not-quite-seven fishes

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And somehow, we are days away from another new year. 2014 has been a bit of a blur, with book stuff and work stuff and kid stuff all taking my attention away from cataloging meals, but this one, our Christmas Eve feast, was a meal I wanted to make note of.

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Though neither of us can claim Italian heritage, we love the tradition of “la vigila,” and we have had seafood dinner on 12/24 for many years now. This year, anticipating a full day at the office, I had to come up with something simple and relatively fast to ensure we’d have plenty of time to play Santa after dinner and getting the little ones to bed. So I made a healthy amount of herbed butter (chervil, though dill or tarragon or parsley would all work well), slathered it on the cut sides of two split lobster tails, and laid them on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Those went into the oven for a few minutes on their own, then I pulled the pan out and scattered some shaved fennel, thinly sliced Meyer lemon, blue shrimp and Nantucket bay scallops all around. A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, and back into the oven briefly. I finished them under the broiler to get a little more color, then served our simple roasted seafood with garlicky toasts and a nice bottle of rosé. Proof that sometimes, the less you do to delicious ingredients, the better they taste.

Dinner: November 3, 2014

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There were two fat roast chickens, roasted rainbow carrots, and buttery brussels sprouts.

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There was a big bowl of fluffy mashed potatoes, a lemony pan sauce, and plenty of chilled rose’, to toast to our last first year.

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There was a cake with sprinkles and one red candle, and a little girl to blow it out (with the assistance of her big brother).

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I hope she takes on everything in life with such gusto.

SHRUBS on Tour!

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We’ve had a fairly lackluster week of eating, so I won’t share a photo of last night’s delicious but majorly fugly chicken-corn-cheddar chowder. I did want to mention, however, that two weeks from today (That’s November 7th), Mike and I will be at Tait Farm in Centre Hall, PA, for a Shrub Party & Book Signing! We’re bringing the kids. And my parents. And we’d love to see you, if you’re in the area! Here’s the info from Tait Farm’s website:

Friday Evening, November 7, 5 to 8pm – Special Guest and Author, Michael Dietsch will be signing copies of his newly released book, “Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times” which features Tait Farm Foods! Its a great gift idea alongside your favorite flavors of The Original Shrub.

I *think* we’ll be there early Saturday, as well, so if you can’t make it Friday night, maybe you can swing by the following day. Thanks again for your support!

Dinner: October 19, 2014

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I didn’t leave the apartment once this weekend. While Mike was visiting old friends and new in Boston and Providence, signing copies of his book and doing demos at The Boston Shaker and Stock Culinary Goods, I was home, desperately trying to rid myself of the last dregs of a nasty upper respiratory bug, and playing solo parent to our two sick little ones.

Despite our collective crud, I had high hopes for my weekend at home with the kids, envisioning living room dance parties, the construction of blanket forts, and a few special kid-friendly meals we could prep and eat together, but sadly, those plans fell through as well. Julian and Mira were completely off-schedule in terms of sleep and meals, and they missed their daddy fiercely. I eventually sat down with a mish-mash of leftovers for myself Friday night sometime after 10 pm, and hoped for better luck on Saturday. The kids did well with their breakfast on Saturday morning (their favorite pork sausages and some multigrain toaster waffles – a new item for both of them), but by lunchtime, I had two cranky, needy, desperately-tired-but-refusing-their-naps screamers on my hands.

In the ten minutes or so while they were both quiet, I made myself a plate. I sat down to eat, then Julian started yelling so loudly he woke Mira up – and that was all the naptime that was going to happen that day. I proceeded to graze on this for the next three and a half hours.

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I was very grateful that I had had the foresight to order a rotisserie chicken with our Instacart order, so I could quickly and easily feed the kids roast chicken and applesauce for their dinner. But I didn’t have the heart to feed myself. Sunday just had to be a better day, right?

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It was.

All three of us had a full and restful night of sleep, and were in much better spirits in the morning. I made a big pot of steel cut oats for breakfast (savory for me, with a sunny egg, tamari, and chives), the kids played and napped well, and I was able to get Sunday’s dinner prepped in advance of Mike’s return home.

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My favorite lasagna recipe is still Marcella’s, and I love to turn it out for special occasions, but it’s not the most practical dish for our current lifestyle. I’m also usually disappointed in the simpler, ricotta-based lasagna dishes I’ve tried. I wanted to come up with a weeknight-friendly lasagna that would give me the texture I love in a bechamel-based version, with a minimum of fuss and cleanup. I also decided to go for a tomato-free version, just to change things up a bit.

What I ended up with hit all the notes I was aiming for, and was actually even better than I had hoped. You could certainly substitute ground beef or pork or turkey for the sausage, increase the amount of mushrooms and omit the meat entirely, add your favorite fresh (or dried) herbs or some chopped spinach, or switch up the cheeses. I used what we had on hand, and I think I came up with a pretty great template that will certainly lend itself well to adaptation.

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Experimental One-Pan Lasagna

olive oil
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage (hot or sweet – we use a locally-made sweet fennel sausage)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose (“AP”) flour
3 cups whole milk plus 1 cup heavy cream (what we had and used), or 4 cups whole milk
Kosher salt
½ lb. crimini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
4 oz. low-moisture whole milk mozzarella, torn or shredded (do not use fresh mozzarella)
2 oz. finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 oz. finely grated Pecorino Romano
2 oz. finely grated Fontina
9-12 no-boil lasagna noodles
½ to 1 cup tap water

Add a drizzle of olive oil to the bottom of a 12-inch oven-proof skillet. Crumble the sausage into the pan, and cook over medium heat, breaking up unto chunks, until the sausage is nicely browned. Remove the sausage to a small plate or bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. Swirl the butter into the olive oil/pork fat mixture until melted. Sprinkle the flour over and whisk until combined. Cook for just a minute, then slowly whisk in the milk (and cream, if using). Add a big pinch of salt and cook over medium-low heat, until the sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.

Remove about 2 cups of the sauce and set aside (I ended up with about 2.5-3 cups of sauce total), leaving a shallow depth of sauce behind in the pan. Arrange one layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan, nestling them into the sauce so they are coated (I used 3 noodles per layer – two in the center of the pan, and a third noodle broken into 4 pieces and arranged around the edges). Scatter ½ of the sausage over, then ½ of the mushrooms. Scatter 1/3 of the mozzarella over the top, then repeat with each of the other cheeses. Add another layer of noodles, then spoon a cup of the sauce over them, spreading it gently. Add the remaining sausage and mushrooms, then another 1/3 of the cheeses. Add your final layer of noodles, the remaining sauce, and the remaining cheeses. Carefully drizzle about ½ cup of water around the edges of the pan.

(NOTE: At this point, the lasagna can sit for a while. I left ours on the countertop for about an hour before putting it into the preheated oven to bake, but I did add a little more water before baking since it looked dry around the edges.)

Bake the lasagna uncovered in a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the top is browned and the lasagna is bubbling at the edges. Allow to rest before serving.

Dinner: October 2, 2014

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We’ve been a little preoccupied over the last several days with the arrival of our new (book) baby. On top of our usual routine of work and preschool and writing and life, we’ve been scheduling travel arrangements and promotional appearances, and discussing exciting new projects. It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind.

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We’ve seen the book in person now, displayed on store shelves around NYC, and friends across the miles are sharing photos of their copies as they receive them. Likewise, reviews are starting to come in, and I think I can speak for both of us when I say we are truly surprised and humbled at how well it has been received. THANK YOU.

Mike was a guest on Heritage Radio yesterday, so I stayed home with the kids. I had hoped to put together a simple chicken and sausage gumbo for dinner, but the little ones had other plans. With no time to make a proper roux, I scrapped that idea, and decided instead to do a sort of one-pot creole chicken dish, incorporating the ingredients I had planned to put in my gumbo, plus adding a blend of spices (garlic, paprika, thyme, cayenne, and oregano) and a can of tomatoes, and cooking the rice along with everything else.

I kept the heat on the mild side, thinking Julian and Mira would be eating with us, but they were too worn out from our big day to partake. Instead, Mike and I curled up on the couch after putting them down for the night, and ate with bowls on our laps and wine glasses at our sides while marveling at how very weird and wonderful our lives have become. I never would have dreamed we’d be where we are right now.

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Mike has added a couple of new pages to adashofbitters.com, one for the book, and another for events and signings. We’ve also got a Facebook page, and I’ve created a board on Pinterest to keep track of news, reviews, and all things Shrubs. And there are giveaways!

Whew. Again, who’da thunk it?