Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Linguine Alfredo with Sausage

Sunday April 27

To use up the other half of the sausage roll. Pretty much the same as here, but this time we added a glug of dry white wine to the pan once the sausage had browned, and let it simmer for a bit. Made the sausage looser, less like nubbins in the cream sauce.

Leg of Lamb for the Return of the Prodigals

Saturday April 26

The constellations somehow lined up so that three of our good friends - Brian, Nancy, and Kevin - who had moved away from Cincinnati were all coming back on the same weekend. So we called Liz as well, and planned a giant welcoming feast.

Everybody was arriving at different times, so we made a whole bunch of appetizers to snack on until the whole party was assembled. Findlay Market provided olives, thin-sliced Canadian prosciutto and provolone, plus red and yellow peppers for Holt to roast and adorn with chopped garlic and capers. There were also tiny new Yukon golds, which we prepared as we had a week ago.
Holt also made focaccia topped with red onions and Moroccan olives, and Barbara whipped up her herbed goat cheese spread, which is so simple to make it's laughable. Here's the recipe:

white pepper
a big handful of herbs, preferably from the garden but store-bought is okay, so long as they're fresh. Today's choice was oregano, thyme, and a couple of winter savory tops.
plain goat cheese, usually an 11-oz. tube from Trader Joe's
good olive oil
In a food processor with steel blade, throw a half teaspoon of salt, a couple of grinds of white pepper, and the herbs. Pulse until the herbs are well-chopped.
Break up the goat cheese and throw the chunks in. Pulse until well-mixed.
Now run the machine and drizzle in olive oil until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Scrape out into a bowl, and serve with bread of any sort.

Fatted calf was not on the budget, so we settled for a leg of lamb as main course. We roasted it with vegetables, including shallots, potatoes, and turnips.
The wines were Spanish Con Class and the Red Newt Cabernet Franc.

Dessert was Holt's raspberry genoise tart, an edible work of art; and some of us had a little Buffalo Trace bourbon with it. As you can imagine, we were talking and laughing far into the night.

Pizza at Dewey's

Friday April 25

Tonight Jean and Donald very kindly took us out to dinner at a pizza place, Dewey's. It is sort of a chain, but a local one, and it uses fresh ingredients. Not to mention that this branch of it is about three blocks from our house. (The previous, unique, local pizza place, No Anchovies, served the perfect PMS pizza: pepperoni, mushroom, sausage. We mourn its passing.)

We started by sharing a peppercorn ranch salad on romaine, which staved off hunger until the pizzas arrived. Dewey's gives you a choice of sizes, and you can have any pizza made half-and-half. This is what we shared:

The "Bronx bomber": red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, black olives. An awful slur on the Yankees (Barbara is a New Yorker, after all). It wasn't just the sad black olives, they're usual and expected on American pizza. But the "sausage" was bland white discs, more like (shudder) ballpark hot dogs than Italian sausage, and there wasn't enough pepperoni to counteract it.

"Edgar Allen Poe" (where the hell do they get these names?): olive oil, mozzarella, mushrooms, roasted garlic, kalamata olives, goat cheese, then fresh tomatoes and parsley after the bake. Far better, with some actual flavors.

Meatball: red sauce, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, Italian meatballs, oregano and parmesan. Probably the best of the three, more genuine as a pizza.

And of course, there were copious draughts of draught beer, and a good time was had by all. So thanks, Jean and Donald!

Sole in Sorrel Sauce

Thursday April 24

The only problem with using Trader Joe's bulk frozen sole is that there's more in a bag than you can use in one night, and you don't want to leave defrosted fish sitting around for too long. So - horrors! - we ate sole two nights in a row!

Of course, we had to make it different. This time the fillets were dipped in seasoned flour and sautéed until brown. For sauce, we picked a spinnerful of sorrel leaves from the garden, destemmed and chopped them, cooked them in a little butter, and added a dollop of cream.

On the side, a sliced zucchino fried up with a few stray mushrooms. Not bad for the leftovers of the vegetable bin.

Bundles of Sole in Lime Butter

Wednesday April 23

We've mentioned bundles of sole before.

Now we have frozen bags of sole fillets from Trader Joe's, fresh asparagus from Findlay Market, and fresh chives from the garden. Verily, it was time.

Also Holt found a way to overcome the problem we've had with making them before, that boiled asparagus tends to give off liquid and thin the sauce. He pre-roasted the asparagus (in olive oil and a pyrex dish) at 500 degrees until it was almost tender. He took them out, let everything cool, and gently rolled 5 or 6 asparagus up in each raw sole fillet, then practicing chive bondage (see pix). Then he put the bundles back in the (not-so-searingly-hot now) pyrex pan and baked them at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until the fish was opaque and flaked a little at the end.

In the meantime, he boiled down the juice of a lime with diced red onion (as for beurre blanc) and monte-ed the bejeezus out of it (added liberal amounts of butter). We wanted something light instead of the usual hollandaise. We got it, and we enjoyed it.

Penne alla Saffi

Monday April 21

The usual.

Chickpea and Sausage Soup

Tuesday April 22

We had a pot of chickpeas left over from Saturday, so we did a variant of Savory Chickpea Soup.

This time the sausage was not chorizo, but the bland bulk stuff that comes in pound rolls. That's fine, because you can season it as you like. We used the usual amounts of coriander and cumin, but left out the turmeric. We also used a diced fresh tomato instead of canned, which maintained its independence nicely.

Shrimp and Pea Risotto

Sunday April 20

We got lovely fresh green peas in pod yesterday, and as they came from the Nice People, they were fresh enough to keep a day while we ate the sell-by-date spinach from the Goniffs. The fresh peas called for light flavors, and there was a pound of shrimp in the freezer. It could have been a Chinese stir-fry or a pasta, but we went with risotto.

Though Holt doesn't believe that Arborio rice is essential for risotto, we happen to have about five kilos of it, a good buy at Jungle Jim's; so it actually is what we use. A cupful of rice makes a more-than-abundant dinner for the two of us. We heated a pan of plain olive oil, without even any onion, and stirred the rice into it until every grain was coated.

For the initial liquid, we used the leftover shrimp broth from the paella we made in March; it's been in a tupper in the freezer for just such an occasion.
We bolstered it by making more the same way: shell the shrimp, sauté the shells in olive oil till pink, add about 1 cup of water and boil to get all the good out of them. Drain over a sieve to remove shells. Add liquid to risotto gradually, as it sucks it up.

After the broth was done, we also boiled the peas until tender in the same saucepan afterwards, so we wouldn't have to wash another pan.

When the rice was meltingly tender, we added the raw shelled shrimp, added them, and carefully turned them in the hot rice until they just turned pink and opaque. Usually we leave a few spoonfuls over for risotto cakes, but this meal was so fresh and springlike we just had to eat the whole thing.

Spinach and Chickpeas

Saturday April 19

It was Findlay market day, and we bought a bag of spinach like a king-size pillow from the Goniffs for a dollar. Some of it was dark and icky, but by assiduous bathing and picking we salvaged at least half the bag, which was quite a heap. Of course, it cooks down considerably, but it certainly made a meal's worth.

We chose to do it Indian style, with chickpeas (which we boiled up in the pressure-cooker while we were picking over the spinach). Madhur Jaffrey is our go-to girl for Indian cooking, but the recipe with the most appealing spice mixture was Saag gosht, in a recipe apparently found all over the web, usually unattributed. Her recipe calls for beef or lamb instead of chickpeas. Rather than thickening it up with yoghurt, we added a dollop of cream towards the end.
The result was tasty, but to be frank a tad dull. Even though we used the full panoply of spices for a half recipe, we'd double them next time.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Friday April 18

We used to go to our friendly neighborhood restaurant, Tinks, all the time, since it was equidistant - i.e. two blocks - between our friend Brian's house and ours. He doesn't cook, so he was their most regular of regulars, and they would basically let him treat the place as his headquarters. Since he moved, though, we haven't visited until tonight, when Lynne and Tom very kindly took us there for dinner. We were pleased to find it's still good, and now they treat Tom as a regular.

While we sipped a bottle of Con Class (which Tom introduced us to), we had some excellent appetizers: beef carpaccio topped with fried oysters, plus a dollop of whipped potato and garlic aioli; and a mountain of smoked salmon tartare on an apple and potato pancake with caper crème fraiche and wasabi caviar.

Our mains were diver scallops, a bit hidden under an arugula-apple salad, with nubbins of butternut squash in brown butter; and a special of broiled snapper, again hidden under too many chunks of mango this time, on drunken rice (i.e., made with Corona beer and tequila!) and grilled ramps. Once you brushed aside the various toppings, the mains were well-cooked and tasty.

For dessert, we headed home for a bowl of Graeter's coconut chip. Lynne knows what she likes when she visits Cincinnati. Thanks to her and Tom for a wonderful evening!

We still miss Brian, though.

Cold Chicken and Grilled Vegetable Salad

Thursday April 17

Essentially, this was a meal left over from Saturday. Two Mediterranean-style chicken breasts, cold. Chopped up the remains of the grilled vegetables (asparagus, peppers, zucchini, red onions) and tossed them with the tiny halved new potatoes that didn't get topped with sour cream in the appetizer, dousing them with olive oil and red wine vinegar along the way. Results were beautiful to both eye and palate, and tasted like it had all been carefully prepared especially for this dinner. ("Today's special is the Chef's Spring Picnic, but I'm sorry, we only have two left at $29.95 apiece.")

Mount Adams Fish House

Wednesday 16 April

This evening we went to the Cincinnati Art Museum to see their Rembrandt show.
After all, we couldn't miss a local show that actually made it into the Art Newspaper. It was only a roomful, with three loaned paintings and a good group of etchings and works by others, but it gave us much food for thought.

Then we needed food for stomach, and the closest restaurants are in the trendy neighborhood of Mount Adams. We chose the Mount Adams Fish House, where we hadn't been since a pleasant dinner with Jerry and Kay some years ago; we gather it's changed management since then. It added a sushi bar, but it's still small and pleasant, with attentive service.

We started with a bottle of excellent Frie Brothers Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc - it seems like places that grow good Pinot Noir grapes also grow good Sauvignon Blanc, as we observed in New Zealand.

For starters, we had a platter of pan-fried Virginia oysters on a heap of spicy tomato-sizzled red bell peppers. The oysters were nice and succulent, too.

Our planked sea bass came out on a real cedar plank, a firm but tender fish. It was served with asparagus spears and roasted winter squash (a little too enthusiastically roasted).

Our other main was a special of sablefish, which we'd only previously had smoked. This was fresh, cut into a diamond pattern, and grilled a little rare, and came with a baked potato stuffed with grilled onions and gorgonzola cheese.

All in all, a nice evening on the town.

Veal Medallions with Mushroom-Cream Sauce and Fennel

When we bought our rack of veal on Valentine's Day - that's 2007 - we froze a couple of chops and a couple of medallions off the rack (as it were). The chops got cooked the following June, but we only just found the little packet of medallions in the freezer. They don't seem to have suffered much, and they defrosted nicely.

Everything was done very gently and simply. We sliced a bulb of fennel up thin, and braised it in water and a little white wine until it was soft. (If we weren't soft, we wouldn't have forgotten we had veal stock cubes in the fridge, and used that.)

While that was going, we patted the veal medallions with fresh thyme leaves, white pepper, and a little salt, and pan-fried them in butter and oil. We set them on plates in the warming oven, and fried up some sliced mushrooms in the same pan, with a little more butter and fresh thyme. When they were dark, we took them out, deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine, and added some heavy cream to boil and reduce. Then returned the mushrooms to the pan, tossed, and piled the result on each medallion, with the tender, sweet fennel on the side.

Exquisite, especially for something that's been in the freezer for over a year.

Rotelle Sole di Sicilia

Monday April 14

After some fresh and simple spring meals, you sometimes need a zap of salt and spice.
BOOM! Sole di Sicilia.
What passes for a recipe can be found HERE.
More cheese, please.

Fresh Tuna, Fresh Peas, New Potatoes

Sunday April 13

We had bought a bagful of peas in their pods from the Nice People at Findlay Market yesterday, and it's best to eat them while they're still fresh and sweet. Salmon is their usual friend, but we didn't have any on hand. So we defrosted some thick tuna steaks from Trader Joe's, and simply oiled and grilled them until rare, while the peas boiled in water to cover for five minutes or so.

We dressed the steaks with the last scrapings of David Warda's cacik, and had the leftovers of Holt's sour-cream-topped new potatoes, as well as the peas, alongside.

Welcome, spring!

Grilled Chicken and Vegetables

Saturday April 12

We were having our friends and former students Burcu and Murat over to dinner, with their little girl Yaz. After the *snow* that happened last time they were supposed to come, we wanted to have a springtime picnic. But the weather once again turned against us, and it was overcast, cold, and rainy. Accordingly, we decided on a kid-friendly Mediterranean-style indoor picnic.

The opening meze offered plenty of options: Holt made tarama, and in honor of the guests' home country Turkey we had kuru bakla ezmesi, i.e. fava hummus, both more or less as we did here. Burcu said she usually finds the fava stuff too bland, but likes Barbara's version, whipped up with coriander, cumin, and more olive oil.
We also got the pitas, a "festive blend" of olives, and some assorted nuts from Dean's Mediterranean Store down at Findley Market.
We accompanied all this with white wine or water, according to age and taste.

Holt also made one of his great appetizers, tiny new potatoes with sour cream. We haven't done this on the blog before, it seems, but it's easy and unbelievably elegant AS WELL AS kid-friendly.
Take the smallest new potatoes you can find.
Cut them in half.
Boil them in water with
2 crushed cloves of garlic,
kosher salt,
some pepper corns,
and 1 tsp of turmeric (which not only makes them yellow but adds a real earthy note).
When cool, top with sour cream (use a star-tip in a plastic or pastry bad for that great li-di-da poofter touch) chives (like a great li-di-da . . .), caviar, smoked salmon flakes, what-have-you.

Earlier, we had marinated six chicken breasts in olive oil with fresh snipped rosemary and thyme. Chicken breasts tend to be burnt outside and raw inside if you grill them, so instead we followed new Joy's directions and broiled them in the oven, first skin side down for 15 minutes, then skin side up for 10. They came out perfectly, and Yaz loved them.

There had been a nice assortment of asparagus, zucchini, red onions, and red and yellow bell peppers available at Findlay Market, so we sliced them up according to size and shape, and gathered around the ol' indoor grill. Actually, the asparagus was pre-roasted before the chicken went in, as asparagus always tends to roll off a grill, and burns to boot.

Burcu had made a beautiful milk-and-semolina pudding, dusted with coconut and decorated with fresh peach slices, for dessert. We enjoyed it with coffee, and later had a glass of the Yeni Raki they had brought as well, for our nightcap. Sweet Anatolian dreams ensued. We're so glad we finally had dinner together!

Steak 'n' Potatoes

Friday April 11

This basic meal is one we have pretty often, though God is in the details: what cut of steak, how thick, what kind of potatoes, prepared how, with what tasty little sauces and accompaniments?

Today it was a T-bone cut an inch and a half thick, thanks to the courteous butcher at our local IGA. We did it on the indoor grill, using the frequent-flipping method.
Took it off when just a bit past rare, and let it rest for five minutes (that was all we could tolerate, we were slavering so hard) before carving it in half, giving each a part of the tenderloin, so there'd be no ugly fights.
Dusted it with Hawaiian pink sea salt, for that exotic effect.

The potatoes were just normal Idaho bakers, nuked in the microwave repeatedly, 3 minutes a time, until soft. Then left them alone until the steak was almost rested, and nuked them a minute more, to hot up. Slit them open, slathered with sour cream, and garnished with garden chives and more pink salt.

Holt got the bone to gnaw. And he wanted to.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Crustless Quiche with Asparagus

Thursday April 10

For us, spring means fresh asparagus, $1.50 a bunch at Findlay Market. We got lots, but wanted to make something new with them, i.e., not another Saffi. Holt pondered over various cookbooks, and found Julia's master recipe for crustless quiches. Frankly, we've never seen the point of the crust. Nice if you're planning to take it on a picnic or eat it with your hands, but otherwise a waste of time. Don't worry about it sticking to the pan. We just used the pyrex dish we roasted the asparagus in, which had a smear of olive oil in it and everything came out brown and lovely.

The basic custard is 1 egg to half a cup of milk or cream. We did this with 3 eggs + 1 1/2 cups of cream and milk. Plus a shot of thyme and salt. After that its every ingredient for itself.

Into this batch went: some asparagus that just got done roasting, cooled off and chopped up; a few leftover sliced shallots and potatoes from Monday's lamb roast; some cubes of Schad's ham; and a about a cup of shredded jack cheese; i.e., whatever we had in the fridge that would go nice with asparagus.

Bake at 375º for 30 minutes. That's it.

Creamy goodness.

Cold Roast Lamb with Feta Cheese Dip and Watercress Salad

Wednesday April 9

This was the third meal out of Saturday's leg of lamb, the second succulent lobe we roasted on Monday. All we had to do was slice it up and lay it on a plate.

With it, we had David Warda's Feta Cheese Dip. David is the most creative person we know, whether it's in food, sculpture, photography, fashion, or gardening, so even though we don't normally buy prepared foods, we scored a tub of his dip at Madison's on Saturday. Like David, the recipe is Assyrian, and he says his butch brothers used to call it "jock-itch," which seems to be a derivation of Turkish cacik (pronounced Ja-jik). But cacik is usually made with yogurt and mint, like Greek tzatziki (yes, Ottomans were everywhere). David uses cottage cheese, sheep's milk feta, cream cheese, cilantro, green onion, red bell pepper, and a little jalapeño (I'm not giving away any secrets here, I'm just listing the ingredients on the lid). It was yummy, especially when served mideast style, slathered on lamb.

Our watercress from over a week ago was still surviving in the fridge. This confirms that you should treat it like parsley, or any cut flower: trim the stems a bit, put them in a jar of water, cover the resulting bouquet with an unsealed plastic bag, and leave the whole thing in an upper shelf of the fridge. Today we washed and trimmed off the leaves, and made it into a salad with celery and fresh chives, along these lines.
I don't know why they soak the celery, though that's a good trick to take the bite out of onions. And any standard vinaigrette would work as well, I guess.

Penne with Salami and Cream

Tuesday April 8

I believe that it's our seventh time of making this pasta, since we started the blog, which puts it just behind Pasta al Salmone and Penne alla Saffi at eight apiece. But who's counting? In fact, this count-keeping is getting boring, and it's not a horse race. (Just what I wanted to say about the Democratic primaries.)

This is tastier, though.

Roast Lamb with Rude Vegetables

Monday April 7

When Holt got the leg of lamb at Findlay Market, he made Saturday's stew with the bone and trimmings, but carved out two meaty lobes of lamb to put aside and roast today. They were brushed with a marinade of Dijon mustard and fresh rosemary while the rude roots (chopped-up potatoes and shallots first, later parsnips) roasted with some olive oil and salt in a 400º oven. Then the lamb was plopped in among them, and roasted until it reached just 120º for rosy-pink. We could hardly wait for one lobe to rest the ten minutes before we carved it into slices and got it onto our plates; the other was set aside to be cold roast lamb another day.

With the meal, we toasted the good judgment of Brock University with a bottle of French champagne - or okay, champagne-style French wine.

Chiles Rellenos with Tomato Salsa

Sunday April 6

The Cheap People at Findlay Market had four large poblano peppers at two for a dollar - if you're going to make chiles rellenos, you want long, not wide, peppers, so that the cheese stuffed inside them can all get melted.

We gave the basic recipe here, for a New Mex fav. Winter Roma tomatoes whizzed up in the robo-coupe came out a bit mushy, but we made up for it by mixing into both salsa and cheese the very first tender leaves of cilantro picked from the garden. We can't believe they overwintered, and Barbara is encouraging them as beneficent weeds.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Lamb stew

Saturday 5 April
A lovely slow-cooked Irish stoo for a slow Saturday.
We got the week's supplies at Findlay Market, including a nice center cut lamb leg. Boned it out and saved the biggest hunk-a-hunk of burnin' lamb for a roast later. We browned a mess of onions and the bones, then the cubes of lamb meat. It simmered all day with some red wine, a small handful of thyme and rosemary. After about an hour we added a potato, cut very small, so as to break up and thicken the stoo. Then about an hour after that, potatoes in bigger slices plus lots of carrots. Barbara had the nice idea of added some asparagus stalks to make it more "du printemps."
We do a lot of prep on Saturdays as well, but a word of advice. Never listen to the end of La Bohème while peeling chilies.


Friday 4 April

Holt has been thinking deep thoughts about a fishy variant on saltimbocca. The roulades were a first approximation. This was a second: nice, but not great. We discovered that we only had three little fillets left but a surprisingly larger amount of prosciutto, so we folded each over the ham-y bits, and fried them up. The contrasts were too extreme: tender but slightly bland fish; crisp, salty prosciutto, which overpowered its aqueous buddy. Not bad . . . but not a keeper.

Napa Sausages and All the Trimmings

Thursday April 3

A Cincinnati fav. (well, ours) with lots of peppers, onions, and wine. Some in the dish.

Spaghetti Arrabbiata

Wednesday April 2

Last Saturday, Holt was at home making red gravy and wishing Barbara were there, while Barbara was touring Flat Rock Cellars and wishing Holt were there. It was only when we sat down to dinner tonight that we realized we were having Holt's tomato sauce (heated with a touch of the picantissima seasoning, on spaghetti) along with Barbara's gift from the vineyard, a Gravity pinot noir 2006.

Roulades of Sole and Smoked Salmon

Tuesday April 1

Because Barbara hasn't been there to help, the pound of Trader Joe's nova lox has been disappearing rather slowly. So Holt found this recipe that solves the problem:
It's actually simple and quick to make, but the result looks and tastes exquisite.
We used TJ's frozen Dover sole fillets (defrosted and worked loose from their little buddies) as well as their nova. And instead of boring spinach, we picked the first fresh sorrel leaves (thanks, Spring!) out of the garden.

The sole fillets were little, so once they were pliable we chose six. We laid them out on a board and covered each with a layer of lox (piecework is okay) and then sorrel leaves; it needed no seasoning except for a dusting of white pepper. Then we rolled each fillet up on itself, like a tiny little jellyroll.
For each, we ripped off a larger piece of plastic wrap, laid the roulade on it, and tightly rolled it up so that no air was inside, firmly tying off the ends with twist-ties (see illustrations on the website).

Once that was done (these little things can be kept in the fridge for up to a day), we made a sauce. We didn't have the fresh mussels and prawns that the web recipe calls for, but we did have some shrimpy stock frozen from our last paella. So we melted it, added an equal amount of white wine, boiled down to concentrate, then added a hefty dollop of heavy cream and a little salt to taste, which was all it needed. (You might try a squirt of lemon at the last minute, or a little chopped fresh dill, basil, or tarragon, depending on your stock and the state of the garden.)

During the stock-concentrating step, we filled the deeper of our twelve-inch skillets with water and put it on the fire. Once it simmered, we gently set the little roulade packets in it to poach, turning them once to make sure they cooked evenly, for a total of five minutes. As soon as they were done, they came out to rest until the sauce was ready and waiting on the warmed plates. Then we carefully removed the plastic wrap and sliced them into ca. inch-and-a-half thick slices, arranging them pretty-side-up on the napped plates.
They look and taste better than a very good thing.

Picante Pork Roast with Roasted Vegetables

Monday March 31

Holt had sliced the thin porklets for yesterday's saltimbocca from a half pork tenderloin, so he dry-marinated the rest of it with a packet of Italian "picantissima" seasoning, to roast the next day. It was small enough that the batons of turnips, carrots, and sliced red onion had to go into the oven first, and have 15 minutes at 350 degrees on their own before the little roast got plopped among them, along with tender parsnip batons. We had the remote probe in the roast, but it went off too early, when the pork was still quite rare; and the vegetables were not yet browned. So we just gave it all ten more minutes, and it came out delicious. But next time maybe we'll start the vegetables at 400, for better browning.

Back Home and Together Again

Sunday March 30

Stefan and Andrea did not let up on their hospitality; though they had had very little sleep since last night's party, they got up (though Bruno slept in!) to make Barbara a full breakfast, including French toast, Canadian maple syrup, and meaty pork sausages, and get her out to her airport limo by 7:30. Thanks SO much, Andrea and Stefan, for your warmth and comfort and good cheer, not to mention all the excellent food!

Whenever Barbara would return from months away on her dig in Israel, we would have The Festival of Trayf. Ideally, not just pork, but pork in cream sauce topped with shrimp, then seethed in its mother's milk (and if you think finding shrimp milk is easy . . .). So, when Holt asked Barbara what she'd like on her first night back from the Great White North, eh, she said, "pork."

After picking Barbara up from the plane (and the floor), Holt served a celebratory reunion lunch: sparkling brut from our favorite maker, Gruen de Albuquerque; roast asparagus; Schad's ham; salami di Milano; artichoke hearts; Kalamata olives; and the pièce de resistance, Mike-sell's potato chips and Lipton onion-soup dip (see below for the sour cream) made with genuine, IGA Brand knock-off onion soup mix. He sure knows the way to Barbara's heart, and palate.

Dinner that night was pork saltimbocca. No cheese this time (though that would have violated one more law of kashrut), but thin slices of pork tenderloin sandwiched around Canadian prosciutto and fresh sage leaves, dipped in flour and fried, deglazing the pan with a little white wine for a sauce. Our side dish was thin-sliced and quick-sautéed onion and fennel, and a smooth Chardonnay, Indian Wells, from Chateau Ste.-Michelle in the Columbia River Valley of Washington state, helped it go down.

Pasta with Red Gravy/Birthday Buffet at Springbank House

Saturday 29 March

H: Barbara is home tomorrow. Spent the day cooking up a big batch of Eye-talian tomato sauce—known as red gravy amongst the Squiglios, the pack of wild Napolitani who helped raise Barbara—while trying to make sense of Eye-talian opera (Ernani). Had a ladleful of that with slivers of pepperoni and a mess o' cheese. O, and a good spaghetti red.

Birthday Buffet at Springbank House

Though this blog is just about dinners, Barbara is unable to avoid bragging about other meals today. First, the wonderful breakfast: the usual (!) fresh fruit cup, orange juice, coffee, and then Stefan's special Springbank eggs: two poached eggs in a nest of baby arugula on sliced tomatoes and homemade bread, with streaky bacon on the side. Barbara was so overwhelmed she was unable to pay proper attention to the martini glass of vanilla yogurt and plate of fresh poundcake.

Then, while Andrea and Stefan were receiving a busload of Japanese travel agents, Mike, the Chair at Brock, drove Barbara out to the Flat Rock winery on the Twenty-Mile Bench of the Escarpment, where they make lovely Rieslings and Pinots in an energy-saving hexagonal pavilion with a fantastic view over Lake Ontario.

Then we went to lunch at the elegant Inn on the Twenty, where Barbara had a slab of warm whitefish on top of a sort of Salade Niçoise, and Mike had the Vintner's lunch (a nouvelle version of Ploughman's), with some glasses of Dolomite Riesling. Mike dutifully went on to the office, but Barbara spent the afternoon listening to the Met broadcast of "Ernani" in a pleasant golden haze.

By this time, Barbara had been so warmly embraced by Springbank House's denizens that she was addressed as Auntie Barbara (especially by Bruno), and was invited to a special buffet dinner for Andrea's birthday. The party began with sparkling wine in the living room, where 18 or so friends and neighbors, ranging from seven to seventy-odd, gathered. We then moved to the enormous truss-roofed library, where tables that Stefan himself had built were laid with white cloths, fine glassware and silver. The buffet was laid out in the dining room: grilled salmon in parsley sauce (innocently flavorful, but Stefan told us the hot sauce had blown out of the blender while he was making it); pork tenderloins skewered around fresh figs; perfectly medium-rare slices of lamb in demiglace; and asparagus, cauliflower, carrots, and other yummy vegetables in their various sauces. The red wines were of course from the Niagara region, except for one Baco Noir from Prince Edward County, north of Lake Ontario, specifically brought by Matt.

As you may have guessed, the desserts were extraordinary. Andrea's birthday cake, baked by Stefan, was multilayered chocolate, with icing so smooth it glowed in the candlelight (it was Earth Day, so they'd turned off the lights and lit the room only with candles). Stefan also did an amazingly light chocolate truffle cake, and their neighbor Lorna brought the best carrot cake Barbara had ever tasted, and a pumpkin torte even better than that. We sipped port, sherry, and great home-made ice wine, hashing out the great questions of history, politics, and movies until late into the night. We felt like one big, friendly family, and Barbara only regretted that Holt wasn't there to enjoy it - and also that she'd have to get up at 6 in the morning to make her plane back.

Potato cakes and smoked salmon/Pow-wow in St. Catharines

Friday 28 March

H: Came home to an empty house without a plan for dinner. I still had some nice bits o' lox, so made some cute little potato cakes, topped with sour cream (for which I had a secret ultimate purpose), and salmon. Shudda topped with chive blossoms like a ladida poofter, but there aren't any in the garden. Not much of anything in the garden yet, except sage (of which more anon).

Pow-wow in St. Catharines

After Barbara's talk, four friendly folks from the Brock Classics Department took her out to Pow-wow (which bills itself as "a new world grill") downtown. It's a nice, noisy, bistro-type place, and there was lots of good talk over the good food. We sipped a Niagara unoaked chardonnay, Coyote's Run 2006, over shared platters of mezes (lemon-dill hummus, tzaziki, roasted red pepper spread, huge heads of roasted garlic, and flatbreads).

For her main, Barbara chose an oven-roasted rack of lamb - two nice chunky three-rib chops - with mashed potatoes and fruity chutney of roast pear, grilled onion, and cranberry, on a puddle of pomegranate-infused demiglace. Pinot noirs are coming up in the Niagara region, and the Kacaba one we had, though it opened with a shocking scent of acetone, turned into quite a decent drop once it had breathed a bit. So thanks again to the Brock Classics Department for its hospitality.

Saffi/Dinner at Springbank House, St. Catharines Ontario

Thursday March 27

H: Saffi . . . to restore the cosmic balance.

Barbara flew North to Canada (like the geese) to revisit the Niagara Escarpment, a spectacular region for wine and soft fruits, and scene of so many happy previous visits to Holt's parents when they lived up in Grimsby. She was giving a talk at Brock University, and they put her up at Springbank House, an elegant inn on one of the few streets of older houses left in St. Catharines. The innkeepers, Andrea and Stefan, made her very welcome in the Wisteria Room of their beautifully-decorated home, and Bruno, their polite German Shepherd, ushered her from room to room.

Stefan is also executive chef (his Meisterbrief hangs on the wall in the kitchen), and appeared in professional whites to cook dinner. The first course was a succulent nut-encrusted chicken breast on a bed of bright asparagus and tomatoes, on a plate painted with balsamic vinegar. The second was a breath of spring despite the freezing temperatures outdoors: hot green-pea cappuccino with a drizzle of white truffle oil over its froth. Then came a tranche of salmon dotted with mushroom caps atop wild rice and creamy lemon sauce, with a fan of snow peas, and carrots cut into flower shapes, alongside. Andrea decanted Jackson-Triggs Cabernet Sauvignon, a local Niagara wine. And the meal ended on a high note, with a faultless plum custard tartlet and chocolate-almond ice cream on a plate cross-hatched with white chocolate ganache.

Many B&Bs make their guests comfortable in pretty surroundings, and some serve quite good food. But Springbank House goes well beyond, to give its guests an extraordinarily pleasant and memorable experience.

Honestly, can't remember/Benchwarmer's, Ithaca

Wednesday March 26

H: Haven't a clue.

B: Kathy, Jeff, Noah, and Barbara went out to this local place, which is sort of a sports bar (with actual benches to be warmed), kid-friendly but unobnoxious. While Noah drew dinosaurs and the rest of us compared student horror stories, our very obliging server efficiently ferried out the food: first hot pizza sticks, with a draught of Sierra Nevada IPA to cool them down (though some preferred chocolate milk); then Noah had a cheeseburger, Jeff a pulled-pork panino (odd concept), Kathy penne Alfredo, and Barbara a Philadelphia-style cheesesteak with fries. The food was all fine, and filling enough that only one of us (guess which one) could finish up with the ice cream sundae served in a plastic Yankees hat.