Thursday, October 25, 2012

An old friend

To me, writing is like a great friendship: no matter the time or distance, when reunited it is as if no time has past. So I am paying my dear friend a visit today.

This morning we woke up to 3 inches of snow with the "promise"of more powdery white stuff this evening. For many, this forecast would be a disappointment, met with sadness, or even as a a giving up of the freedom of summer. But for me, I needed this change. The holiday-themed magazines are coming in droves, the commercials are changing with the seasons and of course, our food cravings are changing with the colder weather. Winter is gently knocking on our door, whispering, "I am around the corner."

The change in weather today was like an advent for me: the glorious inevitability of winter and the changing of seasonal foods is coming. Today I was struck with the deep hunger for making Braised Lamb Shank with Toasted Orzo with a Port and Red Wine Reduction, Roasted Baby Carrots and a Rustic Apple Tart for dessert. I happily cooked all day for clients but in the back of my mind was the hope and the guarantee of the all-encompassing aroma of braised lamb. It literally knocks me off my seat, it smells so divine.

The word advent means "coming" and it seems entirely fitting with this seasonal shift: the leafs are changing, the nights are cold, the days are shortening all meaning that winter is in front of us. This has been an incredible year with a definite "coming", a wonderful, yet scary change for Mike and me in March. Perhaps, the change in the weather ignited that we are one season closer to our new reality of parenthood. The certainty of change is ahead but there is something calming, nurturing and safe about familiar aromas, tastes and recipes. Is there anything better than the smell of baking cinnamon with the vision of softly falling snow? Today, I am comforted even amidst the unknown. Cooking has calmed my nerves. The smell of braised local lamb and the aroma of baking apples and cinnamon all mixed with the beauty of snow has made for an incredible day.

Some days might feel overwhelming or the anticipation of the future perhaps seem too much to handle, but I am sure that everyone has something that grounds them and makes them feel comforted. Cooking, writing and the familiarity of a wonderful recipe has done exactly what it is supposed to today. I begin my evening feeling assured and yet enlivened all with the house smelling extraordinary. Thank you, old friend.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Simple favorite foods

So, I guess it is time to write again...It has been a long time...So here it goes...

No one likes talking about budgets! YUCK! It is stressful for many, anxiety ridden for others, and just plain not fun. So that being said we are going through that right now. Last night Mike and I were chatting about our budget, our money, where we can cut back, our spending habits, etc. We have seen lots of money go to Whole Foods--I love you WF but I think we need to part ways for a while--wine, beer, the ski slopes, and wonderful lunches outside sitting in the sun drinking a couple of beers. We have had fun but it is time to pull those spending reins!

I was nervous, however, because I look at food as an art form, a creative avenue and so NOW WHAT!! AHHHHHH. NO over spending, no big, expensive meals!!!!! What?!?!?! I felt as if something was ripped out from underneath me! SHIT! So amidst my probable over-exaggeration Mike said something that struck a cord within. He said, "yes, Lucy you can make a gourmet meal sing and be remembered! But can you do it with everyday ingredients?" Is this a challenge? I think so! Taking things that are simple, easily accessible and inexpensive and possibly being more creative with them and turning them into something extraordinary and delicious. This is my new mission!

So as we were eating our dinner of salt encrusted whole red snapper, a simple baked potato, salad with homemade Caesar dressing and homemade croutons and enjoying a glass of wine, I was starring at possibly me favorite food--the potato. Man I love them! Mashed, baked, sauteed, oven roasted, any preperation I just ADORE THEM. I was struck last night by the beauty of that simple baked spud with butter and salt and I thought that simplicity doesn't necessarily mean boring or unexciting. In fact the simple things in life can mean the most--a hug, a smile, a sincere thank you, and even a potato!

Even though I HATE discussing budgets and money it is a necessary evil. It is important to have a "check" on finances and pulling back and as my dad says, "it is really easy to just say no to things." So NO more Whole Foods for a while, No more crazy, extravagant meals and YES to wonderful, creative meals that do not cost a lot! YES, to that! Here is to me becoming creative in the kitchen in a different way and to more economically friendly meals.

I hope everyone has a wonderful, simple food that sings to them. For me it is a potato. For Mike...chicken wings and beer. Man, I love you!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Soul food, is it only in the south?

It is interesting to think of food as having a soul, being something that has a power, something that is transcendent, isn't it--especially when many people think that animals don't have souls? I think that food is the back bone, the core and the commonality of life.

So that being said, is there just food on one end and the soul on the other? Is it the food that has the soul, or the person/people who prepares the meal with the soul, or is it the effort that goes into the preparation that the food develops a soul after being stirred, seasoned and gently bubbling for hours?

The term Soul Food became popular in the 1960's but its origins go back to slave trading in the 15th century. When the Euro-African exploration was taking place in the 14th century, the Europeans brought their food staples with them (corn, turnips, and cabbage to name a few). This would end up playing a very important role in what the slaves where cooking on the plantations a century later- for the knowledge of different ingredients allowed them to begin to understand and develop a palate for a new cuisine. The slaves were usually given the left-overs, or the unused parts of the animal from the main meal on the plantation (oxtail, pig ears, feet, tripe, etc.) this was paired along with new foods such as kale, collard greens and chard. Their food had to be simple, needed to be delicious as possible, and it had to be filling. This was the way of life for many Africans in the south. Their recipes were handed down orally from one generation to another and became the common thread that connected people who were sorely abused and taken advantage of.

Today, I doubt that when the term soul food is mentioned that enslaved Africans on plantations is conjured up in the mind. I think that it is more in lines of food that is full-flavored, tended over for hours, and inspires happy and convivial thoughts...and yes, a flavor profile from the south. But that being said, and always remembering what thousands of slaves had to endure and what their sacrifices meant, is there food that is created far from the south that can still have a soul, that it could possibly be called... "Soul Food"?

I am not intending to diminish the southern cuisine at all, I find it absolutely delicious (ummmm....GUMBO to name just one). I am just thinking that I know what my husband and I cook on a regular basis and what many of my friends cook (Lauren) and there is soul there, there is life that pours into the food and the ingredients. When I make risotto and I am stirring constantly for 22 minutes there is love in that dish, there is my effort being stirred into that arborio rice to make it creamy and starchy wonderfulness. I therefore ask, can food that is made with passion and love (even with 5 ingredients) be "soul food."

Since I believe in the power of food I don't think it off to think of it as having a "soul." In my opinion food is the common thread of people throughout the world and in that commonality there has to be a soul. And for many, food conjures up memories, for some happy, for some longing, but the bottom line is that food connects. And when it is, and it often is, made with love I think that that too can be "soul food."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Supper vs Dinner? Is there a difference?

A great friend of mine asked me to talk about this topic for my next blog because she is really curious about the differences. I never really thought of there being enough substance for this to evolve into a topic. A challenge perhaps, and everyone who knows me knows how competitive I am! So here it goes. The difference totally depends on where you live, south, north, England, etc. and what time of day it is. Simple... there you go.

Well that seems simple enough, but...there has to be more to it, like the history behind it, the cultural differences, the effects on the word because of television, etc. I personally rarely, if ever, use the word supper (unless we are on our annual trip to Door County, WI and are eating at a Supper Club). My siblings, my in-laws, and my husband all use the word dinner to describe the largest meal of the day, which for us is consumed in the evenings (unless we are on our annual trip to Door County, WI and where every meal is our largest of the day). My 65 year old father (sorry for the age shout out) , however, does occasionally uses the word supper. My amazing 97 year old grandmother does use the word more frequently. So there IS something interesting here. When, why and how did the change happen here in the USA?

In England, the term supper is used more often than it is where I live. "Supper", across the pond, can refer to a light meal which is consumed after dinner (which may be served in the middle of the day). In the 18th century, the British definition of "dinner" was different depending on what class you belonged to. If you lived comfortably in the upper middle class and middle class then "dinner" would be a formal meal at the end of the day, but conversely if you were poorer then "dinner" would be your main meal served around noon and perhaps followed by a light, informal meal, "supper", at the end of the day. Today, this no longer is the case and the words are used interchangeably.

In America, the two are basically synonyms and the usage depends on where you live. In the south they use supper more often than in the north, where perhaps they have a bigger meal at noon making it more like a "dinner" and then a lighter fare, "supper" in the evening. It is interesting, however, that older generations and more rural based people use the word supper more frequently. My grandmother uses the word with some frequency and she grew up on a rural Illinois farm where the main meal was served in the middle of the day. Somewhere and somehow the term supper faded when you got closer to a large city. This to me is interesting. Perhaps it was the effect of modernization, industrialization, more education, diversity of people. I don't know the answer to this. But it is clear that younger people rarely use the word supper and the older generations tend to use the word more frequently.

So to my friend, there is some food for thought and something to ponder tonight as you are eating a wonderful vegetarian meal! How I miss you! For the rest of my readers, think about if you know anyone who uses the word supper and perhaps how and when that word faded and the term dinner came forth. All in all, if it is dinner, supper, lunch, tea enjoy your food and the company with whom you are eating.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Am I crazy? I hope not!

I received a comment today on a food related website that my idea of food and what has happened to our relationship with ingredients, land and people is because I am food obsessed and out of touch with reality. This is insulting but I honestly think deep down HE is the one who is out of touch with reality. He told me "food is not meant to be obsessed over, it is meant to be enjoyed...and all these types of comments come from crazy, organic, hippies... you obviously have no life and no children... and know nothing about the real world and what it takes to make it... you should learn what it means to sacrifice yourself for another [meaning his children, I am assuming]..." Interesting, huh?

At first I didn't really give this much thought but the longer I pondered what to write today his comments kept coming back to me. And I actually feel bad for this person because while it may seem "crazy and obsessive" how much I think about food it certainly does not mean I don't enjoy it. It's quite the contrary, I deeply and profoundly love it.

To me food is something that should not go by the wayside when you have children or when you work two jobs or when basically life gets hectic. Meals, cooking and eating together should NEVER be compromised. Work is very important, it allows us to have a livelihood and to pursue other interests. However, it is the obsession with success in work and its demands on us to work late hours, have your blackberry on, always be available that it stripping away the things that truly matter in this world. It is the stresses of life that are toxic. Getting back to family, returning to a simpler way of life one where every minute of every day isn't planned or managed. Where people sit, talk and listen to what has to be said. There is a lack of human relationships these days and coming back and returning to the heart of the house (aka the kitchen) with reunite us with ourselves, our family members and to food.

Tonight, cook something as a family, turn off outside distractions, sit together, enjoy being united and being an active listener to one another throughout the meal.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Getting back to what really matters

I am often struck by how many families, no matter how large or small, are not eating together. When I mean eating together, I mean truly sitting down, all televisions are off and everyone in the family is physically and mentally present. I understand that people are busy and that having outside activities are vastly important in the development of a person, both young and old, but the sacredness of meal time, especially dinner has dwindled throughout the world. I think in this modern day we are plagued with the immense pressure of success at all costs and family time has consequently diminished and therefore the family as a unity is under stress. It is important to be successful in your career but balance is a necessity. To help bring the family together I feel very strongly in the power of eating together. I know it is not possibly to eat every meal with all members of the family but there needs to be a return to the dinner table. A renaissance of the American eating habits, perhaps.

What brought me to this today was reminiscing about my time living abroad in Florence and thinking about their traditions (which I know and understand are changing just as they are here), the healthy way Italians look at food and its history. They revere their food and traditions as something to be savored. But times are changing there as well, with more families having two incomes there is less time to cook, less time to eat together. In 1986, Carlo Petrini, along with other patriots, wanted to stop the building of McDonalds near the base of the Spanish Steps in Rome. By 1989, a treaty was signed by delegates from 15 other countries, a manifesto created and the Slow Food Movement was born:

"We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods...Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food... In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer. That is what real culture is all about: developing taste rather than demeaning it." (Slow Food Movement Manifesto)
I think there needs to be a change in all of our lives to take time, slow down and to savor the moments with your family around the dinner table. Perhaps you don't excel at cooking, or do not find chopping a soothing activity at the end of a long day, but somehow there is a desperate need to return to proper ingredients, ethical food and a morality in eating. Take a pledge to slow down and to eat as a family, to prepare something that not only nourishes your families' body but also their entire well-being. Here is a simply delicious pasta that cooks in 15 minutes. I made this last night and it truly was spectacular. Enjoy!

Quick Spaghetti with Sausage
·         3-4 Italian Sausage links, casings on (I used spicy.  Please use one from the butcher or the butcher counter)
·         One pound of Spaghetti
·         4-5 Garlic cloves minced
·         Large handful of basil, hand shred the leaves, reserve the stems and finely chop
·         1, 28oz can of whole or pureed tomatoes, no salt
·         Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese
1.     Bring large pot of water to boil, when boiling add a large handful of salt. Add spaghetti and stir.
2.    Meanwhile heat a large non-stick skillet over medium/high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Take one sausage link at a time and squeeze some of the meat out directly into the heated skillet (should look like small meatball). Continue method for all sausages. Stir and rotate to brown on all sides. This should take the same amount of time as the pasta, about 9 minutes. If not enough fat has rendered add 1-2 Tablespoons of butter to the pan.
3.    Heat another skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add minced garlic and basil stems. Saute for 2 minutes. Careful not to let the garlic burn. When nicely toasted add the tomatoes and stir. Add a nice pinch of salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. Let combine.
4.    After about 9 minutes remove the spaghetti with a spider or tongs (the pasta should really be ALMOST done, a bite still in the noodle) place directly into the pan with the sausage. Stir and combine. If the pasta is too dry add a small ladle of the pasta water to the sausage pan.
5.    Add reserved hand shredded basil to the tomato sauce. Stir.
6.    When nicely combined, about 1 minute, ladle in some of the tomato sauce. Stir. Add another ladle and stir.  It should not be an overly tomato pasta dish. If you need more sauce just add a little more.
7.    Grate cheese on top and toss to combine
8.    Serve in desired dish and add one more grate of cheese

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Getting rid of the spice packet

Who doesn't love tacos, I mean really? A lot of people have and continue to use spice packets when making tacos, we have, I know you readers have. Yes, they are tasty, salty and make you want a beer but they are filled with preservatives not to mention basically a salt lick.  I wanted to develop a taco recipe that will knock the pants off that $1.09 spice packet. Adios spice packet, hola delicious, natural, amazing flavor! I did my first recipe test for the blog today and through creative thought and problem solving in the kitchen I came up with this, and in Mike's and my opinion this is an absolutely delicious recipe. There a lot of ingredients, especially with the mushroom sugo (PLEASE MAKE THIS ONE) but this was truly awesome and something to definitely repeat! To me food, should be prepared with love, good, simple ingredients and with a little time and effort a great meal will be waiting to be devoured. This is the one for today. Totally delish!!!!

Turkey, Mushroom tacos with cilantro emulsion:
These were truly delicious! So flavorful! The pasillo pepper really gave it a wonderful back note of spice. They are addictive so watch out!
(this almost made four generous tacos for lunch. Feel free to double to make enough for a family of 4 for dinner or keep as is for lunch)
·         ½ lb of ground turkey
·         1 Tablespoon of olive oil
·         ¼ of onion, finely minced
·         One celery stalk, finely minced
·         ½ of green pepper, finely minced
·         ½ of jalapeno, with seeds, finely minced
·         3 garlic cloves finely chopped
·         1 teaspoon of fresh thyme
·         1 teaspoon of dried oregano
·         1 teaspoon of cumin
·         1 Fresh bay leaf
·         1 dried pasillo pepper
·         ½- ¾ cup of beef stock (hot)
·         Salt pepper
·         2 Tablespoons of mushroom sugo (recipe at bottom) (Courtesy of Michael Chiarello)
·         Habenero, jack cheese--crumbled
·         Cilantro Emulsion (recipe follows)
·         Corn tortillas
Directions for Turkey Tacos:
1.     Pan on medium/high heat add turkey meat and brown. Break apart meat well.
2.    After it’s browned add all the vegetables except the garlic. Add a little salt and pepper. Stir and let the veg soften. After about 5 minutes add garlic.
3.    Add herbs. Turn down heat and let simmer and come together.
4.    Add Mushroom sugo mixture
5.    Meanwhile heat a dry small sauté pan over medium heat. Add pasillo pepper and let it come to heat rotating often—do not let it burn it will become very bitter. When you see it smoking slightly it is ready—about 5-7 minutes.
6.    Remove the pepper and put in glass bowl, pour over the hot beef stock and cover with cling wrap. Let steep for 5-10 minutes.
7.    Remove the pepper.
8.    Bring the turkey mixture to a high temperature and then add the beef broth. Stir and combine.
9.    Warm another sauté pan and add a little vegetable oil and place corn tortilla in to become crisp. Rotate every minute or so until nice and crispy. Remove and a little salt.
10.  Place some turkey mixture on the warm tortilla add a little crumbled cheese and top with a little cilantro oil

Cilantro Emulsion:
·         ¼ cup of cilantro
·         ½ of a shallot, coarsely chopped
·         1-2 Teaspoons of fresh lime juice
·         Salt and pepper
·         ½- ¾ cup of vegetable oil
1.     Place all ingredients in a bowl and using a hand blender mix until combined. Could also use a blender

Mushroom Sugo—courtesy of Michael Chiarello
            I made this earlier in the week for dinner atop toasted orzo and had leftovers. This truly is wonderful and I recommend making this ahead of time—it is really delicious! If you think you don’t like mushroom please give this a go, it will convert you.
For the sugo:
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups mixed wild mushrooms, finely chopped (from about 3/4-pound mushrooms)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree (from fresh or canned peeled tomato)
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth or water
  • 1 generous tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
  • Parmesan
·         For the sugo:
·         Heat a large saute pan over high heat. When hot, add oil, and then sprinkle in the mushrooms. Don't stir! Let the mushrooms sizzle and caramelize for 7 to 8 minutes. Stir and season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute to release its fragrance. Add the rosemary and shallot and cook for about a minute. Cook briefly to release their fragrance, then add tomato and red wine and simmer until almost evaporated. Add the broth or water. Simmer until slightly reduced, 4 to 5 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Sprinkle with the parsley and keep warm.