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Archive for October, 2009

Have you ever heard this poem before?

My love is like a cabbage, divided into two.
The leaves I give to others.
The heart I give to you.

It’s OK if you haven’t.  I hadn’t either until I began writing this post.  I am, as you probably suspected, going to share a cabbage recipe that I recently made with Mike in mind.  He LOVES cabbage.  I think it’s because he is of Slovak descent and his mom, dad, and sister frequently cook with cabbage.  Don’t worry, I will share some of his family recipes like pierogies, klednicky (crustless bread dumplings), and head cheese down the road.  I digress…

Mike says that cabbage is peasant food; it’s cheap and long-lasting, which makes it convenient to have around.   And did you know that cultivated cabbage is derived from a leafy plant called the mustard plant?  This explains so much for me – like why when I read Deborah Madison’s recipe for brussels sprouts with mustard butter, I immediately thought, “Yeah, of course, I could do the same thing with cabbage!” even though I had never experienced the concept in my head or my mouth.  That’s how you will feel about this recipe too!  It’s just different enough from conventional cabbage, but it makes so much sense.

Red cabbage with apples and mustard butter

Red cabbage with apples and mustard butter

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Once upon a time I subscribed to a cooking magazine.  I paid the low annual price and collected my issue every month – soon I had a stack of 12, some of which I had barely thumbed through.  When it came time to renew, I looked at my largely-unread stack and thought about the trees, about the space…why destroy the world and die buried under a collapsed tower of glossy print paper – just to save a few bucks on each issue?  I could buy them at the newsstand if I really wanted an issue and – best of all – the recipes were available online for free with ratings and reviews, so I wasn’t missing anything.

And then, Monday: the announcement that Conde Nast is shuttering yet another of its flagship publications – this time, Gourmet magazine.  I had just, on a whim, purchased the newsstand issue on Saturday – at an airport, no less.  Forget saving fossil fuel or trees or money.  I blew it all 1000 times over.  And now the guilt, because I had many times used the mag’s recipes (via the website epicurious.com) for free.  I didn’t appreciate Gourmet enough to show it with my wallet and now I, nay, the whole world would suffer.

Ok, a bit dramatic, I know.  I had already planned to make this sweet-potato gnocchi with sage and brown butter before I knew that Gourmet would be no more, but now the recipe became more significant – a celebration and a goodbye to an old friend.

gnocchi ingredients PS

I gathered my ingredients and you’ll notice that there’s a big bunch of kale in there.  I had been intrigued about roasted kale after hearing Lynne Rossetto Kasper describe it and then reading about it as part of Michael Pollan’s  industrial organic meal in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  When I saw this gorgeous stuff at YDFM, I scooped it up.  With all the butter, potato, and flour in my gnocchi, I knew we’d need a green vegetable for this meal.

It’s easy to see why this particular variety is called ‘dinosaur kale’:

dinosaur kale ps

Doesn’t it look like the skin of a brontosaurus?  Well, truthfully, I don’t think we have any idea what dinosaur skin really looked like – but isn’t this what you imagine it was like?  Luckily, this green leaf is nothing like the leathery skin of a pre-historic beast; it’s crisp, strong but tender, and sensuous to touch.

Before roasting the kale, I began making the gnocchi.  I purchased a potato ricer – a long-wished-for toy that I was happy to have an excuse to buy – for this recipe and I offer that it is crucial to the task.  It gives the potato a lightness that leaves these dumplings pillowy and fluffy, not dense and heavy.  gnocchi smooth psAnd it’s so fun to use!  Between pressing the cooked potato through the ricer and seeing is come out of the sides in bright orange and white string, to rolling out “snakes” of dough and cutting them into bits, then rolling those along the tines of a fork, I felt fully returned to days when squeezing, shaping, and manipulating play-dough was about as good as it got.

I could not find fresh chestnuts, as the original recipe called for, so I substituted walnuts.  In the end, the gnocchi came out light and airy with a lovely orange color and sweetness imparted by the sweet potato.  This dish is nonetheless very rich – it doesn’t take much of pasta, brown butter, and nuts to leave you feeling full and satisfied.  Though we ate this for dinner, I was reminded that I prefer dishes like these as a small plate or appetizer.  This makes perfect sense as pasta is not a main dish in Italy, but rather is served in a small portion as the primi course of the meal.

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Dan and I moved to Kirkwood about six weeks ago.  Our house came with two stray cats, tomato plants and morning glories, and across-the-street neighbors who run a car repair shop from their house.   Our street boasts a plaque declaring “The Battle of Atlanta began here,” near which throngs of high school students doing their best Kanye West and Rhianna impressions catch the bus to and from school each morning.  Kirkwood is a perfect example of the tensions and juxtapositions of living in Atlanta: on one corner is a bright, shiny new store selling $30 plastic mugs, cutesy yard art, and sandwiches made fresh with name-brand meats and cheese; opposite is a local minute-mart in an old brick building, the original fifties-style sign faded but holding above the barred windows, advertising lotto tickets, money orders, candy bars, and sodas.

I love it here.

We’ve been exploring on walks in the newly crisp fall air.  Yesterday we checked out Spades Kountry Kookin’ in the “downtown” area of Kirkwood and decided to stop for lunch.  Spades is open for three meals a day, seven days a week and serves Southern food cafeteria-style.  I love sharing this kind of food with my Israeli-Californian-Buffalonian partner.  He loves it, too.  I had the veggie plate:

IMG00003-20090930-1251

It was delicious – I was surprised at how good it was.  There are a lot of restaurants calling themselves “country” or “Southern” out there, serving a lot of bad food: oversalted, undersalted, drowning in butter (or – eegads! – margarine), overcooked, made from unappealing processed ingredients.  But Spades’ food is quite to the contrary –  fresh, well-seasoned, made with high-quality ingredients and not drowned in butter, thus not too heavy.  It reminded me of my grandmother’s cooking – except, as I told Dan, “Mimi never made macaroni and cheese.”  Famous last words.

Thinking of Mimi’s cooking, I ticked through the recipes I wanted to try to recreate: Devil’s food cake with sea-foam frosting, ice box cookies, cornbread sticks… Mimi is still with us, but the high heyday of her cooking is probably done.  Everything she makes is still wonderful – it’s just simpler and she often has help.  I wondered if other family members would remember dishes I had forgotten that they couldn’t wait to taste again.  Lo and behold, from my mom: macaroni and cheese.  Apparently Mimi did make it once upon a time and, no surprise, it was so good that its memory has survived these many decades.

This brings us to The Mimi Project.  Here on the blog, Rach and I will attempt to recreate the wonderful recipes that, to my mind, are our most valuable family heirlooms.  This will be a recurring series and we’ll let you know when that’s what we’re up to (not that you’d have much trouble figuring it out).  The recipe requests we collected ended up being not just for Mimi’s cooking, but also recipes of Aunt NoNo, Uncle Doe, and our beloved Granddaddy, all of whom are no longer with us.

We have our work cut out for us:

  • Mimi’s Birthday Cake
  • Mimi’s Ice-box Cookies
  • NoNo’s Divinity
  • Mimi’s Cornbread Sticks
  • Mimi’s Chicken and Dumplings
  • Mimi’s Cornbread Stuffing with Giblet Gravy
  • Mimi’s Chicken Salad
  • Mimi’s Black Bean Soup
  • Mimi’s Vegetable Soup
  • Mimi’s Crab Dip
  • Granddaddy’s Pepper Vinegar
  • Mimi’s Cake with Lemon Cheese (Nick’s birthday cake)
  • Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese
  • Mimi’s Home-Grown-and-Canned Green Bean Salad with Purple Onion and Italian Dressing
  • Granddaddy’s Cheese Crackers
  • Granddaddy’s Pecans
  • Granddaddy’s Chicken with Lemon, Butter and Worcestershire
  • Mimi’s Pimiento Cheese
  • NoNo’s Blackberry (or Quince or Grape) Jelly
  • Doe’s Fried Eggplant
  • Doe’s (and Grandmother Wheeler’s) Thin Cornbread

Here’s Mimi on the porch at a recent family reunion with Theresa and Maggie:

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And here’s to The Mimi Project.

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