the scanty pantry

October 1st, 2010

The large kitchen pantry becomes more and more scanty as more and more foods from the stupormarket are avoided.  Years ago we replaced all canned soups, packaged bake mixes and bagged potato chips with homemade versions as did we with anything and everything that came in a box or called itself ‘bread’.

We never did buy marinara sauce, salad dressings or cookies and recently have added spice blends, dried pasta, and ice cream to the ever-increasing list of homemade goodness.  So there’s little left in the big pantry but an array of flours, herbs, spices, olive oils and vinegars, which leaves lots of room to store wines that otherwise reside in the big coat closet just off the kitchen.

The only homemade replacement that caused me to pause with any concern was peanut butter, simply because it has always been a great emergency food when I’m absolutely starving!  But since commercial peanut butter is laced with unnecessary sugars and oils, I managed to kick the can, so to speak, and make my own, and was not inordinately surprised by its ease or superior flavor.

There’s only one thing I refuse to give up or endeavor to recreate and that’s my Grey Poupon, which always travels with me along with an omnipresent pair of stainless steel chopsticks, because one never knows what’s up ahead or around the corner.

Homemade Peanut Butter

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teeth optional

September 30th, 2010

Getting Mary to eat nutritious and caloric foods is a challenge because her appetite is as petite as she is.  Keeping the portion size small always helps as does plating everything on appropriate and attractive dishware.  A simple homemade dessert is the tease by which her daily soup is consumed, but sometimes the soup sits uneaten in the shadow of the dessert plate.

Anything with whipped cream is a guaranteed success and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she were to request a bowl of whipped cream all by itself.  Puddings are popular as are custards, and cookies do double duty as a late afternoon snack.  They have to be soft cookies, however, because putting in ‘the teeth’ is not always practical.

One recent cookie Mary especially enjoyed, as did her husband, daughter, son and nephew, was a simple spice cookie rich with browned butter and slightly under-baked to keep it soft and easy to consume.  Blessedly, this cookie freezes very well so several dozen were carefully packed for the freezer and their future trips to Mary’s house.

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points of view

September 29th, 2010

My father was brilliant, handsome, and oft times quite funny and he gave himself the nickname of General Bull Moose.  People who didn’t know him well even found him charming and those of us who knew him better learned quickly never to contradict him because he could verbally wipe the floor with even the most articulate and erudite.

One New Year’s Day in the late 1980’s, Mother and Father and I joined our Eastern Shore cousins Marilee and Faith for lunch at the Golden Horseshoe in Colonial Williamsburg.  As we skirted the duck pond on that sunny new day of a new year, Dad strutted forward in his long-gaited fashion with the hand of a pretty cousin tucked into each of his arms.  Mother and I trailed behind admiring the weather and the scenery.

Out of nowhere came the declaration by Dad, “I feel like the middle of a girlie sandwich”.  Without missing a beat, Marilee quickly retorted, “More like the middle of a meatball sandwich!”  I stumbled in shock and silent hilarity and nearly knocked over Mother. My cousin’s nerve amazes me to this day, as does Dad’s unexpected reaction: a delighted howl.

Meatball Sandwich

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conundrums

September 10th, 2010

Despite the fact that homemade bread costs about 30 cents a loaf, I am perhaps more loathe to throw out bits and ends of heels simply because the quality is worth saving even while the several pennies involved are irrelevant.  Additionally, I’d just assume not put bread bits in the freezer because that sends them on a path from which they rarely return.

Croutons and bread crumbs are the only solution and sometimes the entire meal is dictated by the need to utilize a scant cup of fresh bread crumbs.  I had planned on making an all-day Bolognese yesterday, expect for a stray bread heel leering at me for several hours in the early morning.

“O.K., fine”, I said to the heel.  “What do you want to be?”  “Baked Stuffed Shrimp,” came the reply, and Baked Stuffed Shrimp it was, atop a bed of Garlic Rice Pilaf and a side of Grilled Asparagus.  The accompanying Perrier-Jouët popped with glee leaving me certain that the whole dinner was a conspiracy between the crumbs and the bubbles.

Baked Stuffed Shrimp

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the egg and i

September 9th, 2010

Despite the utter dearth of many food ingredients up here in the Boondocks, one of the things we’re blessed with is free-range farm fresh eggs from a little farm just across the river.  You always know it’s a good egg when the yolk is almost orange in color, indicating a chicken that shuffled and clucked her way around a barnyard, picking and choosing the tasty preferred morsels rich in natural minerals and nutrients.

Eggs, obviously, have become an anytime food and their potential glories not even begun to be exhausted.  They pair especially well with young fresh asparagus that’s been lightly roasted along with a side garnish of marinated mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes.  Always a superlative meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

A Healthy Breakfast

 

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ocean dosage

September 9th, 2010

In the mid 1980’s Cabo San Lucas had only two resorts, the Hyatt and the Solmar.  The roads were unpaved, as was the airport runway.  The sleepy downtown housed a small population of hotel workers and shopkeepers.  Cabo was a tedious trek from Boston in those days and Dad shrewdly broke up the trip with a few days in La Jolla, California.

Upon arrival at the resort, the first thing we children noticed was a sign declaring the beach closed due to rough surf and undertows.  We couldn’t have dreamed up a better reception.  Big waves!  Undertows!  Where’s my suit?  As we raced to our rooms, we could hear the pounding crash of ocean body calling ours.  The first glimpse of those regal blue double-topped 14 footers is one we still relish.

Eight days spent battling that surf left one of us black-eyed and all four of us scraped and bruised and deliriously happy. And it wasn’t nearly as imprudent as it sounds.  We’d been swimming competitively from the time we first walked and my older brother and I were both certified lifesavers, so Mother and Dad could casually sit on the shore and watch us with pleasure and not simply faint away.

Meals at the resort were mostly comical in its attempt to create a facsimile of American food for gringos using Mexican products.  The menu changed daily and was typed and mimeographed.  One night they offered a special called, “Chop of the Pig that is broiled”, and it was good, sort of.

Breakfast was my favorite meal and I always ordered the same thing, Molettes.  A Mexican roll, split and toasted, spread with refried beans, a sprinkling of Queso Fresco and a side boat of spicy pico de gallo salsa.  A great way to start a day spent thrown about in the surf and as the week progressed, I boldly topped my Molettes with more and yet more of that sensuous salsa.

A Mexican Breakfast

Molettes remain one of my favorite foods and over the years I’ve improved on the critter I so loved in Cabo with homemade refrieds, homemade pico de gallo and of course, homemade yeast rolls.  If only that raucous surf was as readily replicable.

 

a bowl of TLC

August 28th, 2010

My daily commute in Seoul was a cross-town nightmare involving dozens of buses, subways and taxis in order to get to various client sites.  A driver from Daewoo would pick me up at 5 a.m. for the long trek outside the city to Anyang and after that session the slow train lumbered back to Yoksan station, a subway continued to Kangnam and an elevator swept me up to the 15th floor at Mast Industries.

Then it would be a mad scurry to catch the green line for 18 stops to Mullae for a bus to Shihul-dong and the Ministry of Education for a three-hour session with Korean teachers.  When the public transportation gods were in my favor, there’d be time enough for lunch first and it was always to the same restaurant, down a small pedestrian alley, for that fiery favorite Kimchee Chigae!

After an array of Korean condiments were served (kimchee water, young radish greens, spicy fried tofu, pickled daikon), a gas burner would be set up in front of me topped with a large skillet containing the day’s elements of Chigae; ripe kimchee, green onion, cubed tofu, small clams in the shell, a few slivers of fatty pork, a bundle of buckwheat vermicelli and a broth of unknown flavorings.

The Chigae would simmer while I prodded its bits and pieces in the bright red broth and when I deemed it ready, I’d ladle it onto my bowl of rice, beginning always with my favorite part, the broth.  Like an electric shock, the Chigae raced through my engine, reviving and exciting and inspiring me for the long afternoon ahead and the onerous journey back to my humble abode in Han-nam.

Kinchee Chigae

 

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joyous salads

August 27th, 2010

Summer in the north country Boondocks includes an endless repetition of outside chores along with some justifiably deserved pleasures.  Biggest treat is walking our inflated tubes across the long covered bridge to the other side of the Wild Ammonoosuc River where we launch and then tool down five miles of river to the truck parked below.

Second best treat are the spontaneous summer salads that are usually directed by what’s fresh in the garden, matched with a flavorful grilled meat or seafood.  Healthy, refreshing and ultimately delicious!  Yesterday we crafted a grilled chicken and vegetable salad based on the Tickle ‘n Spank Steak we’d had several weeks ago.

The chicken really took to the marinade and then caramelized beautifully over the charcoal fire.  Served up with crisp young cucumbers, an assortment of herbs, cherry tomatoes and rive vermicelli and drizzled with a spicy lime dressing brought big smiles to the eaters and not a single scrap of leftovers.

Tickle 'n Spank Grilled Chicken Salad

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sundays with jack

August 20th, 2010

We were delighted to find that our good friend John Cornelius was going to be local for the whole of the summer.  For the rest of the year he resides in a beautiful little home of his own design in San Pancho, Mexico.

Jack is a perfect melding of diverse interests for both me and the man who cam for dinner and never left, so there’s never a dearth of conversation, and more often than not, one of us is tapping fingers or toes impatiently for an opportunity to change the subject to our own particular areas of knowledge and interest.

Since his arrival back in June, Jack has joined us for Sunday Dinner each week and he always gets the culinary red carpet when it comes to food.  Last week we enjoyed a Scandinavian Summer Supper with a variety of smørrebrød on homemade Dill Rye, a beef and beet soup, and a cool and creamy egg custard for dessert.

Other notable Sunday’s with Jack have included a Roast Chicken Dinner, an Oriental Feast, A Middle East Meze, an Elegant Seafood Dinner, a large collection of pies and, of course, homemade breads, relishes and jams.  Last night we enjoyed Grilled Lamb Chops with tabbouleh, feta, olives and chutney before heading out to a local chamber concert.

Next week Jack celebrates his 84th birthday and a Prime Rib Dinner with Yorkshire Pudding and all the fixings is certainly in order.  Instead of birthday hats, I ordered a dozen sombreros along with wooden whistles and colorful lanterns to suspend from the dining room ceiling.  After dinner we’ll assemble in the living room for birthday gifts and a rousing game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

A Sunday Dinner for Jack

the miller’s wife’s fish

August 16th, 2010

A French miller had a wife who had some Dover sole which she dredged in flour, sautéed briefly, and then napped with brown butter, lemon juice, parsley and capers and voila the world was introduced to Sole Meuniere.  A five-star delight rarely seen on menus any more but a real cinch to make at home.

All well and good for folks not living in the Boondocks, but the likelihood of our ever seeing sole up here, much less from Dover, is about as likely as our ever seeing veal or plantains which we’re still holding our breaths for.  Recipes, however, aren’t intended to be set in stone.  They are baselines for improvement and innovation.

It’s the sauce that makes Sole Meuniere so divine, not the sole.  Flounder, catfish and talapia are successful substitutions and shrimp, scallops and swordfish don’t complain either.  When fresh parsley isn’t on hand, try fresh basil or chives.  Just don’t try to imitate the unsalted butter, because that, my dears, is the backbone of the dish!

The Miller's Wife's Fish

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