Tag Archives: rowdy chowgirl

Comfort Food

Fuzzy slippers?  Not exactly.  Cream of Wheat?  No…  A purring cat?  That’s not quite right either.  A visit from my dear, old friend Christie is full of comfort to be sure, but more of the ice-cold-cosmos-and-pajamas-in-front-of-a-crackling-fire variety.  

Everyone should have at least one such friend.  The kind you share a history with, who knows all your references without explanations, with whom you can sit quietly reading for hours, or lay a hardwood floor together without bickering.  The sort of friend you’d gladly walk through fire for, should she ask–but who actually only asks for a few more crackers to go with the wedge of cheese you’re plowing through together on the couch.

Last weekend Christie was here for a visit and, as is our habit, we packed as much comfort food into that time as possible.  Saturday night we went to Voila Bistrot.  Michael and I originally visited Voila Bistrot as a stop on the hamburger trail, but that is a story for another time.   On this visit, Christie and I settled into the warm, woody dining room and blissfully shared a sharp, crisp Belgian endive salad, then a mushroom-chestnut cream soup so savory that there was precious little conversation until it was all gone.  Then I moved on to a Cassoulet that was all that it should be–hot, fragrant, brothy and rich with meat; remniscent of Hemingway and Hadley and the rest of La Generation Perdue, eating their evening meals on rainy fall nights in Paris at their favorite neighborhood restaurants. 

Afterwards, we shivered our way back to the car, then drove home through the chilly gloom of the arboretum to settle down in my living room with an afghan and a shaker full of cosmos.

On Sunday morning, I whipped up a German Pancake for us to share.   Simple to make, German Pancakes puff in an impressively souffle-like fashion in the oven, then deflate quickly when removed.  Sometimes called Dutch Babies, one of these pancakes will generally feed two, maybe with sausage or bacon and toast on the side for the truly ravenous.  The classic presentation is to squeeze lemon juice over the top and dust with powdered sugar, but my preferred topping is blackberry jam.  Maple syrup is also an option.  Certainly no additional butter is needed when serving. 

German Pancake 1

German Pancakes

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 drop vanilla (optional)
  • dash of nutmeg and cinnamon (0ptional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Melt butter in a heavy oven safe dish (I use a 10.5 inch cast iron skillet) over medium heat.  Whisk together other ingredients in a large bowl, in the order listed above.  Tilt skillet to coat sides with butter.   Pour batter into skillet and place on middle rack in oven.  Bake for 20 minutes.  When done, the German pancake will be puffy like a souffle and golden brown.  Loosen with spatula if necessary and slide from skillet onto serving plate.  If cooked in a well-seasoned cast iron pan, the pancake should slide out easily.  This recipe can be doubled and two pancakes can be baked at once, side by side in the oven.

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Everything’s Better With Salsa

The buzz started late last week.  Plans were being hatched for an office celebration, in honor of our team members with October birthdays.  As the conversation drifted my way from the next office, the words that caught my attention were guacamole and salsa

I am not much of a dessert person.  And so many office parties seem to center around cake.  But  I have a few coworkers who share my predilection for salty and crunchy.  And we are lucky enough to have Susie, who makes the best homemade salsa and guacamole ever to adorn a chip. 

Tuesday night, I went home and picked every ripe tomato on the vines, enough to fill a large bowl.  Big red ones, a few yellow ones, small romas, and handfuls of bright orange cherry tomatoes. 

Just Picked Tomatoes 

I delivered this colorful crop to Susie on Wednesday morning.  When she left for the day with her bag of tomatoes in hand, she said, “I’m off to chop some tomatoes!”  “Make lots!” I urged.  “Yes, at least two giant vats,” Jackie requested, “One for me and one for Christina.”  As an afterthought, she added, “Well, maybe three vats.  Everyone else can split the third.” 

Finally, on Thursday afternoon, it was party time.  Susie enlisted some of us as sous-chefs, directing the guacamaole making as we chopped and mashed and seasoned.  Everyone dove enthusiastically into the bowls of guacamole and salsa.  Satisfied crunching was followed by moans of pleasure.   

Salsa and Guac

Bright and fresh, the salsa was tangy and bursting with flavor.  The individual elements of tomato, onion, and cilantro were distinguishable  in each bite, but they blended together to make a whole that was much more than the sum of its parts.   The only things missing from this feast were beer and sand. 

Susie cooks with very loose measurements, like a kitchen wizard.  So her salsa recipe is full of approximations and estimates, which only adds to the magic.

Susie’s Salsa Recipe

  • 8-10 Roma Tomatoes, diced and drained
  • 1 Jalapeno, minced (seeds removed)
  • Approx. ½ Onion, diced
  • ½ Lime
  • 2-3 tbsp Olive Oil
  • ½ bunch Cilantro, chopped fine
  • Dash Seasoning Salt
  • Lemon Pepper to taste
  • Salt Optional

 Combine all ingredients in a bowl and scarf up immediately with chips

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Amazing Race/Amazing Dinner

I enjoy a civilized dinner party with carefully set table, candles, smoothly orchestrated courses, and clean forks for dessert as much as the next person.  But those more subdued pleasures in no way detract from the satisfaction to be found in a more free-form feast, with a constant stream of buzzes from the front door intercom, shrieks and hugs, piles of shoes kicked off in the entryway, an uncertain headcount for the night, surprise contributions of wine, and dinner eaten cheerfully from sweatpant- clad laps around the TV.

Sunday night marked the beginning of the new season of The Amazing Race, and thus the resumption of my boyfriend Michael’s hostly duties.  For years, a group of reality TV aficionados has made their picks, ponied up their cash, and gathered at Michael’s place for a biweekly dinner and viewing party, heavy on the catcalls and trash-talk.

Michael gave serious consideration to the menu for the premiere, and decided on penne in two incarnations, with salad, garlic bread, and freshly baked cookies for dessert.

He started his traditional meat sauce mid-afternoon, and it simmered peacefully away on the stove while we attended to the serious business of a Sunday afternoon–lounging, that is.  At zero hour minus 30, the kitchen already filled with the rich scent of meat sauce goodness, I started the second dish–Penne with Spicy Sausage and Broccolini.

I was still finishing up my culinary efforts (and Michael was updating his spreadsheet for the betting pool) when people started to arrive.  Rob was first and promptly enlisted as sous-chef in charge of parmesan grating.  As I wielded the garlic press and threw red pepper flakes with reckless abandon, the place filled up with nine or ten members of the crew, Niki and Lacey bearing freshly made bread and bottles of booze, everyone jockeying for position with glasses and bottle opener, loudly catching up with each other, and just generally being festive.

It is a satisfying feeling to engage in a successful collaborative cooking effort, then serve the results to such an appreciative group.  In very short order, plates were loaded and the raucous conversation had moved to the living room.

Michael made a mad dash into the kitchen with his iphone, and was able to get some photos before the pots were completely scraped clean.  It was too late for the salad with four kinds of tomatoes, fresh-picked outside my backdoor hours before.

penne with meat sauce

Then we settled down to some serious eating, and not-so-serious TV watching.  We sized up this season’s contestants, came up with ridiculous nicknames for the teams, cheered, booed, and shouted at the TV.  Warm cookies were eaten, and a good time was had.

By the time I was finally home and snuggled in bed with my hot water bottle and cat, it was after eleven o’clock, long past my bedtime.  When I started my work day at 6:30 am on Monday, I’ll admit to a moment of regret for having lived la vida loca the night before, but as Michael is fond of saying: I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Penne with Sausage and Broccolini

Penne with sausage and broccolini

(Adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada DeLaurentis)

I have made many variations on this same basic dish, which goes together quickly, and is so salty/spicy/chewy/ satisfying.  This can also be made vegetarian by using a meat-substitute sausage, for those so-inclined.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch broccolini, stems trimmed, and cut in one-inch pieces
  • 1 pound penne or other small pasta
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound spicy Italian sausage, cut in rounds
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Directions

Cook the broccolini in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp tender, about 1 minute.  Remove the broccolini, saving the cooking water. Bring the reserved cooking water back to a boil.

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, until browned and juices form, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes, and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, when the reserved cooking water is boiling, add the penne and cook until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about11 minutes.

Strain the penne, reserving one cup of the cooking water.

Return the broccolini to the pan with the sausage mixture and toss to coat with the juices. Add the pasta to the skillet, with enough of the reserved cooking water to moisten.  Stir in the Parmesan and serve immediately.

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Giddyup!

And so it begins, on a Saturday in Seattle.  A fall day so beautiful, so ruddy ripe, that it gives me a queer little ache somewhere just under my ribcage.  The sky is blue, blue, a thousand times blue.  The sun shines its slanty golden best, the leaves are turning, and the temperature is perfect–just right for a pair of comfy jeans and a t-shirt, but no socks yet; and while the need for a sweater lurks somewhere just around the corner, it’s not here yet, thank goodness, not today. 

I get a text from my friend Rob: “Are you writing today?  I’ll bring some crock-pot pot roast if you are.”

Rob and I have a long-standing Saturday afternoon appointment to write together in a coffee shop.  He arrives shortly after I do, and hands over a hefty container of food.

“It’s just a pot roast, with a lot of mushrooms, and some Dutch fingerling potatoes,” he says casually.  “I made more than I can eat.”  Oh the joys of single friends who cook!  And in spite of his offhand presentation, I know that anything he made will be simply delicious. 

I open my purse and dig out three warm, ripe tomatoes.  “Here, I picked these for you on my way out the door.”

And what more fitting beginning for this food blogging adventure?  Because after all, good food is about good ingredients, well-prepared and joyously shared.  And it’s also about context, and community, and friendship.

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