GAG…

OK so the title doesn’t quite characterize the tone of this post.  It’s the unfortunate yet comical name I came up with for tonight’s dinner: Gouda, Asparagus, & Garlic frittata!

First, the back-story: a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the joy of a farmers market and my purchase of fresh asparagus.  So tonight on the way home from work I was mentally scanning the refrigerator, trying to figure out dinner.  I remembered having only a couple of slices of gouda so thought grilled cheese.  However upon arriving home and actually looking in the fridge, I saw the leftover asparagus and hated the idea of letting it go to waste. First thought was omelette, then for some reason another idea popped into my mind: frittata! Here’s the thing though…I’ve never made a frittata.

Never fear–Alice Waters to the rescue!  After seeing her speak 4 years ago at a conference I immediately snatched up her book The Art of Simple Food and have become a fan ever since.  And of course, in there was a recipe for a frittata, made with swiss chard but all I needed were the base ingredients.  Boy did this one come out tasty!  

So here’s how I did it, adapted from Alice Waters’ frittata recipe:

Preheat oven to 350-degrees and pull out your ovenproof 10-inch pan. Chop asparagus and gouda into small pieces.  I used up what was left of what I had, which was about 10 stalks of asparagus and 2 slices of packaged gouda.  Also chop 4 cloves of garlic.  Heat the pan with a little olive oil and saute the asparagus and garlic together, then set aside and wipe the pan clean. 

Take 6 eggs and crack into a large bowl.  Add salt, freshly ground black pepper and 2 teaspoons of olive oil.  Beat the eggs gently, then stir in the asparagus, cheese and garlic. 

Heat the pan over medium-low heat, then add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  After a few seconds, pur in the egg mixture.  Be sure to try and spread the ingredients around as best you can (my cheese ended up concentrated in the center, with little reaching outward towards the edge). As the eggs set on the bottom, lift the edges a little to allow some of the uncooked egg to flow underneath.  Place the pan into the oven and let the frittata cook and set, about 7-10 minutes. Slide out of the pan onto your plate and you’re done!  

Let me know how yours turned out, and what veggies/meats you used!

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Daddy Can Burn!

Father’s Day is particularly significant in our family because my sister & I were raised by our dad. Yes, many family members helped when he called but it was dad who kept a roof over our heads, doled out discipline and put clothes on our backs. He taught us some of the typical dad things like how to drive a stick-shift, but there’s something else he taught us that could be considered unusual for fathers: a love of cooking.

My dad cooked 4-5 times a week. Friday and Saturday were usually leftovers or carry-out and Sunday was always a special meal. Fast food was a treat, not a regular occurrence. He had a great collection of cookbooks with worn pages spattered on and notes in the margins. But sometimes he would recreate something he’d had in a restaurant, trying several times until he captured the flavor. Or he’d create his own twist. The first time I had shrimp etouffe was at home, not in a restaurant. I didn’t know that pasta carbonara was made with cream sauce until I’d ordered it in a restaurant–Dad always made his without.

He is famous among our friends for his pound cake. Every gathering the host asks him to bring it. It’s a family recipe that he’s perfected, sometimes topping it with a lemon or rum glaze of icing. Lately he’s been working on a home-made bourbon-vanilla ice cream to go with the pound cake.

Speaking of ice cream, we had a hand-crank ice cream
mixer growing up. My birthday is in the summer so I clearly remember preparing for the party by taking turns cranking that sucker, hearing the ice grind with the rock salt. My arms ache even now at the thought, but oh what a creamy delight that came from all of the work!

I once asked my dad why he enjoyed cooking so much. His response was simple: “Because I like to eat.” Those memories of fabulous home cooked meals still live in the memories I and my sister share. Though we both have lives outside of dad’s house, each time we come home we look forward to eating well. We cook our own meals in that same spirit of providing tasty food to our loved ones. It’s that spirit that I hope to pass along to my daughter.

Thanks Dad for such great food memories!

To Market, To Market

A few months ago my family moved a whole 30 miles south of where we had initially settled in New Jersey.  It’s closer to work for me, and close to office friends who also live in the area and have children of all ages.  Not only will this give my daughter some friends outside of daycare, but we also now have a regular babysitter in my boss’s daughter!

One day as I was exploring our new area I saw a sign on the side of the road: Farmers Market, Saturdays 9am-1pm.  Rejoice!  I love farmers markets, and came to love them more when may daughter started eating solid foods.  This happened right at the height of farmers market season so every couple of weeks I was at the local market, picking up fruits and veggies to take home, steam, puree and stick in the freezer.  It was great to introduce her to fantastic peaches, blueberries, squash and green beans that came straight from regional farms.

So this past weekend I checked out the market.  While it’s still early in the season I just wanted to get a “flavor” of what vendors were there and what the community was like.  We got there early enough to get a parking space but late enough that there was a good-sized crowd wandering around.  Not only did you have produce, but baked goods were sold in a couple of stalls, a crepe stand had the longest line, and a band was setting up. I walked past, and ended up stopping, at a barbeque sauce company owned by a brother and sister pair.  Always wanting support local business–and particularly Black-owned–I walked away with sauce and a dry rub, vowing to return for the honey mustard in the coming weeks.  Another vendor had asparagus, which I love roasted (check out Calandra’s post on oven-roasted asparagus) and I even picked up chicken sausage made with basil and sun-dried tomatoes.  The next day we had grilled chicken breasts made with the dry rub and basted with the barbeque sauce…and of course roasted asparagus!  Can’t wait for the peaches and blueberries to come in…cobbler, anyone?

Farmers markets are not only a great way to purchase fresh produce, they’re also a way to start to learn about your community, mingle with neighbors, and possibly even make new friends.  Check out the USDA directory for a market near you!

Does Size Really Matter?

No, not going there–I’m talking about kitchens, people!  Recently my family moved into a bigger apartment so everyone could have their own defined space (in our previous apartment Beverly shared her room with the office), including a ‘man-loft’ upstairs for my husband.  In addition to extra rooms we now have a larger kitchen and it got me to thinking about kitchen sizes vs. the ability to still throw down and put out a fabulous meal.

Kitchens come in all sizes, from the mini-fridge and hot pot in your college dorm room to the massive indoor-outdoor kitchens complete with a patio wood-burning pizza oven that I’ve seen in celebrity kitchen specials on TV.  I remember college friends creating very interesting dishes with a package of ramen noodles, condiment packages swiped from the dining hall and maybe sandwich meat bought at the corner deli.  As a freshman without a car I even created pasta masterpieces in the microwave with butter, milk and packaged pasta bought on my monthly bus trip to the grocery store.  When I was in graduate school I lived in a studio apartment with a small kitchen that had an ancient, electric push-button stove.  Seriously, instead of knobs on the front of the stove there were buttons on the back that you would push for the desired heat level—it was bizarre!  But it was just enough kitchen to feed myself so it worked for me.

My last apartment, which we moved into after arriving in NJ and living in a good-sized apartment in Missouri, had a galley kitchen.  This was certainly the smallest I’d ever encountered in the 12 years (not counting college) living on my own.  We had way more kitchen stuff than this kitchen could hold.  We had to buy a pantry to place in the dining room to hold all the things a pantry in a larger kitchen would have.  Then piled on top of that pantry were the gadgets and serving pieces that the cabinets couldn’t hold.  Counter space was at a minimum, making multi-dish efforts difficult for me; at one point I was rolling dough on the dining room table! My sister, on the other hand, has hosted Thanksgiving with her galley kitchen.  I seriously don’t know how she did it.  She occasionally posts meals she makes for herself and her fiancée on her Facebook page and I look at them like, you did that in your little kitchen??  Guess I should have been calling her for tips…

 We lived in our apartment for 4 years and eventually I learned to adapt, making one-pot meals or putting what I could in the refrigerator instead of leaving it on the counter.  But now we’re in a bigger kitchen with an actual pantry. That was one of my most exciting moments when we initially toured the apartment—no more external pantry cabinet! Now 3 weeks in and the pantry’s stocked, all appliances are in their proper place and I’m getting ready for farmer’s market season and all of the wonderful meals that are to come.  Still aiming for the massive, double-stove, huge island kitchen though…

(By the way, the pantry cabinet became Beverly’s new bookshelf.  Took the doors off and repainted it…just like new!)

What the Crock??

For Christmas this year my husband gave me a Crock-Pot cookbook.  For some women any kind of cookbook as a gift from her husband would result in one of the following questions: “Wait, does this mean you don’t like my cooking?” “So what are you saying…I don’t cook often enough?” and so on.  But since I enjoy cooking and he knows I’m always trying to expand the mental meal database this is a great gift.  And he probabaly got tired of me saying “I need to find more things to do with this crock-pot!”

Last Christmas my aunt, upon my request, gave us a fancy crock-pot, with a timer and a temperature gauge for meats.  Definitely a step up from the older crock-pot that came with my husband when we were married and merged households.  All I used it for were stews/soups, the apple butter I made (and wrote about here) earlier this year, and one attempt at a whole chicken.  I know there are more ways to work with a crock-pot than stew thus my wonderful gift. 

As I flipped through the book I found you can make desserts, appetizers beyond cheese dip, ribs, cornish hens…so many possibilities. My slow cooking used to be a weekend-only thing, so I could be home when the 6-8 hours were complete. With this new cookbook I plan to take full advantage of my crock-pot’s timer and have a meal ready on a weeknight.  Since it’s only the 3 of us I also plan to make meals that can be creatively converted in their leftover form so we have something different from the original dish.  Like chicken on Sunday, fajitas on Tuesday and chicken salad on Friday or something to that effect. 

I completely skipped the stew section of the book though may go back to it in time.  Call it my “cooking resolution” but these next few months I’ll definitely broaden my crockery horizons and discover new ways to put an easy dinner on the table!

Ricotta, Mascarpone & Goat Cheese…Oh My!

Sometimes when I go to restaurants I eat a meal so good that I want to try to replicate it at home, sometimes with success and other times…not so much.  Usually they’re main courses or appetizers and never a dessert.  But last night I had a dessert that has inspired me to give it a try over the holiday season. Last night I met with a girlfriend for dinner at Eno Terra just outside Princeton and after great laughs and tasty main courses we were tempted into dessert by the server’s’ description of their house cheesecake. 

Now, I must disclose that I’m not a big cheesecake fan.  My husband, on the other hand, adores cheesecake.  So dinner dates with him usually result in a cheesecake for dessert, which I’ll take a bite of just because I’m his wife and like to eat from his plate.  But maybe it was last night’s wine and great conversation that led me to order my own cheesecake dessert.  I gotta say, it was unlike any other cheesecake I’ve ever had.  Velvety, rich, a hint of savory (often my complaint about cheesecake is that it’s too sweet) and a bite that had me wondering “just what is that extra ‘something’ in this dessert?”  Regardless we both inhaled it, along with the oatmeal crisp and fruity sorbet to balance the savoriness of the cheesecake.  The server returned, and upon hearing us sing our praises of this marvelous cheesecake she revealed that it was a mix of mascarpone, ricotta and…goat cheese!

I’ve never really appreciated goat cheese though I’ve heard others rave about it.  I think I’ve only had it once before and wasn’t that enamored with it.  But what it did to that cheesecake was amazing.  It added a texture and that savory bite that balanced the sweetness of the mascarpone.  I left the restaurant with a new challenge: recreate that cheesecake! 

I’ve made only one cheesecake in my life: a fairly successful pumpkin version for Thanksgiving one year.  Now I’m on the hunt for a recipe that incorporates goat cheese.  If this turns out anywhere near as tasty as last night’s dessert my husband will be able to enjoy his own plate, without my fork’s interference.

Gadgets Gone Wild, part 2

Back in October I wrote about the overabundance of modern kitchen gadgets and my committment to more basic cooking.  Well a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook that’s made me slightly re-state this committment.  Today’s commentary by Megan McCardle on The Atlantic website, Reasons Not to Buy the Most Expensive Kitchen Gadgets, had me chuckling and I realized that though I’m all about home-cooking I’m not a person who’s a devotee of “Real cooks do it by hand”.  She states that while there are definitely some gadgets that are over the top (a cupcake maker!) there are others that make a home-cook’s life much easer, like, say, a toaster.  She also gives eight fantastic reasons not to purchase certain gadgets.  I loved all of them, particularly numbers 3 and 4 (#4 actually helped me decide not to buy that cupcake maker).

Just wanted to pass the article along…Happy Reading!