Question For You

What is your most coveted kitchen item? Something you really could not do without.

And, while you’re at it — what is your most quirky kitchen ritual?


Risotto with Shrimp & Asparagus

Risotto Coi Gamberi E Asparagi

Doesn’t that sound yummy? Well, it was. Only a million little things followed the dinner hour that precluded me from sharing. Most notably, DD caught an icky case of the stomach bug and so rather than savoring the perfect combination of shrimp and asparagus, I was doing loads and loads of laundry and clutching my Lysol spray bottle like a weapon to defend my territory.

Risotto doesn’t require as much skill as it does patience. A pinch of confidence helps too. The process is slow, constantly stirring and calls for a bit of intuition to know when and how much liquid to add to the precious beads of rice. Did you know to use a wooden spoon when making risotto or polenta? Metal alters the flavor of the tender substances.

The shrimp merits mentioning. I actually had not planned the risotto dish, but when I was at the fish counter at Whole Foods the monger told me that I should consider the just brought in catch from Florida. The shrimp were the perfect color of pink and so plump I just couldn’t resist. Glad I didn’t.

Risotto with Shrimp & Asparagus

8 oz asparagus
1/3 c finely chopped onion
8 oz medium shrimp (31-40 p/lb)
1 ½ c rice (I use Carnaroli)
Freshly ground black pepper

I bought a tasty sea scallop appetizer and a halibut spread from the fish deli at WF. The kids actually loved the halibut appetizer. This is a nice idea to keep in mind for a fun breakfast with bagels. Poor DD, who accompanied me to WF to procure the weeks groceries, slept through the dinner hour. I’ll make her another risotto again very soon.

Mouton & A Bottle of White

Once upon a time, there were three little children who had very discerning tastes. On a particularly dark and rainy day the mother had grown weary of small demanding voices. Had they not been served with love whole-wheat pancakes with fresh berries and bananas for breakfast? Were they not content with their much requested pepperoni pie for lunch? And was the otherwise dreary day not spent placating the little children with basketball, doll dressings, princess pretending and storytelling?

So, when the voices of those smaller than three feet demanded to know what was for dinner the mother, in an attempt to make the dish sound more appealing to her given audience and keep $20 worth of lamb from going to waste, well…told a tiny white lie.

“Mouton! Mes enfants! Ah! Le Mouton!” Exclaimed the mother with exhuberance.

“What’s that (dear mother)?” the precious little children questioned.

“Why it is a special dinner that children in France eat only when they are very, very good.” This may be true.

“You mean like when Santa Claus comes or the tooth fairy?” At least they were listening.

“Exactly. Now, run go play. I’ll ring the dinner bell when the very, very special Mouton is ready.”

And the mother busied herself for quite sometime preparing the ever special Mouton.

Only, the mother wasn’t making Mouton. She was making a leg of lamb. Mouton in French is actually sheep. Lamb is l’agneau. The mother would know this because many, many moons ago she was a French major and actually attended cooking classes while living in France. But, l’agneau doesn’t roll off the tongue very pretty and mouton is just more fun to say. Plus, don’t they both go baabaabaa??? So, the children of this fairy tale believed they were eating mouton. A technicality really.

As our story continues, the children were happily playing elsewhere in the forest when the mother realized that both recipes for the evening called for dry white wine. Zut! The mother had no cooking wine left in her cupboard. Ever resourceful she remembered the other side of the wine cellar. The dusty side that never got opened — its contents a distant memory.

“Why the white wine side of the vestibule of course! Perhaps I have a good bottle of white to use for my leg of lamb and my brussels sprouts,” thought the sage mother. Who really wasn’t very sage as she was fresh out of the needed herb as well.

The white wine side of the chiller contained several bottles of the less appreciated sort. Digging deeper and reaching further the mother felt a familiar bottle graze the tips of her fingers. “Ahhhh,” she sighed gratefully. For amidst all the white wine forgotten remained a glistening bottle from a journey long ago. The final from a case, the other eleven long ago consumed, though not in one sitting. It was a special bottle from a vineyard visited by the mother and the father a long, long time ago. You see, before the children arrived in this tale, the mother and the father, then merely the wife and the husband, traveled far and wide usually in search of a perfect meal and wine. On one such adventure, they stumbled upon a vineyard in the Russian River Valley and talked their way into a tour. Hours later they left the castle on the hill full of spirits and seemingly nonplussed by the two cases of reserve wines they had expressed shipped back to Texas to ensure they would be waiting ready to imbibe upon their return home. The wine that bathed the lamb and flavored the brussels sprouts on this damp winter evening was the final bottle of the 1996 Reserve Chardonnay from the Schlumberger Estate.

The leg of lamb called for 1 cup of wine and the brussels sprouts yet another. The leg of lamb was tender from its hour long bath en papillote in wine, lemon and mint. The brussels sprouts were truly sensational. Simmered in a cup of wine and equal amount of chicken broth then reduced with Dijon, sour cream and tarragon they exploded with an earthy flavor enhanced by toasted slivered almonds. The simple salad of mixed field greens with gruyere, dried cranberries and raspberry vinaigrette rounded out the flavors perfectly.

And the remaining ½ bottle of white? Well, the children ate their mouton. Or perhaps they did not. The mother cleared the table and scrubbed the dishes. Or perhaps she did not. The father bathed the children, read them a story and tucked them sweetly into their beds. Or perhaps he did not. For you see the only thing that remains certain on this particular white wine infused evening is that the family lived happily ever after.

The end.

Soup du Jour

Growing up I never really liked soup. I always felt like I was getting cheated out of a real meal. Plus, who likes canned soup anyway??? To be fair, I don’t dislike all soups. The tortilla soup at the Mermaid Bar is amazing. And, I recently had a savory pumpkin soup at Russell’s Bakery that was very tasty. However, I have the habit of skimming right over soup recipes in cookbooks. In fact, I can count on two hands the number of different soups I’ve ever made. There was the vichyssoise disaster about 8 years ago in which I had to run to the store flames-still-burning to buy one of those handheld blenders to puree the leeks and potatoes. In the end it turned out ok, but it was still just soup with a fancy name and a lot of effort. I’ve made tomato basil soup, corn soup, French onion soup, and even a cold cucumber soup. My aunt gave me a tortilla soup recipe when Husband and I got married. Now that’s a good soup. But, I’ve only made it twice in eight years. You get the picture.

So, why was I inspired to try a soup recipe tonight? Why didn’t I just skim over it as I read this month’s issue of Gourmet? Who knows? Maybe it caught my eye because it’s in the magazine’s section titled Ten-Minute Mains. There was also a photo (pg. 89) and that always helps. For whatever reason, I made the Italian Meatball Soup tonight. Predicting the littles wouldn’t warm up to the idea of the soup, I made them the risotto dish I debuted a few weeks ago. DD begs me at least once a day to make risotto and she actually helped me make the dish today. With so much anticipation for a command performance I feared she wouldn’t like the risotto as much as her memory believed. Alas, after enjoying three bowls of the treat she kissed me and said I was the best mommy ever. Hum. Not a bad return on my investment.

The soup was not met with as much glee. Each of the children took a thank you bite*, but that was about it. One actually drank the broth, but the spinach just threw them for a loop. And, husband? We dissected it like this – the soup was actually really good. It was full of fresh spinach, carrots, celery, onion and the white beans made it really hearty. But, the meatballs were not so good. I followed the fix-it-quick theme of the article and used frozen meatballs as directed by the recipe. So, I got what I paid for — a good soup with frozen meatballs plopped in. I’ve already thought of a meatball recipe I’d like to try in an effort make this soup less of a quick fix. But, then it wouldn’t qualify as a Ten-Minute Main anymore would it?

I’ve come full circle and ended up right where I started in my thoughts on soup. For me soup du jour might as well be soup de l’annee.

* A thank you bite is a concept we learned from our dear friends and neighbors The Kruft Family. Each of their children (last count there were four) must take one thank you bite of everything on their plate.

Saturday Night Fever

I might have a fever or maybe just a general malaise. Thank goodness it was a lazy Saturday. For the first time in months, we had nothing on our calendar. I actually read a book for most of the afternoon. Reading is usually an indulgence saved for the final moments of the day. I felt extra sinful camped out in bed with my latest read.

I contemplated not cooking tonight. Despite the fact that I had everything prepped and ready to go, I just didn’t know if I could put my book down and wander downstairs with enough enthusiasm to make it happen. I sent the girls to tell their Daddy that I didn’t want to make dinner. Our nearly three-year-old daughter came back with a clear (enough) message from her father ‘him say we not want to wapste de sammon fishes, mamma!’

OK. OK. I’ll make dinner. But, I’m not going to clean the leeks. Or cook them either. I’ll make couscous instead. So there. Glad I proved that point.

Once I got to the kitchen I was really glad to be there. I briefly related to my children as they moan and groan on certain mornings about not wanting to go to school. Remind me to ask what’s not to like about pre-school? On such mornings everything is uphill. Clothing choices. Hair accessories. Lunch options. It’s all just bad. Miraculously, once at school they dart from my sight lost in the excitement and joy of being where they dreaded going. This is exactly where I found myself tonight.

Gratefully, I made the raspberry vinaigrette this morning as well as the lemon, garlic, coriander and fish stock marinade for the salmon. After the fish bathed in the juices for 20 minutes, it required only 15 minutes more in the oven and voila, dinner was ready. I tossed some greens, toasted almond slices and gorgonzola with the vinaigrette and fluffed the couscous with peas. The children took turns ringing the dinner bell and after saying grace, we ended our day with a simple meal. Once we got there it was wonderful.

Now I’m going back to my book.

Our Pace is All Wrong

About a week ago, I pulled The Pace of Provence off my bookshelf. I bought the cookbook several years ago and remembered I hadn’t used it in a while. It’s a fascinating book written by a French woman who lives in Seattle. She is also a nutritionist. Her recipes are traditional, healthy and very tasty. All of her meals have been adapted to be low in fat and heart healthy.

With the South of France as my inspiration, we dined happily on Halibut with Honey & Oranges, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Glazed Carrots. OK, so I bought the brussels sprouts at Whole Foods, but I made the rest! I could write a whole post on the new Whole Foods in Austin. It’s sensational. But, I digress…

The premise of Yolande Matore Hoisington’s cookbook is the pace and leisure in which the French honor their meals. Perfectly balanced and enjoyed as a slow ritual, it is striking how opposite our eating habits are in America. Meals are on the go, super-sized and processed. Even if you don’t frequent fast-food joints (my kids still think McDonald’s is the farm with ‘eieio’ animals), processed food is the major culprit. So, I’m not going to lecture, I’ll die of hypocrisy if I do. I’m just going to try to peel back the onion (so to speak) and keep meals natural and wholesome for my family. It won’t be easy. My kids have been asking for months now why they can’t have lunchables at school. The temptations are great which is why a market such as Whole Foods is so handy. It takes the guess work out of wondering what’s good and what’s fake.

In the meantime, it was a simple pleasure to dine with my family tonight. The children ate all their halibut (DD ate part of mine too!) and the glazed carrots were the second best I’ve ever had. My dear friend Claire made some a few years ago that were better. CFT – if you read this, please post the recipe. And, Whole Foods makes the best damned roasted brussels sprouts. OK so they are the only brussels sprouts I’ve ever had.

Here’s a healthy tip….I’ve been drinking a hot apple cider vinegar concoction every night: 1 cup hot water, 1 TBS Apple Cider Vinegar (with the mother) and 1 TBS honey. Read the benefits…can’t hurt.

I’ll end tonight’s post with a case in point. My DS (almost 6) protested going to kindergarten today. He wanted to play with his toys. He was tired. He never got to spend enough time alone with me. My fingers couldn’t dial the school office fast enough. We had the best hooky day! We went for a walk, he helped me pick out the eggplant and oranges at Whole Foods and we snuggled on the couch just for fun. It was a pace that couldn’t be duplicated every day or nothing would be accomplished. Or would it?

Welcome home

Husband was on the west coast all week. I hate it when he’s out of town. If there is a flipside it’s that the children know they get pizza for dinner and I usually don’t cook. Other than that, after a night or two it’s just not much fun being out-numbered by the littles alone.

One of husband’s favorite meals is spaghetti and meat sauce. I don’t actually follow a recipe when I make the sauce because I tend to use whatever I have handy. This proves to be problematic because sometimes the sauce is really good. And sometimes it’s just ok. So, it’s a bit of a game now I play with myself to try to make the best sauce ever. And, when I get the ‘Ahhh, now that’s a good sauce’ comment from husband I swear I’m going to write down every last ingredient so I can duplicate it over and over.

Tonight I used lean ground beef, ground pork, zucchini, onion, baby bellas, red bell pepper and some herbs. And of course some whole, peeled tomatoes and some crushed ones too. I didn’t bother to write it down, so the contest to create the best damned sauce continues. We are now our own worst critics.

Also, husband’s flavor may have been tainted by the news he received from his annual physical today. The dreaded cholesterol is high. Under normal circumstances I don’t think there would be cause for panic, but husband comes from a long and wide history of serious heart disease and it scares us both.

So, expect to see lots of fish recipes gracing these pages in the near future. We both will benefit tremendously by healthier cuisine. Although it will mean I need to start reading some new cookbooks!

P.S. It isn’t the time to post how yummy the Ricotta Drop Cookies are I baked today. I whipped them up this morning from the Cookies Unlimited Cookbook if you feel the urge to try them for yourself.