Late Mid Morning Musing

November 12, 2010

It is late midmorning. It is time to sip really fine coffee. It is time to stop, think, plan, and wait.

If I were to cook something long, slow, and delicious, this is almost too late to shop and start it for today. I could think of cooking something medium slow.

I just moved into a new – to me – apartment. It’s a huge improvement over the old one. The kitchen has a gas range, built-in microwave (it is amazing how much room that saves!), and a full-sized dishwasher. The gas range has electronic lighters that make a nice click click click . No pilot lights or matches. I recall my first apartment with it’s miniature Kenmore gas range. Stand on your head to light the broiler…heat up the whole apartment with the oven.

We have been eating take away meals for the last few days, as I haven’t unpacked the whole kitchen yet.

I want to fill the house with a wonderful smell. Maybe beef stew with fall vegetables, simmered in the oven. I can’t find the pressure cooker – can’t locate the box it is packed in – so I’ll have to make it the old-fashioned way. Haven’t located the box with the Kitchen Bouquet in it, either, so I think I’ll make something else.

I tend to cook one pot meals. I guess it’s because I grew up in the 1960s and casseroles were all the rage. How do I make one pound of ground sirloin into dinner for six or seven? Mother knew one thousand and one ways to do just that. I do it because I don’t want to wash a bunch of pots and pans as well as all the other dishes. Why not do it one large pan?

I have this old Corning Ware casserole. It is a three quart size, just right for cooking a one pot meal for two. It can be used on the range top, tucked into the oven, and it has a nifty metal box with a plug that makes it a slow cooker. So I can brown up some onions, brown a meat, pile in vegetables (read potatoes), add herbs and wine and set it to low.

What I like best about this pot is that I can scrub the inside and out, put the Corning Ware vessel in the dishwasher, wipe down the metal box, and stow it. Yes, one can do that with a regular crock pot, but one can’t wash it in the dishwasher when the electric part is connected.

So, I sip coffee, think, plan, and wait.





July 22, 2010

Easy…yummy…as fast as take out
Get no bake lasagna noodles,
Italian sausage (hot or mild)
1 pint ricotta cheese
1 lb. mozzarella cheese (get it shredded to save time)
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. fresh baby spinach leaves
2 eggs
1 quart red spaghetti sauce, warm
olive oil
grated nutmeg

Heat oven to 375 or use microwave oven.
Slice open and brown Italian sausage, drain grease, and mix with spaghetti sauce. Heat.
Place ricotta in a deep mixing bowl. Add the eggs, and about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg.
Rinse the baby spinach, pat dry.
Take your lasagna pan (about 8 X 13) and spread olive oil all over the bottom and sides.
Place no bake lasagna noodles across the bottom in a single layer.
Cover with 1/3 ricotta mixture, then 1/3 spinach leaves, then 1/3 sauce, then 1/3 grated Mozzarella.
Repeat noodles, ricotta cheese, spinach, sauce & meat, Mozzarella, ending with Mozzarella. Sprinkle well with Parmesan cheese.
If the pan is microwave safe, cover well with plastic wrap and cook for 35 minutes on high, turning often. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
If you oven-bake, cover tightly with aluminum foil, time for 45 minutes, uncover and bake for 15 more minutes (to brown).

Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing.
Serves 4 to 8.


July 16, 2010

If I were to pick a favorite food, it would probably be the food group, “shellfish.”

To be more specific, I mean bivalves, crustaceans, and arthropods: clams, oysters, shrimp, scallops, and crab.

Since my first taste of any of these animals, I was in love. I know that the condiments offered with these delicacies are delicious on their own, drawn butter, lemon juice, mayonnaise, cocktail sauce, and my all time favorite, tartar sauce. I have eaten each of these animals without a condiment and I still love the fresh flavor of the sea.

I prefer my clams steamed, served warm in a bowl, with drawn butter and lemon juice. Oysters eaten ice-cold and raw, with a dash of Worcester sauce or Tabasco. Or, just straight up. Shrimp preparation really depends on the size of the critter. Tiny shrimp are wonderful with rice, salad shrimp used as their name suggests, and prawns eaten out of hand with tiny bites so they last a long time. Scallops are wonderful fixed up any way but fried.

I don’t really like anything from the sea fried. Deep fat frying seems to be a way to cover up and hide the sea food inside.

Always ready for breakfast

July 16, 2010

As a child, I didn’t care for eggs. I found that when I went away to a polytechnical college in Central California where they produced their own dairy and eggs, I like fresh eggs cooked very little. I found eggs over easy.

I also found breakfast. I transferred to a different state college, near Santa Rosa,  with a student run residential community where the cafeteria staff were my neighbors and friends. The food service director was Hispanic, and there I discovered chorizo and eggs. Tater tots were served so often at breakfast they became an iconic food for our click.

When Jim and I met in college, he was a physics major with an astronomy minor. He is – and was – a night owl. His nickname was The Creature. It started as “The Champion of the Night” migrated to “The Creature of the Night” and settled down to The Creature. Creech to his very intimate friends. I was fond of saying, “If you see The Creature at breakfast, it is because he has been up all night.”  I was often up with him, walking all over, studying, sitting in the cafeteria or coffee-house talking all night, or other activities. We became friends, eventually lovers, broke apart, and I left school.

Nine years later I found The Creature again. Actually, I found the house in Santa Rosa where he was living. I talked to his housemate, another friend from the residential community. Creature was at work. I left my telephone number, expecting very little.

Jim called that night to say, “I am making spaghetti. Come on over!” I went over. Because we had broken apart over my clinging to him, during this incarnation of our relationship, I only called after he had called me twice. Jim had finished his physics degree and also completed a second one in economics. He free-lanced as a computer programmer and systems analyst. I think he had four part-time jobs.

We cooked for each other; I made him lamb chops, rice, old family favorites, and he introduced me to Potatoes Claude. There had been a diner in Santa Rosa that made a breakfast dish of home fries dusted in a small amount of cornmeal so that they were very crisp. Jim called this method Potatoes Claude, after the mutual friend who had figured out how the diner made the wonderful home fries.

He had learned to cook as a very young man because he was the only one home when it was time to start dinner; his dad, mom, and older sister all worked out of the house. He described how it happened: first, Mom left explicit written instructions. Later, she left just messages: cook pot roast, start chicken baking, that kind of thing. When Jim came up to college he shared an apartment with a bunch of other guys, he was very popular because he could shop, spend very little, and cook a fine meal. Granted, there was never anything green served save for iceberg lettuce salad.

Our relationship progressed. An old college chum hired Jim  to run the night operations at a small firm in San Francisco. He rented a one bedroom apartment in SOMA and walked to work each day. On Friday nights, leaving at eleven pm, I would drive to San Francisco, pick him up and take him back to my apartment in Santa Rosa. We would stop at a favorite coffee shop for coffee and breakfast. While in Santa Rosa, we took turns cooking for each other. On Sunday mornings, I would walk over to church to sing in the choir. When I got home, he had shopped and made breakfast. Sunday afternoons we would go back to San Francisco, stopping to do his grocery marketing. If the day grew long, I would stay over in The City, and jump back on the freeway at six o’clock to get to work on time in Santa Rosa. We did this for four years.

The college chum who hired Jim announced his wedding plans. Jim and I were invited to Laughlin, Nevada for a riverboat wedding and three-day party. We chose to leave a week earlier and visit other friends in Tucson, Arizona. We traveled together for two weeks. When I dropped him off at his apartment in SOMA, he missed me.

He went ring shopping and surprised me on Christmas Day. We married nine months later, on the Autumnal Equinox.

For twelve years we shared the cooking in our marriage. Creature still worked nights, so on the weekends whomever mentioned food or being hungry cooked, or paid. In October, 2007 Jim had the first of four strokes. Now, I cook for him, and he’s always ready for breakfast.

Comfort Foods

July 16, 2010

Food informs on so many levels. Not to be trite, but we see it, smell it, hear the sizzle, feel the warmth or the cool silkiness, taste the herbs, the spice, the ingredients as the blend and arouse.

I first noticed the noun phrase, “comfort food” maybe ten years ago. Each person has his or her own comfort foods, and foods for different needs. When I am feeling blue, I crave carbohydrates. I also crave energy boosters: caffeine, fruit, and sweets. Who wouldn’t?

Cold days and nights bring on the desire for rich, complex flavors like chicken, sausage and rice baked in saffron infused broth. Also,  lamb chops marinated in what seems to be salad dressing: olive oil, garlic, a bit of wine or vinegar,  and tarragon or rosemary, then broiled and served roasted root vegetables.  Cold brings on cravings for densely layered scalloped potatoes, loaded with diced onions, bits of bell pepper, whole milk, and sharp cheddar cheese.

The early morning sound of the locomotives working in the train yard in nearby Oakland brings to mind the smell of bacon frying, bread toasting, and the unmistakable sound and smell of the coffee pot, dripping its hot water through grinds.

There are the comforts of food prepared in times of sickness: cream soups with oyster crackers floating on top, hot drinks with just a drop of good brandy, light teas, salads, and why do I think of tapioca pudding as a ‘sick’ food? Most would include chicken noodle soup but I don’t really care for it, minestrone is more to my taste.

The summer I was sixteen, I spent nine weeks with a family in Norway. I learned to drink coffee there – Norwegians drink more coffee per capita than any other ethnic group – and discovered goat cheese. Many, many kinds of goat cheese.

We lived for five of those weeks on an island, and ate flounder and potatoes five days a week at dinner. It has been over thirty years since that trip and I to this day cannot even look at flounder. On Friday nights, there were special dishes offered: cracked crab and steak tartar.

Cracked crab is still a comfort food, and I love the San Francisco cioppinos, steamers, and sourdough bread. All bring comfort and a smile.

Food for the Soul

July 14, 2010

I am very interested in food. Food is love. I love to eat, try new foods, and re-invent familiar recipes.

I learned about cooking standing next to Mother at the stove. I watched her brown pork chops, peel and dice onions, and carefully divide up the food on our plates. Mother read recipes, adjusted them, or invented them. She cooked by taste and smell. She made Greek, Mexican, Japanese, Southern, and many other ethnic specialties. She could cook anything, only limited to her cook-top. She refused to fry chicken on an electric range, or make dumplings. When she had a gas range, she cooked those things.

She gave me chores to help out. I pared potatoes, grated cheese, and I recall with fondness the day my sister Kristin and I cleaned and shelled pounds of shrimp for dinner. Mother usually purchased cooked tiny shrimp, but there was this money-saving deal…and we labored over the crustaceans.

I still cook a few of her favorites. Shrimp creole, chicken with sausages and saffron rice, smothered pork chops, and oven barbecued spare ribs. I have taken some of the old favorites and adapted them to different ingredients, like Yukon Gold potatoes in scalloped potatoes, or organic baby red ‘taters in potato salad.

I feel her presence with me when I cook. If she were available, I would like to ask her about the use of spices, methods of poaching fish, or her favorite additions to  aspic. She passed from this plane of existence in January, 1991.