Category Archives: Bella
The continuing adventures of our dog Bella.
I like relatively unstructured summers. Even though I’m no longer in school or have anyone in my family in school, my whole frame of mind changes when Memorial Day arrives. Summer feels like a lazier time than the rest of the year.
I wait all year for August, a solid month of perfect tomatoes. Meal preparation becomes conflicting. I’m torn between the simplicity of enjoying the tomatoes sliced and raw and the desire to transform them into something more. Caprese salad, Panzanella, tomato tarts of many forms, sauce, salsa. The list goes on and on.
Insert into my tomato frenzy, recipes for Cook the Book Fridays. I’ll be honest that I haven’t been inspired. I did cook the two recipes selected so far for August, but in the heat of the dog day afternoons, sitting at the computer is not high on my list of activities. I’d rather be gardening or playing with tomatoes. This afternoon is rainy, so I’ve managed to sit myself in my chair and start to write.
The first assignment for August was Stuffed Vegetables. David Lebovitz suggested stuffing zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. Given that Howard doesn’t eat zucchini or eggplant, and even if I were filling a tomato, that filling contained the dreaded zucchini and eggplant, I had to get creative. Actually I wasn’t that creative. My solution was to scale back and stuff one zucchini just for me. The filling was delicious! Ground beef was extended with diced zucchini, eggplant and tomato along sautéed onion and garlic and lots of herbs. An egg binds the mixture together. I filled both halves of a single zucchini for two satisfying lunches for myself. The filling would be delicious in stuffed pepper, though I’d have to keep quiet about the full list of ingredients…
The second recipe assigned in August was Kirsch Babas with Pineapple Cherries. Howard wasn’t excited about this one. I wasn’t either. Despite the tropical fruit, babas seemed much more like a winter dessert. And what’s a baba anyway? It’s an eggy yeasty cake doused in alcoholic syrup. See, doesn’t that sound like something you’d enjoy around the holidays?
Knowing I was the only eater, I halved the recipe. What I set aside for the first rise was much more like batter than dough. I didn’t know if that was a result of halving the recipe or some other mistake. It did rise, and once the softened butter was whipped in, it miraculously transformed into a soft, sticky dough. The little cakes rose again, quickly (less than an hour). My kitchen in the summer is a very warm place.
The finished cakes are soaked in a light simple syrup spiked with alcohol. In my case, it was a mixture of kirsch and rum (I ran out of kirsch). I’ve never soaked cakes in this way before. They were like edible sponges.
These babas were meant to be accompanied by sautéed pineapple, however, the kirsch (cherry brandy) inspired me to substitute cherries that I already had on hand. In the end, I thought the babas were interesting though unremarkable and certainly more work than they were worth, even if it had been winter.
If either of these recipes interest you, they can be found in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. Stuffed Vegetables is on page 160 and the Babas on page 279. Follow the respective links for my friends’ impressions of Stuffed Vegetables or Kirsch Babas.
And for those of you I’m not connected with on Facebook, I want to share the sad news that on the last day of July, we said an unexpected farewell to our beloved dog Bella. Her distinct personality filled our life with love and joy and, of course, exercise. In our grief, I know that she adored us as much as we did her (though maybe she preferred Howard more than me), and her life, at least since we rescued her 9 years ago, was a good one.
Before I started cooking with French Fridays with Dorie, eating duck was reserved for restaurant dining. If duck was on the menu, it was often my first choice of what to order. Admittedly, it’s the sides that are usually served with duck that help suck me in: lentils, roasted root vegetables, pan-fried potatoes… One of my favorite takeaways from this cooking group is learning to sear duck breasts in my own kitchen. I have the added good fortune that the grocery store closest to my house usually has a few duck breasts and legs in the meat case, though I’ve taken to keeping a few duck breasts in the freezer for impulse cooking.
The third and final duck breast recipe in Around My French Table is Duck Breasts with Kumquats, which is a sort of deconstructed,simpler version of duck à l’orange. All of the recipes are based on the same technique of searing the duck breast and letting it finish cooking while it rests in a warm oven, each with a different sauce. The sauce this week was a citrusy red wine reduction sauce. From past experience, I knew that using a saucepan to reduce lots of liquid takes way too long, so I used a wide low sauté pan, which worked really well. In the end, the sauce was satisfactory, but not that memorable. Actually, I didn’t enjoy the sauce from any of these recipes (the others were honey glazed and with peaches). I think I prefer the duck plain, but bring on those sides! (I have lots of leftover sauce. Any ideas on how it might be used?)
On the other hand, the garnish, candied citrus, was outstanding. It’s a little too early here for the called-for kumquats, but I found some tiny clementines to stand in. The sliced fruit simmer in a dilute simple syrup until they are tender, which happens in about 10 minutes. The house smelled great! And the candied slices tasted wonderful, even just tasting them on their own straight from the pot. I’m excited to add the syrup to a glass of seltzer for a refreshing beverage. Or even to spoon the fruit and syrup over vanilla ice cream.
I wasn’t organized enough for any restaurant-worthy sides, just some Israeli couscous, but it was still good. For anyone who wonders, Howard did eat it without the sliced fruit.
This morning was our first snow! It was a light dusting of wet snow, and it melted by noontime. No big nuisance, just a little reminder of what’s coming soon.
Today is also “Bella Day”, the 5th anniversary of our adoption of our furry monster. I still remember Howard and I walking her around the parking lot at the shelter in the pouring rain, a test drive of sorts. It was only six months after we’d lost our first dog Lily. When I asked whether he thought she was the one, he responded, “What would she have to do for us NOT to take her home?”. So we became family. She’s been a joy, full of personality, a mix of sweetness and stubbornness. From her chow heritage, she’s not especially cuddly, though she likes to hang out close by her people. We also count Bella Day as her birthday, so Happy 10th Birthday, Bella!