Tag Archives: reluctant cook

Cooking The Classics: An Italian Meal, With Reservations

Cooking With Capote is a community-based writing project I am starting for the month of April.  The goal is to encourage bloggers to write about food, but specifically: their emotional attachments, stories and family lore around certain culinary traditions.  It is a way to cull together a collection of well-written food memoirs and recipes.  A sort of writerly version of those dreadful Junior League cookbooks our mothers once purchased and used.

Tuscany.  The name conjures plenty of cliches about sunflowers, vineyards, rolling verdant hills and castles.  Doesn’t everyone in the world imagine themselves meandering through the wine country and beginning a life of cooking and eating well?

I went there myself with the simple idea that because I was in this famous land of enchanted cuisine, the fairy dust of centuries of epicurean excellence would just wear off on me.

We decided to rent a villa with a kitchen in the middle of a vineyard.  I imagined it would look like this:

Sloan Italian Villa

Photo credit: By Samuel Sloan (Modern Architect) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In reality, it looked like this:

Photo credit: Public domain, via Oven Fresh.

I exaggerate, except, not.  The nearest market, a five mile trek through sketchy one lane dirt roads, possessed Buitoni pasta, tomatoes that looked like they were grown in a hothouse and waxy-looking basil.

During our vacation, I cooked pasta that might as well have been produced in Milwaukee.  No offense, Milwaukee.  Your pasta probably tastes loads better.  Our meals sucked, the “villa” sucked, Tuscany sucked.  I tell everyone I know that  I. Hate. Tuscany.  Everyone looks at me like I have seven gelato-shaped heads.

Me, contemplating the bad food, in Tuscany.  I lived in London at the time, and had decided I should look like a walking advert for Burberry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe that if you want to go to Tuscany, and really enjoy the experience, either don’t do it on a budget, or stay in a town like Siena or San Gimignano.

All of this is a long-winded tale as to why I have a love-hate relationship with cooking Italiano.

I had this elaborate plan to cook poached salmon with dill tonight.  I was forced to abort that mission rather abruptly when our local market had no dill.  (And they always have dill!).  I decided instead to cook gnocchi, the one Italian pasta I have a love-love relationship with, and so I bought the really expensive $19.99 gnocchi, stuffed with porcini mushrooms.  Imported from Milwaukee Italy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know, you are blanching at the price.  But, it makes at least three meals worth of dinner.  So says I.

I decided to accompany the gnocchi with rainbow chard.  Now, I am wary of Michael Pollan.  I’ve read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”.  I disagree with him on many points.  I agree with him about a few things: CSA farmers and the wonders of rainbow chard.  I LOVE rainbow chard.  It is the most delicious vegetable: in fact, there is a close tie between rainbow chard and brussels sprouts in my mind for BEST vegetable.  (Now I’ve completely lost you.  I probably already lost you at the Tuscany hate.)

I decided to use a wonderful-looking Food and Wine recipe. I pulled out the Chard.  Somehow, our crisper made it REAL crisp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whoops!  I thawed it in the strainer with warm water.  Then I worked on the prep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a beautiful vegetable.  The prep was a bit finicky.  I had to cut out the “ribs” and cut the leaves into two-inch strips.

Meanwhile, I picked sage from our herb garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I boiled the gnocchi until it floated to the top of the water.  I fried the sage in brown butter, then gently cooked the gnocchi in the brown butter.  It looked like this when ready:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was divine.  Take that, Buitoni.

The rainbow chard turned out delicious as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t LOOK delicious, because the natural light was gone by the time I finally made it.

All this is a big apology to Italian cooking.  Apparently, I had to return to my native California to be able to cook real Italian food.

Please comment below with a link to your own recipe or dinner.  Share the food love.

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Filed under Capote Cooking, Cooking the Classics, cooking?!?, Discovering joy, The Reluctant Cook

Cooking the Classics: St. Patrick’s Day Revisited

Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one.  Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between.

I made our traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner late this year.  There are some reasons for this which don’t particularly make me glad.

I married into a clan and they are very family-oriented.  I have traded in much to fit into this family: my religion, my holidays, my free time.  (Kidding! Sort of.)  Most of the time, for many reasons complicated and varied, I am just fine with that decision.  Happy, even.  I didn’t grow up with extended family around, and my own parents and brother have moved across the country and we see them rarely.  So, family.  Good to have around.

There are some times however when I begin to chafe at the obligations.

I begin cooking my St. Patrick’s Day meal by boiling a large, four pound cut of corned beef.  It simmers with peppercorns and bay leafs for at least three hours.

After we had kids, my big line in the sand was St. Patrick’s Day.  My mom did some genealogical research recently, and it turns out my family is not as Irish as we thought.  In fact, we’re mostly English.  Be that as it may, every year growing up I looked forward to the annual, special St. Patrick’s Day feast.  The food, it was not gourmet.  It was not fancy.  But it was made with love, it was homemade and it was delicious.

While the corned beef is boiling, I start making the Irish Soda Bread.  Just the Joy of Cooking recipe, nothing special.  I whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and sugar together, then add the raisins and caraway seeds.  I had trouble finding those seeds at the grocery store.  Are they Irish?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I then whisk butter, egg and buttermilk together.  It all looks a bit granular.  Is that OK?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mix the buttermilk batter with the dry ingredients, and it seems to be a sticky mess.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I pile it on a baking sheet and hope for the best.

It’s important to me that the kids experience at least one tradition that I had growing up.  So each year, I plan a St. Patty’s Day menu.  This year, the week of St. Patrick’s Day, I had two birthday dinners (one for a family member, one for a friend) and a pre-school religious festival that I helped plan and organize. St. Patrick’s Day got lost in the shuffle.

I have to double the baking time for the Irish Soda Bread.  I think our oven is really old?

I felt horribly guilty about this.  I decided to make the dinner on Sunday night, when Darcy was around to watch the kids.  Sunday night we have a standing date for a family dinner elsewhere.  We have already attended two family occasions this week, so we decided to invite the family over to our house for dinner instead.  I bought the ingredients.  I bought the lilies and Irish bells for the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I pick rosemary from our herb garden.  I wash it well.  I don’t want the “je ne sais quoi” of the meal to be radioactivity.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The family, not pleased.  Standing date claimed, the wish to have dinner at their own house cited.  Pressure was exerted.  Darcy held firm.

I roast the fancy small potatoes I got from Whole Foods with our local rosemary, garlic and olive oil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I arrange the corned beef on a platter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I boil the cabbage in the corned beef water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I serve the soda bread, which looked and tasted like a giant scone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my perfect moment was the following:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My own home-cooked, hard won St Patty’s Day meal, served to my immediate family of four.  Served homemade, and with love.

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Filed under Cooking the Classics, cooking?!?, Discovering joy, Perfect Moment, The Reluctant Cook