We have awesome friends

In case that wasn’t apparent from nearly eight months of blog posts, it’s worth stating explicitly.  Between Thursday and Saturday, we spent time with  friends who I grew up with in Fredonia, friends from my post-college days in Boston, and friends from our Philly community.

It’s incredible to have love and support from not only across the east coast, but also from across the different phases of my life, and it’s amazing to realize my friends’ far-reaching influence.  Jenny and I learned to read together, and now we’re teaching our daughters to play together (and looking forward to adding a little baby boy to that mix soon!).  Lieba showed me that there’s always room for one (or four) more around your Shabbat table, and I think about her hospitality often when I’m adding a chair to the table.  What a gift to have these people in my life.

Also (segue!), our friends are great cooks.  This is Warren’s week to shine, since we were finally able to accept his generous invitations and go to his place for Shabbat dinner.  The weather was blissfully pleasant for our walk with Sara to and from South Philly, and the food was transcendent.  Whereas I am especially skilled at quantity, Warren is a master of detail, flavor, and presentation.  He has courses.  He plates his food.  It’s all freaking incredible.

Dinner started with challah that I made (more on that in a bit) and was followed by crostini of peas, parmesan, and mint, and another of red pepper and feta.  Bonus points for serving a finger food at the exact moment that I had to feed Aliza!  Next, we had roasted potato and garlic soup served at just the right temperature for a summer night (recipe all the way at the bottom).

Then, get this: there was a palette cleanser!  Cantaloupe anise sorbet to be exact.  It was a perfect couple of bites, and I think we’re going to have to add it to our ice cream flavor queue.  I meant to have more with dessert, but I was too full (as I said at the time, my mouth wanted more but my stomach didn’t).  The main course was salmon with a mustard dill sauce and a side of corn and tomato salsa.  And finally, for dessert, we had rosemary pear cake with whipped cream, paired with a Riesling.  Really.

The four of us got into some pretty heated discussion about relationships and life choices, but we didn’t solve any of the big questions, even with a second dessert of papa bubble hard candies.   On the walk home, Marc told Sara and me that this was one of his top two home-cooked meals ever, the second of the pair being a Sunday evening dinner we had at Sara’s a few weeks ago, where she served homemade baguettes and tomatoes so fresh it was as if we were eating them off the vine.  I helped out by saying, “you mean the top two meals you’ve had outside our house,” which of course was what he meant (if ever there were a time for a 😉 in my blog, this would be it).

On Thursday, while we were visiting with Lieba and Danny, I got an email from Jenny asking if we were free on Saturday.  We were, and our lack of plans rewarded us with a visit from Jenny, Jim, and Annea!  A two-year-old’s fascination with a baby is seemingly endless, as is my gratitude that the sequence of the past 30 years have provided me with life-long friends like these.

Annea looked at the challah on the table, then at Marc, and said, “I want this.”  She was pretty adept at tearing off the pieces that she wanted, and even more impressively, absolutely willing to try everything.  We should all be blessed with two year olds who eat like she does!  We had a full CSA array, including babaganoush, potato salad, more caprese since I didn’t have nearly enough last week and the gorgeous tomatoes just keep coming, and cinnamon chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.

After a walk in Rittenhouse to introduce Annea to the goat (aka child magnet), they left for the bus, and we went to Mattea’s.  She had a beautiful spread of her own CSA-inspired goodies, and it warms my heart that beet dip has caught on as the most popular bright pink item to grace Shabbat tables across Philly, though the plate of luscious watermelon slices was a close second as bright pink food goes.

All this brings me back to the challah that I made for Warren’s dinner, since I used Mattea’s recipe.  A grad student asked me to teach her to make challah, and since it had been a looong time since I’d made my own, I had to make sure I still could, and why not throw in a new recipe while I was at it?!  Rather than narrate, here’s the project in photographs.  Turns out, I CAN make challah!

Potato and Roasted Garlic Soup (from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) as adapted by Warren

2 whole heads of garlic
2 Tbls olive oil
2 onions, finely diced
3 small bay leaves
2 pounds of potatoes, peeled
salt and pepper
Cream
Chives

1. Roast 2 heads of unpeeled garlic cloves in the oven at 350 degrees.  Pour some oil over the heads and wrap them in aluminum foil.  Set them in a tray or dish in the oven.  Bake for about an hour or so until garlic is soft.  You should be able to squeeze a garlic clove open when it’s ready.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium heat, add the onions and bay leaves, and cook slowly.  Meanwhile, quarter each potato lengthwise, then thinly slice.

3.  Add the potatoes, raise the heat, and saute, strirring frequently, until the onions begin to color and a glaze builds up on the botttom of the pan, about 10 minutes.  Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 cup water. Scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen the solids.  Add 2 quarts water and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered until the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.  Towards the end of the cooking (last 5 minutes or so), add in the roasted garlic whole (do not peel or open the cloves) and the oil from the roasting tray.  If the soup is very watery, remove the lid and cook down/reduce the broth a little.

4. Remove the bay leaves.  Run the whole soup, cloves and all, through a food mill.  Taste for salt, and add pepper.  If the soup is still watery at this point, you can continue to reduce it back in the pot.  Add a few touches of cream and garnish with some snipped chives.  [Note: if you don’t have a food mill, I suppose you could squeeze the cloves into the soup broth and then blend the soup in a blender).

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