Archive for the delicious stories Category

tuna salad

Posted in delicious stories, vague recipes with tags on January 1, 2010 by thatwasdelicious

Weekday lunches were pretty predictable when I was growing up. Bologna with cream cheese sandwiches or olive loaf or peanut butter and jelly, a packet of chips, something sweet, a juice, the usual fare. Weekends were also predictable– pancakes on Saturday and tuna salad sandwiches on Sunday.

Tuna salad sandwiches were always made after church. On Sunday morning my mom would wrangle us out of bed. My dad would work on one set of tangles while my mom would French braid another. There were scratchy tights to be squeezed into and the nice dresses to be pulled on. We would take the small country roads to the church, the last stretch went past the airport were parachuters sometimes were landing and down a narrow lane lined with trees. Some mornings we would spot hot air balloons. For a while, Claire like to say that angels rode in the balloons. The church was small and made from gray stones that insured that the sanctuary was always cool, winter or summer.  There were tall, tall windows that let the light in and eliminated most of the need to light the sanctuary and old red  velvet, threadbare cushions on the oak pews. When I was younger my mom would doodle on pieces of paper to keep me from getting too bored and fidgeting and when I was old enough to read, I would read through the sermons, leaping up when it was time to sing the hymns. When church was over,  I would head down to the spring that was behind the church and if it was warm enough I would pull off tights or socks and go wading in the creek that sprouted from the spring.

When the tithes had been counted (my dad was the treasurer and my sister and I were sometimes allowed to help him count the money) and the church had been locked up, we would drive home, free our legs from tights, pull on jeans, and tromp down to the narrow kitchen were my dad would be making tuna salad.

We had a set of nesting bowls. They were a made from a cloudy, celery green glass. There was a narrow ridge around the top and I like to think that I remember the largest one being used to make Claire’s first birthday cake, or that there is a picture of the medium sized one in a black and white photo my mom took of my dad and their first cat, but I am not sure if those are memories I have made up for myself or if they actually happened. One thing that I do know for sure is that the smallest one was the one that made it through all the moves and was the one that my dad would use to make tuna salad.

First, you have to take a red onion. Finely dice. Then some celery, also finely diced. Open a can of tuna, the kind that is packed with water. Mix the tuna with the celery and the onion. Add mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. Mix with a fork. In my memories the scent of the tuna is joined with the sound of the tines of a fork scrapping against the glass bowl. My dad would eat his tuna salad sandwiches on toasted English miffins. I probably ate mine on white bread. Not toasted.

Sometimes I forget that I like tuna salad.  I usually remember when I am in a restaurant and see it on the menu. I never make it for myself. The last tuna salad sandwich I had was after a run in Half Moon Bay. We had gone to see the windy, wild ocean and I had taken a run along the cliffs above the water. The sky was heavy with blue-gray clouds and a strong wind ruffled the feathers of the white herons that stood on the shore. By the time I returned, I was ravenous. My mom, sister, and I  headed into the small town and stopped at the coffee shop. There was a tuna melt on the menu, with cheddar and tomato, so I did that annoying thing where I walked up to the counter and ordered not their tuna melt, I’d like your tuna melt but without the cheddar and tomatoes and with the swiss and cucumbers.

The owners of the coffee shop were obliging and the sandwich was delicious. They had kept their tuna salad simple-onions, celery, not too much mayo. No relish or or mustard or capers that some people like to add. All of that is well and good but when I bite into a tuna salad sandwich, I (most of the time) want it to taste like every other tuna salad sandwich I have eaten.

Familiarity, you can’t beat it.

breakfast across philly: first, south

Posted in delicious stories, vague recipes with tags on December 31, 2009 by thatwasdelicious
Red-eye gravy

Red-eye gravy and the best damn peach sauce in the Union

I know a man who can make a mean breakfast. A mean, salty, eggy, kale filled, grits done just right, piles of fried green tomatoes with pancakes and coffee breakfast. One Messr. M. Wooten.

The first time I met Matt I was newly arrived to Mendoza. I had spent the night before on a bus traveling from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. Lilli had met me at the bus station, sitting in a cafe wrapped in her familiar blue hoodie, cup of coffee and some delicious pastry in front of her, nose deep in a book. We sat for a while in the bus station sipping coffee and trying, with limited success, to piece together the tales from our lives since she had left the Larchwood house the March before. We started threads of conversations, got lost down others, tried to tell one story and then had to back track to tell the story right and then another one… and so on. In the midst of this piled up conversation she stopped suddenly and said, I have to to tell you about Matt.

Would you believe it, I had found Lillian Dunn romanced in beautiful Mendoza by an American, a Georgian to be specific, boy? There had been rumbles about this Matt person through emails the weeks before I had arrived in Argentina but sitting there in person and watching beautiful Lilli with her hair longer and more golden, her body more sure of itself (she had taken to swimming), and her normally exuberant energy anchored in a way that was new to me talk about this Matt, I was transfixed. In front of me was a love story in all of its glory–heightened perhaps by the place that the two of them had found themselves but in no way a fantasy. Who, I wondered, could this person be?

Lilli and I walked back through the quiet plaza streets. At the early hour of 8 o’clock most of the citizens had just retired from their night of carousing. As we passed by a pastry shop a group of teenagers shuffled by, the girls carrying their shoes in their hands and leaning on the arms of the boys in the group. I carried my backpack and she carried the canvas bag I had brought with me from Nepal. The plazas were cool in the morning sun, the trees a bright green, the mountains could be seen in the distance, early summer had indeed arrived to this part of the world.

We walked up the stairs of then Matt’s, soon to be Lilli’s, treehouse apartment. The Treehouse is a rooftop apartment. It has a glassed in porch room that looks out over a patio and is just big enough for a small wooden table, a futon, and a gas stove. The kitchen is long and narrow and the bedroom is capped with a skylight. The patio looks out over the tree tops and has enough room for a grill, a wash line, and a hammock. It is a beautiful, beautiful place. Somewhere between a boat and a treehouse really….

I can’t remember if the first time I met Matt was in this Treehouse or if it was later but what I do remember thinking to myself is, This boy is different and I like him. There was also a sense of the familiar, but that could have been because upon first meeting he gave me a big hug, sat down on the couch with me and got into an involved and very intelligent conversation, and then took me to the market where we planned and bought the ingredients for the asado that Lilli and Matt were hosting at their place later that night. How could that not feel somehow familiar?

And then there was Lilli: she sat back, sat at the table watching the two of us, I am not sure what she was thinking but for the first time I had the sense that she was not worried about this person, this relationship, this time. She was genuinely, sincerely, unconcernedly, presently enjoying that moment.

So that was Argentina. The next time I saw Matt is was again a summer’s day but this time it was a summer’s day in Philadelphia. Matt had decided that he would take a year, move to Philadelphia with Lilli, work on building and rebuilding houses, and see what happened.

Lilli found an apartment in South Philly. It is on a block near a street where there are lights strung up for all parts of the year. Most of the yards boast basil plants and wild patches of overgrown tomatoes. The window in their living room looks out over the city and the street is quiet at night. They have one of the best pizza places in South Philly a block from their door and their downstairs neighbor has a cat and is writing a novel. Lilli decided that this apartment was the one for them when the landlord told her that they could do what fixing up they wanted and she found a domino (the number 4, the number of stability and growing relationships) on the floor. Since they have moved in Matt has painted the bedroom yellow, they have outfitted the house with a rocking chair and comfortable futon and nearly the entire contents of an old Italian lady’s home (she was moving in with her daughter-in-law…). They ripped up the tile and uncovered a hardwood floor. Matt has made counter space and rack to hang the pots and pans on and in the first part of the summer had covered the dinning room table with the seedlings that would get transplanted into his garden. They have rescued pieces of other homes that Matt has worked on and incorporated them into tables, coat racks, bookshelves. Lilli has filled the house with beautiful, sometimes strange objects, and piles and piles of books.

And it is here that sometimes I feel more at home than in my own small apartment on the other side of the city. Especially on Sunday mornings.

professional weekenders

And this is the long way of getting to the breakfasts that Matt knows how to make. I can’t exactly remember what prompted the first breakfast or what it included since there have been many breakfasts since and they tend to blur together. But here are some particularly delicious moments that do stand out, a la Matt:

-Arriving at Matt and Lilli’s door. Lilli answered in blue sweatpants and a sweatshirt and when Joe and I had climbed the three flights of stairs to their apartment, there was Matt, in the doorway, with a cup of coffee in his outstretched hand for us.

-Matt brought back salted ham from home and made red eye gravy (coffee, fat rendered from the ham, combine). That when over grits.

-In the later summer when there was an abundance of green tomatoes, Matt made fried green tomatoes. He used a combination of white flour and cornmeal, salt and pepper, dredged the tomatoes in egg and dipped in the flour and then fried. The tomatoes were crunchy and even a little sweet in their salty fried crusts. Again, more eggs, probably some greens, some grits, some salted ham….

-The last harvest of kale came in a week or two into December and Matt made a frittata with the kale (which was sweet and slightly chewy without being tough and such a bright, deep, green) and onions and that was accompanied by grits and bacon and pancakes.

These are the breakfasts that you eat and that leave you satisfied for the rest of the day. These are the breakfasts that get people up and out of bed and across town (or at least off the futon) and on more than one occasion in the making, the eating, or the cleaning up of these breakfasts I have wanted to propose marriage to this whole mess of people or at least propose commune.

ad hoc

Posted in delicious places, delicious stories on December 29, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

I like restaurants. Surprise, surprise. But really though, there is something wonderful about sitting down to a table and having someone bring you a plate of warm, well-made food. And it is even more fun if the food they are bringing you has a story, has ingredients, has a method of preparation that you would not be able to tell, acquire, or do half as well.

Ad Hoc is a small restaurant just outside of Napa. It was started as an interim restaurant: they were working on finishing the interior but the kitchen was in place so the staff decided, why not serve family style dinners at a big tables until the place is finished. So they did. Each day the chefs would sit down, take stock of what was readily available, print up a menu, and wait for the guests to arrive. Dinners came on big plates and people helped themselves. When it came time for the orginally planned restaurant to open, there was such an outcry from the faithful regulars that the restaurant retained its family style dinner service.

My mom had read about this restaurant and had decided that for Solstice, her present to my sister and I would be a dinner out at Ad Hoc. That to me is the perfect present.  We decided that we would make a day of it. Claire found a petrified forest with some hiking trails nearby and and a market that she wanted to snouse around in. After sleeping in and eating a slow, 4 cup of tea breakfast, we packed into the car and headed north. The drive up through the delta is flat and wide. There are mountains peaking out of the distance and the hills in the first part of the journey are bare and look like folded pieces of sandy velvet. The trees are small and scrubby but as you go further north they get taller and covered with a glowing, light green lichen. The day was cloudy but occasionally the sun would slip through a break in the heavy clouds. When we got to the petrified forest there was mist rolling in between the hills and the whole woods was quiet and eerie. But beautiful.

After tromping through the woods and studying the petrified redwoods that made that particular part of the forest famous, we headed down off the mountain and into Napa Valley. As the sun set, the lights that decorated the vineyards popped on. The clouds cleared and there was just the thinnest sliver of moon and bright stars above as we drove to the restaurant.

Now, I am not a woman who revels in choice. Give me a pair of jeans, a tee-shirt, and a fixed menu and I am a happy woman. Having left the strictures of vegetarian eating behind, I have opened my world to a myriad of choices that weren’t there before, but in this case it opened up the door just wide enough for me to be able to eat what the chef had decided to prepare for the evening but did not leave me with a menu full of delicious, tempting impossiblities.

The menu for the evening of the winter solstice was:

Baby romain hearts served with pickled pole beans, radishes, carrots, carmelized onions, bacon and a green goddess dressing

St. Louis-style BBQ ribs, beef brisket and buttermilk shrimp with rice and black eyed peas and collards

Camembert with fig and almond chutney on paladin toast

Asian pear and blueberry cobbler with a drop biscuit crust and spiced chantilly cream

And it goes without saying that it was delicious.

It didn’t hurt that we entered the restaurant at the almost brain-numbed point of hunger (we had forgotten to pack snacks for the trip). And it didn’t hurt that the ingredients were good and fresh and were left to speak for themselves. We started munching on warm bread baked down the road by a local French-style bakery. The butter was soft and salty and the bread was chewy and dark. The salad with its bright crispness revived us from our states of Hanger–crunchy romain, radishes and carrots with cool, creamy, herby dressing, the soft sweet onions married to the tart, vinegary pole beans and salty crunchy bacon.

Then, with Hanger appeased and hunger tempted, the plates of meat came out. The ribs and brisket were smoky and the BBQ sauce was spicy, and sweet. The shrimp were grilled and retained just the faintest sourness from the buttermilk. The rice and beans were a necessary side to tame the spiciness of the BBQ sauce and the collards were done as collards should be–vinegary, slow-cooked, soft and chewy.

By this point we were full and nearing satiation. Conversation picked  up as we settled back in our chairs to finish off glasses of wine and beer and wait for the remaining two courses. The cheese course was excellent–the camembert was fresh and creamy and as it warmed to room temperature developed the faintest taste of hazelnuts. Paired with the sweetness of the figs and almonds, the camembert lost some of its piquancy–but not in a bad way.

Finally, dessert. Claire and I ordered coffee in the hopes that a strong cup would help digest the dinner, make room for dessert, and keep us awake for the long ride home. It was served in a French press and once the dessert had been laid on the table, the waiters left us in peace, allowing us to sip our cups of coffee and slowly do justice to the cobbler in front of us. The cobbler was good in the way that all cobblers are. Any subtly would have been lost on me at that point, any more richness would have sent me immediately into a food coma.

Finished, we piled into the car and began the long trek back to our small house in the Valley of Heart’s Delight.

Happy Winter!

caramels

Posted in delicious stories with tags on December 29, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

“There is a direct link between heaven and earth and that is caramel…” (Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore).

There are some Christmas/winter traditions in our household that are non-negotiable. The making of caramels is one of them.

I think that the family legend is that one of my great-aunts had a recipe for caramels. Who knows where it came from–maybe a neighbor, maybe the back of a Karo syrup container, maybe a recipe book. But wherever it came from, it is the recipe that has been passed down through the family for years. The caramels that are made from this recipe are reputed to be the best caramels around. They are the only caramels that my grandfather will eat and when my mom brings him his yearly batch, he will, without a word to anyone, secret them away in his room. These are caramels to be treasured and are only made at Christmas time.

Up until a year ago, it had fallen to my mother to make the caramels. Making caramels is a commitment. The ingredients are rather basic: butter, sugar, Karo syrup, and evaporated milk.The technique is not complicated: put all ingredients in a pot,

bring to a boil,

and stir.

But it is the time that is the issue. In order to make these caramels they have to be brought to a boil very slowly and then the caramels have to be stirred, continuously, until they reach about 240 degrees and that usually takes about three hours.

Last year my mom informed Claire and I that it was our turn to learn the art of caramel making, that it was our turn to woman the stove. And so we did. Our first batch of caramels turned out okay, they were a little too soft. This year we did much better. The caramels are the right burnt golden color and the texture is chewy without being so sticky that the caramels glue your teeth together.

The three hours pass by rather quickly if you have some episodes of This American Life to catch up on. Plus, there is the slightly hypnotizing swirl of caramel around the wooden spoon  in the heavy bottomed Dutch oven that we always use for caramels that lulls you into a sort of meditation.

When the caramels have reached their appropriate temperature, they get poured out into a buttered pan and left out in the cold until they are hard. Then you have to cut them up and wrap them in tiny wax paper squares. Deliver to as many people as you can.

Claire and I are considering messing with tradition, just a little bit, and seeing if we can’t infuse some interesting flavors into the traditional caramel, maybe start a seasonal cottage industry in West Philly come next year. We’ll see. It might just be that next year we will be making caramels only in my mom’s kitchen, only in the traditional way, and only for friends and family.

snow day

Posted in delicious places, delicious stories, vague recipes with tags on December 28, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

What to do if it snows in Philadelphia:

snowed in

Wake up late. Pull the blinds up just enough to see the snow falling on the roof tops. Go into the kitchen and make sausage gravy with the broth from the sausage soup made the night before and pancakes. Load up one plate with pancakes and maple syrup, fill a goblet with gravy, pour dark coffee into one mug. Crawl back in bed and have breakfast in bed. Decide a few hours later that in order to avoid the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s authority to fine you it would be a good idea to move the car, go to South Philly, maybe find some Christmas presents.

Walk through the snow storm, wind blowing the sharp powdery crystals into your face, under your scarf. Stop at a coffee shop and sip another cup of coffee and a beautiful cup of hot chocolate until the AIDS Thrift Store opens for business. Walk a couple of blocks to the antique market and look at funny glasses frames. Continue on to the thrift store and shift through piles of used books. Decide that the weather is only worsening and it is probably time to head home.

Shed layers of scarves, mittens, flannel, wet jeans. Put wet socks on the heater to dry and jump back into bed, where, let’s face it, you should have been this entire time. Play some music, noodle around, fall asleep, deeply asleep until it is dark outside. Then, warm up some more soup and begin to replace all of the layers that were previously shed. With soup in belly and a flask of hot chocolate and whiskey, head back out into the storm.

Shuffle through the quiet, dark streets, stopping to help someone push their car out of a snow drift. Cut through the park where the Christmas lights twinkle in the bare branches and where the snow glitters under the streetlights. Head to the bar where Buddha Fest 36 is continuing on depsite the snow piling up and drifting outside. Listen to music, sing along, drink some funny cocktails and a few city-wide specials and then head back out, looking for dinner.

Pause to eat some snow, despite protestations of the more sensible.  Schlep down to Pine St and into Leila’s Cafe where an electric fire burns in a brazier. Order sandwiches and sit at the table nearest to the window looking out over the street. Follow the sandwiches with baklava, a pomegranate hookah, and cups of sugary cardamom flavored Turkish coffee.

honey

Walk home through the snowy streets, on the street, with a guitar case bumping against your leg, another mittened hand in yours, and the cold kept at bay with food, drink, and the knowledge that home is not really all that far away.

friday dinners

Posted in delicious stories, vague recipes with tags , , , , on December 28, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

I wouldn’t say that it has happened enough to make it a habit, but if I have my way this winter it just might: Friday night dinners at my place. With the end of the semester, the work load eased enough for me to find myself with time on my hands. The weather also got accomodatingly chilly, sending me searching for recipes for stews and soups and while it is nice to make a big pot of soup on Sunday and enjoy it for the rest of the week, it is even nicer to make a big pot of soup on Friday and share it with whomever can stop by.

The first Friday dinner was after Thanksgiving. We were all still a little full– some people had decided that a week of raw vegetables was the antidote to a weekend of feasting, some planned dinner parties of salads, and I decided that I would finally find a recipe for fish stew. I knew what it was that I wanted, lots of different meats of the sea,  in a tomatoe-y broth, probably some onion, a splash of wine, garlic of course, pepper, and what else….? Maybe fennel? After browsing through some recipes and finding none that had exactly all of the elements I was looking for, I decided that I would wing it with a modicum of good sense and see what I came up with. On the particular Friday I had only two obligations: visit a new mom and baby and make fish stew. Obligations, now that is the wrong word. Since I was taking the train out to visit mom and baby I decided that I would stop at the fish stand in Reading Terminal Market to make the fishy purchases and since there were some veggie vendors still open at that time of night, I was set.

Here is what I bought for a fish stew dinner for four:

1 lb of cod

1/2 lb of shrimp

1 dozen tiny mussels

1/2 dozen clams

1 bulb of fennel

1 bunch of parsley

onions and garlic and carrots were at the house

Lilli brought a loaf of delicious bread that was soft but with an excellent crust. A loaf of bread meant for tearing and dipping.

Matt brought salty, divine salami coated in herbs de provence

Joe rustled up the canned tomatoes that I needed and a jug of wine.

I made my purchases at the market and then walked home through the windy streets. There was snow promised in the forecast and they were setting up the Christmas lights in city hall.  I cut down along Arch Street enjoying the wind and the bump of my bags against my leg. There was no reason to hurry and even the cold didn’t bother me all that much.

I had not invited that many people over since Lilli was planning on hosting a feast out at her place on Saturday. The plan was supposed to be me, Joe, Lilli, Matt, and Alex but Alex got pulled away by other adventures…..

So, fish stew for four.

I finely minced the fennel, the onion, the garlic, and the carrot. That went into the pot with some olive oil to sautee. Then, I decided that I would quickly sautee the cod in a separate pan just to get a nice brown crust on the edges. Once the cod was browned, the shrimp deveined and washed, and the shellfish soaked and lightly scrubbed, everything went into the pot along with the two large cans of crushed tomatoes, some generous glugs of wine, and plenty of crushed pepper. The soup sat on the stove and glurped and bubbled while we all compared work weeks, tore off hunks of bread and ate them with the salami. The wine jug was passed around and the soup was ready within the hour. I didn’t add salt until the very end. I wasn’t sure how much of a salt the shellfish would add when they opened and I wasn’t sure how far the soup would cook down so I waited until I was about to serve the stew to salt it to my taste, which is a little saltier than most.  Poured out into bowls and topped with some chopped parsely we had ourselves some fish stew. My favorite part, other than the taste,  was seeing the shells of the clams and mussels peeking out of the red-winey broth. Like the bolognese sauce, I think that the reason I was so pleased with this stew was that it tasted exactly like I was hoping that it would.

It is always a disappointment when you spend all day cooking something and it smells right, and it looks right but when you take the first bite, there is something a little off. This fish stew was winey and earthy from the fennel and had that fresh from the sea taste of the shellfish. The cod practically disintegrated in the cooking process but the shrimp and mussels were juicy and sweet.

The soup was slurped up and remnants mopped up with pieces of bread. I think that we all had seconds and drank enough wine to get unreasonably sleepy by about nine o’clock. But since Matt and I both had to be up at dawn the next day, none of us felt too terrible for tucking in and calling it a night.

The second Friday night dinner was two weeks later. Again a snow storm had been forecasted and the temperature had dropped even further. The week before had been spent in a haze of exams and last minute preparations for the upcoming winter break. I had another soup in mind, one that I wanted to make in the slow cooker since I was going to be studying for most of the day and my exam was scheduled around the prime hour of dinner preparations. Since Emily Tredeau was in town and had a little bit of a morning to hang out, I thought that again I would make the dinner purchases at Reading Terminal Market. The plan was a sausage and arugula soup with mushrooms on toast (a recipe stolen from Smitten Kitchen).

Emily and I set off in the morning, bundled up as much as we could. The wind was cold and sharp but it was a clear day.

What was purchased:

1 lb of chicken sausage with fennel, garlic, and white wine

16 oz chicken broth

10 cremini mushrooms

1 lavender cupcake (for dessert) and 1 peanut butter and chocolate cupcake (eaten to fortify us for the walk back)

again, the onions and garlic were at home. And I had some left over fennel fronds and parsely that needed to get used up.

Purchases made and Amish cinnamon buns oogled, Emily and I headed through city hall. As a visitor to the city, Emily had wanted to take a tour of city hall. I knew that there was a long list of drugs and diseases that I needed to get home to memorize, but the temptation to spend the wonderful day out and exploring my own city won out. We ducked into the gift store and asked how long a tour was. There was a 15 minute, $4.00 tour of “The Tower.”  Surely I could spare 15 minutes of my day….

Not really knowing what we were getting ourselves in for, Emily and I made our way up to the Tower. Turns out that the Tower in question was the spire that reaches out of the center of city hall, houses the clocks, and upon William Penn in his two (three, four? I am not sure,  I didn’t pay as much attention on the tour as I should have) ton glory stands. Led by a gruff security guard to a small elevator we ascended up past the clocks to the look-out deck and down below us and for forty miles around us we could see the city of Philadelphia. It was glorious.

Adventures for the morning completed, I headed back to my apartment to begin cooking and studying.

The onions and garlic were sauteed with a little olive oil and then I browned the meat in the same pan. I deglazed the pan with a little whiskey and then the onions and sausage, the whiskey, the fennel fronds, and the chicken broth with some pepper went into the slow cooker. Again, I didn’t salt the soup since I didn’t know how much it would reduce and because the sausage was rather salty. The whole mess then got left alone until about 8 hours.

The mushrooms on toast were made with an adapted recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I finely minced the mushrooms, some garlic, and some parsley. That went into a skillet with some butter and olive oil. I cooked the mushrooms down and then added a splash of red wine. The wine was cooked off and then I added a small dollope of sour cream. When it came time for dinner I toasted some bread, added the mushrooms and then topped with some more sour cream. These tasty mushroom toasts with the soup that had become a rich meaty broth were perfect for the bitterly cold evening. I also made some mulled wine with Limoncello, cinammon, and sliced clementines. The soup was laddled over fresh arugula and topped with some pecorino cheese. The arugula added a peppery green bite to the heaviness of the soup and the cheese melted on top just like a good french onion soup. For dessert there was dark chocolate and the lavender cupcake that I purchased with Emily earlier in the day at a small bakery stand called the Flying Monkey. As we were ladling out the soup, Matt arrived with a bulb of fennel, two giant oranges, and again the delicious salami.  I sliced up the fennel and sprinkled some salt and vinegar over it and it was a fresh, sweet, crunchy addition to the other heavier items of the meal.

After dinner, we all bundled up and headed off to Toby’s Weekly Review.

For both of these dinners, the left overs were superb.

Here’s to hoping there are more Friday dinners….

Un beso,
Wave

dinner at t’s

Posted in delicious stories, vague recipes with tags , , , on November 30, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

We all know that moment: the party is done, the guests are gone away, the leftovers are stored, and the kitchen has been tidied. It’s the sad moment at the end of every great feasting celebration when you realize that once again self-sufficent dinners of scrambled eggs and toast await you, and the pile of mundane tasks that were pushed to the side admidst the warmth of expectation, planning, and preparation for whatever party/dinner/feast you just held are still just as mundane.

Staving off that moment was the reason that Tanya decided that she was going to throw a dinner party on Sunday night. Those of us who had scattered for the holiday were going to be returning to quiet apartments and empty refrigerators and those of us who were in town were sure to be facing down the Sunday evening blues.

Tanya had spent the greater portion of the morning baking oatmeal chocolate chip cake, assembling two pans of macaroni and cheese with butternut squash, and straightening up the apartment. When I arrived in the evening, all that was left to do was to put a lentil soup on the stove, pop open a bottle of wine, and unwrap the cheeses that Tanya had purchased from DiBruno Brothers.

With Tanya in sweat pants, some music playing on the stereo, and a set of recipes in front of us, we put the final touches on the menu

The Menu

Mulled Wine

Ewephoria and Abbaye de Belloc with Baguette

Lentil Soup

Butternut Squash  Macaroni and Cheese

Asparagus with lemon and butter

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake

The mulled wine was made from a table red that Tanya had bought from the Adair Winery (along with her bottles of blackberry kir) and a sachet of mulling spices that had also come from the winery. We added, according to the sachet’s directions, about two cups of water to the wine and some brown sugar. Then I studded some oranges with cloves, sliced the oranges and added that to the mixture. The mulled wine went on the back burner on low heat for about an hour.

*A side note and tangent: The smell of oranges with cloves is one of the hallmarks of the change in season. It speaks to the warmth and tantalizing possibilities that reign when we are trapped indoors for the long, cold winters. Here are golden globes that cannot help but feel exotic with their oily skins that leave the scent of orange with you for hours and the sharp spiny cloves that remind me of pine trees under snowfall or mincemeat pies. It’s all part of a season and a change and I would not want to smell this smell any other time of year. In Tanya’s kitchen it was a reminder of the time to come when we pull ourselves in, burrow down, and hide within the warm glow of kitchens and beside fireplaces (if we are lucky) until spring comes again.

The two cheeses that Tanya had selected were both sheep’s milk cheese. The Abbaye is made in France and is smooth and creamy. If left out to warm to room temperature, the flavors are subtle but markable and you can taste the sweetness, almost faintly grassy, of the sheep’s milk. It is a mild cheese but not an uninteresting or bland cheese. I think that it stands perfectly well by itself on a good slice of bread but it could also be paired with a light honey or a pear jelly to pull out the sweetness of the milk used. The second cheese, the Ewephoria, is a sheep’s milk cheese from Holland. This cheese was selected by the cheesemonger at DiBruno Brothers when Tanya mentioned that she wanted to pair it with mulled wine. This cheese is aged a little longer than the Abbaye and the creaminess has given way to a denseness that is almost like a parmesan (but is lacking in those crystallized bursts of saltiness). The cheese also had the underlying sweetness that comes from using sheep’s milk and was complimented with a faint taste of port and walnuts (?).

The lentil soup is one of Tanya’s standbys. Faultless for its simplicity, it is a good reminder that good food does not have to come from complicated recipes. Roughly chopped carrot, celery, onion, and garlic are tossed in a pan with some olive oil to sautee. Then about a cup and a half of lentils are added with a can of chopped tomatoes, some dried basil, some dried oregano, salt, pepper, cumin, some more oregano, and a bay leaf or two. Add enough water to cover the lentils and vegetables and then put the heat on medium and let the soup bubble away until the lentils are soft. Salt and a dash of white wine vinegar added at the end to taste. Can be served with parmesan.

The macaroni and cheese with butternut squash was a new dish for Tanya and for me. I had a version that was conconcoted by Alex Jones and it was delicious so I was really exicted to taste what Tanya had created. For this version of macaroni and cheese, butternut squash is roasted and then mashed up with some ricotta, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Shredded cheddar is also added to the mix and the cheeses are then mixed in with the cooked classic, elbow pasta. The dishes are then topped with bread crumbs and parmesan and put in the oven to melt all of the cheeses together.

Tanya served this dish in the large white mugs she uses for soups and ice cream and sometimes tea. The crunchy bread-crumbed top could be broken through down to the soft butternut sweet, cheesy noodles. The nutmeg was faint but delicious and I couldn’t help it and added some cock sauce to mine for just a touch more heat to the heavy cheesiness. Despite our best mug-filled attemps, we only made it through one of the casseroles. Luckily, macaroni and cheese is one of those dishes that is only going to get better three days from now, so the fact that Tanya still has a casserole dish and  a half left-over bodes well for dinners in the coming week.

The asaparagus with lemon were suggested by a friend of Tanya’s who when reviewing the menu (per Tanya’s request) was worried about the heaviness of the meal and the flavors. He suggested something light and citrusy. The asparagus (although out of season) steamed and splashed some lemon juice and a little better, fit the bill perfectly.

And then the grand moment: dessert….

To fit in with the hominess of the rest of the meal, Tanya selected a dessert that was just as unfussy as the macaroni and cheese. She used a recipe that I had passed on to her from my mom’s collection of recipes.

Ingredients:

1 cup of uncooked oats

13/4 cup boiling water

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter (softened)

3 eggs beaten

1 3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoon cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 oz chocolate chips

3/4 cup walnuts (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine boiling water and oats in a small bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Add sugars and butter to oatmeal. Mix in the eggs, flour, baking soda, cocoa, and salt. Stir in 6 oz chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the baking pan and put walnuts and remaining chocolate chips on top. Bake for 40 minutes.

The oatmeal chocolate chip cake is one of those cake’s where everything comes together just right: dense, chewy, sweet, chocolatey, but somehow not overwhelming.

For me it was the perfect taste to end the meal on because it reminded me of home and my mom (again, those tastes of the familiar….)

It turned out that the dinner party was a three lady affair–Tanya, Begum, and me. And it was wonderful. Tanya had dimmed the lights and lit some candles, the house was warm and smelled of all the good food she had spent the day preparing. We ladled out warm mugs of mulled wine and sat on the rug comparing stories of the holiday. Dinner happened slowly over the course of the evening, each course enjoyed in its turn.

And for some reason, even though the party ended, the left overs were packed away, the candles were blown out, and we three each returned to our small homes in the city, that sad feeling of a celebration ended never happened.

Onward we go, to the next dinner, the next delicious.

Take care, eat good things,
Waverly