Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Cleaning the Frig
What’s cooking? Fusilli with Shrimp and Spring Vegetables

SPECIAL Kitchen Goddess note: In the spirit of getting other pieces of my life in order, I finally bit the bullet and organized the list of recipes I’ve posted on this blog. You’ll find them on the "Recipes" tab at the top of this page.

I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast. Not won’t, or shouldn’t – I don’t actually know what it was. It started with cottage cheese; that much I’m sure of. But I don’t like cottage cheese enough to eat it straight, so I often add some flavor. Salsa is a great accompaniment, as is Melissa Clark’s Green Tomato and Lemon Marmalade. But lately, I’ve noticed how overstuffed my refrigerator is with various leftovers and the leftovers of the things I’ve made with the first leftovers. (My friend Joy says her mother was so good at this process that no one in her family could ever remember what the original meal was.)

So this morning, I put into my cottage cheese the remains of a small jar of something red. It smelled sweet, and it wasn’t fuzzy. So it might have been my friend Ann’s plum chutney, or maybe it was a lingering bit of cranberry sauce from last year. It’s definitely not from this year – that’s in a much larger jar. But I say, if it doesn’t have mold on it, it must still be good. And I only feed this stuff to myself.

It’s not only my fault. My husband likes to stockpile all kinds of mustard. There’s the horseradish mustard, the “delicatessen-style” mustard, and the Gray Poupon, just for starters. Then, even though neither of us drinks much beer, except with BBQ, there are four bottles of beer that someone – possibly someone’s son – squirreled away at the back of the top shelf.

The point is that I’m thinking I should try to celebrate the start of spring with a clean refrigerator. Some of those jars – even if there’s no mold – hold things I’m just not sure I want to eat – or serve to anyone. And for that I think we can all be grateful.

* * *

I’m driving to Memphis this weekend, for the Spring National Bridge Tournament. I’ve told you we’re bridge fanatics, and this is the proof. I mean, who drives 22 hours just to play bridge for two days? So I needed to get rid of some of the veggies, as well as some cream that’s on the edge. I’ll admit I bought the shrimp fresh – some things are important that way. But I made a very nice pasta dish – similar to one I posted in May 2010, that just goes to show you can take a broad range of ingredients and turn them into a decent dinner with pasta.

Fusilli with Shrimp and Spring Vegetables

As to the pasta and shrimp here, you are welcome to substitute penne or farfalle – bow tie – for the pasta; and while I like the meatiness of the Extra Jumbo shrimp (16-20/lb), the Jumbo (21-25/lb) is fine if you prefer.

6 ounces whole wheat pasta (I)
¾ pound shrimp, shelled
2 Tablespoons salt
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
5 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed
8 ounces thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-2-inch pieces
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup parsley leaves, chopped
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan

The asparagus and the pasta will cook separately, but in the same water. (That way, at least some of the vitamins that leach out of the asparagus will find their way into the pasta.) Fill a large pot with water, add the salt and bring the water to a full boil. At the same time, prepare a bowl of ice water for the asparagus. Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook for about 1½ minutes. Remove the asparagus to the ice bath, and add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook the pasta according to package directions. After the asparagus has been in the ice bath for a couple of minutes, remove it and lay it out on paper towels to dry.

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes. It should not brown. Add the shrimp, and cook about 2 minutes per side (slightly less for Jumbo size). Add the sugar snap peas and the asparagus. Turn the heat down to medium low, add the chicken broth and the cream, and stir to combine. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the pasta, stirring to coat with the sauce, and add the parsley. Continue to cook 1-2 minutes, being careful not to overcook the sugar snap peas, then turn off the heat and stir in the Parmesan.

Serves 4.

Kitchen Goddess note: There’s nothing magic about the choice of vegetables here. The Kitchen Goddess was trying to use up the asparagus and sugar snap peas in her crisper. You could make essentially the same recipe using broccoli florets, frozen peas, spinach, arugula,... The mind reels. But the parsley should be fresh.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cookin’ Cousins
What’s cooking? Wilted Spinach Salad

If you don’t have any sisters, it’s good to have a cousin like mine. Helen is five years younger than I, and has  no sisters, either. Our mothers were sisters, and our families grew up on the same street in San Antonio, so naturally, we spent a lot of time together growing up.

We’ve stayed friends over the years, even though, with her in Texas and me in New Jersey, our communications were less frequent in the years when we were both caught up in the whirlwind of careers and raising children. But now that I’m back in Texas, and the children are all grown up, we chat more often, and even see each other occasionally. On New Year’s Eve this year, she drove up to celebrate with us.

I had invited a group of friends for dinner, and, as usual, was running just a bit behind schedule when Helen arrived. Our approach to entertaining is pretty much the same (though she’s always on time), so she knew just what needed to be done, and jumped right in to help.

A couple of weeks later, I sent her a copy of Nora Ephron’s latest book, I Remember Nothing, as a thank-you gift for saving the dinner party. She called a few days later and said she appreciated the gesture, but, she said, “I know you remember nothing, but I remember everything. And what I remember most is that you gave me this book last year.”

Ah, well. It’s a great book, as long as you only send it once.

Helen also loves to cook, and tells me she’s grown quite fond of warm spinach salad lately. She’s developed a version of a preparation we often ordered at an Italian restaurant (now defunct) that was a Sunday regimen for our two families, and she says it’s terrific. I believe her – after all, she can remember what it looked like and what it tasted like.

Embarrassed Kitchen Goddess note: When I first posted this entry, I called it Warm Spinach Salad. Then I remembered/noticed that it’s  served cold. Hmmm... The Kitchen Goddess must have been having a senior moment. So now it’s Wilted Spinach Salad, which is at least accurate. It’s still a great recipe.

Helens Wilted Spinach Salad

2 packages fresh spinach, washed and with stems removed [Kitchen Goddess note: If you use baby spinach, you’ll need considerably more – like 4-5 packages, or about 2 pounds – for this amount of dressing, as the baby spinach cooks down to almost nothing. Or you can just use half the dressing. Rinse the spinach even if the package says it was washed, and spin it well to remove excess moisture.]
1-2 Tbl olive oil
1 clove garlic, whole

For the dressing:
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon oregano
¾ cup olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare the dressing first. Stir the sugar and salt into the lemon juice to dissolve. Add the oregano and whisk in the olive oil. Add pepper to taste, and stir in the Parmesan cheese.

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it just shimmers, add the garlic and stir for about a minute, but without letting it brown. Add the spinach, and stir to coat well with the oil. Cover the pan and let the spinach steam for about 2 minutes. Remove the lid and stir just until all the spinach is wilted (no overcooking!), then remove from heat. Do not overcook the spinach. Let the cooked spinach (with the garlic) cool to room temperature before pouring over the dressing.

Chill the spinach in the dressing. Remove garlic before serving. Serves 4-6.

Kitchen Goddess note: I do remember this salad, and it’s wonderful. But I also think it would be great with a bit of fresh goat cheese crumbled over it, or maybe some crumbled bacon, or even some sautéed crimini mushrooms that also went into the marinade.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Debby Does Quiche
What’s cooking? Quiche Lorraine

Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. These are the states I have not visited. (My husband claims credit for just being in an airport, but I say absolutely not.) It’s a random list, but then so much of life is random. For instance, I was only in Iowa because it was part of the route my husband and I took in driving back to New Jersey from Salt Lake City where we were stranded after 9/11.

Until last month, Arizona was also on my never-been-there list. But a couple of years ago, when I started this blog, I mentioned it in a Christmas letter, and my husband’s cousin’s wife (are you following this?), whom I’d never met, read the blog and started an email conversation with me. She lives in Alaska, where I still haven’t been, though now I have hopes. Besides being incredibly friendly, she’s also a fellow foodie and an excellent cook. I know these things because she and her husband invited us to visit them in Scottsdale, where they now – wisely – spend their winters.

It was a wonderful weekend; they were extraordinary hosts. We visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West (shown above), and the remarkable Desert Botanical Garden in nearby Phoenix. Who knew cactus could be so funky?



We had dinner one night at the excellent Rancho Pinot, where in the spirit of the true Southwest, I had a really yummy grilled quail on polenta. And we drove one day to the breathtaking Upper Salt River Canyon.

The best part for me was getting to know my cousin-in-law, Debby, who loves Penzey’s Spices as much as I do, and served us all sorts of good foods, including her specialty, Quiche Lorraine, which appeared for breakfast one day. Those of you who’ve read this blog before will understand how in awe I am of anyone who can make it to the kitchen in time to whip up a quiche, and this one was well worth the awe. So here it is, courtesy of Debby. Say “Hi,” Deb!

Kitchen Goddess note: I started out giving you TWO versions of the recipe for Pâte Brisée (pronounced “paht bree-ZAY,” also known as Pie Dough), because Deb’s is slightly different from the one I know and love, which I got at the CIA. Then I realized I was injecting unnecessary confusion into the process. Deb’s method involves “using your index finger to stir the liquid quickly into the flour.” Now I can testify that Deb’s crust is excellent – flaky and buttery. So I know her version works. On the other hand, there’s the yuck factor. The only way I’m putting my hands into a flour/water mixture is if I’m wearing rubber gloves, which I think removes much of the cooking romance. So I decided to just give you the method I use, in which you can use your hands or – ta-dah! – your food processor.

Debby’s Quiche Lorraine

For the filling:

¼ pound sliced bacon, sliced in 1-inch lengths
2 cups heavy cream, or milk if you prefer (but what’s the point?)
4 eggs, one of which is separated
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
a grating of fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon chopped chives
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
½ teaspoon Fox Point herbal mix, from Penzey’s Spices [Kitchen Goddess note: Penzey’s Spices is a marvelous resource for fresh herbs and spices, but you can do without the Fox Point in this recipe if you don’t have any. And then you should go get some.]
¾ cup diced Swiss cheese

Prepare a 9-inch pie shell of Pâte Brisée (see below). Brush it with the separated egg white and prick it well with the tines of a fork.

Preheat oven to 375º.

Cook the bacon pieces in a heavy skillet, stirring constantly, until the fat is almost rendered out, but the bacon is not yet crisp. Drain on absorbent toweling. (Debby says she often just cooks 4 pieces of bacon whole in the microwave bacon and breaks them into pieces.)

Bring the cream almost (only almost!) to a boil, then cool it slightly and beat it together with the remaining 3 eggs plus the leftover yolk, the salt and pepper, nutmeg, and herbs. Sprinkle the bacon and the cheese in the bottom of the pie shell and pour the custard mixture over it. Bake 35- 45 minutes or until the top is a golden brown.

Serves 6-8.

Pâte Brisée [from the Culinary Institute of America]

1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
¾ stick (6 Tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 Tablespoons cold vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons ice water, or as needed

Sift together the flour and salt, or stir to blend. Cut the fat into the mixture using a food processor, pastry blender or two knives, leaving some bits of fat the size of small peas. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the water over the mixture and rub it into the flour. Continue to add water a tablespoon at a time, just until it holds together when you squeeze a handful of it.** Turn the dough out onto a work surface, and gather and press it into a ball. Wrap well in plastic wrap (or in a slightly damp dish towel, or dusted with flour and wrapped in wax paper) and chill at least an hour or even overnight.

**Kitchen Goddess note: If using the food processor, blend with short pulses. You can add the water while the flour-butter mix is still in the processor bowl, and continue pulsing  – just until the mixture starts to come together in clumps. You’re not looking for it to be a solid ball of dough.