Thursday, April 29, 2010

A bath for your greens: Creamy Italian Dressing

We were stuffed, full to the gills, fiber-ized to the roots of our hair. Still, my husband and fought over the last few leaves of lettuce. We could not let the salad go. The dressing was too good. Based on a recipe from Cooks Country, I urge you to try it today. The technique of warming up the garlic in the acid with an herb is pure genius.

Creamy Italian Dressing
(enough for two large salads)

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (I only had Romano and it worked just fine)
1 shallot, minced (Screw it. I didn't have one.)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano (original recipe called for two, but that was a little too much "dried" for me)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used lowfat Duke's, my favorite)
1/4 cup yogurt (they called for sour cream, but I used Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

  1. Whisk vinegar, cheese, shallot, garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes in a little bowl.
  2. Put it in the microwave. Really.
  3. Cook it for 30 seconds or so, until cheese melts and vinegar looks cloudy.
  4. Add mayonnaise, sour cream (or yogurt) and whisk it together.
  5. Add oil in little bursts and whisk together until emulsified. I used an immersion blender.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Whatever you don't use can be kept in fridge for a couple days.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pass U By Saves the Day. Again. Lemony Goodness.

Wow, did I have a bad week. Normally when overwhelmed I visit my dear friend Amazon Prime who sends me small pick-me-up packages all week. However, I just paid my NOT dear friend the IRS a huge tax check and am pretending to be frugal, at least for a month. After a particularly miserable day, I arrived home and found a package. I accessed my online order memory bank. Hmmmm....No orders to Lands End, no Amazon, no contenders for the final solution to the Great American Bra Struggle. What could it be?

Into the kitchen I stumbled. It was a package from Pass U By!!! I beat the tape and cardboard into submission and what to my wondering eyes did appear? Could it be the heavenly aroma of lemons from her back yard? Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh, Pass U By. In one package I am reminded of my dear friend and her wonderful family, of fabulous drives up Route 1 in Northern California, of shared meals, of a glorious semester in Oxford mostly drunk with . . . Pass U By, decades ago.

These lemons present a problem to me. I want to savor them and never use them because they are so wonderful and cherished. But they are quite perishable. What to do?

First, a story. Have I mentioned this one before? When I was pregnant with my first little bambino, Little Cappucino, I had an "ultra screen" in the first trimester. Mistake. The screen results, which I received looking out at the Pacific on vacation in California, standing at a payphone, was of course positive, given my age greater than 35, which was (at the time) the single biggest variable in the equation of ultrasound measurements, HCG, and whatever else was in the screen. The speaker over the phone said, "I'm so sorry but there's an 60% chance you're going to have a child with Down's Syndrome." My stomach dropped deep, deep into my feet. I started crying and between the endless episodes of emesis I was lucky enough to enjoy during both of my pregnancies I kept right on crying for a few days.

Pass U By, whose home Monsieur and I were visiting, took the matter squarely in hand, in her usual efficient, matter-of-fact, cheery, loving way. She patted me on the back. She handed me tissues. She asked thoughtful questions. Mostly, though, she cooked me into not crying. And for that I will be eternally grateful to her, her house, her kids, and her husband, all of whom gave me safe space to be sad about a possible problem in a baby I'd never met, who was making me vomit my head off. Pass U By could make anything seem okay, any problem workable. Dusted off, belly full (at least until I vomited again), I picked myself up and dealt.

The amnio was fine.

But as I stood in my kitchen, seven years later, and beheld the lemons, felt their soft skins, inhaled their glorious sunshine smell, I remembered it all. I teared up with love and affection for my friend, and yesterday, fed my big now quirky, funny, big, silly, nose-picking six-year old boy Lemon Pudding Cake. He gave it one thumb's down, ironically, but the rest of us enjoyed it. You might too.

Lemon Pudding Cake
from Cook's Country

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
5 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups whole milk (I used 2%. It's all I had.)

1. Put oven rack in lowest position and heat oven to 325.
2. Get out an 8" square baking dish.
3. Whisk flour and cornstarch in a small bowl.
4. Cream butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and lemon zest until light and fluffy.
5. Add yolks, one at a time, beating until silky.
6. Add flour/cornstarch on low speed.
7. Slowly add milk and lemon juice. Mix till just combined.
8. Beat egg whites till light and fluffy, forming soft peaks.
9. Add sugar slowly until egg whites form firm glossy peaks.
10. Fold egg whites into the lemony batter.
11. Get out a roasting pan and put a kettle on to boil.
12. Put a kitchen towel or Silpat in the bottom of the roaster.
13. Pour batter into the 8" baking dish and place it in the roaster.
14. Pour boiling water into the roaster around the baking dish.
15. CAREFULLY put the whole thing in the oven.
16. Bake 45-60 minutes, until top golden and center slightly jiggly.
17. Remove from oven and let cool about an hour.
18. Eat, enjoy, and think fondly of old, dear friends.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

One pot cauliflower

Tulip Festival in Woodburn, Oregon.Image via Wikipedia

Spring in central Ohio is gorgeous. After the miserable, soul-sucking gray months of damp, cold winter the explosion of flowering trees really is miraculous. Tulips are a marvel. Hyacinths send me into orbit. Daffodils make me smile every damn time I see hthem.

But then I sneeze and rub my red, watery eyes. I gasp for my albuterol and happily ingest prednisone, my lungs begging for merciful corticosteroids. Ah, Zyrtec, Zyrtec, come hither. Mama needs thee.

My food thoughts, happily, are less itchy, scratchy, and wheezy. I turn away from February and early March carbohydrate-laden chowathons, and turn to salads and fruits, finally starting once again to have some taste. My kids, sick of bananas, sliced apples, and pears, feast on strawberries that actually taste like strawberries. Sure, they're still imported, but not from as far. Asparagus. Ramps. A glorious pile of plump green beans greeted me at the market yesterday for NINETY NINE cents a pound!

What to do with it all? Well, here's an idea.

From my favorite new cookbook, Mad Hungry, I acquired the completely nifty practice of slicing cauliflower like bread to bake, roast, blanche, or steam. So much less waste! Remove the green leaves, cut out the woodiest part of the core, then slice. Today I combined my sliced flowerets with a fast pickle-like preparation on the stove, cribbed from Mollie Katzen in Salads. An all-in-one salad prep, and I must say, it's pretty good. We'll have it all week either as a stand-alone side dish, tossed in greens with a salad, or tossed with cooked beans and raisins as a lunch perhaps stuffed in pita.

Bavarian Spring Cauliflower Salad

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine or white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup of waater
2 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Bavarian spice mix (Penzy's, optional product but tasty)
Whole peppercorns
2-3 bay leaves
1 cauliflower, cored, sliced like bread into florets
1 spritz lemon

Combine oil, vinegar, water, spice mix (if using), garlic, salt, a tablespoon or so of peppercorns, bay leaves, and cauliflower in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer gently until the cauliflower is done to your liking.

Transfer to a bowl, add a squeeze of lemon, remove bay leaves, and chill.

To serve, consider addition of capers. Sliced hard-boiled eggs would make this tapas-like. For that matter, canned or fresh tuna chunks wouldn't be out of place, with or without capers, or the hard-boiled eggs.

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