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"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: spinach

“pasta primavera” . . .

Today’s weather was sunny and mild once the rain fell and moved on this morning. The result is a fresh garden with birds twittering along while I make dinner tonight.

Over the weekend, I bought a handful of fava beans in their shells – the most expensive green vegetable anywhere, as far as I’m concerned. You end up paying the weight of these massive outer skins to reveal a few fava beans wrapped in their protective membranes. Parboiling the shelled beans in their skins, then rinsing them under cold water, then enables you to peel that skin off of each bean to harvest the bright green, tender fava bean within. It’s worth it but it’s tedious.

With the fava beans (and plenty of crushed garlic,) I planned to quarter cut some fresh asparagus with the tough stems broken off. Earlier, I had a small bit of fresh spinach that I cooked in butter, chopped up and added a bit of heavy cream to make creamed spinach. When the fava beans were shelled (G. kindly lent a hand there,) I sauteed two cloves of garlic in a generous amount of unsalted butter, added the fava beans, asparagus and after they were cooked, the creamed spinach. What beautiful greens!

To a pot of boiling water, I added dried egg fettucine and cooked them through, draining them and adding back to the pot with a gob of butter to coat them, along with some truffle salt and chopped parsley.

To serve, I’ve begun plating pasta dishes in shallow soup dishes that  I found at Brimfield, eons ago – they turn out to be just the right shape and size for a good-sized serving of spaghetti, or in this case, fettucine with Spring vegetables. I also like to squeeze a crescent of fresh lemon over the dish after the vegetables and before freshly grated parmesan cheese is provided on top.

YUM YUM YUM! (and the kitchen smells divine with the garlic, vegetable, butter aromas wafting around. . . ) Now, to rescue the bottle of wine I remembered to put into the freezer a little while ago. The wine was divine – a wonderful one given to us by C. with an odd name: “Qupe.”

Happy Tuesday!

a ‘not-turkey’ dinner . . .

Dinner 4

Tonight I prepared a one-dish supper similar to Japanese Sukiyaki:

  1. Sauteed fresh scallions, garlic, spinach, bean sprouts and snow peas- added a little soy/mirin/dashi sauce; set aside.
  2. Soaked 2 packets of dried cellophane noodles until soft, cut into pieces and sauteed in clean pan with a little vegetable oil – added 1 tablespoon soy and mirin with a dab of sugar – mixed well and set it aside. dinner 1
  3. Marinated two thin-sliced ribeye pieces of beef in soy and mirin – heated grill on top of stove, seared over high heat, took off grill and added a little light brown sugar – then seared the other side of the beef until just cooked, rare to medium rare and removed to a cutting board. Dinner 2
  4. In skillet, mixed together the fried cellophane noodles with the vegetables and heated until steaming, then put into a shallow serving bowl.
  5. Sliced the rare ribeye into strips and placed on top of the vegetable noodle mixture.
  6. Served and ate with chopsticks along with a very cold beer.

“Not-turkey” never tasted so good!

 

‘gratitude lasagna’ . . .

%22gratitude lasagna%22 with basil floretsYesterday, I drove to Saratoga Springs and back, a six-hour drive, to visit a friend and to go to a concert at SPAC featuring the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, a pianist, performing the “Egyptian” concerto by Camille Saint-Saens. Of the three Frenchmen involved (the conductor whose name I can’t remember, Thibaudet and Saint-Saens, the composer was the winner by a mile.

My friend asked me afterwards if I had played this concerto when I was sixteen because I had related how fond of the piece I had been. And I replied, “Yes, I played the record hundreds of times!” I remembered the record jacket and that the pianist had been Phillipe Entremont (another Frenchman, by the way!) On the way back to drop her off at home, I played the 3rd movement performed by Sviatoslav Richter, (my favorite pianist I think) – and for five rollicking minutes, the finale burst forth from the car speakers in a torrent of notes. Just wonderful!

Anyhow, to make a long story short, I got lost twice on the road between Saratoga Springs and the Mass turnpike while also getting stopped by a policewoman because the passenger seat headlight was out, apparently. Plus, it’s illegal to use a cellphone while driving in New York State. Did you know that? I didn’t. Mine wasn’t on but it was in full view as though I was getting ready to make a call (which I was!)

Despite these setbacks, I made it back home a little after 1 a.m. – which was a minor miracle time wise, but a major miracle in every other respect because I was going pretty fast to do that and relieved and so glad to be back home safely with my husband and in our own home. Even a little day trip apart makes the heart grow fonder!

So this morning, as a prayer of thanks to the Universe and the Helpers who were there to make sure I didn’t get in an accident in my rash haste to make it home, I decided to put together what I call a “gratitude lasagna.” It’s ingredients include whole wheat lasagna noodles, a jar of light tomato sauce with herbs that I had bought on sale at the market, half a bag of thawed spinach (water squeezed out) sauteed with some butter and scallions, slices of bella mushrooms sauteed in butter; whole milk ricotta, mozzarella cheese and aged parmesan reggiano cheese that I grated on the microplane. To top it all off, florets of fresh basil leaves from the kitchen planter on the back deck.

%22Gratitude lasagna%22 with mushrooms

It’s in the oven now at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. In the meantime, here are some prep photos I took along the way. When the lasagna is baked, I’ll put a clean cloth over it until it’s reheated for our supper tonight.

I’m very grateful for friends, family, health, piano music and life itself! With so much to be grateful for, this “gratitude lasagna” may become a regular dish in our house!

%22gratitude lasagna%22 baked

 

maple-oatmeal scones! . . .

DSCN7944

Today, I watched someone on a cooking show make scones and it inspired me to make a half batch of my own for dinner tonight. I used Ina Garten’s recipe for maple-oatmeal scones but I cut it in half. The other thing that I did was to process the entire dough in my Cuisinart and patted the dough into shape with my hands rather than handling it further by rolling it out.

In order to make it easier to follow, I hand-copied out the ingredients halved in order to make about half a dozen scones. I had two sticks of unsalted butter, fresh buttermilk, and two large eggs in the fridge. The dry ingredients were readily available also, which I added together in my Cuisinart, whisking it together to blend before I added the cold butter. Then, I gently pulsed the mixture until the butter became small fingertip sized bits in the flour/oatmeal mixture.  The wet ingredients went in next – just a quarter cup each of buttermilk and sugarless maple syrup plus the eggs. Pulsed it some more and the batter was a little sticky but mixed together. Rather than add more flour, I floured a silit pad and added the sticky batter, rolling it in a little flour to offset the stickiness. Instead of rolling the dough with a rolling pin, I gently patted it with my fingers to about 3/4 of an inch thick.

I used my crimp edged 3-inch biscuit cutter (dipped in flour) and placed six tender scones on a baking sheet lined with pre-oiled aluminum foil. Brushed egg wash on the top and slid them into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. When they came out of the oven, I brushed the egg wash on again while they were hot and sprinkled oats on the top.

Tonight, we’re having wild-caught haddock, fresh spinach with garlic and these scones. If we’re going to have a few carbs once in awhile, this is a great way to have ’em!

 

mushrooms! . . .

cooked portobella mushroom dish . . .

cooked portobella mushroom dish . . .

Trader Joe’s is a great local store to pick up things you can’t get elsewhere, like Kerrygold Irish butter made from grass-fed cow’s milk. A NYTimes food tasting survey led by Melissa Clark a few months ago pronounced another butter as the “best” butter around. It started with a “P” but I can’t remember the name of it now. I made a special trip to Whole Foods to buy some to try it out but wasn’t impressed.

My daughter, M., told me about Kerrygold butter while we were out in Seattle and it was the best butter I ever tasted, melted and eaten with chunks of Dungeness crab. In contrast, Kate’s Butter, a locally made butter that I’ve been using, has very little flavor and a wax-like texture compared to Kerrygold’s buttery, creamy taste. While I was at Trader Joe’s this morning, I saw some beautiful large portobella mushrooms for $2.99 that I thought I’d cook up for dinner tonight although I wasn’t sure what to do yet.

At Barnes and Noble on the way home, I saw a photo of large mushrooms stuffed with spinach and breadcrumbs in a European cookery magazine. Perfect for tonight because I have some tired baby spinach I’ve used for smoothies and a heel of sourdough bread in the fridge that might make a tasty stuffing for the mushrooms.

Here’s my impromptu preparation steps:

First, I cleaned the huge mushrooms with a paper towel and browned the flat end of the mushrooms in butter, placing them in a large copper au gratin pan. This initial browning step is important to give the thick mushrooms a head start on softening; otherwise, it takes too long for them to cook through without overbaking the spinach/crumb filling.

2. Crushed a large clove of garlic into little bits, browned it in some butter and dried parsley.

3. Toasted a third of a leftover loaf of sourdough bread. Put the toasted slices in a VItamix and crumbled it into smooth breadcrumbs.

4. Added half of the fresh breadcrumbs into browning garlic and parsley, added a sprinkle of Lawry’s garlic salt and coarse pepper, stirring the tender garlicky breadcrumb mixture and then let it cool.

fresh breadcrumbs with garlic and parsley. . .

fresh breadcrumbs with garlic and parsley. . .

5. Melted another dab of butter, added chopped shallot and two handfuls of baby spinach; stirring until it quickly wilted; turned the warm spinach onto a board and chopped it finely with a cleaver.

6. Added finely chopped spinach, moistened with a little cream, to garlicky crumb mixture, adding salt and coarse pepper as needed. Maybe sprinkle on a little nutmeg (which I meant to do but forgot.)

fresh spinach and shallots. . .

fresh spinach and shallots. . .

7. Spoon heavenly mixture onto three large portobella mushroom caps, underside up.mushrooms with spinach 2

8. Grate a little fresh gruyere cheese and add on top of mushrooms.

9. Bake at 375 oven for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown and mushrooms are cooked through. We couldn’t wait that long and split the smallest one which was done the soonest and let the other two cook a bit longer.

While they were finishing in the oven, I sauteed some cleaned asparagus and squeezed a little lemon on it. That’s all.

This was a satisfyingly simple meal with just two dishes to eat for our Sunday night supper. We knew there was pumpkin spice cake for dessert so it was easy to be satisfied without a salad.

A special treat will be to use some Cabot’s whipped cream (I love that stuff but can’t stay away from it) on top of the warmed slices of cake tonight while we watch that new show, “Madam Secretary” featuring Tea Leoni as Secretary of State and the opener for “The Good Wife’s Fall season.

Oh, and that’s after we watched the Patriots struggle against Oakland in their first home game this afternoon at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady missed a couple of touchdown tries and they only won when an Oakland touchdown was disqualified at the very last minute.

Still, fun, fun, fun!

P.S.  I learned that choosing smallish large mushrooms works better because they cook more quickly than the really thick ones–and the proportion of the stuffing to a thinner mushroom works well.

Although it’s a little more effort, toasting freshly made bread crumbs ensures a texture for the crumb dressing that can’t be had from using off the shelf panko or other prepared breadcrumbs. Coarse, buttery, garlicky warm crumbs with fresh chopped spinach (not frozen) makes for delectable eating!

This dish was so satisfying that I’m thinking of making it as an accompaniment for our Christmas Eve dinner! Actually, it’s gotten me thinking about learning how to poach a salmon in court bouillon to go along with it!

Postscript a week later: I made these again today and had some modifications to offer up. I selected today’s portobella mushrooms from an open bin at the market. I chose smaller, less thick ones (as noted above) because they would require less baking time in the oven. I used my largest copper au gratin pan to brown the bottoms and six of them barely fit. I then placed them in a cold oven to rest while I made the stuffing. When I pulled them out, they had shrunk to at least half their size!

So, I removed them to my medium size au gratin pan where they fit snugly with spinach dressing and gruyere cheese on top. I also microplaned the gruyere although the cheese was soft from sitting out and clumped up. No matter, I spread the cheese on top and put a clean dishcloth over it to rest until sliding them under a hot broiler. I don’t think the mushrooms will require baking as such, just browning the tops and heating them up a little under the broiler will do nicely. My daughter, C. is coming for lunch to see the new soapstone countertop today and we’ll have the stuffed mushrooms and a salad of field greens, endive, mandarin oranges, craisins and glazed walnuts with a simple vinaigrette.

Next time, I’ll go back to selecting way big portobella mushrooms and just cook them a little longer in the first step. Live and learn, I guess.

 

soba noodles . . .

soba noodles 1We’re having a cold snap this week with temperatures hovering around zero outdoors. When this happens, I start rummaging around in the pantry and fridge to see what I can make for dinner that’s appetizing and filling so that I won’t have to go to the store. I found myself back on Pinterest last night, after a few months away and came upon some scrumptious looking photos of soba noodles. They’re Japanese noodles made from buckwheat. Sure enough in my pantry, I found a sleeve of green soba noodles made with mugwort (whatever that is.) On another note, I have a friend who has been writing to me about making herbal infusions with herbs such as nettles and oatgrass so I was right in the mood for using these mugwort soba noodles (turns out mugwort is an artimesia family herb with tonifying qualities.)

In the fridge, I found a package of fresh shitake mushrooms, baby spinach, scallions, two good sized florets of broccoli and half a head of baby cabbage. I knew that I also had a treasure trove (to me at least!) of large frozen shrimp in the freezer that I draw from in times like this. I took out about half a dozen shrimp and set them in a bowl of water to defrost. Now, I had a melange of appealing ingredients (see photo above.)

Next, I went to Pinterest and typed in “soba noodle recipes” in the “Search” box. Scrolling through numerous tempting combinations, I soon recognized that I had too many ingredients to make one dish. I could make the shrimp into crispy tempura and serve on the side of a simpler soba noodle dish; or I could cook the noodles and then add lightly cooked shitake mushrooms, broccoli and scallions–or have a cleaner tasting, simpler shaved raw cucumber and raw shitake mushrooms atop soba noodles dressed in a light sauce. I was happy to see that the teriyaki sauce that I made a couple of weeks ago which I still have a little bit left of, would be a tasty condiment to add to dashi broth. I also remembered a NYTimes clinical article months ago about a rare allergic (appeared neurological!) reaction to undercooked shitake mushrooms.

broccoli and shitake mushrooms

broccoli and shitake mushrooms

So, here’s what I think I’m going to make: leave the shrimp in their shells, dry them and saute them briefly with garlic, ginger and scallions with a little teriyaki sauce added just at the end. In a separate pan, saute sliced shitake mushrooms with broccoli and shallot, chopped thin. Make a dashi broth and add a little teriyaki seasoning. Cook the soba noodles in boiling water and drain well. Slip the soba noodles into individual large soup bowls filled with the dashi broth and fresh baby spinach. Serve the shrimps on the side to be eaten in their savory sauce.

shrimp with garlic, scallions, ginger and mirin

shrimp with garlic, scallions, ginger and mirin

All this just to keep from going outside and going to the store! I’ll bet there are a few more variations that we could try in a few days: a broth with cooked spinach and cabbage, and so on.

soba noodles in dashi broth with fresh baby spinach

soba noodles in dashi broth with fresh baby spinach

Oh, and while the afternoon sun was still shining in through the skylights, I decided to use a half bag of Macoun apples from the pantry to make an open faced apple pie for dessert.

apple pie

fresh start . . .

DSC_0923
Made a smoothie for breakfast that tastes lighter than usual and is very refreshing:

Ingredients:
almond coconut milk
freshly squeezed juice from two navel oranges
fresh spinach from Idylwylde Farm (half a handful)
fresh parsley (half a handful)
fresh blueberries (a quarter of a handful)
frozen peaches (about 6 slices)
frozen banana (fresh, cut up and stored in freezer)
a large knob of peeled ginger root

Mixed in the Vitamix. Makes two tall glasses, one reserved in the fridge for later in the day.

This smoothie was markedly different from others that I have made so far. Adding freshly squeezed juice from two navel oranges to the almond-coconut milk base added flavor and resulted in lighter liquid content. Parsley and spinach were less dense greens than kale by itself. Plus, frozen fruit (peaches and banana) made the drink colder than room temperature smoothies of the past. The knob of ginger root was peeled and at least twice the size I normally use. It added zing and provided a clean aftertaste. Overall, this concoction was lighter in density, more flavorful and colder than normal: a keeper recipe to jot down in my food journal.

Last night, photos (shuffle) appeared on my Mac laptop while we watched the game (the Bruins made a stalwart effort tying the game at 5-5 but lost in overtime.) As the images came and went, I couldn’t help but notice how much older I looked a couple of years ago and even as recently as this last holiday season. In addition to growing my hair longer, I think I may have lost about twenty pounds these last six months because I feel/look much healthier/better.

Of all the things that might have helped, I think the little Oster citrus juicer has made the most difference. Whenever I find myself craving something to snack on, I juice up a pink grapefruit and two navel oranges. It is a refreshing drink that also satisfies my desire to eat something. Plus, I keep the fruit in the fridge so that the juice is nice and cold. Adding fresh juice to almond-coconut milk was a good experiment.

So, that’s today’s fresh start for the day.

sukiyaki! . . .

Rib eye for sukiyaki
On Monday, I went to a huge asian market on the way into town for another appointment. There, I picked up a package of gorgeous rib eye steak, sliced thin and gleaming up at me to make either sukiyaki or shabu shabu, both Japanese recipes that call for prime thinly sliced beef.

Back home, I pulled out a number of my Japanese cookery books, looked online for recipes and also consulted my daughter, M., who lived in Japan for six years and for whom sukiyaki is one of her favorite dishes. (Hopefully, this quest for perfect sukiyaki will take less time than the search for foolproof popovers!)

The first thing that caught my attention when reading the recipes was the way to handle the beautiful beef: instruction to pan fry the beef in the skillet and brown it first, adding sugar or not adding sugar. Then, putting it to the side of the skillet but still on the heat and boiling napa cabbage, tofu, sweet potato noodles, scallions, mushrooms, spinach, etc. in a seasoned broth with sake, mirin, soy and sugar. You’re supposed to let the combined mixture cook for ten minutes so that the flavors of the beef and broth permeate the other ingredients.

Sounds good to me, except what happens to the cooked beef while all the rest of this boiling of the stock goes on, and for ten minutes? Wouldn’t it be tough and chewy by the time everything else was cooked through enough, especially when we have such gorgeously THIN pieces of rib-eye?

Not finding anything in the recipes that allayed my concerns about over-cooking the beef, I decided to buy some sake, which I enjoy drinking anyhow, warmed up.

I think what I will do is to saute the beef slices in the beginning, remove most of it from the pan except for a couple of pieces left in the skillet to give flavor to the napa cabbage, spinach, tofu and noodles. When the hot pot ingredients are ready to serve, I’ll then place the medium rare pieces of beef that I held aside to the broth, let it settle in and then serve it immediately.
**********************************************************************
Okay, so what I wrote above this line was during my thinking phase, considering this special Japanese dish. Here’s what I actually did during my cooking phase:
1. I cooked the sweet potato noodles (dangmyen) until they were tender, drained them and then put them back into the pot after using kitchen shears to cut them into smaller pieces. I then added soy, mirin, dashi and sugar to them and let their heat mix it in until these liquids were dissolved. Sort of like par-seasoning the noodles ahead of time.
2. I prepared the tofu by cutting blocks of soft tofu (that’s all I had and I didn’t want to go out to the store just to buy firm tofu. I basted the rectangular blocks with some Korean bulgogi barbecue sauce and crisped them in a skillet with a little oil. They came out gorgeous and smelled divine.
3. I cut up half a small head of napa cabbage and sauteed it in a little oil in a separate skillet. Removed it when it was fully cooked but still crispy, putting it aside.
4. I cleaned some beautiful pieces of Chinese spinach, tearing out the most fibrous stems and leaving the dark green leaves to add at the last minute to the sukiyaki hot pot.
5. I made the most important sauce, using te-dah!, Bobby Flay’s recipe (yep, that’s right) soy sauce, a little sugar, mirin and dashi stock. I cooked this until all the flavors were blended and it was delicious.
6. Sliced up four green onions into two inch lengths and set aside.
noodles, spinach, cabbage and tofu for sukiyaki
When it was time for dinner, I used a large skillet, coated the bottom with grapeseed oil and at medium high heat, seared some pieces of thinly sliced rib eye beef. Sprinkled the raw side with a little brown sugar and then turned them to cook the other side. Then I took them out of the skillet to add at the end of the dish. The beef drippings were still there as I sauteed the green onions, then placed in segregated sections the napa cabbage, barbecue crisped tofu blocks and sweet potato noodles around the perimeter of the skillet. Poured in the prepared Bobby Flay sauce which was full of flavor. Put on the lid of the skillet and let it all simmer for two minutes. Then turned everything over, added the fresh spinach and let simmer another two minutes. In the well in the middle, I gently placed the medium rare beef and covered it for one more minute. Then, I ladled an arranged sukiyaki bowl for G. and me, beating a raw organic egg in a separate bowl to use for dipping.

Here it is so you can see for yourself how it looked right before we ate it. I have to say, it was worth the extra preparation beforehand because everything in the dish was flavorful and cooked through, while the thin prime rib slices remained medium rare, front and center, savored in all its glory. Yum!
skillet with sukiyaki

eggs . . .

eggs benedict for christmas brunch


As you can see from previous posts like “oeufs en gelee” and “boiling an egg,” I’m fond of eggs. Really fresh, organic eggs.

There’s a barnyard farm kind of place in one of the towns nearby that I go to buy a couple of dozen extra large eggs every two weeks or so. When little Josie was visiting, her breakfast was some freshly sauteed baby spinach added to some scrambled eggs and grated cheese for breakfast. Sometimes the eggs are so big there are double yolks. So you can see how much I love fresh eggs.

josie, waiting for breakfast


scrambled eggs, spinach and cheese for josie's breakfast

A week or so ago, I received an email from the owners of the little egg buying place. There’s a small room with fridges where you go in and buy eggs on the honor system, leaving either money or a check sealed in Read the rest of this entry »