As is often the case, my birthday week had several parts. First came the party.
On the weekend of my 40th birthday we took the ferry out to Orcas Island.
We took the pup with us. She had a great time. So did we.
The place we were staying had a fabulous kitchen, a huge hot tub and really comfortable furniture, so we did some cooking (and mixing of cocktails) and stayed in a lot instead of going out doing touristy things, which made a nice change. Continue reading
One of my personal rituals is to always, always make macaroni and cheese for myself on my birthday. It’s never quite the same from year to year, though: last year I used multi-colored vegetable shell noodles and a creamy sharp cheddar sauce. This year I decided to try a new approach, inspired by a recipe on Food52, posted by my friend Jen of the blog Last Night’s Dinner (featured in this week’s New York Times dining section, check it out!). Her original recipe is here; I failed to follow it exactly (surprise!) but I think I managed to capture the spirit of the dish.
This recipe differs from my usual approach in several ways: it uses several different kinds of cheese, it has herbs, mustard powder and hot sauce for added flavor, and it’s baked with a breadcrumb topping. Much to my surprise, it was quite possibly the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten in my life. Instead of the hard cheese crust I’ve come to associate with baked macaroni and cheese, this had a delicate buttery crunch giving way to creamy, rich noodles.
For some time there has been a page torn out of a food magazine stuck to our refrigerator door. I found the photography compelling – a deep red background, with pieces of steak in a deep red sauce in the foreground – strangely effective. And the recipe itself sounded like something we would like: broiled skirt steak, rubbed with sumac and served with a port-pomegranate pan sauce. It needed only the proper occasion, and Jon’s birthday immediately suggested itself.
This is going to sound kind of pathetic, but I cooked and ate dinner by myself on my birthday. Sad, I know, but before you feel too sorry for me, take another look at the paella party we had with my family last weekend. I can’t exactly say that I haven’t had a proper birthday party.
For my actual birthday, though, I was on my own. My personal tradition is that this is the one day a year that I can have macaroni and cheese for dinner – gooey, plain, totally without redeeming nutritional value, and without guilt. And since Jon doesn’t really like just macaroni and cheese for dinner, maybe it was just as well that he had to work all evening.
The stumbling block I ran into this time, though, was that I had allowed myself rather a lot of mac and cheese back in January when I had oral surgery, and kind of overdosed on the stuff. So I decided to make this batch slightly different with vegetable pasta, the kind that’s made with beets and spinach and whatever, so there are different colors and tastes. The co-op, inexplicably, didn’t have multicolor macaroni, but they did have shells, so that’s what I went with. And they had their house-packaged raw sharp cheddar, one of my favorite cheeses for this sort of thing. Continue reading
Well, this was the big birthday weekend, and I do believe we did it up right. In honor of my birthday, my aunt’s birthday, my father’s 60th birthday and my parents’ upcoming 40th anniversary, we hired our friend Knut Christiansen of Paellaworks catering to come out and cook up a paella for us and about thirty friends and neighbors. Despite the annoyingly autumnal weather (wind AND rain, sheesh), everything went beautifully.
My parents put together this contraption for the paella pan – Knut said it was the best fire setup he’d ever used. The great thing about the metal rails was the way the pan could be slid onto the fire and off again. There was plenty of good fruitwood to burn, too.
The paella was built up gradually over the course of the afternoon. We all stood around and watched and got in the way while eating olive bread from the Anjou Bakery (thanks, Heather & Kevin!) and a wonderful goat cheese/pear/butter mixture that Knut had brought.
The first thing to go in was the chorizo, to render all that good pork fat into the pan. Continue reading
I used to be a fanatical cake baker. If we went to a party, I made a cake – the bigger and fancier or more chocolatey, the better. My college friends and I stayed up late, baking things that would then disappear within seconds. It was my cooking signature.
Somehow, though, once I started cooking all my own meals, and discovering the huge world of savory flavors, I sort of lost interest in cake. These days when I bake it needs to be relatively simple, preferably producing something that isn’t too sweet. French yogurt cake (gâteau au yaourt) fits the bill. Continue reading