Virtual reality cooking for soufflé 101

I had a great new experience last week.  I was asked by a local book club to present a talk on One Soufflé at a Time, which I had reviewed in a post on July 15.  One of my bluesky kitchen followers is a member of the book club and had recommended me.  Well, I’ve been writing book reviews for my newsletter for ten years, but I had never given one in front of an audience.  But I’m a former English teacher; surely I can remember how to talk about a book in real life.  In addition to the book review, I prepared a dish to compliment the chicken salad and mini carrot soufflés the ladies were having for lunch.  I chose the Summer Vegetable Pesto that I had shared on the Recipe Page back in the summer, a delicious accompaniment for any main dish. This is a book with soufflé in the title and Anne Willan is known for her soufflés; therefore, somehow soufflé had to be in the presentation.  Unfortunately, we were having the presentation in the hostess’ living room, so actually making a real soufflé was out of the question. Solution?  Just pretend and have a virtual reality cooking demonstration.  I brought all the equipment needed – ramekins, bowls, whisks, sugar, butter wrappers for greasing the soufflé dish, and vinegar and a paper towel for cleaning out the bowl. I wore my La Cuisine Maison apron and my chef’s hat from culinary school to provide authenticity.  In my mind, I was Julia Child on PBS!  It was fun and the ladies loved it.  Soufflés can be intimidating:  every cook is afraid they will fall (See #10 below!)   Hoping to ease everyone’s fear, I explained that soufflés are method driven, once you know the do’s and don’ts, anyone can make one.  I shared my Soufflé 101 check list and Anne’s recipe for Chocolate Soufflé (go to the Recipe Page for that one.)  I wrote Soufflé 101 a few years ago for a soufflé class and I’ve used it several times; fortunately, the information hasn’t changed.  Hope you will use it, too.  Don’t be afraid to try a soufflé.  They are delicious, impressive, and really easy.

souffle_girl

Conquer the Fear!

Important Soufflé Points:

A soufflé is made of two components:

  1. A base – usually a thick, milk-based white sauce (the classic béchamel sauce), but it may be made from creamy, cooked cereals, or thick vegetable purées, or for sweet soufflés, egg yolks, cream, and liqueurs or extracts for flavor. The base is the basis for the flavor, the character of the soufflé.  The flavor in the base should be intense since it will be diluted by the volume of the egg whites.   The egg yolks in the base are what “sets” the soufflé.
  2. Whipped egg whites – the whites provide the “puff” that causes the soufflé to rise. They are folded into the base just prior to baking.  Air is trapped in the egg foam; as the soufflé bakes, the air expands.  When the soufflé cools, the air contracts (the reason the soufflé falls).

Essentials:

  1. An oven temperature of 375 – 400°F will result in a soufflé with a creamy texture. The soufflé should bake in the lower third of the oven.
  2. The same soufflé baked at 325°F for a longer time will result in a soufflé that is firmer and more uniformly cooked. Large soufflés bake better at a lower temperature for a longer time period.
  3. Most soufflés can be prepared ahead, frozen in their uncooked state for up to 2 weeks, and then baked straight from the freezer. The baking time is doubled.  A soufflé mixture can be prepared a few hours ahead of time and held in the refrigerator until baking time.
  4. The egg whites must be whipped in a clean bowl, with no grease residue on the bowl or beaters. Pour a teaspoon or two of vinegar into the bowl and wipe with a paper towel.  Also wipe the beaters.  The vinegar also helps to stabilize the egg whites.
  5. The egg whites must be completely free of any fat from the yolks –any speck of yolk will cause the whites to be less stable and they won’t whip up. Eggs are easier to separate when cold, but for maximum puff and volume, they should come to room temperature before whipping.  Fresh eggs work best as they are more stable and make better soufflés.
  6. The key to a successful soufflé is the beating of the egg whites and knowing when to stop beating—the whites must stay elastic. They should be stiff, but not dry.  The whites should be just firm enough to form a peak that does not fall over when the whisk is lifted.  They should slip a little when the bowl is tilted.   For a sweet soufflé, adding sugar at the right time—after the “soft peak” stage gives the foam stability.  Cream of tartar also adds stability when added at the beginning of beating.
  7. Folding the egg whites into the base is important. A small amount—about 1 cup—should be folded into the base to lighten it.  Then the remainder is folded gently in to incorporate the whites into the base.  Using a rubber spatula, turn the bowl as you fold by cutting down and lifting up some of the foam from the bottom of the bowl.
  8. A thick base and properly whipped egg whites do not need a “collar”. The soufflé will rise straight up without it.
  9. Soufflé sizes:
    1. 1 quart – two entré servings or three-four side or dessert servings
    2. 1 ½ quarts – three to four entré servings or about 6 side or dessert servings
    3. 2 quarts – four to five entre servings or about eight side or dessert servings
  10. And lastly, soufflés will fall—it’s their nature!

John Ash, Cooking One on One

Shirley O. Corriher, Cookwise

Gourmet, February 2002

 

Labor Day weekend calls for big food

I hope everyone had a great weekend.  Labor Day marks the end of summer (although I read that it’s still O.K. to wear white jeans!) and the beginning of fall, football, and a different type of cooking — but not quite yet — it’s still hot, hot, hot outside.  I can say emphatically that we ate well this weekend.  Saturday night we had friends over for dinner, and they didn’t leave hungry.  Sweet Shark and I are pretty good cooking partners and we divided and conquered!  My trip that morning to our new Dallas Farmer’s Market paid off:  For a starter, I paired some campari tomatoes from Jacksonville, Texas with mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, and basil from the garden.

campari tomatoes

For another tasty nibble, I seared shishito peppers from Canton in a really hot cast iron skillet for a tasty nibble.  Just first toss them in a bowl with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. Sear until they are blistered in spots.  Shishitos are great because most are not hot; they get sweet when they are blistered.

 shishito peppers

The star of the meal was Pepper Steak, Sweet Shark’s specialty.  He first marinated the beautiful beef tenderloin in olive oil, salt and pepper.  When the grill was good and hot, he seared the tenderloin before finishing it in the oven.

tenderloin

While Sweet Shark smoked broccoli on the grill, I prepared a Caesar salad (Remember to put your plates in the freezer.)  Smashed potatoes, using baby new potatoes I bought that morning at Farmer’s Market, completed our meal.  Here’s what I did for the potatoes:

1.  I parboiled the potatoes until a skewer goes through easily.  Cover a sheet pan with foil.

2.  When the potatoes are done, lay them on the sheet pan and cover with a dish towel and let cool for a few minutes.  Then, with the flat palm of your hand, gently “smash” the potatoes.  Leave the towel on the potatoes.

3.  I minced three garlic cloves, and in a small bowl, combined them with several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a good sprinkle of kosher salt and ground black pepper.  I removed the leaves from several sprigs of fresh thyme and added that to the mix.  (Finely chopped rosemary or sage would be nice, too.)

4.  Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.  Remove towel from the potatoes and sprinkle the garlic, thyme mixture on all the potatoes.

5.  Bake for 20-30 minutes.  The potatoes should be a bit crispy and brown.

When Sweet Shark sliced the tenderloin, it was a beautiful rosy pink.  He completed the Pepper Steak with a classic sauce, complete with flaming brandy!  I wish I had taken more pictures, but with company, cooking, and a few glasses of wine, I just forgot.  Suffice it to say that it was an awesome meal from beginning to end made better by great friends and great wine.

On Sunday, Sweet Shark and I made a traditional Labor Day meal just for the  two of us.  More of that to come soon.

 

 

How to Eat a Small Country fills you up

 

How to Eat a Small Country

 . . . cooking is actually the best antidote I know to modern life:  it creates a pocket of timelessness through recipes and ritual.”

 Amy Finley 

How to Eat a Small Country: A Family’s Pursuit of Happiness One Meal at a Time reminds us who love food (not always the eating of it, but the preparing of it, the talking about it, the sharing of it), that it’s not always about the food.  This memoir by Amy Finley, which was published in 2011, examines the painful results when food, and more specifically the competition of it and broadcasting of it, shakes the foundations of a family and threatens to break it apart.  Amy Finley was the unlikely winner of the third season of Next Food Network Star.  I remember it vividly because that was the first time I watched the competition to win one’s own cooking show.  I don’t remember if I was pulling for Amy, but I do remember when she was eliminated with only three contestants left.  While millions of us watching may have been disappointed, for Finley’s husband, it was a cause for celebration.  Unbeknownst to viewers and the Food Network producers, Greg Finley was adamantly opposed to his wife participating on the show – she had not told him that she was trying out.  When she was selected to appear on the show, he told her not to go; she went to New York anyway.  After the elimination, she went home to California to make amends.  But one of the remaining contestants was found to have lied about his past, and two weeks later, Amy was called back, and was voted the final winner by the viewers.  Amy was really the perfect choice – a professionally trained chef who had lived and cooked in France (where she met Greg – a Frenchman), she had been a stay-at-home mom with two kids.  What a perfect point of view for the the show.  Amy immediately went into production for her six episodes of The Gourmet Next Door. But behind the scenes, her life was falling apart.  Greg issued an ultimatum – either stop filming and come home or the marriage is over.  Amy Finely realized that she was cooking for America, but not for the people she loved.  Although she was offered a second season, she walked away, going home to rebuild her marriage.  (Obviously, Greg is not Ina Garten’s Jeffery or Giada’s Todd or should the occasion arise, my Sweet Shark.)

Amy decided that she and Greg and their two children needed a total change of scenery and so they move to France, rent a house, and travel all over the country in search of regional food and a lost love.  It sounds romantic; it wasn’t.  The kids (three and five) weren’t thrilled to be uprooted, dragged around a foreign country, learn a new language, and eat strange food (no hot dogs and chips).  Amy and Greg had to work through trust issues and learn how to communicate again.  For the reader, it’s painful to be a part of their struggle, but a wonderful ride through many regions of France, experiencing the well-described meals and learning about different dishes, chefs and regional cultures.  We watch Amy and Greg hauling two kids, a dog, and assorted luggage into cafés and hotels every weekend.  Funny moments are everywhere to balance the challenging ones.  Amy’s descriptions of the scenery, the travel, and the food are enhanced by her liberal use of French phrases with translations, which I loved.  She beautifully describes her passion for food and what food means to a family – how it can gather us around the table, creating moments to remember for a lifetime.

At the end of a year, they return to California.  This story is about a journey, the meals along the way, both good and bad, and coming to realize that a marriage is about two people who have to find common ground.  It’s heartwarming, sad and funny. And a little French food in France just makes it better.

Welcome to the farm – Fall Cooking Classes

I’m always amazed when summer is just about over (the temperature is not an indication that summer is over – it’s back-to-school and Labor Day) and time for a new series of cooking classes.  The inspiration for this early fall class schedule started when I read Anne Willan’s One Soufflé at a Time (July’s book review), and continued with Amy Finley’s How to Eat a Small Country (look for that review later in the week.).  Excited once again by the French emphasis on classic cooking techniques (from Anne) and the devotion to regional, seasonal produce in French country cooking (from Amy), I headed in that culinary direction.

Then on our trip to Martha’s Vineyard (posts of last week), I discovered that this small island (just under 90 square miles) off the coast of Massachusetts is home to about forty farms, all family owned, grown, and operated.  While in Vineyard Haven (on the north side of the island), I had a wonderful conversation with the owner of Leroux Gourmet Store about the farms on the island and the fabulous produce grown there.  Her obvious passion for the local farmers prompted me to buy a cookbook with stories about farming and food from Morning Glory Farms.  I was enthralled from the moment I opened the book.  Mouth-watering recipes using all sorts of fresh vegetables, fruits, and local chickens, pigs and cows – and, whether or not the farmers know it – using classic French cooking techniques.  A match made in cooking class heaven!  I’ve had a blast choosing and testing recipes that I know you will love to make and serve, that will fit within the time frame of a class, and that have ingredients you can readily find at the market.  Each class offers a complete meal that I know you’ll love  and the cooking lessons and food knowledge that I’ll share will increase your culinary skills.  Welcome to the farm!  Check out the Cooking Classes page for the full schedule.

Morning Glory Farm

 

Tales from Martha’s Vineyard – Day 2

Going to bed last Monday night, we left the blinds up and the windows open.  That’s why, when I opened my eyes Tuesday morning, I could see blue sky and the tops of the masts of the sailboats in the harbor.  For this Texas girl, it was a surreal moment.  Rising to take in the whole view, I could see the variety of boats of all sizes anchored, barely moving in the water.  Hulls of red, white, and blue were certainly an awesome sight.  On the street, we stopped in the little bakery next door for a blueberry muffin and sat on the bench out front and watched the quiet early morning foot traffic.  Our plan for the day was to take the island bus to Vineyard Haven on the north side of the Vineyard and then to Oak Bluffs on the east.  Our destination in Vineyard Haven was The Black Dog Tavern, famous since 1971 for its lobster rolls and t-shirts. We had already visited The Black Dog stores in Edgartown and picked out the shirts to purchase later.

map of Martha's Vineyard

The bus ride takes us through the interior of the island and we pass large green pastures and rural homesteads.  It gives you a sense of the island away from the water.  We arrive at the harbor in Vineyard Haven and it’s a short walk to Main Street – a very different vibe than Edgartown – quieter and toned down, but still with white one-story clapboard buildings.  We stop in Leroux at Home, a kitchenware shop, which is like a mini Sur La Table, and its sister store across the street, Leroux Gourmet, where I visit with the clerk who shares information about all the local farms on the island. She’s so enthusiastic that I wish we had time to visit one.  I do purchase a book about Morning Glory Farm, a story of farming on the island with beautiful pictures and enticing recipes.  Midnight Farm is a lovely store offering home goods, candles, jewelry, and books.  At Claudia’s I buy a charm for my Pandora bracelet.  At The Beach House which offers lovely, beachy home accessories, I find the most wonderful blue and white tiles with Italian sayings that I can’t resist.

We head down to the water where The Black Dog Tavern, Bakery, and General Store form a little compound.  The original tavern was built right on the water and opened in 1971. The Black Dog now has stores selling t-shirts, towels, kids’ clothes, anything that you can put a logo on. Fortunately, we arrive before they open for lunch, put out name on the list and get in before the crowd that has gathered outside.

Black Dog Tavern 1

The front porch of The Black Dog Tavern

Lobster roll

The centerpiece of the tavern is a huge fireplace – a few kids could fit inside – old, stained wood and windows just yards from the water.  Sitting right on the windows, we order some local beer and a bowl of clam chowder – my second bowl in three days – which I love.  Sweet Shark and I share the lobster roll: it’s a huge sandwich full of sweet, meaty lobster on a soft roll with wedges of fried potatoes and cole slaw on the side. We’re stuffed!

After lunch, we walk to the bus station and catch the bus to Oak Bluffs.  It’s a short ride which brings us once again to a completely different village.  As you come into Oak Bluffs, the gingerbread cottages face the harbor. Oak Bluff looks like a Florida beach town with restaurants and bars on the harbor dominating the scene.  Every outdoor patio and balcony is packed with people enjoying the scenery and the weather. Shopping doesn’t seem on the agenda so we walk to the bus stop which is located in front of Ocean Park, a huge, open green space about 10 acres with a gazebo and carousel (the oldest in the country we learn) bounded on two sides with large Victorian houses and the Nantucket Sound on the other.  People are relaxing on blankets or flying kites.  It’s a wonderful scene to watch as we wait for the bus to Edgartown.

Oak Bluff houses

Gingerbread Cottages in Oak Bluffs

Ocean Park

Ocean Park

This time we take route 13 along the coast back to Edgartown.  We see boats in the water and people swimming or laying on the beaches. We cross over the bridge that played a role in the movie Jaws. (The move was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard.  We’re told that the mechanical sharks deteriorated in the salt water and had to constantly be rebuild.)  Arriving back in Edgartown, we head to The Black Dog Store to purchase our t-shirts and a new collar for Lovely Layla, our black dog.  We then stroll passed our hotel up Water Street to see what’s there, and we discover beautiful, very large homes that back up to the harbor.  Their gardens are just spectacular – so green and full of flowers.  We’re sure that these homes have been updated inside for modern families, but from the outside they look very New England and well-kept.  Is this the Highland Park of Edgartown?

house on Water Street

Arriving back in the center of town, I discover Portobello Road, my favorite store in Edgartown; part bookstore, art gallery, knickknacks, I could spend all day here. After a quick nap, we get ready for dinner and walk down Water Street to Chesca’s, an Italian restaurant.  My friend Barbara and her husband Ron had been to Edgartown a few weeks earlier and said they loved it.  A very pretty dining room and inviting bar greeted us.  Settled at the bar with a glass of Prosecco for me and a glass of Chardonnay for Sweet Shark, we studied the menu.  With the blessings of our bartender Melanie, we ordered the gnocchi with mushrooms and Gorgonzola in a cream sauce as our starter.  The gnocchi were light as a cloud, the earthy mushrooms provided depth, and the cream sauce wasn’t too heavy.  For our entrée, we chose the lobster ravioli and scallops.  The lobster ravioli just melted in your mouth and the scallops were sweet and meaty.   It was the best meal we had, and a wonderful way to end our last meal on the Vineyard. I love walking to and from dinner in the crisp night air.  We do stop at Murdick’s Fudge Shop to get one more slice of delicious fudge – chocolate peanut butter – to nibble on the way back to the hotel.

Chesca

Wednesday morning the rains that were predicted greeted us – no more blue sky. As we walked to the pier through the light drizzle and waited for the ferry, I concentrated on the amazing two days we spent here.  We visited three of the six towns on the island, got to ride through the green pastures and along the coast, learn about a part of the USA we’d never been to before, ate some fabulous seafood, and I found the blue Italian tiles for my kitchen.  This charming island has captured my heart. Not a McDonald’s, Starbucks, Ikea or B&N in sight!   I hope that we will come back some day.

Tales from Martha’s Vineyard – Day 1

Last Tuesday morning I woke up to blue skies, blue water, and a hundred sailboats, small yachts and other various vessels bobbing in the harbor of Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard.  The temperature was a pleasant and invigorating 64 degrees.  We’re not in Dallas, Toto! (It was climbing into the 90’s when we left Dallas last Sunday morning.)  After a three and a half hour flight to Boston, waiting for our bags, a shuttle to the rental car building, a ridiculously long line to get our car, we were finally on the road to Hyannis on Cape Cod at 5:30.  Fortunately, there was no traffic and the scenery green and interesting.  By 7:30 p.m., we were checked into our motel and walking to The Black Cat on Hyannis Harbor.

Black Cat

What a great place: the outdoor covered bar/courtyard was full of people enjoying the weather, the atmosphere, and the music of a guitar player covering Jimmy Buffet.  Amazingly, we found a seat at the bar where the bartenders were shucking local oysters.  Sweet Shark ordered a half dozen and I ordered a cup of the clam chowder, which was full of sweet clams, well-seasoned, and creamy.  We then shared fish and chips – perfectly fried cod in a light batter.  As the sun went down and the twinkling strung lights came on it was a magical evening to start our New England vacation.  As we walked along the harbor back to our motel, we could see the full moon.  It was a long day with a perfect ending.

Sailing MV

Monday morning we drove an hour to Falmouth to catch the ferry to Edgartown (This is the only ferry that goes directly to Edgartown.)  A lovely blue sky and sunny day with light breezes accompanied us on the hour sail.   As we sailed into the harbor, the distinct architecture of the houses along the coast and the sailboats anchored in the harbor shout, “you’re in Martha’s Vineyard”.  We dock, pull our bags off the ferry, and walk toward Water Street, heading for our hotel, The Harborside Inn, which was the home of a ship’s captain.  Our room is the original building on the second floor with great views of the harbor.  It’s small, but tastefully done in blues and whites and a huge shower.  As we walk through the narrow streets full of pedestrians, I’m struck by the homes and shops, all white clapboard with dark green shutters hugging the sidewalks.  I turn to Sweet Shark and say, “this is exactly what I thought it would look like”.  The flowers are everywhere, in planters, window boxes, and in the landscape; the same ones that I have at home in Dallas, except these flowers look vibrant and healthy, not withered and thirsty.

After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we head next door to the Atlantic restaurant, and we’re lucky to get a table at the wrap around porch overlooking the harbor.  A glass of chardonnay and a basket of hot crusty bread served with tapenade begin our first meal.  We share the best tuna tartare we’ve ever had, so fresh I think the tuna must have been swimming in the harbor this morning; the ginger and sesame sauce provide just the right paring .  After lunch, we stroll around Water and Main Streets, where the shops, restaurants, cafes, ice cream parlors and bakeries are congregated.  We hear French, Italian, German, and British accents as we explore the stores – clothes, jewelry, art, books, sailing gear, and, of course, t-shirts.  Heading up Main Street away from the harbor, we pass homes with window boxes full of flowers, bed and breakfasts, and a lovely church that now hosts concerts.  After a stop back at the Atlantic for happy hour and their signature bar snack of bacon (some of the best from a local farm), we take a quick nap and get ready for dinner.

Striped Bass

For dinner, we chose the Alchemy Bistro and Bar on Main Street, which was highly recommended.  Located in a renovated two-story house, the decor is modern and very hip.  After finding seats at the bar, we order an Asparagus and Jonah Crab Salad.  The local asparagus with friseé and the sweet crab is a delicious first course.  We opt for one of the specials, Roasted Striped Bass on a bed of lentils and corn with tiny tomatoes, all locally grown.  The lentils are delicious, but the bass is a little overcooked for our taste, but it’s quickly replaced with a better prepared piece. Overall, it’s a lovely first meal on the Vineyard.  As we walk back to our hotel, we can see the moon again, hovering above the water.  A special way to end a first day on the Vineyard.

 

 

 

Recipe #2 from One Soufflé at a Time

A week or so ago, I shared that I had selected fourteen recipes from Anne Willan’s One Soufflé at a Time to try.  Here is the second one: Gratin Dauphinois.  The recipe was the creation of Chef Fernand Chambrette who taught at La Varenne.  Traditionally, gratin dauphinois is made with uncooked potatoes, thinly sliced, and cream, layered in a buttered dish rubbed with garlic  This version cooks the potatoes in milk and cream without layering them; it actually makes for an easier assembly.  For a crowd, bake in a large baking dish; for an elegant presentation, bake in individual ramekins.  For the complete recipe, go to the  RECIPE page.

What do mushrooms, chocolate, and Southwest cuisine have in common?

I was lazy this morning.  The reason is the answer to the question above.  I taught a private cooking class last night for a wonderful family. (Not entirely because of the class did I sleep in.  Sweet Shark is in Las Vegas for his annual golf trip with his brother-in-law.  That meant I could stay up as late as I wanted.  So after the class, cleaning the kitchen, getting ready for bed, letting Lovely Layla, our sweet Lab, in and out a few times, I watched The Batchelorette from a week ago, read my latest book for an hour, and finally turned out the light after midnight.  It was a blast!) So back to the mushrooms, chocolate, and Southwestern cuisine.  When planning a private class, I always ask what topic, food, and cuisine the attendees like and those three things were the answer.  Might sound disjointed and daunting?  Not at all.  I knew exactly what I would teach and what recipes I would use.  I love Southwestern cuisine – how could I not, being from Texas?  When I was in culinary school, for our major, cannot-graduate- without-this, project, we have to develop a business plan for a restaurant, starting with a theme, name, menu development, costing, and design,   My restaurant was called Bluesky Bistro (there’s that bluesky again), based on modern Southwestern cuisine using French techniques.  This is not chuckwagon cooking, more like the Alamo moves to Paris.  My culinary inspirations were Stephan Pyles (Dallas),  Robert Del Grande (Houston), Barbara Pool Fenzel (Phoenix), and Jeff Blank (Austin).

I chose for the cooking class four recipes that I adapted from my study of those iconic Southwestern chefs and added on my favorite Gazpacho recipe as a starter from the Barefoot Contessa.  I’ve served this chilled summer soup in everything from shot classes to pass at a cocktail party to little juice glasses to soup bowls to here in a wine glass.

gazpacho

Our entrée was Tortilla-Chile Crusted Chicken Breasts, Annatto Rice with Wild Mushrooms and Queso Fresco (check on the requested mushrooms) and Asparagus with Chile Glaze.  For dessert, I had adapted Jeff Blank’s Hot Brownies to a simpler version, Chipotle Brownies (check on the chocolate).  Since Sweet Shark says the Annatto Rice is his very favorite rice dish, I’m sharing that with you.  Check it out on the RECIPE page.  Enjoy!

I’ll post the other recipes soon.

Summer squash stupendous

After reading One Soufflé at a Time, I went back through the almost fifty recipes and selected fourteen that I wanted to try.  Here is the first one, Summer Vegetable Pistou.  Pistou is the French word for pesto.  It’s a great way to use zucchini (and/or summer squash), eggplant, and tomatoes,  and all that basil in your herb garden (You do have basil in your herb garden?).  I started with this recipe because my brother-in-law gave us a bunch of home-grown vegetables that I wanted to use.  They are so beautiful, almost a still life.

summer veggies

I’m sharing the original recipe, which calls for all zucchini.  Because I had so much summer squash, I used half summer squash and half zucchini.  That’s the great thing about a recipe like this – you can use what you have on hand or what is just picked.  See the complete recipe on the RECIPE PAGE.

 

Cooking connections

I love random connections, the seven degrees, not of separation, but of connections that link us to one another, whether it’s in our neighborhoods, cities, countries, or across the ocean.  I love running into old friends near or far, the serendipity of life.  On one trip to Destin years ago, I ran into a girlfriend that I went all through school with.  I don’t think we had seen each other since our ten year high school reunion.  She lives in Tennessee now and we just happened to be shopping at the same store. On another trip to Destin (what’s with Destin?), the elevator doors in our condo opened and there stood my boyfriend from high school with his kids.   Speaking of that boyfriend, a couple of years ago, my husband and I were having a glass of wine at a restaurant and the bartender looked so familiar, I asked his name: Chris D_____.  OMG, the boyfriend’s son!  Then he said he knew who I was because he remembered seeing me in Florida years ago. Either he has a fantastic memory (this was 20 years ago) or he really knows how to make a girl feel good.

I could share several more incidents like those, but the most wonderful and memorable connections have come from my passion for teaching cooking to others.  In the past ten years, I have met the friendliest, kindest, most giving people in my kitchen.  I know hundreds more people today than I did 10 years ago because they came to sit in my kitchen, let me talk and share what I know about cooking and food; they bring a bottle of wine and they share a meal with me and others.  Sometimes new students come with friends who have been to classes before, sometimes people come alone, but they leave with new friends – all because they wanted to learn more about cooking.  Cooking classes are like the pebble thrown in a pond that keeps sending out rings to infinity.  Probably eight years ago, one of my sorority sisters came to a cooking class.  She told an acquaintance who she knew loved to cook about my classes; this lady came to a class and brought two friends.  Not only have these three friends come to many classes over the years, but each one referred other people who have come to classes.  The cycle goes on and on.  These friends have become my friends; we talk not just about food, but families, travel, where we are volunteering, marriages, births – just life.

In June, I did a private cooking class for five young ladies.  The girl (these are women in their mid-30’s, but everyone is a girl in Texas.) who planned the class had been given my name by a friend of mine who has come to several classes; as they sat at the same table, cooking came into the conversation.  When the girls arrived and introduced themselves, one girl’s first name rang a bell and she looked familiar.  I asked where she went to high school and when she told me, I said I’m J_____’s mom!  Wow!  Right then, I called my daughter, and the two girls had a quick reunion on the phone.  All because of a cooking class.  One of the girls in that class has already scheduled another class for members of her family.

Two weeks ago when I was reading One Soufflé at a Time (see POST from July 15), I googled Anne Willan. On her website was a post about Anna Watson Carl, who had been a student at Anne’s La Varenne cooking school.  Anna has her own blog, the yellow table, and is writing a cookbook.  I’ve grown to love Anna’s writing and her approach to food.  She has been traveling the country having dinner parties at people’s homes, testing recipes for her book.  She may know only one person when she arrives, but by the time she leaves she has new friends and new connections.  Last week she posted about her dinner party in Austin – O.K. that’s getting close to me.  This week she posted about a dinner party in Dallas, my backyard!  The party was hosted by Sarah Harmeyer, who has the most wonderful way to meet new people – invite them to dinner.  Her neighbor’s table is such a giving, joyful concept.  She has a table made by her father that seats 20 in her backyard.  Anna spoke about the hospitality extended to her ( I could have told her how friendly Dallas is) and how gracious Sarah is.  I had to meet Sarah.  I e-mailed her, she e-mailed back with her phone number, I called her, and we had a lovely conversation about what we do, how we love what bringing people to a table does and how it can impact lives.  I hope to be at Sarah’s next neighbor’s table with a dish to share.  I may walk in and not know a soul, but I won’t leave that way.  I just know that connections will be made and maybe great friendships will begin.  That’s just the way it is when you combine good food and good people around a table (Some good wine helps, too.) So, from Anne to Anna to Sarah to me to who knows who’s next.

So my advice is: Don’t be afraid or hesitate to connect with others.  This isn’t about networking in the business world.  This is about connecting in the real world.  A smile, a hello, and a casserole or a bottle of wine can do wonders for you.  And attending a cooking class will work, too. It just may change your world.