herbs, onions, tomatoes, and comfort

It’s been raining and dreary here for days, and will be raining and dreary for many more days. I count myself lucky, though; friends just an hour to the south are being rained out of their businesses and homes.

I’m also lucky that my momma taught me to cook whatever is on hand in the pantry, without going out in the driving rain to pick up groceries. That’s exactly what I did last night at her house; we had a comforting but tempting dinner cobbled together from whatever I found on the pantry shelves. Most of the recipes were experiments, and they turned out so well that I wanted to document them here, for future rainy nights*.

soup: cream of tomato with golden sherry
tartines: sun-dried tomato, sautéed mushrooms, black olives, herbed neufchatel, and parmesan on onion herb bread
oven-fries: potatoes and sweet potatoes
salad: mixed greens with chile-spiced almond slivers and balsamic vinaigrette

* The next of these future rainy nights was sooner than you think: D and I had the soup, sandwiches, and sweet potato fries for dinner the very next night. I had my camera (thanks, Elli!) along, and just plain forgot to take photos. Infuriating.

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The art of fostering brand loyalty

I made it to the library spring sale today, so I am happily glutted with books, including a 1930 edition of a cookbook published (I discovered on close inspection) by Procter and Gamble, with the unstated purpose of teaching women everywhere about the virtues of Crisco.

If I were publishing a book ostensibly for instructing in The Art of Cooking and Serving but actually intended to instill in homemakers a preference for a particular brand of shelf-stable fat, I might be a shade cannier about it. For example, I might not make Crisco the first or even second ingredient listed in each recipe, including chocolate souffle and shrimp Newburg.

On the other hand, Crisco is the logical first ingredient in Crisco Sandwich Spread, a blend of Crisco, raw egg yolk, mustard, paprika, vinegar, cayenne, and Worcestershire sauce, which the author assures us “will keep indefinitely” [emphasis in original]. Two great phrases that taste great together: raw egg yolk and keeps indefinitely. And what could a child like more than a sandwich of equal parts peanut butter and spicy, eggy Crisco Sandwich Spread?

Is My Blog Burning? The Tartine Edition

Midterms start tomorrow, in all their grueling glory, so my tartine will be a simple, satisfying dish. Given a bit of forethought, this can be thrown together by a ravenous student in the few minutes between classes and study sessions.

I regret being unable to post a photo, as the colors are stunning: the vivid magenta of the beets and the deep jewel green of the asparagus against soft green of the avocado, all blanketed by the pale cream of the melting cheddar, and the contrast of these yielding textures and mingling colors against the springy tangle and mixed shades of the baby greens…Is quite lovely, and inspired in me a Cézanne-like appreciation of color as color and shape as shape.

I have included a recipe for items marked with an asterisk*.

Cézanne tartine:
(all amounts are approximate; serves one)
2 slices wheat bread*, lightly toasted
1 small roasted beet* (beetroot, betterave)
5-6 stalks roasted asparagus*
2 mushrooms, sliced thin
1/4 ripe avocado
1 ounce sharp cheddar cheese or mild goat cheese
2 cups mixed greens
splash of balsamic vinaigrette
1 ounce dried cranberries
1 ounce glazed walnuts*
kosher salt, black pepper, lemon juice (optional)

Mash avocado coarsely with a few drops of lemon juice, a pinch of kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Spread avocado on slices of lightly toasted whole wheat bread. Top with beet slices, asparagus, carrots, and sliced mushrooms. Dot with goat cheese or top with slice of cheddar; broil until cheese melts.

Slice diagonally; serve on bed of mixed greens lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette and tossed with glazed walnuts and dried cranberries.

The suave creaminess of the avocado and cheddar, barely seasoned with lemon and salt, melds beautifully with the earthy, sweet intensity of the roasted vegetables. The salad, with its slightly bitter mix of greens and piquant dressing, is fresh and crisp, an excellent foil for all that complex sweetness. The walnuts provide a crunch and echo the earthiness of the beets, while the cranberries give a bright flavor to each bite of greens.

While I love the simplicity and smoothness of cheddar for this tartine, the tang of a mild goat cheese works well, too, making a slightly more sophisticated dish of these simple ingredients.

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