Archive for the ‘The Source’ Category

A Virtual Pasta Party

A couple of weeks ago, the nice folks from Al Dente Pasta got in touch with the G3 via this blog and asked if we’d be interested in hosting a pasta party and writing about their product. I was interested in trying the pasta, but I had two reservations about this. First, as you might infer from the sparse posting around here, we are three really maxed-out women right now. Work has been non-stop, we’ve been on the road, dealing with domestic life and all that other stuff that makes it hard to cook, let alone write about it. We can barely get ourselves in the same room for coffee for fifteen minutes let alone have a party. The second is that I worried that well, I wouldn’t like the pasta. And then what would I say?  To solve the first problem, we decided on a virtual sort of pasta cook-off. We’d all make our pasta as part of our daily lives, but then compare notes and photos. As for the second issue, I decided that if the pasta was unremarkable, we could just maintain a polite silence.

Guess what?  It’s good! Really good. I have to tell you, I’ve been staring at Al Dente bags for years and never thought about them. So when a case of the stuff showed up on my porch I was surprised to see on the label “since 1981.” Really? And it’s made in Whitmore Lake? Who knew? There’s a nice information page on the company site explaining the history and growth of Monique Deschaine’s company from a one woman operation to a business with national reach. I’m glad to know she’s sending her pasta all over the country, but I’m more glad to know I can get a high quality pasta made only a few miles away.

But I bet you want to  know what we did with it. Well, lot’s of things.

Maria Mushroom Fettucine

Maria's Mushroom Fettucine

The wild mushroom fettucine was a natural pair with those Michigan mushrooms I’ve been going on about. I diced up some trumpet mushrooms and shallot and did a quick sautee in olive oil. When the mushrooms had taken on some color, I added some green garlic (local green garlic has been in stock at our food coop lately) sliced into two inch lengths and a little bit of diced preserved lemon that had been hanging around in the fridge.  While  this melded together, I tossed the fettucine in boiling water. It cooks fast, so be vigilant! Just before the pasta was done, I added a little cream to the sauce and let it warm. Then I drained the pasta, saving out a bit of the water, added the pasta to the sautee pan and bound it all together with the pasta water and a couple of tablespoons of butter. It resulted in a silky tangle of noodles and a flavor deepened by the earthy undertones of the mushrooms. Quick, easy and delicious. Four thumbs up around here, although certain younger members of my household patiently picked out their mushrooms and laid them on the side of the plate.

Shanas Spicy Whole Wheat Pasta

Shana's Spicy Whole Wheat Pasta

We thought Shana had drawn the short straw when we made her take the whole wheat fettucine. But she’s an enterprising young woman, and not only made the best of it, but made the rest of us feel like wimps for having been afraid of the healthy stuff. Here’s what she has to say:

I used the whole wheat (and flax) fettucine, and I modified this recipe —  – subbing chard for kale, and making my own harissa. I follow a recipe similar to this one in Saveur . (As an aside, I can’t stress enough how great it is to keep a jar of harissa in the fridge at all times. It turns what could easily be a loser dinner — scrambled eggs, or some leftover potatoes and greens—into something very nearly quite special.)

I was skeptical of whole wheat pasta, which I always thought tasted like wet cardboard. I thought that people only ate it to be virtuous, and I for one always put taste before virtue.  But the pungent garlic, harissa, and olives, really stood up to the hearty pasta and the meal was well balanced and delicious. I wouldn’t have wanted to make this dish with non-whole wheat pasta, in fact, because the flavors would have overwhelmed the pasta.  It was a good combination.

I was surprised that the pasta cooked so quickly – like 4 minutes or something — and that it tasted really fresh.


Anne's Spinach Feetucine

Anne went in a spring direction with  spinach pasta with leeks, garlic, asparagus, peas, lemon, prosciutto, parmesan w/a little bit of cream added. She says “We liked it a lot – it was very light and delicate – very close to tasting like fresh pasta. I still have to try the spicy sesame – I was planning to do it maybe with tofu and a peanut sauce.”

Nicks Pick: Squid Ink Pasta With Swordfish

Nick's Pick: Squid Ink Pasta With Swordfish

My final Al Dente experiment was the squid ink pasta tossed with olive oil, capers, kalamata olives, green garlic and parsley, topped with grilled swordfish (I’d like to say it was fancy, but it was frozen and from Trader Joe’s and just fine.) That meal is best described in three year old Nick’s words:

“Mama, are you serious this is octopus noodles?

( a couple of minutes later) ” I LOVE octopus noodles.”

(extending hand with caper held gingerly between thumb and forefinger) “what’s this??”

(a minute later) “Capers are GREAT. Can I have some more noodles?”

And about a week later while staring at his plate of Barilla penne. “Where are those octopus noodles?”

Al Dente pasta is available by mail order, and locally at both Sparrow’s in Kerrytown and the PFC. I believe I’ve seen them carried at Zingerman’s and Busch’s as well.

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Sourcing in A2

(Too busy taking pictures of flowers to take any of my food . . .)

In my current being awake, paying more attention mode, I spent a lot of time noticing as I tooled around town on Saturday doing my errands. And I spent a lot more time tooling around town too, what with the warm weather and all. My head was suddenly up rather than  looking down, shoulders hunched against the cold. And I discovered all sort of exciting little bits of news for those of us who love to cook and eat in Ann Arbor. I came home and babbled to my household about my finds. The members of said houshold met my news with reactions ranging from polite enthusiasm to inattention (well, the dog might have been excited about prosciutto ends). So, forthwith, I share them with my perhaps more interested readers

Hollander’s Kitchen and Home is open for business.  The space formerly occupied by the much lamented Everyday Cook and Lunch at Everyday Cook has been taken over by the Hollander’s enterprise and is filling up with simple hardware, everyday cooking utensils and high-end small kitchen appliances. The variety of  spatulas, lettuce spinners, pretty dish towels and kitchen stand mixers (the Viking mixer makes a girl’s heart beat faster . . .) is reminiscent of the old Kitchen Port inventory. The arrangement tilts toward abundance rather the elegant minimalism of Everyday Cook, and while not as easy on the eye as that store, it’s probably more likely you’ll find the, say, candy thermometer you’re looking for. A quick survey of the prices looks like things run a couple of percentage points higher than you might get at the big box stores, but I’m so grateful to have another source for kitchen supplies somewhere I can get to on foot that you won’t find me complaining. (Young Nick, however was VERY disappointed that “the cookers” were not back at the stove and declared “I am very sad. I miss them very much.” As do many of us.)

A much more specific need is being met downstairs, where Monahan’s is now selling homemade coleslaw at $4.95 a pound. And you know, sometimes when you’re grilling on a warm Friday night and there’s not much left in the house, some good coleslaw is just what you need.

You might need it too, if you stop by Sparrow’s and get a look at the Berkshire pork shoulders Bob has stocked in the case at $2.95 a pound. They’ll make most carnivores think longingly of pulled pork. A big pork shoulder, a slow smoking, twelve hours and some of that coleslaw, and you’ll have yourself quite a Saturday supper.

Meanwhile, continuing the pig theme, around the corner at Tracklement’s, T.R. is making his own bacon now (in four flavors to boot).  I had already bought bacon before I noticed this, so I can’t vouch for it, but given the skills at Tracklement’s, I have no doubts. If someone checks it out before I do, please report back.

It must have been a carnivorous kind of day, because I was also pleased to find that Morgan and York are selling pasture raised lamb and pork now.  There’s a decent selection in the cooler, but you can apparently also order what you need/desire.  And as a special bonus, I learned that if you want some prosciutto for pizza, the nice guys at the counter will shave the prosciutto ends into lovely little curls and you can walk away with a whole pizza’s worth for less than a dollar.

All that after having been the proud brewer of coffee for 123 at Selma Cafe on Friday morning and before a dinner of halibut braised with preserved lemon (lemon sourced from Morgan and York), capers and pistachios with a side of fingerling potatoes and flash-sauteed pea shoots (local pea shoots sourced from the PFC) and a brunch of asparagus frittata with tomatilla salsa, couscous and blueberry muffins (great brunch sourced from Jim and Aimee. Thanks guys!) followed by a walk in the woods where garter snakes were caught and many kinds of wildflowers spotted and streams paddled in . . . Life feels pretty good. Ann Arbor, spring, my kind of town.

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And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

You all have been very patient as we have either been not posting at all or writing about wonderful things to eat in places where you’re not. It’s high time to bring it all back home.

March kicked my butt. So many (so many) years of winters, and I still don’t really believe that March is the worst month. I let myself believe that February is hardest and then March will come and it will all start to get better. But it doesn’t. And it always hurts, because I expected something more. In March, I’m tired of braises and root vegetables and wadded up kleenex and sensible footwear. But there are no reasonable alternatives


The light stays longer. At the market there are a few glimmers of hope; a table full of spinach, a few handfuls of radishes, the soft brush of pussy willows.

And eggs. There are more eggs, as the chickens begin to wake up to the faint possibility of spring. At this house. we’ve been eating a lot of Dragonwood eggs. Paul drops them by the house, the kids fight over the prettiest ones (the speckled ones are particularly prized), I marvel at the intensity of the yellow in the yolks and before you know it, we’ve whipped through another dozen.

Well, ok, eggs, rebirth, we get that. But the promise of coming alive again into the growing season comes in more unexpected shapes as well. Mushrooms, anyone?

Shana brought me a bag of these beauties from the Selma Cafe a couple of weeks ago (she and Anne and I entertained and perhaps mystified our colleagues by spreading out a mixed pound on a table at work and dividing them up while we oohed and aahed appreciatively). The next Saturday I was literally first in line at the market to make sure I got a half pound before they were gone. The first batch went into a deep, rich sauce for a grilled leg of lamb made in honor of the first day of spring. The second round went into one of my single girl suppers (well, not quite single; young Nick was keeping me company, but he doesn’t hold with fungi and ate his scrambled egg unadorned). Leftover polenta, chilled and sliced and lightly fried in olive oil, layered on top of some hoop house arugula. Dragonwood eggs, softly scrambled. Mushrooms sauteed in butter, with a touch of cream.

(hey, I made that bread; I’m overcoming fear of yeast)

Polenta, eggs, mushrooms, supper. Nothing much, but a moment where I needed to believe that the world would be warm again someday, it was oh so much more. And in its down-deep localness, it helped remind me that I love the place I live in. Even though its winters are damn long.

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I’ve long wanted to write a post about how to shop at Zingerman’s on a shoestring budget. At times, this felt like trying to write about how to fill your closet with Manolo Blahniks while working at Target.

Now, however, they’re making this task very easy for me: for the next 20 or so weeks on Fridays from 11am – 7pm, Zingerman’s is holding a Warehouse sale at 610 Phoenix Drive [Google Map] in order to move some inventory at generous discounts, which you may have already heard about it in The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

Tomorrow — Friday, March 20–everyone who stops in will receive a free gingerbread coffeecake. And best of all: there will also be a free gift–with a purchase–for readers of this blog. Just mention that you heard about it on Gastronomical Three.*

Ann Arbor, our affordable gourmet-grocery-dreams are coming true.

The stock will be different each week, but to keep up with what’s on offer, you can send an e-mail to warehousesale@zingermans.com.Here’s what will be available tomorrow for purchase:

  • English Farmhouse Cheddar – C-EFC – reg. $38/lb, sale price $20/lb.
  • St. Marcellin – C-STM – sale price $5 each
  • Jowl Bacon – M-JWL – reg. $10, sale price $5
  • Marina Colonna Orange oil – O-COL-ARA – reg. $25, sale price $12
  • Moutere Grove olive oil – O-GRO – reg. $35, sale price $15
  • Vosges Mini Book of Bars – P-9VS – reg. $35, sale price $15
  • Anchovy Paste – P-ANP – reg. $7, sale price $5
  • Mathei Biscotti – P-BIS – reg. $14, sale price $5
  • Michel Cluizel 85% bar – P-CLU-85 – reg. $9, sale price $5
  • D. Barbero Torrone – P-DBT – reg. $60, sale price $21
  • Al Dente Land & Sea pasta – P-LSP – reg. $9, sale price $5
  • Tutto Calabria Miscela Esplosiva – P-MIS – reg. $15, sale price $8
  • Bagna Cauda Warmer – P-MKR – reg. $15, sale price $10
  • Il Mongetto Spicy Marmalade – P-MSM – reg. $15, sale price $8
  • Pomodoro Chivaso Jam – P-OMO – reg. $11, sale price $5
  • John Macy’s Cheese Sticks – P-PUF – reg. $6, sale price $3
  • Keemun Tea – T-KEE – reg. $24, sale price $12
  • Zing label Horseradish Mustard – sale price $3 each
  • Rustico Red Pepper Cheese – $7/lb

*G3 is not benefiting from this promotion in any way; we’re just spreading the foodie love. We will always be transparent about relationships between local businesses whose food and services we’re promoting.

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Photo by <a href="http://relish.myraklarman.com/selma-cafe-march-6-2009">Myra Klarman</a>

Photo by Myra Klarman

Well that was fun.

As I mentioned last week, we put on another Selma Cafe, a Friday morning volunteer-run local foods breakfast salon. You can read all about it over at the Repasts blog, but let me just say that Scott cooked up a hell of a breakfast and Garin was my partner in serving crime. Lisa made waffle and granola magic. Matt is all over Selma Cafe 2.0. Aubrey wins the the miracle kitchen worker award. And Jeff hosted and podcasted like no one’s business.

Myra Klarman documented it all exquisitely. I mean — wow.

If you didn’t have a chance to make it last week–or, if you did–I hope you can make it to the next installment of the Selma Cafe on March 13, when Jeremy Lopatin of Arbor Teas will cook omelets to go with our regular waffle and granola breakfasts. I understand that Michigan Mushrooms and hoop-house baby spinach will be among the fillings.

Selma Cafe continues every Friday morning 6:30 to 10:00 am; full details are on the Selma Cafe site. And we’re looking for local-food-loving folks like your-good-selves to keep it going. Interested in helping out? Drop me a line or leave a comment. Or, if you or someone you know needs to be relieved of a 110v commercial pass through toaster, let us know. Thanks!

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A few posts ago, Maria wrote a glowing review of Diner for a Day, a breakfast/fundraiser hosted by Lisa Gottleib and Jeff McCabe, featuring local foods and supporting local farmers and purveyors. As I’m sure you gleaned from Maria’s post, it was a successful and delicious event, one that is inspiring some repeat performances–and, we hope, will become a regular occurrence.

It turns out that one breakfast/fundraising event featuring locally-grown food was such a hit that they held another breakfast last Friday, dubbing it “Selma Café”–a local foods breakfast salon with the goal of helping to “co-create the next wave of our local food community. “

As you might imagine, I’m pretty excited about this, and I’m one of several volunteers who are working to make this a regular event. I’d like to invite you to our March 6 Selma Café, which will take place from 6:30-10:00am at 722 Soule Blvd. Local chef Scott MacInnis will be manning the stove, and Rob Harper of Edible WOW and I will be the kitchen/service crew, on toast, coffee, clean-up and whatever-else-we-need-to-do-duty.

I really hope you can make it! Feel free to leave comments or e-mail me with questions. We’re also actively seeking volunteers to sign up to help keep this informal local food salon running, so please let us know how you can help.

Updates about Selma Cafe and other related events will be posted here.

More about Selma Cafe, in Jeff’s words:

Please join us every Friday morning from 6:30 to 10:00 at our casual breakfast gathering spot on the west side of Ann Arbor. Hosts Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe welcome you to pull up a chair and enjoy a meal from our guest chef. Come share, with your neighbors and friends, a little bit about what you feel is worth building in our community.

Selma Cafe is:

  • a hub, a center, a heart of the many ongoing efforts to improve our lives through community building and free access to affordable, healthy foods and efforts to foster right-livelihood in vocations with meaning and purpose
  • open 6:30 – 10:00 am every Friday as long as is viable
  • located at 722 Soule Blvd. Ann Arbor, MI The home of Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe
  • hosted each week by a chef who works with seasonal, local ingredients
  • a weekly podcast, with on-site host Jeff McCabe and guests, discussing subjects related to the re-localization of food economies.
  • for you!! Please come see us, pull up a chair, tell us what you would like to drink, to eat, what is on your mind. Pass through when you are able, or stick around and make it happen.
  • all-volunteer. Suggested donation is $10-$15 for breakfast. $3 for a cup of coffee or tea with biscotti. All proceeds go directly to the local farmers and producers that supply the ingredients and to non-profit groups working to expand access to healthy, sustainable food resources.
  • founded on the principals of openness, inclusiveness and transparency. We seek your help in building the tools and organizational structure to maintain these organizing principles.

Why do I care so much about Selma Cafe? Why am I considering waking up super early to help serve breakfast to strangers? I’ve been thinking for some time (and posted a comment to this effect on Jeff’s blog) that, while there are many efforts afoot in A2 that support local food, something has been missing — a center, a hub. There are the local producers and consumers of local foods who might meet up at the Farmer’s Market or at the farm for their CSA distribution. There was a local food summit meeting recently that generated good discussion about some future directions for local food community, policy, and projects. There is chatter on various blogs and e-mail listservs about eating and cooking in more sustainable and locally-supported ways, and a number of restaurants in the area are sourcing local ingredients. (Not to mention the many other efforts under way that I’m unaware of!)

All of these are right and good, and I’m glad we have this energy and vision and activity around local food here in Ann Arbor. But I’ve been longing for the social element—the real, in-person, hand-shaking, bread-breaking (and waffle-eating!), hanging-out time that a community needs to grow, to cohere, to be nourished, to sustain itself. I want to cook with Scott and make toast with Rob and drink coffee roasted by John Roos, with John Roos. I want to talk to Jeff McCabe about how he bakes bread and how to garden. I want to meet readers of this blog; please join us!

In short, whatever I’ve felt was missing from a sense of local food community was abundantly supplied at Diner for Day, and I’m hopeful that Selma Cafe might be able to feed this hunger.

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Well, we made it: a post everyday in November. I was skeptical, but we did it. [Raise glasses, *clink*!] Thanks to my fellow bloggers and to you all who checked in on our progress. Even though challenges such as NaBloPoMo are a bit of a contrivance, I have found that they do put into place a necessary structure and shape for blog posts. In order to ride this wave of blogging productivity, and to capitalize on the current obsession with all things related to the economy, I’ve been planning a series of posts this month about cooking, eating out, and entertaining on a budget, focused mostly (though not exclusively) on the Ann Arbor area. If there is something you’d like to know about on this topic–where to find the best selection of local products, who has good deals on sparkling wine, etc.–feel free to send us an e-mail at gastronomical3@gmail.com, or leave a note in the comments and we’ll do our best to track down some answers. We look forward to hearing from you.

To kick us off, let me share a note from our friends at Everyday Wines, apprising us of new offerings and services, as well as upcoming deals and events.

75 years ago, on December 5th, the collective consciousness of this country heaved a sigh of relief and reached for its corkscrew. Yes, Prohibition was repealed and we are celebrating that glorious moment this Dec 5. We will be open till 10pm (yes, it’s Midnight Madness around town, we know) and we will give you 15% off all the wine accessories in the shop.

In the immortal words of the Home Shopping Network: But wait! There’s more! All through the month of December, our loyal everyday-wines bag-toting customers will also get 15% off case purchases (that’s 12 bottles to a case). What’s that, you walked here and can’t carry a case home? We’ll deliver it for you. You want all the whites chilled before we drop it off? We can do that too, talk to us.

We have flowers now. Yes! Fair trade roses from Ecuador, Amaryllis and Ranunculus (totes, dude!), all manners of bouquets. All of this from Lisa Waud of Pot & Box. Come in, take a look, a sniff, a rose. Until you do, go visit her at htp://www.potandbox.com

And a big thank you from A Knife’s Work to all you for your support, feedback and encouragement. They are now featuring weekly desserts, along with the soups, sides and entrees. And, for the month of
December, you get 50% off your second entree Sundays and Mondays. Check their weekly menu at http://www.aknifeswork.com.

Of course, there’s always something new and interesting (like a Champagne taste-off coming up) that slips between the email cracks, so do visit us and say hello.

p.s., You might notice a couple of new items in the right sidebar. Gastronomical Three has been listed in Alltop’s Food listings, as well as on the Delightful Blogs directory. They are both great ways to find out about other blogs, so if you’re hungry for new blogs, check them out.

p.s.s. Not all posts this month will follow this theme — just be on the lookout for a collection of such posts on these pages!

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Market Inspiration

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling inspired by . . .
peaches on fire
blueblackred berries in tidy rows
dragon’s tongue beans
dragon's tongue
carrots, just dug up

unruly aliums, all tied up . . .
or loose in a basket

What’s inspiring you this weekend?

See you at the market!

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Several days of vacation and intense engagement with my farm-share have made me much less cranky then when last I posted. Since the psychic and monetary cost of fuel consumption has become so crushing, we engaged in (what I understand to be) the very trendy “staycation,” Which was actually pretty great. There were potlucks, fireworks, visits to the farmer’s market, visits to the black raspberry bushes in the backyard, lots of gardening for me (with a little poison ivy to spice it up), a trip to the Toledo Zoo, DVD watching (The Spiderwick Chronicles for the kids, Knocked Up and LOTS of The Wire for the grown ups), shopping at thrift stores, hanging out at Top of the Park, splashing in the little backyard wading pool, bike rides, swimming and a little camping. (As a gratuitous aside, the day we went to the zoo we also hoped to hit a Toledo Mudhens game but we were afraid of overtaxing the kids. I was quite sorry though because it was “Prostate Health Awareness Night” at the park, and I was really curious about the give-aways.)

And of course, as with any good vacation, the question of “what shall we eat tonight” consumed an inordinate about of conversational space. The leitmotif of most of the week was a big pot of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans. These beans were featured in some pretty high-class quesadillas, in a penance (that is, after-decadence) meal of sauteed kale and beans, and in a farm-share dinner of sauteed greens, shreds of proscuitto, and a smattering of flageolet topped with softly fried eggs. All humble but worthy dishes.

Where did all this flageolet-ness come from in the first place? (And did you know that a flageolet is also a woodwind musical instrument and a member of the fipple flute family and that the flageolet register is highest register of the human voice lying above the modal register and falsetto register? But now I seriously digress and must be recalled from my pleasure in saying “flipple flute family” ten times fast.) About two months ago, the forces of the blogosphere, coupled with my nagging guilt that I was in some way cheating by always using canned beans, drove me to order a Rancho Gordo sampler (cannellini, borlotti, scarlet runner and flageolet beans). They arrived in the mail, I unpacked them with pleasure and put them away with a sense of anticipation

And there they sat. I opened the cupboard and pointedly looked past them. I reached for the pasta. Risotto is good. I feel like a salad tonight. Because, you see, dried beans scare me. I used to try to cook them in college, when I shopped in dusty hippy stores and fished beans out of deep bins, and I remember days of soaking, followed by hours of cooking, resulting in eating something resembling the surface of my driveway. Later I bought a pressure cooker, which did much better with my beans, but since I was usually recovering from heart palpitations induced by fear-of-pressure-cooker (“she’s going to blow Jim, she’s going to blow!) by the time dinner was ready, I didn’t really enjoy the results too much.

But vacation and its long stretches of lazy time makes one brave. I pulled the beans out and dumped them in a pot and covered them with water. I looked around a bit on the Internets and didn’t actually find much advice about what to do with flageolet except straight from Rancho Gordo’s mouth — “don’t mess with them much.” Instructions I heeded, to good effect. I soaked the beans eight hours or so (I peeked in the pot about halfway through and all the water was absorbed, so I dumped some more on). Then I turned the heat way up under the pot, looking for a hard boil. While that was going on, I sauteed some minced garlic and onion in olive oil (carrot and celery would have been good too, but there wasn’t any). After the beans had been boiling for about five minutes in their water, I turned the heat, way, way down, dumped in the aromatics, covered the pot and left it mostly alone. Oh sure, there was the anxious glance into the pot once in a while, but really, I barely stirred. After about an hour, I threw in some strips of fresh sage from the garden. After an hour and twenty minutes, I pulled out a bean and tasted, sure that I was about to experience a revelation. A pebble, albeit a tasty one. An hour and forty got me to something more like a relatively fresh peanut texture. Two hours? Very good indeed. Leftovers, after two reheatings? Magnifique. Patience is rewarded.

We had the first beans with grilled lamb loin chops and a very nice Chateauneuf de Pape that was a gift from neighbors who moved to Seattle (“we can’t take this on the plane, do you want it?” — well, gosh, if it will just go to waste . . .) and ended the evening with a broken bar of bittersweet chocolate and dark cherries just hours off the tree. There was a little firefly watching involved and much praising of the weather. Summer has many pleasures.

Don’t Mess With It Much Flageolet and Lamb

Cook the flageolet, as above. Perhaps add a half hour to the cooking time (making it closer to two and half: I understand this varies with the freshness of the beans) for a just-right consistency right out of the pot the first time.

While the flageolet are cooking, take some fresh oregano (a really good fistful; if you are a smallish person, perhaps two) and put it in the blender or food processor with a couple of cloves of garlic and some coarse salt. With the motor running, drizzle in half a cup or so of olive oil, until you have something that looks more or less like pesto. Rub this paste all over some lamb loin chops; cover with plastic and set in the refrigerator. Poke at them once in a while. Or not.

Near the end of the bean cooking process, prepare a grill, wipe the paste off the chops and cook them over a relatively hot fire for probably a little less time than you think you should unless you are devoted to eradicating all pink from your meat. These chops were a bit more than an inch thick and we grilled them for five minutes a side. Let the chops rest for ten minutes or until your patience wears thin.

Arrange the lamb as decoratively as you can on the beans. Drizzle with some lemon juice and sprinkle a little parsley on top. Sit outside, if possible. Toast the wine-giving neighbors, the soft night air and the virtues of simplicity.

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It’s a fickle time of year. I started this post on Memorial Day weekend when summer was just beginning to be possible, when the first real flush of spring greens was filling the market, when we wanted tastes that were light but still a little bit warming in the cool night air. I wanted to write about these two meals because they fit nicely in this cusp period as we teeter on the edge of summer, and because I’ve gotten very interested in the notion of the menu lately, in the careful composition of flavors and colors, in assembling culinary elements into an experience at once varied and integrated. And so I started this post. And then I got distracted. And now it’s 90 friggin’ degrees and only the early evening rains are saving us from despair.

Nevertheless, I stand by these two menus and even believe it’s possible that you would want to cook them sometime in the next couple of weeks. Perhaps on the weekend when the forecast tells me the temperature will hang around at a moderate eighty degrees.

This first menu was for a relatively simple Saturday night supper at home. It’s pretty self-explanatory, with a few source notes for the locals.

Smoked duck breast with a few olives, cornichons and dijon mustard

The duck was from Tracklements and was especially lovely. We were advised to freeze the breast slightly and then slice it on the mandoline. Tricky. Perfect.

Grilled brook trout with a homemade tartar sauce

One trout fed two nicely; not huge portions, but satisfying. Monahan’s prepped it really well. Not a pin bone to be found. The homemade tartar sauce (see below) was a revelation for this girl who’s always turned her nose up at that gloppy white stuff that comes with a fish fry. I kept coming back for more.

Potatoes Anna

I’m not sure how we came to Potatoes Anna, but I know the process ended up with a spate of research on what puts the Anna in Potatoes. The Joy of Cooking tells me that true Potatoes Anna can only be made in a Potatoes Anna chafing dish. We didn’t have one on hand, so ours were not true, but they were a very nice side dish.

Spinach salad with roasted red peppers and goat cheese

Some of that great spinach that’s in season now, a little red onion, a little roasted red pepper, a generous addition of goat cheese. A nice way to finish a meal that feels like a meal but sits with you fairly lightly.

This second menu was composed in honor of Shana’s birthday. Mostly when the G3 eat together, we all chip in, but I had the day off and I wanted to put together a bit of a feast. I wanted the meal to be homey — a Tuesday night, just a few friends getting together — but have a touch of elegance in honor of the occasion.


Of course. How could there not be asparagus at this time of year? This version, boiled for just a few minutes, rolled in a sherry vinaigrette and cooled to room temperature, dressed with a very finely minced hard boiled egg.

Lavender and thyme roasted chicken.

I had been reading Laurie Colwin that week, and she is a big advocate of the slow-roasted chicken as, it turns out, is Bob Sparrow, our star local butcher. So I abandoned my usual high-heat-fast-cooking-time method and put it in a 325 oven for a couple of hours. I think it was a little too long but the guests seemed happy enough (of course we’d already gone through a really great bottle of Sandpiper sparkling wine from northern Michigan so that may have raised the level of tolerance for dry chicken. ) Before cooking, I mixed together some butter, thyme and culinary lavender and smeared it under the skin. The plan was to make a pan sauce from the drippings by deglazing the pan with some white wine, but somehow I got daunted by the amount of fat and the pace of the meal, and I bailed on the sauce. Late that night, while cleaning up, I indulged in the solitary decadence of mopping up some of the pan juices with a piece of left-over baguette. Oh my god. I should not have bailed on the pan sauce. Rich and redolent of the herbs. Be brave. Make that sauce.

Scalloped potatoes.

Also on the advise of Laurie Colwin who says scalloped potatoes always make people feel special. Potatoes, butter and ton of cream. What’s not to love? See below.

A salad of bitter greens with fennel and radishes.

Mustard greens and arugula from the Farmer’s market. Quite a bit of lemon in the sherry vinaigrette. I pleased myself by using the mandoline for the second and third time in the prep process (the first time on the potatoes). A nice bit of astringency after the artery-clogging amount of cream in the potatoes. Which cleared the way for . . .

Butterscotch pots-de-creme

From a recipe at Orangette. Listen to her when she says to search out the two kinds of fancy sugar. I made this once before and went with all turbinado and it was good. With demera and muscavado, oh my . . . (Here in Ann Arbor, I’ve found Plum Market to be the best source for fancy sugar in terms of both selection and price).

There was, I must admit, a second dessert, brought by one of the guests, a blueberry buckle sort of cake, light and moist and somehow just right at the end.

(Photo used under a CC by attribution license, courtesy of Iakobos)

Two Recipes that are a great return on relatively little labor:

Homemade Tartar Sauce for Two

Half a cup of good jarred mayonnaise

Juice of half a lemon

1 T of prepared horseradish. More or less to taste.

1 T chopped capers

2 dashes of hot sauce.

Thin the mayonnaise by beating the lemon juice with a fork. Fold in remaining ingredients. Allow an hour or two to chill and for the ingredients to meld together.

Scalloped Potatoes

3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 lb russet potatoes
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in upper third. Generously butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish (I used my large souffle dish).

Stir together nutmeg, 2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper.

Peel and thinly slice potatoes (again, the mandoline was my friend). Layer potatoes in baking dish, overlapping slightly and sprinkling each layer with some of salt mixture and some of butter. Pour cream and milk over potatoes, pressing down gently to submerge potatoes in liquid.

Cover with foil and bake until potatoes are tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Remove gratin from oven and discard foil. Turn broiler on and broil gratin 2 to 3 inches from heat until top is browned in spots, 3 to 5 minutes.

Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves somewhere between four and six depending on level of greed.

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