Sunday, February 18, 2007

a winter meal

Winter calls, of course, for comfort food. For a dish baked in the oven, the warmth and smell of it permating the house. For blankets of creamy cheese sauce. For turkey and broccoli, which is the family name for this heavenly dish, sometimes known elsewhere as Something or another Divan. Why divan? isn't this anothe name for sofa/couch? Why does divan equal cheese sauce? I don't know. I could Google it right now, but it's winter, and I'm conserving body heat and energy, so I'm going to rest in my ignorance.
We only had this when there was leftover turkey, which meant after Thanksgiving or after Christmas, which were the only times we had turkey. My mother would never have dreamed of making turkey just so there would be leftovers (as we have sometimes done), so it was a rare treat, remembered fondly and yearned for.
There were dozens of recipes for this or dishes like it floating around in the '50s, I think, but my mother got hers from a restaurant, now forgotten. She liked what she'd ordered so much (and probably it was called Turkey Divan), that she asked the waiter if the chef might give her the recipe. He told her that the chef was stingy with his recipes, but that it was really easy, and he described what went into it, my mother scribbling it down on the back of an envelope: sliced turkey, broccoli spears, a white sauce enriched with cheese.
My version is only a little different from hers--I don't use frozen broccoli, and I don't used Kraft's Olde English Cheese. But otherwise, it's the same, and it produces a dish where the whole is immeasurably more than the parts.

Jo's Turkey and Broccoli
2 tbs butter or olive oil
2 tbs flour
1.5 cups milk
1.5 cups grated cheese of your choice
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2-3 broccoli crowns
a cup or cup and a half of leftover turkey

Melt butter in a saucepan, and add the flour to it (or to the oil), stirring over the heat until it's absorbed. Stir in the milk and continue stirring until it thickens into its white-sauceness. (This time, I was doing 2 other things at the same time, and I let it start to boil, which you are never supposed to do to white sauce, but you know--it turned out fine.) When it's thickened, add salt and nutmeg and grated cheese, stirring until it melts in. (I mostly use cheddar, but I add other cheese to it, depending on what's in the fridge.)
Cook broccoli until just starting to become tender, and slice or separate the florets--you don't want anything to be so big that it will stick up and mar the cheese-sauce blanket. Slice or chop the turkey. Put the broccoli in one layer in an 8-inch baking pan, and the turkey over it. Pour cheese sauce--it will probably be thick, so spread it to the edges and corners. Sprinkle lightly with paprika.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling around the edges and the top browns slightly. Eat with moans of pleasure.
I always think of my mother when we have this, of her wonderful cooking, her curiosity. I can see her talking to the waiter, her eager friendliness, maybe almost flirting a little (she was a very attractive woman), my father looking on benevolently--because for him, everything she did was right.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

snowed-in valentines

Big storm, as you probably know if you're a midwesterner. We're not really truly snowed in--we could get out if we had to. But there's enough snow that we're happy we don't have to--about a foot, I'm guessing, although there are drifts that are much bigger.
We're having a make-do Valentine's day, since both of us were planning last-minute heart-shaped shopping. D gave me a chocolate heart made from a Cadbury bar melted down and poured into an ancient high-sided, heart-shaped cookie cutter.
I'm making him a bread pudding in heart-shaped ramekins with what's around the house: I'm thinking chestnuts, apricots, caramel--I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

this + this, but not that + that

I do have a kitchen again, although there are still 2 more stages to the renovating: the upper cupboards and the floor (see left, the paint job). And D and I have been cooking--how I missed those beloved ordinary meals that were so unattainable when the kitchen was full of ladders and plastic tarps: shrimp stir fry, meatloaf, baked potatoes with various toppings, etc. etc.
I'm not quite ready to post about the actual cooking yet though--I'm easing my way in by food contemplation: imagine me with chin leaning on one hand, a cartoon balloon over my head that has a picture of a cake in it, or maybe a steaming pot of stock, or some handmade pasta (one of my food resolutions).
Today I was thinking about things going with other things: sometimes they do and sometimes not. So I've started a small meme, a version of the fives: list 5 food pairings that you've discovered go very well together (maybe against expectations); and 5 that you really don't like at all.

Here are mine:
5 delicious partners
1. Ginger snaps and cheddar cheese--the snaps should be very gingery, the cheddar sharpish. This is an idea I got from a good friend, Susan of Bluffton, a late-night snack invention when she was getting her Ph.D. in creative writing. When I was visiting her several years ago, she brought out the gingersnaps and cheddar for one of our food and talk fests. "You'll love this," she said, and I was an immediate convert.
2. Potato chips and ice cream. Unflavored chips, of an unsurpassed crispiness and saltiness, and any kind of ice cream, although I like them best with chocolate. Salty and sweet--very classic; also crunchy and creamy. There's so much going on you won't be able to hold a sensible conversation. The first time I ate chips and ice cream together it was to gross out one of my squeamish cousins. I scooped the ice cream up like dip while she squealed in horror. Now I just eat them sedately from side-by-side bowls, which is just as good.
3. Cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives. They can be eaten together casually and promiscuously out of a bowl for lunch, or skewered jauntily on decorative toothpicks. Each makes the other taste more so--more sweetly tomatoish, more bitingly, piquantly olivish.
4. Saltine crackers with butter. This takes your snack life up a notch without noticeably increasing prep time. Open box of crackers, spread butter thinly. Make a stack so you don't have to go back to make more when you've gotten to a good place in the book you're reading and you don't want to stop and go back to the kitchen. I prefer unsalted butter, but if you're a saltlover go for the double dose.
5. Hardboiled eggs and French dressing. I usually make my own salad dressing now, but if it's going to be on a halved hardboiled egg, it has to be Kraft French Deluxe. The taste is important, but also the brilliant (some say lurid) color.

5 food hostilities
1. Prunes and chocolate. I like prunes, I like chocolate, but they just don't go together for me. Hopeful, I try them out again every once in a while, but--nope. Even as I'm typing this though, I had a vision of prune chocolate chunk muffins, so who knows? (Chocolate and apricots are fast friends though.)
2. Champagne and beer. Probably no one needs to be told this, but champagne and beer do not go well together. Especially not when they're mixed because you don't have a lot of champagne, and you think that beer (which you have a lot more of) will make it go farther when you're celebrating New Year's Eve at the home of one of your friends whose parents are spending the weekend in Las Vegas. I don't like to admit whose idea it was.
3. Coconut milk and pumpkin. One of the worst soups I ever made was a pumpkin soup made with coconut milk. It's true that I was not following the recipe, so it was my my own fault, but it was awful. The only time I've ever thrown something away (usually if things go bad, I put it in the fridge and pretend that I'm going to eat it later, until it grows a coat of mold and then I throw it away).
4. Sausage and gravy, as in sausage gravy. I've given sausage gravy many chances, because I ought to like it--I like them when they're decorously apart, but when they come together I draw back in horror. Maybe it's because I don't think gravy should be white? I know it's not because it's high in fat.
5. Celery stuffed with peanut butter. Who is responsible for this? I don't like the way it tastes, I don't like the way the peanut butter stickies up the crispness of the celery, and I don't like the way it looks--green and brown, not attractive. The only thing celery should be stuffed with is cream cheese mixed with a dollop of horseradish and a squeeze of lemon juice--a sanctified and beloved hors d'ouevre in our family.
I'm tagging Plan B, Madame X, Pen in Hand, Book of Marvels, No Feeling of Falling, and I'm hoping that Alternate Side Parking will take some time from the pressing business of moving her car from one side of the street to the other as well.