the french pantry

My host mother Hélène prepares the most wonderful, simple dinners. Too hot to turn on the stove? A big Salade Niçoise appears. Need a bit of protein? Let’s have Oeufs en Cocotte, or simply put out slices of ham with the lovely heirloom tomato salad. All that’s left in the house is pasta and a single, lonesome tomato? Add a bunch of herbs, an unholy amount of garlic, and a generous glop of olive oil and you’ve got a “pistou” for your noodles.

Almost every dinner, there’s a tomato-heavy salad and fruit for dessert (side note: they salt and pepper their cantaloupe, and it’s great). They don’t drink every night, and when they do, they pour small amounts of rosé over ice cubes. They don’t snack between meals.

So, my take-home of all this is twofold. On the level of practices, I’m eager to make the weekly farmer’s market near me a part of my routine so I can replicate the beautiful salads and dessert fruits that I’ve become used to.

The second bit is more of an observation. Here are five things that are always in Hélène’s pantry that are rarely in mine (a peek in my pantry reveals a million kinds of beans, chipotles in adobo, and canned-tomato variations… I guess it’s obvious how much we make chili-ish meals!)

– Canned green beans
– Canned, high-quality tuna (and its cousin, tinned sardines)
– Chives, which she keeps chopped up in the freezer and adds to EVERYTHING – when’s the last time I used a chive?!
– Eggs (OK, I have those too, but I don’t use them as wisely)
– A selection of cheeses and fruits for dessert purposes (funny, both of these might be a snack in the US)

And bonus,
– “L’eau qui pique” – Sparkling water

dinners this week vol. 3: some complicated meals and a weeknight winner

I had an amazing time in Paris last week with my mom! But it was kind of nice to be cooking again :) I think Parker felt the same way — I’m pretty sure he subsisted entirely on weird snacks while I was gone. So this week we made:

our favorite carnitas (actually, Parker made them this time), which is more of a weekend recipe just because it takes a while – but it’s not hard at all.

-a delicious soup from this cookbook with pinto beans and 20 cloves of garlic — actually, 26 cloves! And bizarrely, that was not even the dominant flavor. It was delicious and also more of a weekend thing because it takes quite a while. Plus, they advise making it a day in advance, which we did.

– this weeknight winner: mushroom marsala bake. It only required one pot!

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– lastly, we marinated a pork tenderloin in soy sauce, dijon mustard, olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper and Parker prepared it in some magical way. I think he seared it on all sides, then wrapped in in foil for 15 minutes, then finished in the oven for 15 minutes. But temperatures, etc, are all unknown to me. He also went nuts and made this as a side dish. Pretty sure that his rage was the dominant flavor there (only joking, it was delicious!)

dinners this week vol. 2: a great combination

This week, we had an amazing dinner double-up that I don’t want to forget. On the first night, we made this amazing recipe.

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Photo credit: Pinch of Yum

The recipe for the cilantro-cashew sauce made way too much, but the sauce was delicious. I thought, what could we make that would use this? So we made falafel and pita.

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Photo credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

I had previously tried a different pita recipe, but this one really fluffed up better to make more expansive pockets. We served it with homemade harissa, lettuce with lime squeezed over it, peppers and cucumbers. And, of course, the cilantro-cashew sauce!

PS. The living room just got an upgrade… new post soon!

dinners this week, vol. 1

I thought it would be good to reflect on what dinners (and subsequent lunches) we eat each week, in the hopes of eventually building a catalogue of weekly meals, all planned out and ready to go. Better than reinventing the wheel each week! I really enjoy having leftovers for lunch, and usually enjoy cooking. But I dread making the weekly menu and going to the grocery store. This may at least alleviate one of those problems.

This week, we made:
Wild Rice, Broccoli and Spinach Casserole with Homemade Harissa

-Easy Pork Chops with a side of asparagus

Texas Turkey Chili (but we used chicken)

Chicken Tikka Masala: this was crazy good! A little involved, but worth it. We had it with jasmine rice because I couldn’t find basmati rice at Market Basket.

Strengths this week:
– Plenty of leftovers, especially from wild rice casserole and tikka masala.

Weaknesses this week:
– Due to birthdays and out-of-town visitors, I ate out twice this week, which messed up my budget and means our meal plan was a little skimpy.
– Literal weakness: I fainted this week!

PS. Dying to try this recipe soon!

what’s for dinner

Lately, the form my home-making (not to get all 50’s on it) has been taking has been not so much painting and organizing as laundry and cooking. But hey, cooking is still creative! Or at least, it can be. Tonight, I got done with my work a little early and irrationally decided to make a feast. (This was irrational because 1. it’s Wednesday and 2. we went out for Harvest Hell last night, which was wild!)

It’s Tex-Mex for dinner tonight! I can’t claim to know anything about authentic Mexican food, but I know that I love cooking with Homesick Texan recipes. My favorite phase of cooking is when you have made a recipe so many times that you know what you can get away with based on ingredients in your house. I always get frustrated when I read recipe reviews that complain about the recipe only to reveal they lacked some of the ingredients, and that is certainly not what I’m up to here. (I remember reading once, or maybe seeing?, on or in America’s Test Kitchen, about a reviewer complaining about a chicken recipe… only to reveal he had made it with shrimp!) But, here is my absolute favorite recipes of hers (and I can guess it’s only my favorite because I have not yet made enough of her recipes!) and what I can get away with.

OK, so the original recipe can be found here. It is great as-is. There is absolutely no need to change anything about it. I have served it to countless friends and I think I may now go by the unfortunate nickname of “bean lady.” Not really. But maybe.

Here is how I made it tonight (which is completely vegetarian, btw, and probably gluten-free, although I am loathe to admit it):

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Peppery pinto beans withOUT sausage

Ingredients:
2 cups dried pinto beans (I don’t have a scale, so while the original recipe spoke of 1 pound, I always guess 2 cups is about right)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 big shallot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
6-7 cups water
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Changes to this I have made in the past that were delicious: the kielbasa the original recipe called for; bacon, which I remove after frying, chop, and add at the last minute so it doesn’t become all limp; bacon grease instead of olive oil; the jalapeños the recipe calls for are excellent, but I forgot to get them at the store. too bad so sad.)

Soak the beans overnight or for at least 8 hours. Today, I soaked them for eight hours.

Heat oil in a heavy, large pot (I use a dutch oven). Add to the pot the shallot and jalapeños and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook briefly. Pour in a little of the water (a hefty splash) and deglaze the pot (this is good to do even with the vegetarian version, because I find my garlic often sticks!)

Put the drained, soaked beans into the pot and cover the beans with 1 inch of water, approximately 4 more cups. Stir in the spices, and bring to a boil. (Guys, I never TOUCH the spice mixture other than the fact that I have never once had cilantro in the house when making these. Everything else is sacred. I am convinced this is where the magic lies.) Once it boils, turn down the heat, partially cover, and simmer until the beans are done. This has usually taken me about 2 hours, but I can imagine it taking way longer if your beans were old. Stir every once in a while, and if the water is all gone and the beans are still hard, add some more. Duh. Serve warm.

Yield: 8 servings

We have had these beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They are good alone or as part of a scramble, on a taco, or with rice. Seriously, make a pot. The hands-on effort is minimal and the reward is so tasty.

PS. I also made carnitas tonight. See, it’s a feast!