Monday, September 26, 2011

Curried Cauliflower or I Can't Play my Piano

 At Thanksgiving, when cauliflower is so very dear (and it's supposed to still be in season), I'll wish I'd bought a few extra heads in September.  Made a little gratinee with lots of garlic, cream, and Swiss cheese.  Thrown in an extra casserole for Jeanne.  Maybe even made some cauliflower soup--even though it's so very easy and is even good made with frozen cauliflower.  Once in a while I get it all done, but not this year.  The basement freezer isn't bought, though it's on the list (after paying the floor guy and the radiator repair guy) and I expect  it's not too far in the future.  But right now, we're eating what I cook and not putting much away for the winter. I did sneak a big bag of blueberries into the side-by-side and have a couple of on sale whole chickens (for chicken noodle soup) down in the bottom.
Make-do steamer.

I'm not much for raw cauliflower.  I'm not saying I don't eat it from the raw vegetable platter; I do.  But the mealy, cabbagy sensation isn't what I'm after; it's not my favorite.  But steam it, stew it, boil it, roast it, fry it and I'm all over it.  I don't care if it's a bit crispy or grandma-done; I like it.  This curried dish is a mix of two preparations.  First you  briefly steam it. Next you saute some sliced onions and garlic with curry powder.

Then add the steamed cauliflower..

Stir and cook until quite golden and nearly tender. 

Curried Cauliflower

1 head fresh cauliflower, cleaned, cored, and cut into florets
2T olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp curry powder (Penzey's has a great variety; try a couple of different ones.)
Kosher salt, pepper, and ground cayenne (if your curry isn't too hot)

Steam cauliflower in a veggie steamer (or in the microwave) for about seven minutes, until just losing its crispness.  Meantime, in a large skillet, heat oil and saute onions for 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic, curry powder and sprinkle with salt, pepper and ground cayenne, if using.  Add steamed cauliflower and stir well.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until cauliflower is nearly tender.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  (To increase cooking speed, add a couple of tablespoons of water to the skillet and cover for a  minute or two.)  Serve hot.


At least that's what I did.  And walked the five steps to the dining room to eat it paired with a little steak Dave and I had.  That's as far as we can go because the couch is in the dining room, too, due to floor repair and refinishing in the living room.  Where the piano is.

Can't get to the piano.  Or the bedrooms.  Or the front door.

You could call it cozy.

If I climb over the couch, and land in the perfect place, I can quickly scoot over and land on the piano bench.  If.  I haven't tried it.  If we didn't have dogs, we would be able to walk through the living room tomorrow.  If. But we do have dogs, so we're waiting until Wednesday.  Sleeping in the basement where we can watch tv lying in our great (no, really, it is) sofa bed.

Next they're tearing up the kitchen floor (6 layers?) down to the sub floor in order to lay a new wood floor.  And, yes, the stove and frig must come out for a two week period.  Ought to be interesting in our dining room; that's where they'll go.  I love fixing up old houses, don't you?

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the 'Hood
Came home Friday to find Alvin running around the kitchen....
                          He jumped up in the window and I closed him in there.  Quick thinking, huh?   The floor guy, aka Bob,  had left the door open.  This chipmunk, aka Alvin, has been in our yard all summer, eating the painter's lunches and jumping out into the path, scaring the crap out of us.  Our painter and friend, Chris, kept telling us that chipmunk was too smart for his own good and was going to get in the house.  We laughed.  Until Friday.

Still, all was well.  We finally snuck open the bottom of the window, pushed the screen out, reclosed the window and went around outside to pull the screen out and watch him fly through the air into the still-blooming (really) day lilies.  None the worse for wear, he yelled as he passed my head, "Just wanted to see what you'd done with the house."

Still picking flowers from our yard.


Not quite the last rose of summer, but nearly.
Meantime, come sing your heart out at Prospect Park United Methodist over in Minneapolis.  We worship at 9:30 am and have coffee and then Sunday School after that.  Wander over and see what we're up to next Saturday, October 1 at 7pm when we present "Pops and Pies," a toe-tappin' evening of music followed by scrumptious pie and, of course, coffee...

Pie, me oh my:  I love pie.

Sing a new song,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pasta with Eggplant and Pancetta

What's in your frig?  Make pasta for a cool fall evening.  Pancetta helps.
We lived for four years in Dayton, Ohio.  How at home I felt there.  The flora and fauna welcomed me warmly (and coldly) as, indeed, the atmosphere felt just like northern Illinois where I grew up.  The summers were wilting (and our air conditioning never worked right) and the winters were damned cold.  Gray.  A long period of waiting for spring was how some approached it.  I felt differently.  I adore late fall; Thanksgiving is my favorite season.  I'm entranced with Advent and greet it positively every year, knowing my walk to the stable will be a new one.  Again.

But, in Ohio, summer seemed to disappear without a trace one wet day in October.  It happened in such a way that a week or two later, you wondered what had happened.  There were weeks of cool, sunny times and God's great leaves flying.  Lovely Saturdays at the farm watching cider being pressed.  Nights on hayrides with bonfires later for hot dogs.  A morning you dug out the sweaters.  Any time, though, an 80 degree day could still pop up.  Really.  And then, one day on the way to work, you knew that day wasn't appearing.  At all.  Anymore.  It had been raining for a week or two, getting colder all the time.  It just rained itself right into winter.  And gray it was.

We're on the edge of that here.  Mostly the days are still perfect.  A light sweater or short jacket needed sometimes.  Flowers still in bloom---somewhat.  The yard is drooping mightily, though, and the window boxes have definitely seen better days.  I broke down and bought mums and pansies, but haven't gotten them all out yet.  And, truthfully, taking care of the yard (and watering) is beginning to seem like yesterday's diapers.  But today it's rainy and there's no sun.  At all.  Gabby still has her head hanging out by the window in case that German Shepherd or Black Lab has the nerve to walk by on the sidewalk.  But soon she gives up and puts her head down on the rug near my chair.  The other doggies are staying home more these days.

The oven can stay on for bread now.

What will I do with these?

Why does it have to rain, Mom?

 A bunch of green tomatoes appeared on the back porch from the gardening neighbor.  We won't have enough sun or heat to ripen them.   I go around turning lights on during the day.  Think of making a big pot of beef vegetable soup.  Planned activities are a girls' night at Scusi and then out to a movie.  Not a picnic or outdoor concert or backyard cook-out.  This morning I ordered a long down coat and tall, warm boots.  I'm looking for a freezer so I can make Christmas cookies ahead for Drop in and Decorate.  We're getting our floors redone before snow flies.  That's what time it is.


Oh, we're not at the point of storing the patio furniture.   Or of skipping Saturday breakfast on the porch.  But it's coming.  And I've just woken up to it.  I still get up and put on capris and flip flops.  Sometimes I change.  Not always.

Last night, it was cold enough for a filling and warm dinner of whatever's in frig for pasta.  I occasionally blog these instant meals (and lately I'm doing it often) because that's how so many of us have to eat.  If we can even get THAT much cooked.  I have friends who are happy to have time to pull out cheese, apples, and crackers because that's all there's time or energy for.  But listen, 15-20 minutes will give you this admirable and filling meal.  You'll be busy the whole time, but you can put on Vivaldi while you do it and you'll definitely have time to set the table in a welcoming way.
Well maybe not quite like this, but why not set an attractive table?
 If you must (and who knows?), throw all of the vegetables in the food processor (except the tomatoes) and get it done even faster.  (Note:  I keep chopped pancetta on my freezer door all of the time.  There's almost nothing it won't do.  And, yes, a bit of American bacon will work.)

As this is more a method than a recipe, I write it in steps.  Read it through to understand the process and then make it yourself.  Boil the pasta, fry the pancetta (or bacon or ham), add vegetables, garlic and herbs, put it together and serve with cheese.  So there.  Maybe you need read no further.  But go on.

Pasta with Eggplant and Pancetta  serves 2  generously with a bit leftover for someone's lunch

1.  Put a covered 10 quart stockpot 3/4 full of salted and peppered water on to boil. Sprinkle with a pinch of crushed red pepper and dried oregano.  Add  1/2 # whole wheat pasta when the water is boiling and cook about 10-11 minutes until al dente.  Drain and reserve.
2.  Meantime, in a large, deep skillet, brown about 1/4 cup of chopped pancetta or bacon.  When it's crisp, remove it to a plate lined with paper towels.   Leave fat from pancetta in the pan.
3.  Into that same pan, add 1 large chopped onion, 1 large chopped carrot, 1 chopped medium yellow squash or zucchini, 1/2 cup chopped, peeled eggplant, 1/2 sliced or whole fresh spinach leaves,  and 1/2 cup chopped red or yellow pepper.  Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste) and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.  Vegetables can be changed to suit what's in your crisper.  I do think you need onions, garlic, something for bulk like squash or eggplant, and fresh herbs of some sort.
4.  Cook vegetables until they're softened and add 3 cloves garlic, minced.  Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add 2 chopped ripe tomatoes (or a cup of cherry tomatoes) and 1/4 cup chopped parsley and/or basil.  Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper.  Return pancetta to the pan and stir well. 
5. Add drained pasta to skillet.  Mix and toss well, using tongs, and taste for seasoning.
6. Serve in pasta bowls with grated  Parmesan or Romano cheese at the table.

Wine:  We had a little Barbera leftover from burgers on the grill, so we drank that.  A big Chardonnay would work, as would Zinfandel or even a Cabernet Sauvignon.  While we think of big reds as the province of big meats, they stand up and support a hearty, vegetable-filled pasta--especially if it's topped with a strong cheese like Parmesan or flavored with a warm, deep meat like pancetta.

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the 'Hood

The singing fellowship:

Choir came to lunch Saturday.  Chicken chili, sangria, brownies.

Good bud Kim all but moved in to the kitchen to keep things going.  Love you, Kim!

Nope, we didn't sing.  Just visited and ate.  Rested our pipes.

Fall--Time for Grooming.   Didn't much like it.  But they looked good for the choir.

Exhausted after their baths and trims.  What did we have to do that for? And what's with the bandanas?
 My life is currently full of playing catch-up at work.  Reading all the fall lectionary texts so I can choose appropriate music.  Off and on for a couple of weeks, the dining room table is full of music, bibles, notes, computer, etc.  I run back and forth trying to familiarize myself with the music library at church.  What's there?  What's possible to learn (and do well) with only two rehearsals?  Listening to anthems online. Listening to the choir.  Attending one lectionary study at Cabrini Catholic church  and one Bible Study with the neighborhood women.  Praying for a co-worker, who had to undergo emergency surgery.  Looking at a choir retreat in November.  Dreaming of the cantata much later than I typically do.  And I'm sooo excited and...

 I'm so busy ...  Being grateful, grateful, grateful for the opportunity.  Thanks, God.

Sing a new song,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Instant Supper or Why I love Eggs, Honey

There are days when you just don't want to put that book down.
Remember those?  As a kid, my mom would not argue with me at suppertime if I was under a tree on a blanket with my nose in a book.  I try to do the same for myself nowadays on occasion.

This day, I just watched the dogs.  No time to cook.
 Or there are times you've stayed on the phone too long with your sister.
Your best friend.
Your boss.
If you're a piano player, your butt might have been stuck to the bench, right?

Here's someone I've spent hours talking with.  Thanks, God.
 Or maybe you're just tired.  Somebody burned up your brain online and you keep waking up at 4 and your cousin's in an awful personal jam and work's a mess and your dog got a thorn in his paw and you had to have a tooth pulled (like I did Friday) and ... well... and..

Maybe you taught a piano student to make chocolate mousse that afternoon.
 Perhaps you broke down and spent the cash to go see a movie and got home at 7.

And then you just thank God for scrambled eggs.  Maybe scrambled eggs and tomatoes, if it's summer.
From my garden

Could be scrambled eggs and toast.  Or asparagus.  Even a few fried potatoes (if you microwave them first, it's even faster), eh?

In this case:  in under five minutes, you can cook up some grated summer squash with a tish of onion or garlic, add your eggs, stir, plate, and top with salsa.

There's nothing magical about it.  Except that it tastes very good, is quite filling, and takes no time away from the weird novel your neighbor left on your porch.  Or from listening to a Charpentier Christmas Cantata or David Russell's guitar music.  From playing with the dog.  Chatting with your husband.  Try it:

Scrambled Eggs with Grated Squash and Salsa-- Serves 1; doubles or quadruples easily

   Into a small skillet heated over medium heat, measure 1-2 teaspoons olive oil.  Grate 1/2 cup summer squash (yellow, zucchini, etc.) and chop 1-2 teaspoons of onion or 1/2 teaspoon of garlic.  Place vegetables in the skillet and cook for a couple of minutes until softened.  If you like, throw in a teaspoon or two of the fresh herb of your choice here; I like basil. Meantime, whisk (or fork) together two eggs and a teaspoon of water and pour over the squash.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Let eggs cook until about half-way set and stir briefly.  Remove from pan while still tender.  Top with salsa and serve with sliced tomatoes or toast.  Et voila.  Dinner is served.

Two-Dog Kitchen or Around the 'Hood

Whenever I start a new job, my brain is full.  So goes it these last two weeks. Lots to dream of in this lovely worship space where God engages my heart...

Prospect Park United Methodist, Minneapolis, MN

The beautiful thing is, I told Gabby and Tucker (who must wait at home when I'm gone),

is that I'm so very aware of the change-the transition--, once more, from writer-cook and pianist to  church choral director.  And while it isn't easy in many lives, it is a truth that we are called to be together.  And together singing--however it happens--is fun indeed.  On 9-11, I'm so very grateful to be alive to share my voice.  Thanks to all the singers in my life.  And thanks, God!

Sing a new song,

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chicken, Chicken, Chicken or It's Still Hot Around Here

Don't know what to do with chicken?  How about cook it?
I simply don't know how to do anything without doing it with all my heart.  In fact, I don't.  Unless it's washing sheets (yes, I'll do it today), cleaning the stairs (twice a week with golden retrievers), driving through construction (not on googlemaps, of course), going to the DMV, shopping for a pair of black pants at Macy's (How many places could black pants be and how much should I pay?), or picking up the trash folks leave in my yard (the price for living in the city.)  I mean, boredom or even half-heartedness is not interesting and I don't learn or grow from it.  Thriving on change is a good way to live.  Especially since change is the way things are.  The new normal.  Change, in fact, is the status quo.  Hmm.

So when I look at the stack of chickens in my freezer (Book club friend's husband has a tie to great organic, free-range poultry and the order just came a couple of weeks ago.) and go, "Oh, no!" I rear my head in disappointment at myself and begin dreaming chicken.

With tomatoes
With pasta
In the oven
On the grill
On potatoes
Poulet au vin blanc (chicken with white wine)
In soup
Con poblanos  (with green chiles)
Next to asparagus
For sandwiches
In the crock pot
Snuggled up in noodles, celery, and onions

In a world where the hungry numbered 925 million in 2010, I am embarrassed that how I cook chicken is even a topic.  I do indulge myself on this blog, however, and go on after breathing deeply.

The other night, I just couldn't come up with anything terribly new and entertaining for chicken (in the summer) and just began throwing the parts into the pan.  They'd get done, wouldn't they?  We'd eat, wouldn't we?  But, wait:  first the parts should be seasoned very well with salt and pepper.  (Leaving out an entrancing snout-full of pepper is what people often do with chicken.  And it's pale and insipid and oh, you fill in the blank.  Same for salt.  Poultry HAS to be well-seasoned, whatever you choose to do it with.  Particularly if you're eating it as is or the poultry is of the very inexpensive sort.)   And, oh, let's roll into the pan some fragrant olive oil if we're just cooking it any which old way.

As this what-the-hell supper began to cook, here's what it looked like:

You know the drill; you have the picture.   Well, I don't know what you do with yours, but I'm not standing there watching chicken cook.  I had other fish to fry.  (Right.)  After it browned well on both sides (a good 5-7 minutes each side over medium-high heat), I threw that sucker in the oven to finish cooking for another 20-25 minutes or so:

And wondered what else was for dinner.  Just like you.  A quick bang of the pantry and frig doors showed pasta, rice, capers, carrots, yellow squash, celery, lemon, and feta.  On the counter were onions and garlic because in Alyce's kitchen, God (and a gardening neighbor) is good and those things are always there.  A glass full of basil sat at the sink.  Mint's in a pot next to the tub of rosemary (that needed water so badly it looked like a Christmas tree in January) outside my backdoor.  And because there's a difference between eating and enjoying the meal with my husband, I began to grab pots, knives, cutting board, and so on.  It soon appeared that an orzo salad was coming together as orzo cooks quickly and is a great home for savory and piquant additions.  And oh how I love olives! with orzo and feta.  No olives, though, more's the pity.  Capers would have to suffice unless I wanted to sprint to the store during rush hour.  Probably not.  Before the chicken was done, the salad was ready:

So you have the idea of the chicken.   Season well, brown throughly on both sides, and finish in a moderate (350 F) oven until quite browned and juices run clear or thermometer registers 165 F.  Unsure about temperatures, read the USDA guidelines--very simple.  While the chicken is in the oven, cook the orzo and chop the veg and cheese.  While this chicken with an orzo salad isn't an instant meal, it's fairly quick and hits the major food groups in a tasty way.  And, hey!   There would be leftovers for lunch.  Yum leftovers.  Who isn't, after all that, glad to reach in the frig and pull out a piece of chicken come noon?

Take the time to season this baby (the orzo salad) lovingly.  It takes a bit of thought, and trial/error, but you can go from "Yeah, that's ok" to "Wow!" with attention, care, and a bit of knowledge.  Generally the wow factor comes from one of these:

The best ingredients you can find
Thorough, but not over-seasoning
Not over-cooking
Use fresh herbs (usually at the very end before serving)
Appropriate addition of acid (in this case lemon juice)

If you're unsure, take a small portion, add the questionable ingredient and try it.  See if that's going to make the difference.  Take three small portions and try three techniques...which do you like?  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by this process. So here's how I did it this time:

Alyce's Orzo Salad on That Day (amounts are approximate)   Serves 4 (as does a whole chicken)

1 cup uncooked orzo
1/2 cup each chopped finely diced carrots or cucumber,  and yellow squash
1/4 cup chopped celery 
2 cloves garlic smashed and finely minced (or more to taste)
2T minced red onion
2T ea chopped fresh mint and basil
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
Pinch of oregano
1T capers (or a small handful of chopped kalamata olives)
1/2 t grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and pepper to taste (try just a bit of salt at first as capers and feta are salty)
Big pinch of crushed red pepper
1T white or red wine vinegar
3T extra virgin olive oil, divided (You'll use some to flavor the hot orzo and some later for dressing.)
Juice of half a lemon
Optional:  Top with 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes and a sprinkle of pine nuts or toasted chopped walnuts

  1. Cook orzo according to package directions and drain well.  Pour the orzo into a mixing bowl and stir in 1 T of the olive oil.  Sprinkle with just a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Add vegetables (including garlic and onions), feta, herbs, oregano, capers or olives, and lemon zest.  Stir well.
  3. Add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Taste and reseason.
  4. Sprinkle with vinegar and stir. Drizzle in other two tablespoons of olive oil and stir again.  Add tomatoes and nuts, if using.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  5. Squeeze lemon over all.
  6. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.  Store leftovers in refrigerator, tightly covered, for 2-3 days.
Another cook might have added finely chopped fennel, marinated artichokes, green peppers, jicama....and so on.  

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the 'Hood

It isn't quite the last rose of summer (above), but there are moments, despite the heat, that I want to run to each flower and smell each one up close while I can.  I bravely planted some new things last week near the perennial hibiscus in my corner garden.  I'll show you when they bloom.  (Please bloom.)

What else I'm cooking: 

       I'm considering some new recipes for those who are in the healing process or need softer meals:
A lovely butternut (and other) squash soup with thyme for garnish.

 A healthier, chock-full of stuff zucchini bread is in the works and you'll read about it here first.

Whole wheat zucchini bread with dried cherries, raisins, nuts and bits of dark chocolate for your heart.
 About the house:

And will it look like this again?  Guess so.
  I am finally getting my house to make sense nearly three months after the moving truck arrived.  While the kitchen, bedrooms and dining room quickly fell into place (though bedding and tablecloths still seem to be in short supply), the living room defied taming.  A small, but pleasant light teal room that has a 3-season porch attached and boasts a bright, clean piano window (Thanks to my friend, Chris Brown:), it just made me shake my head (read that want to puke) whenever I took the time to look at it.  Now my living room, unlike some, is in constant use.  I often work at home and am at the piano or on the couch (with the good lamp) reading and studying.  I run between the pots in the kitchen to the hymnal on the stand to the computer to write and I need that room to not only be comfortable, but to be feng shuied mighty fine.  I nurse a glass of wine in there while enjoying the  Sunday New York Times sometimes in the evening.   (I never get it done on Sundays.)  I sit and read while Dave naps with his head on my lap.  The dogs have their favorite spot on the wool rug.  To say nothing of sharing a cup of coffee with a friend.   But the room had its own ideas about itself and it wanted to be tilted in the direction of what appeared to be a huge (it is) piano and a squeezed in sofa with two chairs nearly on top of one another in the corner with a beautiful table that cried, "Get rid of me.  I'm too crowded."  It made my lip curl like Elvis and my brow crease like Bruce Willis when he's in a real tight place.  I said nasty stuff about my furniture.  Talked about paying designers.  Wrote friends who WERE designers. Hemmed and hawed.  (What is hemmed and hawed?)
They aren't concerned about what color the walls are; they just want to be together.  Rightly so.  Love dogs!
 Our physical selves often mimic our emotional or spiritual circumstances and, in this case, it was exactly so.  (Thanks to old friend Rev. Virginia Memmott for knowing that.)  As long as I hithered and thithered and dithered about the move, living in Minnesota , the hot summer, our Colorado house, the need for a job, etc, I couldn't settle down enough to "see" how things had to be.

Living room the day the truck arrived
 One day last week, after receiving word of my new choir director job at Prospect Park United Methodist (Come sing!), I just walked in there, started moving stuff, called Dave down to pound nails in the walls for artwork, and found a way for that room to be arranged that not only made sense, but was downright charming.  After a day or so, I also saw that the light had changed.  The walls were more awake and you could read more easily as the sun was now in its late August position.   No more cave feeling.  And I like it.  And so there, room.  And, while it's still hot outdoors, my eyes fall upon space that is welcoming, comfortable, and full of the things I love.  I didn't have to go buy all new furniture or consign the art; I just had to give myself time to breathe and want the space to work.  Thanks, God.

A bit more welcoming, huh?

 Below:  Late hostas blooming on the east side of the house.  In other places, leaves are falling and the acorns crunch underfoot.  The acorns are even falling on the patio table that sits below a maple tree.  Now there IS an oak tree in the yard next door.  And somehow the acorns are moving from the oak to the maple and falling on us during dinner. 

Sing a new song,