Tuesday, April 21, 2015

you need to read this: station eleven

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
"First we only want to be seen, but once we're seen, that's not enough anymore.  After that, we want to be remembered." 

Let it be known that I was NOT the last to this party.  Station Eleven has been praised and lauded from the moment of its release, perched in fancy, eye-catching displays in bookstores and undoubtedly chatted about at book clubs and cocktail parties.  It was shortlisted for the National Book Award and the PEN/ Faulkner Award for Fiction, if those sort of things are especially important to you.

I'm not going into the plot too much, partially because I'm rushing out this post before I take my laptop to a much-needed Genius Bar appointment (it's SERIOUSLY sick!) but also because describing it as a story that takes place in a dystopian future, while accurate, just doesn't do it justice. Station Eleven is really more about what matters to us even before we've lost everything, and how somehow that never changes. I highly, highly recommend this book-I was thinking about it days later, and the experience of reading it was something like being stuck in a pleasant reverie.

*I love the cover, by the way.  Sort of lonely and spare, yet hopeful, which perfectly represents the story.

smoked salmon crème fraîche tart

Confession 1: I "pre-dated" this post to ensure that I would, indeed, share a Whole Grain Mornings-inspired post for every day this week.  Now that I put that out there, I have no excuses not to finish up my posts for Wednesday-Friday! Yikes!

Confession 2: Despite loving salmon in almost every way possible, I just can't muster a lot of affection for it in its smoked form.  Yes, I'm the person who generously smears an everything bagel with cream cheese but neglects to garnish it with lox.  Being married to a Scandinavian hasn't helped matters much.  One would hardly think that the idea of a tart wherein the offensive fishy ingredient is bathed in a puddle of egg custard would appeal to me. I don't know what it was that made me decide to try this particular recipe, even though I love dishes that I can easily transport for brunch and I especially love to make things that will make for nice weekend lunches, a meal that is almost always bereft of inspiration for me.  On her blog, Megan writes that it's her favorite recipe in the book, and it might have been her mentioning how easy it would be to make it a "greens and gruyere" or "mushrooms and shallot" tart that made me decide I could, indeed give the smoked salmon version a shot.  I was sure my SH would love it, and since we're in the thick of a pickle-loving stage with our little guy I thought he might be won over by the capers.  What did I really have to lose?  I'm practically the only person in the world who doesn't love smoked salmon!

I am here to tell you that I did not, in fact, become enamored with smoked salmon after tasting my lovely, just-like-the-pictures-in-the-book tart.  However, I didn't hate it, not at all.  The crunchy cornmeal and millet crust was extremely satisfying, buttery and toothsome, and the perfect base for the flavorful filling.  The addition of crème fraîche, swirling around the perfectly pink shards of salmon gave the tart a richness that didn't feel at all heavy, and the capers and shallots made it feel special, a classy, grown-up dish that could definitely impress.  I made it for our Valentine's Day lunch, and not surprisingly, my SH devoured two huge slices. Next time, I plan on bringing it to a bigger gathering-it's definitely the kind of dish people will remember.  

Smoked Salmon Crème Fraîche Tart with a Cornmeal Millet Crust, adapted from Whole Grain Mornings, by Megan Gordon

1/2 cup fine-ground cornmeal
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour or standard whole wheat flour 
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, plus more for greasing the pan
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1/4 cup millet (This is the first time I have used millet, and I'm excited to try it in other ways.  I ordered it from Bob's Red Mill, but it's also often available at Whole Foods)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots (about 3 medium shallots)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup crème fraîche
3 large eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into small pieces

1. To prepare the crust: Butter a 9-inch tart pan with 1-inch sides and a removable bottom.  Using a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse together the cornmeal, flour, and salt.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal (alternatively, you can use a pastry blender or your fingertips to work the butter into the dry ingredients).  Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse until the dough starts to look like wet, clumpy sand.  It's ready if a small piece hold together when squeezed between your fingers.  If it still seems too crumbly, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time.  Turn the dough out into a large bowl and mix in the millet using a fork.  Press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
2. Preheat the oven to 375.  Place the prepared crust on a small baking sheet for easy transport to and from the oven.  
3. Bake the crust for 15 minutes to slightly dry out the top so that it won't get soggy when you add the wet filling.  Meanwhile, prepare the filling. 
4. To prepare the filling: In a small sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and sauté the shallots until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté for an additional 1 minute.  Remove from the heat.  In a bowl, whisk together the milk, crème fraîche, eggs, capers, dill, salt, and pepper to make a custard.  
5. To assemble and bake the tart: Spoon the shallot mixture in an even layer on the bottom of the crust; arrange the salmon across the top evenly.  Pour in the custard mixture.
6. Bake at 375 until the top is golden brown and the filling is set, 30-35 minutes.  Let cook for 15 to 20 minutes.  Untold the tart onto a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature.  If you have leftovers, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

whole-grain gingerbread

Monday, April 20, 2015

We're going to start off my Megan Gordon-inspired week of posts with a delectable gingerbread.  I'm almost always keen on gingerbread cookies, particularly the giant, soft ones covered in sugar, but until recently, I'd not made any effort to bake gingerbread.  My mom used to make a simple one from a boxed mix that she dressed up with homemade lemon syrup, and I always had such fond memories of it that I almost didn't want to recreate it-somehow sacrilegious not to have it at home.  However, Megan's recipe for gingerbread seemed just different enough and just wholesome enough to give a shot.  Whole Grain Mornings is a breakfast cookbook, after all.  If this gingerbread could pass as breakfast I definitely wanted to make it!

As you can see from the photo, my little guy relishes the gingerbread.  It's very, very good-deep and rich but also hearty.  I'm not normally a big fan of gingerbread cookies that have a strong presence of molasses, so I was shy about putting so much into the bread, but it's very subtle.  The spices and little bits of orange zest really shine through.  When I make it, I do sprinkle a tiny amount of powdered sugar on the top, mostly for the pleasing aesthetics of a snow-topped cake, but precious little A isn't getting that benefit.  For him, I cut the gingerbread into big squares which he enjoys after his afternoon nap, preferably with a big glass of "Mater milk."

Whole-Grain Gingerbread, adapted from Whole Grain Mornings, by Megan Gordon

Notes: Megan's cookbook focuses on the use of whole grains (in case you hadn't figured that out yet!), which has aided and inspired me to learn more about various flours and sugars.  Spelt flour, a primary component in this recipe, is actually quite similar to all-purpose flour, and it can often be used interchangeably.

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup packed muscovado sugar or brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger (optional-I almost never have crystallized ginger on hand, so I've never made the gingerbread with it, and haven't missed it)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 large egg, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour a 9-inch square pan.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, the three kinds of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, orange zest, and pepper.  Use your hands to break up any clumps of sugar, and whisk well.
3. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter.  Add the molasses and honey and cook, stirring, until the mixture is warm but not boiling.  Pour into the flour mixture and stir to combine.  Add the milk, yogurt, and egg and fold together until combined.  With a little arm power, the mixture will soon look like a loose brownie batter.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the edges pull away from the pan slightly and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.  Let the gingerbread cool completely in the pan before slicing and serving.  Any leftovers can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 4 days.

latest obsessions

Bloodline. Every since the arrival of A almost FOUR years ago, I have struggled when it comes to watching movies.  It takes us no less than three days to watch one movie.  Sitting straight through is almost an impossibility.  Shows, however, have the wonderful joint qualities of brevity and closure-they don't require a big time commitment and are exceptionally entertaining in their own right.  I could go on and on about how impressive television has become-some of the best acting I have ever seen has been on the small screen-but it would be boring and reveal my pop culture nerdiness. Instead, I will tell you to immediately add Bloodline to your Netflix queue.  I was intrigued by the idea of a family drama centered around the unwanted arrival home of the proverbial "black sheep," but it was the presence of Kyle Chandler, of course, that ensured I would be watching.  It's Coach Taylor, y'all!  All FNL references aside, the cast is stellar, the story is twisty, dark and moody, with a Floridian setting that is somehow simultaneously beautiful (it's Islamorada in the Keys, in case you're wondering) and deeply sinister.  Ben Mendelsohn, the Australian actor that plays the damaged, erstwhile brother, puts in a particularly effective performance-half the time you're not sure whether to pity him or be terrified of him.

Four. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I have been sucked back into a teen saga. DON'T JUDGE! I loved reading Divergent, despite a less than satisfying end to the trilogy.  When the first movie came out last year, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.  It's GOOD, well-cast, fast-paced, and a decent representation of the book.  Anyway, when Insurgent came out a few weeks ago I fell right back into the books again, including the short story collection from Four's perspective which I had previously ignored.  So good!  And for me, it was something like the accidental discovery of a whole bar of dark chocolate in the pantry.

Inna Jam's Inna Shrub, Bearss Lime. Shrubs are becoming all the rage in the trendy foodie/bartending world.  A blend of vinegar, sugar, and fruit that has been condensed to a sweet syrup, a shrub can be mixed with sparkling water or alcohol to create refreshing, albeit slightly weird, drinks.  It's a bit of an acquired taste, I think, and I still can't get my SH on board-he cringes when I bring out the bottle.  I'd read about Inna Jam in Whole Grain Mornings (see obsession below) and considering that it's a small, local company I decided to try the shrubs.  Drinking water is not my strong suit-I know I need to, I know it's good for me, but I'm just not a big drinker of anything, really.  I was immediately intrigued by the shrub and thought it might be an inspired choice to brighten up my boring water.  So far, I've tried Royal Blenheim Apricot, Meyer Lemon, and Triple Crown Blackberry-all were good, but nothing as fabulous as Bearrs Lime. Super tart, barely sweet, and delicious! Last season, it was quickly out of stock, being the newest and BEST flavor, so I'm stocking up this time.

Essential oils.  Yes, I'm on the proverbial bandwagon. I can't get enough.  Even my little A kicks his feet out every morning for the "spicy" Thieves oil blend.  I can attest to their effectiveness-we have been exposed to an ungodly amount of bugs this year (including a stomach bug, which is literally my worst nightmare and something that I loathe so much that I even feel like I'm tempting fate by writing about it!!) and have, for the most part, sailed through them.  I am convinced a big part of that is using the oils regularly.  I think the combination of lemon-peppermint-lavender, or "allergy trio", as it's known in the oily world, has been helpful for my SH's crippling allergies.  We went through a period of time a few months ago when naps were getting a bit dicey and a minor application of lavender resulted in the most blissful, peaceful sleep for my little guy at a time when he really needed it.  I've been using homemade all-purpose cleaner, utilizing both oregano and melaleuca (tea tree) oils, and the only cleaner I utilize now that is not chemical-free is dishwasher detergent.  Sadly for me, I got to put the oils to test on not one, but two outbreaks of pesky cold sores, and I am pleased to report that on my last outbreak, the oil I used (YL's Purification blend) stopped my cold sore in its tracks.  Love, love them.  For the most part, I'm using Young Living oils-a cousin I adore is an active distributor-but there are lots of excellent, high-quality oils available.  They are expensive, but ultimately, I think they're going to pay off in the end.

Food 52.  I was introduced to Food 52, a website co-founded by Amanda Hesser and Merril Stubbs, by my favorite Molly Wizenberg when she mentioned writing a column for them.  As I am a seriously nerdy fangirl and would read anything Molly has written, I immediately scoured the website for the column and found myself completely captivated by everything that I found.  It's an excellent, beautifully designed and well-curated site, driven almost exclusively by reader content.  The central idea is one of an online food/cooking community, and it has grown and developed into something really spectacular, abounding with delicious recipes, wonderful ideas, and thoughtful commentary.  There is now an online store, Provisions, which contains so many lovely and unique items that I almost never look through them because I know that I will want to buy all the things.  I signed up for the daily emails, and I never tire of looking at them.  How many things could one say that about? Have you ever heard of a daily email that was actually something to look forward to?  The latest articles to pique my interest include: "4 Messy Kitchen and Home Projects to Embrace This Weekend", ""Too Many Cooks: Who Has Changed the Way You Cook", "6 Things We Learned While Whiskey Testing", and "Joanna Goddard from Cup of Jo's Lunchtime Tricks."  Something for everything!  Check it out-you won't regret it.

Whole Grain Mornings. I've written about Megan Gordon's breakfast cookbook here before, in my rather prideful post about the amazing granola I made.  That post wasn't actually even about Megan's granola, which I have since made many times and adore, but I've basically fallen completely in love with her cookbook, and everything that I've made has been out-of-this-world delicious.  Rather than go into it too much here, I've given myself the lofty goal of writing about one MG recipe a day for the rest of this week.  Gingerbread, pancakes, baked oatmeal-lots to anticipate.  Whether I reach that goal or not, I cannot speak more highly of this book.  Megan's blog, A Sweet Spoonful, is also great.  I plan on making the coconut oatmeal cookies from her latest post this week.