Around My French Table

We ate well tonight. OK, what’s new right? Well, we ate better than we usually do.

Anyone who knows us knows that the last thing we truly need is another cookbook. But Harald has been jonesing to buy Dorie Greenspan’s new cookbook, Around My French Table, since before Christmas. He didn’t get the book for the holidays. But right before Christmas it was mentioned again in our local paper as one of the 10 best coobooks of 2010. So, when He got a Barnes & Noble gift card this holiday, he resolved to buy the book, which we finally picked up today while running errands. We toyed for a few minutes with buying Lidia Bastianich’s newest cookbook, but once I spent a minute flipping through each of them, it was clear that I wanted Dorie’s first. When we got home, I immediately sat down and started going through page after page of recipes I wanted to try. Not content to make something easier for dinner, I decided I would try a few recipes from this new cookbook, and I have to say I loved every one of them -and they weren’t very complicated or time consuming.

Tonight for dinner we had:

Creamy Cauliflower Soup sans cream (garnished with creme fraiche and black truffle oil)
Pumpkin-Gorganzola Flan (incredibly easy and just as delicious)
Almond Flounder Meuniere with creme fraiche mashed potatoes

Now, it is impossible to find flounder right now. According to my local Byerlys fishmonger, the east coast markets have had a heck of a time the past few weeks getting good flounder. I made do with a substitution of red snapper, but I think it might have been better with small walleye filets or sole (yeah, like I could find that either!). There are numerous other recipes in this cookbook I am anxious to try and I think we’ll get started right away.

For the culinary Francophile’s among us, here is a link to the book if you want to check it out.


Noodles Romanoff

OK, I have just one question – how in the world did I live to be 45 years old and without ever eating noodles Romanoff before now? Harald said he remembered it from his youth, but it was totally new to me.

Have you ever had one of those experiences where something smells so good cooking, and it’s in front of you for the first time and you take that first bite and your immediate reaction is “Nothing should taste THAT good!” I’ve had that reaction quite a few times, but it’s been a while. Probably the last time was the first time Harald made his now-famous coconut cake. Well, earlier today we were sitting in the basement and he was looking through Beatrice Ojakangas’s cookbook entitled “The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever” – which, I might add, is not hyperbole. I’ve made quite a few recipes from this book, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. But I digress. Anyway, Harald wanted to make another receipe, then kept looking and came across this noodles Romanoff dish, which she doesn’t call by that title because she’s made one addition. Julienne sliced sun-dried tomatoes are added to the pasta while it is cooking, thereby rehydrating them. But the rest of the magic was in the baking. Now, if you aren’t familiar with this dish, it uses large amounts of cottage cheese, sour cream, and a few other unexepcted ingredients, like Worcestshire sauce and hot sauce, but the end result is far greater than the sum of it’s parts. I just can’t figure out how this dish escaped my attention for this long, given how often I pore over cookbooks, and how much I love anything even remotely Russian or Eastern European in flavor. OK, ok, yes I know, it’s an American invention, but still … creamy, tangy, rich, cheesy, supple …. completely soul satisfying food. Dear lord, I had to put the leftovers away immediately. I knew if I left that dish on the counter, I’d be back in the kitchen every half hour for the rest of the night eating another bite. Oh, yeah, the rest of the dinner was good too.

Here’s the cookbook the recipe came from (and I’m dying to try the Macaroni and Cheese with Lobster casserole!). If you love casseroles, you’ll love this book.


Pictures from jelly making weekend

Once again, we headed to Lutsen over the Labor Day weekend. This is our designated annual jelly-making weekend and it was a good one. We found some really good fruit and this batch is, perhaps, the best batch of crabapple jelly we’ve ever made. We made two kinds. The first couple of batches we “plain” crabapple jelly made from a variety of apples. The second added hot peppers to the jelly. The first batch we made we used just the fiery hot cayenne peppers that Karin grew this year, but when the batch was done, we decided it was a little tame, even to the Scandinavian palate, and so in the next two batches we added some serrano chiles that Helen had brought up. They are a real favorite of mine and I love their flavor. They were a welcome addition to the jelly. So without further ado …

[album: http://www.fiberguy.com/wp-content/plugins/dm-albums/dm-albums.php?currdir=/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/Lutsen September 2010/]

Are you REALLY gonna eat that??

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I am! And I have to tell you, it smelled so good baking I was just about ready to gnaw off an arm before it was done. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s for company coming tonight (it’s my turn to host my quilt guild), I would have had at it already. There is almost a pound of chocolate in this beast. Doesn’t it just look dreadfully delicious? The recipe is called Mississippi Chocolate and Coffee Cake. The other night, just as I was trying to figure out what to make, I got one of my weekly e-mails from Cooking.com with a bunch of Mississippi mud cake recipes, and this one was pictured. I had everything I needed to make it, and we all love chocolate more than our luggage, so here we go. I’ll let you know how it tasted just as soon as I recover from the cocoa coma it’s bound to put me in.

Update: Just so you all know, it was every bit as good as it looked, and then some!


How y’all are?

Thinking about all my fellow southerners, and those who feel the soulful tug of the south in their heart no matter where they live, as we get ready for Fat Tuesday.  My uncle in Tallahassee just ripped out his winter garden late last week and momma overnight expressed an entire box full of collard greens and mustard greens which arrived last night.  I took the day off today (in part) so that I could cook up this mess of greens and make some cornbread and rice and some baked chicken to go with it.  The pitcher of tea is ready and waiting and although Harald will come home and say the house stinks, it smells like heaven to me!
 
Anyone else got big plans for Shrove Tuesday, before the seriousness of Lent sets in?
 
Our church is doing a “read along” for Lent, with the congregation dividing into subgroups depending on which book from the “40 day journey with …” series that you pick.  I went to the Luther Seminary bookstore this morning because I couldn’t find any of the “40 day journey with …” books in stock at any of the local stores.  But LS had them all – makes sense since they are the primary retail outlet for Augsburg Fortress.  Anyway, I read several pages of Sr. Joan Chittester and Madeleine L’Engle, but neither one of them really spoke to me.  The Parker Palmer version did a little.  But when I picked up the Julian of Norwich and read three pages, it shook me and wouldn’t let go.  So I’ll be doing my 40 day journey with Julian.  I couldn’t bring myself to leave, though, because my intuition kept telling me there was something else there I was supposed to see.  I looked and looked at looked at all the displays and tables, and then out of nowhere, one lone copy of “The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents” and I knew instantly that was it.  It will appeal to the sinophile in both of us.  So I came home with two good books instead of one.
 
It is 42 degrees outside right now and the sun is shining bright.  I rolled the front windows down on the way home just to get the refreshing, clean air in my lungs.  I know, only in Minnesota, right?  Well, anyway …..


This is what delicious looks like

I am normally not one of those kinds of bloggers to post many food pictures, but last night was worthy of star treatment.

It started last week when H brought home six of the most gorgeous poblano peppers I have ever seen. He got them at the local farm stand we buy from and I was inspired to make stuffed peppers. They were fabulous when done and I waxed rhapsodic about them to my quilt buddy Karen as we drove to Lake City last week for our retreat. Later while I was at the retreat, H bought 8 more of them from the same stand, and we kept them until last night when I invited Karen to dinner to see what I was going on and on about.

First, we start with the fresh peppers. This is them right out of the fridge after being washed.  Aren’t they just gorgeous?

And here we are with the peppers all stuffed and ready to go in the oven. They are made with a mixture of chicken, brown rice, aromatic vegetables (a mixture of onions, sweet peppers, hot peppers, cooked corn, garlic, cumin, oregano, thyme, S&P) some grated Mexican cheese blend, chopped fresh cilantro, sauteed zucchini, sliced scallions, and diced tomato with a couple of beaten eggs added to hold it all together when it bakes.  I made the recipe up myself, but I took inspiration (and directions for preping the peppers) from this site – http://poblanorecipes.blogspot.com/.

And finally they come to the table, doused in salsa verde and Mexican cheese blend and all gooey and melty. I only had one pepper last night (OK, and a slice off another one), but I am still completely sated this morning. I can’t begin to describe how delicious they are.

Here is the table as we sat down to eat. We had a salad, complete with fresh tomato from the garden, and refried black beans con queso fresco. There is crema (Mexican table cream) and guacamole, along with cilantro and limes. If I hadn’t stopped myself, I would have eaten until I burst.

And I bought six more peppers from the stand yesterday, so I can repeat the whole thing all over again once we eat all of these!  Or I may decide to make another poblano dish instead.  But the peppers, like the sweet corn we are getting right now, are at their peak and simply demand to be treated well and eaten fresh.


How am I doing so far?

Well, today is the second full day on WW.  How am I doing?  Well, I’m already over my “points” for the week because if you are on the Core plan, your food choices are pretty limited.  Now that I see how easy the on-line planner is to use in order to log your food consumption, I might switch to the Flex plan instead.  Although the Core plan makes life easier in some ways because you don’t have to count anything *as long as* you only eat the core foods, I’m never going to eat only Core foods – I just know that about myself.  But you know what?  I’m not the least bit bummed out or discouraged in any way about my progress so far.  In fact, I’m very proud of myself for these first three days.

I think a good start for me is just learning to make better decisions, day by day, about what and how much I eat. Mom got here last night for a visit and I asked her if there was anything she really wanted to eat. She said smelling that BBQ in Memphis and not having enough time to get a sandwich had gotten to her and she’d love to go get a BBQ sandwich some place. So I decided this was a good opportunity to face the challenge of going out to restaurants with people. I ended up ordering the leanest things they had (a combo with catfish and brisket). I didn’t eat the bread the brisket was on. I ate about 1/4th of the muffin. I used less than a tablespoon of BBQ sauce. I ate all my green beans and corn on the cob, but only two forkfuls of potato salad. I allowed myself the luxury of one glass of sweet ice tea, but only one. After that, I switched to unsweetened tea. It’s not earth-shattering, but it is different, because before I would have ordered the half-slab of St. Louis ribs, and eaten every bit of every side and my muffin – and I probably wouldn’t have ordered green beans. So that is what I think will ultimately make the difference for me, making small, but important, changes that add up over time. In other words, making better and healthier choices consistently, and doing so in a very deliberate and conscious way. And yes, I felt much better when we left the place last night than I normally do when I walk out of there.

Today for lunch I had a 1/2 order of the steamed veggies and chicken.  When was the last time I ordered a half order of anything, much less something light and healthy?  That is definitely a better decision that the General Tso’s chicken – a delictable fried and sauced concoction familiar to Chinese-food lovers in the US.   And I had a small bowl of hot and sour soup, instead of the cream cheese wantons I’ve taken to allowing myself.

So that is how I’m doing on day 2.  I think I’m off to a good start, even if I am not yet following the food plan to the letter.  I didn’t get fat overnight and I’m not going to lose all this weight that quickly either.  Rome wasn’t built in a day you know.  I will consider myself a wild success if I take off 20 pounds or more over the next year.  That will be enough to prove to me that I have changed courses and am now moving in a better direction.

P.S.  I did make the change to the Flex plan online, but that wiped out my food diary for the past 3 days, so I have to go back in and re-enter everything.  I might be better off than I realize and not over my points yet.


The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things …

As I was in the car on the way to the lab to get my blood work done (that my doctor ordered from my physical back in May), I was almost at the clinic and I sneezed unexpectedly.  I didn’t realize what had happened at first, but I instantly felt more relaxed.  That’s when I remembered hearing a pinging sound and I looked down to find not only had my sneeze caused me to lose a button on my trouser waists, but I had managed to bust the zipper in my fly.  Disgusted with myself, I pulled over into the Target lot – and I was ever so grateful that I was right next to Target so I could run in and buy a new pair of pants.  Lucky for me, the zipper still worked after I zipped it up and down once or twice, so I went ahead to the lab to have my blood drawn, and headed right back to the Target next door to buy replacement pants.

OK, I thought, that’s really it.  The doctor warned me at my physical that I look like I am creeping toward metabolic syndrome (controversy over that diagnosis notwithstanding).  Thank goodness I haven’t arrived yet.  I’ve known for quite a while that I am heavier than I want to be, like to be, or should be.  I have what I consider to be way too much happy fat.  I’ve got pretty much everything I’ve wanted in life and I have indulged.  I have eaten exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, for as much as I wanted, as often as I wanted – for years now.  And my clothes have gotten tighter and tighter with each new pound.  And now I can’t even wear some of my favorite shirts.  The pants you already have an idea about.

Never mind that back in May my doctor glibly said “Have you ever considered gastric bypass surgery?”  I was so stunned at the time, but an hour later I wanted to slap her.  I think she was just trying to shock me, but I found out that I am nowhere near a candidate for such surgery, nor did I think I was at the time.  All I remember saying at the time was something along the lines of “Hell no!” and probably not much cleaner than that.  She did recommend, then, that maybe I should consider going to Weight Watchers.  Which, as it turns out, I am not averse to.  Once before, about 20 years ago, when I lived in Florida, I started attending Weight Watchers meetings with a friend from work, just to get rid of some of the excess poundage that I had tired of carrying around with me.  So, I thought to myself this morning, what the hell?  Why not give it a try again?  Which is exactly what I decided to do.

The programs have changed quite a bit since then.  I actually liked the daily planner you carried around with you on that old plan – and I lost weight like crazy when I stuck to the plan.  But they don’t have that any more.  I did opt for the online version of the plan.  I can pay one-off meeting fees if I decide to go to the meetings at the JCC around the block from our house.  I may go to the first week just to weigh in and get the “Eat Wisely” book, if they will let me have it.  Anyway, the online version does have a nifty food tracker which is probably far more accurate and easy to use.  I can log what I eat every day, easily keep track of my extra points, log my exercise (note to self:  you really *do* have to do that 1/2 hour bike ride if you want to claim the 2 point benefit!), look up foods and recipes, etc., etc., etc.  I opted for the Core Plan so there is less counting to do, but I may switch to the Flex plan if I find it too hard to stay with the Core foods.  I’ll give it a try though.

{{{{{sigh}}}}}  Why can’t I have the metabolism I had 20 years ago, when I could eat anything and everything and it would just burn away?  Well, I’m 42 now and no use crying over what used to be.  It was fun while it lasted.  I don’t want to become diabetic if I can avoid it (maybe I can’t), I don’t want to have words with my doctor over my weight (which it will likely come to the next time she has something sassy to say about it), and I really would like to be slimmer and feel lighter.  Not to mention that serious weight loss would be a huge benefit to my sleep apnea.  Then, too, there is that one pair of red Lucky jeans (they really were!) which I just can’t bear to part with and I would so dearly love to squeeze my not-so-fat ass into them once again.

So there, I’ve outed myself about my need to lose weight.  Sometimes confession really is good for the soul.


What a week!

What a great week it has been since I got back from that quilt retreat! Just the best in every way.

On Thursday night I realized I had spent more time in my sewing room over the past week than I have the whole time since we’ve moved in. That was startling. Earlier in the week I had unpacked some boxes from the garage that were still on shelves from the move and found some things that were presonally meaningful to me (along with some old crap I’m only too glad to let go of). It was surprising to me how much of my soul had been sitting taped up inside a box in the garage and although I try not to be too attached to material things, it felt good to have some artifacts of my life and sentimental objects back in my sewing room where they belonged. After all, they are markers of where I have been, physically and otherwise, and how I have become the person that I am today. I decided to move the picture of my grandma that was in the downstairs den into my sewing room as well, so that I would see her smiling at me whenever I was sewing in there. And I bought myself a new candle for my sewing room too. I was trying to figure out which Yankee Candle to get when I picked up the honeysuckle one, and it immediately reminded me of that innocent time in my youth when I would go into my grandma’s front yard with my cousin and we would laugh in the summer heat and pick those honeysuckle blossoms and suck the sweet nectar from the bottoms of them. Finally, I got rid of all the “junk”, i.e. non-sewing stuff, that had been accumulating in there and put it somewhere else. And I even bought a new clock radio for the room so I could plug my iPod into it and listen to my music or Podcasts while I am in there. And the radio is color coordinated with my iPod – how cool is that? All of this made a profound difference in how I feel about the place. Now I actually LIKE going in there!

I took Friday off since it was the last day of Harald’s vacation and Good Friday. We ran errands, putzed around the house, etc. I took a vacuum to the sewing room to get rid of dust bunnies and cobwebs – and I do mean that literally! Then the desire overtook me to scrub the floor clean in my sewing room. And I mean the old-fashioned way. Getting down on your hands and knees with a scrub brush, two pails of water, one soapy and one clear, and some rags. And I mean I scrubbed that floor so good you could EAT off of them when I was done! It took a day or two for the Pine-Sol scent to dissipate. And an hour after I started I was exhausted, but it was *so* worth it. When that room was clean, it felt like I had managed to clean out a dim and dusty part of my psyche as well. Maybe sometimes my surroundings really are a reflection of my inner life.

The weekend was so busy I didn’t get the borders put on the French braid, but I will get to that this week. But who can complain about getting to eat homemade coconut cake all weekend? Harald has turned into quite the active little baker and I for one am loving it. He got a hold of a Deen brothers recipe for coconut cake and all I will tell you I can hardly wait to get home tonight and eat the last leftover piece. We had a beautiful Easter service at church yesterday and a truly lovely dinner afterwards. Despite the snow that fell since Thursday, hope springs anew. Now if only spring would spring, we’d be all set.