I wish I had a nickel for every time the words "comfort food" have been used in the United States since March 2020. With the money, I'd launch a campaign to deliver a cup of Vanilla Lemon Rice Pudding to the doorstep of every American, thereby redefining comfort food in our culture.
This recipe is gently sweet, creamy but not cloying. It is alive with lemon zest, and ethereal with a whole vanilla been (or vanilla extract.) Vanilla Lemon Rice Pudding is far more exciting than any other rice pudding I've ever had. Yet as comforting as your favorite cashmere sweater.
The Paris Connection
I learned of this bit of deliciousness from Katherine Burns of Rue Dauphine Paris. Katherine's Rue Dauphine Paris Instagram feed is full of glorious photos of her visits to historic gardens, churches, shops, and arrondissements in Paris, some lovely French recipes, and a glimpse of how she brings the Parisian lifestyle into her own Seattle home. Another bit of fun-- she and May of Noisettes 1420 (also a fabulous peek into Paris) host a Francophile book club, which I promise myself to participate in some soon day.
Needless to say, discovering Rue Dauphine Paris has brought me a bit of joy in these travel-less days, and has me wishing Katherine would be my guide to Paris one day.
Making Vanilla Lemon Rice Pudding
Katherine graciously allowed me to share her vanilla rice pudding recipe with you. I've renamed it to bring justice to the magic the lemon brings. I've made a slight change to the dairy component, swapping her 4 cups of whole milk + 1 1/4 cups heavy cream for 1 quart of half-and-half and 1 1/4 cups milk), otherwise this is completely hers. This change retains the silky creaminess of her version, but leaves me with no wasted partial carton of whipping cream. She is right in that the sweet aroma of lemon and vanilla this offers when bubbling on the stovetop is most pleasant.
You should definitely use Meyer Lemons when they are in season for this. The floral mandarin/lemon flavor is fantastic. I think orange zest would also be wonderful, like a creamsicle. However, standard Eureka or Lisbon (everyday grocery store0 lemons will still take you over the moon.
Katherine serves hers in flowery china cups, a touch of French charm, with a drizzle of caramel sauce. I like serving the rice pudding with a wedge of the zested lemon. A squeeze over the top brings a little acidic component as a balance to its sweet creaminess.
When I started dreaming of Vanilla Lemon Rice Pudding in the middle of the night, I knew I had to share it with you. It has become my new favorite sweet treat. Maybe it will become yours, too, as you dream of far away places.
Combine milk, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla seeds and bean pod, and lemon zest in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat.
Stir in rice, bring back to a strong simmer, cover with a lid. Reduce heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer 60 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until rice is tender and a puddinglike texture. Spoon into serving dishes, garnish with a wedge of zested lemon to squeeze over the top, and serve warm. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to store up to three days.
*Katherine Burns' original recipe calls for 4 cups of whole milk and 1¼ cups whipping cream. I changed this in order to use up an entire quart of half-and-half, and I typically have milk on hand. This provides less waste (3/4 cup of cream) in my kitchen since I use cream infrequently. Choose what's best for you, as the results are nearly indistinguishable.
I often make soup and some kind of grilled sandwich or panini for supper in the cool weather months, and this week's sandwich was a true hit. Garlicky greens and caramelized onion grilled cheese made with creamy brie is a rather fancy sandwich. I'm going so far to say this is the world's best grilled cheese to date.
Inspiration for Special Grilled Cheese
In my town there is one special spot that adds so much to my experience of living here. Provisions Market Hall is a beautiful place full of gastronomical goodness and so much more. Inside is a gorgeous florist, a wine shop, a beautiful kitchen and gift shop, a specialty foods grocery complete with lovely cheeses and charcuterie, freshly baked breads and pastries, wood oven baked pizzas with bubbly crusts, a coffee shop, and delicious lunch items. Provisions is a place of visual wonder, yes, but also offers practical support to the entire spectrum of us who cook and offer hospitality at home. When you visit Eugene, you just must visit Provisions.
I met a friend for lunch there last week ordered their chard and brie grilled sandwich special. It was so delicious I couldn't wait to try making it at home. I used kale because that's what I had on hand. Chard, kale, or even spicy mustard greens would each be gladly received in this glorious sandwich.
If you're a fan of the classic tomato soup and grilled cheese combination, this is the sandwich you'll want going forward. The slightly bitter greens, sweet earthy caramelized onion, and bloomy brie are the perfect foil to tomato soup. Tomorrow I'll share my recipe for the best tomato soup so you'll have the matched set.
Making the Garlicky Greens and Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese
There is nothing tricky here. Caramelize a few onions, cook some greens, and layer them on top of brie. Using a really good bread will also make a difference, so try for that, too.
Other Soups to Serve with Garlicky Greens and Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese
1bunchchard, kale, or mustard greensribs removed, chopped into about 1" pieces
salt + pepper to taste
1½teaspoonsred wine vinegar
sliced pain de mie or artisan bread, 2 per person
5-6ouncesbrie, sliced ¼" thick
In a large skillet heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat. Place the sliced onions in the skillet, sprinkle on several pinches of salt, and allow them to sit undisturbed for several minutes. When the bottom is beginning to brown, turn them, and once again allow them to brown undisturbed for several minutes. Continue this for about 15 minutes until the onions are soft and golden brown throughout.
While the onions are caramelizing, in another large skillet heat another 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat. Place the chopped greens in the skillet, and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Add the minced garlic. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the greens have cooked down about 1/3, or are beginning to soften, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the vinegar.
Lay the bread out on a work surface, and lay slices of brie on one side. Divide the sautéed greens among the sandwiches over the brie, then divide the caramelized onions over the brie. Cover each sandwich with its remaining bread slice.
Wipe out the skillet that the greens were cooked in with a paper towel, and heat the remaining Tbsp. olive oil in it over medium heat. Place the sandwiches in the skillet and cook each side until golden brown and crispy. Cut sandwiches in half and serve with tomato soup or simple salad or fruit.
Left over cooked greens and caramelized onions store well for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
Rustic Cake at Its Very Best
In my calculus, a rustic cake has a short list of ingredients, an interesting texture, and most importantly is adorned very plainly-- a straightforward glaze, scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, a smatter of nuts or seasonal fruit is all it takes. This Flourless Walnut Cake and its coffee or spice versions deliver on a promise of simplicity.
What a cake like this misses in complexity is made up with a certain honesty. It's like the fresh rosy-cheeked girl in a calico dress that smells of clothesline sunshine.
Or, our flourless walnut cake is like filtering your way through a crowded party, and meeting a gentle-souled person standing in the corner with whom to while the evening away.
Multi-tiered, colorful swooped, swirled, and filagree-frosted cakes sometimes disappoint on the part that really matters-- flavor. With flourless walnut cake or its coffee or spice versions, what you see is what you get. The beauty is natural, not forced.
Making the Flourless Walnut Cake
Starting with room temperature eggs, like with most baking, is imperative to the success of this recipe. Sugar simply cannot dissolve into cold yolks. Cold whites don't whip to their lofty heights. Here you spend a good deal of time building structure by dissolving sugar into yolks and stiffening the whites, so give yourself a guaranteed win by setting your eggs out in advance. (When I forget, I help the eggs warm up by placing them on a bowl of lukewarm water, changing it for more when it goes cold. Never try this with hot water or you make crack open a semi-cooked egg!)
Traditional recipes for this type of cake ask you to whip all of the whites into firm peaks at once. Here, I have you whip them to medium peaks at first, then add only a third of them to the yolk/sugar/nut mixture to lighten the batter. Then, you'll go back and whip the remaining two-thirds of the whites into firm stand-up-at-attention peaks before gently folding them into the batter. I have found this greatly increases the structure of the cake, resulting in a taller cake with less shrinkage when it comes out of the oven. Even though our dear little flourless walnut cakes are humble, they still like to make a good first impression.
If you chose, top either version with a pile of candied walnut halves, made the same way Sarah at Sustainable Cooks makes her pecans. The only difference is that I add 1 tablespoon water to the skillet along with the sugar. Make extra! Candied walnuts are great in salads or on a cheese platter, too.
Flourless Walnut cake is tender and delicious just as written, but the addition of coffee or baking spices takes it next level-- One recipe with three variations-- plain, Coffee, or Spice-- to suit your mood. Three primary ingredients, a few simple steps, and you'll have beautiful dessert cakes all winter.
2tablespoonsfinely ground coffee beans, plus 1 teaspoon for optional glaze
Coffee Glaze, Optional
1teaspoonfinely ground coffee beans
5tablespoonswarm or hot strong brewed coffee
½teaspoonpure vanilla extract
Flourless Walnut Cake
Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter and flour (or use very finely ground walnuts) a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the bottom of the pan with foil to catch any butter that melts out in the oven.
In a food processor, finely grind the walnuts. This will likely take only 8 -10 pulses. Stop just as they begin to clump. (Any further and you'll make walnut batter, not quite what we are after). Set the ground walnuts aside.
Seperate the eggs, placing the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment. Beat the yolks with the sugar and salt 6-8 minutes until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. (You'll be glad you let your eggs come to room temperature for this-- the sugar more readily dissolves in eggs that are not cold.)
If you are making a plain flourless walnut cake, move on to step five. If you are making either a walnut-spice cake or a coffee flavored cake, add the spice mix or the finely ground coffee beans now and mix in thoroughly.
Remove the mixing bowl from the stand mixer and with a silicone or rubber spatula, fold the ground walnuts into the yolk mixture.
In a separate clean bowl free of any oils or grease, whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla to medium peaks. (The cream of tartar helps stabilize the whipped egg whites.) Gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the walnut mixture. Then, whip the remaining egg whites once again until they just reach firm peaks. Fold them gently into the walnut mixture in two batches, folding until no more white streaks remain.
Place the cake batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the cake is puffed, set (not jiggly) in the middle, and a cake tester (I use a bamboo skewer for this) inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan about 20 minutes before removing the springform ring. The cake will have sunk in the center and formed charming cracks and crags, perfectly normal for this rustic meringue-style cake.
Decorate with seasonal fruits, a dusting a powdered sugar, or the coffee glaze below. Seve with whipped cream.
Place the sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and coffee, tablespoon at a time, and whisk until a glaze forms. It should cling to the whisk and drip off in thick long ribbons. Adjust by adding more powdered sugar or water to make it thicker or thinner. Drizzle the glaze from the whisk around the edges of the cake, allowing some to flow toward the center of the cake and some to drip off the edges. Allow the glaze to set for an hour before covering or serving.
To make the Coffee Glaze a Spice Glaze, replace the ground coffee with one teaspoon of the same spice blend you use in the cake, and replace the brewed coffee with warm or hot water.Garnish the spice cake with fresh fig halves, lightly roasted (6 minutes at 350, just to soften) plum prunes, tiny grape clusters, and/or unsprayed organic food-safe flowers or flower petals.
I have a strong difference of opinion with myself. Brightly colored vibrant foods are my first choices. The more colors in the market basket or on a plate the better. The oranges and greens, reds and purples, and occasional black foods make me salivate just to look at.
Yet when it comes to desserts, I'm drawn to the modest beiges, creamy whites, and browns of all shades. My affinity is for rustic, crumbly sweets that out-perform their appearances. There is a place for sprinkles and colorful frosting and fancy flourishes, but for day-to-day desserts the homier the better.
Nutty meringue cookies have been around for decades. The difference here is that I've developed this recipe to feature as much hazelnut flavor and texture as the egg white meringue will hold. Don't let this quiet beige cookie fool you-- they pack in a lot of hazelnut along with their very pleasant crispy and chewy texture.
Hazelnut Meringue Cookies are terrific served with summer fruit platters, any kind of fruit, chocolate, or caramel ice creams or sorbets, (like my Strawberry Sorbet and DF Ice Cream duo!) They are also delicious as a coffee or tea break treat.
The recipe contains no gluten, no grain, and no additional fat besides that which is natural to the nuts.
If you like this and other 101-Mile Kitchen posts, please share on Facebook and Instagram!
½tsp.almond extract (optional)this magnifies the nutty flavor but use only a little!
Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment or non-stick baking mats.
Finely chop hazelnuts in a food processor or by hand, if using whole. Set aside.
In an upright mixer or using a hand mixer, begin whipping egg whites on medium speed. As they begin to get bubbly and foamy, add in the extracts and salt. Increase mixer speed to high and continue beating until eggs white turn solid white. Begin adding sugar in, one Tablespoon at a time in fairly quick succession, until all the sugar is added.
Continue whipping egg whites until they are very stiff and hold stiff peaks, and the sugar is completely dissolved into them. (Rub a little of the mixture between your fingers to feel if the sugar is dissolved.
Using a spatula, gently but thoroughly fold the hazelnuts into the egg whites in three batches. The mixture will become a little stiff at the end-- that's OK.
Using a one Tablespoon scoop or spoon, drop the batter into the baking sheets. With lightly damp fingers, gently pat the tops of the cookies down. (They will not spread as they bake.) Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden around the edges and on the bottom. Cool on baking sheets.
These will keep in a sealed container for several days, and freeze well.
Make It Your Own:This recipe works well with chopped walnuts and almond, too!If you like your cookie a bit chewier, add 1/4 cup less nuts to the whipped egg whites.
Have you ever had a restaurant salad that just took your breath away? One where everything is in balance, it's not gasping for life under a soggy dressing, and the lettuce is crackly-crisp and tender as angel wings? You can do that at home, too.
Here are three easy steps to rescue your salads from being sad and pathetic, including a fast and easy no-measure Classic French Vinaigrette. You'll see how fun and easy it is to take that basic ratio and create an infinite variety of vinaigrette options.
Dry Leaves for a Crisp Salad
Whether you wash your lettuce leaves or use pre-washed, thoroughly drying them will help make your salad restaurant-quality. I pile my washed greens into the center of a thin dish towel, fold the long edges over the leaves, gather the corners into my fist and walk outside.
Here's where it gets weird. I stand in the grass swinging the dishtowel of lettuce around and around in huge arm circles like we did in grade-school calisthenics. The centrifugal force is enough to make and water fly out, but not harsh enough to maul the leaves. My neighbors think I'm a total nut. This is the price I pay for perfect salad.
Dry leaves accept a light coating of vinaigrette, and the salad will go to the table with its crisp crunch that won't fade through the meal.
Dry lettuce makes an amazing difference. And, hey, you get in a little exercise.
Dress and Toss For Success
Yes, your homemade vinaigrette makes an enormous difference, but the quantity you use is just as critical to a memorable salad.
With a great big bowl of lettuce-based salad and a nice homemade Classic French Vinaigrette, you likely need only one or two Tablespoons of dressing. This is true.
You won't believe it until you start tossing. And tossing, and tossing. Using two large spoons, gently turn your leaves over and over and over. In a minute, you'll see the dressing not dripping and puddling in the bowl-- it will be evenly clinging ever-so-gently on all the surfaces of the lettuce without bogging it down.
Lightly-dressed, your salad becomes a fresh and bouncy salad that is softly flavored with the lovely vinaigrette, as perfect salad was made to be.
A little bit of great vinaigrette, a lot of tossing. Try it!
Go Easy on Add-Ins
I love a salad that's loaded with vegetables, fruits, cheeses, nuts, croutons, and the works, but that can put a lot of pressure on your tender lettuce. There are a few ways you can remedy this.
One way is to simply go lighter with your added ingredients, as in the salad below.
Secondly, if you plan to toss the salad before serving, put heavy add-ins in the bottom of your bowl, then top with the lettuces and dressing, tossing the lettuce without spooning down to the other ingredients. In the last toss or two, scoop down to bring the heavier ingredients up to the top, and serve with dispatch.
Thirdly, toss your lettuce with your fantastic homemade vinaigrette and arrange it on a platter. Now place your other vegetables and ingredients into the bowl, add a little dressing, and toss them separately before gently placing them on the lettuce. Once again, serve right away.
Lastly, my favorite way to keep heavy ingredients from collapsing the life out of the lettuce is especially nice if you need to make the salad a little ahead of serving. Toss the lettuce and dressing and place on a serving platter. Mound each separate ingredient on your cutting board and drizzle each one with a few drops of dressing and toss it with your hands before moving on the the next. Take each separate pile of goodies and make a little space between the leaves and place it there. Be an artist and arrange these colorful piles around the lettuce.
This last method is perfect for gatherings and parties. Create some gorgeous salad-as-a-meal platters that present beautifully, and either toss it together tableside, or allow your fellow diners to select and build their own plates from your creation.
One Set of Ratios, Infinite Options
This no-measure recipe offers you a few measurements as guidance to get you started, but soon you'll just grab a spoon, a jar and a knife and whip dressings and marinades out like you're the garde-manger of your favorite French restaurant.
Classic French Vinaigrette and Infinite Variations
Use no-measure easy ratios and flavorful vinegars, oils, aromatics, herbs, sweeteners, and emulsifiers to create a world of your own customized vinaigrettes and marinades. Taking your salads from boring, limp, and soggy to exciting, crisp and refreshing couldn't be easier.
For each of the three variations and all of your own creations:
In the bottom of the jar, put all of the ingredients except the vinegar and olive oil. Be generous with the salt-- it's the only salt all your salad vegetables will get!
Eyeballing it, pour vinegar into the jar until is about half full.
Eyeballing it again, pour in about the same amount of the olive oil as vinegar and other ingredients until the jar is 1/2 full. Screw the lid on tightly (very important!) and shake like heck.
Viola! You've made a fabulous vinaigrette!
A word about proportions: We're working in equal proportions of vinegar + aromatics/sweeteners to olive oil. To make less vinaigrette, fill the jar with fewer aromatic ingredients and vinegar. Then just match the height of olive oil in the jar to the height of the things in the bottom of the jar. (If your aromatics and vinegar come ¼ of the way up the jar, add about that same amount of oil to make the jar only half full. Sometimes I only want a tiny bit of vinaigrette for just one salad, and I may only put ¼" of flavorful ingredients and vinegar in the bottom of the jar, topped off with ¼" of olive oil. It's all a matter of ratios, not a matter of strict measurements!
Make it Your Own:Aromatics, singular or in combination:
any mustard, except yellow
any chopped fresh or dried herbs
smashed strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries
jam or jelly
a touch of sugar
any kind of citrus juice
almost any kind of vinegar
red wine, white wine, sherry or champagne
fruit and berry varieties
rice and rice wine
balsamic and white balsamic
high quality olive oil
neutral-flavored vegetable or canola oil
a few drops of sesame oil in addition to one of the above
Have you ever thought about making celery a central stand-alone side-dish? I'm going out on a limb here to suggest, no, maybe not. And there is a reason why celery is last to be chosen for Team Exciting Foods.
Grocery store celery is pale, stringy, flavorless, and waterlogged in comparison to locally-grown, bright green, crisp version that hasn't been trucked half-way around the world. Grocery-store celery is a good second-string addition to a soup, stew, or casserole where little is expected of it.
Farmers market or garden-grown celery, on the other hand, is heads above its grocery grocery store kin. If you want a true All-Star for the dinner plate win, growing some or buying direct from a farm is the only way to go.
Take a crack at the bat with this sautéed celery amandine. It is proof that celery is more than a minor-league bench player at your table.
Celery Amandine Throwback
Start with farm-fresh celery and a handful of other ingredients; Crushing the almonds gives them an interesting rustic texture; A quick sauté over medium-high heat; Side-dish home run!
This recipe comes from the wayback machine. My mom made it as a vegetable side dish when I was a kid and its crunchy, buttery, nutty place on my plate always made me happy. Spotting crisp bright organic celery at the farmers market recently brought it back to mind.
It takes four or five ingredients, and is table-ready in under 10 minutes.
I intentionally make extra of this, as it is a nice addition to a lunchtime rice and bean bowl, next to a scrambled egg, or sprinkled with a little vinegar or more lemon juice as a pickley nosh with a sandwich.
1small headgarden fresh celery (about 3-4 stalks per person)
¼cupraw whole almonds
4clovesgarlic, crushed and lightly chopped
1Tbsp.butter or ghee
1lemon, cut in wedges (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Wash and dry the celery and slice it ¼- ½“ inch thick on a sharp diagonal. (The diagonals look beautiful, but also expose more surface area for flavor.) Crush the almonds with the bottom of a glass or by tapping on them with a meat mallet to get rough pieces of mixed sizes. Crush and lightly chop through the garlic cloves. (Crushing the nuts and garlic makes more textural and visual interest than chopping.) Slice the lemon into 6-8 wedges and flick away any seeds you see.
Heat a skillet to medium-high heat. (6.5 or 7 on my induction cooktop.) When the skillet is hot, add the butter and olive oil. Add the celery to the pan and give it a shake to let the slices settle in.
Toss the nuts, garlic and salt and pepper to taste on top of the celery. Stir a few times while the celery just begins to soften and turn bright green, about 4-5 minutes. Remove it from the heat before you think you should. You'll enjoy this best if the celery retains is crunchy texture.
Serve with a lemon wedge, if desired. This is good served right out of the skillet, or at room temperature.
Make It Your Own:For vegan option, replace the butter with cooking oil of your choice.Give this exact treatment to sugar peas in their pod- just a flash in the hot skillet with the other ingredients makes another vegetable winner!Omit the garlic if that's not for you.
The process of preparing and eating citrus makes me happy. I never get tired of the bright cheery colors; the way the skin's oils pop when peeled, exploding the most uplifting scents; and how a little lemon, lime, or orange can enliven an otherwise drab dish.
In my fridge, one veggie bin is dedicated to citrus; two or three orange varieties, one or two lemon varieties, limes, kumquats and limequats, and sometimes grapefruit. Then there's the basket full of easy-peel tangerines on our counter for quick snacking. It isn't unusual for three or four of them to disappear in a day. Citruses are one of my most favorite food flavor families.
April and May wrap up the season for most US-grown citrus varieties, and now is the use-it-or-lose-it window for the freshest citrus.
No, citrus is generally not grown within my 101-mile gathering radius. Some people grow lemon trees in pots, but here on the 44th parallel citrus is not grown as a crop. This is a perfect example of exceptions to my rule.
Red beets, also in peak season during these months, give earthy substance to the lively oranges. The dressing for this salad is the same as this three-ingredient sauce, with the addition of the zest and juice of a half orange.
If dairy is a part of your diet, topping this salad off with pieces of creamy burrata would be pretty amazing.
This beet-orange salad works in Oregon's seasons of Mist (November through March) and into the early part of Evergreen season (April-July.) It makes a visually gorgeous platter of color, and is perfect for your spring table.
Place the beets in a small saucepan fitted with a steamer basket if you have one, with ¾ inch of water. Put lid on the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow beets to simmer until fork-tender, about 20 minutes depending on the size of the beets. Allow to cool until they can be handled.
While the beets are cooking, prep the remaining ingredients: Make the citrusy green garlic dressing according to this recipe, adding the juice and zest of the ½ navel orange. Set aside.
Use a knife to peel and slice the citrus: Cut the top and bottom off each one. Stand the orange upright on its flat bottom and with your knife follow the curve of the orange from top to bottom, removing the peel and all the white pith. Cut into 1/4" slices.
When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel them. The skins should slip off rather easily with your fingers, but if they don't gently scrape them away with a paring knife. Cut into ¼" slices.
Arrange the beet and orange slices on a platter, layering them into a pretty color design. Sprinkle the oranges and beets with salt to taste. Spoon the green garlic dressing down the center. If you're using the optional burrata, break it into rough pieces and lay over the top. Scatter the chopped pistachios across the top.
This salad is good served chilled, but is even better served room-temperature.Make It Your Own:Change the type of nuts you use-- walnuts and hazelnuts are both good options. If you don't have a mix of oranges available, don't let that stop you from making this delicious salad. Experiment with yellow, Chiogga, and other beet varieties, depending on what is available to you. When green garlic isn't in season, substitute flat-leave parsley and/or other herbs such as cilantro, dill and tarragon.
Just when the "Third Places" urban panning concept became the norm the whole world broke. The fantastic little coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and public squares where people meet to exchange ideas, have a good time, and solidify relationships shut down. All the people packed up their backpacks and man bags and retreated home to their first places.
That was a year ago.
At first it was nice, right? Soft clothes, relaxed grooming habits and timelines, no commutes, more time with the family, pets, and houseplants was all right. With exception of the virtual school part that many of you have endured, there wasn't much to complain about in those first months, especially for us introverts.
Don't get me wrong-- my home is very, very nice. But as they say, familiarity breeds contempt. After 12 months of being trapped in it, there's a growing sense of malaise with my first space. So, I say to myself, what am I going to do about it? Whining isn't helping, sister, so get off your tuckus and figure this one out. It is novelty you're missing, I tell myself. If I look around, I might find some variety right here at home without spending any of the dimes that are lost under my sofa cushions.
Here are five no and low-cost ways to inject novelty into our home spaces right now.
Go through your cupboards and pantry and find all the fancy foodstuff you've been hoarding. That jar of homemade fig jam the neighbor gave you, the cute jar of honey with the chunk of honeycomb in it, and the fancy package of crackers? What are you waiting for? Get a nice cheese and give yourself an special little appetizer experience this weekend. That expensive box of Maldon salt hidden on the back of the shelf? Pour some into a pinch bowl and keep it out to fancify your finished dishes. Now is the time to drink the good wine and use the truffle oil, even if it's just on mac and cheese or frozen French fries.
Do the same thing with bath products you've squirreled away. Glitz up your day-to-day routine by digging out these bougie things you've been saving. If a worldwide pandemic isn't a special occasion, I don't know what is. Smell nice. Use a new soap or soak and call it a fake-ation spa experience.
Switch up your bedding. Rustle through your linen closet for stashed sheets, comforters, blankets, and bedspreads and exchange them for your day-to-day ones. What is old is new again. Go crazy mixing patterns and colors. Making things different is what this is all about. For that matter, why not sleep in the guest room for a week, just to shake up the routine? Almost anything divergent is helpful about now. It's only a temporary commitment meant to lift your spirits and see things anew.
Do the spiff-and-swap throughout your space. Channel your inner Leanne Ford and snip some branches from your yard and put them on your table in the biggest jar you can find. If you've got your grandma's china or an unused set of dishes or top-shelf glassware, use them now. Would it make your space more alive to paint those shelves bright blue like you've always wanted? Channel your inner Rayman Boozer and do it. I recently swapped the art pieces around in our house, an easy ennui-busting solution with the cheer-rising effect I'd hoped for.
Now that you've lifted your first space from the doldrums, what is the one aspirational thing you'd like to incorporate into your cooking cred, something that challenges your skills? Clear the deck this weekend, make a shopping list, and get ready to blow your own mind. How about adding the perfect European café steak-frites to your repertoire? Learn to sous vide a steak-- Lana at Lana Under Pressure is a great teacher. I do not typically make fried foods at home, so I also challenged myself to make perfect hand-cut French fries to replace the baked ones I usually do, and I can't wait to do this for friends once we become vaccine-worthy. It was fun, and gave me a new skill.
1. Slicing and soaking; 2. Drying; 3. After the first fry cycle; 4. The finishing frying cycle; 5. Viola! Perfection!
Scrub and peel the potatoes. To cut them into perfect French fries, square them up by trimming of the top, bottom and four sides of the potato to start with a block. Then, slice the potatoes into approximate 1/3 inch (less than 1/2 centimeter) slabs, and then cut the slabs into approximate 1/3 inch strips.
Place the cut potatoes into a large bowl of cold water. Leave for 15 minutes. This removes excess starch from the potatoes that would cause them to stick together when cooked, and helps them be extra crispy.
While the potatoes are soaking, pour the oil into a deep pot, at least 5 inches deep. Begin to heat the oil on medium heat.
After 15 minutes, drain and thoroughly rinse the potatoes. Lay them out in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel. Dab them dry with another clean towel to remove all water from all sides of the cut potatoes.
Raise the heat under the pot to medium high. Bring the canola or peanut oil to 270°F (130°C) when measured with an instant-read thermometer.
First fry: Working in batches, place the dried cut potatoes into the hot oil. You may use a fry basket or mesh strainer to lower them into the oil, and to remove them from the oil. Blanch them for 8 minutes. They will look pale and flabby. That's OK! Lay them out on a baking sheet to cool, separating them with tongs.
Second fry: Raise the oil to 350°F (180°C.) Mind your temperature. When the oil is at temperature (use your instant-read thermometer again) place some of the blanched potatoes into the hot oil, being sure not to overcrowd them. You'll be doing this step in batches unless you're only cooking a few potatoes. Cook the potatoes until they are a nice medium-golden color, or to your liking.
Remove the potatoes with a strainer (or fry basket if you're using one) and put them into a large bowl.
Toss with a generous amount of your favorite salt, and serve while hot with excellent ketchup.
Make It Your Own:Add pepper, red chili flakes or paprika, garlic powder, or minced rosemary to the salt, or any combination of them to suit your tastes.Sprinkle with truffle oil. If you do this, be sure to stand over it and inhale the beautiful scent that will waft up when the oil hits the hot French fries. Tip:Mind your temperature along the way. If you're using a heavy pot as you should be, the temperature will want to climb and drop. You'll likely need to continuously keep an eye and make adjustments throughout the process. This is a hands-on, eyes-on process. To stay focused, don't attempt to multi-task!
You’re in the right place! I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar.
Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.
Inspiration: Ingredients! The fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest are my creative medium.
Heroes: Local food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.