This week has been crazy busy, but we did make time to get down to opening day of our local farmer’s market. It was a classic Pacific Northwest Memorial Day weekend, which is to say it rained every. single. day.
Fortunately there were plenty of vendors and customers, and the hardy Prozac Mountain Boys managed to keep the music playing without floating away.
We bought leeks, fingerling potatoes, asparagus, hothouse peppers, and butter, which seemed like a pretty good haul for the season (thank goodness for Hedlin Farms’ greenhouses). Then we checked out Gothberg Farms’ stand. A local goat dairy, they’re newcomers to the Mount Vernon market, and we’re really excited to have them here. I expect we’ll be eating a lot of their cheese in the months to come, but for now we limited ourselves to a tub of fresh ricotta and a block of Queso Blanco.
Have you eaten raclette? It’s a semi-soft, slightly stinky cheese from Switzerland, and it’s fantastic melted. We’ve bought it before, usually to put on hamburgers – a use I highly recommend. However, I had never had it served in the traditional manner, melted and poured over bread and vegetables, so when John DeGloria over at Slough Food announced a Raclette Night, we were keen to go.
The premise is simple, made even simpler with these nifty raclette grills. Unlike fondue, where you melt the cheese and dip stuff in it, here you melt the cheese and pour it over other stuff. There are cute little Teflon dishes to put under the broiler, and while the cheese heats up you can toast bread, or halved potatoes, or ham, or whatever you like on the top griddle.
We had originally planned to have steak for dinner, but I was feeling tired and steak sounded like a lot of work to eat, so we did a little menu rearrangement. We had bought a cauliflower with the intention of making Pasta al Cavolfiore, a comforting Moosewood standby from our college days, and it was just the thing for my mood. My husband used to make this for me when we were first going out, and I find it soothing.
Because this is a recipe from the 1977 Moosewood Cookbook, a book that could have been commissioned by the Eat More Cheese Association, it’s less of an Italian pasta dish and more like a vat of cauliflower cheese with some pasta and tomato thrown in. You don’t really have to add as much cheese as the recipe says to – it would still taste great – but I admit a lot of the appeal here is the dense richness of the cheesy pasta, studded with tart bits of cauliflower and herb. We do veer away from the Moosewood vegetarian standard by adding some chunks of seared kielbasa, which adds a nice smokiness, as well as heft.
Some people like chocolate, so I hear. The sort of people who say “eat dessert first,” and mean it. The sort of people who really would rather have something sweet than almost anything else. I am not one of those people. I like potatoes. The saltier, the better, but chances are good that if it is made of potatoes, I will probably like it. Potato chips are one of the finest things life has to offer, in my opinion (and I am vindicated in my opinion by the Parsi food pyramid). I am also very fond of small yellow potatoes roasted until they are creamy inside and crusty outside. But I don’t complain about potatoes bathed in heavy cream, herbs and cheese. Nope.
Yes, I was on a low-carb diet at one time. No, it didn’t stick. For obvious reasons. And this is why I walk several miles a day. To avoid being potato-shaped as well as potato-obsessed. Anyway…
We made scalloped potatoes a few days ago, for a celebratory dinner at home. We pulled out two pretty beef tenderloin steaks, threw together a Caesar salad, and tried a new potato recipe out of America’s Test Kitchen, which was still open from making challah the previous evening. The whole dinner was wonderful, but these potatoes really clinched it for me.
This one could be a candidate for Confessions of a Locavore. Local it ain’t, and neither is it particularly healthy. It is, however, highly seasonal, in that I only eat it on or around Thanksgiving. And it’s really, really good. I don’t know where the recipe originated, but it’s a staple of my husband’s family’s Thanksgivings, hosted by his Aunt Mary. No matter what else I have on my plate, I always make sure there’s plenty of room for creamed spinach.
It’s one of those dishes where I might be happier not knowing what was in it. But as Mary writes in the family cookbook, “Don’t worry about the ingredients, just enjoy.” That said, here’s what the ingredients look like before the spinach goes in:
When it comes to festive breakfasts, it’s hard to beat a blintz. A soft white crepe wrapped around a cheesy filling, fried golden and drizzled with syrup…I’m making myself hungry just writing about it. Blintzes were one of the foods my husband wooed me with (along with breakfast burritos, chocolate pudding and curry (no, not all at once)) and I’d say they worked quite well.
There are a lot of directions you can go with blintzes. Sometimes we put fruit in, or you could make a different flavor of crepe to wrap around (buckwheat, perhaps?), but they’re really great made plain, so everyone can put whatever topping on they want. You could even do them savory: mushrooms seem like an obvious thing to try.
This is an awesome lasagna. I’m not kidding, it’s really, really good. Unless you don’t like mushrooms, of course, in which case I can’t help you. This is all about the mushrooms. And the cheese.
I got the idea for this lasagna from a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, but I embellished it a bit with extra cheese and a generous amount of sausage, because I tend to feel that sausage makes everything better. One technique of hers that I think is really key here is adding the porcini soaking liquid to the bechamel. It gives the creamy sauce an earthy perfume that I find irresistible.
Unlike my husband, I did not grow up with kugel. I may have heard of it, but I can’t even swear to that. I finally tasted it at a gathering in Kansas City sometime after I married into the family, but wasn’t quite sure what I thought. For him, though, it’s a major flavor from his childhood – one of those atavistic pleasures.
For those not in the know, a kugel is a traditional Jewish dish. Baked casserole-style, it’s a carb- and fat-bomb usually made from egg noodles, cottage cheese, butter and sugar, with any number of additional ingredients, including but certainly not limited to: sultanas, cherry pie filling, apple pie filling, corn flakes, apricots, nuts, carrots, pineapple…you name it. Despite being quite sweet in most of its incarnations, it’s often served as a side dish with meat. The sweet-savory blend is reminiscent of old Middle Ages recipes, and it’s surprisingly addictive.
I recently made kugel myself for the very first time, and the first thing I did was consult the family recipe books. Jon’s mother used to make kugel, but we didn’t have her recipe. We did have Jon’s grandmother’s recipe, which inexplicably leaves out the noodles (her brisket recipe leaves out the brisket, so go figure). There was also a “chiffon” kugel recipe that used beaten egg whites to lighten the custard. In the end, I committed familial heresy and used a recipe from the food blog Smitten Kitchen. I did, however, cut it in half to avoid eating kugel for a solid month. And I left out any and all fruit that might have tried to creep in.
This was a good pizza.
It evolved naturally, inspired more or less equally by our usual Middle Eastern Lamb Pizza, the cover of the latest Food & Wine, and a recipe in Tessa Kiros’ book Falling Cloudberries. I knew I wanted to try a pizza with a leek-based sauce (I’m on a leek kick right now), but I wanted spiced lamb on it as well. In the end, it wasn’t quite like any of the source recipes, becoming something quite perfect all on its own: a melange of braised leeks tossed with hot pepper and tamarind-spiced lamb, layered with mozzarella and adorned with small ripe tomatoes, all resting on a chewy part-whole-wheat crust.
Savory and wonderful as the pizza was, there was something that made me stop mid-chew and stare at my plate for a minute. I realized that I knew where everything on that pizza had come from! Leeks and gorgeous fiery red peppers from Hedlin Farms in La Conner, lamb from Linda Martiny, local mozzarella, Shepherd’s Grain Stone-Buhr flour, salad (with flowers sprinkled in it) from Frog’s Song, and tiny tomatoes from our deck.
The only products I couldn’t put a face to were the salt, yeast and olive oil (well, okay, and the tamarind and cinnamon). I think that’s pretty cool.
Plus it was an incredible pizza.
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.