If you haven’t already heard, then let me be the one to tell you: Tea is not just for your afternoon cuppa.
For a recent cocktail party, Tony and I demonstrated a moment of serendipitous marital and culinary harmony when we both reached for the tea leaves. Keeping with our usual kitchen division of labor, I made the salty snack, he made the cocktail. They married beautifully. More
A few weeks ago, I made a very large pot of red sauce, the kind of red sauce that you can ladle over spaghetti, or spoon lovingly over baked ziti, or lace in between layers of noodles for lasagna. I did many of the things you can do with red sauce, and I still had some left over. It came to the point where one more dish of pasta just wasn’t going to cut it, not even with my pasta-loving offspring, and it just seemed too little and too late to freeze the remainder. I had pizza dough, though, and it was a cold, damp night. Something tiny inside me whispered calzone, and I had a vision of a brick oven, and golden mound of dough stuffed with melted cheese and savory red sauce, and a leafy green salad, a fire, a glass of wine, and I got to work.
a pile of zesters, a stock of Everclear, a row of juicers…
a table full of food…
Friends brought panzanella, mortadella-wrapped grissini, fig covered bruschetta, lemon bars, lemon sauce, vanilla ice cream, fresh berries. They brought daffodils. We had rice salad with mint and peas and lemon zest, and grilled pork tenderloin with capers. There was sunshine and prosecco and jars filled with curling golden rinds, looking a lot like liquid sunshine.
But this year? Mostly I want to tell you about a group of women who can sweep into your home with delicious food, help you cook even more food, help set up your yard and house, pack gift bags, enjoy themselves all afternoon , and then? Before you know it, they have cleaned up the dishes, swept your floor, pulled down the folding tables, hand washed the dishes.
There is an art to this kind of generosity, to the gift of time and energy, to being able to pitch in, and do what needs to get done, and to knowing how to treat your friend’s house like your own. It’s like this every, single time. More than teaching my kids how to make limoncello, or a good tenderloin, or set the table or throw a good party, I want to teach them this: how to walk into a friend’s home and treat it like their own. How to be generous.
Ladies, thank you.
Grilled Pork Tenderlon with Mustard and Capers
Red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons mustard
1 smashed garlic clove
about 3/4 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon capers
Light salt pork tenderloin, then season with a couple of teaspoons of cumin. Cover lightly with mustard and about 2 teaspoons of honey. Put seasoned pork in a ziplock bag and sprinkle with about 1/8 cup vinegar, then cover with olive oil. Add smashed garlic cloves to bag and let marinate a couple of hours in the refrigerator.
In a glass measuring cup pour vinegar on top of the garlic clove and let sit to flavor vinegar for 20-30 minutes or longer. Fish out the garlic cloves, then add an equal amount of mustard and whisk together, then add olive oil slowly in a stream. You should have about 3x the amount of olive oil as mustard + vinegar. But do it to your taste. Whisk in capers.
Heat grill on high, then turn down heat to medium high and grill pork until cooked, about 10 minutes total. The pork will cook very quickly. It’s done when the meat springs back nicely when poked. If it’s mushy or flabby when poked, it’s not done. Be careful not to overcook.
Let the pork rest about 10 minutes, then carve in thin slices and serve with vinaigrette.
Step One: Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any residue; pat the lemons dry. In a large glass jar (1-gallon jar), add one bottle of vodka.
Carefully zest the lemons with a zester or vegetable peeler so there is no white pith on the peel. Add the lemon zest to the vodka as it is zested. NOTE: Use only the outer part of the rind. The pith, the white part underneath the rind, is too bitter and would spoil your limoncello.
Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for at least 10 days and up to 40 days in a cool dark place. The longer it rests, the better the taste will be. (You can shake or stir a little every few days, if you like.) As the limoncello sits, the vodka will slowly take on the flavor and rich yellow color of the lemon zest. When the color is no longer deepening and the rinds look whitish, it is definitely done.
Step Two: In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water; cook until dissolved, or until thickened if you want a thicker, sweeter drink, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
Let the syrup cool, then add it to the Limoncello mixture from Step One. Add the additional bottle of vodka. Allow to rest for another 10 to 40 days.
Step Three: After the rest period, strain the liquid through a cheese cloth or coffee filter and bottle: discard the lemon zest. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.
One of my resolutions this year is to do only One Thing At A Time. This is very, very hard for me. Somedays, when I have 12 things on my to-do list, including writing, teaching, errands, chores–it’s physically painful not to do that one extra thing. The commitment has meant, among other things, that I am trying hard not to Get Dinner Ready While Helping With Homework. Or not to Section The Cauliflower While Doing Laundry. Or not to Peel Carrots In Ten Minutes Before School Pickup. I’m trying hard to avoid Eating Dinner In The Car On My Way To Work. It means other things, too, like not asking my kids to Get Ready For Soccer And Eat Your Snack. Or Clean Your Room and Get Ready for Bed. You can extrapolate.
You can call it my Oxford comma moment.
However, I am still trying to cook with fresh food.
Leaving the fast food to Finn
Doing One Thing At A Time means I have to plan more than ever. It means I have to start early. It means I have been thinking hard about what I can do to minimize my cooking time between the hours of 3 and 6.
In my quest, my new appliance has been life changing. Technically, my slow cooker is not a traditional slow cooker. It also roasts, sautees, browns, and simmers. I am still learning the best ways to use it: how the high/low settings work; how long to parboil pastas; best cooking times for different sizes of baked potatoes; how much extra liquid to add to simmer-all-day soups. But it has been on my countertop nearly every other day since I got I it, and it has helped me slow down and simplify in countless ways. To date, I’ve made delicious Swedish Meatballs and Beef Stew. But also: macaroni and cheese, red sauce, baked ziti (with leftover red sauce), split pea soup, baked potatoes. Not all the recipes are perfect. Yet. (Except the pea soup. And the hint to rub the potatoes lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt before baking.) But it has made my life exponentially less stressful. And that, as some of you know, makes everyone less stressed-out. Funny how that works. Funnier that it has taken me so long to learn the lesson.
So along comes last Sunday, when our local football team played my childhood football team for a spot in the Superbowl. I have fond memories of dark winter afternoons, a house full of the smells of my mother’s red sauce, or spaghetti and meatballs, or lasagna, endless football games, tv trays, warm garlic bread. And so even though I didn’t need to use it, I pulled out my slow cooker, sauteed the meat, added the tomatoes, herbs, and wine, and set it to Simmer for the next, oh, 4 or 5 hours.
Right before game time I cooked the pasta. Ella made kidtinis. We watched the game. We ate. We put in all the stops.
Ella’s 49er Kidtini. It involved club soda, Meyer lemons, grenadine, and a whole lot of cherries. Also red sugar.
Slow Cooker Red Sauce
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1 cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 cans Italian tomatoes
4 sprigs thyme
1/4-1/2 cup red wine
With slow cooker on Sautee/brown, sautee meats with a pinch of salt until cooked through.
Add onion, garlic, and bay leaf, and cook, stirring constantly, until onion begins to soften.
Add tomatoes, thyme, wine.
Simmer for 4-5 hours.
This easily makes enough to dress 2 lbs of pasta. Save 1/2 for a batch of quick baked ziti during the week.