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Posts from the ‘ToMove’ Category

Wedding Cake

Vanilla Velvet Cake with Strawberry Curd and Strawberry-Kirsch Buttercream

More than three months after the wedding for which I made the above cake, I am finally going to share some photos and stories. Now, as I gear up for my brother’s wedding it’s fun to reflect back on the last wedding in which I played a small culinary part.

I had never before made a wedding cake. And I didn’t hesitate for long when Margo asked if I would make hers. She’s a very good friend, the wedding was not going to be huge and I had plenty of time to test, learn, fail, test again. . . .The wedding, however, was going to be populated by foodie/wine types with sophisticated palates so the pressure was on. In hindsight, the pressure was all entirely and needlessly self-induced and Margo never contributed to it whatsoever. The guidance she gave me was that the cake be centered around strawberries since the wedding was going to be in late June in Oregon. Fair enough!

Margo, Me, the cake, and Ian

I’ve made strawberry rhubarb pie; roasted strawberry and balsamic tart; strawberry ice cream; strawberry shortcake; and strawberry jam, but I did not realize at the outset of this project how challenging it is to get a true, strong strawberry flavor into a layered cake. Luckily the Cake Bible came to my rescue on this matter. The best way to accomplish this strong, fresh strawberry flavor is to pick the best berries you can find–not an easy task during this cold, water-logged spring–freeze them whole, then thaw them (this helps break down the membrane), then strain them, then reduce that juice significantly and finally mix with the blended pulp, a little lemon juice and touch of sugar. And voila! you have a super concentrated puree. I substituted this puree for the lemon juice in a classic lemon curd recipe to make the cake filling. It was delicious! I had tried both stabilizing the plain puree with gelatin and mixing it with whipped cream but neither of those fillings held up well enough with the size and weight of the cake layers and would not have cut or transported well.

Thawing Strawberries

Strawberry Puree

My next challenge was cake flour. I tested cake after cake made with cake flour–the hyper-processed, bleached , soft white flour that gives typical wedding cakes and other special occasion cakes that signature fine crumb. However signature it is, it often reminds me of grocery store sheet cakes. My test cakes tasted sort-of fake and like the smell of the plastic trays they come on. Then came the color. I wanted a really pale, almost white cake to create a nice contrast to the strawberry curd filling and buttercream and, however, tasty some of the cakes I tested were, they were too yellow. After testing half-a-dozen base cakes, I landed back on the first one, Grand Central Bakery’s Vanilla Velvet Cake. It uses just egg whites and all-purpose flour and holds up very well, both in structure and flavor.

My dear pastry-chef-friend Ellen not only lent me her cake pans and ideas (the strawberry curd was her idea) but her sophisticated palate and showed up with her husband–an excellent eater and critic in his own right–on a regular basis for taste tests.

The buttercream was actually the least complicated part of the cake. The Cake Bible once again had the answer in Neoclassic Buttercream that I also flavored with the strawberry puree and just a touch of Kirsch. The puree lent the buttercream a wonderfully marbled, reddish-pink hue and the Kirsch cut the richness just a bit. I’d make another wedding cake just to have an excuse to test and eat that much buttercream.

Strawberry/Kirsch Buttercream

The trickiest part of the whole wedding cake project I think typically is baking perfectly flat cake layers. The instant give-away of the cake made by the novice is the sloping, slanted look noticeable even with the slightest asymmetry.  The Cake Bible has elaborate tables with equations for  avoiding such slanting affairs. It all has to do with the leavening and how to decrease it in proportion to the other ingredients as the cake layers get bigger. I was careful and followed her instructions–by far the most complicated math I’ve found myself doing in my adult life. I weighed the batter for each pan precisely and ended up with very even layers.

I also had done lots of research on the assembly and how best to support the layers: dowels, drinking straws, etc. I had purchased my cardboard cake circles at the Decorette Shop as well as an off-set spatula (the most important tool of all) where I had seen all sorts of crazy things I didn’t know existed including shelf-stable strawberry cake filling in a plastic bag. I did not ditch my strawberry curd plans for said, bright red filling. . . .And I happened to have a beautiful red glass cake plate from my grandmother that just fit the cake so I was able to avoid the foil-wrapped board.

I filled, frosted and assembled the cake the day before the wedding in a house all to myself. Ellis was at my mother’s and Brian was off watching a World Cup Soccer game and I cranked up the music (Bruce Springsteen I think) and went to work.

Assembly!

All the research and prep paid off. Everything worked and at the last-minute I remembered a trick I had seen on one of my favorite baking blogs to create a marbled effect with the buttercream. I left a bit of buttercream plain and gently mixed in some of the strawberry puree in the pastry bag and used that to pipe on my borders. Finally I decided against the flowers the wedding florist had set aside for the cake and went to my back yard and picked real strawberries with their stems and leaves and used those for the final touch.

Marbled Buttercream

Voila!

To make a now very long story a bit shorter, the trip to the location of the wedding (actually two trips since the restaurant sent us back home with the cake as they supposedly didn’t have anywhere to keep it for the few hours until the wedding!) was by far the most stressful part. But the buttercream held up despite the warm weather, the bride and groom loved it and we had plenty to go around.

And yes, I would make another wedding cake but again only for someone I know and love. I will not be going into the wedding cake business. The Cook With What You Have philosophy is a bit at odds with all those structural and visual needs of a wedding cake!

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Ratatouille

This is not the correct ratio of ingredients for ratatouille but I was in such a rush to make the dish that I did not take any photos beforehand and this is all I had on hand this morning.

I had no particular intention of writing about ratatouille but I returned from the farmers market last Saturday around 12:30 (sleepy child on the bike) with a single-minded focus on ratatouille. I postponed the nap routine long enough to get the peppers and onions sauteing in one pan and the eggplant in another. I chopped the zucchini and left my husband with instructions to finish the eggplant and start the squash while I did the nap routine. Ellis went to sleep easily and I had that ratatouille done in another 20 minutes or so!

My husband and I sat down with a glass of red wine and our ratatouille at 1:15 on the sunny porch. I probably hadn’t eaten this dish since last October and was just overcome by the perfection of it, as I am every year.  For about two months every summer/fall all the ingredients for this classic french vegetable dish are available and even abundant. And the combination of flavors and textures is just unbeatable.

I won’t even attempt any claim of authentic preparation since I think it’s one of those dishes that has as many versions as cooks making it, but I am a believer in my technique and will encourage you to give it a try. It may seem like a lot of steps but it really comes together quickly and just entails a bit of chopping, none of which has to be terribly precise for this dish. And it’s even better the next day and is always best at room temperature. I, however, did not take the time to wait for that on Saturday . . . .

The next morning, having no bread in the house, I decided to make Ratatouille Breakfast Burritos. I scrambled a few eggs, chopped a bunch of parsley and grated a bit of cheese (feta would have been good too I think) and rolled the whole thing up in a whole-wheat tortilla. They were unbelievably good!

Ratatouille

Quantities listed here are just guidelines so use what you have but you want to have more or less equal amounts of zucchini, eggplant, onion, and pepper, a bit less tomato and just a sprinkling of herbs and garlic at the end.

3 sweet red peppers (or 6-7 skinny Jimmy Nardello peppers–pictured above, now available in the Portland area farmers markets), cut into about 1 inch chunks

1 small-medium white or yellow onion or Walla Walla Sweet, cut into 1/2 dice

1 medium-large (or several small) eggplants, cut into  1/2 inch dice

2 medium zucchini or other summer squash such as patty pan or yellow crookneck, cut into slices or 1/2 inch dice

2 medium tomatoes, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

10 or so leaves of basil or  tablespoon of fresh oregano (or a combination), finely chopped

salt

olive oil

Heat 1 tablespoon or so of olive oil (don’t skimp on the oil in this dish!) each in two large saute pans over high heat. Add the onions and peppers to one of the pans. Sprinkle generously with salt. Add the eggplant to the other and do the same. Stir well to coat veggies with a little oil. Continue cooking over fairly high heat, stirring occasionally. You want to soften the vegetables and browning them a little is fine. Turn down to med-high and continue cooking until they’re soft. Turn off the peppers and onions but leave in the pan. Remove eggplant and set aside on a plate, add another tablespoon of olive oil to that pan and add zucchini, salt well and cook, stirring frequently until they’re soft. Add eggplant, zucchini and diced tomato to the onions and peppers. Over high heat bring it to a boil–the tomatoes will give off a bit of liquid–reduce to medium-high and cook for about 5-7 minutes until much of the liquid from the tomatoes has been cooked off. Add the garlic and herbs, cook for about 2 more minutes. Turn off heat, adjust for salt, drizzle generously with good extra virgin olive oil and voila!

Best warm or at room temperature but I don’t blame you if can’t resist digging right in. Wonderful with good, crusty bread, over pasta, with eggs, a green salad, etc.

P.S. I’ve just planned and posted my October and November class schedule including some soup classes, an everyday baking class, a fall preserving one focused on tomato and onion jams, etc.

Sugar

I grew up in a family where dessert was mandated (by my father) every night. I also grew up in Germany so fresh or cooked fruit with whipped cream or lightly sweetened quark was considered–and is–a wonderful dessert. We also had puddings, tarts, pies, and all sorts of wonderful German baked goods my American mother perfected to my German father’s delight. So there was always a little something sweet after dinner. We all loved it. I started making desserts at an early age and went through a long period of making Joy of Cooking layered cakes with things like orange cream filling and Devil’s Food Cake Cockaigne (what  does that word mean and where does it come from?).

I still love dessert  in all its wonderful forms but my palate has evolved a bit and I like things less sweet than I used to. I still love the occasional layer cake but am more drawn to fruit desserts, tarts, cookies, and quick breads these days. And I have to admit that I don’t feel so good after eating a lot of sugar. So I tend to reduce the amount of sugar in most recipes and make my jams with a quarter of the sugar I used to and think the result is often more flavorful. And besides the often-improved-flavor-factor I also know that refined sugars aren’t so good for us so, once again, moderation is here to save us!

I love David Lebovitz’s blog and implicitly trust every one of his recipes. However, I have become a bit of a pathological recipe tinkerer.  In part it’s because in order to properly use, e.g. adapt other published recipes you need to make them you’re own before you post them and because I’m just curious and I am Miss Cook With What You Have after all, so if I don’t have sour cream I’ll use yogurt or if I don’t have a scallions I’ll use a chunk of regular onion, etc. In any case one of David Lebovitz’s recent posts was about a zucchini cake. I tried hard not to tinker much so I only made two changes. I reduced the amount of sugar by a generous 1/4 cup and squeezed the grated zucchini out in a tea towel, removing some of the moisture and enabling me to pack more zucchini (but still adhere to his weight prescription) into this amazing cake. So instead of rewriting his recipe in my own words I’ll leave you with the link. Do be sure to use lemon zest, as he suggests in the body of the post but not in the recipe itself. And if you care to decrease the sugar, I do recommend it. Oh and I use my Zyliss cheese grater to grind nuts (almonds in this case) since it results in a much fluffier texture. I think food processor’s tend to turn them a bit oily and chunkier but either way will be fine I’m sure.

This cake instantly made my top-five dessert list. I think it’s that good. And since my summer squash plants are still producing we may have less ratatouille this year and more zucchini cake. Oh and I made the glaze exactly like he describes though mine soaked into the cake more and didn’t leave much of a visible coating. It did not seem to compromise the flavor and I definitely wouldn’t skip the glaze. So, go put those zucchini to use!

Ellis wishing I would actually let him eat that big of a slice of cake

Pizza (class)

It’s fun, it’s a treat, it can hold most anything, and it’s really good and easy to make at home. Whether you buy pre-made pizza dough or make it yourself (we’ll be doing the latter in class next week) it really is an easy meal. I forget about it for periods  and then when something inspires me to make one I always wonder why I don’t do it more often. The dough is easy to freeze so mix up a double batch and save  half.

I’m teaching a Pizza Class next Thursday, August 26 from 5-7:30pm  We’re going to be making fresh pizzas with homemade dough with Jim Lahey’s (of No Knead Bread fame) wonderful pizza dough recipe. Three kinds will be on the menu: Stewed Red Peppers and Sausage; Classic Margarita with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, and Potato.

I’ve had many requests for this class and already have requests for repeating it though this class isn’t even full yet. So, if you’ve been meaning to learn or refresh your skills on pizza making, sign up. Three spots left.

Happy cooking and eating!

Making the Best of a Bad Purchase

I love Apricots and so does my 3-year-old son. Last summer he climbed up a ladder into an apricot tree and devoured 3 huge ones, never having tried one before. So in a fit of fear of missing the short apricot season entirely I purchased a case from a source I knew better than to trust in having good fruit. And I should have known better when, having asked the somewhat dumbfounded clerk if I could taste one before I purchased the case, I handed the other half to my son who took one bite and handed it back to me.

So I made two LARGE batches of jam, cursing my poor decision along the way. I typically add a bit of orange zest and juice to my apricot jam, something my grandmother always did (though she added pineapple as well) and with a bunch of lemon juice too, the jams are actually quite good. But now I understand why many people are uninspired by apricots.  There must be a lot of bad apricots out there. Apricots that are mealy and flavorless or hard and flavorless not sweet and juicy and musky and heavenly like they can and should be.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of driving through the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River to pick apricots and climbing ladders in the hot wind of the Gorge in mid-summer and eating and eating them up in the trees. And then driving home dusty and sticky, the car filled with the sweet warm scent of apricots.  They are really an easy fruit to work with too–a cinch to wash, no need to peel, and they’re free-stone.

So a few lessons from this experience. 1) I’ve been lucky to have grown up with good apricots. 2) Good products need much less doctoring and are delicious as is so if you’re after fresh eating, maybe better to skip them if they’re not very good. 3) The practice of breeding fruit (or veggies)  for portability and visual appeal rather than flavor is a shame. 4) I’ll buy my apricots from the farmers’ markets or u-pick in the future, even though I  know that this jam will be welcome in the dead of winter.

So today I decided to turn the final bowl of sorry fruit into a cobbler. This is hands-down my favorite cobbler recipe. It was originally written for Italian Prunes (or plums as most now call them) but is equally good with apricots and peaches or a combination or with the addition of a few handfuls of blackberries.

It calls for a bit of cardamom and crunchy turbinado sugar on the tops of the biscuits and is a perfect combination of juicy fruit and light, creamy biscuits. And the poor apricots, doctored up with lemon juice and zest, and said cardamom cooked up into a very good cobbler.

Apricot, Peach, or Plum Cobbler

–Adapted from Claudia Fleming

For the Biscuits:

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (or half all-purpose and half whole wheat pastry flour)

3 tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

For the Filling:

2 1/2 lbs of fruit (apricots, peaches, plums or a combination) to yield 6-7 cups

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375.

To make the biscuits, mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the mixture with a pastry cutter until the butter is the size of large peas. Stir the cream in with a fork and gather the dough into a ball. Turn it out onto a floured work surface and shape the dough into 8, about 2-inch balls. Place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly. Refrigerate for  20 minutes or up to 2 hours. If you’re in a hurry you can skip this step. I have had fine results as well.

Mix the fruit with the sugar and spices in a 2 quart gratin dish. I used cardamom and 3 teaspoons of lemon juice and the zest of half a lemon in my apricot version today and skipped the cinnamon. I also used a generous 1/4 cup of sugar. Taste the fruit before you bake the cobbler and adjust sugar to taste. Place the flattened balls of dough evenly on the fruit. Brush the remaining cream on the biscuits and sprinkle the turbinado sugar on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the top is lightly browned. Serve warm are at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

And apricot cobbler for breakfast is a treat, even with second-rate fruit!

Too Much To Say & Two Recipes

I’ve been wanting to write a post about my recent trip to NYC for Slow Food, my upcoming pizza class; the wedding cake I made this summer; the annual Deumling Goat Roast (you have to scroll down a bit on this link for the photos); what’s in my freezer and why; how I source my products; why cooking is as much art as science,  . . . .And instead of any of those I’m going to write about what I made for dinner last night. I’ll eventually cover the above topics (though you might have to remind me) but I felt compelled to write about last night’s dish and the process of making it because it seems that the last-minute, creative, sometimes-under-duress kind of cooking that I often talk about is of interest.

I had an exhilarating but long weekend of teaching and often the Monday after I have little inspiration left. I am a bit under the weather too and didn’t know what to make. It had to be quick and couscous is by far the fastest starch in my pantry. I had one big, beautiful tomato, some summer squash (which I quickly diced and sautéed) and feta so I figured all together that would be a good start.

Then I remembered some hard-boiled eggs in the fridge from a few days ago and the basil that needed picking in the backyard. I made a very lemony dressing with garlic, a bit of hot chili pepper, black pepper and good olive oil and within about 15 minutes total I had a lovely, fresh, light meal in a bowl!

And I have to admit I was being casual with my measurements and did not stick to the 1 cup of couscous to one cup of liquid rule and used more water. At first I feared the couscous would be too gummy once I started fluffing it with a fork, however, after a few minutes left uncovered and fluffed some more it was just fine. The dressing was perfect and the occasional salty, tangy bites of feta and rich bites of egg made for a nice, summery combo. At the end I decided it needed a bit more heft and sliced up a frozen Italian pork sausage, quickly fried it and added that to. My husband was concerned this ad-hoc dish might suffer from what we somewhat disdainfully refer to as ingredient pile-up, but luckily it did not and each ingredient added something relevant. So, whether or not you make this as described or use it as inspiration to combine whatever you have on hand, is immaterial. The fun part, for me at least, is coming up with something delicious even when I don’t feel like cooking and haven’t planned a thing. And if any of you know of a source for whole wheat couscous please let me know. I’ve heard such a thing exists but have not tracked it down!

And since you have to read this whole post to get a sense of this “recipe” I’m going to give you another one that I’ve been making and teaching a lot of late. It’s another perfect and fairly quick summer supper from the ever clever Mark Bittman. I’ve changed his recipe for Tomato Paella just a bit by omitting the oven step and just do the whole thing on the stove top. Works perfectly and avoids heating up the kitchen on a summer night (not that we’ve had much heat to begin with!) And I imagine you could add a handful of shrimp and/or clams during the last few minutes of cooking, cover the pan, and steam those, for a slightly more authentic paella.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

Food as Gift

This topic warrants at least half-a-dozen posts but to at least start this favorite topic of mind, here’s what I have going on today. I should preface this by explaining that I’m going to NYC for a very quick trip planned just last week for some Slow Food USA board work. This trip has inspired quite the variety of food-as-gift and food-in-trade scenarios.

First of all, I have lots of beautiful lettuce that is going to bolt soon. And I have basil, which did ultimately survive the wet spring and is now prolific. While I’m out-of-town I don’t think my husband will have time to put this to use so I offered it up on Facebook. My neighbors weighed in first so they’re going to get it.

Secondly, I have a limited wardrobe these days. Three-and-a-half years of raising a kid and working from home, in the garden and kitchen, does not make for a New York City meetings and dinners kind of wardrobe.  However, I have a great summery dress that I rarely wear  and I finally figured out that it’s just a bit too long. So, my wonderful neighbor Bev who is an accomplished seamstress fixed this problem for me last night. So she gets Yogurt Panna Cotta with Apricot Compote this evening in exchange.

The third food-as-gift endeavor involves baking a batch of my new favorite cookies which will be split three ways 1) my host and dear friend Gail in Brooklyn, 2) the fabulous Slow Food USA staff, and 3) and my husband and son.

Fourth, today a friend migrated all my data from my ancient and dying computer to my new (refurbished), shiny laptop for me. This will promptly result in a meal plus dessert upon my return.

My first forays into cooking involved giving it as a gift and I got hooked on the pleasure of creating something edible to share or give away. My mother, who as you know, influenced my approach to food and cooking in innumerable ways, always brings a tin of cookies to meetings. So as I finish this post in mid-air, flying past Mount St. Helen’s with two cookie tins at my feet, I am grateful for the gift of food.

Time Well Spent

When I was growing up I often woke up to the smell of frying onions and bacon wafting up the stairs, and not in an American-breakfast-hash-sort-of-way but in a German-Zwiebelkuchen-sort-of-way. Zwiebelkuchen is kind of a cross between pizza and Quiche with lots of sautéed onions, bacon and cheese. It’s a great dish to feed lots of people, keeps well, etc. So my mother, always needing lots of food for our household, started early while she was also making breakfast.

Other days she’d have a lentil soup simmering away while we were heading off to school. So the idea of getting a jump-start on dinner in the morning has often been part of my routine too. These days I’ve been hard boiling eggs and cooking potatoes and green beans in the morning so that I can throw together a Nicoise Salad in a few minutes at night. The warmer weather has inspired more cold suppers and one of my favorites is a pasta dish with a raw tomato sauce (just blanch a few tomatoes, peel them and whizz in the blender with 2 handfuls of basil and 4 tbs of olive oil and salt) that you toss with room temperature pasta and diced fresh mozzarella. So I cook the pasta in the morning, toss it with olive oil and it’s ready for the sauce and hungry boys in no time.

There are infinite ways to split up the dinner cooking whether you start the night before while cleaning up dinner or the next morning. And I feel downright smug sometimes when I sneak steps in that way.

You can make a pesto or other sauce in the morning and cook the starch in the evening or cook some rice in the morning and toss with a vinaigrette and fresh veggies at night. You get the drift.

So, here’s the Nicoise recipe and a link to my August classes in which we’re cooking fabulous summer fare like this.

Salade Nicoise

I have adapted this classic composed French salad to my tastes over the years so this is not entirely authentic but very delicious and one of my favorite summer dinners. It’s a complete meal and beautiful to boot. As usual, please use the quantities as a guide. They are approximations and I vary them depending on how much of what I have on hand. There are very few hard and fast rules about this. And all of the components keep and are wonderful the next day so don’t worry about making too much.

3 waxy, firm fleshed potatoes (anything but russets), scrubbed and cut into large chunks or left whole if you have time (they cook more quickly if they’re cut up)

2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges or a handful of cherry tomatoes

½ lb of green beans, tipped

3-4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half

5 oz of canned Tuna (Oregon Albacore is wonderful, low in mercury, and available at many local farmers markets, at New Seasons, Pastaworks, etc.)

1 handful of cured olives

Cook the potatoes in salted water until tender but firm. Remove potatoes from water and let them cool. You can cook the green beans in the salted potato water so don’t throw it out. Add a bit more salt to the water and bring back to a boil and then toss in beans and cook for 4-5 minutes until tender but not mushy. The flavor of cooked green beans is much better (in my mind) when they are fully cooked and no longer “squeaky” but certainly not mushy.

Dressing

½ cup of either basic homemade mayo or aioli

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1-2 tablespoons capers, rinsed well and finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely minced onion or shallot

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 teaspoon or more, lemon juice or white or red wine vinegar.

a few teaspoons of warm water or milk/cream for thinning down the mayo

freshly ground, pepper

Mix all ingredients together well. Adjust seasoning to your taste with more lemon, salt, or pepper. If you don’t have any mayo on hand the traditional Nicoise calls for a vinaigrette so substitute the mayo in the above recipe for 1/3 cup of good olive oil and add more vinegar or lemon juice.

On a large platter arrange the potato chunks, green beans, eggs, tomatoes, olives, and tuna. Drizzle everything generously with the dressing and serve.

Summer at the Beach and a new Technique

Try as I might, I did not manage to write a post last week. We had our annual family beach week and though I took my laptop, not much work transpired. But I did cook and bake–cherry pie, soba noodles with a cilantro and ginger dressing, pancakes with raspberry syrup . . . and these fabulous scalloped potatoes!

Scalloped potatoes are kind of an old-school dish I think. My grandmother made them all the time (she topped hers with a layer of little pork, breakfast sausages:) and I grew up making them-sans sausages-with my mother. In fact they were one of the first dishes I made for my family for dinner all by myself when I was about 10. I remember it distinctly because I was in a bit of a black pepper phase. I ground so much pepper on each layer of potatoes that it verged on inedible. My family was gracious about it but that pepper phase lasted a couple of years.

So, I’ve always layered potatoes with whatever herbs, cheese, veggies, or spices I was using at the time. However this last week at the beach, wanting to spend more time  reading in the hammock, I scrapped the layering and just tossed everything in a big bowl, put the mixture in the baking dish, added milk half way up the potatoes and baked it. Voila! Don’t know why this just occurred to me! It was just as delicious as always and much faster–actually better I think because the flavors were more evenly blended. Now I’m going to use this technique for other gratins, using summer squash and I don’t know yet what else, but I’m excited to experiment.

A friend recently lent me Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express. It’s a wonderful book of quick meals and what I like most is that his recipes are written in a paragraph or two with no long lists of ingredients and detailed instructions. The subject of recipe writing and how much detail to give warrants a whole post but in short, I would like to think that with some dishes, describing the process with approximate quantities give the cook more freedom and license to use whatever he/she has on hand and to taste and experiment along the way.  Cooking can be very fun this way and in my quest to get people cooking more often, it’s an important part of demystifying the process and getting people to think about what they really like and how they might turn that into dinner every night. It really can be simple, fast, delicious and fun.

Scalloped Potatoes

Scrub and thinly slice (by hand, slicer on a box grater, or food processor) about 2 1/2 – 3  lbs of waxy potatoes (not Russets, all other kinds work well) and put in a large bowl. In a small bowl mix about 1/4 cup of flour, 2 + teaspoons of kosher salt, a few grinds of black pepper and whatever other seasonings you like. I used 2 1/2 teaspoons each ground cumin and pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika) and 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes. Grate some sharp cheddar, gruyere or other cheese of your choice. Finely dice a small onion.

Mix the flour spice mixture with the potato slices and toss well with your hands. Add the grated cheese and onions, toss again. Spread mixture in a 9 x 13 baking dish, pat down a bit with a spatula. Pour milk (or broth/stock of some kind) about half way up the potatoes. Sprinkle the top with a bit more grated cheese and bake at 400 degrees until potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork about 45 minutes. Finish under the broiler for a minute or two if the top isn’t well-browned.

Variations include lots of chopped herbs like parsley, marjoram, chives or oregano, diced bacon or slices of sausage, minced garlic, finely chopped greens or peppers, etc.

And on a completely different note, I have to include this photo of the blissful, beach week! Happy cooking and eating and reading everyone!

Beautiful, Abundant, Forgiving. . .

. . . and delicious! The wedding cake! Yes it was but that’s for the next post! I’m really talking about Chard, Swiss Chard. Much less sexy but much more practical. Chard is a workhorse of a vegetable and solved my dinner conundrum tonight. I have four plants in the garden and pick a generous bunch at least once a week.

Unfortunately my red chard plants just started bolting so I have less of a rainbow situation now but the white and gold ones are still beautiful.

Chard keeps in a plastic bag in the fridge for at least a week. It’s easy to cook and equally delicious braised for a longer period of time to bring out all its sweetness or quickly sautéed.

In tonight’s iteration I turned it into “Daddy Patties”, so named by my niece for my brother. Not sure why, but the moniker has stuck. Call them what you will, they are a hearty, delicious meal usually devoured by non-greens-loving adults and children with glee, as well as by us greens-lovers!

I had a heel of stale bread to use up today and was a bit lazy and just cut the bread into rough pieces. I love the flavor and texture of the bigger bits of bread in the patties but it does make the patties harder to fry and  flip as they break up more easily. They taste just as good but aren’t quite as beautiful.

My mother used to serve these with rice and a tomato sauce. I don’t usually take the time to make a sauce but it’s a great combo. I serve them with a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream or just plain or with a salad on the side.

2 bunches greens (chard, beet greens, spinach, kale, collards or any combination of these)

2 eggs

½ – 1 cup grated cheese (cheddar, swiss, gouda, asiago, parmesan (use the smaller amount if you’re using a hard cheese like parmesan, etc.)

1 cup larger, roughly torn bread crumbs or 1/cup more finely ground ones (or if you don’t have bread/bread crumbs you can  use 3 Tablespoons of cornmeal in the batter instead)

a pinch or two of chili flakes (optional)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

salt

pepper

oil for pan frying

Wash and coarsely chop the greens. Cook them in ½ cup or so of water in a large sauté pan or pot for a few minutes until they are tender (for kale or collards the cooking time will be a bit longer, but not much). Drain well and squeeze out most of the moisture and chop the greens again. Beat the 2 eggs in a large bowl, add salt, pepper, chili flakes and nutmeg (if using), grated cheese and bread crumbs. Mix in greens. Taste for salt.

Heat a cast iron or other large skillet with a tablespoon or so of olive or safflower oil. When hot spoon  about large spoonfuls of the mixture into pan and pat down with a spatula to flatten. Flip after a few minutes when the underside is golden brown. Cook a few minutes more and serve. They keep warm and hold up nicely in a 250 degree oven.