Wednesday, May 27, 2009

mushroom pâté

mushroom pate

You must forgive my long silences because when it rains, it pours. I’ve been pre-occupied with more family things, this time around concerning my grandmother who is, sadly, is no longer with us. She was someone whose life deserves a special mention and more thought, which will be forthcoming, but for now I’ll say this – I’m extremely lucky to have gotten to know her so well in my thirty one years. She made an indelible impact on my life and taught me so much, often without so much as uttering a word. In her last days, she surprised everyone around her, nurses, doctors, our family, with her relentless spirit and strength. We will miss her and we’ll always love her.

Needless to say, planning for all this somber business took some time and I’ve been making some frequent trips to Boston. Let’s just say the bus folks know me well by now and greet me with “Nice to see you again so soon!” I wish it were for happier occasions, but I have hope those happier times are coming. Things must start looking up at some point!

mushroom pate

So while this isn’t a post about my grandmother, she’d have greatly approved of this mushroom pâté. She was a big believer that spending as much time outside as possible was an essential step to good health. And she, herself, was of strong constitution, hardly having any health issues, until the very last years. Back when we lived in Russia, she was always opening windows – even in the midst of the coldest winter days – to air the rooms out. “Provetritsya,” she’d always say, as my mother would rush to close the windows back, afraid I’d catch a cold. A great fan of outside, my grandmother would have been pleased to know that I plan on many a picnic this summer.

And this mushroom pâté is bound to be a hit at any picnic. It takes little time to make, requires few ingredients: oil, mushrooms, onions, salt. But while it’s simple to prepare, it comes across as luxurious and quite complex. A spoonful on a cracker or a baguette slice, it will elevate any picnic to a gourmet level. With dishes like this, we all owe it to ourselves to have as many picnics this summer as possible. Not only will it encourage us to savor the summer’s produce (not that mushrooms are an indication of the season) but we can share wonderful meals with friends and family – memories of which will keep us warm through the winter season.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

classic almond biscotti

classic "nonna's" biscotti

The trouble with homemade care packages you mail out – is that most homemade treats have a limited shelf-life. Cookies – three days or so, granola – loses its crispness if not refrigerated, cupcakes – can’t quite ship them without compromising their shape as the frosting gets in the way. I’ve always wondered what do people send as care packages, and do they send it overnight, or on ice? Needless to say, I’m not the most ingenious person out there, so if I’ve failed to think of obvious solutions, please leave a comment and let me know your suggestions.

before pulverizing mixing the batter
thick classic "nonna's" biscotti

And yet, there I was, trying to think of a treat for my friend, Katy (who designed Sassy Radish and made it so pretty!), who was working on her master’s thesis at RISD while battling an interminable nasty cold. Apparently, there was this cough she couldn’t shake, and congestion that was persistent and relentless. Poor Katy couldn’t even smell her morning coffee – and if there’s anyone other who lover her coffee, it’s Katy. I felt for her – I wanted to help somehow, but short of sending decongestants (which aren’t all that exciting – I mean, who looks forward to receiving decongestants in the mail?) I couldn’t think of much that might survive a few days of shipping.

classic "nonna's" biscotti

So after thinking about the short shelf life of perishable goods, I discovered what I call a “care-package loophole”, and that loophole is biscotti! Originally eaten by Roman legions – the word originates from the Latin word biscoctum, which means “twice baked”. They were twice baked, in fact, so that they could be easily stored for long periods of time, say for long journey and battles. You wonder where I dig up this wealth of useless knowledge – and I say to you proudly, middle school Latin class complete with a Latin Feast at the end of every year! And in case you’re wondering, cooking Roman food was by far my favorite part of the class curriculum. Today, biscotti are probably some of the most definitive Italian baked treats and are really easy to make. I liked this recipe because the author who contributed it for the January issue of Gourmet, got it from his Italian grandmother so this was the real deal.

classic "nonna's" biscotti

In fact, the recipe’s notes highlighted that these “biscuits” will get better the day after baking, so the flavors will only improve! A baked good that improves with age and goes perfectly with coffee – if this isn’t a perfect care-package material, I don’t know what is!

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

cream braised cabbage with leeks

cream-braised cabbage with leeks

I know it’s a little strange that I’m that I am telling you about another cabbage recipe so soon after the first one, but I can’t help myself. It’s too good to keep from you a moment longer. Doing so would be selfish and wrong. And I’m anything but selfish. Besides in Russia households typically always have a head of cabbage on hand. I know in my family it’s always been the case.

Moreover, I wish I could tell you that I’m one of those people who cooks a new thing every night, who is constantly craving variety, and is always out trying new things. I don’t. Sometimes I go for weeks without so much as turning on the stove. Embarrassing, but true. So if I find a dish that truly strikes a chord with me – well, I will make it over and over and over. Like this one for instance.

big pile of cabbage - YUM cream-braised cabbage with leeks

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m very open to trying a new dish or a new flavor combination, but I am quite often finding myself ordering the same few things off my regular take-out menus. I could also very well make something and then eat it for several days and sometimes even longer. I’m a creature of habit to a fault. I like schedules and planning. Leftovers are just another way for me to continue eating what I like. Besides so many different things taste that much better the following days when the flavors have a chance to meld together: chili, soup, stew, and believe it or not – this cabbage. That is if it lasts that long in your household.

cream-braised cabbage with leeks

So this cabbage I want to tell you about. Well, I’ve recently fallen in love with braising vegetables in cream. You take something somewhat pedestrian, like cabbage for instance, and you add in some chopped leeks and then you sauté the whole thing for awhile until the leeks start turning yellow-green, closer to yellow; and the cabbage has wilted and began to look a little sad. This is where you swoop in and add some lemon juice, salt and finally cream and thus transform it from sadness into glory, like Cinderella going to a fancy ball. You let it thicken for a few minutes and then scoop it generously onto a plate. And then, as a pièce de résistance, you grate a tiny bit of Grana Padano over it (I know cheese sounds superfluous, but trust me on this one). Just try to have one serving of this and not eat the whole thing. You can consider it an open challenge.

cream-braised cabbage with leeks

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Monday, May 4, 2009

strawberry shortcake

strawberry shortcake

Strawberry shortcake is a curious thing. When I think of it, I see Fourth of July picnics, clambakes and gingham tablecloths. I envision pitchers of lemonade, potato salad and cole slaw; corn on the cob, hot dogs and kosher pickle spears. Strawberry shortcake is a bona fide summer meal – the kind that comes with 90 degree weather and fireworks. Of all dessert out there, it’s the one that says to me, summer is here, get your picnic blanket out and put on some Joe Cocker. I’m not sure why, but Joe Cocker makes me think of summer and lazy afternoons and tall, tumblers of lemon ice tea covered with tiny beads of moisture.

But strawberry shortcake to me doesn’t just say summer – it says a summer gathering, a party, a congregation of friends and family.

strawberry shortcake

So why, if this is such a thing of summer, did I make strawberry shortcake in the middle of April and for an Easter dinner of all occasions? You’re probably also wondering what on earth I was doing making an Easter dinner to begin with, but bear with me for a moment. There’s a perfectly logical and valid explanation for all this and as usual, my life always offers a bit of a comedy of errors element. You see, over a particular IM chat, I offered to make dinner for a friend the weekend after Easter, but what he heard was “the weekend of Easter holiday”. Better yet, I became aware of this broken telephone mishap while talking to his brother who thanked me for providing his sibling with an Easter feast. By the time I put the pieces together in my head, I figured, why not. And an Easter dinner was on.

strawberry shortcakestrawberry shortcake

For those of you who’ve never made your own shortcake, I implore you – please do. Shortcake is incredibly easy to make, I can’t think of a single way where it might go awry for you, so if you’re a beginner this is a particularly great recipe to start on. I promise you this much – once you have a made-from-scratch strawberry shortcake, you will never go back to the semi-homemade version again. It’s just one of those perfect meals, the kind that makes you involuntarily close your eyes in bliss the second the food touches your tongue. Personally, strawberry shortcake makes me weak in the knees, the same way say, Robert Plant’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” makes me weak in the knees – a little smiley, woozy, intoxicated, dizzy.

strawberry shortcake

It’s an added bonus that almost no one I know dislikes strawberry shortcake. Besides with the temperatures fluctuating from mid-forties to mid-nineties, when does winter end and summer begin? I figured at this rate I might as well make the strawberry shortcake and just maybe this would help to usher warmer weather in. It’s been wishful thinking thus far, but I’m hopeful.

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