Ernie eats

Delicata squash with spicy miso butter sauce

misodelicata

Necessity. Brilliance. Necessity. Brilliance. I’m going back and forth on this – I feel like a genius. I really do. I was making dinner – and, honestly, I wasn’t that into it. I was concocting something out of what was in the house and I was not excited about any of it, not particularly hungry, and not at all inspired. I got a little bit into creating some kind of very dry (not saucy) curry-type thing that was almost a stir-fry with chickpeas and sweet peppers and lots of black pepper.* While I was figuring that out I halved and seeded and started roasting two delicata squash in the toaster oven. I always start them dry and rub butter or whatever when they start to turn tender. I don’t know why I do that, but it’s my way.

So I have the onions browning for the chickpea thing and I check the squash (delicata, by the way, are a wonderfully sweet and, yes, delicate winter squash that cook up pretty quickly and are about a thousand times more interested as plain, roasted squash than either acorn or butternut – see more about winter squash varieties) and see that after about 15-20 minutes at 350 it’s getting tender. I go to the fridge to grab some butter to spread over the squash and see a big jar of white miso staring me in the face. Miso butter, I think, yum. As I pull the miso from the fridge I notice the small jar of homemade harissa sitting behind it. Hmmm, went my brain, a little spice on this chilly night would be nice….

So I mashed 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of white miso and about a teaspoon of harissa (although any thick-ist hot sauce would work, I believe) together and spread that all over the four squash halves and put them back in the toaster oven (at 375 now) to finish getting tender and browning up. It got very tender but not so brown so I cranked that poor little oven to 450. As you can see I maybe left them in there a minute or two longer than was absolutely necessary.

Big hit. Great success. As I said, brilliance. From necessity, but brilliance nonetheless. Ernest kept asking what was on the squash. I explained butter and miso and harissa. “But Mama,” he said a few times, “what is that?” I told him I had made it up. “So you get to name it?” he exclaimed. Yes, I suppose I did. His suggestion? Spicy miso butter sauce. Not too shabby. Direct, descriptive, appetizing (to us, anyway), SEO-friendly.

* It seems weird to sort of taunt you with it, so if it sounds good, here’s how to make it: Brown 1 chopped onion in a bit of oil over medium-high heat. Add three chopped sweet peppers (I used 1 red and 2 yellow which, yes, made for a very yellow dinner) and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the peppers are tender. Add 3 cloves minced garlic and a bit of grated fresh ginger. Stir to combine. Add two cans of chickpeas and about 1/2 cup broth or water. Stir and cook until everything blends nicely and the liquid is mostly gone. Add a lot of freshly ground black pepper – to taste and sprinkle in some chopped parlsey or cilantro if you have some around. If you have all these ingredients sitting around and need to make something to eat, it’s a perfectly tasty and serviceable option.

Ernie eats
butter
cooked it
miso
winter squash

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Doughnuts and coffee

doughnuts

After a week of frying up fritters at every chance I could, I then made doughnuts Sunday morning. I am now reverting to my relatively fry-free kitchen habits, but man are homemade doughnuts good. Doughnuts are one of those things that I never really got. Kind of like pizza (a subject about which I once gave an entire talk). They were always presented as big treats that I should be excited about, but as a kid I never found them very exciting or desirable. And then, at some point, as an adult I had really good versions of each of them and finally got it. The strange thing is, having really delicious pizza and doughnuts made me like the mediocre versions more, which is slightly counter-intuitive. My theory is that having had the delicious version, my brain now knows what they tastes like and experiences a bit of memory of it when I have the mediocre version. I still am no fan of thick, sweet American pizza pie or overly sweet or greasy doughnuts, but at least I’m on the same page with society at large – I understand why people are eating them even as I try to avoid them in search of less sweet, more delicate versions.

The extra fun thing about making doughnuts is that day-old doughnuts just aren’t nearly as good. Even no-longer-warm doughnuts lose a lot of their shine. My answer to this is to allow everyone to eat as many warm doughnuts as their hearts desire. Ernest and his friend who slept over could hardly believe their luck as their requests for another doughnut or another doughnut hole were filled and filled and filled again. They ate their fill at breakfast and then wanted some an hour or two later. “Sure!” I answered. They stood in stony silence, hardly believing their luck, wondering what alien had taken over my form.

Ernest has been a bit obsessed with doughnuts and the lack of them in our house ever since we read Farmer Boy last spring. All the ladies in the house know what I’m talking about – it’s part of the Little House series, about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband’s childhood on a prosperous farm in upstate New York. The thing is wall-to-wall food. They are constantly eating giant farm meals* and the book’s focus on the abundance of food highlights – for the adult reader familiar with the series anyway – how very deprived and not abundant Laura’s own childhood was. Salt pork and corn mush and long winters with not much at all.

With a doughnut-poor early childhood under his own belt, Ernest became fixated on the “doughnut jar” in the farm’s kitchen. Once a week, as part of baking day, the mom would fry up scads of doughnuts and put them in the doughnut jar and then the little boy in the story would just go and have a doughnut whenever he felt peckish. Ernest thought that sounded pretty awesome. I couldn’t help but point out that the little boy in the story did an awful lot of work (which got me thinking about how little most kids are expected to do these days – but that’s another blog entirely that I just don’t have time to write, what with my kid not pulling his weight….). As soon as we wake Ernest in the middle of the night to work until dawn watering the corn to save it from freezing, I will totally get a doughnut jar.

I made the above doughnuts thusly: Let 1 tablespoon of dry active yeast dissolve and foam in 1 cup of warm water. Then used the paddle on a standing mixer to incorporate 1/3 cup sugar, 1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 1 egg, and 4 tablespoons of softened butter. Once that turned into a dough I worked in about 2 cups of all-purpose flour. I covered the bowl and let it rise for almost 3 hours (I had been planning on 2 but lost track of time watching The Hunt Locker). Then I rolled out the dough to about 1/2-inch thick and used a large round biscuit cutter (a drinking glass works too) to cut circles and the smallest round cutter I have to cut out the holes. I put all of these on floured baking sheets and covered them with plastic wrap. I left them out at room temp because it’s gotten chilly at night and our kitchen gets cold enough so I wasn’t too worried about the dough over-rising. Then I went to sleep.

At about 7:30 we heard the boys playing in Ernest’s room. At 8 they asked us to get down the parking garage from the high shelf so they could build a town. (They were not, I feel the need to note, trudging out into the cold to milk the cows or feed the horses; they were playing all snug and cozy in their jammies in Ernest’s colorful toy-filled room.) At 9 they asked for breakfast so I heated up about an inch or so of lard (vegetable oil or canola oil work just dandy too) in a big heavy pot. Once it was hot enough to make dough sizzle, I started frying. Until brown on one side, flip, let brown on the other side, lift out with tongs onto a cooling rack set over a baking sheet. Get the next batch going and then dip first batch in sugar – the dough itself isn’t terribly sweet, so the coating of sugar makes them just about perfect. Then I started handing them out.

One thing about frying that always astounds me – and I really noticed this time because I saved the lard (strained it to get the flour out) for future frying – is how, if the temperature of the fat is right (usually between 350 and 375), you end up “using” so little of it. The food absorbs hardly any. Get the temp right by using a thermometer or, a cool trick I learned that I use instead of a thermometer now, dipping a piece of bread or the end of a wooden spoon in the oil. If the oil sizzles immediately and steadily around the bread/wood, it’s ready; if it sizzles violently – bubbling up away from the pot, it’s too hot.

Once the doughnuts were all fried I kicked it with a few from the very last batch and a cup of coffee and stared out into the gray fog of this uncharacteristically dreary San Francisco October and swore I’d stop frying. For at least awhile.

doughnutscoffee

* But one example:

There were slabs of tempting cheese, there was a plate of quivering headcheese; there were glass dishes of jams and jellies and preserves, and a tall pitcher of milk, and a steaming pan of baked beans with a crisp but of fat pork in the crumbling brown crust… Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans. He ate the bit of salt pork that melted like cream in his mouth, He ate mealy boiled potatoes, with brown ham-gravy. He ate the ham. He bit deep into velvety bread spread with sleek butter, and he ate the crisp golden crust. He demolished a tall heap of pale mashed turnips, and a hill of stewed yellow pumpkin. Then he sighed, and tucked his napkin deeper into the neckbrand of his red waist. And he ate plum preserves and strawberry jam, and grape jelly, and spiced watermelon-rind pickles. He felt very comfortable inside. Slowly he ate a large piece of pumpkin pie.

After dinner they then often had apples and cider and popcorn.

Ernie eats
cooked it
doughnuts

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Spicy okra lusciousness

okratomdf

Just a quick post because this okra-tomato thing turned out so delicious. Browning, not caramelizing but browning, the onions first is key because it brings out some sweetness in the onions but not too much and that makes the okra seem sweet too, in a good way.

I served it with rice and dal. Instead of jasmine or basmati rice that may be more appropriate, I cooked up some sweet rice because it’s Ernest’s favorite and this is the first week of school and he’s so tired at the end of the day I just want to give him treats and make him smile. He loves school, but all that learning (or is it the crazy running around on and social dynamics of the school yard?) wears him out.

For the dal I made the one I always make – this recipe for brown butter dal but I used red lentils instead of chana dal. It cooks up in about 10- 15 minutes.

For the record, yes Ernest ate the okra. After he scraped it clean of any trace of tomato or onion. Then he went to the kitchen, got down a bowl, fetched the ice cream from the freezer, found the ice cream scoop, scooped his ice cream, returned the carton to the freezer and put the scoop in the sink before bringing his treat back to the table all while my dashing husband and I continued our conversation. Then he ate his ice cream and engaged us in a discussion of the ideal size of chocolate chips. I love 6. It’s an awesome age.

Of course this morning he spilled an entire box of cereal on the kitchen floor and proceeded to step on and crush it as he spread it all around the kitchen as he tried to sweep it up. So there’s that too, but I still love 6. I love the effort that sometimes results in me not having to do anything at all even if at other times it means I have to stop with my coffee drinking to simultaneously sweep and comfort. There really isn’t any reason at all to cry over spilled cereal.

Ernie eats
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okra

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Bass versus walleye: lake fish smack-down

pfwalleyeongrillclose

“Well that won’t do us any good,” I overheard my dad saying last week into his phone, “Molly won’t be here then to cook it for us!”

That comment may make him sound like an opportunistic slave-driver, but it really was very sweet. He and a friend were making plans to hire a guide to take them fishing for walleye pike on a neighboring lake that actually has more then two or three of the coveted lake fish. They are experienced and avid fishermen who were looking to mix things up a bit from the bass and northern pikes they catch-and-release on our lake all the time. Plus, walleyes are known for being awfully tasty.

They came back with plenty of walleye. We invited seven people to dinner. Beforehand, my dad and I took a swim while Ernest fished off the dock. We were quite aways away when we heard a shriek. We saw my mom helping Ernest hold up the line with a really rather large fish on the end. We clapped our hands as we tred water and then headed back to see the prize.

It was a three-pound bass. It had pretty completely swallowed the lure. My dad removed the fish from the line as gently as he could. He moved the fish forward through a water a few times to give it a chance. He let it go and it tilted to its side. He grabbed it and coaxed it forward again. He let go and the fish started to float. No chance. He pulled it from the water and, luckily, I had been planning to take pictures of Ernest fishing and my camera was on the dock:

Efish2

He and Ernest headed to the other dock and my dad showed my son how to clean a fish:

Efish4

He gutted it and filleted it and rinsed it in clear lake water and handed me the fillets to add to our dinner.

Efish5

And I was there to cook it and so I did the best thing I know of to do with delicate lake fish fillets: I pan-fried them. Sure, deep-frying works too, but the control and bit of moisture and cracker-crumb or cornmeal crust you can add so effectively – not to mention the lack of a giant vat of hot oil – makes pan-frying ever-so-much-more appealing.

Before you pan-fry, however, you must coat the fish with something to protect its delicate flesh from the heat. I did a triple-dip of flour, and then egg, and then cornmeal.
bassfilletsbreaded

I worked up a guide to How to Pan-Fry Fish, with step-by-step photos taken on the cabin kitchen counter with my tri-pod set up quite precariously in the sink. Most people would then pan-fry on the stove, or, if camping, over a fire. We took a large cast iron pan and put it on a hot charcoal grill because who wants to wipe down the entire kitchen? We had everyone get their plates, grab a chair on the deck near the grill, and take the fillets as they came out of the pan.

panfriedwalleyeongrill

I kept the bass separate so Ernest would be able to taste the fish he caught. We each had at least a bite and agreed: Walleye may be venerated state-wide, but the bass was tastier.

Ernie eats
Minnesota
fish

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Wild blueberries!

ewithblueberriesI owe many thanks to a good friend. She visited Ernest and me in northern Minnesota this past weekend and gave us two incredible gifts.

First, in response to me saying that it was too bad we didn’t have an ice cream maker or I would make her some of the awesome buttermilk ice cream I’ve been obsessed with, she told me she makes ice cream all the time with a bowl and a whisk (and a freezer, of course). So I gave it a try. OMG. Why do I own an ice cream maker? Why do I make space for it in my limited storage space? It worked great – just pour the cooled mixture into a large metal bowl, cover it, and whisk it up every 20 minutes or so until it’s ice cream. Side-by-side I’m sure ice cream maker-ice cream would be smoother, but without direct comparison, an ice cream-lover would find nothing lacking in the results of this low-tech method (which I wrote up step-by-step at Local Foods).

Second, she got Ernest into the idea of building a fort in the woods. Yesterday afternoon I went to the site with Ernest and something small, blue, and low to the ground caught my eye. There weren’t many of them, but they were delicious.

“Mama,” Ernest said as he crammed his tiny haul into his mouth, “the blueberries from the store are bigger, but these taste better.”

True that.

Ernie eats
Minnesota
blueberries
ice cream

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Cherries, computers, fear

This week we had “Career Day” at my son’s school. I spoke to his kindergarten class and a third-grade class. I followed a parent who, among other things, creates exhibits at the Exploratorium and another parent who gave the kids computer keys that they joyfully pulled out of their pockets to show me. “Damn,” I thought, “I didn’t bring any toys.”

I did, however, bring cherries. I happily discovered, in a very unscientific survey, that 45 out of 45 kids love cherries. I talked to the kids about being a food writer, trying new foods, and describing food. I told the older kids how to make a berry fool, which they thought sounded really cool and then they asked for more recipes, which I took as a great sign for the future of home cooking. They got to eat some cherries and we tried to describe them together. Red, shiny, round, sweet, tart, were all yelled out multiple times. As were the following observations:

“It’s like an olive because it has a, a, a thing inside – what’s this called?” as a pit was held up for my inspection

“It’s a little like a lemon? Because of how it makes my mouth feel? But it’s also sweet like candy.”

“I could eat 1,000 cherries!”

Could hardly have said it better myself. We can all rest easy. The future of food writing is secure.

Ernest loved sharing the cherries with his classmates, but you know what he talked about when he got home? “Mama, Mama, guess what?” he said, “Tess’s dad showed us a computer. He makes computers and he showed us the inside of a computer!”

He had reason to be excited. He’s not really allowed to touch our computers. We don’t know anything about them and if they broke we’d have to pay someone a lot of money to fix them. We don’t even really know what might break them, so it’s best to play it safe and have them be off-limits. I mean, I wouldn’t want him doing anything to upset the tiny elves that make the computers go.

Which, I realize, is exactly how many people feel about their kitchens. And I want them to cook with their kids anyway, and try cooking from scratch and revel in the flavors they discover. So, in solidarity with every parent who lets their kid grate the cheese even though half of it ends up on the floor, I am going to be less scared of this google-machine on which I spend many many hours every single day (just like the people who are scared to cook – or scared to let their kids in the kitchen – still eat and feed their children several times a day). I will let Ernest use it. I will make it seem fun and exciting, even as I bite my nails with every click he makes. I will wish the tiny elves well.

Ernie eats
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My (relatively) omnivorous son

People ask me about it a lot and then last weekend three sets of parents inquired in the space of 36 hours. The question: How did my son get to be “such a good eater”?

First and foremost, full disclosure: There are things he will not eat. “Sandwiches” being the category that aggravates me the most for obvious lunch-packing reasons.

He also claims not to like “bread.” He will, however, attack a baguette like nobody’s business and, as once observed by Margo True when I was bemoaning his claiming to not like bread while gorging on pita and lavosh and and fougasse and naan and injera: “Why, he just likes ethnic flatbreads!

Tucking Into Spicy Mole

Tucking Into Spicy Mole

Yes, he loves his dim sum and sushi and tacos and tandoori fish and I’ve never seen him turn down a plate of ban chan – even the weird jiggly white fish-jello stuff – and he asks for second helpings of greens. He’ll eat abalone and foie gras and loves himself some raw oysters. But he will also eat all the sugary sweets he can get his hands on and craves chips of all sorts and wishes beyond hope to someday have a bag of Cheetos to call his own. He loves to fly because he gets ginger ale on the flight. And he loves Fridays because he gets to choose something from the ice cream cart chock full of neon-colored concoctions made to resemble Spiderman and Powergirls and Sponge Bob that lies in wait outside the school doors forcing parents to listen daily as their children beg for treats.

He is a human child, tempted by bright and shiny packaging and simple sugars and quick carbs and crispy fats. But yes, he is relatively omnivorous compared to plenty of other kindergardeners.

How did he get this way? Honestly, I’m not sure, but my hunch is that, along with a lot of luck, it is a combination of the following interconnected and overlapping factors:

1. Some kind of genetic or constitutional factor. He comes from a long line of hearty, adventurous eaters, which has to count for something.

2. He hasn’t been given a whole lot of choice. The meals he is served are the meals he is served, and the variance from eating what my dashing husband and I eat gets slimmer with each passing month. When he was younger I would more frequently pull out some plain noodles if a pasta dish had something in it I knew he didn’t like or scramble some eggs if dinner seemed particularly “challenging” (in particular, I remember understanding his lack of enthusiasm for a giant bowl of bright pink steaming borscht). I don’t do that anymore. I am not, as he has heard me say many a time, a short order cook. That said, I do take the whole family into account when making dinner. If I’m making a dish I know someone isn’t that into, I try to also make something I know they love.

3. He eats at fairly set times. There are the three meals a day and usually a morning snack and an afternoon snack. There is not much random snacking in between. When meal times come, he’s hungry and ready to eat.

4. He also eats at a set place. It’s called the dining table. I highly recommend it.

5. He has always been a good size for his age. He’s not chubby at all, but he’s always been solid. There is plenty of muscle on that boy. The notion of him skipping a meal never filled me with much worry, and that has allowed me to follow through on my claims of “that is what is for dinner, eat it or don’t.”

6. No one – at least not his parents – ever assumed he wouldn’t like something. Quite the opposite, my assumption is that if a foodstuff is tasty, he will like it. Hence, his experience of food has, since he was in utero, been a broad one. He had his first raw oyster at age two because all the grown-ups were so excited about them that he wanted to try one. Without someone telling him anything except “here you go,” he didn’t know it was an odd thing for a toddler to like. Of course, he then received a lot of very positive attention from everyone as he asked for a second and third and fourth oyster.

7. He lives in a city with lots of different kinds of food, so none of them ever seemed foreign or weird to him, much less like things kids wouldn’t eat. To him “chicken noodle soup” may include a matzoh ball, rice noodles, coconut milk, or arugula leaves. We bring him to eat where we want to eat, and we want to eat lots of different stuff. If you’re not a “good eater” how can your kid be one?

8. He has a parent with enough Midwest in her to be vaguely repulsed by both waste and notions of any of us being a hot house flower. You ordered crispy tacos and they come with guacamole on them and you “don’t like sauce”? Scrape it off and eat your tacos.

9. Same said parent is pretty repulsed by the whole notion of “kid food.” I find it insulting to kids and insulting to food. To me food is mainly something to be enjoyed, but that enjoyment goes beyond the signal between our taste buds and our brains. It includes the careful choosing and preparation of food, the sharing of food, and the conviviality of eating together. Why dumb it down and deny children the opportunity to experience it and learn to love it?

10. He lives in a food-centric world. I work in food. My dashing husband is into food. Ernest has visited farms and restaurants and test kitchens ever since he can remember. He even used to help out – snapping beans, shelling peas – in the Sunset test kitchen on those weird school holidays when I would drag him to work with me. He knows about food and where it comes from.* Maybe it’s the same for him as it is for me: knowledge creates interest and interest begets pleasure.

11. I have always firmly believed that my job as a parent is to somehow turn a completely dependent infant into a fully independent adult. It doesn’t always mesh with my more immediate desire to have a happy child in every particular moment, but that belief has gotten me through plenty of heart-breaking tears and maddening tantrums – including those around food and demands for more treats – by focusing on the big picture.

12. I also believe that sad parents, super-tired parents, completely over-extended parents, or just plain fed-up parents are not good for kids, so I try to avoid becoming one. We don’t actually have that many rules in our house, but those we do have are often for my convenience – and that includes the “that’s what’s for dinner” rule. Yes, eating at the table instead of being allowed to wonder the house with snacks is a good habit. It also means there is less cleaning to do. A three year-old can bus their own dishes and do an okay job of shucking corn. A four year-old can get their own water if you set things up right and their tiny fingers are perfect for peeling shrimp. A five year-old who drops rice all over the floor can help clean it up and can peel carrots and grate cheese perfectly serviceably. They can also set a table, more or less.

I don’t claim any or all of this is right for any other family or parent or child. Everyone figures out how to feed their own child. I have been asked how we have “such a good eater” and these are simply the explanations that come to mind. If anyone finds it useful, that’s great. And if I sound like a bit of a mean mommy? I’m cool with that.

Did I miss something? What are you doing to raise a relatively omnivorous child?

* Just recently, when we went strawberry picking, Ernest was hoping there would be chickens at the farm. He waxed poetic about his past interactions with chickens and how he can pick them up and pet them and how much he wishes we could get chickens. Then he paused, looked up, and said with absolute glee “Mama, and you know what? Chicken is also my favorite meat!” It reminded me of the time he was three, gnawing on a frog leg at a French bistro in Portland, and he asked in a tone of half “ah-ha” and half “no, that can’t be right”, “Mama, is this the leg of a frog?” I told him indeed it was, worried that he might be upset. He just nodded and went on eating the tender, succulent meat.

Want more? Check out Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater.

Ernie eats

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Albuquerque dim sum

Yep, you read correctly. The last day of our New Mexico – Texas full-tilt chile, art, and UFO spring break road trip (about which I promise to write more in the very near future) fell on Ernest’s birthday. He is now 6. And we all know that the very least one can offer someone on their birthday is to decide what to have for dinner. Despite hints about succulent chicken tacos (“Mama, I eat tacos all of the time” was his response, which, as regular readers know, is true both in his daily home life and was most definitely a fact of meals on this road trip), the Birthday Boy wanted dim sum.

Of course he did. Dim sum is his favorite food. By a large margin, from what I can tell. And then he was such a good sport when we told him that it might not work out that I did what I could to track down dim sum in Albuquerque. There are, based on the limited research I could do as we drove in the rain and hail between art galleries (hey, do we know how to show a 6 year-old a good birthday time or what?) while I also tried to book a room at a hotel near the airport (6:51 am flight!) that had an indoor pool (birthday + rain = the least I could do), two places in Albuquerque to get dim sum: Amerasian Sumosushi and Ming Dynasty. Ming Dynasty had a definite edge in the online reviews, a more focused Chinese menu, and, let’s be honest, a much more appealing name.

You know what? Ming Dynasty is putting out some very serviceable dumplings. Some were a bit heavy, but the barbeque pork buns were light as a feather with an excellent filling-to-bun ratio and the sesame balls were crispy and fresh. The vegetable mu shu my dashing husband and I ordered to supplement our dinner (all the better to leave the lion’s share of dumplings for the Birthday Boy to inhale), was deftly assembled table-side with supremely tender house-made pancakes.

They were as good as any mu shu I’ve ever had. In fact, I can’t recall any better.

And I’d like to add that the service was delightful. Charming and kind and efficient. And very quick with that second order of har gow that they never saw coming… no one, not even dim sum resturant workers, can ever believe how much dim sum my boy can eat.

Ernie eats
dim sum
dumplings
travel

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Getting my mojo back with Swedish meatballs

Oh my. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? Regular readers will remember that my dashing husband doesn’t eat much meat. So when he’s out of town, I tend to cook up some meat-heavy meals for Ernest and me. But this trip of his has coincided with an uncharacteristic utter lack of interest in cooking on my part. So it’s been leftover soup and frozen pizza and taquerias. Until yesterday. I got it back. I no more know where it came back from than I know where it went, but my cooking mojo has returned. I got a bee in my bonnet about Swedish meatballs, the good homemade kind, of course. I tried to get Ernest excited about them – Swedish meatballs! I exclaimed, little tiny spiced up meatballs! Ernest got a look for horror on his face.

“No, Mama, I don’t want those!”

“What do you mean?” I asked, “Why wouldn’t you want meatballs?”

“I want plain meatballs, not Swedish.”

“But honey, Swedish meatballs are pretty plain… wait, you’ve never had them before… what do you think they are?”

“Mama, I don’t like sweet meat!”

Fair enough. I don’t much like sweet meat either. The Swedish versus sweetish difference was described and everyone was on board with the great meatball dinner of 2009.

We didn’t have any cream in the house, so I made the sauce without it. I wouldn’t say I liked the sauce better, but I did like it just as much as the creamy version. Just as much. So just as much that I ended up dousing my escarole salad with the gravy. And then had a second huge helping of the escarole in order to drown it in even more gravy. 

Not Sweetish Meatballs

In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, soak 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs in 3/4 cup milk or broth for a few minutes. Add 1 lb. lean ground beef (I used some wonderfully flavorful pastured beef from Clark Summit Farms, but these have so much great seasoning any old ground beef will do; also, you could get crazy and use half ground beef and half ground pork – that would be delic too), 2 Tbsp. minced onion, 1 Tbsp. minced parsley (if you like), 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, and 1/2 tsp. ground allspice. Beat on low to combine. Increase speed to medium and beat until sort of fluffy looking, about 5 minutes. 

Wet your hands with cold water and form tiny little meatballs. Re-wet hands as necessary to keep the fluffy meat mixture from sticking all over the place. Put the finished meatballs on a baking sheet or cutting board that you’ve sprinkled with some more cold water to keep them from sticking to that.

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a large frying or sauté pan. Add meatballs – in batches if needed – and cook, turning and shaking as need to brown on as many sides as possible. Transfer meatballs to a paper towel-lined board or plate. Add 2 Tbsp. flour to the fat/liquid in the pan. Cook, stirring, until flour turns golden. Add 2 cups beef stock or use chicken stock as I did (it worked just dandy). Cook, stirring, to make a smooth sauce. Increase heat and reduce to make a thick sauce. Add 1/2 to 1 cup cream to this if you’re so inclined and cook to reduce and thicken a bit. Whether you add the cream or not, taste and add more salt and pepper to taste. 

Return meatballs to the pan to warm them up again. Serve immediately. We had extra, which I froze. I’m sure I’ll be telling you how that turns out at some point.

This recipe makes quite a bit of sauce. Enough so you can cover some roasted or steamed potatoes and plenty of salad along with the meatballs.

Ernie eats
cooked it
meat

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Free-range, pastured, much-loved sausage

I defrosted some of the country sausage I ordered from our meat CSA yesterday. I formed it into patties, fried them up in a cast iron pan, and then made caraway-scented red cabbage in that same pan with all the yummy sausage fat in it.

To tell you the truth we’ve had some mixed thoughts about the pork we’ve received so far. Don’t get me wrong, it is delicious. The best tasting pork I’ve ever had. But it has been a bit tough, which is to be expected from an animal that lived a life in which it got to walk around the beautiful hills of West Marin. You build up some muscle doing that. The tougher meat, however, is something we’re still getting used to (part of it is figuring out how to adjust recipes – some cuts need to be cooked faster, others need more time – and I haven’t yet mastered that balancing act).

The thing about sausage, though, is it doesn’t matter much how tough that meat was before you ground it up, all you’re left with is the amazingly deep, pork-y flavor and all the almost sweet fatty juiciness. It melded quite nicely with the cabbage, too.

Ernie ate his sausage Minnesota-state-fair-style: on a stick. He speared the sausage patty with his fork, held it up, and ate from there. I knew I should stop him, because it’s not very impressive table manners. But he was being neat about it and seemed to be enjoying himself so much I didn’t say a word.

Ernie eats
cabbage
cooked it
csa
sausage

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