of the Asian cuisines that we now consider normal fare in this country.  But this recipe is different.  Why?  Because I gave Val back her recipe file and I didn't put the "Chinese" Stir Fry in the cook book.  So, I don't know the exact ingredients.  I kind of remember most of them, though. The sauce is part from memory and a few of my own additions.  (We didn't have fish sauce readily available in our local supermarket back then, either.  Not to mention that Val hates the taste of cilantro.)  By the way, I am NOT making an Asian inspired dish to go with tonight's activity.

Chicken Stir Fry
(Serves 6)

1 1/2 cups rice
1 3/4 lb chicken breast (about 3)
3 cups chopped to 1" pieces (i.e. broccoli, green beans, peppers, onions, mushrooms)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (i.e. Siracha)
zest and juice from 1 lime
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon dried ginger
2 teaspoons corn starch
vegetable oil for cooking
1 handful fresh cilantro, optional

Prepare rice according to package directions.
While rice is cooking, cut the chicken into 1" cubes, season with salt and pepper and set aside.  Chop vegetables.  Mix sauce by combining soy sauce through ginger.  Stir in cornstarch to dissolve.  
Heat a wok or cast iron skillet on high.  Add cooking oil.  Once oil is hot, add chicken and cook until outsides are just done.  Remove chicken to a plate.  Add more oil if needed.  Add  vegetables until just cooked.  Add chicken back to pan.  Mix sauce to incorporate corn starch as it often settles to the bottom.  Immediately add to chicken and vegetables, stirring to keep from over cooking.  Cover for 1-2 minutes until sauce is thickened and chicken is cooked through.  Serve over rice.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Unintentional Gardening

I made big plans.  I worked the compost into the soil.  I mulched.  I planted seeds in neat rows.  And it all seemed to be working out.  In late May there was tender, green lettuce. 

June brought sugar snap peas, I trained the vines to grow up the chain link fence of the dog pen.  In spite of an unknown pest, the beans grew and I began to harvest them in July.  As expected, weeds and uninvited plants began to pop up here and there.  But I was able to stay on top of them by yanking them out and adding them to the mulch between rows. By midsummer, my garden was growing, producing and looking neat and cute in the back yard.

Then August came and hell broke loose. It seemed that overnight, volunteers overtook every available walking space I had made between the rows.  Suddenly, there were a few too many tomato plants.  Where did they come from?  Must be the compost that I used to enrich the soil. I was far too lenient by allowing (only) two "squash" vines to meander instead of pulling them out and throwing them in the compost pile.  I felt bad about ruining perfectly good plants even if I hadn't intended to plant them.  Perhaps "hell" isn't exactly the best way to describe a flowering, flourishing garden, is it?

I could make an attempt to clean up the madness.  I could pull out the bolted lettuce, get a handle on some the of the weeds that rival my tallest tomato plants.  And what I really should do is redo the perennial flower garden that provides a border along the house.  That Montauk daisy is out of control. But I don't want to do any of it.  I like it when the garden is a bit unruly, doing its own thing, growing and not caring if it fits inside my little make shift fence, or not.

I began to feel better about my lax rules in the garden when I saw that the two monster vines that are now beginning to overtake our entire yard have a few butternut squash growing from each one.  At least they are showing me that they are grateful for my generosity of spirit by producing something for me to eat.  As for the tomato volunteers, they all have tiny green orbs in clusters of six to eight that promise to turn red anytime in the next week, or so.  I can no longer access the bean plants as the monster squash vine has wound itself into a barricade.  It's o.k. I think the beans got tired and stopped growing anyway.  I've come to realize that it's best to plant the intention then let the garden do the rest.  And if that means there will be butternut squash soup, so much the better.

The Most Amazing Tomato Sandwich...EVER!

I'm all for tradition.  Hellman's slathered all over two slices of soft white bread, piled high with garden ripened tomatoes, that makes a pretty darn good sandwich.  But last summer I came across something that makes freshly picked tomatoes even better. I found a version of this recipe in Bon Appetit (July 2011). The page was torn out and shoved in one of my many folders full of recipes to try.  Only I actually had drawn a star above the recipe for "Chicken Breasts with Tomato-Herb Pan Sauce".  Perhaps I tried it, liked it and filed this page away.  I don't recall.  I actually adapted this recipe for "Basil Rouille" from the recipe for a Bouillabaisse that occupies the same page as the chicken dish.  I never tried the Bouillabaisse. I don't plan on it.
Anyway, back to the "Rouille".  It adds the perfect amount of salti-umaniness to slices of fresh tomato.  It also allows me to utilize the basil "bushes" that Val miraculously grows in her garden.  Seriously, these plants are huge and someone has to take advantage of the abundant harvest. But the uses for this delectable spread don't stop at tomato sandwiches: it makes BLT's even more delicious, dollop it on salads, grilled vegetables or serve it as a dip. I can't get enough of it so I keep a batch on hand at all times for tomato harvest.  And I always lick the spoon.

Basil Rouille
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy butter
zest from 1/2 lemon
juice from 1/2 lemon
Mince garlic cloves and transfer to blender.  Add basil and olive oil.  Puree, stopping to scrape down sides, if needed.  Add mayonnaise, anchovy butter, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Puree until combined.  Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Are you there Mom? It's me, Andrea.

A wave of nostalgia hit me while I was in Barnes & Noble helping Ava pick out some books. As we browsed the shelves in the young adult section, there it was. The cover looks different now, updated, sleek font on a stark white background replacing the old "seventies" style pen and ink drawing of a sad girl looking over her shoulder, yellow black and purple. The outward appearance tweaked to appeal to kids of Ava's generation, but the contents inside unchanged.  Judy Blume's coming of age books that revealed the secrets no kid wants to tell got me through the "tween" years that Ava is just embarking on.  "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret", "Blubber", "Then again, maybe I won't".  I can visualize all the cover art and remember the feelings I had when reading the worn paperbacks over and over again. After swimming in the pond near a friend's house, laying in my bed at night turning the printed pages, smelling the ink. Wishing I were not so chubby, that I had better hair, that I fit in, uncomfortable in my own skin.

I've been having lots of flashbacks, lately. I went to parent night at Morse Pond School (the middle school for 5th and 6th graders) last week.  I was awkward in fourth grade but it all came to a head in fifth, my first year at Morse Pond.  Mixed in with all the other former fourth graders from the three elementary schools across town, in a classroom with no real friends, cast aside by the group of popular girls.  I was on the fringe.  My "friend" (let's call her Jane) was in the popular clique.  During the years between the ages when we were four to ten years old, our mothers created "play dates" for us on Saturdays. Most of the time I went to her house, her mother thinking I would keep her out of trouble.  Instead, "Jane" bullied me into submission and tortured me to be silent and go along with her mischief. Once we arrived at Morse Pond, "Jane" knew that associating with me would mean her social death, so she ditched me.  And she was mean.  And I was fat and so totally uncool. I especially hated recess, the playground. A social free for all. That's when it's apparent that you have no one to hang out with. Could it have really been that bad? I must have had a few friends. It's hard to remember when you have spent most of your life blocking it out.

I look at Ava every day and I am thankful for her that she is beautiful, athletic, graceful.  She has friends and likes recess.  After lunch, she plays soccer and kickball.  No one ever wanted me to be on their team.  The boys would audibly groan when they got stuck with me. Most of the girls didn't care about winning. But I am also happy that Ava doesn't seem to hang out with those kids who intentionally exclude others.  I know who they are.  I observe them. I see them when I volunteer at school, while they walk down the hall. I am watching when they think no one is looking.  I hope Ava stays away from them and continues to be the oblivious, happy, kind child I know she is. But these are my issues, I hope they will never be hers.

Ava reads as much as I did. She brings books everywhere, reads them in the car.  Back then, my favorite time to read was after a summer day spent on the beach, laying on my bed, my clean, wet hair making a damp spot on my pillow. Ava does this, too.  I like to think she has all and only the best parts of me.  I wonder what she will think of "Margaret" and Judy Blume.  Ava is more open with me than I was as a child at her age with Val. There are times I can sense when she doesn't want me to go to far, to push.  I pull back and create some space for her privacy and secretly cross my fingers that she will confide in me when she needs to. For Val, it was like pulling teeth to get me to divulge any embarrassing and sad details from my daily life at school.  My fifth grade self could never believe that she may have ever felt that way. To rehash the days events made it even more painful, burying it deep and trying to forget, praying I would wake up the next morning to be a different person with cooler clothes was a better solution in my eleven year old mind. I'm sure Val knew this. But how can a mother make it all better?  At least when I got off the bus everyday, I could count on her being there. I could count on the square Tupperware container filled with chocolate chip cookies or some fresh brownies still in the pan.  I could count on that one moment when I didn't have to worry if I was good enough, cool enough, or that I was wearing hand-me-downs instead of a new pair of Levi's cords and an Izod shirt.   Perhaps the chocolate chip cookies and tall glass of milk added to my baby fat.  That would probably be a concern for parents now, the ones that don't see the importance or what the whole thing represented to me. I still believe that a homemade cookie after school and the few uninterrupted minutes shared before homework, Girl Scouts, dance lessons, soccer practice, etc. can make everything all better at least for that moment. I think Ava does, too.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

See Me

I'm actually a list person. I make lists mostly of things I need to do.  Sometimes I number the entries and list them in order of importance, especially if I feel that I have limited time  to accomplish the tasks (which is most of the time). I triage what takes precedence like paying that pesky electric bill before the lights get turned off and baking cookies for a school party tomorrow that my daughter just now told me about.

Val has always had a list. She writes them on small white scratch pads, the kind you purchase in a pack of six at the grocery store. Hers are very neat and are made of up of just a few one word entries like "manure" and "dust". They are written in her meticulous handwriting, using a fine point Bic pen in either black or blue. I write mine on any scrap that is lying around. I often resort to using one of the kids' dull pencils.  There are cross outs and descriptions with my entries.  Sometimes, I can't read my own handwriting.

Every Saturday morning and some days after school, there was a list by the phone for each one of us kids.  (Although Ethan's always had b.s chores like, "rest" and "eat".  Every Saturday he had a hockey game or practice not to mention he was completely unreliable when it came to real jobs like vacuuming. But he got what was coming when he became a teenager and his job was to de-tick the dog every night after our beloved "Spock" spent the day running through the woods in the backyard.) There were separate lists for each of us each labeled with the first letter of our name. For instance, mine began with an underlined capital "A" , below that she wrote things like "pick raspberries" and "sweep porch".  Sometimes she needed to elaborate or show us how to do a new task. To indicate this, Val added "-see me" after the entry.  The dreaded "see me".  This meant we had to endure a lecture of sorts.  Something as benign as "bathroom- see me" became a dissertation on wiping the toothpaste out of the sink and a demonstration of the proper way to hang a  wet towel after bathing. We hated "see me".  It always meant dragging out the process of doing chores and possibly missing the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour.

I don't add that loaded phrase to my to-do list. I don't want anyone to interrupt me while I'm paying the bills or writing a blog entry but I do make a separate entry for Rob, labeled with his name, underlined.  Instead, I insist on explaining every entry before he begins which I am sure is annoying in its own way.  He puts up with it.  Probably because he can now record his favorite show to watch later instead of missing it and I must admit that I am quite generous for allowing him to fold the laundry while watching the Red Sox game.