January 31, 2011

I'm Up! Lemon-Poppy Seed Pancakes

Lemon-Poppy Seed Pancakes

Unfettered from the constructs of the work week, weekend breakfast is one time when time doesn't matter.

Long and leisurely, usually with something good to read, a crossword puzzle to work, or the soft-voiced retelling of the previous night's dreams, the habit of a weekend breakfast can provide something nice to look forward to the whole week through.

Mornings when you've woken not by the alarm but on your own volition are especially conducive to a breakfast treat. A friendly poppy-seeded pancake, tangy with buttermilk and the cheer of lemon makes the whole experience more agreeable. Earthy, crunchy poppy seeds and the congenial wake-up call of citrus in a robe of fluffy cake made toasty with butter, dolloped with lemon curd, served with a steamy mug of black coffee... Weekend, here I come!

I'm Up! Lemon-Poppy Seed Pancakes
a Sticks Forks Fingers Original

Dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons poppy seeds

Whisk all above ingredients in a large mixing bowl to combine.

Wet ingredients:
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
juice of one lemon
one extra large egg (I used 2 very small county ones here)
2 tablespoons mild olive oil

Whisk together wet ingredients in small bowl. Quickly fold them into the dry ingredients and stir just until dry ingredients are barely moistened.

Heat cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Melt one or two tablespoons butter in pan, and drop in 1/4 cup measures of batter. Cook until bubbles form and begin to break on top and the edges are just beginning to loose their shine. Flip, and cook until bottom is nicely browned, adding more butter as necessary.

Makes about ten 4" pancakes. Top with powdered sugar and lemon curd. (Trader Joe's makes a nice one that I always keep in the pantry for such occasions, in case you don't happen to have any freshly made.)

January 20, 2011

Miller's Wife Trout

We'd been talking about it long enough. Ever since reading the charming account of Julia Child's first meal in France, Sole a la Meuniere, and then seeing it so darlingly reinacted by Meryl Streep, My Baby and I have wished for this dish, too. For some erroneous reason, I'd assumed that its preparation would be intimidating and difficult, to be mastered only by a toque blanched French chef, tableside. How very, very silly of me! This turned out to be one of the most delicious home meals I can ever remember. That it was quick and easy just adds to its delight.

My Baby took some decisive action the other day. He purchased a whole, beautiful Idaho trout and issued the proclamation that it would become trout a la meuniere. After flipping through a few cookbooks for some guidance, we learned that it is quite simple and upon eating it learned that the rewards are quite generous. Here we will walk you through the steps, which are not so much a recipe as a process.

First, start with impeccable ingredients. Sole or trout fillets, the freshest you can find. As for the butter, we used some from our local creamery, but a European butter would not be lost in this application. A plateful of all-purpose flour, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. (A la Meuneire translates to "of the miller's wife", cleverly suggesting that she might dust everything she cooks in flour.) Fresh flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped. And, a lemon. That's it. Each ingredient shines though clearly in its simplicity in this dish, including the salt. Use the best you can find.

Of all dishes, this is one to call upon all your mis en place skills:
  • Fillet your fish, if purchased whole. Pat it quite dry. Salt and pepper fillets lightly.
  • Quarter a stick of butter lengthwise into batons. (You may or may not use all the butter, depending on the size of your skillet, the number of fillets you'll be cooking, and how much butter sauce you desire to pour over the cooked fillets, but have it ready to make those decisions by instinct as you go along.)
  • Spread flour on a large dinner plate and lightly season with salt and pepper. You'll know how much
  • Chop your parsley, and have it handy.
  • Wedge your lemon.
  • Warmed serving plates are nice here.
  • Have the other components of your meal nearly done before beginning to cook the trout. This is also a time when two chefs in the kitchen are better than one... One can focus on the fish, the other on the accompaniments. (My Baby took the fish duty, and it was fascinating to watch.)
Heat a heavy skillet (we used our large cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is heated, be prepared to move with focus and speed.

Drop in one or two of the butter batons, just enough to cover the bottom of your skillet about 1/8" deep. As it is melting but not yet beginning to brown, dash your fillets over the flour on the plate and shake off any excess.

Once the butter is bubbling nicely, place the fillets in the pan, skin-side down. Saute one or two minutes. Turn with a wide spatula and saute for another one or two minutes, until the fish feels springy when lightly pressed. Top and bottom should be lightly browned and ever so slightly crisp. Remove to your warm plates, and sprinkle the fillets generously with parsley.

Wipe out your skillet with paper towels and place it over high heat. Add as much of the remaining butter as you are in the mood for (I say go for it!), and once it is bubbling hot, pour it over the fish. The parsley will sizzle and become very fragrant. Serve with dispatch, with lemon wedges nuzzled in to squeeze atop. (This is not inconsequential... the acid is necessary to balance the richness of this lovely dish.)

Since our fish came a little farther than 100 miles, and I hate to admit that we broke down and purchased out-of-season far-far-away asparagus- (look how chopstick thin it was!!! A mere dash into a hot toaster oven with a whisper of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt was all that was needed for perfect, al dente spears. Do you blame us for lack of restraint?)- to assuage our larger than necessary carbon footprint guilt we definitely choose a wine from the within 100-mile radius criteria.

Pyranees Vineyard and Cellars in the Umpqua Valley AVA is a new up-and-comer. Their 2006 Chardonnay pointed nicely to the trout without vying for center stage. A marigold nose, crisp apple, light vanilla and butter on the palate, and a lilting acidity come together harmoniously but quietly in this nice bottle. We look forward to more food-pairing experimentation with Pyranees wines.

Many contented sighs were uttered during this shared dinner hour. When years of talking and wishing actualize into something as appealing as this Trout Meuniere, it makes me ask, "What took us so long?" and, "What else shall we try next?"

January 13, 2011

A Warm Country Meal for a Long Winter's Night

Spicy Oregon Lamb Tagine
In honor of the first anniversary of Sticks Forks Fingers, we are polishing and re-publishing a post from the early days; one that still clearly reflects the heart of this project. We thank each of you for your readership and encouragement this year, and for coming along on this important year of our lives. My best, Pam
Winter in Oregon is dark. Our short Pacific Northwest days are clouded over, sometimes creating weeks of not seeing the direct light of the sun. For those of us born and bred in brighter climes, this can pose a challenge to our senses of well-being. It becomes a matter of perspective whether we deem the days short or the nights long. I'm learning, after 20 Oregon winters, how to make peace with the dark.

Beautiful Gourd, made for us as a wedding gift by our dear friend Marla
  • Candles. Lots and lots of candles on the dining table to evoke warm bright light. Candlelight implies warmth and light while holding respect for the reality of winter. Candlelight seems to say, "Hang on... Good and hopeful things are happening deep within".

  • Warm company. If you've been blessed by warm relationships, you know what I'm talking about here. Relish those. If you haven't, don't give up. Imagine the life and relationships you'd like to have. Settle for nothing less. With firmly set intentions, it will happen. I promise. And learn to enjoy your own warm company in the meantime.

  • Great wine. Take the time to really notice the wine you drink. Don't rush this. If you've been blessed with warm company (see above), don't be afraid to share what you smell, taste and feel in your glass. If you are by yourself, write it down. Noticing the nuances in your wines dials you in to notice many other wonderful things about a dark day. Sharing it affirms your humanity.

  • Winter foods. Uncooked vegetables and fruits are great, but may throw your sense of well-being way off in the dark days. Read a little about Ayurvedic eating and apply the concepts to your table, such as using warming spices, root vegetables, cooked orange vegetables and dark leafy greens. A little braised meat now and then won't hurt either. (David Tanis says he'd like to launch a society for the Protection of Long-Cooked Stews, whose members would braise regularly!) Start your meal early and end it late, savoring each bite and sip and word and thought shared at your table. Accepting the long evening the Universe has given as its gift lightens the darkness.

Our Sunday meal honored the beauty of a long winter's night. A tagine of locally raised lamb shanks cooked with dried apricots, spicy fresh and dried ginger, garlic, cayenne, cinnamon, cumin and coriander seeds over smashed potatoes. The dish was an abstract on David Tanis' Fragrant Lamb with Prunes and Almonds from his The Heart of the Artichoke, and Dorie Greenspan's Lamb and Dried Apricot Tagine from Around My French Table, two wonderful and inspiring books. Tanis calls his tagine, "a cozy port in a stormy world." Just the way I want my winter table to be thought of as well.

A lush bottle of New Zealand Craggy Range '08 Syrah brought back from our October honeymoon was shared. Once again I was reminded of how exciting the fine New Zealand wines are... not much like those on U.S. grocery store shelves. Reminiscent of our tasting experiences there, this Syrah had an intense bouquet. It led with black plum and black currant and had spicy licorice-y notes. A sparkling acidity and the finest grained tannins made an elegant, refined, long finish.

January 12, 2011

Cheer Up, It's Not That Bad: A Journalette of Gratitude

Call it the post-holiday blues; call it the inertia of a dreary winter. Maybe it's because I really miss my kids that this melancholy has hit. Or perhaps it's that I'm still (still) surprised by and getting used to certain aspects of living the country life. Living in two places like I do, spending days away from my house, dog and man (in ascending order of importance) can bring on the occasional blahs, for sure. Or maybe it's that the February issue of Martha Stewart suggests we label our linen closets, the ones that have ample space between the stacks to allow for air circulation, while I'm cramming towels sheets, blankets and tablecloths into marginally available and unlabeled space. Or maybe it's a little of all of that. Whatever the reason, I've been in a funk the last few days.

I'm one of those people who can wither away under the mere perception of a cloud of gloom. When feeling dismal I forget to eat, loose all appetite, care not if I have a meal. Preferring my usual cheerful, sunny-side-up, glass-half-full, feasting-on-life self to this current woebegone version, I decided to take serious action.

First, I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies to coax myself to eat and reignite my digestive furnace. Even the grumpiest of souls has difficulty turning her nose up at buttery, chocolatey, nutty cookies. They were intended for me, but initially I feigned that they were for the septic pump guys we had to call out to the house to unplug our system. I add this detail just in case you think I was kidding or being melodramatic about having to adapt to country living. Those of you with municipal sewer systems, now is the time to thank your lucky stars. Lucky you... you get to flush away more than your cares and worries without a second thought.

I've been making chocolate chip cookies with the recipe from The Village Baker's Wife Cookbook, circa 2003, since about then. I love this reliable recipe, and each of the others I've tried from this book. It remains one of my favorite baking books of all time.

These Chubby Darlings Out Our Front Door Don't Seem to Mind the Winter Morning
The other thing I decided to do was to make note of all the things I had to be grateful for in one day. Many years ago I became aware of the importance of gratitude to my life but occasionally, I forget. So, this day, it was time to remember once again. This is in no way an exhaustive list, or even everything I thought of in this one particular day, but a few things which I could easily capture in digital format to illustrate my gratitude, and send my gloom packing.

Murray the Amazing Wonderdog Getting His Morning Hug
My best dog pal has given me a lifetime of joy in his 7 years. I picked him up at the kennel as an itty bitty roly poly puppy the same day I dropped my daughter off at college. No empty nest for me, no sirree! It's been a tough, wondrous, exciting, and fabulous seven years and he's been a faithful friend through it all. He has all kinds of amazing tricks up his sleeve... Murray can wave hello; shake hands; "hit the deck"; sit very, very still with cookies on his paws until given the OK; participate in a shoot-out, complete with a pretend death (if a huge brown eye staring up at you counts as dead); roll over; find a plethora of toys by specific name; find the monsters hiding in the air vents; and retrieve the socks that he stole from you earlier, posing as a hero and gentleman rather than the wet-nosed thief he is.
This is not just another crummy photo, but one of Murray doing what he does best: Wagging. His entire happy self gets into the game, not just the usual wagging parts.

And not to bore you with the subject, but this is the arrangement I've made with Murray: I cook, he keeps my feet warm. I realize that this fact may keep some of you from dining at our place. I'm so sorry about this, both that you will miss out on a terrific meal, and also that you will miss out on meeting terrific Murray.

Our Little Country Kitchen/Photo Studio

There's about a million things depicted here that I'm grateful for:
  • There's a man in the kitchen doing dishes. Yeah. Not that uncommon in this house, and part of "country living" that I can get used to!
  • About two minutes after this photo was taken, that lumpy sack of recycling made its way out, thanks again to aforementioned man.
  • Big white umbrellas in my kitchen?? No. That's a most thoughtful birthday gift, also from aforementioned man, in support of my passions and efforts.
  • See the framed photos on the wall in the background? Daily reminders of our children and moms and dads and grandbabies who give me joy, shape my life, and whom I adore. We call this our "wall of fame." You are important if you are on it, at least to me.
  • See that refrigerator? It's abundantly full, a luxury many of us don't have. I'll say no more.
I happened to snap this photo as we were finishing dinner. It is a joy to share a day, a meal, a laugh and a tear with someone who takes me as I am, grumpy or elated, and delights in it all. I'm grateful for our wedding rings, still fairly new, which remind me that we've said yes to one another forever, that we're on the same team, dedicated to working things out such as a geographically challenged marriage, plugged septic systems, country living, and the gloom of winter. Together.

January 9, 2011

Do French Women Wear Bras?

Fruits de Mer en Papillote with Celery Root Puree

It's a group of people serious about fun who have a dinner party in mid-November for the purpose of planning their dinner party for New Years Eve.

The givens:
  • A swanky dinner at Doug and Mary's, with each of the three couples providing a course with matching wines or cocktails. This year we'd be joined by Mary's brother, David, from Montana and Doug's sister, Karen from Portland who would create a dessert.
  • After the first course, we'd go to the opera. This year it was La Boheme. We'd return to Doug and Mary's for a fashionably late main course, and would arrive at the dessert course sometime after ringing in the new year.

Ingredients Assembled

At our November planning party, bon vivant Mary, with a deep background in French literature, suggested that we allow the Paris-set opera, La Boheme, to set our theme. Larry, who has a reputation for providing fantastic Pinot Noirs which I secretly hoped he'd continue for New Year's Eve, offered up his French onion soup as a starter. My Baby suggested that we take the main course, which would require further research. Mary agreed to fill in the blanks with hors d'oeuvres and side dishes as necessary.

Heart-shaped Parchment

Hold on, s'il vous plait... I'll get to the part about the brassiere in a minute.

My Baby and I thought about our offering for the next six weeks. We probed cookbooks and the internet for the just-right final feast of the holiday season contribution. Our criteria:
  • We'd be returning from the opera at 11 p.m., far too late for a heavy meal. Keeping it light would be important.
  • At that late hour, we didn't want to keep people waiting for a meal. The majority of preparation would need to be complete before we left home for the evening. Much to the sadness of My Baby, this eliminated the possibility of creating elaborate, last-minute sauces.
We decided upon:
Fruits de Mer en Papillote et Celeriac Purée
Seafood in Parchment with Celery Root Puree

4 oz. per serving impeccably fresh white fish (we've used both sea bass and halibut with excellent results)
3 10/20 prawns per serving, peeled and deveined
3 medium sea scallops per serving
about 1/3 medium fennel bulb per serving, sliced paper-thin
about 1/2 large shallot per serving, sliced paper-thin
about one carrot per serving, cut into thin matchsticks
3 slices lemon per serving, sliced paper-thin
1 Tablespoon butter per serving
light drizzle extra virgin olive oil per serving
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

one 12" x 24" length parchment per serving, folded in half and trimmed into a rough heart-ish shape
(The shape is important for the folding that will happen later.)

Preheat oven to 425˚. Near the fold and at the center of the parchment layer the fennel, white fish, shallot, carrot, prawns, scallops and lemon. (If you have a mandolin or slicer, now is the time to use it for this ultra-thin slicing.) Drop in the butter, drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Turn the half-heart shaped packet upside down so that you can begin folding at the top, puffy part of the heart. Fold down the corner, press with your finger, and seal the fold with the back of your thumbnail. Continue in this fashion until the entire side is folded and well sealed, turning the point on the bottom under twice to seal well.

Place sealed packets on large baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes. Steam will cause the packets to puff in the oven, but they quickly deflate when removed. Place each packet on serving plate. Have each guest slit open their own packet at the table, dramatically releasing the aromatic scent. Serve with whipped celery root/potato puree, whipped potatoes or rice to absorb the delicious liquor that forms in the packet.

Ready to Fold and Seal in the Goodness

Now, the bra.

The week before Christmas when I should have been focused on other things, Mary and I haunted some local vintage clothing shops for turn-of-the-century French-themed clothing to wear for our New Year's Eve night at the opera. We laughed so much trying on hats (Mary looked smashing in a couple of fabulous turbans, and I was, and remain, distracted by a very groovy burnt orange number reminiscent of the London/Twiggy/1966, chin strap and all, that I simply must work in somewhere) and clothing. A tres chic fitted black tafetta bias-cut floor length dress with a sweeping skirt kept catching my attention. I asked the shopkeeper if it would pass, appropriately accessorized, as of the era. Her reply was, "All I know is that if you can wear that dress, you should." All I needed... A challenge.

Fold, Pinch and Press

I wiggled and squirmed in the dressing room to get the thing on, and emerged wearing the dress with a glove-like fit. Cut down to here. And here, and here and here. The front, back and both sides left little to the imagination, and little room for an appropriate ladies foundational undergarment.

Now would be a good time for you to read down a couple of posts. You'll see my age. I have three grown children who were kept alive via mama au natural for each of the first years of their lives. I am BIG fan of ladies foundational undergarments.

Christmas and all its excitement came and went without another thought given to how I'd solve my lift-and-support dilemma. And while I may be able to get eggs, vegetables, wine and coffee in my middle-of-nowhere 'hood, stick-on bras are a little harder to come by.

The day before I was to don The Dress, we were expecting company for dinner. Rather than accompany My Baby running errands in town, thereby capturing a department store adhesive bra, I stayed home to prepare. After quite literally proving to him that his suggestion of using our new silicone egg-poaching cups wouldn't work (give him points for outside the box thinking) he suggested that I call the department store, make the correct arrangements, and that he would pick up the necessary item.

A few hours later, My Sweet Baby returned with a demure pink box. "How much was it?" I asked.

He replied, deadpan, "Nine dollars a titty."

The afternoon of December 31 we spent peeling and deveining shrimp, rinsing sea scallops, slivering fennel, carrots, shallots and lemon, portioning sea bass; folding and sealing the whole of it into beautiful individual parchment packets. Two enormous rough celery root balls were peeled, along with 5 russet potatoes, and boiled and smoothed with butter and cream. We were having fun, but the clock was ticking on our intended departure time, and I wasn't yet dressed.

With only seconds before we would be officially late, I peeled off the self-stick tabs on the bandless, strapless, nothing-of -a-bra cups and affixed them in their relevant locations, threw the dress over my head and shimmied it into place.

Sproing. Sproing. The adhesive refused to adhere. No matter how I tried, the bra just wouldn't work. There is nothing attractive about a 50-year-old woman having a melt-down similar to the ones she had when she was a enfant terrible and her socks didn't fit properly inside her shoes when her parents were in a hurry for work, I'm sure. But there's nothing femme fatale-esque, in my opinion, about a 50-year-old woman bra-less in public either, something I didn't do even when I was 18. What would a French woman do in the face of such a quelle horreur?

As I was flipping out My Dear Sweet Baby tried to console and assured me I looked terrific. I couldn't tell if he was jiving me to get us out the door, or if he thought I was a vision of beauty. Maybe a bit of both.

How does this story end? Mary's paté and both Blanc and Rouge Lillet, among other things, were mouthwatering. Doug's warm hospitality was cheering. Larry's French onion soup was the best I've ever had, with onions melting on our tongues. (He did fulfill my secret Pinot pining and has achieved rock star status with me, both in his fantastic pairing abilities, but also in his generosity to share rare and beautiful wines.) Liz's irreverent hilarity warms me to my toes. David was charming and a delight to meet, as was Karen in her stunning peacock-feathered skirt. The opera was replete with outstanding sets, elaborate costumes, pristine performances and an appropriately tragic ending. Our seafood in paper elicited the hoped-for contented utterances. Karen's tall, buttery, pear and cardamom tart was the perfect meal-finisher.

But it wasn't until the gentleman taking tickets at the opera suggested that my dashingly tuxedoed Baby and I might just be the best dressed of the night that I actually relaxed, forgot about my dress, and found my joie de vivre.

But he could have been jiving me too.

Delicious to the Last Bite

January 2, 2011

Cure-All Garlic Soup

A Big Bowlful of Dorie's Cure-All Garlic Soup

A bevy of interesting new cookbooks came my way as special Christmas gifts. Alice Waters; New York Times; Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc along with his sumptuous Bouchon, which can be described as food porn at its best. As my gift-giving sister-in-law described it, "There's a recipe for quiche that takes two days!" All of these wish-list books are inspiring, but the one that has grabbed my imagination first is Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table.

My Baby and I spent our first married Christmas in San Francisco at the home of his sister, enjoying the company of his three siblings and their mates (some from Belgium, from which one cookbook came as you can see, and some from Virginia), a young niece who had come from her school in India, and his mother (who had also made her way from Virginia.) On our long day's drive home I felt a sore throat and head cold come on. As I was thumbing through Dorie's book, I noted a recipe that she calls Côte de Azur Cure-All Soup. Bingo.

I love breaking in a new hard-back cookbook!

Last year, I'd used a similar recipe several times from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks blog. I'd served the soup in demitasse cups as a warming appetizer for guests, and in bowls as our meal another time. The soup bore a rustic yet elegant grace that I love which comes from minimally intervening with simple, whole foods. It struck me as a soup that would be perfect to make whenever someone wasn't feeling well... It just has the feel of having healing properties, and I'm happy to pass it on before the full thrust of cold and flu season hits. The ingredient list was for the most part (whole eggs vs. egg yolks alone) the same as Dorie's recipe, but the ratios and technique (no olive oil mixed with the yolks in Dorie's version) are subtly different. I couldn't wait to make Dorie's interpretation the next day.
A Few Simple Ingredients
This soup is easy as anything you've ever made, uses only a few ingredients which most of us have around, and is ready to eat in less than 45 minutes. Layed out for you here is the stripped-down version of the recipe, but do seek out her book. She includes beautiful photos, great history and modern French form.

Côte d'Azur Cure-All Soup
1 large head garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced
(Dorie "takes garlic down a notch" in all of her recipes by cutting the clove in half vertically and removing the green germ, which I find unnecessary.)

We are lucky enough to use garlic grown locally by our friends, Chip and Toni.

This is my favorite tool for slicing quantities of garlic paper-thin. I found it in my local produce department years ago for under five dollars. In this recipe, the thinner the garlic the better, as far as I'm concerned, as more surface area is exposed to release flavor as well as for a light, elegant finished texture to the soup. The broth is delightfully tasty, but each spoonful contains just tender whispers of garlic slices. Very nice.

6 fresh sage leaves, 2 large thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves tied together in a bouquet garni with kitchen twine.
Toss the sliced garlic, bouquet garni, one quart of good chicken stock and 2 cups water into a 4-quart soup pot. Add one teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk 3 (and up to 6) egg yolks with 3 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese (one cup.) When I'd made the soup before, I used the maximum quantity of eggs, but loved the light, refined texture that only three provided this time.

After the broth and garlic mixture has simmered for 30 minutes, remove the bouquet garni. Whisk a couple of ladlefuls of broth into the egg/cheese mixture until smooth, then slowly pour the egg mixture into the pot with the broth. Remove the pot from the heat, whisking for another minute. The eggs will ever so slightly thicken the broth. Gentle residual heat is all that is needed at this time to keep the eggs from curdling.

Drizzle the soup with some fruity olive oil before serving.

The Cure-All name of this recipe isn't an exaggeration. A couple bowlsful of this soup and I was as good as new.

Oh, there is so much fun to be had with these books that I can hardly wait. I'll be sure to share when we come across special hits. And, many thanks to my new family-by-marriage for creating such a memorable holiday and birthday this year.

Quick Linker