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Kashmiri koftas

If you were going to parse the series of menus in my blog, I really have to wonder what you would think as you were reading – something like: there’s this lady who has a blog and all she does is write about Indian food and sausages – weird!  All I can say in my defense is that my mom is English and the English have a thing about curries and bangers, although not usually on the same menu.

Kashmiri koftas are kind of like a curried banger – or at least a curried sausage and that is what I made for dinner tonight. Lamb, ginger and other Indian spices are browned then braised with yogurt, cardamom, cinnamon and bay. As I was cooking, I lifted the lid over the simmering pan and just closed my eyes and inhaled. The word that came to mind was “heady”. Heady with subcontinental spices. I was transported. And after a week of school auctions, procurements, meetings and the like (I won’t bore you with the details), that is just what I needed – to be somewhere else. Preferably somewhere sub-tropically hot, where the food is really, really good.  Cooking another culture is my escape – a cheap trip out of here.

Most of today’s menu came from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery and if you don’t have this book already, I have to recommend you run out and get yourself the updated version, Indian Cooking, and cook your way through. One year I gave Indian Cookery to every member of my family (I guess I can be a bit of a zealot). I think my brother Jonny uses it occasionally. But it pays to be fearless if you have to cook all the time.

You see, when I make dinner from Indian Cookery, I am never bored. I never feel as if I am stuck in a terrible complacent rut where the kids dictate our every bite. So many parents cower before their children, who act like little dictators, falling apart if the food isn’t blandly familiar. I would be really sad not to eat with my kids, exposing them to all the things I love (there are so many things!), teaching them the pleasures of tasting and eating together. The kids gobbled dinner tonight – they were really talking to me and to each other about what made it taste so good. I bet we’ll arm wrestle for the leftovers tomorrow.

Yet Another Indian Menu

  • Kashmiri Kofta – Lamb Meatballs
  • Aloo Gobi – Spicy Cauliflower and Potatoes
  • Raita – Cucumber and Yogurt Salad
  • Greens with Major Grey’s Dressing

Tips

  • Please, don’t be put off by all the spices. Go to the bulk section of a reputable grocer and buy 3 tbsp of each one – labeling them carefully. (if you forgot to do that – it would be so terrible and confusing!) Even though the list of spices is long, all it takes is a little measuring. Don’t buy the glass jars – you’ll spend an arm and a leg.
  • Read over all four recipes first, then measure out the spices for all the recipes at once.  I have a bunch of odd little bowls for this purpose. Combine the measured spices, as the recipe states, into the bowls so you can add them in groups as required. The rest is incredibly easy.
  • There are ground roasted cumin seeds in both the aloo gobi and the raita – roast all the cumin seeds at the same time.  Take the seeds and put them in a heavy bottomed small pan over medium heat. Push around with a wooden spoon until fragrant. Don’t ignore them, they’ll burn in a matter of seconds.  The whole toasting process should take about 2 minutes. Grinding in a mortar and pestle – about 15 seconds. Build the roasting and grinding into the measuring process, before you start the actual recipes. Roasted cumin seeds are very easy to grind with a mortar and pestle. My nine year old did it for me. I also have a coffee grinder reserved for grinding spices.
  • Use a Microplane grater to grate the ginger.
  • Cut up the cauliflower and start it soaking before you start.
  • Steam the potatoes while the Koftas are simmering.

Kashmiri Koftas

(serves 6)

The Koftas

  • 2 lbs ground lamb
  • a piece of ginger, 1 1/2″ x 1″ – more or less – grated
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp yogurt

The Braising Liquid

  • 2 tbsp yogurt
  • 7-8 tbsp vegetable oil
  • a 2″ stick of cinnamon
  • 5-6 whole cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 8 oz warm water
  1. Combine all the ingredients for the koftas in a medium sized bowl, and mix well using your hands.
  2. Wet your hands with water and form 24 koftas, in sausage shapes,about 2 1/2-3″ long and 1″ thick.
  3. Heat the vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium high heat.  When hot, put in the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, bay leaves and whole cloves. Stir to coat with oil.
  4. Add all the koftas in a single layer to the pan and fry until they are lightly browned on all sides – about 2 minutes a side.
  5. While they are browning, stir the yogurt into the warm water. Pour over the koftas and bring to a simmer. The liquid will look very watery – that is intentional.
  6. Simmer for 1/2 an hour, turning the koftas every 10 minutes. At the end of 1/2 an hour, the liquid should have boiled away, leaving only the vegetable oil. If you need to, turn up the heat to reduce the liquid.
  7. With a slotted spoon, lift the koftas out of the pan to a platter or plates.  Leave behind any leftover liquid and spices.

Aloo Gobi – Cauliflower and Potatoes

(serves 4-6)

Aloo gobi is one of my all time favorite foods and so I have to put it in my blog. I can’t apologize for all the ways that cumin appears: whole, ground and roasted and ground. I know it seems like a lot of work especially if you’ve never roasted and ground spices before. Just try it. Trust me.  Do once or twice and you’ll see how easy it is.

  • 1/2 lb small potatoes – like fingerlings or use leftover cooked and peeled russet potatoes
  • 1 medium head of cauliflower, broken into 1″ – 1 1/2″ florets
  • 5 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds

Combine in a small bowl:

  • 1 tsp ground cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 -1 fresh jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  1. Steam the potatoes if you have fingerlings. Cut small potatoes in half or cube leftover potatoes into 3/4″ cubes. You needn’t peel fingerlings – their skins are so thin.
  2. Soak cauliflower in a bowl of cold water for 1/2 an hour. Drain.
  3. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. When hot, add the whole cumin seeds and let sizzle for a few seconds.
  4. Add the cauliflower and stir for 2 minutes.  Let the cauliflower get little brown caramelized spots on it.
  5. Cover and simmer for 4-6 minutes or until the cauliflower is almost done – with the merest crispness left in it.
  6. Add all the ingredients in the bowl and the potatoes to the skillet and stir gently and thoroughly for 3 or 4 minutes until potatoes are warmed through.

Raita – Cucumber and Yogurt Salad

  • 2 1/2 cups of  full fat yogurt
  • 1/2 an English cucumber, peeled and then grated on the large holes of a box grater, any juices discarded
  • 1/2 tsp ground, roasted cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate covered, until ready to eat.

Major Grey’s Dressing

This is so NOT an authentic recipe.  I found it in the back of Gourmet in 1994. Perhaps you will find it too sweet.  I love it on butter lettuce with cucumbers and avocados.

  • 1/4 cup Major Grey’s chutney
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

In a blender mix the first 5 ingredients.  Slowly, in a thin steady stream, add the vegetable oil.


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A “perfect” dinner…

There’s this lady food writer who kind of bugs me.  She’s very lovely (a former Wilhelmina model), she writes about healthy food alternatives (admirable), and she tries to keep things simple for busy families (good idea!). So I feel like kind of a worm for not liking her.

Maybe it’s the photos – she always stares calmly, smilingly at the camera, posed artlessly in front of a roaring fire, apple (healthy!) in hand.  She’s coiffed, but not excessively. She is slim but not scary-slim. Her menus are so virtuously planned – whole grains, leafy greens, colorful vegetables and a modicum of healthy fats in the form of olive oil, almonds or walnuts.  Why do I always roll my eyes?! Probably because in my kitchen, there is always an undercurrent of turmoil, I am always at least slightly disheveled and I have such an affinity for butter.

Anyway, given my feelings about this person, I’m not sure how I ended up trying this menu she authored – but I did.  The thing is, it was great. Sigh…Coriander roast pork tenderloin, spicy roast vegetables and brown rice with walnuts and golden raisins. Really easy and really great.  Now I really feel like a worm.  (Will I now actually try the Healthy Blueberry Muffins?! Where will this lead?)

I did make a couple of changes to the recipes though, to streamline them and also to accommodate the ingredients I had in my house. In my version there is no crushing of seeds and no seasoning of oils. It doesn’t add enough in terms of flavor and all that crushing and infusing makes for too much clean-up. I tossed the spices directly into the food. In addition, I will write it all up here in a game plan to accommodate your busy household.

Coriander Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Roast Vegetables and Brown Rice Pilaf

Game Plan:

15 minutes prep, 35 minutes cooking time

  1. Set the oven to 450 F and place a large rimmed sheet pan in the upper middle rung of the oven.  Set the other rack to the lower middle rung of the oven.
  2. Chop all the vegetables including  the onion and parsley for the pilaf.  This should take about 10 minutes.
  3. Start the rice, cooking the onion, adding rice and water and setting the heat to low.
  4. Mix up all the spices for the vegetables in a small bowl.
  5. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and the spices and put on the sheet pan in the oven.
  6. Rub the pork with the mustard and spices ; brown in saute pan and put in the oven.  This should take 10 minutes.
  7. Toast the walnuts.

Spicy Roasted Vegetables

  • 3-4 large carrots, quartered and cut into 1″ pieces, on diagonal
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 8 or more wedges, leaving root end intact to hold the layer together
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 large head fennel, but into 8-10 wedges, root end intact to hold layers together
  • 1/2 a small butternut squash, cut into 1″ chunks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Place vegetables in large mixing bowl and toss with olive oil.
  2. Mix spices with 1 tsp salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Sprinkle over vegetables.
  3. Place vegetables on hot sheet pan in the oven for 35 minutes.
  4. Toss with more kosher salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

Brown Rice with Walnuts and Golden Raisins

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 small onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 c. brown basmati rice
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts – toast in a heavy skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes.  They’ll smell fragrant when they’re done.  Pay close attention while toasting so they don’t burn.
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan with a lid over medium high heat.
  2. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the rice, stirring to coat with the oil.
  4. Add 1 1/4 c water and 1/2 tsp salt.  Bring to boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, maintaining a low simmer.  You want to be careful.  The water should simmer; too much and you will have dried-out hard grains of rice, too little and you’ll get a soggy mess.
  5. Cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 35 minutes.
  6. Let sit for 5 minutes off the heat and then remove lid and fluff with a fork.
  7. Stir in walnuts, raisins and parsley.

Coriander-Cumin Crusted Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 lb- 1 1/4 lb pork tenderloin
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Spread the mustard over the pork tenderloin.
  2. Mix the cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and rub onto the mustard coated pork.
  3. Heat the oil in a 12 inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Brown the pork, turning it with tongs, until nicely browned – about 3 minutes per side.
  4. Put the sauté pan with the pork in the oven and roast until an instant read thermometer registers 155 F – 18-20 minutes.  Rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

I am happy to say that we all liked this dinner very much – really!  If you have family members who are sensitive to spicy foods you may want to reduce the cayenne – but honestly, it is just pleasantly warm – not searingly hot – my 2 year old loved the roasted fennel particularly.  The edges of the vegetables will be caramelized.  The raisins and walnuts add sweetness and richness to the rice.  This is fine mid-week fare on a not-crazy afternoon.  It’s actually very good – although I hate to admit it.

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Macaroni and Cheese

I was going to make Welsh Rarebit today. This morning, during a remarkably peaceful breakfast with the three monkeys, I decided to hash out the dinner menus with them so they would know what was coming over the next two days until Martin gets back. I got huge push back on the Welsh Rarebit. Since it’s fencing practice tonight, and we’ll get back late, I decided that this “weird” version of toasted cheese (Welsh Rarebit has beer in it – it’s still the most innocuous dish) might push the carefully orchestrated balance of the household into bedlam. So I am scrapping the Welsh Rarebit idea.

Mac and Cheese. Doesn’t everyone already know how to make this?  Or at least where to look if they want to try?  I’m not sure.  So many people rely on the bunny version. The real thing is what we have around here. When I first started cooking for my kids, this was a once a week habit. Now it’s been a long time since Mac and Cheese was my back pocket dish. With Martin out of town though, familiar dishes are another way of keeping the volume down.

I also make Mac and Cheese when my brother and his family come to visit. My feeling is that visiting children who have taken long plane rides need and appreciate familiar foods. So when my brother rolls his eyes and says”  Mac and Cheese?! Isn’t there like a pound of cheese in that and a 1/4 pound of butter?!”  I just shrug and know that he’s happy that his boys are happily scarfing down plates of gooey pasta and will toddle off to bed without much of a peep. Matt, the mac and cheese is my gift to you!

I serve mac and cheese with hot buttered peas. I will not make excuses for all this butter.

Mac and Cheese

20 minutes of efficient work, 30 minutes in the oven

People get all nervous about white sauce, or bechamel. They are afraid it will be pasty and gloppy or that it will scorch badly and that the pan will be impossible to clean. It’s all about regulating the heat. A heavy bottomed pot does make a huge difference. That being said, before I got married, I made this for years in a old Revere-ware pot with a wobbly handle (that I inherited from my great-aunt) with great success. You just have to watch the heat and keep on stirring so it doesn’t scorch on you.

I love to make bechamel actually. The way the sauce goes from soupy-milky  to velvety-spoon coating in a matter of minutes makes me feel like a scientist. If you’ve never made it before, watching the transformation is very satisfying.


  • 4 tbsp butter + 1 tbsp butter, separated
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 2 1/2 c milk, can even be 1% lowfat
  • 1/4 tsp dry English mustard
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper – gives the dish a just perceptible heat
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 4 ounces grated sharp cheddar – aged no more than 2 years
  • 4 ounces grated Monterey jack
  • 1 end of a loaf of sandwich bread, made into bread crumbs in a clean coffee grinder – or 3/4-1  cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 lb pasta, elbows are traditional but we like shells, farfalle, and penne
  1. Start a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  3. Add salt to the water and cook the pasta according to the time on the box. Drain.
  4. Mix the flour, dry mustard and cayenne in a small bowl.
  5. Over medium heat, melt the 4 tbsp butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Don’t brown the butter, just melt it.  When the butter is melted, add the flour, mustard, cayenne mixture and whisk for about a minute. Timing and temperature are key. If the heat is too low or if you don’t cook it long enough, that’s when you get a pasty, institutional tasting sauce. If the heat is too high, the sauce will scorch. If either of those things happen, you’ll wish you’d left dinner to the bunny mac people. The first few times, just pay attention. This really is the easiest thing. On my stove, and all stoves are different, the heat needs to be just slightly warmer than medium.
  6. Add the milk slowly, whisking all the while. I am right handed and I pour the milk with my left hand, while whisking confidently with my right. Initially this was like patting my head and rubbing my stomach – I’ve come a long way since then. Probably you are more coordinated than I am. Anyway, the milk and flour mixture will seize up at first and look uncompromisingly lumpy. Just keep on whisking – confidently. Get all the lumps.  Lumpy white sauce is another thing people fear – with good reason. You follow the directions and you won’t have to worry about lumps.
  7. Once all the milk has been added and all of the lumps whisked away, you might think that the sauce looks unpromisingly thin. You may wish that you had used whole milk or even cream. Fear not. This is the fun part! (I really do not get out enough – oh well)  Turn up the heat to medium high and continue to whisk. When the sauce begins to simmer around the edges, it will magically thicken – not suddenly, just consistently. You will see that the bechamel has the consistency of melted milkshake or very heavy cream. Some might say to whisk for 10 more minutes, but I say that would be overkill for this dish.
  8. Take the pan off the heat and go check your email. This will allow the sauce to cool slightly and then the cheese won’t become grainy. It’s not the end of the world if this happens, it’s just nicer if it doesn’t.
  9. Add the cheese, salt and pepper and whisk. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if necessary.
  10. Mix in the cooked pasta and pour everything into a gratin dish. Mine is ceramic, about 1 1/2″ deep. The dimensions are 7″ x 10″
  11. Melt the last tbsp butter and stir in the fresh bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the mac and cheese.
  12. At this point you could cool it then wrap the whole thing up and put it in the refrigerator until you bake it. Up to 24 hours later.
  13. Or put it in the oven for 30 minutes, until bubbling

The last time I made this I made the mistake of adding some blue cheese, the remnant of a wonderful creamy French one. It was only fun for the grown-ups though and so I will probably never do that again. The look of sheer dismay, betrayal and utter shock on my oldest child’s face cured me of messing with familiar perfection.

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Serendipity: Potatoes with Many Seeds

On Sunday I was going to try this Roast Boneless Pork Loin recipe from Fine Cooking that has you roast pork for Sunday. Then, you eat Chinese Pork and Mushroom Wraps on Monday and New Mexican Pork and Green Chile Stew on Tuesday. On Wednesday, if there was any left, I could make Cubanos – a sandwich with sliced roast pork, ham, swiss, pickles and mustard.  I put mine in the sandwich press.  All of those porky things sound very good on their own but then I thought about eating pork for 4 nights straight and all of a sudden it didn’t sound so good anymore. So I kept flipping through Fine Cooking and there in the “Dinner with Friends” section I found an Indian Spiced Chicken recipe with cilantro and limes.  The menu was designed with Friday night in mind, an afterwork affair – very straightforward and easy. I thought if I made enough chicken, I could slice the leftovers and use them in an ersatz kind of Cubano – with chicken replacing the ham. In the menu in Fine Cooking, they served the chicken with basmati rice pilaf and a spinach and yogurt saag. I had a bag of fingerlings though, that had been meant to go with the pork and another of haricot vert. The haricot vert could become Gujerati Style Green Beans from Madhur Jaffrey and the potatoes, well, I thought those might get roasted with the chicken with a bunch of Indian spices and garlic. I figured I would be able to wing it but I steamed the potatoes, just in case, so they would be ready for anything.

Menu

  • Indian Spiced Chicken with Lime and Cilantro, Fine Cooking
  • Gujerati-Style Green Beans, see Capitol Hill Indian Food post for recipe
  • Potatoes with Many Seeds – Madhur Jaffrey

Game Plan

  • 45 minutes before you want to eat: Assemble all spices.  Measure out the spices and seeds separately that you will need for the chicken, beans and potatoes.
  • Make chicken marinade.
  • 35 minutes before you want to eat: Steam potatoes and green beans.  If your pot is big enough, you might be able to fit both into one pot, separated on either side of the steamer basket, bearing in mind that the beans will come out after 5-7 minutes and the potatoes after 15-20, depending on how big they are.
  • 30 minutes before you want to eat: Start broiler
  • 25 minutes before you want to eat: Put the chicken in the oven
  • 15 minutes before you want to eat: Start potato recipe and bean recipe. Slice potatoes lengthwise. Ideally you will have 2 large non-stick skillets to cook the beans and potatoes in simultaneously.  It’s a little bit of a duelling skillets moment.  Read the recipes over carefully though; it’s very easy to do them at the same time if you are aware in advance of what you need to accomplish.

Indian spiced chicken with lime and cilantro

for 4 (with leftovers for the next days Cubanos)

Marinade:

  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • the juice from a medium lime
  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • 2 scallions
  • 1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt – plus more to taste
  • 6 small chicken breast, skin-on, bone-in, trimmed of excess fat and skin.
  • lime wedges
  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Combine first 10 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth.
  3. Put the puree and the chicken into a large bowl and toss to coat all sides.  Set aside while broiler is heating or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
  4. Position oven rack 8 inches from broiler and heat broiler on high. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Arrange chicken, skin side up on top. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt.
  5. Broil until chicken is brown with singed bits at the edges, about 20 minutes. If the chicken seems to be getting too dark, turn off the broiler and set the oven to 450F. Test with instant read thermometer or by cutting into chicken after 20 minutes. The chicken should be 165F when it is done; the juices clear. You may need 5-15 minutes more, depending on the size of the breasts. If it is done before or after the potatoes or the beans, no harm done. Any of these recipes could be served less than piping hot.
  6. Arrange chicken on plates or platter, garnish with cilantro. Serve with a squirt of lime juice.

Potatoes with Many Seeds

If you like making Indian food, it will be worth your while to keep black mustard seeds and cumin seeds in the house. There will be endless uses for them. I came to this recipe at the last minute last night, because I realized I wouldn’t be able to do both the potatoes and the chicken at the same time. I know it’s weird, but I was glad my oven was small and that I only have one. (I dream of having double wall ovens) But if I’d had two ovens, I would never have discovered this amazing recipe! There I was, about to toss the potatoes in the oven and I thought about it; it would never do. The rimmed sheet pan with the chicken was too large. The potatoes wouldn’t brown properly. The timing on the chicken could be compromised! Quickly I flipped through Madhur Jaffrey and came upon a recipe she calls Potatoes with Sesame Seeds. If I hadn’t been desperate – I never would have looked twice at that recipe. It sounds too boring. But I had steamed potatoes already and I knew I had sesame seeds. Again, lucky me. I also had the cumin and black mustard seeds. I am so happy I tried this recipe! These potatoes are encrusted with crunchy, salty, seeds, their warm, toasted scent permeating the whole house.  They’re beautiful, very more-ish and so unusual.  The sesame seeds are the least of their charms. We couldn’t stop eating them.  In fact, I was just now eating them cold, straight from the fridge – and I am a person who almost never eats leftovers (I know that’s weird for a cook). I highly recommend eating them this way. They were almost as satisfying right out of the refrigerator as they were hot.  I had to change the name. Potatoes with Many Seeds – not very inspired perhaps, but hopefully somewhat intriguing.

  • 2 lbs fingerling potatoes, steamed and sliced lengthwise
  • 4 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/8-1/2 tsp chile flakes
  • 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
  1. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  2. Put the potatoes and the seeds right next to the pan, ready to go.
  3. Add the oil and when it is very hot, add the seeds. They will pop almost immediately and start to jump right out of the pan like crazy. Rather messy but so worth it.
  4. Quickly add the potatoes and fry for 5 minutes – they will start to become golden and crisp.
  5. Add the red pepper flakes and salt and fry for another 5 minutes until browned on the outside.
  6. Sprinkle with lemon or lime juice and serve.

We liked this menu so much. The chicken was crisp, the spices warmly fragrant and the final squirt of lime juice, piquant. Then the potatoes…the potatoes…the potatoes. Delicious.  I would serve them on a platter as an hors d’oeuvre with a champagne cocktail; although that might be kind of odd – it would certainly be satisfying.  I got the same desire for them as I get for potato chips or caramelized onions. The saltiness, the nuttiness of the seeds, the crisp crunchiness.  The green beans as always, were a hit. This menu might be a little salty if you are a person who is sensitive to salt.  But we loved it.  This one is a winner at my house.

Stay tuned for tomorrow when the leftover chicken will reappear in Cubanos with mojo…you may want to soak a pound of dried black beans in preparation.

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A big hit: Mushy Peas

Has this ever happened to you?  We went to dinner last night at the home of some people we hardly know and  I made a huge pig of myself.  They are the nicest family, inviting ALL of us five to their house for dinner. They made homemade pizza!  With unfiltered olive oil that their sister-in-law’s family presses from olives from their own groves outside of Naples! It had all the qualities I love in olive oil – green and spicy with a peppery finish.  And that’s not all.  There were caramelized onions.  I don’t know what it is about caramelized onions. Every single time I get near them it’s as if they are the last ones on earth and if I don’t eat enough, that’s it – I’ll never have them again.  Fortunately caramelized onions take 45 minutes to prepare properly so it will be awhile before I have any more.  When I make some, I’ll let you know.

So, today, having eaten 8 slices of pizza (that might be a conservative estimate) with fresh mozzarella and caramelized onions, 3 enormous helpings of salad, lemon berry cake and and espresso last night, I am going to eat with some restraint today. It might be dull; there will be no caramelized onions, that’s for sure. We will have cod cooked in some any-old way, we will have roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes and I am hoping I can come up with some sort of salad.  The kids will probably hate it and may not eat anything.  But some days are just like that.  There you have it.  I am going to figure out what to do with the cod now.

I know what I’m going to do…

Tuesday Night Cod and Peas

  • Roast Cod
  • Mushy Peas
  • Roast Cauliflower, Sweet Potatoes and Red Onions

I forgot about this menu!  It’s from Nigella Lawson before she went over the top.  I loved her book How to Eat, even with all the made-up adverbs which, in subsequent books, quickly spun out of control into some kind of crazed Nigella-ese. I haven’t made cod this way in several years.  Don’t be put off by Mushy Peas. They’re bright green, suave and garlic-y. We might have been living in San Francisco the last time I made Mushy Peas.  The kids hated them.  We’ll just have to wait and see what happens today.

Game Plan

  • preheat oven to 450 F
  • start pot of water to boil, add garlic cloves
  • prepare vegetables for roasting
  • remove garlic cloves, add salt
  • make peas
  • turn vegetables in oven
  • make cod

Roast Vegetables

  • 2 small red onions
  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. In preheated oven, place rack in center position.  Put a large rimmed baking sheet on the rack to heat up while you cut vegetables.
  2. Trim root end of onions but leave intact to hold layers together.  Cut each onion into 8 wedges.
  3. Cut sweet potato into 1″ chunks.  Cut cauliflower into 1″-1 1/2″ florets.
  4. Toss all with 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Place on hot baking sheet in a single layer (don’t make the mistake of crowding – they’ll just go soft and get no caramelization) and roast 30-35 minutes, turning vegetables once half way through the baking time.

Mushy Peas

  • 1  head of garlic
  • 1  lb bag of frozen Peas
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp crème fraîche (you can substitute whipping cream or sour cream)
  1. Put a saucepan of water on the stove, add the garlic and start the heat.
  2. When the water reaches a boil, cook garlic for 10 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon.
  3. Add peas.  When water boils again, cook for 5 more minutes.  Drain.
  4. Put peas, butter and crème fraîche into food processor and puree.

Roast Cod

  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil (no need for artisanal, peppery stuff here)
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 lbs true cod filets, cut from the thicker end of the fish
  • Salt and pepper
  • lemon wedges for serving
  1. Put a heavy duty sauté pan on medium high heat.  While you wait for it to heat up, put flour in a wide dish and add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Dredge filets in flour, shaking off excess.
  3. Add olive oil to sauté pan and sear filets on each side.
  4. Transfer pan to already heated oven for 5-7 minutes to finish.

So, there was a small flaw in my plan…I found only one sweet potato and about a quarter of a cauliflower, a half of a red onion plus another quarter of one. Whoops!  But I was resourceful and lucky – because in the vegetable drawer, I rescued a beautiful head of fennel and 5 nice carrots!  I just cut them up and added them to the mix.  A big hit!

And the mushy peas were very popular with 2 of the three kids.  The little guy ate three huge portions.  And the oldest cheerfully ate hers.  Most grown-ups will love these mushy peas.

The cod, I have to say, was as any-old way as I thought it might be.  Maybe I should have dried it off before dredging, perhaps the heat was a little low on the stove. A squirt of lemon was a big help. Also, I didn’t specify to the fish guy that I wanted the thicker ends of the filet.  Next time I might try rice flour or panko for dredging instead.  The cod really wanted to be firm, golden and moist and what it was, was bland and wet.

One way to simplify this menu would be to roast or steam some fingerling potatoes instead of all those roast vegetables.  If you were to steam the potatoes, toss them with butter at the end and salt and pepper.  That actually would be the perfect thing here, perhaps better than the roasted vegetables.  Which is not to say that they weren’t completely delicious. They were. There is nothing like the smell of roasting onions and fennel to make a house smell good. If you try nothing else, give the mushy peas a chance.  The color is intense and delightful, the garlic mellow: prepare to be surprised.

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Why is there no Indian food delivery on Capitol Hill?

I hate to start a conversation like this:  Why is there no good Indian food delivery in Capitol Hill? And I hate it even more when a conversation takes this turn because it sounds so whiny: When I lived in San Francisco there was…Indian food. Just 1 phone call plus 10 minutes away! I can’t help but long for San Francisco though, when I think of times I was deliriously tired with a 2 year old and a new born and wasn’t up to hauling out my mortar and pestle and standing in the kitchen cooking for hours. Star India was there.  Ten minutes after I called  I would have 3 or 4 paper bags with pakoras and samosas, raita, naan, chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, aloo gobi and these wickedly spicy chickpeas with ginger that my newborn (who is now 7) probably still hasn’t totally forgiven me for eating.

Fortunately, I love making Indian food myself – when I’m not wiped out from parenting.  I have this pal in San Francisco, and we used to get together and make our own garam masala and all kinds of other things that would have  friends who are actually Indian in stitches and wonder.  Why would you make that yourself?!  Well…it’s really really fun.

I have even less time now, three kids, a wiggly puppy, a mountain of  laundry, all those other meals I’m in charge of, there isn’t time to make elaborate Indian meals on a whim. And, there isn’t any delivery. Not in my neighborhood anyway. Sometimes I need an Indian food fix mid-week. Now, I’ve found a recipe which may not be authentic, but is very satisfying. What it lacks in nuance, it more than makes up for with how easy it is to throw together. Combined with a few sides that are quick (one is from my old Madhur Jaffrey book, Indian Cooking), I can have a great Indian meal on the table in 45 minutes.  It’s practically crazy Thursday worthy.

Mid-Week Indian Menu in 45 Minutes

Chicken Curry

Gujerati Style Green Beans with Black Mustard Seeds Or Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin and Coriander

Basmati Rice

Work Plan: Cauliflower Variation

The plan may seem complicated at first.  Don’t give up on this menu!  The second time around it will be a LOT easier.

  • clean and cut up cauliflower, toss with olive oil and spices
  • make the curry spice paste, slice the onion and begin to cook
  • Start the rice
  • Pop cauliflower in the oven
  • Add the yogurt to the curry and continue simmering
  • Remove foil from cauliflower
  • Add chicken to curry
  • Flip cauliflower

Chicken Curry – 20 minutes prep.  25 minutes on the stove

The recipe comes from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. Ms Kasper uses chicken thigh in her recipe and I have tried it.  Too greasy and gamey for me, and I like chicken thighs. Breast worked better; it tasted fresher. Ms. Kasper also uses a spice blend with coriander, cumin and pepper. I tried it and it was fine but I found it easier and closer to what I was looking for when I used Murchi Curry Powder from the Whole Foods line of spices. The turmeric adds the right warm notes and color.

Curry Paste

  • 1 large onion cut in half
  • 6 fat garlic cloves
  • 3″ fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1/2 tbsp excellent yellow curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1-2 jalapenos, stemmed and seeds removed if you like it less hot
  • 1/2 cup water

Chicken

  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 cups whole milk yogurt
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, in 1″ pieces
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp minced cilantro leaves
  1. In the food processor, puree one of the onion halves, garlic, ginger, curry powder, salt, cinnamon, tomatoes, jalapeno, and the 1/2 cup of water.
  2. Slice the remaining half onion thinly.  Film the bottom of a 12″ heavy bottomed sauté pan with vegetable oil  and heat it over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Add onion and sauté until lightly colored.  Add the purée and reduce the heat to medium.  Sauté for 10 minutes.  Don’t skimp.
  3. Blend 2/3 cup yogurt into the sauce and simmer again, scraping the bottom of the pan until thick – 8-10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the chicken, adding remaining yogurt and 1/3 cup water. Slowly simmer, uncovered for 8-10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Because you are using breast meat there is less margin for overcooking.  Do check carefully to see it is done and then remove to a serving bowl.
  5. Raise the heat on the sauce and boil it down until quite thick.  Pour the sauce over the chicken.  Sprinkle with cilantro.  (I had time in the morning to make this and none at night.  When the chicken was done, I cooled it as the sauce reduced.  I reheated the sauce at dinnertime adding the chicken for 3 minutes just before serving. The time in the fridge allowed the flavors to blossom.)

Roast Cauliflower

  • a two pound head of cauliflower
  • 3 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp powdered dry coriander
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 475 F
  2. Trim off leaves of cauliflower. Cut  head into 1″ – 1 1/2″ florets.
  3. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil and pour olive oil onto sheet.  Toss florets with oil directly on sheet.  sprinkle with spices and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cover cauliflower with another sheet of foil and place in oven on rack set in lowest position
  5. Cook 10 minutes and remove foil.
  6. Cook a further 8-10 minutes and then, using tongs, flip over each floret.
  7. Cook another 8-10 minutes.

Basmati Rice

This is hardly a recipe, just a method for those pressed for time. In her book Classic Indian Cooking, Julie Sahni says you have to rinse the basmati until the water is clear and then soak for 1/2 an hour before draining very carefully because the grains are so delicate from soaking. Well, I have done that and it is lovely; but honestly, who has the time on a week night?  When I am set on getting dinner on the table AND having Indian food in a short period of time, this is what I do:  I take 2 cups of water and set it on the stove on high, with a big pinch of kosher salt added when it boils. While the water is heating up, I put a cup of basmati rice in a sieve ( I have a little one) and I rinse it for a couple of minutes under running water. When the water boils, I dump the rice into the pot and stir. Then I wait until the water reaches the boil again. Quickly, I clamp the lid onto the pot and turn the heat down low. I set the timer for 18 minutes. Then I turn off the heat. I NEVER PEEK. The rice can sit like this for 20-30 minutes. It’s usually quite good this way.

Gujerati Style Green Beans

I have served these beans with so many  meals.  They’re great with grilled chicken, tandoori chicken, steak and potatoes. I have also substituted broccoli (ok – maybe that was not so great).

  • 1 lb. frozen haricot vert, defrosted under hot running water and dried
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • Freshly ground pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat.  When shimmering, put in the mustard seeds.
  2. As soon as the seeds begin to pop (you’ll hear it!) put in the garlic.  Stir the garlic until it just begins to brown.
  3. Add the chile flakes – stir a few seconds.
  4. Add the beans , salt and sugar.  Stir and turn down the heat.  Cook for 3 – 5 more minutes.
  5. Add black pepper and serve.
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Another kind of Thursday

The last time I wrote about a Thursday menu, I was crazily making lamb shanks and drinking elderflower laced champagne cocktails.  Well this is an entirely different kind of Thursday – still a crazy Thursday, but with a simpler menu.   This is a menu I could make with my eyes closed.   When my sister-in-law made this for us last spring – from a Swedish women’s magazine – I was skeptical.  Normally I wouldn’t make Middle Eastern inspired food from a Swedish recipe. I would go to Claudia Roden or something.  But this is a great, easy menu.   The recipes use ingredients you can find at any grocery store.  In the rare case that there are leftovers – they always get eaten up.  If for some reason you won’t eat lamb – just substitute ground chicken or turkey.

A Midweek Middle Eastern Inspired Menu from Sweden:

makes enough for 4 – or 2 grown-ups, 2 children and 1 toddler

  • Lamb Patties with Feta
  • Cannellini Purée with Basil and Garlic
  • Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Game Plan

  1. Mix and form the lamb patties
  2. Make the cannellini bean purée
  3. Prepare the salad, but leave the dressing until serving time
  4. Cook the lamb
  5. Dress the salad after flipping the lamb

Lamb Patties with Feta

  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp cream
  • 2 tbsp oats
  • 1/2 yellow onion, grated on the big holes in a box grater
  • 5 ounces feta, crumbled or cubed in small (1/4″) pieces
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • salt and pepper
  • mild olive oil for sauté

In a medium sized bowl, crack the egg and stir in the oats and cream.  Add the grated onion, the feta and the lamb, and salt and pepper to taste.  I would say a minimum of a 1/2  tsp of salt.  Mix well.  I use my hands because Marion Cunningham (Fannie Farmer Cookbook) told me to.  It will be painfully cold.  So I stand next to the sink and nudge on the hot water when I can’t take it anymore.  You may be less of a wimp than I.  When the ingredients are well combined, form them into 12 small patties. (about 2″ in diameter and a scant 1/2″ thick)  If you happen to be doing this in the middle of the day, it is fine to stack them on a plate (with plastic wrap separating the layers) and pop them in the fridge until ready to cook.

Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Don’t be impatient.  You want a hot pan because you want a delicious caramelized crust.  That’s what makes things taste good.  Add 1 tbsp of olive oil, watch it shimmer and lay the patties in the pan.  If you have got the heat  right, they will take 4-5 minutes per side.  Unlike rack of lamb, these are not meant to be rare.  Serve hot.

Cannellini Bean Purée with Basil and Garlic

One of the things I like about this puree is that it can be served cold and fairly stiff – like hummus.  Or it can be served warm and soft.  Its demeanor in the menu is like flavorful mashed potatoes, which is good for those trying to cut their carb intake. Cannellini prepared this way are so delicious, so incredibly easy, you won’t miss the pita bread or pilaf which would also be nice in this menu.  The menu as printed in Sweden used canned beans and that is fine – and very easy if you are serving the purée cold.  After using cans the first time, I tried cooking my own beans.  I like having the bean cooking water to thin the purée – and that the beans were still warm from cooking.  If you want the purée warm and have neither time nor energy to soak and cook beans, rinse them under the tap in a colander, and add  a little water to thin them out.  You could always heat them up on the stove or in the microwave.

  • 2 cans of Cannellini Beans or 1 cup dried cannellini, soaked and cooked, cooking water reserved
  • 3 tbsp or more olive oil – I like a green and spicy oil for this
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced, grated or through a garlic press
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil, washed, carefully dried and chopped, not too fine
  • Salt

Using a food processor, purée the beans and olive oil, adding a little bean cooking water or plain water to get the consistency you want.  Add the garlic and fresh basil by hand.  Taste for salt.  When I turn this out into a serving bowl I like to pour a little more green olive oil over the top.

Tomatoes and Cucumber Salad

This couldn’t be easier.  You could add romaine, red onions, toasted pita and sumac, to make fatoush.  But if it’s mid week, you may not have the energy.  I wouldn’t.  I might, if I had some lying around anyway, slice some red onion very, very thin, and soak it in water until the salad was served (so it’s not too sharply onion-y; learned that from reading Marcella Hazan).  That would still be easy and add good sprightly flavor.

  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 pint of small tomatoes (if you are making this in the winter and you live in a cold climate, these are the only possible choice – big ones are too often mealy and flavorless)
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp vinegar

Peel the cucumber, slice lengthwise and, using a small spoon, scrape out the seeds.  Slice into 1/4″ slices.

Halve or quarter the tomatoes.  Combine in a medium bowl and toss with the olive oil.  Salt to taste, and add the vinegar.  If using romaine or onion, add those too.

Finally

To serve, I sometimes plate this in the kitchen to save washing serving dishes.   I would put a generous serving of the bean puree under 3 lamb patties.  The salad can cozy up next to the puree.  Fancy people might drizzle the puree with green olive oil and a sprig of basil.  Even not fancy people might, as it is so easy to do and it tastes so good!



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The recipe was supposed to be family friendly and quick…

and I think it still is…but in addition to being a story about what constitutes fast cooking, this is the story of the beauty of opportunity and an odd place to find a really great ingredient.

The Tuesday Menu

  • Moroccan Spiced Scallops
  • Roast Cauliflower with Cumin
  • Steamed Haricot Vert
  • Couscous or Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Todays menu started out in a decidedly different direction. My sister Lisa had asked me to write about the recipes I feed my kids. You know, the quick ones. Stuff you can make right out of the pantry. Right! – I thought – That sounds like the chickpea and pasta soup from Marcella Hazan. Unlike the barley soup, this is one of her many excellent recipes that I turn to over and over again. As it turned out, just as I sat down to write, I got a call. My neighbor. She was heading over to Costco. Costco?! It’s easy to loathe Costco but there is one thing that I love. Wild dry scallops. I scrapped the soup idea immediately.

I was reading about scallops a few months ago and according to one article, Costco is the place for wild dry scallops. Dry scallops are what you need to look for because they are untreated. They brown beautifully and remain silky, velvety and sweet. Wild scallops are as delicious as anything you might ever hope to eat. Wet scallops, on the other hand, are icky and processed; they are pumped full of water and phosphates which act as a preservative. When you try to cook them, all they do is leak that nasty brine and refuse to brown. Instead wet scallops become rubbery little white blobs. Yuck. So, since my neighbor was going to Costco, and I never go because I hate to, I jumped on the chance for big wild scallops. We decided to share 2 pounds.

Since I discovered the source for these high quality shell fish early this fall, I have been making a bit of a pig of myself. I like scallops a la diavola, a spicy dish of scallops, tomatoes, chilies and linguine and for awhile there I was making it every time my dad went to Costco, bribing him with dinner. But now I am trying not to eat pasta all the time so I found this recipe: Moroccan Spiced Seared Scallops. Since scallops are naturally sweet and have a very appealing texture, I am hoping the kids are really going to like this.

Game Plan:

For the fast version, use the couscous menu variation. Baking sweet potatoes takes an hour at 375 – the same temperature that you roast the cauliflower – if you have the time. You would start the sweet potato half an hour before putting the cauliflower in the oven, and skip the couscous step.

  1. Start the cauliflower first.
  2. Follow the directions on a package of couscous.
  3. Mix the spices for the scallops
  4. Set up a steamer for the beans and fire up the stove
  5. Begin cooking the scallops.
  6. Toss the beans with unsalted butter and sea salt when they are just tender (5 minutes or so) – I just put a tbsp of butter into the serving bowl, and let the hot beans do the melting and give them a squirt of lemon juice and a dusting of sea salt just before serving (any earlier and the lemon will turn them brown!)

Anyway, Lisa, I still think this is fast. Definitely less than a half hour of work – couscous version! AND, the bonus is, even though neither of us ever wants to go to Costco, Dad will happily go and get scallops if you promise him a wonderful meal for his efforts!

Moroccan-Spiced Scallops – from Fine Cooking

  • 1 medium lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1 1/2 pounds large natural dry sea scallops, little muscle on the side removed. This is so easy – just pull it right off.
  • Ground pepper

In a small bowl combine the cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger.

Pat the scallops dry and season them with kosher salt and black pepper. Then coat them with the spice mixture.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add half the scallops – DO NOT CROWD! – they won’t brown properly – I’d give an inch or so between each one, turning once, until seared on the outside. Give 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer to a warm plate and repeat until all scallops are done. Serve with lemon wedges.

Roast Cauliflower

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 3 tbsp good tasting olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 375.

Remove the outer green leaves of the cauliflower and cut the head into florets, toss out the stems. Place cauliflower on rimmed sheet pan and toss with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. To avoid annoying clumping of the cumin, take pinches of it and rub your fingers together over the cauliflower. Toss again. Place in oven for 30 minutes. This can be served hot or warm and it will turn even the most rabid hater of cauliflower into a devotee!

I’ll let you know how it turns out – I have high hopes. Maybe I’ll get to the Chickpea and Pasta soup later in the week. I’ll have to see what comes my way!

Ok. It’s 4 hours later. The kitchen is clean, the kids are asleep and the votes are in. I liked the scallops although I must say that they really don’t need anything more than unsalted butter and salt and pepper. Martin liked them, but he likes them a la diavola more. The little guy refused to try them, the middle one ate one but really went to town on the green beans and the big one ate mostly cauliflower. I say there was something here for everyone.

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So you have soup – now what?

You can’t just have soup for dinner. Ok. Maybe if you are alone at home, you could have a big bowl of soup by yourself. I certainly could. I would never give just soup to my family. There has to be stuff to go with it. My son would be really mad if I didn’t get any “fancy cheese”. This used to be La Tur which is our favorite – a French creamy cow and sheeps milk cheese with a rind, but then during the gas crisis it got so crazy to buy it that I branched out. It’s kind of embarrassing actually, admitting to liking Boursin. It’s so seventies. It’s so everywhere. Maybe it has even been bought by Kraft – who knows? I hate to say it – I love the cracked pepper version. So sometimes I still serve La Tur, but I admit to a secret love of Cracked Pepper Boursin and my kids totally love it. I like either cheese with olive oil crostini crackers – I buy the Whole Foods house brand.

If cheese and crackers doesn’t seem filling enough, something we like with Bean and Pasta Soup – or any soup really – is a grilled cheese sandwich. Here in Seattle, I get a bread called Columbia from Essential Baking. It has wheat flour, whole wheat flour, a little rye, water, organic malt and sea salt. I guess that means it is naturally leavened. Its chewy crust! Its flavorful crumb! I love it. For cheese, I use either sharp cheddar – our local Beecher’s is very good – or a young Fontina. The bread should be sliced not too thick and I brush the outside with olive oil before putting it in the sandwich press. French ham, Fra Mani Salami – the Sopressata or the Nostrano are terrific – or my personal favorite, mortadella, are good either in the sandwich or on the side. If all you can get is Boar’s Head or some prepackaged supermarket salumi, don’t bother. The sandwich with cheese alone is delicious enough.

Even though it’s a mostly vegetable soup, I still think that you need something fresh with it. So I make a platter of cut raw vegetables, including the obvious carrots, celery, cucumbers and peppers and also romaine hearts or blanched green beans. If I make something to dip those into my kids won’t stop eating vegetables.

There are two dips to go with the vegetables and I like both. Some people might find the mayonnaise version very low rent – I still love it but I come from a mayonnaise family! That being said, there is only one kind of readily available mayonnaise from a bottle that I like and that is the Trader Joe’s version. It’s not too gelatinous like the Best Foods one that so many people and publications rave about. (Why!?!?) It’s more lemony and satiny. If I’m not making my own – and because of the whole salmonella thing I rarely do this anymore – Trader Joe’s Real Mayonnaise is the way to go.

To make the Mayonnaise Version:

  • 1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Real Mayonnaise (blue and yellow label)
  • squirt of lemon juice to taste (from a lemon, please – not a bottle)
  • (1) grated small clove of garlic – I hope you already have a microplane – I couldn’t live without mine

Mix it all up and adjust lemon and garlic to taste.

To make a Greek Yogurt Version:

  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (full fat or non fat – you choose)
  • sea salt to taste (start with a little and be prepared upon tasting to add more)
  • (1) small clove of garlic grated with a microplane
  • a splash of fruity, green olive oil if you are using the non-fat Greek yogurt (like the California Estate one in the tall green bottle from Trader Joe’s)

Stir it all up, adjusting seasonings to taste.

Does this seem like a lot to do for a simple dinner of soup and sandwiches? I will write a game plan. It doesn’t have to take over the whole day.

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