If you’re an actor in the Twin Cities, she’s probably dressed you, beautifully and carefully in costumes that helped you fully realize the physicality of your character. If you’re a St. Kate’s graduate, she might have mentored you and helped you find your way into adulthood. If you’re a ballroom dancer, you might have once shared a waltz with her at the Dancer’s Studio weekly dance party. In the unlikely event that you’ve been incarcerated, she might have taught you to quilt on one of the many Sunday afternoons she’s volunteered at the women’s correctional facility in Shakopee. And if you’ve been to her place for dinner, you’ve had an incredible meal shared with good friends, along with music, wine, fascinating conversation, echoing laughter, and a lapful of love from her cat, Pablo.
When she came to my house for her birthday dinner last month, I wanted to prepare an extra special meal, to return the kindness of many such dinners and thank her for setting such a powerful, compassionate, creative example for me to follow. Also, cooking for people is how I love them.
So I topped a creamy lemon risotto with Mom’s favorite—seared scallops. The luxurious risotto is somehow light, with a pop of freshness from lemon and Italian parsley. I served it alongside a fig, burrata, and prosciutto salad with balsamic vinaigrette (recipe to come!), and followed it with mini flourless chocolate cakes topped with a blackberry and red wine reduction.
It’s embarrassing how much time I spend thinking about recipes I want to try. I’ll start with the germ of an idea (say, a pear dessert for Mom’s birthday dinner). Then I’ll spend weeks – maybe months – considering the options: pear tart, pear cobbler, pear cake, pear sorbet… And when I finally decide on the perfect recipe, I abandon the idea entirely because I’m terrified of making a mistake. (Yeah, I never said my process was a healthy one.)
In this case, the paralyzing fear was invoked by the menace of homemade caramel sauce—it’s the easiest thing in the world to ruin. I think if I ever get around to recording another CD, it’ll be called Ways to Ruin Caramel, with forlorn country ballads like “Too Runny,” “Too Hard,” “Bitter and Scorched,” and “Grains of Sand.”
It took no less than three glasses of cheap wine for me to face my caramelized fear, and I’m so drunk—I mean, I’m so happy that I did! This caramel sauce is the perfect texture (creamy but not too thick), with the subtlest bite of sea salt and just enough booze. *hiccup*
The other components of the recipe – poached pears, sweetened mascarpone, flaky puff pastry, and toasted pistachios—are a cinch to prepare, yet every bit as delicious as the bourbon caramel.
The very first recipe I shared on Galley Kitchen was inspired by an overabundance of apples, so today I’m sharing another apple recipe. This Pear and Apple Crostata is a perfect fall treat; the filling has just enough sugar and cinnamon to turn the apple and pear juices into a luxurious sauce, barely coating the tender fruit snuggled under a flaky duvet of pie crust. Next time I’ll brush the pie crust with egg wash—it was a tiny bit dry—but I’ll otherwise follow the recipe as is.
Most of the year, I really appreciate the giant, south-facing windows in each room of my apartment. Particularly in wintertime as the sun rises and paints my buttery yellow walls with a gentle glow, I’m thankful that my odd-numbered apartment placed me on the south side of the building.
In July, however, those same windows with tightly sealed blinds conceal an indoor climate of roughly 8 berzillion degrees with a dew point of oh-my-god-my-hair-is-still-wet-three-hours-after-washing-it. I can’t believe I’m talking about the weather, but what the fork? It’s hot.
So hot. Only my lemon understands.
And that’s not just my garbage-crap excuse for failing to post a new recipe for nearly a month. It’s also my garbage-crap excuse for failing to cook anything blog-worthy for nearly a month. I’m smack-dab in the center of my annual mid-summer meal slump. I don’t really feel like cooking and nothing sounds good to me except salads and sandwiches.
So I was shocked—shocked—when I found myself craving pasta. In JULY. One steamy afternoon, I imagined twirling my fork in a mess of spaghetti, and I just had to make a light, sunshiny, quick and easy, pasta dinner. This lemon pesto capellini with shrimp is the perfect combination of bright, summer flavors, tender-toothsome textures, and crave-busting carbs.
In honor of National Grilled Cheese Month, I’m posting a different grilled cheese sandwich every single day through the month of April. You’re welcome.
Cheddar and apple are already considered by many a perfect pair. When you add into the mix ripe pear, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and melt it between buttery whole wheat toast, the resulting sandwich is (dare I say it?) perfect. Sweet, salty, and gooey, with a hint of spicy warmth. This is pure comfort between two slices of bread.
Winter in Minnesota is notoriously treacherous. Sub-zero temperatures. Deadly blizzards. Icy winds that’ll blow the lip gloss right off your face, and leave your naked maw puckered and chapped.
By March, after months of potatoes drowned in gravy, when the snow is still piled up in grey, icy mounds and it seems spring is never going to come, I dream of fresh, ripe summer berries. I long for strawberry shortcake and blackberry pie and homemade jam. And I wonder when will the berries at the grocery store drop in price and stop tasting like sawdust already?!
Well thanks to global warming or the world ending or something, we’ve seen record highs in temperatures and record lows in snowfall this winter. And I can’t help but believe this bizarro weather is somehow responsible for the rock-bottom price on sweet, juicy, organic blueberries at Rainbow last week.
We may very well pay the price down the road for this uncharacteristically mild weather. But if I can do nothing to change it, I figure I may as well enjoy it. And I’m enjoying the weather with blueberry crumb bars. The crust is rich and buttery with a satisfying crunch, and the blueberries bake to a perfectly thick, sticky jam that’s packed with fresh fruit flavor but not too sweet. Y’know what summertime tastes like? This.
For years, I dreamed of re-creating the Italian comfort classic in my kitchen, but I was always scared off by the many potential pitfalls. It’s too dry. It’s too soupy. The noodles are undercooked. The noodles are mush. The noodles are stuck together in a giant starch-bomb. Who are these kitchen acrobats willing to walk the cheesy Cirque du Soleil tight-rope of perfectly baked lasagna?
Well, I know of one lasagna superhero, and she’s been the greatest deterrent of all to my taking on lasagna. It’s my mom. She makes lasagna once a year for Christmas dinner, and it’s outstanding. Her take on the classic lasagna is hearty and packed with flavor, and it comes out perfectly every time.
I just can’t compete with that. It seemed pointless to attempt a classic lasagna knowing it would never measure up to Mom’s. So I decided the only way I could bake a lasagna that didn’t leave me feeling dead inside would be to take it in an entirely different direction.
I knew I wanted to nix the traditional red meat sauce and use a béchamel punched up with tangy goat cheese instead. Then I held a series of vigorous auditions in the produce department, and after much deliberation, ultimately cast asparagus, lemon, and thyme as the leads. Diced, sautéed pancetta plays a salty, supporting role. (Sorry, I’m watching the Oscars.)
The resulting lasagna is almost as delicious as Mom’s, but could not be more different. It’s really the perfect dinner for a late February evening, when I’m still craving winter’s creamy comfort foods, but I’m ready for bright, fresh flavors. The tender asparagus and sunshiny lemon zest reach out from under a velvet blanket of cheese and pasta to invite springtime to stay for dinner.