Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Like Maggie, my meals in recent weeks have been composed of salad and take-out. I make the salad; he orders the take-out. This loose system has helped me to get through another stretch of book editing well-fed yet nourished by the fresh produce that taunts me when I walk through the market.
It's a shame, really, to be working so hard during the summertime. My dreams of berry cobblers and jams have passed along with the months of June and July. And thanks to the cold and glum weather in San Francisco, we ate tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches last night, not homemade tomato sauce over ribbons of fresh pasta from Luca's. At least it's good weather for staying in with a cup of tea and a pile of papers.
But then there are the days where it all comes together: I wake up early and get a lot done before noon. I have time to think about dinner, get to the store, and I remember my list so I (amazingly!) get everything on it. Then I cook and cook and cook.
This salad was a particular bright spot during a time where I have constantly felt tardy and under prepared. So French, so Southern French with its lentils, and goat cheese, and dots of colorful tomatoes. Thanks to the legumes it's hearty. All you need to make it a meal is a bottle of rose, a crusty baguette, perhaps a hard sausage to slice into chunks and gnaw.
Good eats. No takeout required.
Arugula and Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese, from the May 2010 of MS Living.
I love lentils so I actually doubled the lentils. This allowed me to stretch dinner into a lunch or two -- a beautiful thing.
1/2 cup dried French green lentils, rinsed, drained, and picked over
1 small red onion, halved
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces baby arugula (6 cups loosely packed)
12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved if large
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Place lentils and 1 onion half in a medium saucepan; cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain; discard onion half. Transfer lentils to a medium bowl.
Chop remaining onion. Combine vinegar and mustard. Pour in oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Add chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper. Toss lentils with half the vinaigrette; let cool.
Arrange half the arugula on a platter. Spoon half the lentils on top. Top with half the tomatoes and half the goat cheese. Repeat with remaining ingredients to form another layer; drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.
Serves 8 or so.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
July 3rd was M.F.K. Fisher's birthday. This year she would have been 102.
I celebrate the day every year, or at least I have for the past five years, ever since my interest in her and her life turned from passing fancy to full-blown obsession.
The first year I made vanilla ice cream. It was a hot summer day in Portland, and we topped the melty vanilla mounds with fresh blueberries, oohed and ahhed with every bite, and then went to a baseball game.
The next year I made a caprese salad mixed with fresh pasta. It was a simplistic ode, because I'd spent all day getting lost in M.F.K. Fisher land. We drove through the yellowed hills of Sonoma, scooting along old highways until I spotted the outline of her house, her "last house" in the distance. The sign outside read: Trespassers Will Be Violated. I stood on the side of the road with goosebumps that had somehow cropped up in the hot July sun.
In subsequent years I wrapped white fish in thin strips of zucchini and made a rhubarb lavender crisp. There were bowls of freshly shelled peas, gently steamed, and dressed in lots of butter and salt. There was plenty of wine, all French.
Each celebration has been good, and each passing year has seemed to mark the evolution of what was, once, a small interest in M.F.K. Fisher, and is now a book. An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher will be published by Counterpoint Press in February 2011.
This year I made dinner for friends. Compared to previous years it was a haphazard party, with last minute guests, and an entire menu developed mid-afternoon while watching a World Cup game.
But the evening was perfect. It was a magically warm San Francisco day. The chicken roasted in the oven, there were green and bean salads, bread, cheese, and tiny French olives. There was champagne, then pinot noir, and then finally another bottle -- what was it?
It was good. But the part everyone raved over was dessert: strawberries with vanilla syrup.
Make this soon, before strawberry season is over. It was so easy, and so divine. It was pretty amazing for breakfast, too, which is when this photo was taken.
Strawberries with Vanilla Syrup, adapted from the June 2010 Martha Stewart Living Magazine
1 pound strawberries (halved if large), stems left intact (optional)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 strips (each 2 inches long) lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed
Combine strawberries, water, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and peppercorns in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 1 minute. Let stand until cool, about 15 minutes; refrigerate till ready to spoon over whole milk plain yogurt.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Last July I don't think I was cooking much at all, and if I was, I was cooking to impress. It didn't work; I had lots of pretty photos of food, but I was almost always hungry. Now I am full, so full.
Dinnertime comes and I dash around the kitchen and somehow, I make something out of nothing. Last week it was pan roasted chicken thighs from the freezer with a sauce made from dried mushrooms soaked in warm water and wine. I added the mushrooms to the frying pan along with chopped shallots, butter, olive oil, and at the very end, a handful of peas.
It was pretty and tasty, but there was no recipe. I made it up, and it was good. We ate it with a big salad, and large chunks of bread to soak up the soupy bits and we drank a white wine from the Jura region of France called Arbois. I think the meal ended with a bite or two of cheese. It was perfect. It was a Wednesday night.
I have always dreamed of cooking like this. My mother used to tell me: "cook enough and you'll just know what to do." But I never did, and for years I was easily intimidated by the idea of standing in the kitchen with and serving dinner to someone who had worked in a professional kitchen. Someone who knew (or it seemed like he knew) everything at all.
Now my days are much more free form. I'm laughing more, writing better, and most days I don't care that 90% of my belongings have been in storage for almost an entire year. Turns out I don't need them.
Except for those cookbooks. Because today I wanted to make my Dad cookies for his birthday. But my cookbooks are still packed. So I googled "best chocolate chip oatmeal cookie" and I randomly found a recipe which looked ok, and I decided to make them.
And guess what? They were really good. The best part was that they were super soft, even with a little bit of wheat flour tossed into the mix. Their softness made them seem pretty damn near perfect to me -- I am not so fond of the overly crisped oatmeal cookie.
Along the way I took some photos. Not fancy photos where I clean the countertops and adjust the light and wish I had better dishes. Just photos of me and the mixing bowl making birthday cookies for Dad.
I'm beginning to think that if I kept cooking the way I have been for the past few months I'd be very content. It turns out cooking (and living) without a recipe is easier, and much more fun, than I ever imagined it could be.
The Best Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Around:
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tbsp half and half
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup wheat flour and 1 cup white flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups oats (rolled or quick, not instant)
2 cups chocolate chips (about 12-oz.)Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugars until mixture is light in color. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the half and half and the vanilla extract.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Either by hand or with the mixer on low speed, gradually beat the flour in to the sugar mixture until just incorporated.
Stir in the oats and chocolate chips by hand.
Drop 1-inch balls of dough onto the cookie sheet, placing about 1 1/2 inches apart so they have room to spread.
Bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown at the edges and light golden at the center.
Cool on baking sheet for at least 1-2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 4 dozen.