Friday, October 28, 2011

Chicken Lasagna with Greens

This late summer, I unexpectedly received in the mail two cookbooks on the same day--one from my darling roommate from Steinbeck camp and one from a longtime friend from high school.  I was so filled with gratitude on that day because both of the women (who actually remind me of one another) are strong, wicked smart, and uproariously funny.  They are both the kinds of women I would hope to be.

Let me focus on the giver of this cookbook*--my friend from high school (the other cookbook shall be a focus for a later date).  Where I went to high school is not like your normal high school.  My high school was a 3-year, residential high school for students in the state of Illinois who were talented in math and science (ironically, almost all of my friends went into humanities or business, but that's for another day).  We came together, wide-eyed and nerdy as sophomores and left, perhaps, just as nerdy but surrounded by those who became, in some sense, the most dear to us in our lives.  No one else understood what it was like to spend three years in this school.  In this place, we learned how to fall in love for the first (saccharine and misguided) time, how to cook Ramen, how to defend our closest friends, how to become passionate about learning usually in the wee hours of the night (for me, particularly poetry and more particularly Denise Levertov), how to bend rules to suit our needs and desires (some of which involved ceiling tiles), how to do laundry, how to surround ourselves with books as we lay out in the sun (it was the 90s in Illinois--I regret this part), and how to dance with sweet abandon in any space.

*This cookbook is pretty cool, but I am going to wax on about my high school days.  In another post when I cook from this cookbook again, I shall tell you more about it.  P.S.  This recipe is from page 210!

My closest group of girlfriends was filled with rockstars--one is a brilliant earth mama living a couple hours north of me now who loves fiercely and loyally (and with really good food); another is a lawyer-turned-weekend-warrior who inspires me almost everyday when I see just how much she pushes herself to be the very best; one is a milky-skinned redhead (who understood not to lay out in the sun) whose generosity once extended to sending my a box of food during my starving graduate school days because I wasn't sure I could make it to the next week; another is a breast cancer survivor with whom I once stayed up way too late during finals week not studying but learning how to laugh and laugh and laugh (something I am eternally grateful to her for); one is a stellar veterinarian (one of two scientists!) to whom all beings (furry or not) flock because she accepts them for who they are no matter what or when with an enviable ease and patience; one who left us for southern climes (hurray for New Zealand!) to become an environmentalist whom I have not seen in almost two decades but I think of her often; and then the giver of this book--a hilarious writer whose eye for detail, whose quick wit, and whose fast brain makes mincemeat of those who dare to cross the ones she loves most deeply.  She is one of those people you want to be around because you know you will laugh a lot with her, but she will also ask you to be your most vulnerable.

I never imagined we would become these women.  But I am glad that we did. 

I wish I could have shared this lasagna with them (it makes enough to feed us all--all eight of us!) but we would have had to travel from Miami to Ukiah, Boston to La Jolla, New Zealand to North Carolina, Chicago to Oakland.  But I can imagine now, the dinner would have been filled with five conversations happening at once, most of us involved in two or three of them at the same time.  There would have been a lot of laughing.  There would have been raised voices to make oneself heard.  There would have been a lot of hair.  We were always vain about our hair.

But there would have been a lot of love.

So thank you, my dear friend, for sending me this cookbook, for allowing me to make this fantastic white lasagna laced with tarragon and chard, and for providing me the opportunity to write you this internet love letter. May you all make this lasagna and have the same results.

Chicken Lasagna with Greens

Serves 8

4 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth (reduced sodium recommended)
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
14-16 ounces rainbow or red chard (about 2 bunches)
9-12 lasagna noodles
3 cups shredded, poached chicken
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Oil an 11x7 inch glass baking dish with olive oil or coat with nonstick cooking spray.  Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add 3 of the garlic cloves and cook for 30-60 seconds or until fragrant.  Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly.  Whisk in the broth, cream, milk, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.  reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the tarragon and set aside.

2.  Cut off the chard leaves and the stems.  Slice the leaves about 1/2 inch wide.  There should be about 8 firmly packed cups.  Thinly slice the stems, about 1 cup.

3.  Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the chard stems, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.  Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chard leaves.  Cook, stirring and turning with tongs for 3-4 minutes or until wilted, and add the remaining 2 garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly, pressing on the chard and pouring out any accumulated liquid.

4.  Spoon a light coating of sauce over the bottom of the pan.  Lay 3 noodles in the pan, overlapping as necessary.  Layer one-third of the chard, chicken, sauce, and cheese.  Repeat the layers two more times.  Bake for 55-60 minutes or until golden brown, hot, and bubbly.  Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Running Play List

On a side note that is not at all related to cooking, I am getting ready for my first half marathon next week.  I am making my play list.  I know, I know.  I should not be listening to music while I run a race; I should be enjoying being a part of the race.  The yogic side of me totally agrees with you.  However, my quadriceps disagree with you.  My quads do much better when they have something to motivate them.  This time, my quads win.

Anyway, this is what I am thinking about.  Clearly (hopefully!) too many songs.  Lots of Green Day and Avett Brothers.  Don't judge me too much for the Justin Timberlake.  We all have our secrets.  Besides, it makes me want to run. 

So, what do you listen to when you run?  Seriously.  I am always looking for new music.

Vampire Weekend

Jejune Stars
Bright Eyes
Ambling Alp

Kick Drum Heart
The Avett Brothers
American Idiot
Green Day

Kingdom of Rust
At the Beach
The Avett Brothers

Know Your Enemy
Green Day
Basket Case
Green Day

Ladies of Cambridge
Vampire Weekend
Bite Hard
Franz Ferdinand

Long May You Run
Emmylou Harris
Bloodbuzz Ohio
The National

A Manner to Act
Ra Ra Riot
Calamity Song
The Decemberists

Marathon Not a Sprint
Camera Obscura
Calling and Not Calling My Ex
Okkervil River

Mardy Bum
Arctic Monkeys
Old Crow Medicine Show

Green Day
Chin Up, Cheer Up
Ryan Adams

Conor Oberst
Colorshow (Live)
The Avett Brothers

O Valencia!
The Decemberists
Fiona Apple

Green Day
The Dark of the Matinée
Franz Ferdinand

Pretty Girl from San Diego
The Avett Brothers
Darts of Pleasure
Franz Ferdinand

Pumped Up Kicks
Foster the People
The Distance

Raised By Wolves
Dying Is Fine
Ra Ra Riot

Conor Oberst
The Echoes of Time
The Smiles and Frowns

Seven Nation Army
The White Stripes
Everlasting Light
The Black Keys

Justin Timberlake
The Whitest Boy Alive

She's A Rebel
Green Day
Fluorescent Adolescent
Arctic Monkeys

Sometimes In the Fall
Forget the Flowers

Go to Sleep
The Avett Brothers

Stickshifts And Safetybelts
Good Days Bad Days
Kaiser Chiefs

Take Me I'm Yours
Good Life

Tales of Coming News
The Avett Brothers
Got My Mojo Workin'

Muddy Waters

Tell It to Me
Old Crow Medicine Show
Head On
Jesus And Mary Chain

This Year
The Mountain Goats
Green Day

Tighten Up
The Black Keys
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Waiting for a War
The Morning Benders

What She Came For
Franz Ferdinand
Howlin' for You
The Black Keys

Will You Return
The Avett Brothers
If It Hadn't Been For Love

Wrecking Force
Ik Wil Alleen Maar Zwemmen

You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover
Bo Diddley
Green Day

You're So Damn Hot
Ok Go

Family Feast October 2011

October 22, 2011
Occupy Bancroft

Tortilla Chips with Homemade Salsa
Almonds with Adobo Sauce

Red and Green Enchiladas
Melon Salad with Crema and Fresh Mint
Slow-Cooked Green Beans in Lard

Corn Cake with Blueberries and Creme Fraiche
Black Sea Salt and Caramel Chocolate
Chocolate with Toffee with Walnuts and Pecans

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cucumber Mousse

Oh, Nero.

Here we are again, enjoying another Nero Wolfe-inspired recipe from the delightful little cookbook based on the Nero Wolfe mystery series.  If you are not familiar with our stout genius, have a gander here.  Otherwise, read on.

This cucumber mousse shows up in one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries, Death of a Doxy.  Always the consumer of fine foods, Nero sets himself down for a light-for-Nero lunch that includes a summertime mousse. Set in 1958*, the novel centers on the death of a showgirl but the Rosenberg trial looms large around the dinner table:

"Business is taboo at the dinner table, but crime and criminals aren't, and the Rosenberg case hogged the conversation through the anchovy fritters, partridge in casserole with no olives in the sauce, cucumber mousse, and Creole curds and cream."--Death of a Doxy

Perhaps distracted by the Rosenbergs, Nero and Archie aren't fully prepared for Julie Jaquette (played by the always delightful Keri Matchett in the A&E series) to dance into the brownstone and steal the show away from the Rosenbergs, the cucumber mousse or the anchovy fritters. I am always delighted by this particular novel because it's one of the few where Nero sees eye to eye with a woman, and Julie is just that woman. 

*In the A&E series, they move the time period forward a bit to include some mod fashions, a hell of a dance number to "Cowboys and Indians," and a hilarious poetry reading complete with a horse-faced man intoning his works from the interior of an egg-shaped chair.  Good stuff.  Seriously, check out that red and black striped cap. 

However, let's talk mousse.  There are those of you out there who like their jello with cream and wine and cucumbers in it.  I, however, am not that person.  Jello, in my book, should come shaped like a race car or a rabbit (I believe those were the shapes of the Jello molds my mother purchased for us), be a lurid shade of red or orange, and for fancy occasions include carrot shavings, mandarin oranges, or celery.  Yet it seems that some of you out there would prefer your gelatin a little more sophisticated.  If you count yourself among that number, I give you this recipe.

The mousse is light, and I used a chardonnay purchased this summer from a great little winery visited while I was at Steinbeck Camp (seriously, camp that includes wine stops.  Can't go wrong).  Do choose a good wine because the taste is prominent in the mousse.  Plus, you get to drink the rest of the bottle while you cook and have dinner.

All things considered, this is a fine, light mousse, if you're into that sort of thing.  I find I am most into that sort of thing while sitting on the couch with the husband watching A&E.

One Year Ago: Pasta with Beans and Greens

Cucumber Mousse
Adapted from The Nero Wolfe Cookbook

4 Servings

3 large cucumbers
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 envelope gelatin
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoon wine vinegar
2 pimientos

1.  Seed 2 of the cucumbers, and chop them coarsely.  Do not peel.  Puree them in a blender or food processor.  Add the wine, onion, salt, pepper and mayonnaise to the puree, and mix lightly.

2.  Soften the gelatin in the hot water, and add it to the cucumber mixture.

3.  Whip the cream until stiff, and fold it into the cucumber mixture.

4.  Pour into an oiled, chilled timbale mold or 4 individual molds.  Chill until firm.

5.  In the meantime, marinate thin slices of the remaining cucumber in vinegar.

6.  Unmold the mouse on a chilled platter, and garnish with the marinated slices of cucumber and pimiento strips.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Roast Pork with Onion-and-Apple Marmalade

I promise.  This will come back to the pork.

The husband and I have been married for five years now.  In order to celebrate, we went to Point Reyes.  North Beach was foggy and all but empty, the point with the lighthouse was socked in, and the waves were tumbling loudly.  First we sat against the driftwood and listened, until the husband took a walk and I lay back in the sand to close my eyes and listen a little more carefully.  The sun came out for about two minutes and then the fog closed back in.  When the husband returned from his walk, I did handstands, my hands less stable on the shifting sand, and he had to hold me up.  When I was rightside up again, I felt giddy.  Ready to play.  And so we drove out to the lighthouse point where we clattered down to the lighthouse itself.  The fog horn sounded rhythmically.  And then we hiked the 300+ stairs back up to the road.

This felt perfect.  Like the ideal way to spend an anniversary.  Listening.  Carving a little space of our own.  Holding each other up.  Playing and feeling a little giddy.  Surrounding ourselves with beauty.  Willing to trundle the hard route back up.  Then we went to eat squid and hamburgers.  I got nothing in terms of the symbolic there--well maybe it was just good to sit and eat together.

View from the lighthouse
Fog, fog, fog, fog, fog.

Speaking of sitting and eating together, very soon after our excursion to the beach, we ate this wonderful pork.  Alice Waters in her lovely cookbook Chez Panisse Fruit suggests much shorter times for making the marmalade.  I upped them below (she shaves off about 10-15 minutes) because my onions and apples were not "melting."  But melt they did after about an hour.  And oh, this marmalade.  It is worth the price of admission.

To make the onions and apples melt, you do need some verjus.  Verjus?!  You may be asking.  Here, learn about verjus, the unfermented juice of green grapes.  It is really light and fruity and tasty.  Here are a bunch of other verjus recipes, which you might need, seeing as the recipe below calls for only 1/2 cup and the verjus comes in large bottles. Verjus itself can be difficult to find.  We did a search at Berkeley Bowl and found none.   We then checked out Market Hall, where one can find two kinds of verjus.  You can also order it here

The pork itself is darned tasty.  Yes, it seems an expensive way to get pork chops, but we got a roast with seven chops for 28 dollars.  That's four dollars a chop.  And leftovers for a week.  While it does take a long time--about two, two and a half hours--most of the work is done long before the roast is.  It's also a pretty splashy, fancy dinner.  May I recommend it for your next one?

So I raise a pork chop to our fifth anniversary, where we spent time at the beach, immersing ourselves in the beauty of an edge of a continent, and then spent time at home, eating pork and loving it.  I cannot think of a better way, or a better person with whom, to spend this three-day weekend. 

One Year Ago: Stuffed Beef Tenderloin with Whole-Wheat Couscous and Black Olive Vinaigrette

Roast Pork with Onion-and-Apple Marmalade
Adapted from  Chez Panisse Fruit

Serves 6

3 medium onions
1/2 cup verjus (This can be tricky to find.  You can substitute vermouth, an astringent white wine, or just click to order.)
3/4 cup white wine or hard cider
Salt and pepper
3 apples
1 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 standing 6-rib pork loin roast, chine bone removed

1.  To make the marmalade, first peel and slice the onions and put them into a heavy-bottomed pan with the verjus, wine, and a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, peel, core and slice the apples. Add the apples and water to the onions and cook for another 30-45 minutes or until the onions and apples are soft and melted together.  Stir occasionally to ensure the marmalade does not stick. Stir in the butter and honey. [Okay, seriously, if you want to watch the calories, you could leave out the butter and honey because the onions, apples, and grape juices are pretty darned tasty without them, but I went for authenticity, and I stirred them in.  Pretty darned good.]

3.  Season the pork loin generously with salt and pepper. Tie the roast securely between each rib bone with cotton twine to help ensure even roasting.  Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.  Take the roast out of the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

4.  Roast the pork in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours, until the internal temperature registers 135 degrees.  Remove the pork from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and let rest in a warm place for 20 minutes before carving (the internal temperature should raise to 140 degrees).  [Alice has a whole suggestion for you to put this hunk of meat on a spit.  I do not have a spit.  I roasted it.]

5.   To serve, remove the strings and cut crosswise between the ribs carving the roast into chops.  Serve each chop with warm marmalade.