Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fiddleheads & Cinco de Mayo

Marjorie just texted me to remind me that it's fiddlehead season -- she cooked some last night.

I saw some ferns unfolding in the garden the other day and thought of cooking up a batch, although I don't think anyone at home will eat them.

But tonight it's tomatillo salsa in honor of Cinco de Mayo -- an event whose meaning is lost on most (North) Americans. It seems to have become an excuse for a food and drink fiesta.

However, the day celebrates an 1862 Mexican victory over invading French troops, which came despite overwhelming odds. The French purportedly were coming to collect a debt after fiscally strapped  Mexico suspended repayments for two years. More on the history.

Some say the celebration commemorates those who are brave enough to fight against oppression. Maybe we'll discuss the history over the dinner table before we dig into the meal.

The inspiration for using tomatillos comes from Dorado restaurant in Brookline, where they serve a fantastic tomatillo-avocado salsa. And one of the great benefits of the Internet age is being able to search for recipes online then compare to see which appeals. This will be my first experience with tomatillos -- such a great looking fruit!

Served the salsa with grilled tuna, salad, brown rice and refried black beans. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Huevos Rancheros & The Good Egg

I was still a picky eater the first time I drove cross country, so I probably missed some interesting dining opportunities. The one thing that haunts me is all the salsa I left untouched. At the time, I didn't like Mexican food, or, shall I say, I didn't realize how good it is.

I would set out at dawn each morning, drive for an hour or so, then hit a truck stop for a hearty breakfast. At some point in the journey, I started seeing salsa on the counters at all meals.

One venue in particular has always stuck in my mind: A wood-paneled room, perhaps in Wyoming, where I sat at the bar for breakfast -- and scorned the small dishes of bright red salsa. Now I'd know enough to add it to my scrambled eggs, but it just didn't appeal to me then.

This morning I treated myself to breakfast at The Good Egg in Scottsdale. Ariz., where the dark roasted salsa did not go to waste. My intention was to try a light egg dish, but I couldn't resist my usual huevos rancheros. The Good Egg version comes with black beans, crispy home fries, a bit of melted cheese, and a sprinkle of crispy corn tortilla chips, topped off with pico de gallo, sour cream. a few jalapenos and two eggs -- poached in my case. As if that weren't enough, the dish is accompanied by two warm flour tortillas and the salsa. It has a bit of the appeal of nachos combined with a superb breakfast dish.

It was in Cozumel, Mexico, that I first tried huevos rancheros. Bob and I were sitting in a harborfront cafe, watching a cruise ship that seemed to be having a difficult time getting into port. I was still learning to enjoy Mexican food, and what I remember most about that dish are the black bean refritos and how well they went with the eggs. It would be many years before I began seeing huevos on menus with any frequency, but I now know I can get a great version anytime I'm in Scottsdale.

And it's a particular pleasure to visit The Good Egg, because it reminds me of my father. I don't know how many times I heard him compliment an acquaintance or friend by calling him or her a "good egg." My kids will tell you that I'm also partial to that description -- yet another instance of becoming like one's parents, but in my case I usually don't mind at all.

I had hoped to introduce my father to The Good Egg and its huevos rancheros. I think he would have enjoyed it, but, alas, it was not to be.

Tomorrow: Dining alone

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ribollita - a Tuscan tradition

The autumn garden brings to mind ribollita, a wondrous concoction of beans, vegetables and bread I first tasted during a trip to Tuscany. I’ve been obsessed with this soup ever since.

The love affair began during a multi-course dinner at the Admiral Palace Hotel in Chianciano Terme. Here the soup’s base was a rich, dark brown. My intent was to taste sparingly, because of the long menu, but I proceeded to finish every drop of this incredible dish. I never managed to procure this particular recipe, but I believe it had meat in it – probably pancetta. We were traveling with Franca Franzaroli of Boston’s Donna Franca Tours, who is noted for her cooking, and she offered us her version.

A few nights later, we had a distinctly different ribollita, also delicious, as part of another multi-course meal at Agricultura Palazzo Bandini. This robollita was entirely vegetarian, but also completely satisfying. I began to see that this dish, which is ladled over stale bread, samples the entire garden. Marta Valeriani, our agricultura host, is a sixth-generation resident of the farm and with her father works the land, restaurant, cooking school and inn that make up Agricultura Palazzo Bandini. She offered the ribollita recipe, which I tried at home. Me rendition was good, but not great, and I realized the problem was that I had been too lazy to properly cook the beans. Instead, I used a can of beans, but got the proportions wrong. The recipe made a huge vat of ribollita, but Bob and Nora weren’t brave enough to try it, and Aidan didn’t go for seconds. I couldn’t finish it all, so some went to waste.

I did decide to grow red chard in the garden so I could make another, smaller batch. I never got around to it last summer, but I did use the chard for a delicious bean soup from the New York Times.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Taking comfort in food

Started a new job this week, and Marjorie, my eldest, knew just what to do to help me through the first day. She sent me two photos of food.

I guess she knew that I was excited about starting something new, but still a bit nervous, and that connecting over food would soothe me.

Here's her message:
Hi Mom! Hope your first day is going well. Here's that old picture I said I was going to send you, which is tofu, spinach, pea pods. corn and carrots in peanut yellow curry with couscous and naan. Then my lunch today ... which I'm currently eating! ... is pasta in garlicky romano cream sauce with peas and pea shoots (which are really good), and pieces of thick cut bacon. I've come to learn that all food looks and thus tastes better on square plates!

I didn't get a taste, but the food looks good and it's presented very nicely on those square plates. (Also, I'm delighted that she's eating her veggies. I must have done something right raising that girl!)

The week went well, and I knew I was in the right place when the entire staff was invited for beverages and snacks Friday afternoon as a welcome to fall.

Thanks for inspiring me to get back to the blog, Marjorie. It's been quite a while.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Green bacon on a stick

Breakfast always tasted better outside, my mother told me years ago as we carried the fixings for a bacon-and-egg breakfast down the steep hillside to the waterfront at Queen Lake, where we visited our cousins Edie and Bill each summer.

Of course she was right, but I don’t know if I would have immediately realized it if she hadn’t told me that day.

Edie was my mother’s cousin, but as close as a big sister to her, and Bill and my father became fast friends. We kids were crazy about our older cousins, and our times at the camp, as we called their rustic house on the lake, were some of the happiest and carefree of my childhood.

Bill loved to regale us with stories – of coming face to face with a Grizzly Bear while hunting in Alaska or hauling telephone poles to hilltops in rural Vermont. But he was a kidder, and when we were young it was sometimes hard to tell where the real story ended and the tall tale began.

At that first lakeside breakfast he told us about cooking over a campfire out in the wilderness. His voice started booming as he described boiling eggs in a pot of coffee and cooking bacon over the fire on a green stick.

Somehow, in the conversation that followed, the green was transposed from the stick to the bacon.

This was long before I was allowed to have coffee, but for some reason the concept of cooking eggs in the coffee really appealed to me, perhaps because it sounded both elemental and efficient. My mother, who loved her coffee, declared that it would ruin the brew, but that nothing would be worse than green bacon on a stick.

Bill was delighted with the concept, and, for all the years we enjoyed breakfast down by the water, he never failed to ask if anyone wanted green bacon on a stick.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Now here's a saint's day featuring some food I like

My friend Mary Helen mentioned that tomorrow, March 19, is St. Joseph's Day, when the bakeries in the North End (Boston) feature cream-filled pastries.

A nice change of emphasis from the American tradition of a St. Patrick's Day boiled dinner.

I don't know where I've been, but I never heard of this tradition until today.

A little research turns up the story of Sicily's being saved from drought and famine during the Middle Ages through the intercession of St. Joseph. Bob points out that the luxury of cream-filled pastries makes a nice counterpoint to the travails of famine.

Where green was the color of the day on March 17, those celebrating St. Joseph wear red, and it's traditional to honor fathers, even though, strictly speaking, St. Joseph was more of a stepfather than a dad.

At any rate, when it comes to a feast, I prefer the Italian influence, despite my last name.

Maybe I'll wander over to the North End for a cannoli tomorrow.

But even as I indulge, as so many of us in America do, there is still hunger and famine throughout the world, much of it the result of armed conflict.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Corned beef & cabbage -- No thanks

Growing up, I usually had to face a corned beef and cabbage dinner on or around St. Patrick's Day. Never cared for the meat or the cabbage, but the carrots and potatoes picked up wonderful flavor from the briney water of the boiled dinner.

I've never served this dish to my family.

The other unpleasant food associated with the Irish -- at least in my book -- was the soda bread studded with caraway seeds and currants. Neither appeals to me.

So what a revelation it was when I first tasted wheaten bread in Ireland. This dense, no-yeast loaf is both healthy and delicious. Made with whole wheat flour and buttermilk, it has a creamy taste -- and no add-ins to spoil the consistency and taste. I've made it from several different recipes (and can never remember which I used last). There are any number of versions online. I like the look of this recipe, but I'd use butter instead of margarine.

If I'm over in West Newton, (Mass.) I pick up the delicious wheaten loaves at the Keltic Krust Bakery,