Tag Archives: mom

All I want for Christmas.

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IMG_2332Jason is upstairs wrapping Christmas presents for our exchange tomorrow. I am online shopping for his.

My husband is amazing – for so many reasons – but he has a particularly amazing ability to select perfect kitchen gifts. Our first year together I received 13 pieces of All-Clad (he’s a keeper). Two years later he bought me the set of caramel-colered, Revol, lion head bowls I had been lusting after (and I put a ring on it!). This year he asked, “do you want a gel mat?” (I would bear him children if I could).

Five rules to successful gifts for cooks

1. We’re not THAT creative: Snooping through our cupboards, you’d discover the bottle of pink Himalayan salt  you bought us two years ago. Cooks have each developed their own palette of ingredients and it takes inspiration to get us to stray. Next time you pick up a boxed set of infused vinegars, ask your local retailer for some suggestions. If they don’t have any, you may want to move on (to another store).

2. We don’t want to cook – right now: Cooks love cooking, but we’ve spent the last 75 days making everything from candied apples and Thanksgiving turkey to Christmas dinner and New Year’s brunch. A bottle of wine, artisanal cheeses or locally-cured charcuterie is just what we need right now.We’ll even open it up and let you taste some.

3. We’re hoarders: If you want to avoid that pained “thank you” delivered through clenched teeth, then please, no clever one-off contraptions or seasonal utensils. What am I going to do with that snowman spatula during the other eleven months of the year? Do I need really the amazing peeler, juicer or meat pounder you’ve discovered? Possibly. How do you know? Just ask!

4. The big stuff is big stuff: Screw wedding dresses and engagement rings, cooks have had their pans, knives and appliances picked out for years – and none of it is cheap! Before supporting the Food Network’s cookware branding efforts, make sure it will match our set. (Again, All-Clad Copper Core would be perfectly appropriate. Any piece, really. For any reason.  Ever.)

5. We cook with love: Every time I lift a pot with my lobster pot holder, I remember Sandy. Her mom gave me Sarah-Leah Chase’s Cold Weather Cooking book, one of my staples. I have a tea towel from Jess, a skillet from my Godmother Alex, and a single plate from my Mom’s wedding set. Every gift we receive from you will add another story and another memory to the daily act of preparing food. For that, we will be truly grateful.

What’s on my list?

I need a new salad spinner, I broke mine. I’m ready to learn more about cutting meat and need a couple more knives. I would like grapefruit spoons and a self-freezing ice cream maker. I want a Windsor pan for sauces, and I will always take a new cookbook.

What I need most of all, though, is time. I want to master Crème Pâtissièri and Pâte à Choux. I have stacks of cookbooks that deserve thorough reading. We’ve put out more dinner invites than there are days in the year, and sincerely meant each and every one of them. So set a date, bring a bottle, and let’s toast the new year together.

 

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Pounding soup.

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My Mom gave me a small photo album on my 21st birthday. In each sleeve was tucked a recipe card, and every recipe reminds me of her. I’ve got Mom’s zucchini bread and her father’s braised red cabbage. She also included her Soup au Pistou. Pistou – which translates to “pounded” – is a French version of Italian pesto without the pine nuts.

With the addition of hard cheese and fresh tomato, pistou is stirred into this Provençal vegetable soup. It’s a perfect way to enjoy the last of the season’s zucchini and green beans. It’s rich with vegetable stock and hearty with the addition of pasta and white beans*.

The card in my book attributes the recipe to my Godmother, Aunt Ali, and to her sister-in-law, my Aunt Barb. Mom has made a few changes of her own, and now so have I.

But I still use broken spaghetti for the pasta. It reminds me of Mom, and that makes it taste better.

*I try and avoid typically over-salted canned beans in favor of soaking and cooking my own. This, however takes time and planning, so the “optional” beans are usually left out.

Soup Au Pistou

Ingredients

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 whole ribs celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs each thyme and parsley
  • 4 cups sliced summer squash
  • 2 cups green beans in 1” pieces
  • 1 cup small pasta, like elbows or broken spaghetti
  • 2 cups cooked Cannelloni or Great Northern beans
  • 1-1.5 cups pistou sauce (see below)
  • Sherry vinegar

Directions:

  • In a 4 qt soup pot, over medium heat, heat olive oil.
  • Sauté leeks for five minutes, add garlic, carrots and potato and cook, covered for 3-5 minutes.
  • Add stock, celery, bay and herbs. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until vegetables can be easily pierced with a fork.
  • Remove celery, bay and herbs. Add squash, green beans, white beans and pasta. Cook for 15 minutes until pasta is al dente.
  • Stir through pistou sauce or serve on the side and allow your guests to add their own.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, sherry vinegar and butter, if needed, for richness.

Chive Pistou Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup basil leaves, not packed
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup Chive Oil*

*You can substitute good olive oil, but Sapore’s new Chive Oil is lightly grassy, adds great depth, and makes this sauce extra wonderful! Stop in or order some online.

Directions:

  • Pound garlic, with a pinch of coarse salt, into a paste.
  • Add basil and pound into garlic.
  • Add parmesan 1/4 cup at a time and pound into a thick paste.
  • Add enough tomato to make a thick sauce.
  • Stir in oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

How this all began.

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I spent the spring of 1996 living at home with my parents. Those four months were the most influential out of the past 18 years I’ve spent cooking and entertaining.

I grew up cooking with Mom. Her meals were fresh, simple and healthy, and I cook many of those same dishes today. That spring, however, was different. I was 21, had just graduated from Colby College at the end of January, and was bored and lonely. A few months earlier I had gone to dinner at the home of some older friends, arriving early enough to enjoy a glass of wine with them in the kitchen. Leaving, I realized I had memorized the recipe for the pasta sauce they had served – rich, and trendy, with artichoke hearts, capers, portobello mushrooms and fresh basil. I went home and began cooking it for anyone who would eat it.

Now it’s March, I’m home, the spring season is beginning at my family’s garden center and I have Tuesday’s off. I think, “I’ll cook dinner  and give Mom and Dad a break.” Week one is the pasta sauce. Week two is tacos. By week three I’m sitting down at 10AM with a cup of coffee and a stack of cookbooks. I head out around 1PM with the shopping list for a 5-6 dish menu. I visit 3-4 grocers and farm stands, buying strange new ingredients. Back home I  cook through these overly ambitious menus, serving my exhausted parents around 9PM.

We would choose dishes depending on the menu, and gather flowers and greens from the yard to decorate the table. I discovered Billy Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. I learned that wines had names and could be magically paired with food.

I’ve learned a lot since then. I still love (almost) every moment I spend in the kitchen. but that spring I jumped off the cliff, and I’ve never looked back.

This is what you taught me Mom.

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If I were forced to identify only one dish that summed up my Mom’s cooking, one dish that burned bright in my memory and lingered on my palate years later, it would be – no, not apple pie, meatloaf or lasagna – zucchini pancakes. Amidst her Dilly Beans and mac and cheese, the Christmas Eve cheesecake and barbecued spareribs with artichokes, zucchini pancakes are the quintessential summation of Mom’s work in the kitchen.

They were born out of both creativity and desperation. They appeared late each summer when zucchini exhaustion set in and the dark green squashes grew larger and larger. With the din of dinner complaints rising, Mom found an exciting new way to put zucchini on the table. And could a recipe be any cooler? As anyone who has eaten zucchini bread knows, it is equally comfortable being both sweet and savory. We would joyfully sit down to a plateful, dripping in real maple syrup. They were practical, delicious, inventive and comforting. Stepping way out of the late 70’s comfort zone she created a family classic. That’s what you taught me in the kitchen Mom. That’s what I carry with me today.

I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit over the years. Bisquick gave way to potato starch whose flavor sits happily in the background. Fresh basil – and tarragon, when I have it – replace parsley. The ratio of zucchini to batter  is much higher. Less like breakfast cakes, the ones I make today are cooked over medium low heat, getting brown and crisp on the outside while remaining wet and gooey inside. These days I usually serve them with a yogurt sauce, bright and fresh with mint and paprika or cayenne. But I have to admit, maple syrup is still my favorite.

Mom’s Zucchini Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups grated zucchini, about 2 medium
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbs fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/4 tsp Spanish Paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup potato starch
  • Cream, as needed

For sauce:

  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 2 tbs chopped mint
  • Paprika or cayenne

Directions:

  • Place grated zucchini in colander, sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and leave for 15-20 minutes.
  • Squeeze water from zucchini with your hands and place in large bowl with egg, basil, garlic, parmesan, paprika, pepper and potato starch. Mix. If the batter is too dry, stir for a minute and then add a tablespoon or two of cream as needed. This is pretty thick batter.
  • Mix together the yogurt, mint and paprika or cayenne to taste.
  • Cook one small pancake to check seasoning and adjust with additional salt and pepper, fresh basil and cheese, as needed.
  • Cook over medium-low heat in 2-3 tbs pancakes, turning once. The low heat allows the outsides to get crispy and brown, while the centers remain creamy.
  • Serve pancakes with a dollop of the yogurt sauce.

We’re having a heatwave.

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Ah, the nostalgic cucumber.

They always remind me of my childhood. Crunching through them, wet and sun-warmed right from the garden. Cold and crisp with dill and sour cream in my Mom’s salad. Moosewood’s cold cucumber soup. Mom’s gazpacho, Mom’s salad tossed with rice wine, salt, pepper and sugar, my Babci’s pickles.

This simple salad plays of their cool sweetness with fruity sweetness and a little heat. If you are serving the salad right away, just slice them in half rounds, toss them with the dressing and eat, but if you are going to hold the salad for a bit in the fridge or freezer, then remove the seeds before slicing the cuckes into thin crescents. The seeds hold much of the moisture in the cukes and this is an easy way to keep your salad from turning to soup.

How do you seed a cucumber? Easy! First peel it, cut off the ends, and then cut it in half lengthwise. Now scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon (the one from your flatware drawer, not the measuring spoon).

Finally, if you are holding the salad, then remember that it will release some moisture, diluting your dressing. Check the seasoning again right before serving.

Tropical Cucumber Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced, about 3 cups
  • 1 tbs chopped mint
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbs Tropical Spice Vinegar*
  • 1/3 cup peanut oil

*If you or your family prefer less spicy food, try a lightly acidic, sweet vinegar like Champagne Mimosa or rice wine.

Directions:

  • Combine mint, shallot, sugar, Tropical Spice Vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  • Whisk in peanut oil in a thin stream. Dressing will become creamy.
  • Dress cucumbers lightly, reserving extra dressing.
  • Let salad rest for 5-10 minutes for flavors to develop. Check seasoning and add salt, pepper or additional dressing as needed.

*The cucumber will release some water while you let this rest. Season to taste right before serving. For a drier salad, lightly salt the cucumbers, drain in a colander for 15 minutes and pat dry.

I didn’t used to like tomatoes.

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I feel like I should be sitting in a confessional, leaning in close, talking directly to the camera.

“I didn’t used to like tomatoes,” I would say in a hushed tone. “For years I thought raw tomatoes were gross!” Perhaps this revelation is so shocking that I should ask to be silhouetted with my voice modulated.

It’s true. As a child I hated raw tomatoes. I loved Brussels Sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Give me artichokes and onions, just about anything Mom put on the dinner table, but I grimaced each year when she asked me to try one bite of a ripe tomato, fresh picked as we stood in her garden.

Nine years ago that started to change and today I love raw tomatoes. I chalk it up to a wiser palate. This past week I decided to venerate the first of this summer’s tomatoes, picked fresh under the hot sun. Two thick slices of beefsteak-type tomatoes didn’t need anything more than salt and pepper, but I went ahead and added a simple balsamic vinaigrette made with fresh basil and garlic scape pesto, fragrant from pounding in the mortar.  I fell in love with tomatoes all over again. Then I called my Mom.

Tomato Salad With Pesto Vinaigrette

For pesto:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or 2 tbs minced garlic scapes
  • 1.5 cups thinly sliced basil
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbs Arbosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil

For dressing:

  • 2 tbs minced shallot
  • 3 tbs pesto
  • 2-3 tbs Aged Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 cup Arbrosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil

Directions:

  • Using mortar and pestle, pound garlic or scapes with 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt. Then pound in basil, followed by pine nuts, cheese and oil. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt.
  • Make dressing: whisk together shallot, pesto and vinegar.
  • Whisk in oil in a thin stream. You may not need all the oil. Start with 1/2 cup and taste as you go.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. Taste the dressing with a piece of tomato and correct the balance of oil , vinegar and pesto as needed.
  • Serve over thick slices of the freshest tomatoes you can find! Top with ribbons of fresh basil.

Rule 1: No one cooks better than Mom.

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Our weeknight dinners are built around turning the bags of farm-fresh produce we carry home each weekend into new recipes for Saturday morning demos at Washington, DC’s Eastern Market. Recently, our friend Sam has joined us for Thursday night’s six-hour marathon sessions where we finalize Saturday’s menu.

Last week, eying a bag of Agora Farms black-red sweet cherries, he said” My Mom used to make a sweet and sour sauce with cherries and peaches. It started with a can each…”

I know. You’ve got a mental image of a loud record scratch accompanying this look of horror on my face. But you’re wrong. No one cooks better than your Mom. No one. At that goes for each and every one of you.

However, since Sam thought it would be fun to go home for a visit sometime and show Mom a new upscale version of her sweet and sour, cherry-peach chicken, we started experimenting. Sweet and sour dishes hang on the balance of sweet, acidic and salty. We began with shallot and fresh cherries, added brown sugar for sweetness and depth, and rosemary for a savory bite. Peach infused vinegar replaced the canned peaches and orange zest add citrusy brightness. The cherries we had were so sweet, and the the peach vinegar mildly acidic, that we added a splash of sharper vinegar to finish the thick, jammy, sweet and sour cherry chutney. Then we served it over wild boar sausages.

I’m still willing to bet that Sam’s Mom’s is better. After all, Mom’s who cook are nigh invincible in the kitchen. But we had a pretty darn-good meal.

Sweet and Sour Cherry Chutney

Sweet and sour is all about the balance of sugar, salt and vinegar. Taste often as you finish the sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs grape seed or vegetable oil
  • 2 large shallots, diced
  • 4 cups sweet cherries, pitted and quartered
  • 3 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tbs minced rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  •  Peach Vinegar*
  • Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
*More wonderful vinegars from Sapore Oil and Vinegar on Capitol Hill. You can substitute with any fruit vinegar, just make sure you get enough acidity. We used about 1/4 cup Peach vinegar and reduced it down slightly as the chutney finished cooking. A splash of the Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar gave us the extra acidity that we needed. Sherry or cider vinegar would be a good substitute.
Directions:
  • In a small sauté pan, warm oil and cook shallots over medium heat until soft, without browning.
  • Increase heat to medium high and add cherries. Sauté 5 minutes until cherries start to soften and liquid begins to evaporate.
  • Reduce heat back down to medium. Add sugar and cook another 5 minutes until chutney starts to become jammy.
  • Add rosemary and orange zest and cook another 5-10 minutes until chutney is thick.
  • Season to taste with salt and vinegar. This sauce is all about balance, so taste after each addition of salt or vinegar. If your fruit vinegar is not acidic enough, add a splash of something a bit sharper. Add more sugar if needed.