Monday, July 7, 2014

Living with Luce

I threw out a lot of butter. You know how you sometimes need to soften the butter before baking? I would put it in a covered butter dish, lay a dishtowel over it and then put bowls and pots around the edges. Then I would get distracted and return to the kitchen to see an impossibly furry tail under the dish towel and the sounds of happy lip-smacking.

I'd use my stern, Darth Vader voice, "Luuuuuuuce,,,"

And this little binky-face would look at me - whiskers all glistening from butter crumbs and a nose and lips moistened by fat.

I learned to lock up the butter in the china cabinet.

I threw out flour, sugar, cornstarch and salt. And turned the chairs around effectively keeping Luce in jail.

He enjoyed caviar.

And he never got terribly big. So you always had to check the back of the dishwasher before you closed it.

And he got away with every mischievous thing a cat can do - because he made everyone smile.

He was front and center for rehearsals in my home. And if an actor suddenly darted down - we knew that actor was rubbing Luce's tummy.

Luce learned from Pip how to lay on my laptop and become the quintessential "writer's block."

And even at 22 months - his fur and whiskers pointed in many directions giving him the appearance of Einstein.

I'm glad he had his butter and caviar escapades. My daughter posted, "You think you get years. But sometimes you get months. And in those months they become family." And if 20 months ago, I knew the outcome - if 20 months ago - I knew I would only get 20 months and then there would be pieces of my heart a bit crumbly and wobbly - I'd do it all over again. I'd bring little "wild-boy-found-in-the-woods" into our home (and hearts) because living with Luce was a confection. Living with Luce was monkeyshine and mayhem. Living with Luce was adventures in the sand - pieces of seashells from other places and other times. Living with Luce was love. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Little Hands and Weddings and Chicken and Carrots

Little hands. That's all I thought about for a week before the wedding - those little hands in mine. Holding hands as we navigated parking lots, streets - or just because.

And bike rides in the woods - the two of us singing as loudly as we could - to keep the bears away.

The flood of memories and how we got from Point A to here. And now I have another son. And was able to watch how warmly she has been welcomed into her husband's family and to know how happy we are to have him as part of ours.

I was so proud of myself. I held it together for the ceremony (officiated by a friend who sang at my wedding almost 28 years ago - how wonderful is that?). I held it together for the toasts. I even held it together when Devon and Kirsten had their first dance - all smiles and sweetness.

But then Paul and Kirsten danced to "I Saw Her First" and the floodgates opened.

And more mascara needed to be applied.

I had cousins in from NYC and the night before the wedding they were able to visit with Kirsten and Matthew. I served Chicken Marbella because it could be prepared ahead of time, is healthy (the rich foods were coming) and it is perfect for a crowd. It's Sam's recipe from My Carolina Kitchen. I have used it for many occasions and it always pleases. No leftovers!

Find the recipe here. It's an old Silver Palate recipe from the 70's and I promise you that you will use it again and again. And because it was the night before the wedding, I forgot to add the wine and brown sugar before cooking. And nobody knew. Chicken and olives and prunes... who needs sugar?

And served up some more healthy treats: Roasted Carrots from Stacey Snacks.

Find the recipe here. And because it was the night before my daughter's wedding, I forgot the avocado - and didn't tell anyone. Fresh carrots, chives, parsley and creme fraiche - who needs the avocado?

For the next two days we were tourists in our own city - reconnecting with my cousins and showing them around. I doubt they ever toured in a pick-up truck before!

Sunday eve, cousins are at airport (miss them), sister is at home and Paul and I are downstairs with sleeping cats watching Cosmos. Normal life. Sweet life.

A blessed life.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Filets Mignons with Mushroom Sauce - April Comfort

Comfort me with mushrooms. A skillet wine sauce with cremini mushrooms is right up my Italian-loving (filet mignon) meat alley. If you are wondering about the wisdom of posting comfort food in April because - your daffodils are up and you've planted your garden, I have four words for you. "How nice for you."

Here in White Bear Lake, we still have the home fires burning. Spring makes a brief appearance and then flits away singing, "Ha, ha - just teasing." No April foolery intended. Snow is expected this coming Thursday and Friday.

But the filets are not a tease. They're the real deal. Add some dried porcini for a more intense flavor. Are you grilling already? (We are grilling in the snow. I have one determined husband. He also grills in sandals. So I have one slightly-warped husband.) Grill the meats and make the pan sauce and voila - you have "An Almost-Spring Meal."

The recipe is from Saveur: The New Comfort Food - a gift from my son who knows me and my struggle with Minnesota winters all too well. And it's so easy (which is my mantra) but you don't have to tell anyone that.

Ingredients - Serves 4
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 8-oz filets mignon (salted with Kosher salt and pepper)
2 shallots minced
1 lb cremini mushrooms sliced (add some porcini - makes it even earthier)
1 cup red wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons sherry (I used sweet)
2 teaspoons cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water
1 tablespoon chopped chives (garnish)
1 tablespoons chopped parsley (garnish)
I think scallions would also work as a garnish.

1. Heat oven to 500 degrees F. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet (12 inches) over high heat. Season filets with salt and pepper and add to skillet. Flip once until browned about 4-5 minutes. Transfer filets to baking sheet and roast until medium-rare - another 4-5 minutes. Transfer filets to a platter and tent to keep warm.

2. Bring skillet to medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter, the rest of the oil, the shallots and cook, stirring until shallots are softened - about 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook (stirring occasionally) until softened - about 5 minutes. Add red wine and reduce heat to medium. Stir occasionally and reduce until sauce is syrupy - about 8-10 minutes. Add stock and cook until slightly reduced - an additional 4-5 minutes. Whisk in sherry and cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil. Stir continually until thickened.

Remove pan from heat. Whisk in remaining butter and then add the chives and parsley. Pour over filets. Serve. Who needs spring?

The top of the fridge has been my hiding place for appetizers and salads because someone has a "dairy habit" (Luce ferociously goes after cheese and butter.) Yesterday he figured out how to get to the top. Now what am I going to do?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Italian Cook Meets Ottolenghi

So this is where I am. But it's not an excuse for lack of posting. It's my daughter's wedding and I am mainly showing up where and when she needs me. She sometimes calls and asks questions or sends me a photo of something - which is sweet of her - but she has her own style and the day belongs to Kirsten and Devon. The gown is vintage, her bouquet consists of brooches - from family on both sides. I won't give away the music. There has been one unexpected sweetness: a friend of mine was recently ordained. She sang at my wedding. And she will be officiating for Kirsten and Devon. That's a lovely, sweet circle.

I find my cooking has been circular. Somewhere in the midst of the 4th or 5th Polar Vortex - I decided to leave my comfort zone. Try some Mid-Eastern cooking. And so I turned to Ottolenghi. I invited my urban children (and the other soon to be child) over and devised a menu. My list of ingredients went something like this:

Eggplant, pine nuts, saffron, garlic, basil, olive oil ... do you see what I am getting at? If it wasn't for the mint and the yogurt - I was back cooking Italian! But even if dinner was a mish-mosh-mash between Italy and the Mid-East, it was:
a. delicious
b. healthy (every day we are below zero, I gain a pound.... that's a lot of pounds this winter!)
c. delicious 

Marinated Turkey Breast with Lemon, Cumin, and White Wine

This lemony-herb sauce was a nice change from the Thanksgiving dinner. It was a bright and comforting addition to a winter table. Start it a day ahead - it needs to marinate for 24 hours. It is worth the time. And it couldn't be easier. (Well, if you bought everything from a store - that would be easier.)

Serves 4-6:
4 tbs mint leaves
4 tbs Italian flat parsley leaves
4 tbs cilantro leaves
1 clove garlic, peeled
4 tbs lemon juice
4 tbs olive oil
1.2 cup dry white wine
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2-3 pound turkey breast - free range is nice

Put all the ingredients (except for the turkey!) in a food processor and process 1-2 minutes for a smooth marinade. (A blender also works.) Put the turkey in a non-metallic container and pour the marinade all over. Massage the marinade into the meat.  Immerse the turkey in the sauce. Cover and put in fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 F/220 C. Remove turkey from marinade (save marinade) and put it on a baking sheet. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes. Lower the temp to 400 F/200 C and cook for 15 more minutes. Then lower again to 350 F/180 C. Cook until turkey is done - about 30-45 more minutes. I use a meat thermometer to make sure. If the skin gets too dark, cover with foil.

For the sauce: heat the marinade in a small saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes - until it is reduced by 1/2. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Remove turkey from oven and let it rest for ten minutes. Slice thinly and serve with the warm sauce.  (Can also serve cold: let meat completely cool and then slice. Serve with cold sauce on the side.)

I doubled everything to serve 6 with leftovers. Leftovers are a must.

I served this with a few sides. The eggplant was a hit and it's coming back here this week.

Roasted Eggplant with Saffron Yogurt - serves 4

Saffron Yogurt
a small pinch of saffron threads
3 tbs hot water
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
2-1/2 tbs lemon juice
3 tbs olive oil
coarse sea salt to taste ( a pinch is enough)

To make the sauce, infuse the saffron in a small bowl of the hot water for a few minutes. Pour the infusion into the bowl containing the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and coarse sea salt. Whisk to get a smooth sauce. taste and adjust salt if need be. Cover and chill. This will keep for up to 3 days. This is also delicious on many roasted vegetables and potatoes!

3 medium eggplants cut into 3/4 inch wedges or slices (I peeled and sliced them)
olive oil for brushing
2 tbs toasted pine nuts (I omitted because of an allergy)
handful of pomegranate seeds
20 basil leaves
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 475 F/220 C. Place eggplant slices on baking sheet. Brush them with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-35 minutes - until they are a lovely light brown. (I turned them over.) Remove and cool slightly. (Ottolenghi says these can be made 3 days ahead of time and brought to room temperature - but I think that is not optimum.)

To serve: arrange eggplant slices on platter, drizzle the saffron yogurt over them, sprinkle the pine nuts and the pomegranate seeds and the basil and have at it. It's part summer and part winter. It kept the Polar Vortex at bay.

Below is my own Polar Vortex. (He thinks I cannot see the tail.) I am learning how to cook with Luce. It's like cooking with babies.*

*Please note photo was snapped after the baking was done. He is not allowed near any ingredients or pots and pans during prep and cooking.

And the only way to accomplish that is to wait for Luce to go to sleep. Mind you, I'm not delighted that his tail gets into the leftover flour on the table. But one day he won't be a little sneak-face getting into everything. Right? Tell me, I'm right.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Rosemary Bread

70 degrees F in Rome. -15 degrees F in MN. And going down to -25 degrees F this weekend. You bet I'm looking for the Mediterranean.

This is when everyone gets along. Everyone cuddles.

The angels are put away. The tree remains. There have been improvements. Luce doesn't always live in the middle of the tree.

Sometimes he sleeps under it.

(What's that joke? 2 cats are in a bar drinking. One cats says, "So they bring in this tree and hang sparkly, dangly things on it and expect me not to touch it. That's why I drink.") Luce doesn't drink. He goes for the tree!

I missed the blog. Your blogs. I missed the (somewhat studied) nonchalant way of putting words to paper. And connecting - that's what I missed the most. There's a lot of happy "throw-ricotta-and-herbs-and-olive-oil" together and celebrate in blogging. Playwrighting is more of the "tear-your-hair-out-bite-your-nails-my-last-ten-pages-were-crap" sort of thing. And inexplicably, I love it. Later. After it's written and I'm working on it with others.

So before I get to the bread - I was writing about bread I think - one more segue. During rehearsals for a reading of And the Universe Didn't Blink, I discovered how social my cats really are. Pippin slept at the foot of the actors and Luce - well Luce - he was in the midst of it. When a giggle came during a dramatic scene, you knew Luce was stealing the stage. It was even suggested that I write Luce into the script. Because every arctic explorer needs an arctic cat...

When the deep freeze came, my kitchen turned to bread and soups. I love these breads because they're small - personalized. A small boule for each diner. And even if it hurts to be outside, inside it's all about the warmth.

Rosemary Bread - from the Food network
1 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and serving
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons rosemary (they called for dried - don't like those twigs - used fresh and used more)
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Stir the yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup warm water in large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer). Let sit until all foamy and frothy - 5 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the flour, 1-1/2 tablespoons of the rosemary, the fine salt and 3/4 cup warm water. Stir with a wooden spoon (or with dough hook if using a mixer) until a dough forms.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface (dust lightly with flour if necessary) until smooth and elastic - about ten minutes. (Or knead with dough hook on medium-high speed - about 8 minutes).

Brush a large bowl with olive oil. Add the dough, cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until more than doubled - about 2 hours.

Brush 2 baking sheets with olive oil. Flour a work surface and the turn the dough onto the flour and divide into 4 pieces.  Sprinkle some flour on the pieces, and working with one at a time (duh!) fold the top and bottom portions into the middle. Fold in the side to make a free-form square. Turn dough over (may use a spatula), tuck cover under to form a ball (I just formed a ball). Place seam-side down on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, placing two dough-balls on each baking sheet. Let stand, uncovered, until more than doubled - about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake the loaves for 10 minutes, brush with remaining olive oil, sprinkle with Kosher salt and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of rosemary Continue baking until golden brown - about 10 more minutes. Transfer rack to cool. Serve with olive oil sprinkled with pepper. (We slathered butter on it.)

It goes really well with this French vegetable soup I seem to made every week from Manger. Find that here.

I wish you magic and wonder for 2014. Look at the sky and wonder. Wish upon a star. Enjoy the winterscape if you have one - it will give birth to new wonders. (Even on my iceberg.) Happy 2014! May it be a fruitful journey.