My friends and family give me cookbooks – for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmases; I’m very happy about that, no complaints at all and by now I have an interesting collection that I like to browse, read or get inspiration from. I still remember the very first cookbook I ever bought, when I was sixteen and had just returned home from some time spent as an exchange student at The George School in Newtown, near Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. While I was there I had developed a serious liking for sweet things like brownies, pancakes and chocolate chip cookies and once home I fully intended to keep eating them, which meant making them myself and since I had no idea about cooking or baking (which wasn’t on the top of my to-do list at that time), I needed a cookbook when buying cookbooks was still uncool and knowledge of american cuisine virtually nonexistent. The book I bought, by the way, is about as tall as my hand is high and about as thick as my index finger and it doesn’t sport a single picture. But it did the trick, anyway. You might say, you can blame it all on the brownies….
Greek Food is really great; lots of olive oil, lots of lemon, oregano, sage, honey – and full-fat, extra creamy yogurt to go with it – meat, fish and seafood until you wish for a couple of extra stomachs to put it all. My kids are firm believers of the incredible phenomenon called the “desert stomach” – extra capacity for sweet stuff that seems to be infinite…..I could have used one or two of them to eat myself through the extensive lunches we’ve enjoyed daily when we visited our friends in Athens. Obviously, though, it seems to be a thing you really, truly have to believe in, else it won’t work – or maybe it only works for sweet stuff? Instead, I felt a lot like Eric Carl’s “Very Hungry Caterpillar” does on Saturday evening….
My friend Pia is blessed with italian roots and a family that knows how to cook and by extension I get to enjoy ecxellent espresso and home cooked italian food whenever I see her, which is not nearly often enough. Last time we met we cooked toegether for her birthday party and ended up with a culturally confused yet tasty buffet – cheesy chicken nachos and tiramisu, anyone? – but the star of that nights’ show was the minestrone, a big pot full of tomatoey goodness and fresh veggies and a good dose of olive oil.
It has been warm for winter (8 C / 45 F ) here so far, not warm enough to suit me, and that’s hardly a surprise, but decidedly wet and grey and generally yucky; it gets light late and dark early and snotty nose season in school and kindergarten is in full swing. Last week the weather has taken a turn for the worse, it started to snow on and off, the cat doesn’t want to leave the house anymore and complains to me about it and our beefy BBQ is shivering in the corner of our deck. If it looks like winter, if it feels like winter, it probably is…winter.
Inside the door of the kitchen cabinet that is home to our oldie-but-goldie Gaggia (that sadly suffers from severe calcification at the moment and refuses to make more espressos for those in need) there sticks a post-it note every week that has the days of the week (weekends are free for all, more creative, everybody has a say – and an opinion – about what’s for dinner) and dinner plans on it, that I stick to (pun not intended), mostly. It facilitates shopping (I’m brain dead when I’m at the store without a plan; that and being hungry while grocery shopping are a loose-loose combination: none of the things that we actually need make it home with me, but all of the things that I felt like, instead…lunchbox-limbo: bread? Let them eat cake!) and it takes the “what should we have for dinner tomorrow” out of the dinner conversation today. It also helps to keep the protein situation in our freezer at a manageable level; amazing and completely unexpected, how frozen chicken breasts seem to have a second lease on the after-life and migrate from shelf to shelf just to confuse me…
It’s Christmastime, right in the thick of it, and these are almond biscotti that taste of sunshine and warm Tuscan summer evenings and not of (potentially) snowy days and icy cold winter weather that takes me ten minutes to dress the kids for in the morning before going to school – I’m aware of that. But they’re still cookies and it is Christmas and I don’t mind at all to have a little bit of sunshine to dunk in my espresso – or my vin santo, for that matter.
The first time I met up close and personal with pumpkin pie was unfortunately when I got served a big, quivering, orange slice of store bought (and not the right store, let me tell you) goodness…I was told it was an acquired taste and right away I had no idea why anybody would like to acquire a taste for what was sitting on my plate. A pity, really, since it took a long time for my taste buds to get over that memory – think of all the excellent pumpkin pies I was missing in the meantime…until then, I swear I have never been eating around a food item, but that pumpkin pie did it for me. Shame on me, then, that I didn’t try to figure out what pumpkin could really do for you in a pie – or in other applications. When – or probably more like where – I grew up, pumpkin was pretty much the stepchild of the veggie family; it came pickled, sweet and sour. Period. Now I suspect that nobody really knew what to eat it with or on, unlike cucumber pickles, where everyones’ knee-jerk answer seems to be “burgers”, I haven’t been able to find out what all these glasses of preserved pumpkin slices and dices that sit on german store shelves are designed to go with….the Danes, on the other hand eat anything pickled to everything, it seems, cold cuts or warm meat, makes no difference – to me it made a lot more sense, if those pickled pumpkins were to be found in danish supermarkets instead…
Pie crust, quiche crust, tart crust – you’ll be done making it before you know it, no excuses. When I told Martin I was going to kind of stick the crust recipe onto the quiche post, he was scandalized, and he’s probably right; it’s not an afterthought, but neither is it the main event, though you’ll not be happy with your dinner or desert unless it’s held in place by something that does more than tick the boxes required by a card board box: a) holds its shape b) is brown c) comes with a lid – sometimes. A nice crust can make all the difference to what is filled into it, you can give an extra kick of flavor to your quiche by adding some cracked black pepper or a handful of chopped up herbs to the crust, or you can balance the sweetness of you tart or pie depending on the filling and the natural sweetness of the fruit you plan to use by adding some sugar or vanilla sugar.
Sometimes life gets in the way of the contents of your fridge – as it did for us last weekend; dinner was planned and lunch somewhat, leftovers turned sandwich. And then one thing led to the next and we didn’t eat either lunch or dinner at home all weekend – which was perfectly fine, in fact a lot of fun, but it left me with a fridge full of must-eat-yesterday items that didn’t necessarily fit well together to create one single dish. So I added on here and there with the result that there was dinner in the fridge for every day of this week cooling its heels, waiting to be eaten in “best before” order. As for the clean-up? There were still some items that, when put in a row, looked kind of funny together and could only add up to one thing: quiche. The perfect vessel for hiding showcasing one or two food stuffs that otherwise wouldn’t get anybody excited…but inside a pie – a whole new world.
I tasted this chutney first at my friend Pia’s home, way back when; it’s her Mom’s recipe and it was then – and is now – good enough to eat with a spoon. It is understood in my family now that that’s what tomato chutney tastes like, the go-to-recipe for a chunky-sweet and slightly sour-with a definite hint of apple tomato condiment for grilled fish or pork. There’s only one person here in the house that actually can eat things like that with a spoon, and that’s my little son Luca, but although I cannot, cannot, cannot and won’t ever learn to understand how it’s possible to eat ketchup that comes in these almost too big for the fridge plastic bottles with a spoon, I have to admit, that I have no problem at all licking the spoon that comes out of the tomato chutney glass.