The Good News: For the first time in my Adult Life I have no one to care for.
The Bad News: For the first time in my Adult Life I have no one to care for.
One of my dearest friends recently lost her husband. In our frequent conversations she once lamented that she has ‘so much time on her hands,’ to which I replied, “Can you lend me some of that time?”
We laughed. I love to hear her laughter but she certainly understood that I ‘got it.’
For many, the past thirty, forty-some years have been about mates, partners, children and family, never mind work, careers, bringing home the bacon thing. Until one day, it isn’t. At first I was amazed, well, okay, angry, when some would say regarding losing Michael, “It’s easier for you because you had so much time to prepare for it.”
Another check in that Mary-Was-Wrong column because it’s true. Thanks to our medical community, both his and mine, I was counseled and badgered eventually into ‘making a life.’ When Michael died, although rattled, exhausted and unbelievably sad, I had a wobbly framework to, as the Brits say, Keep Calm and Carry On.
That’s what this week’s post represents, that carrying-on thing. (I’ll never nail down calm.) Although I have no one to love and care for, I have a huge family and friendship circle to love and feed and care about. Luckily my food world collides into my friendship circle. Here’s what I mean……
COOKIES for CAV, POLENTA & ROASTED ARTICHOKES
This week-end I have a dinner date with a handsome young man. Cav O’Leary, a freshman at nearby Cal Poly, was our Aspen neighbor. We helped raise him, bought his fundraising offerings and loaded his Halloween sack with sugar stuff. Last May I attended his high school graduation. To say I love and care about this kid is an understatement.
After dinner he’ll, of course, be returning to Cal Poly with a Care Package which includes Ina Garten’s favorite cookie, Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunks. Although I’ve made some adaptions and substituted ingredients, this is Ida’s cookie (recipe below). It’s terrific.
I’m excited about my recipes for Cottage Cooking Club this month. For a recent birthday my friends, the Grauers, hosted a Polenta-on-a-Plank party. So Much Fun. Donna made three delicious ragus, beef, kale, and mushroom. After that wonderful evening we all vowed to introduce more polenta into our menus. I failed with that until this week when I put together Hugh Whittingstall’s Mushroom Ragoût with Soft Polenta from his River Cottage Veg cookbook.
Why Hugh calls this a ragoût instead of ragu, I don’t understand. A ragu is a sauce while a ragoût is a thick, highly-seasoned stew of meat, poultry or fish made with/without veggies. Since it’s his cookbook, he can call it what he wishes but I call it a thumbs-up dish and guest worthy. However, it’s decadently rich. Go easy on that “large knob of butter.”
After returning from hiking with a friend last week, I had Hugh’s White Beans with Roasted Artichokes on the table within 15 minutes. This is a hot salad with creamy beans and cheese, grilled artichokes and tangy lemon dressing which, by adding crusty bread and a beer, made us a great lunch.
Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies Make It Ahead cookbook by Ina Garten, Clarkson Potter/Publishers
Makes 48 cookies
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1¼ cups old-fashioned oats, such as Quaker
¾ pound bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, chopped in chunks (Tip: I used Ghirardelli Chocolate 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Chips, available in your grocery store.)
¾ cup dried cranberries
Fleur de sel (I used Maldon sea salt flakes)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line sheet pans with parchment paper.
2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl again.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix in the oats. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Don’t overbeat it! With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate and cranberries until the dough is well mixed.
4. With a 1¾-inch ice cream scoop (or two spoons), scoop round balls of dough onto the prepared sheet pans. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel. (In my opinion, this is optional.) Put the cookie sheet into the fridge for 10 minutes before baking.
5. Bake for 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.
TIP: If you make cookies often and don’t own a cookie scoop, buy one. If you don’t have the salt, the cookie is still fabulous. I did a taste test, over and over again.
Mushroom Ragoût with Soft Polenta by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg cookbook
For the Polenta
1 2/3 C milk
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
A few peppercorns
½ onion and/or 2 garlic cloves, bashed
1 1/4 C quick-cook polenta
4 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
3/4 Parmesan other well-flavoured hard cheese, finely grated
For the Ragoût
2 tablespoons olive oil
A large knob of butter
1 1/2 well-flavored mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped
2/3 C red wine
2/3 vegetable, mushroom or chicken (non-vegetarian) stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To Serve (optional)
A trickle of top-notch olive oil
Extra Parmesan or other hard cheese, shaved
1. For the polenta, put the milk and water into a saucepan. Add the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and onion/garlic. Bring to just below the boil, then set aside to infuse for 20 minutes.
2.Make the ragout. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and half the butter in a large, wide frying pan over a medium heat. Add the mushrooms and salt and pepper and turn the heat up high. Cook, stirring often, to encourage the mushrooms to release their juices. Continue to cook until most of the juices have evaporated and the mushrooms are starting to concentrate and caramelise. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a minute more.
3. Add the wine and stock, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about half. Check the seasoning.
4. To cook the polenta, strain the infused milk and water into a clean pan (or just scoop out the flavorings with a slotted spoon). Bring to a simmer, then pour in the polenta in a thin stream, stirring as you do so. Stir until the mix is smooth and then it let it return to a simmer. Cook for just 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, rosemary and cheese, then season generously with salt and pepper (adding at least ¼ teaspoon salt).
5.Immediately scoop the polenta into warmed dishes, top with the juicy mushroom ragout and serve, with an extra trickle of best olive oil and a few slivers of shaved cheese, if you like.
WHITE BEANS with ROASTED/GRILLED ARTICHOKES by by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg cookbook
5 ounces grilled/roasted artichoke hearts in oil, cut into wedges, plus 1 tablespoon of the oil
1 garlic clove, slivered
1 14 oz. can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good handful of salad leaves
Crumbled or shaved Parmesan CHUNKS, to finish
Heat 1 tablespoon oil from the artichokes in a small frying pan over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic and fry gently for a minute or two. Add the artichokes and heat for a minute or so, then stir in the beans. Heat, stirring, for 2–3 minutes, until everything is hot.
Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste (the artichokes may already have contributed some salt).
3 Arrange the salad leaves on two plates and top with the hot beans and artichokes. Finish with the Parmesan chunks and serve warm.
Tip: Oil-preserved, char-grilled or roasted artichoke hearts are available from delis and some supermarkets like Trader Joe’s.
Cottage Cooking Club is an international on-line group. led by Andrea Mohr of The Kitchen Lioness, which is cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. If you’d like to join us as we explore more of Hugh’s cookbooks, go here.