Twenty Years in the Making

Lilli has taken to carrying her stepstool around the house to help her reach things she isn’t supposed to reach. Of course, she rarely uses it for its intended purpose, which is to reach the sink to wash her hands after she uses the potty. She does, however, use it to reach the stickers that are supposed to be rewards  for when she does use the potty.

bea at 4.5 months

Last night Rich made the unfortunate decision to walk away from the bath he was drawing, and set down the bottle of bubble bath on a shelf. He came back to find her holding the bottle upside down and dumping it into the bath. All of it. She used up the whole bottle, and yes, it was like in cartoons with bubbles floating around the bathroom. She was in heaven, but the joke’s on her because this means no more bubble baths for a while.

The silver lining to the bubble bath debacle was that it reminded me that I’d wanted to share this recipe for green beans I finally nailed down. Of course, right now you’re probably asking yourself what an out-of-control bubble bath has to do with green beans, and I’m getting there.

When I was in high school my mom used to make these wonderful stir fried green beans. They were full of fresh garlic and ginger and tossed with a mixture of soy sauce and honey. The soy’s saltiness was balanced out by the sweet honey glaze. They were great. My best friend, who was originally from Latvia, would come to our house and eat them directly from the serving dish. That was fine by me because I would go to her house and eat insane amounts of beet vinaigrette, Salad Olivier and napoleon cake.

green beans

I called my mom this summer to get the recipe. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. It was 20 years ago.” Undeterred, I set out to recreate the dish. I remember the beans being very limp, crinkly and blistered by the time they were served, so I started by steaming the beans for a few minutes. I used chunks of shallots and fresh ginger and garlic – I actually even took a photo to so you could see for yourself. But I could not figure out the glaze at the end. I consulted Aleza who suggested corn starch. It didn’t sound right, so I called my mother again. “Still with the green beans?”

But then I had a flash to when I would make these in college. It was a vision of me holding the bottle of honey directly above the pan, just like Lilli held the bottle of bubbles over her bath. And it worked! Glaze achieved. When I posted the finish photo to Facebook my best friend chimed in immediately saying she loved those beans when we were teenagers. Success!

Lilli on hayride

A few things: I worked in half pound batches to nail down this recipe. I know it will double and triple just fine. The garlic, ginger and shallot pieces should be much bigger than a mince (see photo); you want to really taste the flavors with each bite. If you’re up for it, make it a tablespoon and a half of each. A little heat would be a nice contrast to the sweet honey. I steamed my green beans in the microwave, but if you feel prefer the stove top, go right ahead. My mom always used a wok, and even though I have one, I rarely, if ever, use it. A large saute pan will do just fine. I am convinced red pepper strips often made their way into this dish, and sometimes walnuts topped it. My mother, again, swears she has no idea what I’m talking about, but feel free to experiment.

Green Beans with Soy-Honey Glaze

½ lb. green beans, cleaned

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped shallots

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped ginger

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped garlic

3 Tablespoons honey, plus about a Tablespoon-and-half more for the pan

3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 Tablespoons canola oil

Directions

Steam the green beans for four minutes.

In a large sauté pan or wok, heat the oils until they shimmer. Once they are shimmering, add the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Stir them for about a minute. Add in the green beans and toss them with the contents of the pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the three tablespoons of soy sauce and three tablespoons of honey. Pour the mixture into the pan and over the green beans. The whole pan should be sizzling. Cook everything down for about 7 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so. But please use your best judgement – if it looks like something is going to burn, cut off the heat.

The beans will begin to wrinkle. At this point, grab your bottle of honey and pour about a tablespoon and a half directly into the pan. The heat of the pan will have the honey sizzling. The glaze should form in about a minute.

Serve over rice.

Go Fish

When I was pregnant, a good friend of mine suggested we buy a membership to Costco, to help defray the cost of things like diapers. We snorted at the time, because we planned on using cloth. But three months of daily loads of laundry had us questioning both environmental and practical benefits of that decision.

salmon and cantaloupe

So we got a Costco membership, over Rich’s objections. He just didn’t see the point of having to pay to shop somewhere. I kept on insisting we’d find a use for it, and I like the fact that the company pays a living wage. I also like that I don’t have to make us lunch or dinner when we hit it up on a weekend because of all the free samples, and I know he likes any opportunity to eat pork, even if it’s just on the end of a toothpick. He finally relented when, after our microwave gave up the ghost, he discovered that the difference in price between a new one at Costco and elsewhere more than covered the cost of membership.

But other than the occasional small appliance, I keep going back to Costco for a relatively short list of items: bulk hazelnuts, bulk frozen fish, bulk brown rice and produce in the wintertime. I’ve never been bashful about my love of fish; that’s why I call this blog “mostly vegetarian.” And it turns out that Lilli adores salmon as much as her mommy. So I often grab a few frozen filets the night before and toss them in a bowl in the fridge to defrost during the day. I rub a little olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt on the pieces, and simply roast them in a hot toaster oven for less than 10 minutes for a quick weeknight dinner. I cook up a huge pot of brown rice in my rice cooker once a week, and enjoy that on the side.

Elton John

Fish? Did you say fish?

But when I saw this recipe for salmon with cantaloupe and fried shallots in my 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook, I knew we had a keeper. Lilli not only loves salmon, but she also eats cantaloupe at nearly every meal. And when I told Rich I found a recipe that called for both salmon and cantaloupe he noted that there is a slurry of that in her bib after almost every dinner. The fact that this had a dressing of fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice, my own favorite trinity, was icing on the cake.

I actually had everything in the house for this dish, so it is a pantry dish, at least in my world. I eliminated the horseradish from my version, simply because I despise the taste, but I’ll leave it in parenthesis in case that’s up your alley. I also left out the celery leaves because I never have celery in the house. Buttermilk seems to always linger next to the milk in our fridge.

Fried Shallots, Round 2

Fried shallots, round 2.

I would suggest zesting the lime before you juice it; I wish the printed recipe would have said that. I didn’t scoop the cantaloupe, but used the small pieces I serve Lilli, which turned out to be just about a ¼ of an inch in size.

I’d never fried shallots before and overdid the first batch. Set a timer for four minutes and don’t think they need to be any darker when the timer beeps, because they don’t.

The salmon from Costco is skinless, but I followed the directions on the recipe and it worked beautifully.

This dish is fantastic. As Rich put it, “wow, this was like eating in a fancy restaurant!” Costco, people. Costco.

Salmon with Cantaloupe and Fried Shallots from the 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook

Ingredients

Vinaigrette

(2 Tablespoons freshly grated horseradish)

Juice of 1 fresh lime (remember to zest the lime first!)

1 Tablespoon Asian fish sauce

½ teaspoon light brown sugar

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Fried Shallots

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 large shallots, thinly sliced crosswise and separated into rings

Cornstarch, for dusting

Salt

Salmon and garnishes

Four 6-ounce salmon fillets with skin (or, four pieces of frozen salmon from Costco you will have defrosted the night before)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1/3 small cantaloupe, scooped into small balls or cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup)

½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

(Freshly grated horseradish)

(1/4 cup celery leaves)

Directions

  1. Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the horseradish if you’re using it, lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Make the fried shallots: In a large skillet, heat ¼ inch of vegetable oil. Put the shallot rings in a colander and dust heavily with cornstarch, shaking to coat them well. Add the shallots to the hot oil in an even layer and fry over moderate heat until browned and crisp, about four minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried shallots to paper towels to drain. Season the shallots lightly with salt.
  3. Prepare the salmon: Preheat the oven to 400F. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the salmon skin side down and cook over high heat until the skin is browned and crisp, about three minutes. Turn the fillets and transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook for about three minutes, or until the salmon fillets are just cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, divide the cantaloupe among four shallow bowls. Drizzle with the buttermilk and season lightly with salt. Lay the salmon on the cantaloupe and spoon the vinaigrette on top. Sprinkle with the lime zest and grated horseradish. Scatter the celery leaves and fried shallots over the salmon and serve right away.

The vinaigrette and fried shallots cane be kept at room temperature for up to four hours.

 

Silent Night

My bicycle, a 1960s English three-speed we bought for $60 at a tag sale in my hometown, lives in the front foyer from roughly mid-April to early October. It lives in the basement the rest of the year, easing access to the front hall closet for winter coats.

I’m writing this in mid-December, and my bicycle is still in the front hallway, where I put it on Friday after I rode it home from work. It’s dark by the time I leave my office, and the bike ride home along the river has become one of the most pleasurable moments of my week. There’s a stillness to the air, and no matter how many cars pass me to my left on Storrow Drive, the world seems silent.

I remark on this quietness because it’s the reverse of my morning commute, which is always cluttered by buses, cars and trucks all fighting their way to get to work on time. I plan my day on my ride in, and even before I get to the river and the safe bike path, I’ve decided on what to cook for dinner that night. But on these tranquil evening rides, my mind is as still as the chilled air, and I breathe in and out as I gaze across the river into Cambridge.  I’ve tried to remember if evening rides home in the summertime were this serene. I can’t say for certain, but there’s something so lively about a warm summer evening, when it doesn’t even get dark until long past 8PM, that leads to me to believe the answer is no.

The weather this weekend was more seasonal for Rich’s family Christmas party, and the temperature barely broke 30 today. It finally feels like December, but the forecast says it’s going to be in the 40s tomorrow. I don’t want to give up my evening ride of solitude along the river quite yet, so I’ve dug up my long johns to wear under tomorrow’s corduroys.

For dinner tonight, we are having some odds and ends in the fridge: some mustard greens and white beans, and this leftover mushroom and walnut pâté from that holiday party yesterday. This is one of those recipes I mull over during my morning ride.

Rich’s wonderful Aunt Nance, who I always look forward to visiting at family parties, asked me for the recipe just a few minutes after I’d set our offerings down on the counter. This recipe can definitely be made vegan, using olive oil, but that velvety richness that had Nance reaching for the knife was from the butter. It’s always the butter, isn’t it?

There might be a butter crisis in Norway, but there’s been a sale on it pretty regularly at the market around the corner. I can’t help but buy a box if it’s going to save me $1.77 and I know it can all be frozen until it’s needed; sorry Sven. Rich has started to complain about the 10 lbs. of butter that falls out of the freezer every time he opens it up for an ice cube (“Think of the Norwegians, Molly!”), but I’ve decided to ignore him.

The mushrooms I used in this version are crimini (aka “baby bellas”), but white button mushroom will work just as well. I clean mine by wiping them down with a barely moistened paper towel; I’m really just making sure all the dirt has been wiped away. Besides the butter, I keep my nuts, including these walnuts I bought from Ocean State Job Lot, in the freezer, as it keeps them from spoiling.

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Ingredients

10 oz. (1 ¼ cups) chopped mushrooms

1/3 cup walnuts

7 large shallots (approximately 1/2 cup), peeled and chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

Unsalted butter

Directions

Toast walnuts for 7 minutes in a 350 degree oven or toaster oven. (You can put them in while the oven is preheating)

In a medium sauté pan, melt 1 Tablespoon of butter over medium heat and add the chopped shallots. Slowly cook them until they have gone from pink to translucent to brown; about 10 minutes. Shallots crisp very quickly, so if yours hits that point, remove them immediately from the heat. But don’t worry if they do, this has not ruined the dish. At all. Remove and set aside.

(I have to grab a second skillet for this next step because my trusty sauté pan gets a little too brown too quickly, but I can’t stop using it. You should be able to do this all in one pan, but if things look like they’re heading from brown to black, grab a second pan.)

Melt 1 ½ Tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, then add the mushrooms. Let them cook in the butter for a few minutes without disturbing them. After about three minutes, give everything a stir. The mushrooms are going to give off a lot of moisture, and just keep on cooking them in the butter. After a few more minutes, give them another stir. In about 8 minutes in, add in a little pat of butter, about ½ Tablespoon.

Cook the mushrooms for about 5 minutes more, by which time the mushrooms will have deepened in color and begun caramelizing. This is a good thing. Once the mushrooms are a deep brown, add a pinch of salt, the roasted walnuts, thyme and shallots. Cook about 1 minute more.

Transfer contents of the pan to a food processor, and press on. While everything is whirling, drizzle in enough olive oil to make the concoction moist, about 1/4 cup. Stop machine, give a taste, add more salt if necessary. This all should take about 15 seconds.

Serve immediately on toast, bread, crackers, etc. Or, refrigerate for up to 4 days — that’s a guess, I’ve never had leftovers of this around that long!

(Un)seasonal

kosher vegetarian

“It was like hundreds of gunshots.” That’s how one family friend described the sound of tree branches snapping and falling to the ground last Saturday evening. Western Massachusetts’ best asset, the foliage that people travel from around the world to see, proved to be its undoing during this very early Nor’easter. My little town, Longmeadow, was hit with 12 inches of snow, which fell onto trees still wearing their autumn finest. The combined weight of snow and leaves proved too much for the branches, which took out power lines as they crashed down. Most of the town has been without power since Saturday night. My parents, who had no electricity or heat, were our houseguests until today, when they got word that their power was restored.

One friend from high school reported that her parents said it will be 100 years for our town to once again look like the town we grew up in. A century is a long time, although it’s doable for my town. Settled in 1644, we still celebrate an annual May festival on the town green, a long strip of grass on the outskirts of town that farmers would take their cattle out to pasture on. Lining the green are colonial houses, marked with stars to indicate their historic status. It is believed that John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, once lived in one of those houses. His myth continues, even if many of his trees do not.

In just a few weeks, it will be my 15 year high school reunion. I’m a little nervous to return to see a town so different than the one I left.

This simple recipe is from one of our favorite cooking shows on PBS: Caprial & John’s Kitchen. It’s not just the recipes in the show, but the chemistry this real-life married couple has on screen. Well, calling it chemistry isn’t exactly accurate; it’s more like watching a married couple who have to work, cook, and go home together. There’s a lot of correcting by Caprial to anything John does or says. Example: John will suggest a shortcut to the viewer, which Caprial will promptly veto as a terrible idea. We showed an episode to our friend Ben, a clinical psychologist, and he dubbed them the passive-aggressive chefs. But judging by this recipe, it’s working for them.

Roasted Apples with Shallots and Thyme

5 apples, peeled, cored, halved and sliced into quarters

5 shallots (about ¾ cup), peeled and halved

1/2 Tablespoon of fresh thyme (about 4 sprigs)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

Directions

Place a metal pan in the oven and preheat it to 500.

Toss apples, shallots, thyme, olive oil and salt in a bowl. Carefully pour the ingredients into the piping hot pan – it will sizzle – and close the oven door. After 5 minutes, give them a stir with a wooden spoon. Close the door, and check them again in another five minutes and give a stir. Follow up one more time, for a total of 15 cooking minutes. The apples will have softened, many will have completely lost their shape and integrity, making an herbed, savory apple dish. This will make a wonderful side dish for your Thanksgiving table.

UPDATE: I sauteed these leftovers with some frozen pierogies last night for dinner and it was really terrific.