A Survey to Savor

Until my book arrives, for reasons withheld, I am semi-retiring from the kitchen. But I will not leave you with nothing to savor.

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Sweet Maple Sausage, French Toast, and an Egg, Easy Over, Nice and Runny:

Yes, I cook breakfast too. However, as much as my guinea pig enjoys a good burger or a hot dog with all the works, I cannot get him to relish a big American style breakfast. He prefers simple butter and jam, but to get him go ooh and aah you have to feed him breakfast Persian style: good white cheese, walnuts, cucumbers, and bread cooked in an oven of pebbles.


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Tortellini in an Earthy Mushroom Broth:

No, I did not make the tortellini from scratch. It was store bought, found in the refrigerated aisle, stuffed with cheeses, and not so amazing. But it’s really all about the broth. I rendered down diced onions with fresh baby bella mushrooms, and dried porcinis, reconstituted in a bowl with hot water, drained, and nicely chopped. I kept the reconstituting water; it holds that porcini aroma and essence, and later added it to the rest of the liquid, my homemade chicken broth. My secret might just be that bowl of dirty water most throw away, but I like to call it porcini broth, and it makes the flavor as fancy as the name.

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Parsley Drenched, Paper Towel Dried, Fried Shrimp:

I don’t deep fry. For one, I really only have olive oil on hand: a nice, dark, extra virgin, pungent bottle reserved for salads and such, and a five-liter jug of lighter olive oil for cooking. I don’t own a kitchen thermometer either, although I should buy one next time I find myself browsing the cluttered backside of the nearby TJ Maxx. For these I used fresh parsley in my beaten egg mixture and my homemade bread crumbs, of which I ran out of halfway through the breading process, leaving me with no choice but to make do with just flour on my last batch, which became flour, egg, flour, instead of what it should have been: flour, egg, breadcrumb.

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I like dunking shrimp into a mayo/yogurt sauce spiked with grated pickles, a bit of either grainy brown mustard or even less of dijon, chives, and dill.

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Oven Baked Red Snapper:

While we’re on seafood, let me tell you about our arbitrary snapper encounter. The guinea pig and I were shopping at a grocery store other than our usual, and decided to browse for some fresh seafood for a quick dinner. The seafood lady the exceedingly chatty but nice type who means well so you find yourself answering her every remark with an endearing smile rather than being infuriated. They didn’t have what I was looking for, whatever I wanted at the time, and their salmon was only farm raised. The guinea pig asked what was fresh, and she pointed to the snapper, saying it came in this morning. And so, we said we would give it a go. As she wrapped them in paper, she gave us her serving suggestions, “They’re really good with ranch dressing.” Sure, that’s the next thing we’ll pick up from the store, ranch dressing. I may not have taken her word of advice, and instead, baked them in the oven with green onions, capers, and sun dried tomatoes. But, outside of the Hidden Valley, she was right, it’s a delicious fish with a sweet flavor profile, and I’d do another red snapper any day.

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Overpriced Lamb with Portobella Red Wine Tomato Sauce and Rosemary Butter Orzo:

Sounds fancy? It was. But the lamb was mostly bone with an exaggerated price tag. But that’s the Co-Op for you, everything is exaggerated. We stood in front of the butcher originally looking for rabbit; I have never had rabbit, and the guinea pig’s plan was to make rabbit in tomato sauce, but when the store failed to deliver, I had to take matters in my own hands. The Co-Op always seems to carry everything but what I’m looking for. This time, they had plenty of veal shanks, but I didn’t have six hours for osso buco. I’m sure, next time I walk in with the objective of osso buco, again, they will have everything, sheep organs and whole rabbit, everything but veal shanks.

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I seared the lamb then made the sauce, and returned the meat back with the tomatoes and mushrooms.  I heated a joyous amount of butter with chopped, fresh rosemary, and tossed the orzo. This was a rare occasion where I treated my orzo like a pasta; I normally tackle it like a wild, brown, arborio, non-basmati, non-Iranian rice, sautéing it with onions, letting it brown and toast, then adding stock and stirring, in layers, almost as if I were creating a risotto. I’ll then add vegetables or seafood, and cheeses. It may be a crime to do this to a pasta shape, but even the guinea pig has fallen for it, and he’s Italian, so I think I’m off the hook.

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The Art of Cooking

I have asked my mother for a cookbook, “The Art of Cooking” by Roza Montazami, which I just realized holds a title very similar to Julia Child’s. Iranians never were good at respecting copyright issues, but I don’t know, so shame on me for making assumptions and stereotyping. While we are on the subject of piggy-backing off of what has already been said and done by others, why not I cook my way through it, like the already been-there-done-that Julie/Julia Project, what Julie Powell did with Child’s French recipes? But 365 days of rice based meals would do no good. By the time of our wedding, the guinea pig and I would be the fattest couple to wed, with our stomachs five steps ahead of us walking down the aisle. Hell, I’ve cut down on the bacon fat already. I shall take it slowly, one recipe per week give or take, depending on time and grocery access, because in the upper valley, there aren’t many middle eastern specialty stores. You have to drive either three hours north to Montreal, or two hours south to Boston for that. And I’m not saying I won’t.

The thought, of asking for the cookbook, struck me during our phone conversation. With an over eight hour time difference, I can’t pick up the phone at anytime and call my mother at times of desperation, like with my ghormeh sabzi incident. Typically, she calls me in the mornings, her late evenings. When I boasted how I made it from as scratch as possible, (well, except for having grown my own herbs), she said, “You know originally ghormeh sabzi didn’t even have spinach. They use that for it’s water content. I think it takes away from the aroma of the herbs though.” What are mother’s for but to shut you down at the height of your excitement? When the guinea pig and I visited for 10 days during the winter holidays, my mother made a big batch of ghormeh sabzi, the best anyone had ever had and couldn’t get enough of, and my friends cordially invited themselves over for the leftovers the following afternoon as well. She told me that that did not contain spinach, and generosity with the cilantro is what made it so irresistible  So I thought, I need a reference for times when I can’t reach my mother, because what you can find on Persian cuisine through a google recipe search is of no use. I have sent her on a quest, either to buy me a copy, or more romantically, find me her old, shabby copy, neglected in one of the storage room boxes, after having travelled from Tehran to San Diego and Chicago and back. Wish me luck. I’m secretly rooting for the latter, hoping that same book finds its way to Hanover, New Hampshire in a couple of weeks.