Dinner21 Apr 2006 10:22 pm

It’s a long time yet until the greens show up here, but we have consoled ourselves with the fruits of the deli counter. Anchovies, proper Molinari salame, cornichons, a good comte, three kinds of olives, and a couple of baguettes. No jug of wine, but Victory Pils (bought on recommendation of the wise staff at Fromagio and just what suited our mood).

Despite the sticker shock coming home from the store, we also note that fancy dan food is surprisingly economical. You see – a single anchovy, scrape of cheese, or thin slice of highly flavored sausage nicely decorates a slab of good bread. Lesser toppings tend to need more bulk to hold their own against the bread flavor, leading to much less healthy (and more expensive) sandwich construction.

Of course there is also the entertainment value of a deli meal. There is something about nice anchovies (the big fresh kind with the delicate, fruit-like flavor to the meat) that makes L. grin widely and bounce as she utters little cries of “Feeeessshhhh! Feeeeeessssshhh! Niiice Feeeeeshhhh!” Ritual fork battles over the last of the pickles are also traditional.

Dinner24 Nov 2005 03:09 pm

Victor being subsumed into frantic kitchen activity, today’s guest blogger reveals the dark side of Victor’s kitchen. Yep. We aspire to eat beautiful food, delicately prepared from the freshest, farmer’s market ingredients.

However, in real life, I get home from work and we discover that we’ve yet again failed to get the shopping done, and can’t face another cheese sanwich. Sometimes we’re out of cheese. Too often we bail and eat out, but I have a few techniques for getting dinner on the table with bare cupboards and no time to cook.

Stone Soup Principle

Boil a pot of water.

You don’t actually have to use the water. Boiling water is so easy that you can’t persuade yourself it’s too hard. Boiling water gets you into the kitchen, banging pots and pans around. If you’re really cunning, you can keep a clean pot on the stove so you can’t even complain that it’s too much work to dig out a pot.

Once you’re in the kitchen, ‘stone soup’ kicks in and dinner tends to happen.

“Well, the water’s about to boil – let’s make noodles and dump some jarred sauce on them.”
“Ok, but I don’t like red sauce, I’ll just put some butter and pepper on mine.”
“You can’t just eat noodles with just butter… let me start a roux while we’re waiting and you can put in some milk and cheese”
“...Oh… I forgot we had the salami in the fridge… here’s some salami and olives to decorate your pasta”
“...that looks good…I’ll have some too…”

_Leonard of Quirm Principle_

Leonard of Quirm is a brilliant fellow in a series of novels by Terry Pratchett. Leonard’s wild flights of imagination never quite make it to the names of his devices. The net effect is like those very literal translations on Vietnamese menus. “Beef tendon with fungus” is very tasty, but the name … lacks a certain something.

This technique requires a partner in cooking, preferably one who doesn’t mind being manipulated.

“You’re tired. You shouldn’t have to cook. It’s my turn to get dinner on the table.”
“What will you make?”
“Mmmm… rice and ... thing!”
“What kind of thing?”
“I’ll cook!”

Note that “Je ne sais quoi on rice” gets you landed with dinner cookery. There is an art to the unappetising name.

SECRET TECHNIQUE NUMBER THREE (for when number two fails)
_ Making dinner anyway __

If your bluff is called, stagger off to inspect your kitchen cupboards. There may still be a few tins of this and that lying around. One of my favourite standbys from pantry ingredients is pumpkin ‘curry’ over rice.

Start rice.

(Aromatic rice like Jasmine or Basmati are best, long grain rice rinsed to reduce stickiness gives some more texture to the meal.)

Chop an onion (or even use frozen, pre-chopped onions)

Fancy people can drop a dab of butter into a saute pan or skillet and start to cook the onions for a minute or two,

Then add to that skillet –

1 tin pumpkin (not pie filling please) chopped onion a blob of tamarind powder/paste (or some sumac and a bit of brown sugar, or a few cranberries from the freezer or …) splash of vinegar (cider or white would be the first choice) your favourite garam massala (or whatever is cluttering your spice cabinet)

Cook, stirring periodically until the onions soften/go translucent

Optional – add green beans, spinach or other handy veg bits.

Serve when rice is done. If I have them handy, toasted nuts are nice sprinkled over the top.


Beenz – tinned beans with some lime, onion, cilantro, vinegar, and some sage or fresh cumin or a bunch of black pepper, served with rice. If you’re too tired to make rice, you can use bread, or crackers, or …

Chicken Out Chili – tinned beans with tomato, mole base from a jar, onions, barley (or quinoa or steel cut oats) and maybe a few finely chopped hot peppers.

Sneaky Soup – bring chicken broth (real, boxed or tinned) to a simmer, cook some orzo in it, adding a pinch of bonito flakes (or a tiny glug of fish sauce) and sumac, served with lime.

Stir fried green beans with ginger, soy and garlic. (Better with real green beans, but even frozen ones are pretty edible. Spinach, chard or rocket also go nicely. Stir fried stuff in general is quick to cook, but you need to either be a fast chopper or keep a bunch of pre-chopped veg or meat in the fridge.)

Potatoes (baked with salad dressing, or broth, or butter, or just salt. Takes half an hour or an hour, but it takes less than five minutes to wash them, stab them and throw them in the oven, then you can go take a nap or play video games while they cook. Wrap them in foil before piercing if you like the skins more tender. Then you can add a little Parmalat and spend a couple of minutes with a fork or pastry cutter for mashed potatoes. Add garlic, or do artistically plated servings with a couple sticks of 2-minutes in the microwave broccoli for ears. Or run the taties through a slicer and stick them in a shallow dish. Crumbs with a little butter or cheese make a nice crust on top… )

Odds and Ends Sandwich (grated cheese rinds, salad dressing, three different kinds of leftovers… I know someone who will happily eat ketchup sandwiches – though I think they’d need pickles to be really nice… if your bread is stale, toast it or fry it in butter or cheap olive oil)

Next episode – “Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel”

Dinner29 Sep 2005 10:55 pm

Ok, I got lazy and we went to the Border Cafe again. In my defense: the Border is the only place in Harvard Square that seems to use lime juice to make margaritas, instead of that chalky stuff. But really, it’s a bad sign that they recognize us when we walk in. Like when I lived in San Bruno, and the people at the McDonalds franchise would ask worried questions if they didn’t see me at the drive-in window for a day. Nice, but in a way that tells you that you spend too much time there.

Dinner28 Sep 2005 10:03 pm

Tonight’s dinner is the easy option: sandwiches at Sarah’s Market & Café.
With Diet Coke and Dr. Pepper. Nothing to see here… but I’m going to have to learn to make my own French fries.

Dinner28 Sep 2005 09:59 pm

Well, apologies to all of you out there who were dying to know – dinner last night was sandwiches, tomato and cucumber with lots of spicy coriander chutney.
The bread: a flute from Hi-Rise bakery, split in half lengthwise. Good recipe—next time, I’ll know not to mindlessly double the quantity of hot pepper, though.

About the flute: this baguette compares favorably to every single baguette sold on the Rue Montorgueil in Paris—and yes, I did try at least 2 of every baguette from each bakery last December, plus a bunch from other neighborhoods. We work hard so you don’t have to.

For those of you who buy bread in Paris’s 2ieme regularly, your best choices in that neighborhood are the Chez Paul chain outlet, or the Rotodor-affiliated baguette tradition from the place at the head of the Rue.

Food & Cooking& Dinner26 Sep 2005 08:24 pm

Tonight was pasta with corn and tomato confit. Creamed 4 ears of corn, and cooked in the microwave for about 5 minutes with a glug of heavy cream. Added about a half-cup cut-up tomato confit pieces, then another 5 min. of microwave. Dresses one-half pound of pasta.

Dinner25 Sep 2005 07:58 pm

Contrary to my own expectations, I did get dinner on the table: an okra gumbo with kielbasa sausage, and rice. Note to self—okra that’s too big gets woody and should not be used. Also, sherry vinegar helps the flavor a lot.

Lunch was more elaborate than usual; I whipped up fresh cream of tomato soup similar to this recipe from Gastronomie: Cream of Tomato Soup.
The soup, which I garnished with a bit of ground chipotle pepper, was OK but not spectacular. Not something I’ll be repeating often.

Dinner24 Sep 2005 11:46 pm

Today we went to the Border Cafe for fajitas and beer. An apple-strawberry pie from Hi-Rise Bakery (thank you very much), with some Yunnan tea, served for a late-night snack.

I can’t imagine that anyone really cares about my dinner—and yet, if it (someday) looks like we never eat anything but wonderful home-cooked food, these posts should serve as a reality check. In real life, we eat out for convenience, we eat sandwiches, we… but you can see for yourself. Enjoy.