Archive for the ‘Friday Food’ Category

Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about menus, but of course in the meantime I seem to have continued, in collaboration with Next Doors, to feed my family and the “commune.” In case you, like I, are occasionally in need of a nudge to get out of a cooking rut, here is some inspiration for a delicious week of meals. Links to recipes are included whenever I can do so.

Monday: Braised & roasted chicken with vegetables, quinoa, and spinach salad.

I’m a fan of Mark Bittman’s recipes, often simple, usually delicious. For a juicy take on roast chicken, I use his “braised & roasted chicken with vegetables” which you can access if you are registered with the New York Times. It combines juiciness with crispy skin, vegetables and mushrooms. It goes swimmingly with multicolored quinoa. Use a simple salad of baby spinach, sliced red onions, avocado and cucumber for some freshness, zing, smoothness and crunch.

Tuesday: “20-minute lamb meatballs”, Ezogelin (Turkish red lentil and bulgur soup) and Greek salad.

In all honesty, the meatballs don’t take only 20 minutes, more like 30, but they’re fabulous, and do not involve frying (i.e. no spattering of grease for a 4 foot radius around the stovetop). The recipe is once again on the NYT site. The key is to form blobs (no need for perfect orbs) about 1.5-2 inches in diameter, and broil very close to the flame (3 inches or so) for just 5-6 minutes. A tahini/yoghurt dipping sauce (just tahini, yoghurt and lemon juice) adds some good tanginess. Serve alongside a hearty ezogelin corbasi (a Turkish red lentil and bulgar soup; great recipe for this and for many Turkish recipes in A Sultan’s Kitchen, by Ozcan Ozan, from his eponymous restaurant on State Street in Boston). Finish with a light, crunchy, lemony Greek salad, for which I provide the recipe in a previous post, along with some other summer meals.

Wednesday: Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice, and baby spinach salad.

We recently purchased Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. This book has received a lot of press lately, and I can see why. When I first sat down with it, I began to mark appealing recipes with sticky notes. I soon realized I was marking every single page. This chicken recipe came out superbly well, especially the rice part, and was a breeze to make. The baby spinach salad, which involved pita croutons with sumac (available at Penzey’s Spices) and pickled red onions (which can be prepared in 10 minutes) was fabulous.

Thursday: Home made wonton soup

Ahhh. Next Doors has spoiled me forever. Chewy noodles, home-made and savory wontons, still crisp bok choy, and dipping vinegar. Full recipe, with pictures, here.

Friday: Salade Niçoise

I’ve featured this before, here, with a recipe. No need for anything else, other than a a good piece of bread of a baguette-ish nature, and some unsalted butter.

Saturday: Grilled pork with noodles and herbs

Once again, a summer hit from Next Doors, often requested by their dinner guests.


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Chateau de Chenonceau Kitchen Stove

Not my kitchen. Chateau de Chenonceau, France. Via Wikimedia Commons.

It wasn’t that hard, as it turns out. And the child gave me the entry point herself.

It usually occurs to 8-year old K to ask, as she somewhat grudgingly sets the table, what we are having for dinner. A few weeks ago, when she insufficiently masked her dismay, I put down the pot in my hand and looked squarely at her.

Me: I have an idea.
Her, rolling her eyes: Oh no.
Me: No, no. It’s a good one. I promise.
Her, scrunching her eyebrows: Yeeesss?
Me: How about, when you are nine, you can be in charge of dinner once a week. You pick the menu, you be the chef.
Her: Yes! (Jumps up and down.) Do we have to wait until I am nine? That’s still two months away!
Me: No. You can start now if you want. Next week. What are you going to make?

Thus was born a new experiment. I have to confess that I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while now. Last year, Leslie Kaufman wrote a piece in the New York Times on this subject. Her sons were 10 and 14 at the time. I read it and started dreaming (it’s ok, I know it’s a dream, I don’t expect it to come true) of sitting on the couch with a book and a glass of wine while K makes us a simple but healthy and appetizing meal. The reality, of course, is much different. Especially with a child who is still quite young, and with her three-year old sister in the mix. Quite literally. The scene is a bit more like the one Sean Wilsey describes in his hilarious piece, also in the New York Times, in 2011. We might even end up with more items, and people, to wash at the end. In my case, I’m also trying to relinquish responsibility and transfer it to the mature and responsible 8-year old, while attempting to tame a wild toddler we refer to as “the creature.”

We’ve set a few ground rules:

  1. Each menu must include at least one form of protein, one starch, and one vegetable. (Later on we may include dessert. We are all big fans of dessert here.)
  2. She is responsible for making sure we have the necessary ingredients in the house in time. For the moment, this means reminding me in advance to pick up the items we need, and when possible, accompanying me to buy them.
  3. I must be present (for the moment) in the kitchen, and I must be watching when she does anything involving the stove/oven or knives.

She has crossed that invisible barrier, the one that stands between “help” that is in fact totally counter-productive (involving more of my time and patience, creating more work for me, and making a greater mess) and help that is truly helpful in advancing the cause of the meal. Her sister, however, is squarely on the first side, capable of creating a mess of unfathomable proportions in the time it takes me to turn on a pot to boil. When I nearly slipped and broke my back due to a fine layer of flour on the hardwood floor the other day, my husband reminded me: this is a long term investment. Meanwhile, he is steering clear of the whole situation, although wise enough to praise the results with vigor and engage K in a discussion of her techniques and the finer points of being Head Chef. Plus he’s also cultivated her interest in barbecue to the point that she looks forward to watching BBQ Pitmasters competitions and talks about the time when the two of them will enter as competitors.

I’m trying not to place too much weight on this experiment. Sure, it might end up being a wonderful mother-daughter(s) bonding moment (like when we’re both bonded to the floor by the honey her sister spilled), but for the moment K is talkative enough, and I am available enough to her, that there are other opportunities for such bonding. It might end up fostering in her a greater interest in nutrition and health and the environment and such, but she’s already fairly attuned to these. Mostly, I view it from a practical perspective: it’s good to be independent, to know how to manage, to go forth in the world as prepared as one can be. The French have a good word for this: to be “débrouillarde.”

The first menu consisted of spaghetti with “meat sauce” (i.e. a simplified bolognese) accompanied by broccoli sautéed with garlic and olive oil. A relatively involved project to begin with, as we made the sauce from scratch. But K was game. She had a friend over that afternoon, and at 4:00 pm I called them both down to the kitchen.

K: Let’s go! I have to make dinner.
Me: You’re welcome to hang out and help.
Friend: Why are you starting now? It’s only 4.
Me (thinking Aha! Teachable moment. Lesson 1.) Well, it’s one thing to make dinner, it’s another to get it all done by dinner time. One has to plan. For example, the sauce takes a while to simmer, and we have the added variable of S. A 3-year old can be very disruptive in the kitchen. We have to allow extra time. You can’t just wait until you are hungry to start thinking about dinner.
Friend: Oh? That’s what my mom does.

That first afternoon, there were many introductory lessons: how to turn a burner on and off, and to control the flame. (K already knew, apparently, to keep the handle of the pot or pan turned away from the edge.) The importance of keeping track of what utensils and surfaces have been in contact with raw meat. How to delegate tasks whose outcomes are irrelevant to the progress of the prep to the little sister while still making her think she’s being helpful. That type of thing.

There came a time when every utensil and container in the kitchen was dirty, when the sauce was burbling up out of the pot in explosive spurts, when K was sprawled on the floor moaning, and when S was rummaging untended in the fridge like a bear cub. But the experiment was a success for these three simple reasons:

  1. Dinner was on the table at something that approximated dinner time, and was quite tasty to boot.
  2. We’d had a few good laughs.
  3. Most importantly, K wanted to cook again.

Which she did last night: steaks (rib eye, broiled, first rubbed with garlic and fresh herbs), corn on the cob, and sesame semolina bread with an array of French cheeses. This time, our commune neighbor 8 year old L joined in, eager to help out. Lots of small fingers to pull the leaves off the thyme stems. He suggested they keep track of the recipes, create a book, and publish it. My kind of boy! I don’t see that really happening, but so far I’m quite pleased with this experiment.


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Tarte Tatin. Photo courtesy of the blog of Christine Pae.

Tarte Tatin. Photo courtesy of the blog of Christine Pae.

Look, there’s no big secret to a successful Tarte Tatin, the traditional French apple tart baked with the crust on top, and then flipped over to serve. I don’t know why people think there is. Or perhaps, there is a secret, and I’m about to reveal it to you. Ready? Here it is: don’t try too hard. Don’t complicate things. I’ve often heard people bemoan their inability to make a good crust, thinking it’s harder than it is. And, believing they can’t make a good crust, they just give up, and deprive themselves of this heavenly dessert, looking at me as though I were a wizard for being able to conjure one up in my kitchen. Or if they can manage the crust, they then worry about caramelizing the bottom (which becomes the top) of the tart.

I say this: Skip the caramel top. Instead, make a simple brandied caramel sauce to drizzle on afterwards. Then, all you need is a good crust and 6-7 non-mealy, somewhat tart apples.

Here is how to make a crumbly, buttery, delicious crust:

In the bowl of a food processor, put:

1 ¼ cup flour, a pinch of salt and 1/3 cup cold butter, cut into pieces.

Process for a few seconds until the mixture is the consistency of rough sand.

(If you don’t have a food processor, just use a regular, large bowl, and two butter knives to cut the butter into the flour. This is not a big deal. I grew up doing it this way, and it really doesn’t take long. Plus it’s kind of satisfying to criss-cross the knives through the mixture, going after the larger butter clumps until the consistency is right.)

Now add three tablespoons of ice cold water, and process/mix again.

That’s it. Knead the mixture together into a ball, and flatten slightly with your palm. Wrap in Saran wrap and place in fridge for a half hour.

While the crust is chilling, peel and slice about 6-7 apples. I like to use half Granny Smiths, half some other kind like Fuji, Pink Lady, Macintosh, etc. Avoid Red Delicious or Golden Delicious. If you have an 8 year old helping you with measurements, and a two year old puttering around with bowls of flour and sugar and generally making a mess on the floor, you can feed them some of the peels. (Yes, in some respects, these smallish creatures bear a striking resemblance to piglets.) Place the slices in a large bowl and sprinkle with sugar (I use about 2 tbsp, but you can use more for a sweeter experience) and cinnamon (about half as much as the amount of sugar you put). Squeeze half a lemon into the bowl, and toss.

Take out a pie dish and butter it generously. Lay out the apples in it, in several layers. You may want to make the first layer into a pretty pattern, as that will end up being the top of the tart. The pie dish should be very full, a bit higher than the edges of the dish, as the apples will soften and fall in on each other. Put a few (4-5) small pats of butter on top of the apples.

Take out the crust and roll it out on a piece of wax paper. If necessary, dust your rolling pin with flour. The crust will be crumbly, so roll it slowly, taking the time to re-stick any bits that threaten to separate from the main piece. When it is big enough, flip it onto the pie dish. Tuck in any overhanging bits. With a fork, poke a few sets of holes in the crust, to let the steam out.

That’s it. Place in a preheated oven at 350 degrees (Fahrenheit) and bake for about 45 minutes, maybe a bit more, until the edges of the crust start to turn golden. You might want to place a piece of foil below the pie dish, in case apple juices burble out.

When the pie is done, remove from the oven, and let sit for a good hour or so. Then, place a plate over it, and flip the dish over, so that the tart ends up crust down on the plate. You might need to coax some of the apples down from the pie dish with a knife.

I tend to leave it at that, and serve warm with two things: crème fraîche (which is NOT the same as sour cream) and the brandied caramel sauce.

Voilà. Bon appétit. It’s not apple season in most parts of the world now, but apples are widely available, and this is a dessert that is always a hit.

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