A Year and a Day

What did we eat for lunch on June 23rd last year?

This:

Reception Spread 1
Reception Spread 2
Homemade bread, compound butter, big salads of farmer’s market greens with raspberry-mustard vinaigrette, big bowls of berries, three kinds of cheese (including Gruyere, an aged goat and a tangy Brie-like cheese), a smoked salmon-pink peppercorn tart in an almond crust, and a three-layer fritatta, with a roasted red pepper layer, a spinach layer and a cheese layer.

And for dessert?
Wedding cake

Wedding Cake.

Wedding cake and lemon cheesecake

Specifically, an almond cake filled with mixed fresh berries and frosted with vanilla bean whipped cream and decorated with red currants and a lemon cheesecake topped with lemon curd and black currants.

And what did we have for lunch on June 23rd this year?
Anniversary lunch

Sea scallops wrapped in radicchio and pancetta, then grilled and served with a red lettuce salad from the farmer’s market.

The scallop recipe was beyond simple–sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper, wrap each one in a radicchio leaf, and then wrap the leaves with a slice of pancetta. My slices were inexpertly wrapped at the butchers, and thus had unraveled. I ended up just wrapping it around and around and around each little radicchio bundle and securing the ends with toothpicks.

Who am I kidding–I used about 3 toothpicks per bundle. I am not good at food-skewering.

The grill caramelized the radicchio and infused the flavor of both the pancetta and radicchio into each scallop. In spite of the fiddly eating required by all the toothpicks, it was delicious, especially from our unaccustomed seats under our lawn umbrella (which we haven’t set up, sadly, since our wedding reception). Teacherman poured an Alsatian wine to drink alongside the meal–it reminded him perfectly of the wines from our honeymoon.

Lunch was wonderful, yes, but what did we eat for dinner? Last year, we didn’t eat anything for dinner. Our reception was still going on, and due to the enticements of the lunch board, we’d eaten too much of everything.

This year, though, lunch was elegant and austere. And so, for dinner:

Anniversary dinner

Chocolate-peanut butter cookies and chocolate-peanut butter ice cream. What’s the point of being a grown-up if you can’t do this sort of thing every now and then?

(I have to admit, though, that I don’t feel remotely like a grown-up. Even though I’m nearly 30, and even though I’m married, I still have to remind myself that I’m not a kid. Thus, of course, the ideal dinner of cookies and ice cream).

If you’ll forgive my sentimentality (and if there’s one day a year when one is allowed to be sappy, one’s wedding anniversary ought to be it): Here’s hoping that we always feel this ridiculously young, and that each anniversary is as lovely–and delicious–as this one.

Published in: on June 23, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Each of These Things is Not Like The Other

Et Voila: the difference between an antique apple (to the right) and a modern cultivar of the same variety of apple (to the left). 

The modern apple is still quite tasty (though not as wild-tasting as the antique, if I had to break it down that far), but it does seem rather bizarre that most modern apples are so ENORMOUS.  I’m always very happy when I can find tiny antique apples, just because their size fits my appetite.  Unless an apple is the main point of my meal, anything larger than my fist seems excessive.  Even then: a softball sized baked apple for breakfast would be a bit overwhelming. 

Tinier apples are perfect for snacks, for dessert in a packed lunch, for baking along-side roasted meats, etc.  The only applications I don’t prefer them for are things like pies, cobblers, or applesauce, where cutting out the myriad miniscule cores gets a little fiddly. 

These tiny apples are the last of the “Wealthy”s, purchased at the Madison market lo these many weeks agone.  For lunch today I cored them (very carefully) and baked them to serve alongside pork confit and mashed celery root. 

The day might have been warm, but the sky was a sky of autumn, and the meal matched nicely.

Published in: on September 30, 2007 at 12:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Celeriac Waldorf

I think I encountered Waldorf salad for the first time when I was 17.  Oddly, given that the dish is traditionally American, this encounter took place in Scotland, where I was visiting a friend.  Helen had a potluck party for me, and one of her friends (really the friend’s mother) contributed Waldorf salad, since of COURSE an American would want American food when abroad! 

I’d never eaten Waldorf salad before, and I must admit that I was horrified at the idea.  It’s only within the last several years that I’ve cottoned to the idea of fruit in savory dishes, and only a few years  before that did I finally accept that celery was a food and not a stringy, bitter poison.  (A lot of that had to do with discovering good celery, but I’m still not the biggest fan thereof).

I loved apples and walnuts, but the addition of celery took it beyond the pale, and mayonnaise?  With APPLES?  My gorge rose at the very thought.  I had, however, been Raised Right, and so I ate a portion, smiled and said thank you.  (I still horrified all of Helen’s friends, much to my sorrow, with my bizarre American manners, and inability to remember that in Britain, the word ‘pants’ does not mean ‘trousers,’ but ‘underwear’).  I don’t think that anyone ate more than a bite of that salad, and the next morning Helen surreptitiously tossed the leftovers in the garbage.

That one encounter catapaulted Waldorf Salad into my mind’s Revulsion Hall of Fame.  Every time I saw a recipe for it, I shuddered.  I blame its infamy for the length of time it took me to finally enjoy fruit in salads. 

Sometime, in these last eleven years, I discovered celeriac (also known as celery root).  I don’t know what possessed me to buy it for the first time–it’s so craggy and gnarled that it could almost be mummified, and on top of that, it has the word CELERY in its name. 

In any case, I did buy it, and, surprisingly, loved it.  Celeriac does taste like celery, but milder, sweeter, and with none of the stringy, hard texture that I found so objectionable in the latter.  I ate it in every possible way–mashed, steamed, made in hash browns, into gratins, and, most traditionally, into celeriac remoulade, wherein raw, grated celery root is mixed into a mixture of highly seasoned, usually homemade mayonnaise and a little cream, then eaten as a salad.

Last week, however, I was reading a new vegetable cookbook and noticed a title in the table of contents: Celeriac Waldorf Salad.  First I was shocked, and then I was intrigued.  The idea wasn’t as bizarre as my reaction had indicated.  As aforementioned, celery root DOES taste like celery.  And celeriac remoulade dresses the vegetable with mayonnaise.  And once I think I made that mayonnaise with walnut oil.  Hmm. 

After some considerable contemplation, I overcame my prejudices and made the recipe.  I peeled and grated a medium-sized celery root.  I peeled an apple (one of the Wealthies that I brought back from Wisconsin).  I tossed the shreds of both items with lemon juice, then salt and pepper, then mayonniase, some herbs, a little white wine vinegar.  I spooned the salad into a bowl and topped it with some dark-toasted walnuts. 

Huh.  It was pretty fabulous.  The mild sweetness of the celery root and the tartness of the apple contrasted nicely, and the lemon perked them both up (as lemon usually does).  The background was full of the grassiness of the herbs and the deep warmth of the nuts, while the creaminess of the mayonnaise tied everything together.

I do not think this alchemy could have been achieved in a Waldorf made with regular celery.  Aside from the aggressiveness of the flavor, in a Waldorf salad, both the celery and the apples are cut into cubes, making it almost impossible for the flavors to blend, and rendering the experience a bit like trying to eat a mouthful of pebbles.

Unlike most lunches, which I eat at lightning speed, so as to be off doing more pressing things, this one I savored, enjoying each nuanced bite. 

Published in: on September 23, 2007 at 6:37 pm  Comments (1)  

Fresh and Strange

Well, I suppose I can’t really call it fresh.  The peas are frozen, after all.  But it definitely strange.  And it’s even more definitely good

The other week I checked a new cookbook called The Breakaway Chef out of the library.  Some of the recipes were a little too esoteric for me, but I marked several and those thus far tried have produced good results. 

I took note of one recipe in particular–Baked Peas with Yogurt, Tarragon and Pistachios.  I grow oodles of herbs every summer, and I never use as much of them as I would like, mostly because very few recipes are ever written for the more unusual ones, like tarragon.  (I can’t eat tarragon-chicken-salad EVERY day, and it turns out that I don’t really like tarragon in devilled eggs, and it kind of gets lost as part of a salad).  In any case, this recipe calls for mixing frozen (thawed) peas with chopped tarragon, scallions, salted pistachios, olive oil and a little Greek yogurt, then baking it at a very high temperature for 15 minutes, until the top of the mixture starts to brown.  I couldn’t really taste the imaginary result, but the use of tarragon made me remember it.

I planned to make the peas for dinner some night, as a side dish, but today I found myself alone for lunch, with an unexpectedly small meal planned.  Greek yogurt and scallions are staples in this house, and frozen peas can usually be found lurking in one of the freezers, so I kludged together a much reduced version of the original recipe and threw it in the oven while I worked on something else.

It was really very tasty.  I can’t describe the finished dish evocatively because it isn’t like anything else.  BUT: the sweetness of the peas and the pistachios went very well together, with the salt on the pistachios making them seem almost sweeter.  The yogurt made the dish creamy without making it rich, and the scallions and tarragon provided a subtle, grassy layer next to the falvors of the peas and nuts. 

It was nice; I wish I’d made it for more people than just me.  (And hopefully Richard Wilbur will forgive me for quoting his wonderful poem in the title of an essay about frozen peas).

Published in: on September 2, 2007 at 1:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Still Life With Lunch, the Final Chapter

Freiburg was our favorite place of all. Not only is a beautiful university town with a stunning cathedral, all located with in (in my opinion) the best part of the Black Forest, but our hotel was right on the cathedral square and that square hosts a six-hour farmer’s market six days a week. The market extends all around the cathedral in a two-sided hoop, with gustatory delights on either side. It was plum season. It was cherry season. It was the season for every other summer fruit delight. We were seduced by the cheese stands and by the meat and sausage counters and looked (but alas, did not purchase anything) at the smoked fish cart.

Every day, as soon as we had finished working our way through the bountiful breakfast spread inside the hotel, we’d venture out into the market and buy food for lunch and/or dinner. Before we left, one of my colleagues had scoffed, saying “what use is a farmer’s market—you won’t have a kitchen.” This is undeniably true—our hotel room was a bedroom only—but to think that nothing for sale at a farmer’s market could be edible until transformed by cooking is nonsense. We bought cherry tomatoes, covered with golden speckles and more flavorful than I’ve ever had. We bought tiny gherkin cucumbers, meant for making cornichons, and ate them by the handful, like popcorn. We bought sweet, earthy carrots and tongue-numbing radishes—once we even bought radishes thinking that they were carrots! We bought innumerable kinds of cheese: weinkase, blue, sheep’s brie, chevre coated with pink peppercorns (excellent when spread on a perfect apricot), and once, a tiny, perfect thimble-sized container of crème fraiche. Nothing has ever been better on a strawberry. We investigated various meat stands, buying heavily smoked ham, lightly smoked ham, and various kinds of dried sausages. We bought olives, we bought pickles, we bought nuts; we ogled, but did not buy, spices, plants, eggs, and the most beautiful mushrooms I’ve ever seen. (I made up for this last by ordering chanterelles fried in butter in every restaurant that served them. It was the most worthwhile expensive passion I’ve ever acquired). We had four days to try as much from the market as we could, and we barely skimmed what was there. Every market-based meal we had was perfect—we would have happily eaten every meal there. Next time we visit, though, we will have a kitchen (I don’t know how, but we will); those eggs are calling to me.

Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 9:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Still Life With Lunch, part one

I’m back.In fact, I’ve been back for a few days, but time-zone adjustment takes time. The wedding was perfect and the honeymoon was lovely, and, what’s more, I actually took some pictures. Herewith, an abbreviated tour of Lunch in Foreign Climes, with a special inclusion of lunch nearer to home.In Heidelberg, Germany, the farmer’s market was tiny, but there were innumerable fruit stands and organic produce stores to browse. GooseberriesIt was in Heidelberg that we fell into our habit of picnic lunches, the first restaurant lunch having been rather disappointing (in contrast to our restaurant dinners, which were universally excellent). Day one: to salve our souls (and stomachs) after a sub-par cafe lunch, we bought The World’s Biggest Gooseberries at a fruit stand. (Note the size–that’s right, gooseberries, not tomatoes. My hand is in the picture for scale reference. Also note the sleeve of the parka–it was about 40 degrees).

The next day we also had a picnic, in the grounds of Burg Gutenberg, a stunning medieval castle with a library of historical volumes we would have given our tastebuds to get into.  We ate just outside the moat, on a little rise above the walkway.  The area was rather infested with shrieking 11-year-olds on a school trip, but it was a lovely meal nonetheless. Gooseberries We’d bought a head of red-speckled lettuce at the Heidelberg farmer’s market that morning, along with a small bunch of ripe tomatoes, 2 pints of red currants and a package of Emmenthaler cheese.  We cut the tomatoes and cheese into chunks and made wraps with the ruffly lettuce leaves.  A little unconventional, but delicious.  The cheese wrapped in the lettuce had all the unctousness of a good cheese sandwich and the tomatoes were so much more tangy than I’m used to.  I stopped putting them in the wraps and just ate them on their own to better savory the spice.  The currants were perfection, as currants mostly are.  In spite of the fact that they are, as Teacherman says, “fiddly,” they were consumed in record seconds.

More adventures to come, I promise. . . .

Published in: on July 12, 2007 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment