These days, Im spending a lot of time drooling on my keyboard.
No, theres nothing wrong with me. Instead, Im spending more time than Id like to admit reading food blogs in my little writing nook by the window. Theres a world outside that window, but theres also another world online: the foodie world. Across the country and the globe, people entranced by food are writing luscious phrases about the taste of heirloom tomatoes, dark chocolate, and locally made cheeses. Were bonded together by our shared love of food. Actually, were bonded together by our shared obsession. Most people just wouldnt understand, so we write out our hearts and show off our photographs, the ones we took by arranging whatever is fresh out of the oven on the kitchen counter closest to a natural light source and pressing the shutter on the camera two inches from the top of it. Most of us like to eat, but some of us like every single aspect of food. Especially writing about it.
So lately, Ive been spending more time with Molly, Megwoo, Clotilde, Heidi, Sam, and Rachael than I am some of my friends. I marvel when they visit new restaurants I wish I could eat in. I gape at their new cooking implements. And I wish I could be with them at their latest feast. Some of them live in Paris or Los Angeles or San Francisco, so its my way of visiting other places from my little window nook. And some of them live in Seattle, which is the funniest part. Were all typing away, several miles from each other, but weve never met. No matter. Im still grateful for their presence in my life. Of course, its a cyberspace relationship, but its a good one.
And for those of us who must eat gluten-free, because of celiac disease or otherwise, food blogs are an unexpected wealth. Instead of feeling in a rut with recipes, explore the world of people who are constantly tweaking recipes and walking through farmers markets with cameras in their hands. (The links list to your right has a good smattering of them.) While Im happy to provide information here about how to live gluten-free, really, Im just writing a food blog. After all, good food is the path to healthiness for all of us, whether we have to eat gluten-free or we can eat gluten. And nothing makes healthy=happy faster than a lovingly prepared meal.
So with that in mind, I decided to concoct my own little tribute to my favorite food bloggers by throwing a dinner party with recipes I had read online. Three friends came over tonight: my dear friend Meri and two lovely new friends, Anne and Rick. All of us foodies, and all of us comfortable enough with each other that I could break the cardinal rule of hosting: never make a dish for people coming over for the first time that you have never made before. Everything I made today (and it did take an entire, blissful day of cooking to make this meal) was something I made for the first time.
And it was all spectacular.
Heres the menu:
–pecorino with chestnut honey (thats via my friend Sharon) –slow-roasted heirloom tomatoes (from Molly at Orangette) –cold melon soup (from Rachael at Fresh Approach Cooking) –fig, prosciutto, and arugula salads (from Megwoo at I Heart Bacon) –fresh herb muffins (from Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini) –Yukon gold and sweet potato gratin (from Ruth at Once Upon a Feast) –broiled basil peaches (from the recipe I found at the New York Times)
Why such a feast? Well, why not. Its the end of summer, almost, and everything
these days is throwing out a refulgence that smells of blowsy over-ripeness. Soon, its going to be fall. Soon, school starts again, and I wont have a free day to make food all day, dancing in the kitchen when I feel like it. Anne has been a more enormous help with my writing than I could elucidate here. And besides, my friends are cool, and they deserve it. Even more, right at the core, since my brush-with-death car accident last year, every day is a feast day.
PECORINO ROMANO WITH CHESTNUT HONEY
Ive been slowly consuming the honey I bought on Friday, in yogurt and on toast. But last night, when I was talking on the phone with Sharon, she told me: Oh, buy some Pecorino. She had been in Tuscany in May, and she said that every day, everywhere they went, Italians handed them chestnut honey on pecorino. The drier the better, she said.
So tonight, we started with a plate full of small slices of a good pecorino romano I found at Whole Foods. And a drizzle of chestnut honey. Everyone who took the first bite made the same moany sound. Anne said, This shouldnt be good. It feels unnatural. But its so good. Yes. We were off to a good start.
SLOW-ROASTED OVEN TOMATOES
Molly at Orangette put up such a lovingly prepared post about these a couple of weeks ago that they have been lingering in my mind ever since. Shes always putting put up lovingly prepared posts, meditations on savoring food and walking slowly enough through life to experience it. I adore her. And so, in her honor, Ive been looking at fat heirloom tomatoes with slow-roast aspirations, but somehow I hadnt made the time. Until today.
Turns out, this is one of the easiest paths to bliss youre ever going to find. Just cut up the tomatoes into fat chunks, sprinkle some good olive oil, and the herb of your choice. I didnt have any coriander, as Molly suggested, so I used thyme and basil instead. And my trusty herbed sea salt. Put them in the oven for six hours at 200°, then try to restrain yourself from eating them all in one gulp before your guests arrive.
They taste like tomato candy. The juices pool in the shrunken sides and burst into your mouth in one, condensed taste. Youre not going to believe them, and youre going to want to make them all the time. I will be. I can only imagine them on pizza or in a tart.
These were a hit, the best kind of food to make at a party: easy to prepare and spectacular. I had them on a lovely plate and kept passing them around to everyone in the kitchen. We all looked a little mournful when our fingers reached for the last ones.
COLD MELON SOUP
I have to admit this: I discovered this recipe on Rachaels blog because she had hosted the ravioli food blog competition. It actually wasnt a competition, more like a sharing. I so enjoyed that process that I started to explore Rachaels site more closely. Anyone who urges the world to make ravioli in the same week has my vote of confidence. The fact that she called me amazing when it was all over was even more lovely. But the best is her site. Clearly fascinated by food and all its permutations, she has a whimsical touch and a thousand suggestions as to what to eat. Im dying to try the manchego cheese and quince paste combination she wrote about last week.
But this melon soup just looked like fun, especially in martini glasses. I dont have the proper dishware for proper dinner parties, but I do have fun, mismatched pieces. Why not throw in some martini glasses? Probably not so smart to buy them at Whole Foods, where everything costs 20% more than it should, but what the hell. Its a celebration.
I used galia melons instead of canteloupe, because I could smell them from across the produce section at Whole Foods. They taste a little like canteloupe, but they have green flesh like a honeydew. And paired with yellow heirloom tomatoes and sweet Walla Walla onions (plus the exquisite Sicilian olive oil), this was fantastic. I made a quadruple batch, four little pulses in my tiny food processor. (Someday, Ill have the big Kitchen Aid. A girl can dream, cant she?) And then I let it sit in the fridge all day, gathering coolness.
Beautiful. I left it a little chunky, which tasted great in the martini glasses. Paired with a crisp white wine, the soup was perfect in the hot kitchen. (Because, of course, we spent the first hour in the kitchen, leaning against the walls and counters.) I recommend it highly.
FIG, PROSCIUTTO, AND ARUGULA SALAD
How can you not love a girl who calls her blog I Heart Bacon? Well, I do. Megwoo (the name that crops up as her signature on comments) clearly knows how to design web pages and eat with equal mastery. Her adventures in restaurants leave me longing to visit them too, even though I probably couldnt eat in most of the places these days. And a couple of weeks ago, she threw a 40s-70s party, complete with dishes from tacky cookbooks of the time. Way to go!
I knew I had to make this salad when I found it on her recipe search. I adore figs. Adore them. Okay, so I cant eat fig newtons any more, but thats no loss when I can have fig, prosciutto, and arugula salad instead. And the broiled figs concoction at the bottom of this post.
For the dressing, I made a quick vinaigrette with olive oil, fig balsamic vinegar, and shallots. Ive been a shallot fan lately, after Francoise taught me that the French use shallots for their simple salad dressings. Simple, perhaps, but gorgeous. And with this salad, exquisite.
FRESH HERB MUFFINS
Ah, Clotilde. The mother of food bloggers, even though shes only 26. Her Chocolate and Zucchini was probably the inspirationboth in its clean design and lyrical voicefor thousands of blogs. It certainly was for mine. She approaches food with an ineffable pleasure, treating sandwiches made with little rolls from the corner bakery and decadent desserts with the same intensity. And she lives in Montmarte. Oh my goodness, shes adorable.
I hope that she doesnt mind, but Ive copied her philosophy of food here, because its mine as well.
As for the philosophy, well, it boils down to this : I love food. The shopping, the looking, the talking, the reading, the thinking, the planning, the preparing, the cooking, the baking, the tasting, the plating, the serving, the sharing, and of course, the eating. But being concerned with health and weight as I am, I am very particular about what goes into my mouth. Mediocre or bland just won’t do. Every meal should be an extraordinary experience in taste and aesthetics, every dish a subtle yet powerful combination of flavors, every bite an explosion of layers of savor. I am aware that this level of perfection is hard to reach, but it’s what I strive towards, and the challenge makes me happy.
I know Im not reaching perfection. Im just trying to live life aware, with all its gluten-free challenges and beautiful moments of discovery. And Clotilde certainly helps me with both.
So the other day, she posted a recipe for fresh herb muffins, and I knew I had to make them. I made the pesto early in the day, then folded it into a mix with gluten-free flour. (I just used a direct substitution, with GF Pantrys French bread mix. Ha!) Even when they were in the oven, they enticed me. I just couldnt wait for them to be done.
We cracked these open while we were eating the salads. For a few moments, there was silence in the room.
My only hesitation about these was in my own preparation. I only have the jumbo muffin pan, and so these were enormous. I believe the daintier ones would be even better, a smaller portion to savor. Now I know my next cooking purchase….
YUKON GOLD AND SWEET POTATO GRATIN
Ruth. Im starting to feel like we are friendswe leave comments on each others blogs almost every day; we try each others recipes; and we look forward to reading about each others adventures. (At least I know I do. Im assuming she does too.) This is, of course, silly, because she lives in Toronto, and I have never met her. But who cares? She loves to cook for her friends and explore the farmers markets, like I do. And her posts are a wonderful combination of breathless excitement and thoughtful writing. I visit her every day, at least in cyberspace.
A few days ago, she made up this gratin, with potatoes left sitting in her kitchen. Resourceful, Ruth. It looked so scrumptious that I had to try it with the Yukon gold potatoes left sitting in my kitchen. Id never made a gratin, so of course, on a day when Im cooking and cleaning for hours, let me make something Ive never made! With my handy Zyliss mandoline, this was a cinch. I love that machine. And now that its stored spaciously on my new kitchen shelves, Im bound to use it more.
After all the decadence, we had to pause for awhile before we reached the gratin. Conversation flowed with the wine. But when we were ready, we enjoyed it, thoroughly. Yum. Yum.
Im bound to make many more gratins, especially this winter when its cold and the days of this summer are a mere memory. I think a gratin would be great with goat cheese or kale or yams or a few slivers of smoked salmon….
PEACHES BROILED WITH BASIL BUTTER
The piece de resistance. This is the recipe I found in The New York Times, in the article on cooking with toaster ovens. (See yesterday’s post.) I prepared them before, hollowing out the centers to hold the basil/butter/brown sugar mixture. And a dash of cinnamon on top. At the end of all our feasting (or near it), I threw the pan into a 400° oven. After fifteen minutes or so, the butter was sizzling, and the peaches had made their own sweet, syrupy pool. Time to eat.
They almost tasted carmelized. The basil gave a dusky bite to the rich density of peach taste. And the peaches were perfectly soft, yielding to the fork, begging to be eaten. Ah.
Meri said that this was her favorite part of the entire meal. And there were a lot of favorites.
Sadly, the evening came to an end too soon. The food, the wine, the laughing conversationit was all that a dinner party should be. Theres always a touch of melancholy at the end of a day of cooking. All the preparation, the food that filled the shopping cart, the hard labor and the hopesall gone.
But of course, not really. Not if I can write about it.