Posts tagged: winter recipes
February 18, 2011

French Friday: Wild Mushroom Ragout

A few years ago, when our upstairs neighbors were moving out, they invited me upstairs to rifle through a tall stack of cookbooks and take what I like. I spotted The Vegetarian Table: France by Georgeanne Brennan and snagged it. It wasn’t the vegetarian part that interested me or the France part necessarily, it was the author.

Rewind to a few years before that, and I was sitting on the grass at a picnic, listening to a woman my mom’s age. She was a therapist and a poet who had once worked as a caterer, and she had that wise, open, self-possession that I want to have when I grow up. It was a sunny day, and she was telling me about living in the South of France. She mentioned Georgeanne Brennan’s cookbooks, and smitten as I was with the recommender, I thought for sure her books would be gems.

There is a larger point here about generations of women having the opportunity to learn from each other, and I’m thinking how powerful an experience my bridal shower was for that very reason: how often do you get to hang out for an afternoon with women who have been over a mountain or two and can tell you about the landscape and then drink a lot of pink champagne and laugh about the journey? Not often enough, it seems to me.

And now back to the present time. I wanted to make a recipe for our French Friday series, but didn’t feel like sweating through anything laborious or fancy or meat-laden. Georgeanne Brennan’s book to the rescue. A wild mushroom ragout sounded like just the sort of warm and hearty fare for a cold night in February. I reached my hands into the mushroom baskets at the fancy grocery store and plucked out chanterelles, black trumpets, oysters, shiitakes, and porcinis. It felt quite luxurious which sometimes, for a random weeknight dinner, is just the touch of the sweet life you need.

Here’s to happy weekend cooking! Making anything good?

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February 16, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower with Fish Sauce and Chili

Sebastian introduced me to one of my favorite restaurants early in our relationship. In the summer there, I like tall cold glasses of hefeweizen in the still air of their gravel-covered garden. And in winter, we tuck ourselves between ’60s pin-up posters and the fireplace for duck rillettes with prunes. This particular winter, first over a dinner of roast pork and later with a big bowl of mussels, I fell in love with this dish: roasted cauliflower with fish sauce and chili. I had my friends guess at the preparation the last time we were there. Toss it with the fish sauce and hot chili pepper first, they surmised, then roast it. So that’s just what I did. For the wary, the fish sauce imparts a subtle saltiness. I especially like this mixed in with a bowl of mulligatawny.

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January 31, 2011

Seeded Oat Soda Bread

Here we are at the tail end of a cold and snowy January and until yesterday, I hadn’t baked a loaf of bread. But yesterday was the perfect time to do it. I was having one of those days where everything is hard––tupperware tumbling out of overstuffed cabinets, pictures falling off the walls, glass breaking, frames busted. It was of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day variety.

But then I made some bread. First, I cursed the fact that I was making bread. I was hosting book club that night and we were having a dinner so simple it was bordering on ascetic. A still barely warm loaf of bread iced with salty butter seemed like a necessary touch of luxury. I was fighting the process every step of the way––pissed that I got flour on the flour, pissed that I didn’t grind enough oats, both devastated and pissed that I read the ingredients incorrectly and used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose. But then I got to the kneading, my favorite part. I slipped off my rings. Things got messy and a little sticky. I added more flour, and pushed and pulled and gave quarter-turns. It was probably the first time all day I had given myself up to the moment.

That’s something I’m thinking about these days: how to be present in the here and now, instead of casting forth into the future. I keep lists of so many things in the future: recipes I want to make, things I want to buy, books I want to read. A good deal of my life exists in the “Things I want in the future” department.  But cooking––especially the parts that require getting your hands in there, like sorting through beans, kneading bread, chopping an onion–– can become our access points back into the moment. We get out of our heads, out of our kicking resistance to the day, out of our laundry list of to dos and to buys, and into whatever this moment really, like smooth, elastic dough on the countertop.

Sometimes this moment is Excel and email and calling the insurance company. Harder to accept that moment, but probably still possible, maybe just by finding our breath and surrendering to it. At least for the moment.

I’m about to have a slice of this with a poached egg for breakfast, and I’m going to try to be really there for that breakfast, instead of letting my mind wander into the next hour. This is really hard for me. The future is fun and filled with possibility and shiny new things and unknowns still so unrealized they are imbued with adventure rather fear. But now? Well, more often than not it’s got a drippy faucet, a headache, an unmade bed, a lone sock. Figuring out how to appreciate the rough edges and imperfections for what they are is another way of figuring out how to be cool with the everyday. And while it may seem mundane, I have a feeling there’s some magic in that.

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January 26, 2011

Shepherd’s Pie with Caramelized Onions and Cheddar Mash

Because it is snowing––again––today seems like a perfect day to tell you about this shepherd’s pie. But first, I think, I should tell you about the cookbook I made it from.

Cooking with Shelburne Farms is one of those cookbooks that fully transports you to a place. In this case, by cracking the spine we travel to a large old farm in Vermont. We meet foragers who know how to find the best wild mushrooms, we see “caramel-colored cows with soft, patient dark eyes” milked by schoolchildren on a school trip. Flipping the pages, you can practically feel a plaid blanket over your lap and a crackling fire at your side. For a girl in a one-bedroom apartment in a gray urban landscape, this is bucolic catnip like none other. The recipes offer up page after page of lamb and rabbit, maple syrup in granola, on scallops, honeyed apple tea bread and fine aged Vermont cheddar. Pretty much the cookbook embodiment of a warm heart and a thermos full of hot apple cider, it is the coziest cookbook I own.

I’ve had my eye on this shepherd’s pie recipe for years, but I finally had the opportunity to make it one cold Friday night last month. We were having date night at home, and I had plenty of time to go about the separate components of the recipe–brown the lamb, mash the cheddar potatoes, caramelize a pile of onions–while drinking a glass of red wine and listening to Nina Simone.

When I cook something that I’d potentially like to feature on the blog, Sebastian and I have a unofficial judgment process. We each get situated with napkins, salt, and forks. We take a couple bites. If he turns to me first, this is a good sign. This means he approves heartily. But if I have to turn to him and ask what he thinks, it usually means it’s something I like more than he does. Put another way, it’s healthy and he can tell. If I don’t turn to him, and he doesn’t turn to me, and we just eat in silence watching C.J. rule the press room and Sam bumble around, the recipe silently falls to the cutting room floor, never to be seen again.

Sebastian turned to me immediately when I served him this shepherd’s pie and said it was one of the best things I’ve ever made, right up there with that tart from this fall and those scallops from last spring. One for the annals! The multi-step process makes this weekend fare for blustery cold nights and fierce, post-snowshoeing appetites. But the richly delicious results make it well worth the effort. I’d venture to say that this recipe, if you’re looking for a reason to keep slogging through the snow and slush, is a reason to love winter. Would be brilliant with a toasty English ale.

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