Sunday, June 28, 2009

Live, Love, Laugh

To every thing there is a season ... I am in the season of youth theatre. 52 children ages 9-18, 52 egos, 52 expectations, 52 students counting lines. 40 students who think their line count is deficient. Stage whispers, parent meetings, phone calls, casting woes, Victorian phrases, fish and chips, Dickens and my foodie life has moved over to accommodate them.
I am setting a schedule; I surreptitiously visit you when I can and am called away before commenting can happen. I'm making a list and checking it twice and will hover and knock on your door and sing back to you when the needs of the young calm down.
In the midst of theatrical mayhem, my wonderful, terrific, loving family from North Carolina came to visit. Meals for fourteen! Mayhem! Laughter and healing.

My father is battling an illness. He is a private man so I do not wish to expose his challenges on the World Wide Web - but you need to know to have his brother & Company up for a week was better than medicine.

A lot of laughing went on and a lot of cooking, too.
No sooner did the North Carolina contingent pack their bags and head south, than we here in Minnesota started packing Matthew's bags - to move him to his grad school apartment in North Dakota. Bittersweet, poignant, full of promise, filled with excitement and three flights up. The apartment quickly reminded me of home. Oh! That's because he has our furniture!
And I christened the new apartment with zucchini and mushrooms braised with wine and mixed in with fettuccine... and a bit of garlic (that's a given) and some thyme.

And through theatrical chaos, welcoming visitors and moving my first born, I made sure there was sweetness all around.

Mixed berry gelato...

And black forest mousse...
May all of your life's challenges also be tinged with sweetness.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Reward for the MS 150

When my sister and I were ... errr ... younger ... we wanted to open a shop called "I'm Not Hungry, I'll Just Pick." We have both been long enamoured of appetizers for dinner. A little of this and a little of that. Indeed, during the summer months, I used to do a "spread" which consisted of this and that and the kids loved. Come to think of it, I'd like to re-enact that dinner! My husband does loves his full meals - a protein, a starch and a vegetable. And since he married someone who like to cook - I do.

Well, this weekend, "the boys" were doing their fourth MS 150. A bicycle ride from Duluth back to the Twin Cities in a weekend. They love doing it, recount their stories endlessly for months and father and son have created an unstoppable memory for them while doing great good to people afflicted with MS. We have friends and family with the disease.
At home, Kirsten and I look forward to dinners that may not be complete. We went to Trader Joes and picked out pot stickers and quiches and dare I say it - cheesecakes - to make at will. But when my guys returned from the bike ride, I wanted something a little special waiting for them.
Bouchons au thon - straight from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life.

They're like mini tuna quiches. Molly Wizenberg calls them "a taste of France." They certainly were "a taste of things to come." It was waiting for them and the guys I live with are always most appreciative. Have you noticed how much fun it is to cook for appreciative people?

Just as a small pearl of a mozzarella ball with basil and and a cherry tomato sighs, "bring me to Italy,"

... this recipe will bring you to France.

One 6-oz can of tuna packed in water, drained well
1 cup lightly packed shredded Gruyere
1/3 cup creme fraiche
3 T tomato paste
3 large eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 T Italian Parsley (I knew I would find something Italian in this)
1/4 t salt

Set over rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease 8 cups of standard muffin tin and set aside.
Put tuna in medium bowl and use a fork and mash it to break into small pieces. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. It should be orangey-pink.
Divide mixture evenly among 8 muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes until the bouchons look set on top and around the edges. Transfer to rack and cool for 5 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge and remove bouchons from tin. They may collapse a bit. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Eat. Visit Paris or Aix-en-Provence. Celebrate a bike ride or an accomplishment. Savor. It's a grand way to reward those coming home from a chairty bike ride.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Making up my Mind - is it possible?

Decisions. Favorite this and that. It just doesn't seem to be my thing. After hours of conversing with myself. I will finally come to some sort of plan. And then life happens. I decided on the theme, characters plot line and ending for my next play. Had it mapped out. Started blogging about it. Received a (welcome) phone call from a director stating that (maybe, possibly, probably?) he would like me to write a play for a middle school where he was directing. And then I could work with him and the students on developing the play. Was that possible?
Away went Shakespearephobia and out came my pen and paper. And a new play is in the works. Similarly, after prepping some pots for peppers in containers and having definitely, absolutely, most certainly decided where they should go and what I would do with the pickings, I came home with flowers to plant. After all, they sell peppers at Farmer's Market, don't they?
After making a firm decision that the night's dinner would be pasta and goat cheese and asparagus. I would return to Italy. Somehow, I got sidetracked in France. I went to to the grocers for asparagus - and came back with -

Copper River Salmon!

With Molly's (from Orangette) recipe in my head, I knew we had to have the salmon tonight. I also know when June ends, the Copper River Salmon ends. No time like the present. This couldn't be easier and it's in June 2009's issue of Bon Appetit.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Prep the salmon at will. (Herbs, salt and pepper, lemon zest). I did the salt, pepper, lemon zest route. Spread a few tablespoons of creme fraiche over the top. Cook for 14 minutes (I cooked for sixteen) until the center is barely finished. Remove from oven, let sit while salmon cooks a few additional minutes and serve. I used 1-1/2 pounds of salmon which easily served four.
Creme fraiche is always a taste of France, isn't it? The shiny cream that tangs at just the right moment. Like walking along the Seine and all is mellow and sweet and you suddenly come across an "oo la la" moment. A jazz musician. An artist painting. Loud singing from a boat.
I did serve it with pasta, so my trip to France was fleeting. This also is from June 2009's Bon Appetit - as a fifteen minute meal.

Pasta with Goat Cheese. Lemon and Asparagus
(Serves six with leftovers as a side dish; four as a main course)

one pound curly pasta
4-6 oz log of your favorite goat cheese (Mine is made locally)
one pound asparagus, trimmed and cut in 1-2 inch pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T freshly grated lemon zest (you can add more - I should have)
2 t freshly chopped tarragon (you could add more - I should have!)
tarragon sprigs for garnish
1 4-4/12 oz goat cheese roll (mine was 4 oz) Bon Appetit says the crumbles don't melt as well and it takes no time to crumble it yourself
Cook pasta in large pot of salted water - about seven minutes. Add asparagus and cook until pasta is al dente - about three more minutes. Meanwhile, in large bowl combine oil, lemon peel and chopped tarragon. Coarsely crumble in goat cheese. Drain pasta and asparagus, reserving one cup of cooking liquid.
Add hot pasta and asparagus to large bowl. Combine till pasta is coated with the goat cheese. If dry, add in a little bit of cooking liquid. (I did not need any). Toss. Add salt and pepper to taste, garnish with tarragon springs and serve.

Meanwhile, I am having family up from North Carolina next week. Prepping a barbecue with wonderful sides and want most of it done ahead of time. I can only hope that after planning, shopping and prepping, I don't suddenly get the urge to roast a turkey!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Vicarious travel through recipes

I don't know why the old "Love and Marriage" song popped into my head as I made the curried mango chicken salad. (I was singing "Fruit and Salad" but you probably didn't need to know that). Of course, I never know why anything pops into my head. I am a chronic daydreamer. I recite dialogue all day - whether or not I am writing something. I think in people's voices. And songs come and go with no rhyme or reason. And to veer off-subject, the curried yogurt was truly delicious if not photogenic.
I am still making my way through the 200 Super Salads book by Alice Storey. Curried Chicken-Mango Salad! Some heat and some sweet. It's also a good recipe for a play! I am nearing the end of my adaptation of Pride and Prejudice so am looking for easy, summery dishes. This fit the bill, the "kids" approved and bless-my-husband's-heart, he eats what I put on his plate - and - he cooks, too!
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes (well, mine took a wee bit longer)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts about 5 oz each; sliced into strips
6 t mild curry paste (I used the red one)
4T lemon juice
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1 mango, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
1 cup watercress
1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced (I used a whole one - living on the edge)
1/2 red onion, diced (I used 1/4 of one - getting off the edge)
1/2 iceberg lettuce head (any lettuce would do)
Slice chicken breasts into long slices. Put 4 t of the curry paste in a plastic bag with the lemon juice and mix together by squeezing the bag. Throw in the chicken and make sure all is coated.
Half-fill a steamer basket with water and bring to a boil. Steam the chicken in a single-layer covered for five minutes until cooked. (My steamer basket is tiny so I just cooked it in a saute pan till juices ran clear - about 8-10 minutes - turning them once.
Meanwhile, mix the remaining curry paste in a bowl with yogurt. Tear the watercress into bite-size pieces. (My watercress were already bite-sized! Thank-you, Mother Nature.) Add it to the yogurt dressing along with the cucumber, mango and red onion. Toss gently.
Tear the lettuce or shred it or whatever you like to do and arrange it on a platter or individual serving plates. Spoon mango mixture over the lettuce. Add the warm chicken strips to the top and serve immediately.

I could have been on a lanai in Hawaii. Sometimes I travel through my plays. Often, I travel through my meals. No security check, no baggage, no turbulence. Sometimes all it takes is a mango to transport you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Singing the road-construction-don't-need-no-stinking-curbs-summertime-blues

I wait all summer for this.

I drink my coffee in the morning by our blooms. And bid them and their fairies good-night in the evenings. While my "winter of my discontent" has ended (sort of), the "summer of my discontent" has just begun. "They" moved in last week.

Someone in White Bear Lake decided we needed curbs. Expensive curbs. Curbs that will keep our streets torn up for the duration of the summer. Curbs that require jackhammering, truck back-up beeps, steel clanging, house-shaking, dust-flying, high-pitched-machinery, migraine-inducing noise to begin promptly at 7 a.m. and continue for 13 hours per day. I sound like a bitter little bird, don't I? I'm on vacation for the week. I had thought about sleeping. The trucks start moving in between 6 a.m. and 6:30 A.M. I swear I'll never complain about bird-chirpings waking me up at 5 a.m. again.
Well - there's always eating. Somehow when huge holes are being dug outside your living room window, a broiled piece of fish with a green salad is not what you are dreaming about.
Sweet comfort is on your mind. Sweet comfort in the way of a berry topped, almond cream tart. Now I will admit, I used too much mixture (the recipe made me do it!) and I shouldn't have used the 11 inch pie pan when it specifically said 9 inch - but you know - I just cast my fate to the wind and made it and we ate it. No regrets.
ALMOND CREAM FRUIT TART (from PASTA MAGAZINE 2000 - yes, I save my magazines)
It looks intimidating with the steps - but if I can do it in my sleep-deprived frazzled state, anyone can!
1-1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 toasted ground almonds
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 t vanilla
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 t almond extract
8 oz light cream cheese
4 cups fresh fruit (blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch premixed with 1 cup water (trust me you don't need that much - half will do - less than half)
CRUST: Mix all ingredients for the crust in a mixing bowl. Press into a nine inch pie pan. You can use an 11 inch pie pan as I did - but all will be stretched thinner! Except for the berry mixture - that is abundant. Bake at 375 degrees F for six minutes. Cool for 30-40 minutes.
ALMOND CREAM FILLING: Pour cream and vanilla in small-medium bowl. Whip till soft peaks form. In a second (larger bowl) whip cream cheese, sugar and almond extract until smooth. Using a large spoon, fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. Spread cream cheese mixture over crust in tart pan. Refrigerate for two hours (longer is probably better.)
Mix berries and sugar in saucepan until mixture bubbles. Then stir in cornstarch mixture (remember: less is more). Stir until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and cool on counter for about an hour. (One hour did not do it - it could probably be refrigerated after 30 minutes). Just before serving spread on top of Almond Cream Tart. Eat. Taste summer, sweet sun, light skies and the quiet before the trucks.

... going ...

... gone!

Just like my street.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cooking On An iceberg

You spend four days in a theatre and what happens? Winter returns to Minnesota in June. Now, I admit I haven't paid a lot of attention - to anything lately. But I did notice when walking back to my car that wearing a sweatshirt wasn't cutting it. It's freezing here! 47 degrees F on Saturday. Fifty on Sunday. I turned the heat on in my car! Did a meteor hit the moon when I wasn't looking? After ridding my fridge of winter comfort food, it's winter - another winter of my discontent. It snowed in northern Minnesota!
So I sit at my computer catching up - in sweats, sweatpants and gloves with fingertips removed. Not a pretty sight. On the other hand, I can stop bemoaning the fact that I have not lost twenty pounds this past year - because I'm still in baggy sweats!
Pulled out my chicken and turned to Giada's lovely recipe for Chicken Saltimbocca. Next thing you know, I'll be baking a yule log.

1 10-oz frozen chopped spinach - thawed (I used fresh from frigid Farmer's Market)
3 T olive oil
1-1/2 t salt plus more to taste
1 t freshly ground pepper (or - you know - more - to taste)
6 chicken breasts pounded flat (I cut them in half)
6 slices of prosciutto (she says paper-thin - but I like these a wee bit thicker)
1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
1 14-oz can low-sodium chicken broth or what's in your freezer
3 T fresh lemon juice
Squeeze and drain spinach of excess water. Dry. In a small bowl, coat with 1 T of the olive oil. Season with 1/4 t of salt and pepper
Place cutlets on work surface and sprinkle with 1/2 t of salt and 1/4 t of pepper. (I just liberally sprinkle.) Lay 1 slice of prosciutto atop each cutlet. Arrange an even layer of spinach on each prosciutto-laden cutlet and sprinkle Parmesan evenly over each. Beginning at the short tapered end, roll up each cutlet as a jelly roll and secure with toothpick.
In heavy skillet, heat remaining 2T of olive oil over high flame. Add cutlets and cook until golden brown - about 2 minutes per side. Add the broth and lemon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer till cooked through - about four minutes. (Mine usually take a wee bit longer). I know "wee bit" isn't scientific.
Transfer cutlets to platter. Increase heat and cook the sauce until it is reduced to about 1/2 cup. (Five minutes?) Season with salt and pepper to taste, drizzle sauce over chicken and serve.
Excuse me while I dig out my ski cap and long underwear.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What can you do in ten minutes?

A lot actually. I am in the midst of Lakeshore Players Fifth Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival.
"A ten-minute play is a streak of theatrical lightning. It doesn’t last long, but its power can stand your hair on end."— Eric Lane, author of Take Ten
I am directing Take Two - a romantic comedy. Other plays have God interviewing a candidate for Heaven, three men watching their daughters basketball game - and one of the fathers - well - you know him if you've been to a game and he drives you crazy. And you just wish he'd shut-up. Then, there's a new take on a show-down in the wild west. Only the weapons are strip malls, gated communities and dare I say it - Walmart? And a grand new view on "take your child to work day." Even if the work is robbing candy stores.

For six weeks, ten directors rehearsed their plays apart from one another. We came together for technical rehearsal and dress rehearsal and acted as each others audience for a few nights. And last night - we opened. To a full house. To a successful full house. (Whew) This week is a grand celebration of the playwrights. Ten playwrights, ten directors and 20-35 actors all in different shows - turn into a festival for a weekend. I adore this weekend. I love the respectful way the theatre treats the playwrights, love seeing the fine work of other directors and always am gratified to see new actors' work and the return of friends to the stage. And did I mention - I started this festival? Six years ago, I pitched an idea to the Board of Directors at Lakeshore Players. One year later, by the seat of our pants - we opened. And were wonderfully successful. In subsequent years, the festival has grown, it has become more organized and all the people I began with - are still there helping out. And the wonderful lady who helped in the early days has now taken it over and it runs better than ever.
Soooooo, what does this have to do with food? Well, quite a lot. Because a ten-minute play only takes ten-minutes on stage. Off stage, I have been running to the theatre, meeting with my cast, pitching in to help with the festival and err... not cooking.
Having posted the wonderful Barefoot Contessa's brownies on Facebook, I dug myself into a hole. A lot of artists in the festival are my friends on Facebook. And they asked for the brownies.

So I complied. Again. Twice in one week. The recipe is here. And if you use artisan chocolate as I do the price mounts.
I then thought of those who do not want a huge chocolate rush. And devised Caprese appetizers. And they all went. A small fresh mozzarella ball threaded with a grape tomqto, basil and some Italian dressing.

They went faster than the brownies.
And then the ten minute. I boiled some bratwursts so my husband could quickly grill them (in ten minutes) when home.

And looked at my 200 Super Salads book. And in ten minutes, devised:
A Caprese Salad:
grape tomatoes
heirloom tomatoes
tiny balls of mozzarella
1 T balsamic vinegar, 3T olive oil, pinch of salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, fresh Basil for garnish

And in another ten-minutes, steam or saute some broccoli with baby leeks or scallions. Add some hard-boiled egg. Mix 3 T olive oil, 1T balsamic, 1T honey and 1T capers,pour over the salad and voila:

Ten-minutes. Plays. Salads. Dinner. Art. It's also possible and it's all so wonderful.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A sampling of blog recipes and some sweet awards...

Pull up a chair and sip some wine/beer/margaritas/gin/coffee/tea. Grab some chocolate/cheese/pate/shrimp/cruditees. Take a deep breath and relax. I've been cooking. From your blogs. Above is some Shrimp Aragonate from Proud Italian Cook. Even the non-shrimp eater in my family lapped it up.

I've had a grand spring using your recipes! And to add to fuzzy warm feelings, two bloggers went and sent me an award! The best part of the award is - passing it on. So today's blog is about your wonderful recipes and my thanks to foodie-friends who visit offering to share their cup of sugar and pound of butter - with me!
I may have to start cooking six times a day in order to try out all of the recipes that entice me. I thought I would have photos for all of your recipes. I intended to catalogue all of them and not forget one. I hoped I would have something lusciously witty to accompany all of your delightful posts. I fell short. I will try to keep better records. For someone who catalogues every play submission, you'd think I could set up a spread sheet for these recipes!
After mowing the lawn, my children were were rewarded with Sophie's Strawberry Smoothie from Sophie's Foodiefiles. Now, it is expected! What nerve! I offer a healthy treat and they already take it for granted. I guarantee if you promise this smoothie to someone, they will be at your beck and call as long as strawberries are in season.
To continue on the healthy trend, we have had Natasha's Guilt-free Chocolate Milkshakes from Five Star Foodie Culinary Adventures. It's nice to get that chocolate fix without the guilt!
The summery turkey tacos from Food and Flavors of San Antonio are beginning to be a staple around here.
The tortellini salad from My Tasty Treasures elevated my simple grilled herb chicken.
The San Francisco Chicken from Bunny's Warm Oven is easy, pretty and pasted on my fridge door - with a promise to make a copy for my son - who is spending the month here before he moves out - collecting recipes.
I already mentioned Katherine's incredible herb and cheese focaccia.
But it's worth mentioning (again) because I made it (again). And I will also be doing her Chicken Potalba so check out Smoky Mountain Cafe. You won't leave hungry.
It's been a muffin month. I am enticed by all the fruit muffins floating about and the dessert muffin and the anytime-muffins and well, to speak the truth - I don't think I've ever met a muffin I didn't like. I know the muffin man and I am he. She. Non-gender specific. In the last days of college finals, I had these oatmeal muffins ready for my daughter to grab-and-go in the mornings. In addition to providing sweet comfort during stressful days (chemistry final, physics final), they even supplied some nutrients.

Kowalski's Market which I frequent so much - I should rent a cot - has these pecan-studded chicken breasts. They have always looked so good. But when I bring them home, they are too dry. I should know better than to buy anything pre-seasoned, pre-marinated and pre-pecan studded. To the rescue was Reeni and her Cinammon Spice and Everything Nice blog.

Her Pecan-Bacon Chicken is moist and comes with a sweet/savory honey-mustard sauce.
Italyville inspired this taste of spring Italian fennel salad. It's actually more than a taste of spring - it was a glorious bite of an Italian spring!

What's on the agenda for June?
Watermelon and Mango Salsa from Diary of a Fanatic Foodie
and a few hor d'oeuvres from The Unconfidential Cook
Meanwhile in the midst of tech/dress week for the ten-minute play festival and a host of other "life" happenings, Sophie at Sophia's Foodiefiles
and Catherine at The Unconfidential Cook
sent me this:

How sweet is that? Have you ever noticed that these acts of sweetness come at exactly the right time? That you may be overwhelmed by - anything - a spider? a weed? work? life? strife? And then - there's a comment, a cupcake, an e-mail, a call... or a Sisterhood Award ... to let you know you can wait for the sunshine. You can wait almost anything out.
`In gratitude, I would love to thank Sophie (whose recipes are so elegant and fresh) and let it sprout wings and fly to: Confectionery Creations for knocking on my door a few times and offering to bring her extraordinary treats; Five Star Foodie Culinary Creations for constant inspiration (even though I still cannot access your latest blog post and this is bordering on the criminal); Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice for always making me want to cook everything you dish up; Smoky Mountain Cafe for introducing me to new dishes and getting me out of my rut; Bunny's Warm Oven for warmth, food and complete meals; Girlichef who keeps astounding me with her knowledge of all things food-related and done with grace and humor - and Cooking in Cleveland who dispenses the best advice when I hit a milestone and combines it with the freshest of ingredients.
And I thank Unconfidential Cook (who spins the most marvelous tales to accompany her scrumptious dinners) and send the Sisterhood Award to: Diary of a Food Fanatic who inspired me to make sweet blueberry pancakes awhile back (and I forgot to mention - I am sorry about my loss of brain cells, Heather), Food With a Little Thyme for making my cast addicted to the Outrageous Brownies she posted (and I can send you where the lengthy excerpt is to CANDLELIGHT if still interested;), My Tasty Treasures - who must have a hundred of these - but she makes us all smile and she does everything so well; Mille Fiori Favoriti for bringing my beloved New York City back to me and sharing it with the world; Moments of Mine for spreading joy with her love of nature and family, Italyville for bringing Italy to me since I cannot make it there and Burp and Slurp for sharing an amazing journey with true grace under pressure.
Thanks to you all - may you spread the joy.