Cold, Comfort

Well, that felt good. I was overdue for a tirade, I guess. If I had any savvy I’d rave like that all the time, since those posts (see the “best of” page for all you newcomers) always get mad traffic.

I forgot to mention that a contributing factor to the blogstipation around here has been a matter of simple laziness; since I’m out at least once a week shooting pictures, my tripod, light stand, and other gear tend to stay in the car. So when dinner time rolls around, the prospect of going out to get them and set them up in time to shoot a plate of food seems like too much work. Come summer, this will all be moot in the abundant natural light, but for now it represents an obstacle, if a silly one. I did, however, want to show off this new bowl—part of my first ever firing in a wood kiln.

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Three Sisters

Corn, beans, and squash are the trinity of native American staple crops. The fact that they can be planted all together—beans climbing corn, squash crowding out weeds on the ground—only adds to their iconic appeal. This meal took shape around the happy presence of all three in the pantry, all in different states, and the result was quite satisfying.

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Scene-Stealing

These are the scallops I mentioned earlier, and there are a couple of non-scallop things worth mentioning about the dish.

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Chick Appeasement

This may not have been the most elegant meal ever made, but it was very good to eat, and it illustrates a useful principle of home cooking that can, when applied properly, make homemade food taste more interesting than restaurant food.

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Lambs And Clams, Fit The Third: Cassoulet

If for no other reason, agreeing to be a part of this contest has meant that you all get at least one post per month to enjoy since I’m not really feeling the blog right now and with a broken flash and darkness falling so early decent photography that coincides with actual dinner time is not possible. Having said that, though, this dish would deserve a post even if there were no such contest. I made cassoulet before my trip to France, and did a decent job of it, but Kate showed me her method and it drove home the importance of having all the component parts be as immaculately sourced as possible. I know she has a cassoulet app coming out soon, so pay attention to her Twitter feed and jump on that when it drops. The fact that her technique has continued to evolve is proof that this is a dish that warrants many repetitions and refinements in your own kitchen. This version was made mostly with lamb, since that’s what they sent me. Cassoulet is superbly adaptable to what you have on hand.

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This Is Our Hill, And These Are Our Beans

I’ve been sick as a dog, so all the festive autumnal posts I had planned will have to wait until I catch up with articles and other stuff that I’m behind on. But rest assured: I have binders full of awesome posts just waiting to be unleashed upon you at a moment’s notice. Meantime, I’ll tell you about this wonderful soup we had the other night, which was made entirely from homemade and homegrown things. It had the deep and vivid flavor of food that you eat on vacation in another country, which imprints itself upon your memory forever as being both emblematic of the place and the definitive version of that dish; you are forever after disappointed by the pale imitations at the restaurants back home, and your own efforts always fall short. This humble bowl of soup was like an Italian vacation in a bowl. Nothing was missing. It was perfect, and it transported me back to the osteria in Florence where I first had white bean and escarole soup.

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If You’re Not Careful, You Just Might Learn Something

This was a simple one, but made exceptionally flavorful by a couple of small steps. We’ve been digging chick peas lately; they’re leguminously sturdy without being too beany, if that makes any sense, and they take well to a wide variety of flavors that beans might not fit quite so seamlessly with. That curry I mentioned recently was good eating, and in the case of last night’s meal it was all about the sympatico that Moroccan flavors also have with garbanzos. Step one was using dried beans rather than canned ones; there’s just no comparison in flavor. These were bone dry and pebble hard three hours before dinner, too, but a brief soak in water followed by 45 minutes of hissing yielded lovely, tender peas ready for their second cooking with all the flavors.

The flavors began with a panoply of spices that I had the kid grind up in the small suribachi: coriander, cumin, mustard, caraway, hot pepper, lemon salt, black pepper, and a clove. Grinding spices is the other important step that elevated this above a regular weeknight phone-in, and best of all I used child labor so it didn’t add any extra minutes to the prep time. While he ground spices, I peeled half an orange and diced the outer skin. He juiced the rest of it, and only drank some of it. We added peas, spices, juice, and some water to a pan in which diced onion had been sweating, then added a fistful of oil-cured olives, some . . . → Read More: If You’re Not Careful, You Just Might Learn Something

Cassoulet

My high school French teacher left a comment on a recent post asking for a picture of a cassoulet if I happened to stumble across one in my travels. While it’s funny that she’s still giving me homework after over 25 years, it was also lucky; it gave me an excuse to ask Kate to make cassoulet so I could see the whole process up close. So she did. She has made it hundreds of times, and this version represents her easy three to four hour distillation of the essential process. You can read her complete recipe here.

Many recipes for cassoulet begin by saying that it takes three days to make properly, which Kate thinks is nonsense. Sure, if you need to begin by making duck confit, then that’s true, but the nature of the Gascon larder is that there are always various jars of confit in there for just such an occasion. So if you make confit as part of your regular or even occasional routine, save some to make cassoulet. The rest of the process is really not complicated at all.

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Peasant Soup IS An Entrée!

Making the rounds in the garden, lately I’ve been thinning little heads of things like frisée, escarole, pan di zucchero, and radicchio so their brethren can expand to full size. I like to manage my thinning as attentively as I can; keeping track of the progress of various greens allows for using them at all the points of their growth cycle, from tiny sprouts to big fat heads and everything in between. Left too long, they get too crowded, but done right means more food from each bed. The work of the last few days has been to remove the last of the too-close small heads so the rest can grow up unimpeded. And since it was escarole’s turn, that led inevitably to this soup.

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Good Shit

This is what arrived today, along with the beaming sun and a nice cool breeze to keep the sweat from getting out of control. I got half the garden planted; almost all the early stuff is in. The rest will wait for the warm-weather crops, so I can concentrate on various fruit beds and getting the asparagus in. I’m exhausted. And, just so you don’t think that every meal here is something lavishly extravagant, behold:

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Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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