Chilly weather food

Summer is not my favorite time of the year: I just don’t like hot, humid weather. It makes me kind of listless and wilted.  I don’t mind seeing winter come around because it’s my favorite cooking time.

One of my fall and winter favorites is fårikål.    That’s what I started out to make today since it’s chilly, damp, grey, and seriously pluvial but I got distracted and stumbled on a similar recipe that looked so good. From the North Wild Kitchen, I found slow-roasted lamb shoulder with cabbage.

That seemed easy to adapt to cooking for one.   Since my shoulder chops were nice and thick and it eliminated me having to trim them into chunks–just the thing for a lazy cook.

I have to admit that I didn’t do the apples, although I’m sure that would have been very good with it;  I just didn’t want to go back out into the rain to the grocery store to retrieve an apple! ( I did say “lazy cook”.)

My only modification here (other than using chops) was to cook it in my Romertopf instead of a covered baking dish since I was making a smaller quantity for just me (and the cat).

This is another keeper for cooking lamb and cabbage!

A son gôut!

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Supper for a chilly evening….

If it were not that my outdoor thermometer is reading 46ºF I’d be calling it a snow day–grey, chilly, misty, damp, dreary. It seems like a day for “oven food”. While the oven is on, the heat won’t be coming on as much. Food and warmth in one.

I’ve hit the time when cleaning out the refrigerator becomes a necessity–not that I had anything about to grow legs and crawl out, just things that should be used, and it’s also time to rotate stuff from the freezer, too. So a browse through the fridge, the freezer and from the counters is making a meal–a one-pot meal. I did have go to the grocery store because this kind of weather calls for potatoes–and I had only a baking potato in the house–and those just don’t do for braises. So, leaving the Romertopf to soak while I   went to do cat care for a friend and got some potatoes and then started to see what would b_shank_crop_20161204_153707happen for supper–it’s a no-recipe event this evening.

I scrabbled around in the freezer and came up with a very large beef shank (with marrow in the bone), the refrigerator gave up some under-cooked collard greens ( I attempted to cook them in the slow-cooker–not recommended if they are older greens). The counter yielded some cherry tomatoes that were getting wrinkly, and there were some sliced shiitake mushrooms loitering in the fridge.

Even though it’s the weekend, it’s a working day for me so I’m doing lazy cooking. All of b-shank-covered_20161204_153715the above-mentioned items went into the soaked Romertopf–with bite-size Yukon gold potatoes added. I did my lazy herb seasoning (herbs de Provence), lots of garlic cloves, and then those cherry tomatoes that had wrinkles. Add a couple bay leaves, salt and water, and put it into a cold oven set for 350ºF–a kitchen happening. Had I soaked the larger Romertopf, I would have added some rutabaga and carrots too–but those looked as if they could linger for just a bit longer in the fridge. Now–to work!

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Today has been one of those frustrating days when I’ve had difficulty really concentrating–even though I didn’t have to attend to cooking supper. For all the true productivity I might as well have been in the kitchen cooking. Even without any attention, about three hours later, I’ve a really tasty meal–quite suitable for the weather tonight.

20161204_200628It may not be styled and truly photogenic, but the beef shank was very tender–but very beefy–it’s one of the things that is great about some of the less popular cuts of the cow.  The smoky, earthiness of the shiitake mushrooms, the mellow flavor of the roasted garlic made a great contrast to the bitterness of the collard greens (these took a lot of cooking to get them really tender). The healthy dose of bay and herbs de Provence really added a lot of flavor. I did finish my plate with a drizzle of herbs de Provence infused olive oil (Bull City Olive Oil). To accompany this casual meal I had a glass of 1999 Domaine Cros Minervois wine. Just the ticket to go with the very “beefy” beef and the collard greens!

 

A great supper for a rainy, damp, chilly evening. A successful kitchen happening without the vestige of a recipe in sight.

A son gôut!

shank_plate_20161204_200706

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Turkey–with truffle butter

Thanksgiving does have its good points–getting together with friends! There’s another positive thing, especially if you are like me, someone whose favorite part of the turkey is the dark meat: you can find turkey thighs in the grocery store. That means dark meat in quantities suitable for cooking for one.

Perusing my food-related emails a few days ago I found one from D’Artganan–my favorite source of foodstuff that can be hard to find (e.g. the cassoulet  ingredients–no, I didn’t say it was inexpensive). There was a link to a delightful video on preparing your Thanksgiving turkey using truffle butter. (Attempting not to drool on my keyboard.)

You’ve seen from some of my previous posts that I really like truffles (not the candy–well, those, too, but…), even in my comfort food. In my attempts to be frugal and still indulge my tastes for the expensive stuff I do skulk through the “manager’s specials” and those carts full of end-of-season bargains. Sometimes I’m lucky and find an indulgence elsewhere. Not long ago I found a small tub of truffle butter at my local supermarket–marked down as it was lingering with the cheese and spreads, but not past it’s sell-by date. Needless to say, it came home with me–some of just have no willpower when it comes to food!

20161119_165833After seeing the turkey with truffle butter video, realizing that I had truffle butter, and turkey thighs to hand, I decided to try  turkey this way. I decided (since I was roasting all dark meat) to use my Schlemmertopf  for this. I carefully loosened the skin over my turkey thighs, and as directed in the video, put bits of truffle butter under the skin. After soaking the clay cooker properly, I patted my turkey thighs in, sprinkled some kosher salt over them, and put the pot into a cold, 300ºF oven for about 2-1/2 hours–until they were nice and brown, and very tender. (Many recipes will suggest oven temperatures of about 450ºF, but I chose to use a lower temperature because dark meat can tolerate longer cooking, and it often tends to be tough. I wanted slower cooking to break down collagen and make my turkey really tender.

The skin did shrink away from the edges of one of the thighs–I would rather have had one big thigh instead of two small ones, but it seems those haven’t hit the stores yet. Size and skin shrinkage aside, I had some lovely dark-meat turkey nicely flavored with black truffle. Turkey my way!

A son gôut!

Always Hungry? Meal Plan

Since I seem to be unable to stick to a recipe, am a picky eater, and have a lot of difficulty with breakfast, I’ve downloaded the Simplified Meal Plan from Always Hungry? website, and very carefully read the requirements for the “Building a Phase 1 Meal” (pages 151-152).  Since I was having a lazy day I did some adaptation on the “Herb-Roasted Chicken Thighs” since chicken thighs often show up on my house menus. I decided to make this a one-pot meal.

roasted chicken thigh, greens, black beansAfter seeing a post on slow roasted kale on Stefan’s Gourmet Blog, I decided I could make a one-dish meal that met those Phase 1 requirements. Using a bag of salad greens (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and some others) I put enough into the clay cooker to give me the amount of cooked greens that I needed for two meals (two of the thighs were for other uses). Since I’m such a fan of greens and beans, I added enough black beans for two servings. Since bell peppers are on the okay list, I added red and orange mini bell sweet peppers to the mix.  Finally, I topped that huge pile of greens with the chicken thighs sprinkled with salt, red pepper flakes, and oregano. The soaked clay cooker went into a cold 400 °F oven for a little over one hour and out came a meal that had the protein, vegetables, and the carbohydrates (the beans). All I had to add was dessert. (Yes, this meal plan includes dessert–in this case a cup of fruit and 1/2 ounce of dark chocolate.)

One of these thighs is going to find its way into chicken salad with grapes and pecans (substitution for walnuts) for one of the prescribed lunches and another into the freezer to pull out when I need a quick dinner ready with the vegetable, meat, carbohydrate quantities already worked out.

#LovePulses and take the pledge

Another informative post on an underutilized and versatile food source. Even if you don’t wish to take the pledge, please read! Look at the nutrition data. If you cook your own, the preparation  may take planning and time but it’s not labor intensive. Canned beans are an option to help use this food group.

one taste at a time

The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2016 the year of Pulses, which are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officially recognizes 11 specific types of pulses, but they can generally be encompassed in 4 groups: dry peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.

Referred to as “nutritious seeds for a sustainable future,” these superfoods pack an impressive nutritional punch. Not only are they loaded with protein, fiber, iron, potassium, folate, and antioxidants, but they’re also cholesterol, sodium, and gluten-free.

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Holiday time again….

Like it or not the holiday season approaches. I’ve one Christmas gift to order yet, but then I’m through. I thought I’d pass on a few suggestions for gifts for those of you who still have a cooking person on your list to shop for:

  • Volrath French carbon steel skillet: probably my most-used, it has the advantages of cast iron, without the weight.
  • Romertopf clay cooker: a go-to especially for one-dish meals in cold weather.
  • Home espresso machine: Can’t start the morning without my jolt of caffeine either straight espresso or café latte.
  • Clever Coffee Dripper: If I’m not wanting quite the jolt of espresso this gets something more like French press, with the benefit of a filter to eliminate the sediment.
  • Kunh Rincon garlic press: If garlic is a cooking necessity, a garlic press can be a time-saver, or it can be a total nuisance when you have to clean it, so you don’t use it. This is a good one, recommended by Cook’s Illustrated after testing lots of them.*
  • Max Burton Portable Induction cook unit: Live where it’s hot and humid in the summer? You just hate to turn on the stove? Induction cooking is much cooler–though it does require cookware that is either stainless steel or iron.  If a magnet won’t stick on your cookware, then you need the Hob Heat Diffuser that will allow you to use other cookware with the induction unit.
  • Pressure cooker: The Fissler FSSFIS5859 Vitaquick Pressure Cooker was the winner of the Cook’s Illustrated testing* and is pricey.  The runner-up was the Fagor Duo line, less pricey, highly recommended and noted as “best buy”. (This is the one I’ve used.) This cooker does work with induction cook units–a real plus in hot, humid weather when you still want those dried beans cooked.
  • Fasta Pasta Microwave pasta cooker: This is a real gem to have in the kitchen! So much easier than boiling that big pot of water–again great in hot, humid weather, but once you start using it, you’re hooked. Again this is a kitchen “gadget” that was tested by Cook’s Illustrated.*
  • If the cook you’re shopping for is just getting a kitchen set up, there’s always some of the essentials for good cooking: Penzeys herbs and spices, either basic, for bakers or for the cook starting to branch out, a do-it-yourself box of specialty herbs and spices.  If you have someone on your list who has to watch sodium intake, there are lots of salt-free blends. If you buying for a cook pressed for time, seasoning blends can be real time-savers–in my kitchen I don’t want to be without herbes de Provence for that time when I’m just too rushed to think blending my own.
  • For relaxation and enjoyment,  either alone or with company, a selection off teas to have on a leisurely morning, or relaxing afternoon break.  Harney & Sons Master Tea Blenders have a fantastic selection–black, green, herbal, flavored, and all the accessories necessary to make a special occasion. Teas can be ordered individually, or there are collections ready made.  If you’re unsure what tea would please your “giftee” most, then send a selection of samples–for a modest $2 you can send enough to brew a decent pot of many teas. Some very expensive ones–e.g. Black King which rings up at $240.00/pound–the sample may run $5. What a great way to let someone explore fine teas–treat yourself.
  • Like a liqueur to sip while relaxing? If you’re in North Carolina, there are some lovely liqueurs made in Durham by the Brothers Vilgalys: Krupnikas, a spice honey liqueur would be a real treat, or look at the unusual liqueurs they make: Beatmik, Beebop, Zaphod, and Jabberwok.  All are great in cocktails, for just sipping straight, added to hot chocolate or hot cocoa.  If you’re not in North Carolina you may still be able to get these delightful liqueurs through other distributors.

Wishing you and your favorite cook very happy holidays–lots of good food, friends, conversations, as well as wines and spirits!

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*Cook’s Illustrated equipment testing is done without manufacturers knowledge until after publication, and products tested are chosen for consumer benefit. They do not accept requests for testing from manufacturers.

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Slow-roasted pork

It’s a day that shouts that fall is finally, really here–steady, gentle rain, cool breeze, a bit dreary–the kind of day that says cook something savory and warming.  As the weather has been getting cooler, I’ve been anticipating this kind of day, so on yesterday’s trip to the market, I had the butcher cut me two extra-thick, bone-in, loin end pork chops.  When I got home, I “prepped” them for roasting–a generous sprinkle of salt (for a dry brine) and let them stand overnight in the fridge. Though it’s not cool enough to turn on the heat, just what I get from the oven while these roast will be cozy, and the smell of roasting pork….almost as good a baking bread.

I’ve gotten two chops because I actually want to have extra meat. Leftovers in this case are welcome (which is, admittedly, unusual for me).  This kind of weather brings out a desire for soup-making and other hearty fare, and roasted meat is a good starter!

Slow-roasted loin-end pork chops

Note: The pork was roasted in the clay cooker–with very simple seasoning. I just wanted some big roasted pork flavor. I used loin-end chops here, but thick-cut shoulder chops, or country-style spare ribs will also work. I love the Schlemmertopf/Romertopf for cooking, but you can do this in a Dutch oven if you don’t have a clay cooker.  It will still taste good!

loin end pork chopIngredients

  • 1 or 2 extra thick (1-1/2 to 2 inches) loin-end pork chops
  • a generous tablespoon kosher salt (for the two chops)
  • 2 large Yukon Gold potatoes scrubbed, cut into large chunks (eighths)

pork chops and potatoesPreparation

  • Pat chops dry and sprinkle kosher salt evenly over the chops.
  • Refrigerate overnight or for about 8 hours (up to 24)
  • Soak clay cooker for at least 20 minutes, add chops and place in cold oven set for 295 °F until easily shredded with a fork (about 3 hours).
  • Serve with roasting juices from cooker.

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roasted pork and potatoesI made the spicy grilled cabbage from The Kitchn, to go with this. The weather didn’t permit grilling (and lack of planning the oven, therefore the broiler, was in use) so I did a thinner wedge on a smoking hot cast-iron griddle. It was fantastic–no doubt this would be even better on the grill. The spicy lime sauce is yummy (and the bit that found it’s way onto the pork was good there, too).

I did make a couple changes to the sauce: since I was lacking the “smoky” grill, I added chipotle chili powder as well as the cayenne, and I used honey instead of sugar. (I would love to try this sauce with buckwheat honey in it, but none in the house today.)  Definitely a keeper of a sauce!

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There are leftovers–but I’ve planned how to use them. The pork is seasoned only with salt at this point–deliberately so that I have lots of flexibility in using the rest of it.  I want to try a pasta dish with the “pulled” pork, sage and brown butter sauce. There are roasting juices that will contribute to some good soup–maybe hot and sour soup, or maybe something with hominy and sort of southwestern flavor. I suspect that a serving of basic roast pork is headed to the freezer for a quick comfort-food meal in colder weather.

pork, potatoes, cabbageA son goût!

Pork butt steaks

One of the frustrations of cooking just for me is that some of the cuts of meat that I like best are typically way too big!  For example, one of my favorites is pork butt (also known as Boston butt).  Note that this does not refer to the location of the cut on the hog–but to the way it was processed and cut in pre-revolutionary and revolutionary times in New England–it’s shoulder that was salted and packed in barrels (called butts).  History aside, it’s good eating no matter what you call it. Enough fat to be succulent, and great for BBQ–friends are always willing to help eat it, but that takes a long time to cook and it’s a LOT of meat, so I generally turn to other cuts.

I use  chops (both loin and shoulder) often. I mean, chops are wonderful–quick, tasty, good size for one, but they are not the only good part of the hog!  I’d rather have cuts other than the ubiquitous loin chops with so little fat that they can be dry if not cooked carefully–such as, a pork neck steak is great (even if hard to find).

Country Spare Ribs

country-style spare ribs

Most often I use country-style spare ribs (from the rib end of the loin), since these can be had in quantities suitable for one person–single-serving plus one for the freezer.  These work well for braised pork and cabbage, and in chilli con carne.

pork butt steak

pork butt steak

While skulking through the supermarket just the other day is was quite surprised to find a package of pork butt steaks lying there in the meat case. No hesitation on my part, they went right into my basket, and home with me, especially since they were on “manager’s special”, but not a problem since I was planning to cook them right away: maybe griddle one, and pop the others into the Romertopf after salting and seasoning with a little chilli powder and coriander.  No water needed to roast these in the Romertopf–but good broth when they come out.   I had one hot meal when they came out of the oven,  packed two more servings with broth for the freezer, and had some for the hot and sour soup.

Some good eating with very little effort on my part–and all very inexpensively!

Roast pheasant for dinner

Two Whole Pheasants- Pheasant MeatOn a recent troll of the after-holiday, year-end goodies at my local Harris Teeter, which includes the free-standing freezer in the meat department (as well as the carts at the front of the store), I found pheasants on sale so I decided we (neighbors and friends) needed to have pheasant–especially since at least one had not tasted pheasant.

This is a first for me–I’ve never cooked farm-raised pheasant before; I’ve always cooked the wild birds that we got by hunting. Those we always braised since they could be old and tough.  I went to the McFarlane website Pheasant for Dinner to see what information I could find. I guess these are not likely to be either old  or tough, so I thought about roasting–then I decided that cooked in my Romertopf might be best since pheasants–even farm raised don’t have a lot of fat on them.  I decided that brown basmati rice would cook at the same time under the cut up birds; kind of self-seasoning with the pheasant juices–and whatever else I decided on.

Pheasant dinnerSince this was my first crack at farm-raised birds, I decided to seek expert consultation–from Mike Thomas in the meat department at Harris Teeter, thinking it likely that he’d be able to tell me more about the birds and how they would cook.  He agreed that the Romertopf should be a good way–so that decision was made.

As for seasoning, I was still debating. I wanted tangerines, but couldn’t find them. Tangelos? Well, maybe.  The meat of the tangelos was not very tasty, so I  got Mandarin oranges as well, but use only the tangelos as the mandarin oranges were too sweet.

I originally planned to do fingerling potatoes in the Romertopf with the birds, but I couldn’t get my head around orange and potato together, so I changed to brown basmati rice instead since it could also cook right with the birds in the Romertopf.

My next decision was whole or cut up. I finally decided that cut up would be best–so that I could use the carcasses to make some stock for cooking the rice. So get out the knives! I found a good demonstration on cutting up a pheasant at the McFarlane website–as I thought it’s like disjointing a chicken.  Since it’s not something I do all that often when doing single-serving cooking, it did take a bit, but I got them cut up.  I left bones in–even in the breasts since I think there is a lot of flavor in meat on the bone.

Pheasant dinner-2

into the oven

The backs, wings, necks, and other miscellaneous pieces, with carrot, onion, and bay leaves went into the stockpot (after browning). Simmered and skimmed I had a good start on the rice.

I minced two medium onions, four large cloves of garlic, and sautéed these with the rice before adding it to the soaked Romertopf with the rinsed basmati rice (two cups) with stock.  I added the zest of two tangelos to the rice. I pulled the meat from the stock bones and the giblets, chopped them finely, and added those to the rice–kind of a “dirty” rice here. That plus the 4 cups of stock went into the soaked Romertopf with the pheasant pieces on top, and into a cold oven, as usual with the Romertopf.

For a sauce, I modeled it after the one used for duck with fresh figs; I reduced the remaining pheasant stock and the juice of one tangelo slowly to about 1-1/2 cups–it’s not intended to be thick–more “au jus”. It needed a bit of sweetness despite the tangelo juice. After tasting both thyme honey and leatherwood honey, I opted for the leatherwood, since there was thyme with the bird and the leatherwood added a “dark” contrast to the tangelo and the meatiness of the stock.

(It looked great when I opened the Romertopf, but I was too intent on eating to stop and take pictures.)

My friends brought some awesome roasted Brussels sprouts (with bacon and garlic) to accompany the pheasant–a good meal, with good company!

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I used the ratio suggested for the brown basmati rice, but it was just a bit soupy. Next time I’ll use 1 part rice to 1.5 water. Otherwise I was pretty happy with the results–we certainly made a dent it the rice and the pheasant.

The farm-raised pheasants are more chicken-like than wild-pheasant-like–a little disappointing if you are used to the wild ones. I’d cook them again–if I find them on sale, but I’d really rather have the wild ones, though I certainly wouldn’t have been roasting them.

Not knowing the flavor of the farm-raised birds made choosing a wine a bit difficult. We drank a 2012 Ravenswood “Besieged” with it, and it worked well. This limited release is a blend containing 35% Carignane, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Zinfandel, 13% Mourvedre, 9% Alicante Bouschet, and 5% Barbera. (This was a wine that I stumbled upon while doing my shopping one Saturday at the local Harris Teeter. I’m a definite Alicante Bouschet fan and this blend was very mellow, and fruity so I did something that I don’t do often–I bought a half case of it–and I think I’m going to wish I had more of it.

Trying to keep the New Year’s resolutions…

I’m really trying to keep my New Year’s resolutions, though sometimes I think that I should simply resolve each year to try to do better on keeping LAST year’s resolutions.  But it’s a new year, new start, so here goes!

I’ve just gotten back from the grocery store–with only one thing that wasn’t planned–That was a veggie that I’ve never seen in this Harris Teeter before–a Boniato (Cuban sweet potato). While I gripe loudly and constantly about how crowded the grocery store always is on Sundays, it’s what seems to work for me–so I gripe and still shop on Sundays–unless I ran out of milk on Saturday!

The grocery shopping took a bit longer than usual, but I went with the idea of doing some meal planning on the hoof.  (I like to shop by what looks good and what’s on special, so meal planning at home doesn’t necessarily work for me.) I went with a set number of meals in mind–and the meat (at least vaguely) in mind, then walked around looking to see what was on special, and what looked good–in other words,  produce and meat.

Knowing that we can expect some cooler weather over the next week did influence my shopping, and so did the fact that I’m still knee deep in course prep for the medical terminology courses that I’m teaching.  I need cool-weather dishes that I can pop into the oven (Römertopf is out on the counter–and I can scarcely believe that I’ve not posted about cooking something in them before this.)

The result of my meal planning on the fly was this and I’m going to keep you posted on how well I succeed with this–hoping for some peer-pressure here:

  • It’s really too-warm-for-the-season weather here today, so I’m having something light (and “leftover”)–cod re-warmed with the tomato sauce that I brought home from the Italian restaurant, and cauliflower and black olive gratin (had all the ingredients in the fridge except the cauliflower.  I purchased enough for one good-size serving from the salad bar–cheaper than a whole head of cauliflower when I know part will likely go to waste.)
  • Lamb (shoulder chops to be cut up) braised with veggies–in the Römertopf–with an under-appreciated vegetable–turnips.  Personally I love them raw too, and like the sweetness that they add to soups, so they get used a lot.  Doesn’t hurt that they store so well either.
  • Chicken thighs to roast (most likely Römertopf  again) with some root vegetables (have carrots, turnips, parsnips, and some cabbage).  There will be at least two meals from the chicken thighs.
  • Since I have some lovely ham stock (courtesy of a friend sharing ham and the ham bone with me) I’m going to make some bean and kale soup for one warm cozy supper.
  • While I was perusing the New York Times Health section and stumbled onto a recipe for a turnip gratin that is a possible for a side dish with some of the chicken.
  • Then last, but not least, is a fresh black pepper and onion sausage that most likely headed into the Römertopf with some potatoes, to be accompanied by some cabbage that’s been quickly microwaved with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil.

After my meal planning, I’ve got a couple servings of meat (chicken thighs and pepper-onions sausages) that are flexible and should lend themselves to other things if my appetite doesn’t fit my plans.  The sausages could always end up in another “one-pot” dish.  There are also some salad makings in the fridge, and some fruit (Fuyu persimmons, apples, and oranges) for dessert.

One of the things that I like about recipes like those for the cauliflower-black olive gratin and the turnip gratin, is that even though they say “serves 6” they are SO easy to cut down to size for single-serving cooking.

So that’s my plan for this week–regular cooking that is healthy, and doesn’t promote waste from things that just don’t get used.  There are some lunches to be made during the week since most of my courses are online this term–meaning I’m home to fix brunch or lunch for myself.  Maybe that Boniato will fit there.

I’ll be posting more about these meals, but, please, wish me luck with the New Year’s resolution!  Now, off to the kitchen to do the cauliflower-black olive gratin to go with my cod in tomato sauce!