19 July 2012

Grandma Annie's Blueberry Pudding with Raspberries

About the time I turned 10 years old, I began spending a week or so every summer with Grandma Annie. It was usually in August, when harvest was at its peak.

Growers who brought their produce to the nearby IGA store also stopped to visit Annie, using her side door to peddle peas, beans, tomatoes, corn and berries. If it was fresh, Annie bought it, and planned her menu around the best of the season.

On damp or cool days, Annie baked, and no summer was complete without at least one blueberry pudding.

Although I think this pudding tastes better cold, I could rarely wait for it to cool off, once Annie removed it from the oven. And truth be told, neither could she.

While this dessert (oh, what the heck, I've had it for breakfast) was always called blueberry pudding, Annie often added raspberries or strawberries. Made no difference: It was still delicious. Annie's use of fresh ingredients gave it a deep, old-fashioned flavor that I relished then and still do today.

In my teenage years, my parents moved from our little Main Street enclave to a similar neighborhood across town, less than a mile from Annie's house. Come late July, it was a thrill for me when Annie summoned me to her house so she could share her blueberry pudding with us. I loved the walk from our house to Annie's: A half block down busy Broadway, turn left at the convent and walk until you cross the tracks by the boiler works, then continue west until you reach the heart of Frenchtown.

Thanks to Annie, I love all manner of blueberry desserts. To me they are the true heart of summer, layered and rich and sweet. And fleeting. Because Annie never used blueberries from a can. Blueberry pudding was only to be savored in late July and August.

I made some last night with raspberries and blueberries. We're on the downward side of summer now: I heard the electric buzz of cicadas last week.

15 July 2012

Grilled Pork Chops with a Rich Coffee Rub and Potato Salad With Goat Cheese, Olives and Red Peppers

It is, as I recall, an unwritten rule that bloggers are not to pour out their hearts online.

But allow me to say this: Watching a parent succumb to Alzheimer's Disease is heart-breaking. The tears, the anxiety, the little scraps of paper in her pockets as I empty them to do her laundry takes a piece of my heart every day.

I speak of course of my mother who was just beginning to show hints of frailty when I began this blog six years ago. The last three years have been a challenge as my sister and I tried to balance her needs with the demands of children, spouses and jobs.  Just over a year ago, we moved my mother to an assisted living facility. Her neighbors there are the parents of my friends and former coworkers. The staff is kind and caring, but my mother is lonely and confused. She is no longer able to make friends. She can barely marshall the resources to sit and try to remember the past, which is becoming dimmer now, dimmer than it was even six months ago. Sometimes she knows me, sometimes she forgets my father, but always, she wants her mother.

We children do what we must do, because that is what is needed, and no one complains. She dried our tears and tied our shoes and much much more, and we do that we must. It's part of the circle of life.

Once I leave my job at the end of September, I will also begin the sad and arduous task of preparing her house for sale, and while I share this with three siblings, it will be an emotional undertaking, for this was the house my father lived in as a young man in those heady days after World War II. My parents bought this house with my father's GI loan and let my father's parents live in the house while they rented other houses in other parts of town. It is in the old cattle trader's neighborhood near the original town center, a historical detail that is lost to all but my generation.

Life is, well, life and therefore not always easy.

My husband, as good husbands are, is a source of comfort.

The times we spend at home after a demanding day have become extremely precious this past year, and cooking together is now a pressure valve. Mr. FKIA handles the meat, mostly, while I organize the salads and side dishes.

Saturday night I used a coffee rub on two very thick and juicy pork chops which Mr FKIA placed on the grill. The ingredients include coffee, brown sugar, sea salt, paprika, black pepper, garlic, onion, sugar and coriander.

The lone accompaniment was a red-skin potato salad with Greek olives, goat cheese and roasted red peppers. For this you need:

  • 10 small new potatoes 
  • 10-12 Greek olives, chopped or sliced
  • 1 small red pepper, roasted and chopped
  • at least 1 tablespoon unseasoned chèvre, crumbled
  • 2-3 green onions, white and green parts chopped
  • dash sea salt
  • generous dash herbes de Provence or Mediterranean herbs (a generous dash)
  • about 2/3 cup of dressing, mayonnaise or mayonnaise blended with yogurt or sour cream
Wash the potatoes and place in a good-sized pot or saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat after about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside in cool water while you are preparing the other ingredients. (Feel free to use red peppers from a jar on a hot day; I did not, and I paid for it!) Once the potatoes are cool, toss in the other ingredients in a large bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.

The salad was a gamble. (I had already tested the rub on a barbecued chicken we had on the Fourth of July.) The salad's tanginess and sweetness were a perfect foil for the rich dark flavor of the chops.

I've sad it before, potato salad is like chicken: It's a blank canvas and you can dress it up or down many ways. Some people prefer the classic, but I like to think of potato salad as an entire category of food.

Here are several other versions I like:

No matter how you prepare it, potato salad is a summer taste to be savored.

13 July 2012

Smoked Chicken Sausage with Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables

For many years, we've shopped mostly at the largest super market in town, owned by an Italian family who appreciates good food and keeps the merchandise fresh in every sense of the word by constantly adding new products. A few years back, you heard me rave about the market's olive bar. Two years ago, both locations were updated. Wine stores and a fresh meat-and-fish department were added. I love shopping there. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable.

But about 15 years ago, an Aldi's opened on the south side of town, and last summer, Walmart expanded and offered a supermarket. I enjoy these markets, too, because they offer brands and products the Italian market does not carry. Aldi's, in particular, reminds me of shopping at LeClerc or Carrefour in France. And why not spread my grocery money around?

I have to admit, I don't make too many forays away from the Italian market, but the other day, I had to run to Walmart for a non-food item, and I moseyed around the food area.

Here's what I stumbled upon: Smoked Mozzarella Chicken Sausage with Artichokes and Garlic. Sounded interesting, and the sodium level wasn't too bad.

Reader, I bought a package.

I allowed the package of sausage to sit in the refrigerator for a day or two while I pondered approaches. Meanwhile, I bought:

  • One red pepper
  • One small eggplant
  • One very small zucchini

I got to work. I roasted thinly sliced strips of red pepper and small, square chunks of zucchini, first drizzling them with olive oil and Mediterranean seasoning. While these vegetables were roasting in a 400-degrree oven, I chopped a small sweet onion and grated half the zucchini. While the onion was caramelizing over medium heat, I prepared two small servings of low-carb Dreamfields spaghetti and set them aside. I sliced two of the four sausages.

I added the sausage to the onions and tossed in the grated zucchini. When sausage was thoroughly heated and slightly browned and the vegetables in the oven were lightly roasted, I put the spaghetti on two small dinner plates, topped it with the sausage-onion-zucchini mix and then added the roasted vegetables and finally, sprinkled the dish with Parmesan cheese.

Roasted eggplant and zucchini are comfort foods for me, and red pepper adds that certain something to just about every dish with a Mediterranean influence. I was very careful with seasonings, because I did not want to overwhelm the already strong sausage flavor. This was a team effort, not a battle of tastes.

Because this was also an experiment, I did not add garlic, but when I make this again, I will use a small clove before caramelizing the onion. I will also toss in some fresh basil, about the time I add the grated zucchini to the onion-sausage pan. There's no tomato in my version, but next time I will add some small chunks of fresh tomato before sprinkling on the Parmesan. My approach was to pair roasted with fresh or nearly-fresh vegetables here.

So, here's what you need:
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt 
  • Mediterranean Spices
  • Red Pepper
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Sweet Onion
  • Sausage, your choice, but I'm sticking to this one
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Black Olives for garnish, optional
  • Spaghetti, or the pasta of your choice

I will make this again, no doubt. It's a nice summer-into-fall fish. This year, my garden includes peppers, tomato, eggplant and zucchini. but I'm not holding out hope for a large harvest.

12 July 2012

Paris: Three Waiters Waiting in Place Dauphine

My next food post will have to wait, because Mr. FKIA mistakenly tossed some of the fixings away.

These things happen. I was only mildly irritated. Life's too short to be upset about small things that can be fixed.

Some people do.

But patience is something I've learned.

I had to snap the photo above quickly because I was afraid one of the waiters would separate from the group. I like the symmetry of three (or five) of anything. It was taken on a lovely Sunday in May in Paris. The restaurant was about to open.

Last night we ate at a casual, family restaurant along the shore, and I had a pulled pork sandwich. It was wonderful! The pork was topped with coleslaw. I love coleslaw!

This recipe from Kalyn sounds wonderful, too! Note that it is made with a slow cooker, so patience is required. The guacamole serves the same purpose as the cole slaw. Different tastes, different textures alway appeal to me.

Here's another slow cooker recipe from Christine that looks appealing. In my book, Christine is the Queen of Taste Pairings.

09 July 2012

Grandma Annie's Kitchen Door

On warm summer days, Grandma Annie's kitchen was breezy and cool, thanks to a complex but purely accidental system of cross breezes from east and and west. The new exterior door that opened into the remodeled pantry and the adjacent "back bedroom" windows allowed the easterly breezes to enter the room while the lone kitchen window and the window and exterior door off the back hallway provided access for westerly winds.

Annie's house, which probably has it roots in 1863 when the neighborhood was developed, grew  higgledy-piggledy over the last decades of the 19th century, serving once as a general store with an owner's flat above and later, when Annie's father (known to longtime readers as Pépere) renovated the structure in 1930, a stately, two-flat house with little setback from Dunlap Avenue and Bellevue Street where they intersect in the heart of Frenchtown. Annie lived most of her adult life in the downstairs flat, but spent her childhood living upstairs.

The hallway that ran along one side of the downstairs flat included an exterior door that allowed us to enter and exit on Bellevue Street. The egg man and the man who sold peas and beans used this door. The hallway was cold and mostly unused in winter, except for vegetable storage. It connected Annie's heart-of-the-house kitchen with the back room, a sort of keeping room where my grandmother stored extra pots and pans in a large red bead-and-board cabinet, surely built by Pépere, as well as her sewing machine, her cheese box full of old recipes and her herb-drying rack.

The door between the kitchen and hallway was a heavy, 19th century model with two windows, painted a dark brown on one side and creamy white on the other. When the family who bought the house from my aunt nine years ago gutted the interior - bringing the structure into its third century and creating a comfortable one-family home - they gave the door to my sister. She uses it as garden art.

I think it looks charming in her garden, don't you? It's like having Grandma Annie with us.

Annie's sewing machine is now in my sister's living room, while Pépere's garden cabinet is part of mine. Once I've cleaned it out, I promise it will make its way into a post here.

In the upstairs flat, where my grandparents reared Annie and her siblings, Pépere built an early version of kitchen cabinet, with a flour or vegetable bin, utensil drawers and other conveniences that rival today's fashionable and efficient kitchens. I wish I had taken a photo of this kitchen before the house was sold.

No matter, for that kitchen lives on in my memories, too.

08 July 2012

A Taste of Catalonia: Escalivada

The heat spell broke Friday night with a mild thunderstorm and a refreshing rain, and Saturday we woke up to a rejuvenating coolness. Thankfully, the day was never hot enough to be uncomfortable, so we gathered in my sister's back yard in there heart of town for a girls' night. My brother, visiting from Illinois, left for his class reunion, but my brother-in-law gamely stuck around for a Catalan treat: Escalivada, prepared by Anna, the family's summer exchange student, a truly delightful and self possessed young lady.

We grownups sipped a plummy, jammy Michigan rose wine while Anna coated with olive oil and then roasted one very large eggplant and 4-5 red peppers - smaller, she note, than in her country - along with a huge, sweet onion wrapped in foil, carefully turning the vegetables for even cooking. Once the vegetables were thoroughly roasted, she allowed them to cool a bit before carefully peeling them.

Anna sliced tomatoes in half the long way while my brother-in-law toasted slices of bread on the grill. Once the bread was toasted, Anna instructed us to rub it with tomatoes, making sure to soak the bread with tomato juice. Next, we piled the bread high with the eggplant, which was almost a spread-like consistency, and then the peeled peppers. Next came onions, anchovies and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, plus a dash of sea salt.

The result was an open-faced sandwich. Here is a more detailed set of instructions, basically the same approach as Anna's. Read more here.

There are apparently other approaches, including using garlic instead of onion. We ate our escalivada with a refreshing green salad.

It reminded me so much of the ratatouille I will be making soon. The farm stands are up! Our warm spring has brought an early harvest.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

01 July 2012

A Simple Chèvre, Chive and Green Onion Dip

In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I braved the high-summer crowds to spend the Fourth of July holiday on Wisconsin's Door County Peninsula. With its harbor towns and fishing villages, farmlands and cherry orchards, Door County was and still is the perfect place for that uniquely American holiday.

We browsed the antique stores and quilt shops, buying fudge for dessert and carved shorebirds for our collection. In the evenings we'd drive up into the hills behind the quaint village of Ephraim, where the air was filled with woodsmoke and birdsong.

One night we saw a group of people on a picnic, with tables set up in the sunken foundations of an old farmhouse. I was certain these were the descendants of the original homesteaders, returning to the daily seat to mark Independence Day.

My ancestors were not among the Scandinavians and Belgians who settled Door County; they were among the Irish and French Canadians who settled 17 miles across the Bay of Green Bay. But they too marked the Fourth of July with gatherings at the home of my grandmother in Frenchtown, which with its old barn, garden and ample yard, felt rural, even though it was a block from the neighborhood's commercial center.

Fourth of July at Grandma Annie's will always conjure memories of berry pies, fresh vegetables, grilled chicken and potato chips (all washed down with Coca Cola).

Potato chips are a family weakness. We love them. We love them plain and we love them with dip. So as you must know by now, I love experimenting with dip.

For this holiday's dip, I took a look in my refrigerator and another look in my garden. This is what I came up with:

Chèvre, Chive and Green Onion Dip

  • 1 four-ounce log of chevre, softened
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chives, chopped
  • dash honey-dijon or grainy mustard (optional)
  • dash sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Blend the first three ingredients in a small bowl and allow to soften at room temperature. I used multiple blade herb scissors to chop the chives and the green portion of the onions. Have a bowl of chips at the ready so you can taste test as you go along. The mustard is purely a matter of taste. So are the seasonings. Allow the flavors to marry before serving.

The dip should be rustic - that is, coarse, not smooth. Serve it with fresh green pepper strips, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, bagel chips and of course, potato chips.