Cook in the Moment: Summer Lettuce Wraps with Quinoa, Avocado, Mushrooms and Tahini Sauce

Summer Lettuce Wrap with Quinoa, Avocado, Mushrooms and Tahini Sauce (c)2012

Summer is here, and I am strangely pensive regarding her arrival this year. Maybe it’s because this is the summer I turn 30 years of age? Maybe it’s because I have a feeling this will be my last summer living in Colorado? Maybe it’s because I’m headed to the place where I was born to visit my family, who I only see once a year- if that. Most years I allow summer to pass me by without truly engaging in the season. I’m more of an autumn person, reveling in sweaters and fallen leaves. Somehow, this year is different. It seems I’m slowing down a bit, not pushing so hard. A lot of time in my 20′s has been devoted to running an exhausting race, seeking to please everyone around me and trying to measure up to a definition of success that I don’t really believe in. I’m looking forward to my 30th birthday. I don’t expect anything to change overnight, more like a gradual personal growth that’s been in the works for some time now.


Cook in the Moment: Strawberry Tart

Strawberry Tart (c)2012

You may remember my resolution to celebrate each seasonal fruit this year with a tart? It all started in April with a recipe for Meyer Lemon Curd Tart. The purpose of the tart project is to slow my pace of life a bit, to savor each brief season and the tender fruits that mark the passage of time. This week I celebrate the early days of summer with a fresh strawberry tart. With practice, making pastry dough has become a comforting ritual, rather than a daunting task. However, my first attempt at pastry cream was a failure. Of course I can’t follow one single recipe, so the plan was to make Elisabeth Prueitt’s Pastry Cream from the Tartine cookbook and Martha Stewart’s Cream Cheese Tart Dough from her Baking Handbook.

I chalk the failure up to fear. Elisabeth Prueitt’s instructions for making pastry cream were easy enough to follow, but full of warnings and consequences (get the pastry cream too hot and the eggs will curdle, over whisk and the thick cream will break down into a watery mess, burn the milk at the bottom of the pan and you must start over). The fear made me timid, and baking at altitude is not for the timorous. The method for making pastry cream involves heating milk and sugar on the stovetop, then carefully stirring it into egg yolks with cornstarch. The mixture goes back on the stovetop for just a couple of minutes of constant whisking, until thickened. Lastly, cubes of butter are carefully beaten in (to avoid breaking the mixture) and the pastry cream goes into the fridge to chill. After whisking the eggs and milk on the stovetop for much longer than the recipe instructed, my pastry cream refused to thicken. I threw out the watery mess, took a deep breath, and resolved to begin again. In the big picture all that I lost was a few eggs, some milk, and my time.


Cook in the Moment: Tarragon Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon & Lemon Vinaigrette

Tarragon Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon and Lemon Vinaigrette (c)2012

I’m having a Nordic moment in the kitchen, inspired by the Scandinavian sensibility for fresh, brightly-flavored, seasonal ingredients- prepared simply. The food is light but nourishing, intended to stimulate the senses and energize the body. During springtime, I can’t wait to be outside, riding my bike with the husband, feeling a cool breeze on my skin. Walking little Minnie, our dachshund, is a pleasure, as she bounds through the green grass, ears flopping up and down. Summer will arrive soon, with oppressive heat and blazing sun, draining my body of the energy to cook and depleting my appetite. For now, I revel in spring- the pleasantly sunny days alternating with dramatic thunderstorms, the thrill of tender lettuces and just-harvested asparagus spears- tending to my happy little herb garden and enjoying the subtlety of the season.


Spring Onion, Pea, and Chive Frittata with Goat Cheese

Spring Onion, Pea, and Chive Frittata with Goat Cheese (c)2012

Frittata, the rustic Italian omelet, is a dish I make again and again during springtime. It’s a simple, forgiving technique- much like a crustless quiche- open to endless variations. The method is to lightly sauté  filling ingredients in a high-sided skillet, then pour over beaten eggs (with cream or milk) and cook for a moment on the stovetop until almost set, transferring the skillet to the oven broiler for a minute or two until puffed and golden on top. A frittata is easygoing, just like a sunny spring day, and can be served warm or at room temperature. It’s even good reheated the next morning for breakfast, after the flavors have had a chance to mingle overnight in the fridge. This laid back dish travels well and loves to go on picnics or garden parties. Frittata is a celebration of the spring garden, and it’s fun to modify the basic recipe based on what is ready for harvest. This week I’m enjoying a recipe for Spring Onion, Pea, and Chive Frittata with Goat Cheese that’s an ode to the flavors of spring: fresh herbs, sweet succulent peas, and tangy goat cheese.


Cook in the Moment: Recipe for Mussels Cooked in Rosé

Recipe for Mussels Cooked in Rosé (c)2012

On September 30, 2008 I met Michelle Obama. Just before the November election, Mrs. Obama came to CU-Boulder with the purpose of rallying students to register to vote. It was an exciting time, before the recession had taken its toll on the American spirit. I could feel the importance of the moment, that Michelle Obama was going to be our next first lady, and this was a golden opportunity to get close to her- one that would probably not happen for me again. Being several years out of college, it was intimidating to walk onto campus at CU-Boulder, so I was relieved when one of my best girl friends wanted to go with me. The Colorado sun shone brightly on that warm September day, and we felt the audacity of hope warm us through as we stood in line at the football field, waiting for the gates to open.