Pickled Ginger Aioli

Brother had a Halloween party at school last night.  It ended up being a drop off party so I found myself within spitting distance of Central Market and over an hour to myself.  What a gift!  Only since I wasn’t prepared for the shopping excursion, I didn’t have THE list.  Maybe it’s my age, or the fact that I’ve had four children in the last seven years, but my memory is shot.  If I don’t write it down, I simply don’t remember.  My friends often marvel at the fact that I’m so organized and diligent about taking photos of the children.  I’d like to claim that it’s because I’m ‘just that kind of mom’, but the truth is if I do not take frequent photos, download them and sort them into events WITH dates, I will not remember anything.

Given the free-for-all environment in which I found myself at Central Market, I think I did quite well.  Sans list I typically end up over buying and stuff my cart with impulse buys.  Luckily I made a rough meal plan in my mind earlier in the day and therefore had some idea of a course to follow.

I had planned to make salmon one night this week.  But, the fish monger was sampling a delicious opah fish and I sailed right off my charted course.  Opah is commonly referred to as moonfish and is found in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian Islands.  I bought three six ounce steaks and roamed the aisles to find some pickled ginger for an aioli sauce to accompany the fish.  I also bought a lemon grass marinade.

The dish turned out delicious.  The dinner, not so much.  Mid afternoon I was reminded by my children that tonight was the annual trick-or-treat party for the alumnae children of a university group I was part of many hallowed nights ago.  So, I prepped the meal, served myself and the children and left Husband a warmed plate.

While I didn’t have time to savor the opah, it was definitely a dish worth repeating.  And, any fish would substitute nicely with the lemon grass marinade and pickled ginger aioli. In fact, I think I would prefer a halibut or sea bass.  Even the more budget friendly tilapia would be nice.

Pickled Ginger Aioli

1 c mayonnaise (I used light)

1/8 c pickled ginger, drained

1 clove garlic

1/4 bunch of cilantro

Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until blended.

This is a great aioli and we’ll use the leftovers on turkey sandwiches later this week.

Italian Salad Dressing, in a pinch

Husband went to Dallas yesterday for a funeral.  The last of the Schell brothers died this week at the age of seventy-six.  Husband’s father was one of ten children and this uncle was the last one to pass. What an amazing legacy of over 75 children the 10 Schell siblings leave.

I thought I’d fix a big old pot of spaghetti and meat sauce to welcome Husband home.  Nothing fancy.  I made the sauce from scratch and as I’ve posted before (if I can ever get those @#$*& posts imported) I don’t have a recipe for spaghetti sauce.  I concoct as I go and sadly even if it’s an exceptionally good batch by the time I’ve finished cooking (and had a little wine) I’ve forgotten how many dashes of this and pinches of that I used make the memorable sauce.  One day I’ll record it all…

Tonight’s sauce contains the usual suspects – sautéed garlic, onion and ground beef.  Drained and tossed with a handful of seasonings, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and let’s see…what else?  See my problem.

Anyway, I scrounged to pull a yummy salad together.  It dawned on me that Husband loves his mother’s salad.  Lettuce, tomato, avocado and Italian Salad Dressing.  The kind that comes straight from the Hidden Valley packet and mixed with oil and vinegar.  I was on a mission to recreate this taste for him, but I’ve never bought one of those packages and don’t intend to.  So google pointed me in the right direction and I was lucky to have everything on hand for this delicious salad dressing.

I’m a evoo and balsamic vinegar chick myself, so I don’t keep a lot of dressings on hand.  But this one I’ll keep handy for those nights I want to serve up the next best thing to my mother-in-law’s simple salad.

The seasonings store in the fridge in an airtight container for several months.

Italian Dressing in a Pinch

1/3 c parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 T garlic powder

1 T onion powder

1 T paprika

2 tsp celery salt

1 T sesame seeds

1 T dried Italian seasoning blend — I didn’t have this so I used oregano, parsley and rosemary or maybe it was thyme

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

Mix ingredients and stir well to blend.  When ready to make dressing add:

2 T of the seasoning mix

2 T water

1/3 c red wine vinegar

2/3 c oil (I mixed evoo and canola)

Try it!  And if you have a favorite salad dressing please pass it along.  As you might have guessed I like collecting recipes.

risotto per le mie figlie

A couple nights ago at dinner, I told the kids I was going to start writing my blog again. (I still can’t figure out how to import the old one over here, be patient with me.)  Sister One pipped up quickly, “Oh mommy the one where you write about what you cook?”  Sister One appreciates a good meal.  I told them I would make whatever they requested over the next week.  Both girls gleefully asked for Risotto Casserole.  Brother is still deciding and Baby is too little to have family favorites yet.  Although she is happily trying carrots and peas this week!

The Risotto Casserole is time consuming so I’m going to make it this weekend.  Probably Saturday as it will taste even better as leftovers on Sunday.

I found the recipe a couple of years ago when Husband gave me the Every Night Italian cookbook by Giuliano Hazan.  The book is a gem and you’ll see lots of recipes from this favorite over the next few months.  It’s a winter cookbook.  Let me explain.

Some people organize their closets by season.  Me, well I organize my cookbooks.  It’s that time of year when I lovingly retire my summer, lighter fare books for those with more hearty temptations for the darker, colder season.  The aforementioned risotto would just not taste right in July. Short Rib Bourbon Stew in August?  ICK!  But watch for this delicious dish (courtesy of Lulu my friend and cook extraordinaire) over the next few months.

But I digress.  Back to the risotto – for my daughters because they love this dish!

Risotto Casserole

salt

1 1/2 cups carnaroli rice (any risotto rice will do, this is what I have)

4 T butter, plus more for the rice and baking dish

2 c whole milk (I usually use skim or a mix)

1/4 c all-purpose flour

Freshly ground pepper

6 oz boiled ham, sliced thin and chopped (I use DeBecca Maple Ham from WF)

3/4 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

6 oz fresh mozzarella

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Fill a pot with a least 3 quarts water and bring to a boil. Ad about 2 tsp salt and the rice and stir well.  Cook covered for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is cooked but still firm to the bite (al dente).  Drain and transfer to a mixing bowl.  Toss the rice with a bit of butter to prevent the grains from sticking.

While the rice is cooking, make a béchamel sauce.  Heat the milk just until you can see steam rising, being careful not to let it come to a boil.   Melt the 4 T butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth.  Add the hot milk a few tablespoons at a time at first, whisking until the mixture is smooth before adding more milk.  Do not be alarmed if the béchamel becomes very thick at first.  It will get thinner as you whisk more milk.  Once it ha become thin, you can pour the milk in more rapidly.  Cook, whisking constantly, over medium-low heat until the sauce thickly covers the whisk.  Season with S&P before removing from the heat.

Pour the béchamel over the rice, reserving a few spoonfuls for the top of the casserole.  Ad the ham and all but 2 T of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Mix well and taste for S&P.

Butter the bottom and sides (I spray) of a 2 1/2 quart baking dish that is about 3 1/2 inches deep.  Pour in half of the rice mixture.  Slice the mozzarella about 1/8 inch thick and layer slices over the rice.  Add the remaining rice mixture and smooth the surface with a spoon.  Spread the remaining béchamel over the top and sprinkle with the remaining 2 T of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bake for 15 minutes.  If after 15 minutes the top is not speckled with brown, place the dish under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, or until the top begins to brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to settle for about 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6

Happy Birthday Neiman Marcus!

Birthdays are a big deal at The Schell Cafe.  Of course there are presents, a party and the usual hoopla that accompanies birthdays with a houseful of littles.  Today I want to celebrate a different kind of birthday.

Two weeks ago the whole family traveled up to Dallas for the famed Texas vs. Oklahoma football game.  The weekend tradition is non-negotiable in our household.  Only this year we took all four children.  (No one told me my overnight babysitters would flee for the hills when I had a fourth child!)  Finding a hotel for the ever popular weekend  that would also accommodate all of us was no simple task and we stayed at a newer boutique hotel downtown.  Off the beaten path for us, it was really fun to explore our hometown from a new vantage point.  A vantage point that was significantly brightened as we pulled up to the hotel which was located on Commerce Street between Akard and  Field Streets.  What’s the importance of the address you wonder?  Our home for the weekend was a cafe away from the flagship downtown Neiman Marcus.

Growing up in Dallas had many advantages.  While Husband and I made the decision not to live there, it is still home for us and nostalgia bathes me in a warm embrace every time we return.  I have my usual haunts, favorite restaurants, must-see friends, and memory lane drives.  But, Neiman Marcus is perhaps the most emotional and nostalgic place of them all.

Neimans is not about fashion for me.  I know that sounds counterintuitive, but I couldn’t distinguish a pair of Jimmy Choos from their fancier cousin Manolo Blahnik.  I’ve never been a fashionista, but I do appreciate beauty.  And Neimans, my friends might just be the most beautiful man-made place on earth.  Sounds shallow I know, but this truly has less to do with material things than it does with culture and tradition.

Neimans is a destination.  My grandmother traveled to Neimans with my mother from Amarillo in the 1940’s, and her mother before that.  The dress I wore home as an infant from Baylor Hospital came from Neimans, as did my first stuffed animal and Madame Alexander doll.  Years later it was at Neimans that my mother and I picked out my wedding dress.  Having lunch at the counter at the Mermaid Bar was a rite of passage.  One I’ve shared now with my own children.  I can taste the orange spice iced tea and the chicken tortilla soup as if I were sitting at the blue and white tiled counter now.  I remember the annual fall Fortnights.  Each year downtown Neimans brought the culture, products and celebrities from a different country to Dallas.  I vividly remember riding up the narrow escalators in eager anticipation of each floor and the extravaganza it would hold.  A recent Dallas publication said, ‘Mention Neiman Marcus Fortnight to any Dallas woman over 40 and her eyes begin to glow.’  I am not alone friends.

So today the girls and I made the famous Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies to honor the 100th birthday of this grand institution.  As 6th generation Texans, I hope my girls will add baking these cookies to their own collection of Neiman Marcus memories.

Happy Birthday Neimans!

Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 c butter (1 stick)

1 c light brown sugar

3 Tbs granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp instant espresso coffee powder

1 1/2 c semi sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 300.  Cream butter and sugars until fluffy, about 30 seconds.  Beat in egg and vanilla for 30 seconds.  Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda in to creamed butter.  Stir in espresso and chocolate chips.

Press down dough with back of spoon into 2-inch circle.  Bake 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

A Long Hiatus

So I took a little break.  It’s been exactly 18 months since I last blogged and to tell you the truth I didn’t miss it much.  Until today.  The weather finally took a slight dip and I feel like cooking.  Hell, I feel like throwing dinner parties, and baking pecan pies, and testing every recipe I’ve collected over the past 15 years.   I even feel like organizing my grandmother’s recipe box.

Maybe I should focus on dinner and see where that leads me.

We’ve had a few changes at The Schell Cafe.  Most importantly, we welcomed our fourth baby last April.  She is the joy of our lives and her older brother and sisters are just as gaga over her as Husband & I are.

And, the Schell Cafe found a new home at http://www.theschellcafe.com.  Husband gave me a new imac shortly after Baby was born and I’m fascinated by this amazing mac world.  It may take a while to work out the kinks, but I love everything imac.  I’m working on the design and I haven’t figured out how to import my archives from the old site, but I’m working on it.

Hang in there with me while I renovate the cafe.  In the meantime, you are always welcome ‘round my table.  I hope you’ll come back soon and often.