Posts Tagged ‘friends’

eating easter

Easter to me will always mean Greek food. And not just because of the lamb, which doubles as traditional Easter fare and, I believe, the most prevalent meat in Greek cuisine (though that is a happy coincidence). It’s because I spent spring break during my semester abroad at a friend’s house in Athens. Four years later, it’s still what I want every Easter.

I didn’t have any particularly salient Easter memories to overwrite. Like many little kids, I spent the week before Easter watercoloring hardboiled eggs, and Sunday morning hunting for little green nests of Hershey’s eggs and my painted ones. But I usually had to be quick about it, or the cats would eat the plastic nest grass. At least they were clever? apathetic? easily distracted? enough to avoid the chocolate.

And so went most of my Easter memories: egg hunting, floral dresses, the true arrival of spring. They’re lovely memories, but there’s nothing especially monumental or ground-breaking about them. But walking from one church to another by candlelight at midnight on Holy Saturday, singing (or mumbling along to) traditional hymns in the company of the entire Greek village, followed by an elaborate one AM Greek feast? That sticks out. That memory has rooted itself very deeply, so the word Easter conjures up not so much visions of Peeps, Cadbury Eggs, and HoneyBaked Ham, as cravings for grilled lamb, blocks of feta cheese, tomatoes and cucumber and olives.

Okay, not so much the olives part. But the idea of olives.

Yesterday, Mr. Boyfriend was kind enough to go with the flow. So we started with some baked pita (incidentally, one of my favorite party tricks) and hummus, and followed with rosemary-rubbed lamb chops with a feta-yogurt topping, olive-less Greek salad, and basil-mint couscous. Not exactly traditional for here, but I think somewhere in the wide world (somewhere I wouldn’t mind being right about now… Mediterranean Sea, Acropolis and all), we’d have fit right in.

british food

And so I went to London. I got back Monday night, but spent the better part of yesterday (and today) in pajamas and have only just started going through my photos. There are lots. I will spare you. But the first thing I wanted to tell you all is: I ate really well. No really, I did! I embarked for London on Wednesday afternoon, perhaps not a total acolyte to the stereotype of dreadful British food, but certainly a passive believer. I expected to be wowed by the museums, the neighborhood walks and how posh everyone sounds, but not the cuisine. (Remember that old joke that hell is where the police are German, the cooks are English, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and it is all organized by the Italians?)

I was hoping to be proved wrong. And I was. Don’t you love it when that happens? There were mussels and fries with an English friend from uni, authentic pizza at a Notting Hill restaurant inhabited entirely by Italians, fabulous currys and biryanis and buttered naan at a self-proclaimed “Bombay Cafe” near Leicester Square. But this is all foreign food, of course — it’s Belgian and Italian and Indian. I also had British food. And it was splendid.

One afternoon, after walking all around Notting Hill and South Kensington, I spent an hour in the V&A’s beautiful tea room with scones and a pot of Earl Gray. (Confession: I will always retain a particularly fond memory of this particular pick-me-up, because it’s when I learned of my acceptance into another grad school, with potential for fellowship money.)

I also went to Sunday Roast. I’d never heard of Sunday Roast before, but that English friend (of mussels-and-fries fame, above) described the slow cooked meat, roasted vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy in such rhapsodic terms that I knew I had to try it for myself. So Clara (who lives in London and was sweet enough to open her flat to me) and I went to the Princess of Shoreditch, a restaurant less than two blocks from her building — and oh how we ate. My order, the “Mixed Roast” option, came with a slice of pork belly, a slice of Irish sirloin, a quarter roasted organic chicken, as well as duck fat roast potatoes, roasted vegetables, spiced red cabbage, Yorkshire pudding, and, of course, the incontrovertible gravy. Hearty, abundant, exactly the comfort food to counteract a night out. The mouth waters. I imagine that no matter where I end up next year, I will be incorporating the roast into my weekly routine.

And finally, on the words of a friend who wrote, “Eat a pie for me!,” I had a pie. It was in the airport, but from a chain encouragingly called Eat (The Real Food Company), and which I had spotted around town, so I ordered their chicken, ham, and leek pie. A little puff pastry savory, with some mashed potatoes and there again, the gravy. I loved it. I ate the whole thing. I think the English might be onto something.

tiramisu for you

And on Saturday I made tiramisu.

Yes, this is the mystery dessert supposedly created to sate the hunger of brothel visitors. Tiramisu, in Italian, breaks into tira (as in “tirare,” meaning to pull), mi (me), su (up). A literal pick me up! I’ve read historical accounts that paint this brothel narrative as pure fantasy — but this tale is much juicier than the (admittedly more accurate) story of a pastry chef inventing a dessert based on the region’s everyday flavors and accessible ingredients: espresso, marscarpone cheese, eggs, Marsala wine, and ladyfinger cookies.


I’ve made tiramisu before on this site, in the form of Smitten Kitchen’s Tiramisu Cake, but there’s no competition. You should make this instead. It’s a strictly classic take on the dessert, and far and away the tastier version. Why temper with perfection? You beat egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine over a pot of simmering water to create a zabaglione; you whip up some heavy cream and combine it with the zabaglione and marscarpone cheese; and from there it’s just a matter of assembly.


I broke the recipe eight individual mason jar servings, because I’m all about the cute. Also, we were going to eat this in-between photo shoots and swills of champagne at the house, before heading out to the law prom. I deemed this serving method much easier than hauling out plates and partitioning servings. (Even if halving the ladyfingers and coaxing them flat at the bottom of the jar was a bit of a Process.) And it was delicious: coffee-saturated cookies sandwiched between layers of a gooey egg/wine/cream/cheese concoction. Rich and smooth and capable of turning any event into a party.

Classic Tiramisu
(Adapted from the Pioneer Woman)

Ingredients

  • 5 egg yolks (don’t know how to separate eggs? here’s how!)
  • 1/4 cup plus 4 tbsp sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 pound (16 oz) marscarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup very strong coffee
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 packages savoiardi (ladyfinger cookies)
  • cocoa powder, for dusting

Method

In a small saucepan or pot, bring several inches of water to a simmer. Find a mixing bowl that will sit on top of the pot without falling in. (Or use a double boiler, if you have one.)

In the mixing bowl, add egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar. Whisk together by hand until light in color, about three minutes. Place over the simmering water and slowly pour in 1/2 cup Marsala, whisking all the while. Continue to whisk until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, above five minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool, about 45 minutes.

In the meantime, dump the marscarpone cheese into a small bowl and stir it around to soften it up. (Mine hadn’t reached room temperature yet, so I stuck it in the microwave for a couple seconds. But do as I say, not as I do: this probably isn’t the World’s Greatest Idea.)

In a large bowl, combine the heavy cream and remaining four tablespoons sugar. Beat with a hand mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. To this mixture, add the marscarpone and the zabaglione (the egg-Marsala custard). Using a rubber spatula, gently fold them together. You want all three things incorporated together, but no heavy beating. Tread softly.

Get out a 9 x 13 pan OR, if you prefer eight individual servings, eight little jam jars/glasses. Add vanilla to the cup of coffee. Open the package of ladyfingers. (My ladyfingers were quite soft — nearly soggy — so I crisped them up in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. An optional step.)

Line the bottom of the pan with ladyfingers. Soak each cookie with about 1 tablespoon of coffee. Then apply 1/3 of the cream mixture and spread it around evenly. (If you’re doing individual jars, use a generous spoonful. You want about an inch of cream.) Dust with cocoa powder, and repeat. Cookie, coffee, cream, cocoa. If you use a pan, this will make three layers. For eight jam jars, I managed about four layers in each. Some had only three. Either way, it’ll be delicious. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Cover and refrigerate for a few hours before serving. I like to bring it back to room temperature before serving, to soften up the cream. But that’s a personal question for you to explore on your own time. Enjoy!

quiche redux, and the melting of our world

It’s no secret that I’m not much for winters. I, who am always cold to begin with and whose body reliably, constantly aches from bracing against bitter wind three months out of the year (four to five months, here) — no, I could really leave it all behind. But this weekend’s thaw has reminded me that without the bone-chilling chatter of below-freezing weeks, forty degrees wouldn’t feel so decidedly springlike. Seventy degrees? What a sauna! It’s forty-one outside, and I have been skipping around in a skirt and flats, never mind the pools of melted snow. Windows down. Summer scarf. An awesome new coat that I previously imagined for 50 or 60 degree days, but on this side of winter feels decidedly appropriate for 30’s and 40’s.


Last night, we went to dinner at Hearth and we walked there. The first time we were able to do that in 2010 was my birthday — which is over a month and a half away! I took out the trash this afternoon — a task normally grudgingly performed by Billy on Monday mornings, and sometimes skipped altogether when temperatures are particularly mean — simply because it’s so gorgeous out. I do hope this thaw, early and incredibly welcome, is a permanent one. (Psst. A high of 55 on Thursday!!!)



And with this jolly spirit, we capered over to a delicious Sunday brunch at Rob and Jill’s house. It was lovely and fresh and baked and reminded me (since I’m all about being reminded of things today) of how great brunch is, how it’s the most wonderful meal of our time, how we don’t get enough of it, how we should do this every week, amiright? Macaroni and cheese, fruit salad, incredibly light orange-scented scones, cheesy potato gratin, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, piles of thick-cut bacon, and this quiche I brought.

We’ve actually talked about this quiche before, but you would be forgiven for forgetting. It was perhaps my fourth entry ever and while the quiche was and is perfect — woodsy and warm, hearty and rich, cheesy, smooth, delicious even if you don’t like mushrooms (like me!) — the photos were not. (I hope these are better!) So here is is, once more in its delectable beauty, and I hope you make it for brunch next weekend. Your friends will thank you (and if your brunches are anything like mine, your friends’ sneaky puppies will too).

Wild Mushroom Quiche
(Slightly adapted from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook)

Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
  • 3 tbsp ice water, more as needed

The same as all pie crusts, described in detail here. To wit: process the flour, salt, and cold butter in a food processor until the butter is the size of large peas. With the machine running, add the ice water through the feed tube and pulse until the dough just holds together. Turn it out onto a sheet of wax paper, flatten into a disc, and refrigerate one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll the dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. (If it cracks while rolling, it’s too cold; let it sit out a few more minutes.) Line a 9-inch pie pan with the dough. Trim the edge to 2 inches, fold the overhang under, and crimp it decoratively. Freeze for ten minutes.

Line the shell with aluminum foil and weight it down with dedicated pie weights, dry beans, pennies, etc. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and foil and set aside to cool.

(Not your style? Use a frozen crust; I have before, and the result remains wonderful.)

Filling

  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 3/4 cup dried porcini
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 oz fresh wild mushrooms (shiitake, chanterelles, oysters [shown above]), rinsed, dried, and sliced
  • 8 oz fresh cultivated mushrooms (those button mushrooms at the grocery store, the plain janes), wiped clean and sliced
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup half and half (heavy cream is suggested, but this strikes me as gilding the lily)
  • 3/4 shredded mozzarella, smoked if you can get it
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano

Bring the cider to a boil and pour over the dried porcini in a small bowl. Let stand 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onion, wild, and fresh mushrooms and sautee for ten minutes. Add the porcini with their liquid, brandy, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook uncovered over low heat for 20 minutes. The liquid should be almost entirely evaporated away (as in the lower left photo, above); if it’s not, turn up the heat to help it along. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

Reset oven to 375 degrees.

Beat together eggs and half and half. Stir in the cheeses. Combine the egg and mushroom mixtures and pour into the pastry shell.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until quiche no longer jiggles. Cool 5-10 minutes and serve.

full of parties

I just love dinner parties. But for the table setting, the napkin ironing, the course planning, the cooking, and the general pre-company BUSTLE, I would have a dinner party every night. (That sound you hear in the background is my parents and/or boyfriend keeling over.) I love the living room crowding, the catching up conversations and several kinds of wine and the excuse to bake a cake. But you saw that one coming, didn’t you? I suffer from only living with one other person most of the time. It is a great burden, knowing that a pie or batch of cupcakes will take a week to polish off. And who wants to eat key lime pie every night for a week? Well, if you’ve gotta do it, if you’ve gotta, you know, make the sacrifice, might I suggestinsist that you make this one, because it’s fabulous, but key lime pie is frankly a rather particular flavor and all other things being equal, I would much rather have a dinner party every night and send guests home with the dessert leftovers and make a fresh cake every afternoon. Only I would need to get more friends, to cycle through their refrigerators’ cake space. New Year’s resolution: make more friends to foist cake upon.

Parents and I had one dinner party on the 26th and another, larger one on the 27th. We served the chocolate yule log on the 26th and if it is not too terribly gauche, I will confide that the time in the fridge actually improved it. The mousse and cake got a little cozier, so the cake was moister and both were more chocolatey.

On the 27th, we played host to one of my favorite families for a belated-birthday-slash-Christmas party. I made a carrot cake. (Having already Xed Birthday Girl’s totally earnest suggestion, “What about carrot and zucchini cake!?!?” I hope this was good enough!) And I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but: toot, toot. Sensational carrot cake. Tip of the hat to Dorie Greenspan, Paris-based chef who, for the past couple months, has played mentor to Emily Weinstein as she learns to bake and writes about it in the New York Times. You know, if I’d known I could land Dorie Greenspan as my fairy cakemother by not knowing how to make a muffin — muffins! You don’t know how to add wet to dry, stir gently, and pour into a tin, and you get a reward!? — well, let’s just say I would have seriously reconsidered sharing the best blueberry muffins on my second-ever blog post. I know you should never play stupid to catch a man, but I think I would do it for Dorie Greenspan. And look, I’ve gotten side tracked again!

So, for the second evening in a row, we got a second Christmas. I received an incredibly beautiful, antique-looking silver bracelet with inlaid cameos, but I think the best present was the look on little senior-in-college and birthday girl Alex‘s face when she opened her last present: a waffle iron. Between our friendship history and near-obsessive reverence for a certain breakfast recipe, let me assure you: it was a very good gift. She squealed and jumped around too much for a proper photo, but here she is just moments before, pouring over a cookbook. A cookbook! How well I’ve trained her!

She is such a cute patootie. Someone get her another waffle iron.

On to the dinner table, where we had onion soup and salmon cakes and five kinds of cheese that come with quite a story (tune in later!) and then, as is the tradition goes in these here parts, lit the birthday cake aflame. This is usually when my stomach starts coiling itself into knots, because it means that cutting into the cake — actually eating this thing you have baked — is mere moments away. And the thing about cakes, about all baking, truly, is this: You Never Know. There is no crying in baseball, and there is no cutting little corners off to make sure it’s not dry in baking. So you just give it your best shot, which in my case involves erring on the side of underbaking (ambient heat keeps cooking the thing after it’s out of the oven), and pray.

In this case, the tester-inserting, icing-sampling, layer-chilling and ritual sacrifice worked. There’s a whole lotta carrots in here, but also walnuts for an interesting textural crunch, plump little golden raisins for softness and taste, a good deal of sweetened shredded coconut for added moistness. And the traditional cream cheese frosting lets a lemony kick in the pants. And it’s three layers! Who can say no to three layers?

At this juncture, I should probably point out that in my insufferably bossy life YOUTH, I never let Alex cut a cake. Because she always did some inane thing like slice it into quarters, then each quarter into thirds and come on, is that any way to cut a cake for nine people?! But this time, I held my tongue and was very mature about her origami methods.

Okay, she might have had to shriek, “I am 22, and I would just like for once in my life to cut my own birthday cake!” But then I was very supportive of her life choices.

(Seriously, it worked out great.)

Make this for your next dinner party. Have one tomorrow! The world needs more dinner parties, more lovely families like this one, and more homemade cakes never hurt anyone, either. It’s a vegetable cake; those calories burn themselves.

Recipe follows…

ever thankful

Ever since graduating, I have missed my high school’s annual Thanksgiving Assembly with a powerful gut-punch of nostalgia. We would gather in the C/A and, after a few words from the headmistress, start lining up on either side of the stage– students, teachers, administrators, coaches, all —  to read our lists of thanks. You worked on your list of thanks. They were long. And even if the assembly went over, which it almost always did, everyone got to speak. I wouldn’t stake my dad’s apple pie on it, but I bet I have a couple old write-ups lying around. Somewhere. But that’s for another time, and since I don’t feel like whipping out the hankies (or eye-rolls) for my younger self, let’s stick to present-day.

I am thankful for my simply awesome parents and my perfect friends, even though I am still mad at all of them for either moving to Cambodia, London, France, and L.A., or for staying in New York or D.C. and laughing uproariously when I suggested they crawl into my suitcase and come to Iowa with me. Speaking of, I am thankful for having moved to Iowa over a year ago to live in a century-old house that may leak heat in winter but also happens to house Boyfriend, who turns on the portable bedroom heater hours before I go upstairs every night and finds my ever-lost slippers before I get up every morning.

I am thankful for letters, email, and Skype, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and the Sweet Valley Twins, because at least I read something better than the Clique books when I was in 6th grade. (I am also thankful for Casablanca and Shakespeare.) I am thankful for spending my teenage years at Greenway, where I met my best friends, learned to write five paragraph essays in 90 minutes flat, read Kafka and Morrison and Kerouac, got feminism, and where teachers inspired me, which increasingly feels like an anomaly in this day and age. I give thanks for for hair curlers and contacts, for my cats who think they are the world’s first breed of cat-dog-kangaroo, for boots made for snow, rain, and crisp fall days, respectively, and for Anthropologie, even when their creativity comes with too high a pricetag.

I am thankful for the four kinds of flour in my pantry that sometimes make me question my own sanity, my Cuisinart, cheese and good bread and red wine and Champagne. I am thankful for Grandma Smoot’s Sweet Potatoes, not my grandma but a fine woman who decided that sweet potatoes mashed with two eggs, a stick of butter, and a cup of sugar should be called a savory dish and served before dessert: I salute this spirit. I am endlessly thankful for being physically and financially able to travel and the fact that Boyfriend makes the best travel buddy, and so I am thankful for crepes-Nutella, falafel, and the Orsay in Paris, for sunny sunny Vienna and night trains and good walking shoes. I am thankful for a camera that is far better at taking pictures than I am. I am thankful for ART, and that I get to study it, and grad schools if you are listening in, I will be thankful for admission + scholarship too, thanks!

I am thankful for puff pastry, hot showers, kindness, apple picking, nights on the deck, and Sam Sifton’s Thanksgiving Help Line at the New York Times. I am thankful for the audacity of hope, both sentiment and author. I am thankful for 23 years with my Kansas Grandma, who wore fierce leopard print shoes, fried eggs in bacon fat, let me spend hours pounding out bad poetry on her ancient typewriter in the basement, and never, ever forgot a birthday. I am thankful that, when she offered to “take me shopping” on a visit to DC at least ten years ago, and I said, “Great, to the pet shop we go!”, she humored me. And while we’re on the topic, I am ever thankful for my Memere in France, who makes the world’s best chocolate mousse, hand-knit me a sweater the color of the French flag with an Eiffel tower on it when I was little, and at age 91 is still eating raw oysters. I am so thankful for the families attached to each side of the Atlantic, and the ones I have made for myself.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope yours feels as good as mine tastes.

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on this thanksgiving

I do not live in a place where hospitals run out of food, water, medicine, or bandages.

Such a concern does not figure into my everyday thoughts, even though I have seen enough of the world and read enough news to know better.

For those of you who do not know — and there are likely few who do not — a stampede in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on Monday night left almost 400 people dead in what the Camobdian PM is calling the country’s worst tragedy since the mass killings under the Khmer Rouge. It is unknown what set off the mass panic and stampede, but it happened on a small footbridge across the Bassac River during the annual water festival, a joyous celebration that marks the end of the rainy season.

And for those of you who do not know — likely many more in this camp — my best friend has been living in Phnom Penh for the last month and a half, working at a legal advocacy and human rights not-for-profit NGO. She is fine. But she is seeing, in living color and graphic detail that most of us have not, what it means when calamity strikes a country where the runaway majority live on less than $2 a day. Hospitals, already overrun, cannot treat the injured and they are running out of supplies.

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Please mosey over to her blog to find out how you can help.

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To learn more about the Monday night stampede, check out: the New York Times and Times blog, BBC, CNN, Reuters, and others.