March 27, 2013

In Light of Childhood

Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.
Walt Whitman
Whenever I see this photo it tugs at my heartstrings. 
I took it several years ago, when my youngest daughter was still wearing her tutu over just about everything. 
As she grew, I'd find it abandoned here and there around the house...  this frayed and worn tuft of elasticized tulle was such a vivid reminder of her love for purple, dancing, sequins and dress-ups.  She still loves music and dancing, but "face-timing" her friends on the iPad, texting, slumber parties,Justin Bieber posters and pop music have replaced the purple tutu, stuffed pink unicorns, books about fairies and songs sung by Disney Princess's. 
My kids have seemingly grown up into teenager-hood in what feels like a flash of time.  

March 25, 2013

Steak, Guinness and Cheese Pie

I’ve been on a kick lately--comforting family style dishes by English cookbook authors have been my thing. Maybe it’s inspired by the cool Google hang-out chat with Nigella Lawson after trying one of her latest recipes out on my teenagers, or perhaps it’s because March weather in Portland is grey, chilly and dreary.  Cold weather makes me want to hunker down, hibernate with my family at home and create soothing and hearty food.
Saturday my son was not feeling well and lay sprawled on the couch most of the day sipping tea, watching basketball games and past episodes of his favorite show Psych.  Beyond having a crush on Nigella Lawson, he thinks Jamie Oliver is a super cool dude, and I think secretly wants to be just like him. I think he’s off to a good start with the blond spiked hair and twinkly eyes. 

This is one of my favorite pictures of him taken when he was about 11 years old at the Oregon Coast~

So to cheer him up and fill his stomach with something that would stick to the ribs and be comforting, I pulled up an online recipe from Jamie at Home and made a pretty cool dinner with the show stopping bonus of a gorgeous, lightly golden crisped lid of perfect puff pastry.  I used winter root veggies, organic natural stew meat, freshly grated Oregon Tillamook cheddar and a pint of Guinness. 
(to be perfectly honest, not quite the whole pint.  A pint minus a few swigs) I was slightly preoccupied and ended up forgetting to put the additional top layer of cheese on before attaching the pastry lid, so I had to pull it gently off, sprinkle on the cheese and re-assemble.  It looked more "rustic" due to my last second rescue attempt, but tasted divine.

Now, you can very easily go to the Jamie Oliver website and get an even more detailed recipe, but I went ahead and attached a slightly shorter version here too.  The only thing I think I’ll change next time is that I wouldn’t put the bottom puff pastry layer into the pie dish, I’d simply top it with one, like a lid, then save the left-over piece of pastry for another recipe another day. 

1.     Preheat oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. In a large ovenproof pan heat a glug of oil on a low heat. Add the onions and fry gently for about 10 mins - try not to color them too much. Turn the heat up, add the garlic, butter, carrots and celery. Scatter in the mushrooms. Mix everything together before stirring in the beef, rosemary, salt and pepper. Fry fast for 3-4 mins, then pour in the Guinness, stir in the flour and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid and place in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and give the stew a stir. Put it back in the oven and continue to cook it for another hour, or until the meat is tender and the stew is rich and thick.

2.     A perfect pie filling needs to be robust, so if it's still liquidy, place the pan on the hob and reduce until it thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in half the cheese and leave to cool slightly.

3.     Cut a third off the pastry block. Roll out each piece to the thickness of a pound coin. Line a greased pie dish with the larger sheet of pastry, leaving the edges dangling over the side. Tip in the stew then sprinkle the remaining cheese over. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg.

4.     Cut the other piece of the pastry to fit the top of the pie dish and criss cross it slightly with a sharp knife. Place it over the op of the pie and fold the over-hanging pastry onto the pastry lid to make it look nice and rustic. cook on the bottom of the oven for 45 mins.
I now thoroughly believe Guinness Steak and Cheddar Pie could be the cure for the common cold and the winter blues. 

March 21, 2013

Neighbor Love and Rib-Sauce

A surprise gift of food is a treasure.

Yesterday when I came home from work after a long day, there were two jars of homemade rib-sauce on the chair next to the front door.  They were still warm.  My neighbor Mary texted me shortly before I left work letting me know she'd been slow cooking ribs in red sauce all day and had put the jars out front.

Mary lives in a little barn-red house just kitty corner to my house.  She's been in the Peace Corps and travelled the world, has a degree in environmental science and worked at a well known winery in Oregon helping with Crush during wine seasons a few years back.  She adores soccer and is a huge Chelsea fan, sometimes catching games at the local Soccer Bar 442 when she can squeeze in a few hours without the kids.  She is one of the coolest people I know basically...  totally dedicated to her family and staying home with the kids while they are small.  I remember what that was like.  I was a stay-at-home mom with my kids until they were 2, 4, and 8.  I loved staying home and taking care of my family 24/7, and those were some of the best, hardest and most rewarding years of my life.  I love my job now, but I wouldn't trade that time I was able to invest in my kids formable years for anything.

One thing that I used to do was to plan out weekly menus and grocery shop meticulously, adhering to a tight budget and trying to be creative about feeding my family delicious meals.  I felt like cooking was a creative outlet, and a ritual that nourished my family.  When you cook for people, it's a gesture of practical love.   I always feel like I am taking care of people when I cook for them, and it's a huge treat when someone cooks for me.  Mary stops by every once in a while and I set her up at the counter, usually with a glass of wine or a shot of whiskey in a pretty glass, and we talk while I cook.  We share recipes and attend a supper club together when time allows, and a few times we've swapped bowls of food so our family can try something a little different for dinner.

Usually, on weeknights, we either have leftovers from meals prepared over the weekend, or we throw things together that we find in the pantry and freezer.  This particular weeknight meal was a luxury.  Mary's sauce was a rich, tomato based sauce with bits of smoky flavored tender rib meat mixed in.  Hubs ran to the local grocery store for a loaf of olive specked Ciabatta bread, some spinach and couple of small steaks.  I simply poured Mary's sauce over the steaks and we had the most decadent weeknight dinner. 

What's that saying? "Love thy neighbor"? Nothing shows love like sharing good food.
I felt completely spoiled and lucky to have such a thoughtful woman/mom/friend as my neighbor.
I can't wait to reciprocate this weekend and share some dark chocolate bacon brownies I'm planning on baking.

March 18, 2013

A Girl Crush on Nigella Lawson


When I first saw the blurb in the New York Times on my computer screen announcing an opportunity to try out one of the recipes from Nigellissima, I pounced.  I wanted to be clever and pithy, and write something titillating and honest because I really wanted them to pick me.  I think I ended up writing something that compared Nigella to a hybrid combination of Mae West and Julia Child.  I mentioned relating to a woman with an appetite, and how I sometimes feel I could bench press most thin and tiny women who seem to dominate television and magazines.  I ended with a wanton comment about how few things in life have made my eyes roll to the back of my head, and how warm, melt-y Gorgonzola cheese pasta is one of them. 

Inevitably, I was chosen to be one of the three home cooks to video chat with Julia Moskin and Nigella. 

It's quite true that I spent most Sunday mornings lounging in bed with a cup of coffee, surrounded by cookbooks and Vogue magazines in my flannel pajamas watching Nigella cook gracefully in her bright white kitchen with the little strand of white Christmas lights in the background.  It was the one morning a week I'd allow myself to luxuriate in the pleasure of hanging out in bed, imagining I could also be glamorous and sexy while whipping eggs, grocery shopping and stealthily eating leftovers right out of the fridge at midnight.  Nigella Lawson is the epitome of womanliness... she's intelligent, beautiful, funny, loves to cook and is unapologetic about her appetite for life.  She seems to care deeply about her family and friends, and is poetic, graceful and spiritual in her explanations about food and cooking and home.  Who wouldn't want to be that way?  When she cooed over the caramelized specks left over in the pan after cooking bacon, and breathed the words "gorgeous bits", I was smitten with her use of language as much as I was with her as a person.  She inspired me to start my blog and to embrace what I love, to put words to the photos I take and to elevate the otherwise average and everyday things in life.   I can get lost in her writing.  My favorite cook book of all time is How to Eat.  It feels like a person is standing next to you, talking to you about food and cooking, rather than just listing ingredients and bullet pointing steps.  Her chapter that she mentioned in the Video Chat on Thursday about "The Solace of Stirring" makes my heart skip a beat.  She speaks and writes about what I believe in. 

Cooking is a certain kind of philosophy.

During the technical set up for the Google Hang Out, the other home cooks, Amanda and Preston and I had time to chat. They were both so charming and eloquent, and we all  instantly bonded when we started talking about food. Preston was an awesome combination of intellect, spirituality and art.  He seemed to be a handsome, young, well-educated and travelled Renaissance man.  He had a gorgeous sounding concoction of homemade ginger syrup mixed with libation to calm his nerves, and Amanda cracked me up when she calmly explained her New York kitchen was about the size of a closet.  She demonstrated the point by reaching into the fridge, just out of the computer screen shot, and pulled a beverage out to drink.  I get this whole Hang Out thing now.  It's quite fun really. The New York Times dining and wine section will be making a series out of it I think, and the next home cooks they choose are in for a treat.

Nigella was as warm and lovely as I imagined her to be.  She made a little comment about how when she lived in Italy she was 19 and it was before all of us were born... I wanted to yell out, "I'm 46 Nigella!"  She looks AMAZING.   My teenage son, being the smart kid his is, has a bit of a crush on her too.  And once I told him she attended Oxford University and majored in Medieval Languages, he decided she is his dream woman. 

My only regret other than making up a weird joke about how beer compliments everything, (it sounded clever in my mind, but I was star struck and tongue tied so ended up sounding like a dork I think) was that everyone on the chat was in their kitchen except for me.  I was sitting in my 13 year old daughter Emma's upstairs bedroom.  Although I moved all of the pink stuffed unicorns off the bed and took down the Justin Bieber posters, I still sat in front of a pink dresser with a missing drawer to talk to people around the world and at the New York Times.  I wished so much I'd figured out how to get the computer cable to reach my own kitchen that is quite nice.  I would have loved to show it off a bit to Julia Moskin, who also seems to have a thing for white subway tiles and enameled cast iron pots and pans. 

In the end, what a great format for the New York Times to create, and what a cool opportunity for people who love food and cooking to connect on a real level, in real time.  I learned a lot just from that half hour: about truffle oil, how long to cook risotto, that Nigella is truly authentic and not driven by what would make her more "marketable", and that lawyers in New York with tiny kitchens and young students in Scotland and moms who are editors of the New York Times sometimes think just a little like me.

Our passion for good, homemade food ties us all together.

March 17, 2013

Happy Sunday Darlings

I was a little disappointed I didn't just splurge on a huge coil of cable to use with my computer so I could have had my kitchen in the background of my video-chat with Nigella last Thursday.  I LOVE my kitchen!  

No worries though, it was a delightful experience, and I had the best time chatting with the other two home cooks/bloggers just before we aired.  I'll post the finished bit tomorrow and get into a few details then too.

Happy St. Patrick's Day~

March 12, 2013

Nigella Lawson's Pasta Dish

It seems a thousand things occur on the weekends that we have my kids:  volleyball tournaments, slumber parties, homework, laundry, grocery shopping and hopefully, time to stop for a moment and look at each other across the dinner table and talk. 

Since I work away from home all week, cooking for my children and that time we finally spend together is crucially important.  No matter how busy or how long the weekend to-do list is, I squeeze in the time to cook. Senses are often frazzled from a week of racing the clock, and I find myself longing for just an hour or so in the kitchen--the sound of water filling a pan, the feel of a heavy knife in my hand, the warmth of the gas flame on the stove flickering to life, and the comforting savory smells of nourishing food slowly roasting in the oven is soothing and familiar.  It brings me back to who I am and what I love.  It reconnects me to my now teenage children. Putting together a meal for my family is about the best way I can relax, and knowing I am nourishing them with good food and memories at the same time is wholly satisfying.

When I found out on Friday that I was picked to cook a dish from Nigella Lawson's new cookbook followed up with a chat by video with her and the New York Times Dining Section editor, Julia Moskin, along with two other home cooks like me, I was elated.  What a fantastic excuse to make something lovely and delicious for my family, and then photograph the whole thing!  The cherry on the cake is to actually talk about it directly with Ms. Lawson after it's all said and done.

I followed her recipe exactly.  It really was something I could prepare on a weeknight, since the most complicated thing was simply a bit of chopping.  Tossing the veg into the water as it boiled along with the pasta is a very cool time saving trick.  If I was leisurely preparing the dish, and wanted to change it up a little, I might oven roast the brussels sprouts and potatoes after coating them with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt in the 400 degree oven while the pasta boiled, then add them in at the last second.

I printed the recipe before I left work on Friday. A sweet benefit of working at a cooking school is having a stable of brilliant Chef Instructors at my fingertips, so I asked Maxine, the wine instructor, for advice about which wine would be best with this particular dish.  She scribbled down a few for me and I grabbed up a rather lovely but inexpensive bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on my way home.

Although I followed the recipe rather exactly, at the last minute I realized I'd left my glass lasagna dish at a friend's house, so I used a cast iron skillet instead.  Also, I set my oven to "convection bake" accidentally, so the dusting of Parmesan cheese crisped to a deeper golden brown than perhaps Nigella intended.  We rolled with it though, and I just confidently informed the kids that it was simply "caramelized" and would add a little crunch that they would love.

The kids heaped seconds into their pasta bowls.  Emma separated the sprouts from her coveted pasta and cheese as usual, but everyone agreed they'd love to eat this particular recipe for dinner again.

And of course, once the flavors melded together after a few hours, the left-overs were a delicious treat to be enjoyed after everyone else has gone to bed... in proper Nigella Fashion  ; )

March 8, 2013

Doing the Happy Dance!

Whoo hoo!  Air kisses to all... 

I can't believe it.  They picked me as one of the home cooks to prepare one of Nigella Lawson's recipes from her brand spankin' new cookbook, Nigellissima, then talk with her on a video chat with the New York Times and two other home cooks like me!

I am thrilled beyond belief, and I raced to Whole Foods to purchase all of the ingredients so I'm completely set to go tomorrow to work in the kitchen with divine Gruyere cheese, ricotta, Parmesan, garlic, loads of butter and gorgeous brussel sprouts and whole wheat pasta.  
I even checked with Maxine, the fabulous wine instructor at my school as to which wine to buy that will perfectly compliment the dish.

I'll be taking photos all along the way my darlings, so you are going on this adventure right along side.

Happy Friday for sure!

March 7, 2013

Remembering Italy

One of the most romantic pockets of time in my life was when Kevin and I took our "pre" honeymoon trip to Italy.

I'd never been overseas.  I'd never really been farther than Chicago for a rather boring corporate training, which at that time, I still thought exotic compared to my old quiet stay-at-home life.  I felt like a glamorous world traveller, and we would spend afternoons exploring the side streets and snug little cafes and shops as far away from the tourist-y places as we could find.  I took my film camera, and captured my favorite moments on wonderfully rich sepia film.  These are still some of my favorite images and the one up top was taken right after a short rainstorm that pushed us off of our walk into a covered stoop near a market where we bought Moretti beers and sipped them until the drizzle subsided.

The food was incredible, and for the ten days that we travelled from Verona, to Florence to Venice, we ate at wonderful little spots that featured menu's only written in Italian and sipped coffee spiked with tiny bottles of grappa.

I've been thinking of Italy again quite a lot.  This morning, I was invited by a reporter from the New York Times to try out a recipe from a new cookbook by Nigella Lawson, then, possibly, if all goes as I wish, I can video chat with the Domestic Goddess herself about the experience!  It was fabulous serendipity that I found the invitation on the NY Times Facebook page yesterday morning, calling for fans of Nigella who would like to write something about her then have the chance to be chosen to chat with her about cooking.  I've downloaded the recipe from her latest work, Nigellissima, and I am going to buy the groceries this weekend and cook it with my children.

The idea of this little cooking challenge has triggered my favorite memories of Italy.  I hope that the smells and tastes from my kitchen this weekend will remind me even more of that magical trip and time.  Of course I'll be taking photographs and sharing the recipe too over the weekend.  I think already that I am going to fall in love with the dish.  Anything "swimming in butter and cheese" as this particular recipe is described, gets my full attention.

Ciao Darlings~

March 4, 2013

Warm Pear Almond Tart

My subtly amazing husband said this was a dessert so good, it floated above the plate.
Every once in a while, I’ve taken a bite of something so delicious, it transports me to another plane, makes me close my eyes, and mentally sigh.  It happened to me once in Italy, when I took a bite of my sister-in-law’s pillows of butternut squash tortellini in a warm, rich gorgonzola cheese sauce.  It happened when I had a bite of a pork chop with warmly spiced dark cherry-plum sauce served over a wedge of fried polenta that Chef Josh Blythe made for me once here at OCI.  It finally happened at my own house Saturday night when I tasted a new dessert recipe I took a gamble on trying for the first time.

Kevin’s godfather Dann has been heroically battling cancer now for a while.  We invited him and his lovely wife Genevieve over for a quiet vegetarian dinner Saturday night, and I really wanted to make them something healing and nourishing, filled with fresh, rich flavor and interesting textures.  They are both really kind people, and Dann’s attitude and stories about fighting cancer are inspiring.  I wanted to comfort them somehow, with really good food.

I stuck to my favorite African Groundnut Stew recipe for dinner. As a side, I made some fluffy Jasmine rice, scented with cardamom pods, and set out additional bowls filled with spinich leaves, fresh cilantro and lime wedges to use as additions, along with a small bowl of chopped peanuts for added crunch.  At first, I thought I’d serve something rich, made with dark chocolate for dessert, keeping with the antioxidant ingredient theme, but then I found some beautiful organic Oregon pears at Whole Foods while shopping.  

After Google-ing “Pear Dessert” on my laptop, a plethora of recipes appeared.  I sorted through a few and found a delightful blog by Pastry Girl.  I have to say, Pastry Girl gets every ounce of credit for this recipe.  I followed her recipe to the T, and even brought out my old food processor to create the crust and buttery almond filling as she advised.   Pastry Girl added a few creative flourishes to a recipe she discovered, first written by Dorie Greenspan, and raved about the simplicity of the method and technique.  The main trick to it is that you have to create a few separate recipes then assemble them.   That said, a great boon to this particular recipe is you really could do all 3 components, (poach the pears, par bake the crust and whip together the filling) up to 3 days ahead of baking and serving.  It really is perfection. 
By the end of the evening, after tasting the tart, Dann and Genevieve both were silently content, and I swear their eyes closed just a little as they bit into the slightly warm, crunchy crust with buttery almond filling and juicy pears.   As they were leaving, Genevieve asked me for the recipe, and anytime a guest leaves my home asking how to make something again, I feel like the food was a great success.

I wouldn’t add or change a thing to the recipe I found online, and I even saved aside the sugary syrup I used for poaching the pears as recommended.  Thought I could add a splash of bourbon to it for a decadent cocktail one evening this week!

This recipe’s a definite keeper.  I’m going to take the easy way out this time too, and just add the link:

March 1, 2013


... found this series of photos from my Flickr Photostream from several years ago.  I must have been bored.

Have a fun weekend and invent something out of nothing. 
It's all how you look at what you've already got  ; )