Foodie Tuesday: You Eat What You Like, and I’ll Eat What I Like

Besides being a wise quote from my perennial hero, Yukon Cornelius, the title of today’s post is pretty great advice for eaters at all times, most particularly so during the holidays. If I’m going to go to the expense and effort to do anything special for a Special Occasion, it matters far more to me that I want to eat the results than that they meet anybody else’s standard for tradition, impressiveness, or perfection. You won’t find me dining on dainties of glorious extravagance and beauty on a holiday or birthday or any other notable date if I’m the designated cook, because spending exhausting and exacting hours in the scullery before the blessed event is not my idea of a great way to arrive at it rested and ready to enjoy its importance in my life with good cheer and an even temperament.

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Appetizer parfait: hash browns (I made these with Gouda and smoked paprika), sour cream, hot smoked wild Pacific salmon and capers. Or, in the alternative version I offered on the same day–another easy to prepare ahead topping for the hash browns–smoked sausage pieces simmered in Pinot Noir BBQ sauce. The sauce was a sticky reduction of equal amounts of red wine and homemade bone broth with brown sugar, tomato passata, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne to taste. Guests could assemble the tiny dishes with any combination they liked, and I didn’t have to wrestle with the hors-d’oeuvres at all on the day of the party.

So while I adore Dungeness crab, I will not likely be preparing one fresh and mucking about with the tedious chore of meticulously picking the meat out of the shell–if I can find fresh Dungeness already picked and packed in a neat little carton, it’ll be on the menu; otherwise, not. My fondness for elaborate baked goods will likely be fed by an outstanding bakery, not by my slavish efforts right before a party. I’ll happily dine on a perfectly frenched rack of lamb or a miraculously flaky and tender kulebiaka or bistilla, but only if someone else is going to all of the effort it takes to prepare it.

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Homemade macaroni and cheese can be just as easy to fix as pre-packaged. Here, I blended shredded Gouda, cheddar and Parmesan cheeses in about equal amounts and added melted butter, eggs, smoked paprika, powdered mustard, a little grated nutmeg, and a tiny dash of liquid smoke (no additives, please) before stirring the cooked pasta in with a bit of cream and baking it to melt and meld it all together.

That’s how, when Christmas dining is at home, it may go so far as to be a roast beef that can be cooked sous vide and requires only a quick browning in the oven before carving, but it might also be a made-ahead, very down-to-earth macaroni and cheese. Or even a tuna salad sandwich, a perpetual favorite that, while it’s hardly what anyone I know would consider Fancy, is gladly eaten with a handful of good potato chips and a juicy apple on nearly any occasion chez nous. I want to eat delicious food on Christmas, but it doesn’t have to be unusual or expensive or showy in any way to be delicious, and if its simplicity of preparation means that it’s eaten in a very comfortably relaxed state, that makes it all the more appealing and enhances its flavor remarkably.

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Homemade mac-&-cheese is, in fact, also easy to customize for any number of tastes and occasions, as when I change out the elbow macaroni with some fresh fettuccine and toss in a batch of Langostino tails. Voila! ‘Poor man’s’ lobster fettuccine.

I hope that everyone who is celebrating around now–whether it’s Christmas, the Dongzhi festival, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, the New Year, Kwanzaa, a birthday, or something entirely different–has the wealth and freedom to take the same approach. It’s satisfying to arrive at happy events relaxed and, well, happy. And eating what you love to eat is always better than eating what you think you should eat, only because you think you should. I wish you all great food, simply prepared, great company when you want it and quiet time away when you need it. That’ll make the food taste all the better when it comes. Cheers! Bon appetit! Joy!

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Who says plain salt-and-pepper roasted chicken isn’t fancy enough for a special occasion? If you enjoy it, indulge. Even with the most common of accompaniments, it can be satisfying and tasteful (clockwise from the ruby-colored jellied cranberry sauce at left): pickles (here, okra, green tomatoes and green beans); sweet corn; coleslaw; apple sauce (freshly made brandied maple sauce); mashed baked potatoes with beurre noisette, fried sage leaves and optional red wine/broth reduction sauce; and a spoonful of tiny, tasty green peas. And if you’re a vegetarian, you can always eat the whole rest of the meal and be content. Peas to all the earth, I say!

Even desserts–maybe especially desserts, come to think of it–can get treated like such elaborate Fabergé egg-like constructions that they are too precious for ordinary mortals to eat and far too tiring for me to slave over preparing. I’ve hardly ever seen anyone turn up his nose at store-bought ice cream or refuse if I offered her a nice piece of chocolate straight out of the wrapper. A bowl of perfect fresh strawberries, a moist pound cake made the other day, and a quick batch of whipped cream with vanilla give instant summer cachet to the end of a meal. Banana pudding needn’t even be a fuss, and doesn’t look really like much (hence the lack of a photo), but it’s unpretentious and tasty enough that everyone right down to the toddlers will happily eat that old comfort favorite.

Banana Pudding to Make You Go Ape

Don’t bother with cheap, phony tasting artificially flavored instant banana pudding, either, despite a short timeline for the treat (unless you get all nostalgic over it for some reason). All you actually need is some really ripe bananas and a handful of other ingredients, and away you go…

Blend together until smooth (I use the stick blender for this): 5 overripe bananas (too mushy for eating plain), a pinch of salt, the juice and grated rind of 1 large lemon, a generous teaspoon of vanilla, a couple of tablespoons each of raw honey and butter, and about a cup of heavy cream. Chill until thickened. What do you taste? Bananas. What will you do? Go bananas over it. Why work harder than that for your food and fun? Enjoy your holidays and happy days instead!

Oh, and I must add (since what goes without saying may not entirely go without saying for everybody!) that this kind of banana pudding will, of course, oxidize–unlike the aforementioned imitation stuff–so it’s best eaten right when you’ve made it unless you’re like me and don’t care if it’s a little beige in color. And it’s not super thick, so if you like it thicker, I recommend whipping the cream separately and then folding it into the blended banana mash, to which you’ve already added the other ingredients. No matter how you choose to make it, it’s still pretty tasty. And, as Marie has suggested in the comments and I’ve already tested, it makes a dandy breakfast!

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Happy New Year!

What’s-in-My-Kitchen Week, Day 2: Foodie Tuesday

Having guests for a meal can be a lot of work. Or not. But either way, if it’s mostly ready when they arrive (unless it’s a cook-together occasion), it’s a great time to have fun with friends. Few occasions are as welcome as those that include comestible-related conviviality. Last week’s get-together fun was occasioned by the impending retirement time move to Pennsylvania of our dear next door neighbors, who joined us for dinner just after I’d finished clearing out the dining room and enough of the kitchen from our week’s plethora of minor house maintenance projects to make way for us all to fit comfortably at the dining table.photo

One of the pleasures of having company is the excuse to set a pretty table, even if it’s not at all formal. While we do sit down to a ‘set’ table often enough to pass for civilized, formality of any sort is almost always as far from my modus operandi as one end of the galaxy is from another; still, it’s nice to have a reason to pull out a different tablecloth or put on a seasonal character at the board. For this day I wanted to keep things light, airy and summery, so I started with a small vintage tablecloth of graphic pale yellow butterflies on a crisp dark background and used the plain white crockery. These I enhanced with the  graceful twisted stems of our delicate Hadeland crystal wineglasses in their discontinued ‘Lord‘ pattern–which we were fortunate to have handed down to us by my parents, who in turn were given them by my Norwegian sister and her husband. Every time we use these beauties I am reminded of our family and of our Norwegian roots; at the same time, they are infinitely well-balanced and sweetly appealing to the eye, so they often ‘set’ the table all by themselves, so to speak.photo

Food was kept simple, in my usual adherence to unfussy ways. Having seen a wildly delicious sounding recipe for a California Peach Caprese Salad at the delicious blog A Feast for the Eyes, I was smitten with the idea of feasting, indeed, on peaches and was gifted not only with finding some fine, nearly ripe ones at the same store as a smashingly fat and lovely filet of wild-caught Alaskan salmon, I had the foundation of my meal in mind. The demise of my cooktop and its current unavailability had already inspired me to plan that I would oven-roast some vegetables and fruit to add a sort of barbecue-ish tinge to the meal’s summery theme (we don’t yet have a functional barbecue, latecoming Texans that we are). Thus, a super-plain green salad started things off without interfering with all of the other flavors and colors to be heaped on the table. Romaine, diced glorious avocado and a drizzle of simple Italian-style vinaigrette. I did put out small dishes of pignoli and yes, a chiffonade of fresh basil and mint leaves for those of us who wanted to have a sort of Cal-Italianate hint of the inspirational peach Caprese infused into the meal. Like me, for example.photoThe salmon preparation was something of an experiment: my doctor recommends I limit my soy intake for various reasons, so although I’m often addicted to soy sauce in my fish marinades, I was enamored of a slab of hot-smoked salmon at the grocery and bethought myself to use that as the salinizing element in my salmon prep this time. I laid the filet lovingly in a pan greased with coconut oil and topped it with crumbled smoked salmon, freshly ground black pepper, minced fresh ginger, a splash each of ginger juice and freshly squeezed lemon and orange juices, a faint drizzle of raw honey, and a little more coconut oil on top of it all, and into the oven it went. It was joined there in short order by pans of vegetables and fruits, respectively (hurray for the benison of double ovens!), and there was time during the baking and broiling to hunt up some dessert from the freezer.photo

The vegetables could hardly have been simpler: whole green beans, asparagus, orange and yellow capsicum–those sweet and fruity bell peppers add elements of both color and flavor brightness to a vegetable dish so neatly–and thickly sliced cremini mushrooms. Crystallized salt, pepper, a squeeze of lime, and a slick of my precious Stonehouse olive oil (using their luscious Persian Lime this time) and the whole pan was ready for its oven close-up too. I left the fruit in all its naked glory, except for a little gloss of the aforementioned coconut oil to help protect them from sunburn while increasing their chance of a good brown skin in their broiler tanning bed. I know some folk say to add sugars to build (or to even out) caramelization but I figured the fruits were sugary and ripe enough to take care of themselves: those treasured peaches, a handful of my very first batch ever of homegrown figs, and that living gold of pineapple.photo

The dessert was well into my lazy comfort zone, being a chocolate combination of my nut truffles (a simple mix of melted dark chocolate with a little good butter, a pinch of salt, and finely chopped and toasted mixed nuts of my choosing, set up in a flat pan and cut into small pieces) and my almond-flour brownies that I keep handy in the freezer between times, and the mellow, dense chocolaty goodness played nicely with all of the fruity sweetness that preceded it.photo