Unlike the Easter Egg Nest cake, which we loved — really, we did — the mint sauce returned to the table every following Easter, the fresh combination of mint and parsley, olive oil and vinegar, capers and cornichons the perfect accompaniment to lamb no matter the preparation — roasted racks, braised shanks, broiled meatballs, pan-seared chops.
I just spent a week eating cheese, making butter, growing sprouts, baking bread, snuggling with Golden Retrievers, visiting farms, driving through covered bridges, admiring snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes, and sampling microbrews while eating wood-fired pizzas. Could I have been anywhere in the world but Vermont?
Perhaps, but short of meeting a few friends for a morning snowshoe, my week couldn’t have been filled with more quintessential Green Mountain State activities. My siblings and I grew up traveling to Charlotte many times a year to visit my mother’s sister Marcy, master of pies, soup, and delectably melty appetizers. The five-hour drive always felt interminable, knowing what we had awaiting us: our cousins, a zipline, Uncle Wade’s waffles, Lake Champlain, dogs and endless outdoor fun.
For my parents, the drive was a breeze, the nature scenes providing endless distraction. I never quite understood the enthusiasm for the birds perched on the highway light poles or the first glimpse of Mount Mansfield, but on my drive north this past Sunday, I realized I had officially become my parents. “Children!” I would shout at every turn. “Look at the cows! The silos! The mountains! The sugar houses!”
I left Tara Kitchen on Saturday afternoon, my belly filled with chicken and preserved lemons, my bag with jars of harissa, tomato jam, and ras-el-hanout. I had just spent two hours learning about Moroccan cooking, scribbling notes while sipping on mint tea, assembling tagines, photographing each step, savoring every bite and finally departing, only hoping my brain might retain a fraction of what I had learned, already regretting not having purchased a tagine.
But before returning home, I had to swing by the Co-op for one thing — a bag of frozen peas and carrots — an integral mix in Tara Kitchen’s chickpea tagine, a dish I would make at home later that evening. Aneesa Waheed, the owner of Tara Kitchen, takes pride in the simplicity of the dishes she serves and noted as class began that all of the ingredients she uses can be found at any market. Her chickpea tagine, a slightly sweet mixture of vegetables and dried fruits mixed with chickpeas and her homemade tomato jam, is one of my favorites.
Never would I have guessed that such a flavorful mixture — a vegan, nut-free one to boot — could be so simple to prepare, but as I learned in class, this is the beauty of tagine cooking. Aneesa fell in love with Moroccan food for this very reason: she could throw a handful of ingredients in a tagine, set it on the stove, go take a shower, make a few phone calls, and return to a steaming hot, delicious and satisfying dinner. And while the success of the finished tagines certainly depends on the sauces and spice mixtures that have been prepped in advance, I can attest to the simplicity of the tagine-making process.
Can we agree that there never is enough crispy topping on the baked pasta gratin? Didn’t we just discuss this? Yes. I’ll keep this brief. Without a bread crumb topping, this sheet pan pasta gratin comes together even faster than the mac n’ cheese, and the addition of chopped raw kale not only provides some tasty roughage but also bolsters the crispness effect — think: kale chip meets gratin edge.
Like the mac n’ cheese, the elements in this gratin include a light béchamel made with equal parts milk and water, two cheeses, and parboiled pasta, something like penne or campanelle, whose fluted, petal-like edges brown up so beautifully.
You know how sometimes a day — a year — can rip by in an instant? But somehow the ten minutes while the steak is resting feel interminable? Without gainful employment, that steak will draw you in, those crispy bits will dangle and taunt, that carving knife will reflect light in your eye until you succumb.
The only possible way to survive those torturous ten minutes is to stay busy, and I have the perfect distraction: make a simple pan sauce, something like this red wine-shallot reduction, a delectable Daniel Boulud recipe. Those ten minutes never will pass so quickly. That steak, at last, will rest without fear.