Saturday, July 31, 2010

Brilliant

Before kids, my husband and I traveled to South Africa; on one of our safaris, a tardy British couple had to run after our large ATV in order to keep from being left behind. Once onboard, we all chatted quietly, while keeping our eyes peeled for wildebeests, wild dogs and elephants. Since the couple had only just arrived in South Africa and we’d been in the country for longer, the very proper British elderly lady questioned us on various issues in her high pitched tone of voice. Finally she asked about the mosquito situation. (Prior to traveling abroad, we’d had to get painful preventative malaria shots and were repeatedly warned to bring potent DEET insect repellant.) So in response to the woman’s question, my husband responded, “We’ve been in Africa for two whole weeks and haven’t seen a single mosquito!” The woman responded with relieved laughter and then screeched, “Brilliant, simply BRILLIANT!”

Eight years after our trip, my husband and I can still make each other smile by uttering the phrase, “Brilliant, simply BRILLIANT!” (Yes, you had to be there, but just imagine those words being uttered at soprano pitch in the middle of an African jungle.)
Last night I did a few things that were “Brilliant, simply BRILLIANT!”

We’ve been eating a lot of farmers market corn on the cob lately. And while doing so, 2-year-olds and 5-year-olds make gigantic messes of corn all over the kitchen floor. So last night, we ate outside on the deck! The whole mess went on the floor of our deck…and then I just swept it between the cracks! Why didn’t I think of that earlier? Brilliant!

Secondly, I needed something super quick to go with the corn. Checking the pantry, I found some Trader Joes canned trout fillets in olive oil. I lifted the fillets out of the oil and flaked it, added some of our fresh chives and then scraped in a few kernels of the sweet corn; after a twist of ground pepper, it was served on slices of French bread. The sweet corn and herbal chives made the trout tasted even sweeter.  
Beautiful, irregular rind
And the oil from the fish provided just enough moisture to keep the salad from tumbling off bread. The girls ate it up along with their corn on the cob and the sweetest, musky canteloupe from the farmers' market. Simple, tasty and “Brilliant!” 
Lastly, I just learned this trick from my frugal neighbor: Once you finish the last pickle in the jar, stuff the jar with fresh cucumber or zucchini slices and refrigerate for a couple hours. Voila, the easiest pickles ever. And they were delicious with our Sweet Corn and Trout Crostini! “Brilliant!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mom, did you blow up my dinner?

The word is ‘on’ instead of ‘up.’ But when you’re two years old, all that matters is that there are pancakes on your plate and you’re worried about scalding your mouth.

Tonight we made Zucchini Pancakes from one of our favorite old Molly Katzen recipes. A couple highlights to share:
• When we grated 3 large zucchinis in about 1 minute flat using the food processor, the same two-year-old shouted excitedly, “Mommy, it’s zucchini spaghetti!” as she watched the shreds shoot out of the whizzing grater.
• My girls ate four pancakes each before I even got the sour cream or applesauce on the table. (I was still back at the stove flipping hot cakes.)
• Since we were out of feta cheese, we found that cottage cheese works great – maybe even better than the recipe-called for feta. The cakes are lighter and really moist; and if they’re really hot when you cut into them, you sometimes get a string of melty cheese all the way to your mouth.
• A flavor profile: The pancakes have crispy edges and insides that are light and fluffy; the salty cottage cheese brings out the sweet mint flavor which is all mellowed by the earthy onions. Yum!

Here’s my adaption to the Zucchini Pancakes recipe:

4 large eggs
Dash of salt
Lots of ground black pepper
4 cups (packed) grated zucchini
1/2 cup finely minced scallions (I used fresh white baby onions from the garden)
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped (I used more since it grows like a weed)
1 cup cottage cheese; drained for a couple minutes through a colander (or 1 cup feta cheese)
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Oil for cast iron skillet
My favorite Toppings:
Sour cream
Applesauce

1. Separate eggs and whip up the whites until stiff.
2. Combine egg yolks, salt, pepper, zucchini, scallions, mint, cottage cheese and flour in a medium-sized bowl.
3. Fold in egg whites.
4. Place a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. After 1 ½ minutes, swirl in oil to coat the bottom. When hot, use a 2 tablespoon scooper to scoop batter onto the hot pan, and fry for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, or until golden and crisp.
5. Serve hot – plain is best – but you could slather on sour cream and applesauce for those folks wary of anything zucchini.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Menthe a l'eau and hello

Menthe a l'eau is French for 'mint water.' And menthe a l'eau rhymes with ‘hello’ (pronounced ment-a- low'). I'm feeling the need to say 'hello' again. Yes, I know it's been a WHILE since I’ve written.

Our little boy was born in April and he started sleeping through the night last week. Now I feel a like a real person. We were on vacation in Michigan and Montana the entire month of June. Anyway, I'm back...and I know I'm really back to a routine because this week I popped the THREE kids in the mini-van and drove to three farmers’ markets. (Actually we walked to one.) Farmers’ markets and blogging were routine last summer… expect great things. I'm optimistic!  (Photo left: Menthe a l'eau and farmers' market squash)

So last night our French supper was inspired by a story I told the girls about when I was 16 and visiting a friend in France. She, her girlfriends and I would sit at French cafes and drink frosty glasses of bright green menthe a l’eau. Maybe my memory of how refreshing they were is so vivid because it was so hot in Ch├ólons-sur-Marne that summer!

My daughter made the mint simple syrup herself (photo left). She cut the mint from our container garden and measured equal parts sugar, water and lightly packed mint leaves into a pan. We brought it to a boil then simmered for 2 minutes and then cooled. After straining out the mint leaves, we just added green food coloring and water (you could use sparkling water, but the French just use tap).

After all these years, the drinks were just as refreshing and just as bright green (photo below.)  And in French style we wrote our menu on a chalkboard:  Menthe a l'eau, Summer Succotash, Deviled Eggs, cheese plate, chocolate (photo above.)