June 2011

I Am Happy With This One

June 30, 2011

I have been receiving emails letting me know that some of you are having trouble leaving comments here. I am not sure what the problem is, but I have put in a request to Intense Debate. While I love ID, it seems to be one of those hit or miss programs. Some days it works great, some days there is a big glitch. If you are having trouble leaving a comment, I would love an email letting me know what is happening when you try.


Let’s just spend the whole week talking about food, shall we? Apparently I am rather hungry lately, and besides general parenting, little else seems to be taking precedent in my life at the moment.
No, that is actually a complete lie. Soccer games, track meets, and a crazy project I have taken on are taking precedent, but cooking is my retreat, my sanctuary from all the chaos.

In 2009, Molly Wizenberg, the creator of Orangette, released her first book: A Homemade Life. When the book arrived on shelves, I had actually just been introduced to her blog and knew very little about her. I did, however, buy the book and proceeded to read about the first 50 pages before becoming distracted with some kind of parental emergency, and put it down, not to pick it up again for almost two years.

As I mentioned, I have been hungry lately, and cooking hasn’t seemed enough. I have had to read, write, and pretty much just think as much as possible about food to quell the hunger pangs, and that is how Molly’s book found it’s way back to me.

I love stories about food. Recipes are about as boring as calculus to me, but stories about recipes are fascinating. While my mom might have kept my dad and I from cooking with her, she did instill in both of us a love of cooking, and more importantly, food. Sometimes I think that living in Northern California does that all by itself, but my mom was a big help.

I have taken each nursing session, each nap snuggle with Landon this past week to devour Molly’s book (sorry, couldn’t help the pun), and it deserves every ounce of praise it has received. I came to realize a few days back that although I have been reading Molly’s blog for some time, I have only made two of her recipes: Banana bread with chocolate chips and crystallized ginger, and her apricot torte. Both were amazing, but both were made at least two years ago. I thought it was time to take the book into the kitchen with me.

I decided on Molly’s recipe for Bouchons Au Thon,a simple recipe made with canned tuna that sounded like the perfect fit for a blazing hot night that was calling for a small amount of time in front of an equally hot stove.

Now what to serve on the side.

I have a nasty habit of deciding on only part of my meal in advance, and leaving most of the side dishes up to the fate of what is in the refrigerator, pantry or garden. Some times this works like a charm, sometimes we eat canned beans. It is really a toss up. On this night, I had a bag of red potatoes sitting in the pantry, and it seemed like a good side for the small proportions of the Bouchons. I wasn’t in the mood for mashed or steamed potatoes, it was just too darn hot out, and I had recently had pan fried potatoes that left me wanting more, so that is where we started from.

The Bounchons have a wonderful base of creme fraiche and Gruyere cheese that packs some good flavor, and I had a lot left over that I did not want to see go to waste. While my original thought for the potatoes had been just a simple fry up in butter and kosher salt, the end result was SO much better.

Pan fried red potatoes with creme fraiche, and gruyere cheese

This recipe is not for the faint of heart, and it is perfect with a simple side salad from the garden to lighten it up. Frying the potatoes until really crisp on the bottom gives the dish a great texture, and adds a nice bit of flavor as well.

1 lb. red baby potatoes
1/3 cup creme fraiche
1/2 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic chives
1/2 tbsp chopped parsley

1 large pat of butter for frying

Cook potatoes, just covering, in boiling water for 15-20 minutes, until fork tender but not all the way cooked through. 
Drain and cut in half. Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet and place potatoes, cut side down. Pan fry until brown and crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. 

In a bowl, combine all the rest of your ingredients, add warm potatoes and toss. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately, at room temperature, or chilled. 

***** My kiddos can’t eat dairy, and most likely would not be fans of gruyere even if they could, so we fried their potatoes up in a little olive oil with salt and pepper. 


In My Kitchen

June 28, 2011

Do you remember when the kitchen became yours? The moment when you realized that you knew your way around, and that it was a space of comfort and creativity?

It was November of 1997, and I was home from college in my junior year of school. I had recently discovered this fascinating woman named Martha, and I had brought her with me to meet my parents. Martha was one of those women who made everything domestic look easy and fun, and one afternoon in my dorm room I found her making red snapper in parchment paper on my TV screen. We were instant friends.

My mother, God bless her, was not a woman who shared her kitchen easily. I wish that I could tell you long, beautiful stories about our time together in the kitchen, but for the most part it just consisted of her telling me to get out of it. My mom is meticulous, and I dear friends, am not. She is organized, and clean, and can follow a recipe like nobody’s business.  I, on the other hand, am messy, am always in need of cleaning food off of my floor, and pretty much think that recipes are simply a good starting place to tweak to my liking.

So you can understand that it was a mighty big deal for my mom to cede control of her pristine work space simply to indulge my need to replicate Martha’s red snapper recipe. But cede it she did.

I actually remember that entire meal, start to finish. I remember the crinkle sound of the parchment paper as it came out of the oven. I remember being fascinated by the idea of roasting red potatoes in aluminum foil with butter and herbs. I remember eating at 10:17 at night, after cooking for 4 + hours, because I was so unaware of what the heck I was actually doing that I had to make everything at least twice before I  got it right. I remember my parents incredible patience and delight at their daughters first real attempt at a full course meal, and them eating every bite, and I remember being too tired to actually eat myself.

Mostly, though, I remember being in love with that kitchen. I had gone from being a mere spectator of my mother’s incredible culinary skills, to a skilled player in my own right. Over the next few years, as I finished school, traveled and began a life on my own, I still returned to that kitchen whenever possible.

Now I have a kitchen of my own, a space that I began and I know every inch of, and a place where those same joys of cooking have been expanded on with my own family.

I recall that night of making red snapper every time that I want to tell my boys to scoot out of my kitchen, every time that the mess that they have made is going to take me most of the afternoon to clean up, and every time that they are at my feet asking me if they can help chop, peel, and stir.

I remind myself that they too will have their moment when the kitchen becomes their own.

I sometimes catch my oldest running his fingers over the titles of my cookbooks, or finding recipes that he wants me to make, and I realize that he was raised in this room. He learned to read recipe cards before books, and math work consisted of measuring oils, fats and sauces rather than time tables and book work. I hope that one day that feels like something of value to all of my children, because it is one of the best parts of their childhood for me. I hope that one day a recipe is attached to most of the stories that they tell, or at least a good recall of a favorite dish.

Mostly I hope that I am here to witness when their moment comes, and to taste the creations that they come up with.

Red Snapper Baked in Parchment
adapted from Martha Stewart

4 red snapper filets
2 small potatoes, each peeled and cut into eighths
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
8 baby pearl onions, peeled
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
4 sprigs thym
4 sprigs rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut four circles of parchment paper 14-16″ in diameter. Butter one side of each circle.

Combine the softened butter with the leaves of your herbs and pulse in a food processor (You can also do this my chopping the leaves, and mixing them into the butter with a wooden spoon). Fold the minced garlic into the herb butter, and set aside.

Put each fish fillet on one half of the buttered side of each circle. Distribute the vegetables over the fish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and a dab of your herbal garlic butter. Fold over the parchment and crimp the edges to seal.

Bake until the parchment has puffed, about 12 minutes. The fish should be done and the veggies crisp. Serve immediately.