Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In the Heart of Winter

It's snowing again, adding another 6 inches or so to the mounds already on the ground. In preparation, last night I prepared a feast from leftovers fit for those wanting to hibernate until it's all over.

On Sunday, I was enticed by carefully placed display at the local Shaw's, which advertised free bags of onions, potatoes and carrots if one purchased a three pound roast. Of course, when you arrived at the meat aisle the only 3+ pound roasts were on the pricey side - but I found the least expensive one I could which was a brisket, and vowed I would get 3 meals out of it. That night I prepared a pot roast with the usual suspects, adding a little chipotle pepper for flavor and interest. By the time we stuffed ourselves the brisket was fork tender and delicious (as were the carrots, potatoes and onions!)

Round 2: I'd carefully saved the broth from the pot roast / brisket, and after preparing a couple of containers of leftovers there was still a slab of brisket left. With toothsome memories of the famous Hadden risotto, I decided there was no reason I couldn't experiment. Replacing the stock with the leftover brisket broth, replacing the dry white wine with some dry red, adding some wild rice to the risotto, and slicing up a package of mushrooms and the leftover brisket, I happily stirred away. The results were hearty and delicious!

It reminds me that much of creative cookery is improv, and the stove a stage. . . . Occasionally one must endure boos and rotten tomatoes. Consider the following recipe for Blushing Bunny which my mother carefully prepared in my salad days - it went down in infamy. We all loved Welsh Rarebit, but this one my sister correctly termed "Blushing Barf" due to an unfortunate curdling incident! We never let Mom forget it.

Blushing Bunny

Put into a chafing dish 2 Tbsp. butter; when melted add 2 Tbsp. flour. Pour in gradually 1 cup of thin cream or milk. When thickened add 1/2 cup of tomatoes and 1 cup of cooked macaroni. Then add 1/2 pound cheese, grated and 2 eggs slightly beaten. Season with salt and a little cayenne pepper and mustard.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Snowflake Path

This past weekend, Jim, Bonnie & I stopped by the Mount Auburn Cemetery to see the sights on our way back from Freddy Farkel's Fabric (Jim is restoring a Morris Chair and we had ordered custom cushions.)
The grounds were buried (sorry!) under a thick blanket of snow.
The scene was far from the Primrose Path - but the Snowflake Path was aptly named!

The Year of the Ox

Last night we attended a "family-style" dinner at a local eatery, the Garden at the Cellar (, to celebrate Chinese New Year. The chef at the restaurant serves a "staff dinner" at a very reasonable price once a month - the menu is fixed. This month, the food, in honor of the Year of the Ox, was very delicious Asian fare, including some great ribs and a spicy hot and sour ramen soup (this was helpful for Jim who is suffering the world's worst cold.)
Jaime sported a find from a new consignment shop we visited Sunday - Raspberry Beret (Cici can be seen sporting a raspberry beret from the same shop!) A great time was had by all our extended Cambridge family!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Super Hunger Brunch 2009

The Greater Boston Food Bank sponsors a Super Hunger Brunch weekend every year. Essentially both the restaurants and diners contribute time, food and money to a good cause. We've frequently attended these brunches, at such varied spots as John Harvard's Brew Pubs to the Navy Mess at the Constitution. This year, Cici, Jaime and I traveled a few blocks to Shephard Street in Cambridge to Chez Henri. This restaurant has significance to me because in a former life it was known as Chez Jean and was a favorite of my parents, who lived up the street when I was an infant. Chez Jean was a traditional French restaurant (and very good); Chez Henri is French-Cuban fusion and also very good. I've wanted to try it for a long time, and I'm happy we did, even happier that it was for a good cause!

Cici had a roasted veggie and goat cheese omelet, Jaime steak and eggs with a fancy bearnaise sauce, and I had the famous Cuban sandwich, all of which were very good. We split a chocolate brioche bread pudding for dessert, which was SO good.

A parting shot of (what else?) lampposts....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Maine Shrimp Season!!!!

Well, I love shrimp. Pretty much any kind of shrimp - I'm not picky. My love affair with the little pink bugs began early - I remember being entranced by a lovely ice carving filled with shrimp cocktail at the Queen City Club in Cincinnati as a toddler. My grandfather was thrilled, and ordered me a large platter of shrimp. Thus began the endless odyssey. . . .

Around this time of year, our local Whole Paycheck carries Maine shrimp. The season is fleeting and I like it that way - it just builds anticipation all year long. The same goes for fiddleheads. Anyway, these shrimp are incredibly delicate tasting with very thin shells. Every year there is the quandary of how exactly to cook them - but there is NEVER a quandary as to how to eat them. In the Whole Paycheck I was also tempted by, and succumbed to, a huge bunch of fresh dill. So much for my "only in season" leanings!

Last night, I made some dill pesto, out of some of the aforementioned dill. I usually use it as a garnish for carrot and dill seed soup. It's really easy - 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and pignolias, and a cup of packed fresh dill, thrown in the mini-prep or food processor. Perhaps a little lemon zest would enhance it - I put a few drops of lemon juice in for fun. I set some water to boil and made a half package of lemon pepper papperdelle pasta (thank you Trader Joe's!), and quickly sauteed the little pink bugs with some butter and dill pesto and tried out my new Peugeot pepper mill. I was going to take a picture, but, um, I ate it. All of it. Okay, I shared with Jim, but suffice it to say I wasn't going to wait to take a picture!!!!

Today we're down below freezing again, so it's time for pot roast. But, the memories of Maine shrimp with dill pesto linger on in my taste buds for another year....

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Cake Lady - Welcome at the Office

A few years ago I heard a story on NPR (lying in bed listening, supposed to be getting up in the morning!) I think it acted as a subliminal suggestion!

As with the NPR cake lady, my husband is not a cake person. He's also not a chocolate person, candy person, and mostly not a cookie person. In the case of chocolate, fine, more for me! I'm not a cake person either in the sense of EATING cakes. But, I've found I really enjoy baking cakes, and without children in the house, the only appreciative audience is the dog. And Wednesday Bake Club only comes once a week, and really, I only get to bake for that once every quarter or so.

Lately, I've been cruising the great web sites and, and baking.... Even the dog's vet clinic has been a recipient of the crazy cake lady's largesse, but mostly, my co-workers. So far, Epicurious' Aunt Holly's Banana Bread takes top honors, but SmittenKitchen's Chocolate Stout Cake and my own Chocolate Creme de Menthe Cake aren't far behind.

My favorite tools in this madness - an old aluminum tube pan that was my grandmother's, larger than a bundt pan; a large round melamine serving plate from Anthropologie; and a very handy cake carrier. I LOVE my cake carrier.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

National Day of Service

Well, maybe national WEEKEND of service! As a supporter of first Hillary's, then Obama's, campaigns, I was contacted via e-mail to participate in a day of service for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I was happy to sign up for a Red Cross Disaster Preparedness course, donating household goods to Goodwill, and donating blood.

Sunday dawned with a deep blanket of snow, as Jim and I ventured out for my blood donation appointment. Donating blood never bothers me, and I am very grateful that I was able to receive blood transfusions when I needed them 20 years ago. I haven't been able to donate due to severe anemia for a while, and I'm also thankful that's resolved. There was a give a pint, get a pound promotion so now I am the proud owner of a coupon for a pound of Dunkin' Donut coffee.... The remainder of the day was spent doing errands, and digging through our back bedroom, attic and basement for goods to donate. Poor, long-suffering Jimpy was enlisted to haul endless boxes to the car.

Monday, the actual day of service, began with taking my Red Cross course online - which actually was interesting and useful. Another foray into the attic for more giveaways (enlisting Cici as well) increased the load in the car, and Jim, Bonnie and I ventured out to the wilds of Central Square to rid ourselves of assorted boxes and bags of giveaways. It fell to poor Jim to wade through the knee deep slush 8 or so times hauling boxes back and forth. The Goodwill store was pretty amazing - very crowded, and with a very diverse crowd. Jim met a former neighbor, who said he thought he had died. Naturally, rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated!

Hunkering down; Waiting for the Big Thaw

This weekend brought first bitter cold, then snow, snow, and more snow. . . prompting a purchase of tulips (peppermint striped, of course) as a sign of hope.

The cats flocked to the radiators (covered with comfy rugs) for the duration.

On one of our weekend outings, Bonnie was literally swimming in the snow at one of our favorite haunts, the Triple A-S. The snow did not prevent assiduous checking of pee-mail, however!

Monday, January 12, 2009

How cold was it?

The icicles were hung from the lantern with care....

The tree was lightly frosted with snow....

As were the rhinoceri

Bonnie was knee deep (and loving it! can't say that much for Jimpy!)

Festive berries adorned this bush....

And the back forty (square feet) was frosted (and frosty!)
Of course, when it is this cold outside, we turn to warmer pursuits, such as making homemade French Onion soup (I wish there were "scratch and sniff" photographs!) and a great Chocolate Stout Cake (recipe courtesy of the blog.) I brought the cake into work as a trial run for my turn for Bake Club (this Wednesday.) Judging by the fact that the platter was licked clean (and not even by me!), I think the recipe is a keeper....
Some time was also spent in completing our Quarter collection (courtesy of Michael and Alex who sent us a much desired Hawaii quarter for Christmas) and in enjoying a little "retro" Star Trek action (courtesy of Jeremy and Shirley!) My siblings know me well. I did manage to wear out several remote controls shaped like phasers....
Live long and prosper!!!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hadden Goop - the ultimate comforting culinary craziness

When I was young (how A.A. Milne!) my mother would attempt to use up leftovers in creative ways. Thus, the term "Hadden Goop" was born. There were endless variations on the theme, depending on what had been recently prepared and how popular items were. We were required to eat three bites of everything on our plates, something I rebelled against at the time but now appreciate for giving me "free range" tastebuds. Very thankfully, our dog Elfin (who taught me how to swim) learned the fine art of skulking underneath the table with her mouth open, ready to receive any and all vile tidbits.... Anyway, I digress. There are four basic components to a "goop": a starch (rice, potatoes, couscous, pasta, bread), a protein (tofu [renamed toadfood by my kids], eggs, tuna, chicken, etc.), veggies (peas, green beans, broccoli, etc.), and a sauce (the old stand-by cream of mushroom condensed soup, a roux, white sauce, sour cream, etc.)

A favorite was "Tuna Goop." Now, you can get creative and use leftover seared tuna (although, it is to be admitted that "leftover" and "seared tuna" seem not to fit very well together!), wild rice, etc. but good old low end "tuna goop" is a big favorite in our family and when it is cold and icy outside and you've had a long day at work, just begs to be served for dinner. There's something really perversely satisfying about opening a few cans, boiling a little water, and having a satisfying (if humble) one dish meal ready in 20 minutes or less.... So, get out your cans of tuna, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a few frozen peas or leftover veggies, and a half box of pasta, and you're on your way to comfort food nirvana. I like to soak my opened and drained can(s) of tuna in a teaspoon of lemon juice - it kind of cuts the "can" taste. Add some capers, grated cheese or curry powder to elevate the concoction a little! You can also throw the concoction into the oven, sprinkle some bread crumbs and spray or drizzle some oil on, and brown under the broiler to get that oh so desirable crust.

What leads to the desire for Hadden Goop? The frigid New England winters, which some of us enjoy more than others....

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Walk like a Penguin!

Today dawned with the relentless pinging of shards of ice against our windows, signaling the second ice storm in a week. The Boston Globe published an article telling us we should all walk like penguins to avoid injury: shuffling, arms down and slightly out, etc. I had this amusing image of people toddling around on the city sidewalks, tiring and sliding around on their bellies like in March of the Penguins.

However, penguins have several advantages over us. They actually ENJOY slithering around in undignified positions, plus they have three curved toenails on each foot to aid their balance. While we DO have toenails, (a) they'd have to be REALLY long to reach the ground and (b) it would be pretty cold walking around in bare feet!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Flirting al Fungi Fresci and other culinary adventures

In cold, icy midwinter a person craves comfort food. This past week, surely an example of bleakest midwinter, we enjoyed my dad's Risotta al Fungi Fresci recipe (mushroom risotto), and the famous Truffled Mac & Cheese. In fact, truffled mac & cheese was enjoyed twice, since Jaime absconded with the first batch (along with my Creuset dutch oven which I want back, hint, hint.)

In our neighborhood liquor store, the Wine & Cheese Cask, we discovered packages of white and black truffle oil and black truffles to be shaved for decadent taste treat for a reasonable price. Savenors also carries truffle oil, but in a large, prohibitively expensive bottle. It seems a little crazy to spend many dollars for some fungi, but it is an acquired, addictive taste. A tiny soupcon of truffle oil can elevate humble dishes such as Mac & Cheese and mashed potatoes to the highest echelons of gourmet tastefulness.

Here's the recipe for Truffled Mac & Cheese which is quite adaptable to whatever cheese one happens to have lying around. As far as I am concerned, the more flavorful the better! My most recent version used a lovely french Roquefort.

1/2 box of elbow macaroni or other sauce friendly pasta like oriechetti
2 cups of grated or finely chopped cheese - whatever you happen to have. Mozzarella is really too bland so you want to pick a somewhat flavorful cheese like cheddar.
1/4 cup flour
salt/ freshly ground black pepper to taste (if using salted butter omit salt)
small amount of truffle oil OR 1 tsp dried mustard
1/4 stick of butter
2 cups milk (skim works fine, lactaid works fine) [you can also replace some of the milk with LAGER beer]
Bread crumbs or cornflake crumbs
spray-on cooking oil (spray olive oil is good for this) [ OR you can also simply saute some breadcrumbs in a skillet with butter/olive oil/truffle oil or a mixture thereof]

pre-cooked lobster finely chopped
pre-cooked crab finely chopped
sauteed mushrooms finely chopped
shaved truffle

Preheat oven to 350.
Cook 1/2 box of elbow macaroni to 'al dente' (i.e. the shortest amount of cooking time recommended on the box - since it will cook in the oven you don't want the pasta mushy.) Drain and save in pot or colander (to add a little flavor you can put a tiny amount of truffle oil in the cooking water.)
In a separate oven proof pan (le creusets are great for this) melt the butter on low/medium heat. Add a drizzle of truffle oil (about 1/2 tsp). Stir in the flour and cook until bubbly and flour no longer tastes "raw." If you are using mustard and not truffle oil, put the mustard in with the flour.
Stir in liquid (milk/beer) and cheese, until cheese is thoroughly melted and the sauce begins to thicken. Add any optional items like mushrooms, crab, lobster etc. Stir in the cooked pasta and mix thoroughly with cheese mixture. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the entire top of the mixture - if not pre-sauteed spray olive oil spray lightly on top until breadcrumbs are moistened. Drizzle some truffle oil over the top for extra flavor.
Put pan in oven for 30 minutes or until breadcrumbs are thoroughly browned.

For my flirtation with fresci fungi, I had a package of ordinary white mushrooms, but enhanced them with some chanterelles obtained at Savenor's. This was prompted by watching "Lidia's Italy" on PBS, in which Lidia and a cute grandchild prepare some mushrooms for a dish. The chanterelles reminded me of string cheese a bit. It added a bit of entertainment value to the preparation and some lovely flavor to the end result.