Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dear Julia

In a year where the incandescent Meryl Streep so buoyantly captured the essence of Julia Child on the big screen in Julie & Julia, I thought a tribute to the great lady herself, an inspiration to so many of us, would be fitting to close out the first year of my food blog. I actually had a heart-stopping moment in the spring of 2008 when I saw Ms. Streep out of the window of my old apartment, walking down the street in full 1950's Julia regalia on a break while filming the movie. Now, with all due respect to Julie Powell, author of The Julie/Julia Project and her admirable accomplishments, I believe the love of cooking is neither a race, as she sped toward her personal finish line, nor a competition, as reality television would have us see it today. Some years after Julia's passing, Julia stands tall (very tall), and it seems her extraordinary legacy has never been more apparent than with a new generation of fawning fellow food bloggers or more precious with the advent of the contemporary celebrity chef.

When I saw the biting headline that rumored Rachael Ray’s marriage was “E.V.O.Over,” I thought finally people were tired of her and her ridiculous kitchen speak, including the exclamations of “yumm-o!” that pepper her shows. I know I certainly was. She reminds me of Violet Beauregarde, that little brat in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory who couldn’t stop chewing gum. Ultimately it’s Ray’s gimmicks that are remembered and not a single thing about the food. Isn’t it food that these shows should be all about? Perhaps not, in the age of the celebrity chef. Paula Deen is armed with her sticks of butter—and let's not tarry over Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade and her tablescapes! She’d have more time to make real food if she was less concerned about matching her outfit with the serving ware. What about those of us that like to linger in the kitchen and cook? With the stars’ faces plastered on every baking pan, kitchen utensil, cookbook and endorsement, their food is merely a fashion. By the way, did you see that Dunkin’ Donuts commercial with Rachael Ray? Neither did she. The Arabic desert headdress she wore as a scarf was deemed terroristic in tone and the ad was pulled.

Perhaps the celebrity chef is an inspiration to the future chefs of America. Perhaps becoming a celebrity chef is even now a goal. Certainly the culinary field is growing rapidly, if only evidenced by these minute-meal-making media moguls. But unless you’re seated at a good table in a terribly chic restaurant, the restaurant industry is hardly glamorous and these cooking shows offer one instance where “art” does not imitate life. Kicking a dish up a notch with a flurry of garlic and a “bam!” as Emeril does (his last name seems to have disappeared, like Cher) is hardly a realistic depiction of the real business. He knows better too, having numerous restaurants of his own. If, for example, you ever saw one of the first kitchen reality t.v. shows, The Restaurant, about Rocco DiSpirito’s short-lived restaurant Rocco’s, it’s clear just how hot the kitchens really get: it’s grueling, often repetitive work, with incredibly long hours both day and night. Weekend time is non-existent.

No, it’s Julia Child I miss, the brilliant, rarefied bird, otherwise known as The French Chef who on occasional flights of fancy would leave her kitchen and take us to outdoor markets in Nice to sift through buckets of olives and capers for a Salad Nicoise. She was a real pioneer, the original celebrity chef; the first to have a cooking show on television, one that began solely about an extraordinary culinary method that fascinated her and through her own sheer exuberance became a triumphant rigor by which we all should live. Julia Child marveled at food and changed the way the world thought of it—all without uttering a single “yumm-o.”

Happy New Year everybody!

First printed in part on cookingvillage.com.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Where's The Boeuf?

When it came to making a Boeuf Bourguinon for our guests, I wasn't sure whether to make the reliable version from Saveur (they refer to it as Boeuf a la Bourguinonne, beef stew in the style of Burgundy) that I had made several times or to try something new, such as Julia Child's more elaborate, perhaps more elegant version of Boeuf Bourguinon - Beef in Red Wine from The French Chef Cookbook (The Ninety-sixth Show). The latter eventually won out and after several requests for seconds I inevitably had to inquire, "Where's the boeuf?"

So what else to serve beforehand and afterward? Flipping through the January 2010 issue of Bon Appetit provided an easy answer for cocktail hour snacks: I thought Parmesan Toasts with Prosciutto and Fig Jam would be a good idea to get the ball rolling. Click here for the recipe. I don't subscribe to Bon Appetit but after Gourmet magazine closed its kitchen doors, so to speak, they've started sending me issues of Bon Appetit as a consolation prize to finish out my yearly commitment. I can't really go into it but I was just beside myself when the last issue of Gourmet arrived (I kept it sealed in the subscription plastic and bought another copy on the stands and sent a stawker-ish message to Ruth Reichl on Twitter with my condolences and told her of my stack of vintage issues from the 70's). In short, the toasts worked just fine over glasses of a Caymus Vineyards Cabernet and a Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, both red wines courtesy of our wonderful friends.

We contemplated classic escargots but no, it was the Zwiebelwahe (Swiss Onion Tart) from this month's Saveur that provided this meal's panic moment. Instead of making my own pie crust, I formed puff pastry into a buttered enamel tart tartine pan. It browned nicely in the oven, but I realized I couldn't fill it with the egg, Gruyere cheese, onions and crispy bacon mixture and put it back in for the required 45 minutes baking time to let it all set because of course my crust would burn. After a breath and in a moment of clarity, I gently loosened the crust out of the pan, set it aside and poured the filling into the pan. The results were quiche-like, about an inch thin. When it cooled, I placed my crust on top of my tart, like an inverted crown. Et voila, Tart Tartine in a Cage!

So, back to the boeuf! It was fairly simple, although very time consuming--it takes hours to simmer, but it is immensely satisfying work. I made the Bourguinon the night before and was glad of it (not only is the flavor enriched by sitting overnight, subsequently I had a much more relaxing day preparing the rest of the table!). The stalwart stew consists of three basic parts: 1. simmering browned beef in red wine with sauteed lardons of unsalted pork belly (use this instead of bacon or salt pork to avoid the arduous step of having to boil those to remove the smokiness or salt) before 2. creating a garniture of mushrooms and onions and then 3. enveloping it all in a delicious sauce of the beef-cooking liquid, onion-cooking liquid and creamed butter--as always, use the best creamy European butter you can find (we used Pulgra "European-Style" butter). We brought out skinned, boiled potatoes that I just loved, lightly sauteed in butter and garnished with flat leaf parsley. To soak up the sauce, Baby made an incredible loaf of spongy, yeasty goodness from Jim Lahey's new book, My Bread.

The French Chef Cookbook also assisted with a salad of Boston lettuce dressed with a Sauce Vinaigrette (The Seventeenth Show) comprised of white wine vinegar, dry mustard, some cooked onions left over from the tart, a sprinkling of herbs de Provence, and of course extra virgin olive oil.
Our friends helped out with dessert by bringing some fantastic almond paste cookies topped with pignoli nuts and enormous cannolis from their favorite bakery in Long Island. More humbly, we also served my favorite Brussels cookies from Pepperidge Farm, wedged into scoops of Sharon's lemon sorbet.
And so mes cheres, however you might call it, what a wonderful dinner of Boeuf Bourguinon or Boeuf a la Borguinonne on such a winter's night!
Soundtrack: The Greatest Hits of Sergio Mendes And Brasil '66; Barbra Streisand, Love Is The Answer; Frank Sinatra, The Capitol Collector's Series; Bobby Darin, Swingin' The Standards; Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Everybody's Boppin'

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shouldn't You Just...?

Have a Happy New Year? And welcome all that the glorious fates allow?

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new millennium

Monday, December 28, 2009

Please Pass The Peas

It must have been a number of years ago when we went to a New Year's Day party where our Southern hostess presented us with a bowl of delicious marinated black-eyed peas; she explained that eating them on the first day of the year had always been a tradition in her family and was thought to serve up a side of good luck as well. I've made some form of black-eyed peas on that auspicious holiday ever since.

The December issue of Saveur included a recipe for Hoppin' John Soup that I can't wait to make in a couple of days. Along with the peas, among other things, there's ham and a smoked ham bone thrown in there, with garlic and collard greens. Now, doesn't that sound like a marvelous way to ring in the new year?

Hoppin' John Soup
Ingredients
1 lb. dried black-eyed peas
1 smoked ham bone or two hocks
1⁄4 cup canola oil
1⁄2 cup finely chopped cooked ham
1⁄4 tsp. red chile flakes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded,

 and finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 lb. collard greens, ribs removed,

 leaves roughly chopped
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper, to taste
5 cups cooked long-grain white rice
Chopped tomatoes and scallions, for garnish
1. Bring peas, ham bone, and 8 cups water to a boil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, skimming foam occasionally, until peas are tender, about 45 minutes. Drain peas, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid along with ham bone; set aside.
2. Heat oil in a 12-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped ham, chiles, garlic, jalapeños, carrot, onion, celery, and bay leaf and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add reserved black-eyed peas, ham bone, and reserved cooking liquid, along with collards and 12 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until collards are tender, about 1 hour. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Spoon rice into bowls and ladle soup over rice and add garnishes.
SERVES 8 – 10
This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #125
Photo credit: Todd Coleman

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Kissing Cousins

The Loughlins are a hilarious, wild bunch and each of them in their own way are made of the stuff that feeds my heart and soul, and they've created a lot of fun memories for me over the years as they so fortunately happen to be my cousins. I don't get to see them all that often though, usually just at Christmas time and Easter in New Hampshire. This year when my parents, Baby and I got together for Christmas with them and all of their magnificent children in tow, we played a hilarious game of Yankee Swap. We had all bought presents, and in the living room after dinner each of us drew a number and picked something to unwrap. If we didn't like what we got, we could trade with someone else.

I'd always heard stories of how the Loughlin clan were terrorized by the food their mother used to serve when they were kids: peaches with mayonnaise, Spam, brutalized hot dogs and such. I don't know which wiseacre put it all in a box but there it was, as sure as Christmas, evocative ingredients from their childhood, opened by an unsuspecting member of the family: hot dogs, beans, a red onion, vanilla wafers, tomato soup, tuna, and Saltines. The components might sound harmless enough on their own, but combined they create some truly hair-raising dishes! As the recipes and a 10" Emeril frying pan were also part of the deal, Baby and I worked in tandem to make sure when it was our turn we traded whatever we had in order to secure this particular Christmas box. Mwah, you guys!

Here are the recipes:
Blushing Bunny
1 can of tomato soup
Melted dried up cheese from the Green Visors card game (apparently a weekly club meeting Mother Loughlin belonged to)
Heat on stove and pour over Saltines

Spam & Beans
Just Spam on a plate, sliced. Lovely when accompanied by B&M beans

Stuffed Puppee Dogs
Split filler meat hot dogs
Stuff with mashed potatoes
Pour tomato soup over top
Cover with Velveeta cheese
Bake for 1/2 hour at 350 degrees

Tuna Patties
Mix 1 can of tuna
Sunday's leftover mashed potatoes
Large chunks of red onion
Prepare in hamburger-shaped ball
Fry in butter until brown and dry on either side

For dessert either Vanilla Wafers or Canned Peaches may be served. For the latter, drop a large dollop of mayonnaise on top for garnish.

Friday, December 25, 2009

In the Kitchen With Lulzim Rexhepi - Thai Style Christmas Goose

Lulzim Rexhepi, the executive chef at NYC’s Kittichai restaurant, was born in Kosova, Albania and moved to the Bronx when he was 10 years old. He first worked at Pino Luongo’s Le Madri on West 18th Street in Manhattan (where I had a most memorable lunch of lamb chops on my 30th birthday!) as prep cook under his mother’s training. His culinary resume has grown impressively, listing credits such as Roger Verge’s Le Moulin de Mougin, a three star restaurant on the French Riviera; Switzerland’s Mandarin Oriental; and back in Manhattan, the Blue Water Grill; Four Seasons; Icon at W Hotel; and Citarella.

From his post at Kittichai, we offer up a goose with just a touch of exotic spice and a little bit of a twist to warm you up this holiday season. Thanks for sharing with me, Lulzim!

Thai Style Christmas Goose


1 pt shredded goose legs
1 pt red curry sauce
½ cup chestnuts (use peeled, cooked, whole chestnuts from a jar)
½ cup sweet potatoes, half moon cuts
½ cup red grapes
2 goose breasts

Method of Preparation:
In a small pot combine the red curry, chestnuts, and sweet potato and simmer slowly
at low heat until the sweet potatoes are almost cooked through. At that point add in
the shredded slivers of goose. Place in a large serving bowl. While the goose legs are
simmering in another pan, sauté the goose breast skin side down at low heat,
allowing the fat to render and the skin to get crispy. When done, slice the goose breast
and place over the red curry and goose stew. Garnish with fresh coriander, finely chopped lemongrass, and grapes.

kittichairestaurant.com

Recipe first featured in Next magazine.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rise and Shine

Jim Lahey knows dough. The founder of Manhattan's Sullivan Street Bakery is renowned for his fabulous breads; Baby and I have also had the opportunity to try his incredible pizza crusts at Co. restaurant in our neighborhood. Now, the new book My Bread written with Rick Flaste lets us in on some of Lahey's secrets to try at home.

None of the recipes involve kneading, but Baby and I just made The Basic No-Knead Bread Recipe and it couldn't have been easier. The few ingredients are combined and left to rise for 12 hours to 18 hours (the author's preference), before being formed and baked. We think it's a great idea to make the dough ahead of time and bring it to a friend's house for a dinner party and bake it there to fill the kitchen with a warming aroma of yeasty goodness--just make sure not to monopolize the oven if it's already being used!

The Basic No-Knead Bread Recipe
Adapted from My Bread by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste

Ingredients
3 cups bread flour (we prefer all-purpose flour!)
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees F) water
wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

Combine first three ingredients in a bowl and mix for about 30 seconds with a wooden spoon. Add water and mix for another 30 seconds (add more water a little at a time if necessary to absorb the flour and create a batter).
Cover with a plate and let sit for 18 hours.
Lightly flour a surface. Remove the dough from the bowl and on the floured surface, gently pull the sides of the dough into the center, forming a ball. Sprinkle a tea towel with cornmeal and gently place ball seam side down in center. Fold corners of tea towel over dough to fully cover. Let rise for two hours.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees 30 minutes before this second rise. Put oven rack on lower third of oven and in the center place a covered 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-quart heavy cast iron or enamel Dutch oven on it. Working quickly but carefully, remove the vessel that has been pre-heated for 30 minutes from the oven and removing the tea towel, dust with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour, place dough in the pot, seam side up. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove lid and bake until a "deep chestnut" color is achieved, for about another 15 minutes. Keep checking on it so as not to burn. Take out of pot and place on a cooling rack. Exercise patience and wait until bread has completely cooled before eating, about an hour.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Holidays, Y'all

Last year, I discovered Virginia Willis' cookbook Bon Appétit, Y’all and was quite taken by the inventive set of dishes she assembled for a holiday menu based on The Twelve Days of Christmas, combining traditions of her Southern upbringing and methods she learned while training in France. The complete menu is listed below with several of the recipes, accompanied by Virginia's charming comments. I hope they provide inspiration for you in the kitchen this season. For more recipes, well...look to the book y'all!

"On the first day of Christmas, Virginia cooked for me…"
A partridge in a pear tree - Arugula with Roasted Pears and Goat Cheese
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 or 3 firm Bosc pears, halved lengthwise and cored
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 cups baby arugula (about 4 ounces)
1 tablespoon sherry or balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 ounces fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup honey (preferably tupelo, orange blossom, or sweet clover)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a baking sheet with some of the melted butter.
To roast the pears, arrange pear halves, cut sides down, on the buttered sheet. Brush the tops with remaining melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until just tender to the point of a knife, 20 to 25 minutes.
To dress the greens, place the arugula in a large bowl. Drizzle with the vinegar and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine and coat.
To serve, divide the greens among 4 to 6 individual serving plates. Top each with a warm roasted pear half, cut side up. Place a spoonful of goat cheese on each pear. Drizzle with honey. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Two turtle doves - Quail with Red Wine Sauce

Three French hens - Mama’s Orange Glazed Cornish Game Hens
"Cornish game hens (or Rock Cornish hens) are not as large as a chicken, yet larger than a quail. The French call them poussins, and they are essentially baby chickens. Mama has always cooked game hens for semi-special occasions since we all love them. They are great for a dinner party, too. Plan ahead, however; many grocery stores only sell them frozen."


Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as chives, parsley, and thyme)
3 shallots, very finely chopped
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Cornish game hens (about 1-1/2 pounds each,) spatchcocked (see below)
1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine
1 cup chicken stock or low-fat reduced-sodium chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the herbs, shallots, orange zest, and butter in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Loosen the skins of the hens without tearing by running your fingers between the skin and the flesh of the breast. Place a little of the herb butter under the skin of each bird and spread evenly. Season the hens with salt and pepper, then rub the skin with the remaining herb butter. Place the hens, skin side up, in a large roasting pan.
Roast until the birds are golden brown and the juices run clear, about 30 minutes. Transfer the hens to a large warm platter and tent loosely with the aluminum foil to keep them warm.
Place the roasting pan on the cooktop over medium heat. Add the sherry to deglaze the pan and loosen the brown bits on the bottom. Add the chicken stock and orange juice. Bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits. Cook until reduced and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the hens to serve.

Note:
To spatchcock a Cornish game hen or other small bird, place the bird on a clean cutting board, breast side down. Using poultry shears, make a lengthwise cut on both sides of the backbone from neck to tail. Remove the backbone and save it for stock. Open the bird like a book. Proceed with recipe. For an especially flat bird, place the bird on a baking sheet, top it with a second baking sheet, and weigh it down in the refrigerator with a brick or several large cans of tomatoes for several hours or overnight.
Four calling birds - Meme’s Roast Turkey and Giblet Gravy
"No holiday would be complete without Roast Turkey and Gravy. Certain side dishes simply can't change — you can always add more, but the general opinion is that none can be taken away!"

Five golden rings - Meme’s Cornmeal Griddle Cakes

Six geese a-laying - Deviled Eggs

Seven swans a-swimming - Savannah River Catfish Stew
"One of my first memories is of falling into the pond behind our family home when I was about three years old. I remember the terror I felt in the brown murky water and the agitation of the adults who pulled me out. My grandmother’s main concern was not the possibility of me drowning, but that snakes might be at the water’s edge. The most common admonition heard from her throughout my young life was, ‘Don’t go in the bushes, you might get on a snake!’ "

Eight maids a-milking - Mixed Buttermilk Mash
"My mother tells of raising chickens and cows even when she was a child, but milking the cows stopped when one surly beast kicked my grandmother. They filled the freezer with beef instead!"

Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 head cauliflower, separated into florets
2 cloves garlic
1 carrot, chopped
1/4 cup buttermilk, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the potatoes and cover with cold water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat; add the cauliflower, garlic, and carrot. Decrease the heat to low. Simmer gently until the vegetables are fork tender, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the buttermilk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook until the butter is melted; cover and keep warm.
Drain the vegetables in a colander, and return them to the saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until a floury film forms on the bottom of the pan, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Mash the vegetables in the saucepan until smooth with a ricer, food mill, or potato masher. Add the warm buttermilk mixture and the parsley, stirring vigorously until well combined. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Nine ladies dancing - Meme’s Pound Cake
"Our fellowship starts days before as we share the shopping and chopping. The baking commences early in the week, and the cakes and pies are held captive in various collections of Tupperware. The buttery smells of the cakes coming out of their pans is intoxicating. Whoever is hosting the dinner calls everyone and assigns a dish, often something on the sweet side. Our family holidays would not be complete without Meme’s pound cake. The best part is the crispy, dark-brown sugary edges. Much to my mother’s consternation, more than once, little pesky elves raided the opaque Tupperware cake container and nibbled away those tasty bits."
Makes one 10-inch cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
3 cups White Lily flour or other Southern all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, preferably Crisco, at room temperature
3 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Generously grease a 16-cup (measure to the rim) Bundt pan with butter. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large liquid measuring cup, combine the milk, eggs, and the scraped vanilla seeds. Set aside.
In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, cream together the 1 cup of butter, vegetable shortening, and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the flour and milk mixtures to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating between dry and liquid, occasionally scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Fill the prepared pan with batter (it should be no more than two-thirds full).
Bake for 15 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 325oF and bake an additional 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove to a rack and cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack and cool completely.
This cake will stay moist in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Ten lords a-leaping - Nathalie’s Oyster Casserole
"This recipe, a marriage of a recipe I learned while an apprentice to Nathalie Dupree and Meme’s version of traditional oyster dressing, is an excellent side dish for a Thanksgiving feast. The myth about buying oysters only in the months with an R is not quite true, but not completely false either. However, it is best to buy oysters during the fall and winter when they are at their prime."

Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the dish
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1/2 pound white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pints shucked oysters, drained (about 60 small oysters)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk, warmed
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1 ounce)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup fresh or panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs

Place the oven rack 6 inches below the broiler and preheat the broiler. Brush a gratin dish with butter.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the green onions, bell pepper, and mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the oysters and stir to combine. Decrease the heat to low and cook until the oysters are firm, an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
In a medium saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Stir the flour and cook until foamy, about 2 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cheese and stir to combine.
Pour the cheese sauce over the oyster mixture and stir to combine. Add the parsley, paprika, and cayenne. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.
Pour the mixture into the prepared gratin dish and top with the breadcrumbs. Broil until browned and bubbling, about 10 minutes.

Eleven pipers piping - La Varenne Gougères

Twelve drummers drumming - Meme’s Yeast Rolls
"Meme may have made the rolls, but it was Dede who did a lot of the work. He beat the dough with a special wooden spoon that had a small ledge on the end for gripping. He’d cradle the big bowl in his arm and beat the wet dough so it slapped ‘wap, wap, wap’ against the bowl. All the ‘muscle’ developed the dough’s structure, causing the rolls to rise in the oven light as air, slightly sweet, and richly sour with the scent of yeast. We all thought it was Meme’s gently touch forming the rolls, but it was actually Dede’s strong arms that made them taste so good."

Visit www.virginiawillis.com for more information.

Recipes/excerpts from BON APPÉTIT, Y’ALL by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, $32.50/HC, May 2008)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Recipes Of Our Mothers - Dody Buermann's Chili

Thanks to my friend of almost 30 years for sending this wonderful tribute to her mother, and of course, to our dear Dody for leaving us the blueprint for her most marvelous chili.

Submitted by Jennifer Buermann:

“My mom’s chili probably earned its greatest fame outside of our family during the late 80s/early 90s as the favored sustenance for the punk rock bands my sisters would invite to stay over at our house before or after their gigs at City Gardens rock club in Trenton, NJ. Her response to the announcement that The Angry Samoans or Suicidal Tendencies were sleeping over was inevitably, ‘OK, I guess I’ll make chili,’ in a tone I imagine was equal parts bemusement and resignation. I think secretly she was proud when she heard after the show that the band had given her and her chili a shoutout from the stage (which happened quite a few times).

The other notable fact about the chili was really that there was no known recipe for it – our mom had always just….made it, as I think her mother had made it before her. She was a great cook but I don’t remember her ever being very recipe-based. I’m sure at some point she told me how to make it, but for a long time, even though I followed her directions, it never seemed exactly right and I was convinced she had (probably unintentionally) left something out. So I kept refining and remaking on my own until I came up with the recipe here, which I think comes the closest. Now, this is a classic chili con carne – your ground beef, your red kidney beans – nothing fancy or vegetarian or requiring-a-trip-to-Whole Foods about it – if you want something more exotic, there are other places to find that. This is Friday night chili, a warm gently bubbling cast-iron pot on the back of the stove when you get home late from soccer practice or drama club or Mathletes - or with a bunch of Angry Samoans in tow.

A couple of notes: First, my mom did always use really good hot chili powder from the Italian Market in Philadelphia. If you don’t have access to a good spice source, the best grocery-store brand in my opinion in Durkee Hot Chili Powder. Whatever kind you use, make sure it’s the ‘Hot’ version. Second, the bacon (ingredient #1) is my addition; if you’d rather not use bacon, you can use olive oil to brown your meat instead, but I like the smoky flavor added by the bacon fat.”

¼ lb slab bacon
3 cups chopped onion
3 lbs ground beef
3 tblsp chopped garlic
¾ tsp ground black pepper
6 tblsp chili powder
1 tblsp crushed dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp celery salt
1 tblsp paprika
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (w/basil leaf if available)
1 small can tomato paste
1 28-oz can kidney beans
1 cup water
salt/pepper to taste
1 tblsp chili paste w/garlic optional
sour cream for garnish
Saltines

Cook the bacon in a large enameled-cast-iron Dutch oven, until fat is rendered out and bacon is slightly crispy. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of fat. (Or use 3 tablespoons olive oil if not using bacon).
Add the onion; cook until onion is wilted.
Add the beef and cook until browned through.
Add the garlic and black pepper and stir to blend. Add the chili powder, oregano, cumin, celery salt and paprika. Stir and add the vinegar. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt/pepper, and chili paste with garlic if desired. Stir, and add the kidney beans. Stir all ingredients together well, and bring to a boil – then lower heat and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes.
Serve in bowls with a dollop of sour cream on top and Saltines on the side.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Shouldn't You Just...?

Bring trimmed, fresh flowers already in a well-appointed vase to the dinner party, instead of an awkward bouquet wrapped in paper or plastic that your host has to deal with in the middle of the evening's proceedings? So that your host may also cherish the vase as a keepsake once the flowers are gone?

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new millennium

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Tale of One City

It's been rather difficult to figure how to write about my trip to London over Thanksgiving. For years, London has been my heart: I left the country for the first time to go to college there, fell in love for the first time and saw a bit of the world. I feel I grew up there and returned to the states a different boy. I had never been so happy in my life.

But I'm not 20 years old anymore. I've changed, London's changed; it's awfully commercial now. I'm not 32 either, when I last went back 10 years ago, just enthralled to be there again, to revisit some places and relive some memories. This year I did go back to look at my dorm at the Park Crescent Mews off of the Great Portland tube stop. It's a residential building now. I also returned to The Albany, a local watering hole across the street. I went to visit my school, Regent's College in Regent's Park, but couldn't get in past the gates. I needed a student pass, which I obviously didn't have any longer--so I stealthily snuck in through the back entrance, past several guards to get to the grounds. The staircase at the Royal Academy of Music which I used to climb several times a week when I took voice lessons isn't nearly as grand as I remember it.

Despite the sometime feeling of bewilderment, Baby and I created some really exciting new memories too this year in London--so perhaps what I'm really writing about is two tales of one city.
Apart from seeing a great production of Breakfast at Tiffany's and snagging two last-minute tickets to the extraordinarily fun and gorgeous musical version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Baby and I naturally found some wonderful meals. Baby took me to J Sheeky, his favorite restaurant in London, where we supped on oysters, Dover sole and fish pie, and I took him to my favorite restaurant, London's oldest restaurant, Rules. We had even more incredible Frenchman's Creek Rock oysters from the Duchy of Cornwall, Roe deer terrine, onion soup with welsh rarebit toasts, bloody good lamb chops, and Steak Diane with herb butter and a sticky toffee pudding to top it all off.

Since Baby had to work, I spent a truly fabulous Thanksgiving day single-o at Harvey Nichols, taking myself to lunch on the 5th floor. The prix fixe was a damned good deal (about $40, including half a bottle of wine) where I treasured a Fourme d'Abert (a gentle blue cheese) & pear tart, mushroom risotto and chocolate mousse with pistachio crisps and a drizzle of pear coulis. Later that evening, we all had cocktails with Amy Sacco at her newly opened Bungalow 8 in the chic St. Martin's Lane hotel, and then a proper feast alongside her as well at Bedford & Strand. Roast parsnip soup! Beef and onion pie! And of course, turkey with traditional trimmings. We also shared the treacle tart with clotted cream.

When I try to sort my feelings about this unexpectedly conflicted journey, I suppose it is the boy I miss, the one I used to be, who was some years ago emerging as a young man. I guess I realized too when I was in London that there are certain things better left simply relegated to the past. I'm not 20 years old anymore but when I think about when I was, and am flooded with all those memories of the London that I so cherished, I finally might have realized I don't have to hold on to or try to recapture the past; instead know now that for having just lived it, yes, I will always be thankful.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Recipes Of Our Mothers - Rosemary Urban's Crab Dip

I find this crab dip to be the perfect crowd-pleasing dish to bring to any party, but it's particularly best to share around the holidays, or the Super Bowl! What's best is that it's easy to make too! You can definitely splurge on lump crab meat, but canned white crab is absolutely fine and much cheaper. Thanks to my sweet Rosemary for sharing.

Submitted by Ed Urban:

"My mother was a nurse at Fitzgerald Mercy hospital when she met my dad, a dashing young intern MD, who was immediately taken by 'the nurse who filled out the uniform like no other'. After they got married (43 years ago!), she followed my father to Korea where she was not only an army wife on the DMZ, but taught English to Koreans (one of her students went on to graduate from Columbia University) and also became pregnant with my sister Melanie, who was born there. After a year, they came back to an army base in South Carolina where my other sister Heather was born (they're pretty much Irish, um, Polish twins, being 13 months apart). After dad was done with the service, they returned to their native Philadelphia to raise the family. Armed with the knowledge of cause and effect, I didn't come along for another four years. I'm told I was a pleasant surprise. All through grade school, my mom was a stay at home mother and domestic goddess, cooking all of our meals from scratch. She also could host a family get-together or cocktail party at the drop of a hat. Being the youngest and only boy (i.e. mommie's boy), I always was looking to help my mom out in the kitchen. One of my first jobs was picking the shells out of the crabmeat for my mom's staple crab dip recipe, a fequent delight at all suburban Philadelphia soirees. I guess I took this precious dip for granted, for when I brought it to a potluck playreading cocktail party in NYC, assuming I was just 'the guy who brought the crab dip', I was regaled with RAVE reviews from friends who did not grow up with this delicacy. Who knew? My attendance at certain social gatherings thereafter was contingent upon my arriving with this crab dip as my date!"

Rosemary Urban's Crab Dip
2 pkg. 8-oz Cream Cheese (preferably Philadelphia, being a local favorite), softened
1 pint sour cream
1 lb lump fresh crabmeat (2 15oz cans is also fine, just be sure to get all the shells)
1 heaping tablespoon of horseradish (more or less, to taste)
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
Grated Parmesan, paprika and fresh ground pepper (optional)

Mix the cream cheese, sour cream, crab, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce together, the good ol' fashioned way, by hand, until combined. Put into a baking dish and bake in a preheated oven at 325 until the top begins to brown and it is bubbly. Let sit 10 mins to cool A LITTLE before serving to your guests. Sprinkle Parmesan and ground pepper on top if desired, or a little paprika for color. Serve on top of your favorite bread or cracker (although traditionally in my home it was always served with the mini rye or pumpernickel bread).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lessons in Lavender, Part Two

Following up on the lavender report, Mags further writes:

"We last served this with roasted cauliflower, sautéed green beans and a sweet and sour red cabbage. Leftovers were turned into sandwiches with the chicken and cabbage meeting up with some willing goat cheese on toasted ciabatta. Our chicken was too cold in the sandwich, but that’s clearly avoidable."

Sounds good to me!

Sugar Cured Lavender Chicken
Marinade:
6 T sugar
4 T olive oil
1 T dried lavender flowers, stemmed
1-2 t fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
Zest and juice of two lemons
Salt and pepper

3 chicken breasts, halved and contrived into even sizes if so desired.

Mix all together, being sure to fully incorporate the sugar into the wet ingredients. Reserve 2 T of mixture in a covered container and chill. To remaining marinade, add trimmed chicken breasts, turning to coat. Marinate covered in the refrigerator at least 12 hours, up to two days, turning at least twice a day to distribute marinade.

Heat Dutch oven over medium high heat and preheat oven to 350.

Remove chicken from marinade and dredge in seasoned flour. Discard remaining chicken marinade.

Add 2 T olive oil to Dutch oven, and when hot, add chicken pieces, allowing crust to set before turning, 3-4 mins per side. When browned, remove chicken from pan, and deglaze with ¾ white wine (or chicken stock), scraping up the deliciousness. Add reserved marinade and stir to blend. Add chicken pieces back in and place in oven, covered, until chicken is done—20 mins.

Remove from oven and serve with pan sauce. If, when removed from oven, sauce seems a little thin, remove chicken and heat the sauce over med-high heat to reduce.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shouldn't You Just...?

Sneeze more privately in public, avoiding too much of a fuss?

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new millennium

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lessons in Lavender, Part One

After a recent, heady discussion of all the wonderfully fragrant possibilities when using lavender in cooking, Mags wrote back several days after her visit, offering further suggestions to incorporate the delicate, versatile bud (whether fresh, dried, or diluting its oil) into other things, things such as wild cocktails, cookies, and chicken! I'd only ever traipsed across lavender when par-boiled with salted red bliss potatoes which I then drained and let sit for a few hours before being roasted in the oven with fresh rosemary, a firm drizzle of olive oil and a frank use of coarse salt and ground black pepper for about an hour.

Unfathomable as it may be at first, it does seem that in lavender, a world awaits.

Here is just a taste of what to do to get started of course, but Mags has promised to send more recipes that also infuse the elegant lavender lady. It appears that a little imagination is all that is required, whatever your recipe, whatever the season!

From Mags herself:
"Peter! I haven't forgotten about what you mentioned about lavender recipes. Below is the syrup that we've come to love in everything from fizzy lemonade, or straight club soda to champagne or caprihinas. I've got a good lavender-limoncello shortbread type cookie that's perfectly reliable but I'm futsing with a salted chocolate lavender cookie. I'm close but not perfect yet. I've got to recreate a chicken dish that I made early in the summer--I'm horrible about writing recipes down but once I do you'll have it."
Thanks, Mags!

To be continued for sure, but in the meantime...

Cherry Lavender Simple Syrup
2 c water
2 c sugar (more if extra-syrupy-ness is desired)
scant cup cherries, halved and pitted
3-4 sprigs fresh lavender or 1 tsp dried lavender flowers
Heat together over medium heat until sugar has melted and the syrup has taken on a deep cherry color. Strain, discarding both lavender and cherries. Add a tablespoon to favorite cocktails, or add balsamic vinegar and olive oil for a quick dressing or meat glaze. A tiny spash will transform meringue or whipped cream. Syrup will keep in a glass container under refrigeration for ages.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sweet Potato Tipsy

When I was going to school in London (22 years ago!) my friends and I hopped a ferry and went to Paris for Thanksgiving. Given my New England upbringing, I somehow had no problem foregoing turkey and stuffing for a rare filet mignon with grilled potatoes and a few glasses of cheap red table wine. This year I'll be in London again where I plan to spend Thanksgiving at my favorite restaurant in the world (at least what I know of it), Rules, that specializes in game cookery.

I've only made Thanksgiving dinner once, and actually my friend brought over the turkey. I had planned to make a bunch of side dishes, so many in fact that I forgot about some of them, the peas and pearl onions left uncomposed in the fridge--and I discovered the stuffing still in the microwave about a week later.

Here's one of the dishes that I did manage to make. I learned about Clementine Paddleford, the pioneer of American food writing, in the pages of Saveur magazine that year and chose to make her Sweet Potato Tipsy. Although she is largely forgotten today, I like to keep her memory alive by pulling out this wonderful dish every now and then.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Sweet Potato Tipsy
Serves 6-8
8 medium sweet potatoes
2 pinches of salt
7 tbsp. butter
1⁄2 cup half and half
1⁄4 cup dry sherry
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Put 8 medium sweet potatoes into a large pot, cover with cold water, and add 2 generous pinches of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and cook until soft when pierce, 30-40 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. Peel potatoes and transfer to a large bowl. Coarsely mash potatoes with the tines of a fork, then add 5 tbsp. softened butter, 1⁄2 cup half-and-half, 1⁄4 cup dry sherry, and 3 tbsp. brown sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
3. Transfer sweet potato mixture to a buttered medium baking dish, dot with 2 tbsp. butter, and bake until top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

First published in Saveur in Issue #62; photo by James Baigrie

Friday, November 20, 2009

Smashing Pumpkin

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my trip to Salem, MA and included a recipe for Chicken Pot Pie in a Pumpkin that I feel appropriately ushers in the fall. I just came across an old grocery list and it suddenly reminded me of the dinner Baby and I made for a few friends last year, where every course included an element of the great pumpkin, in tribute to the season. Here are some guidelines to perhaps create a smashing pumpkin dinner of your own.

Menu

We started with a simple Salad Dressed with Blood Orange Vinaigrette. Michael Lomonaco taught me the components to compose a vinaigrette through his fantastic '21' Cookbook and his recipe for Shallot and Champagne Vinaigrette, which remains my favorite dressing. For this particular dinner, I played around a little with essential balance of sweet, sour and savory ingredients, incorporating blood orange juice and red onions and subbing balsamic vinegar for the champagne vinegar to grace the romaine lettuce and further topped the greens with pepitas, otherwise known as the pumpkin seeds that I had scoured out of the pumpkins used for our Pot Pie.

Shallot and Champagne Vinaigrette
Yield: 1 cup
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 large, peeled shallots
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process the vinegar, mustard, sugar, shallots, salt, and pepper until the shallots are finely chopped. With the processor running, add the oil very slowly in a small stream until all the oil has been incorporated and the dressing has achieved a silky, smooth texture. The dressing may be stored, covered, up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator but should be brought to room temperature before using.

For a pasta course, we served Papardelle with Pumpkin Sauce and here is a recipe very similar to what we did (I'd skip the red pepper though).

Chicken Pot Pie in a Pumpkin

Ebelskivers are little pancakes that may be stuffed to your hearts delight with any number of things. The ebelskiver pan was a birthday gift last year and any time we've brought it out, our guests have responded resoundingly in kind. For this dinner we served our ebelskivers stuffed with whipped pumpkin and cream cheese and a drizzle of Vermont maple syrup. Here's the basic recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma:

Ebelskivers
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 cups milk
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and granulated sugar. In another bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks, then whisk in the milk and the 4 Tbs. melted butter. Whisk the egg yolk mixture into the flour mixture until well combined; the batter will be lumpy. Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff but not dry peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the batter in two additions.
Put 1/8 tsp. melted butter in each well of a filled-pancake pan. Set over medium heat and heat until the butter begins to bubble. Pour 1 Tbs. batter into each well. Spoon 1/2 tsp. of the cinnamon filling into the center of each pancake and top with 1 Tbs. batter. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. Using 2 skewers, flip the pancakes over and cook until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes more. Transfer the pancakes to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter and filling.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Next Magazine Review - Agua Dulce

Executive Chef Ulrich Sterling has some wonderfully wild things going on at Agua Dulce (sweet water) with a vivid host of Pan-Latin and Asian influences that I daresay will make the rest of the foodist strip of Hell’s Kitchen step up to Sterling’s inspired plate. The place is stunning too; the design harkening back to the yesteryear chic of Havana and Rio.

I had no problem launching into some “sweet water” myself, namely the delicious Agave Flower ($13) cocktail, a potent mix of Patron Silver tequila, floral St. Germain and fresh squeezed lemon, topped with a floating mix of berries.

Our first hint that we were onto something very special came with the incredible little platter of Chili and Sweet Soy-Glazed Soybeans ($7), seared to a rich char, with ginger, soy caramel and shallots. We devoured our aperitivos (appetizer), which began with thrilling Island Creek Oysters ($18/half dozen) in a tingly mignonette of jalapeno, celery, ginger and a trio of crushed peppercorns. The essence of fruit further enhanced the fresh oyster flavor. We loved the sprightly Salmon Citrus Ceviche ($13) with thinly sliced red onion and the Yellow Fin Tuna Tiriadito ($15) with a truffled lychee sauce and crushed pink peppercorns.

A la parilla (from the grill), we really enjoyed the Aji Panca Glazed Duck ($24) from Long Island served medium rare, with crispy duck confit, a ginger scallion slaw, and boniato, also known as white sweet potatoes. I almost had to pick my friend up off the floor once she tasted the Beef Short Rib ($23), coated for two days with a spice rub, and braised for 12 hours with lapsang souchong tea. Fantastic! Yuca Frita ($5) were perfectly fried, and a perfect, flavorful side with a hint of vanilla.

We went simply cross-eyed over the shot of Patron Café XO ($11), yes—tequila and coffee together at last! Dulce de Leche Flan ($9) was a shattering, shockingly good conclusion; such creamy gorgeousness found in the incredible sweet caramel flan with salted caramel ice cream.

Chef Sterling and Agua Dulce both delight in any number of languages, countries or cuisines!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The First Supper

The first meal I ever made with my friends was very simple, not long after I had graduated high school.

Though our entree may never have been instructed or served at the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools, we did happen to serve Chicken Cordon Bleu which ending up serving as a memory I still cherish to this day.

It was only the four of us that clandestine summer afternoon at my parents' house, while they were out of town for the weekend. I suppose we went shopping and bought the ingredients, found a proper stash of wine, some beer or maybe even liters of Sun Country wine coolers as we were wont to do, back then.

When we got home, I remember putting a stack of some of my Billie Holiday records on the turntable in the dining room and it became the indelible score for that afternoon: her dreamy and sad music still reminds me of it now, floating around as it did then, united as we were, in the kitchen.

While EES supervised I'm sure, JC prepared the Cordon Bleu, pounding and breading the chicken cutlets which were to envelop the ham (such as Black Forest) and Swiss cheese to make it all juicy and gooey when baked in a moderately temperatured oven.

Perhaps more humbly on our part, TD and I stirred the contents of a few tins of Pepperidge Farm Selects creamy vichyssoise together with some cold milk in a bowl and let it chill for the better part of an hour in the fridge, adding what I thought was an inspired touch of my own: a little dried thyme. Loved it.

I don't know if we had salad first, nor do I remember if we had dessert afterward. We could have had a flaming Bananas Foster for all I know. The fact that we created a wonderful afternoon making a meal together is what I'll always remember.

What is still true, I like my vichyssoise topped with thyme or with finely minced chives--but I do make my own now, not out of a can, as good as that was. JC still delights in making a fine Cordon Bleu too. But I think we have all relegated Sun Country wine coolers as a thing of the past.

JC's Cordon Bleu
"Medium sliced ham, as fancy as you want. I sauté the slices for a minute or so in butter w/ black pepper and some basil.
Pound out chicken breasts until they are flat and maybe 3/4 inches thick. Soak the breasts for a half hour in a white wine that is not shy.
Dip them in a single egg-milk mixture. Coat w/ breadcrumbs to which you add spices you like and a little grated Romano.
Preheat to 375ish. For a few minutes put your ceramic baking dish in the oven with a little bit of olive oil spread about.
W/ the flattened breasts on a cutting board, top w/ your ham, plenty of Swiss, (again as strong as you want), so that when you roll the breast and fold the edges the breasts are stuffed but the ham and Swiss are enclosed. Use toothpicks to clamp them shut. I usually sprinkle more bread crumbs over the top and pour some of the remaining white wine over them all.
Take the hot dish out of the oven, and carefully place the breasts within. The little bit of olive oil should be hot enough so that the breasts sizzle when they are placed on the surface.
Do not overcook! Maybe 35 minutes at 375. W/ ten minutes left use a spoon to baste."

Soundtrack: The laughter and clinking glasses of friendship

Everything But The...JA Henckels Kitchen Duo 2 Piece Shears Set!

While I have dallied with various other cutlery, I keep going back to JA Henckels. I have a full, durable set of their knives that I have collected over the years and although I do find other knives to be quite serviceable, when it comes to kitchen shears, it's the JA Henckels brand that I can't do without when comparing; the shears are versatile enough to cut through chicken bones, simply snip herbs or even neatly cut strips of bacon into pieces for recipes. They also just feel good on the hand and are very easy to clean.

Click here and get the paring knife as a bargain bonus. The keen blade is a perfect tool to peel lemon twists and cut lime wedges for your guests to enjoy in a dry martini or strawberry daiquiri when visiting, while they're happily perched on the counter stools around your bar!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Shouldn't You Just...?


Gently simmer spices stovetop as we approach the cooler months? Such as dried orange peel, five spice powder, or ginger and cloves which delight the senses with their warming aromas? Go here to learn about Katom commercial ranges. To help you along with picking out one for yourself, the site offers offers a wide range of information on ranges--from technical know-how, maintenance and repair!

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new millennium

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Next Magazine Review - Sweetiepie

Sweetiepie is above all else, a lot of fun. I enjoyed it most when I went the first time, perhaps because I was with my niece and nephew and saw it through the eyes of a child. It’s perfectly pink and modeled after an old-fashioned malt shoppe and on a more recent visit, it was a great place to catch up with a dear friend, sitting as we did in a huge golden birdcage in the front window. Details such as antique silverware and plates amp up the utter charm.

Naturally we had to try The Sweetiepie Cocktail ($11), a yummy, fizzy concoction of Champagne, St. Germain and pomegranate. A Pomegranate Margarita ($11) might have used a tad more tequila and a little less pomegranate puree.

The crisp Florian Mollet Sancerre ($10/glass, $38/bottle) that accompanied our meal could have been chillier, but was still quite drinkable. Our Iceberg Wedge ($11) was a wonderful, heaping mound with a smattering of apple smoked bacon shards, dressed in a rich and earthy Roquefort cheese, which we in error thought may have been laced with truffles. We found truffles instead in the Wild Asparagus Risotto ($18), which was very good, accented by a wafer-thin parmesan tuile. Spaghetti and Meatballs ($18) featured thick noodles and had homemade sauce just like Grandma used to make.

We ordered the marvelously gooey Macaroni and Cheese ($15) with toasted breadcrumbs to go along with our 3 Mini Burgers ($14), which were only okay this trip: the bun was stiff and I bristle at and discard pale tomatoes; the meat was fairly decent but we liked the special sauce. Our waiter suggested we try the Roast Chicken ($24). Although the skin was overly salty, the really good half Cornish hen was tender, served on a scrumptious bed of caramelized leeks with butter, thyme and garlic.

The Dessert Sampler Platter ($12) was heaven. A light little tower of wedding cake with lemon sauce threatened to float away; the dollop of blueberry fool was like whipped butter; the Tahitian vanilla mini ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles was completely adorable.

Cheers, Sweetiepie!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Salem, Here We Come!

What a dream it was to be in Salem this past weekend! I hadn't been since I was in the 5th or 6th grade, but there it was still waiting, as it had been when I first visited as a child with my cousin and aunt, vividly obsessed as I was with the stories of Tituba, the fitful girls and the riveting, haunting spectre of the witch trials. Although the little town is more like an overwrought mall now, we still treasured the guided tour of The House of the Seven Gables (in particular, the narrow climb up the hidden staircase off of the dining room!), that grand, historic edifice staring out onto the harbor; relished the leisurely, rainy walk on Chestnut Street along the gorgeous houses and foliage underneath the shelter of our umbrellas; the wine, mead, and craft beer festival on Essex Street; our little moments at the Lobster Shanty and the Black Lobster (twin 1 1/4 lb lobsters for a bargain $14.99)...it was also such fun to stay at the Hawthorne Hotel where scenes of the classic four-part Bewitched episodes were shot back in 1970, and where Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick Sargent stayed during the filming.

Visiting Salem was a perfect entry to fall, as we've so suddenly turned the corner, discovering with hardly a moment's notice that what we supposed to be summer this year was indeed over.
I propose one of the best recipes I know to celebrate the crisp new season: Chicken Pot Pie in a Pumpkin, adapted from the recipe courtesy of Ms. Martha Stewart.

Chicken Pot Pie in a Pumpkin
Serves 6
Ingredients
6 sugar pumpkins - (about 2 lbs are the best)
5 tb butter
2 tb melted butter
2 ts salt
1 ts Freshly ground pepper
1 ts Freshly grated nutmeg
1 lb pearl onions
5 tb all-purpose flour
9 oz peeled cubed potatoes
2 medium peeled sliced carrots
12 oz button mushrooms; quartered
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 c milk
4 1/2 c poached or roasted chicken
2 tb fresh thyme leaves
3 tb chopped parsley
2 tb chopped fresh sage
1 lg egg beaten with
1 tb heavy cream
This recipe calls for pate brisee with thyme but spare yourself the trouble and work with a tube of Pillsbury dough instead and pound some thyme into it.

Slice the tops off the pumpkins. (Placing a pumpkin on a towel will help keep it from rolling around.) Scoop out the seeds, and discard them. Using a pastry brush, brush insides of pumpkins with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Season insides of pumpkins with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Place pumpkins on a baking sheet; cover tightly with foil. Bake until tender, about 30 minutes.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add pearl onions, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Drain; rinse under cold running water. Peel onions, and set aside. Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a large, high-sided skillet set over medium heat. Add potatoes and onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes begin to turn golden.

Add mushrooms and carrots, and cook 4 to 5 minutes more. Add flour, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add reduced chicken stock and milk, and bring to a simmer. Cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in chicken, parsley, thyme, sage, remaining nutmeg, remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, 3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper.

Remove from heat, and divide mixture among reserved pumpkin shells. Roll each piece of pate brisee to a thickness of 1/8 inch.

Pull center of dough upward to form a pumpkin-like stem. Place over the hollow of each filled pumpkin. Using the back of a small paring knife, mark the dough to simulate the lines of the pumpkin.

Brush top of dough with egg wash.

Bake until crust is golden, about 45 minutes.

Happy Hallowe'en, everybody!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shouldn't You Just...?

Bring a little something for your host to enjoy the morning after the fabulous dinner party you attended? Such as packets of instant coffee perhaps and a round of pecan twirl coffee cake?

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new millennium

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Polynesian Cocktail Party

I freely admit I have a penchant for Polynesia. It started when I was a kid, going out to dinner with my family at the Asia Fantasia in Dover, NH. I was mad for all the screaming pomegranate-colored walls with images of cascading waterfalls hung on them, the bamboo huts where we ate, and simply enthralled by the flaming Scorpion Bowls and Volcanoes that swirled around us at neighboring tables. It was a mission of mine at a very early age to navigate the things called chopsticks. Most of all, I loved that delicious, perfect quintet with the funny name: the PuPu platter. Apart from the fact that it too arrived on fire, fueled by the preternatural incandescence of Sterno, I treasured the savory chicken wings laced with soy sauce, crispy fried shrimp, sticky spareribs, and spears of beef teriyaki that I remember, as well as the novelty of heating up the bit of exotica right at the table as we went along.

Having recently acquired a platter of our own, Baby and I were duly inspired to create an evening out of the Polynesian fantasia of my childhood. To set up our menu, we started by flipping through The House of Chan Cookbook, a modest volume that his mother had when he was a boy. After we decided what we wanted to serve, we went through old issues of Gourmet, Saveur, and other cookbooks too filling our shelves and also went online to compare recipes. Once we found what we thought would be the best recipe, we made our shopping list. We chose quite well, it turned out--they were all wonderful recipes, executed with little difficulty!

A pitcher of Planter's Punch cocktails from Anthony Dias Blue's incredibly comprehensive guide, The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks, set the mood. Equal parts light and dark rum are evenly matched by orange juice. I couldn't be bothered making simple syrup, and at Baby's suggestion, I just added some pineapple juice into freshly squeezed lime juice to sweetly balance the sour, and poured in a little Cointreau for added kick. And yes, these were served as long drinks, with knotted bamboo cocktail stirrers skewering orange and lime slices and maraschino cherries anchored by two chunks of pineapple, perched on top of the glass. One of our guests surprised us with paper umbrellas to further complete the picture.

PuPu for Eight

Beef Teriyaki Gourmet featured a PuPu platter menu October '08! We adorned with grilled pineapple and maraschino cherries.

Chinese Spareribs from Tyler Florence. We loved this. While the ribs cooked, the whole apartment smelled all gently spicy and warm like Christmas.

Dad's Chinese Chicken Wings not my dad, this is from epicurious.com. A real winner.

Chinese Roast Pork I think this was our favorite--it's actually red food coloring that turns the meat pink!

Coconut Shrimp we did not butterfly the shrimp as the recipe suggests, we just fried it, the way the Asia Fantasia would, with Panko bread crumbs added into the mix.

We laid waste to the pints of ice cream that Baby's sister-in-law brought: outrageous Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle, heavenly Hawaiian Lehua Honey & Sweet Cream, both courtesy of Haagen-Dazs, and classic Peppermint Stick from the Adirondack Creamery.

I hope you create your own Asia Fantasia right at home too!

Soundtrack: Afro-Desia, the Exotic Sounds of Martin Denny; Ultra Lounge, Mondo Exotica; Cocktail Mix, Martini Madness; Combustible Edison, I, Swinger; Dancing at the Nick at NiteClub

Monday, October 19, 2009

Everything But The...Marinater!

With the fervor of those announcers on television who, when presenting any number of kitchen gadgets cry out, "It slices! It dices!" and so on and so forth, such is my enthusiasm for the Presorvac Marinater. This ingenious device marinates anything that would otherwise need to rest overnight in about three minutes. We've marinated skirt steaks, chicken and roasted pork all with excellent results--and with much less time.

The intense vacuum seals the meat and opens the pores, allowing the marinade to soak into the meat deeper and more rapidly than traditional marinating.

It's available at presorvac.com, but we found the Marinater for less on eBay.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

I bought a beautiful Le Creuset Moroccan tagine last year even though I knew neither Baby nor I had the vaguest idea of what to do with it; I just loved looking at it and was guilty of covetousness for a few years before I eventually succumbed, enamored with the enameled dome and the kiwi and lemongrass sunset that gently fades upward into a paler shade of green onyx.

So yes, our initial recipes didn't turn out so well--chicken and lamb dishes fell flat, which was odd, considering the host of sprightly ingredients which included olives, preserved lemons, and pungent Moroccan spices--and as a result, thoughts of making Sea Bass and sake in our tagine went by the wayside as well.

A friend who grew up in Morocco knew of our culinary conundrum and presented us with an incredible solution: his own Moroccan mama was in town and she was more than willing to show us just how to serve a proper tagine with a few traditional side dishes.

Mama speaks French and Arabic: I speak limited French, she limited English, but we managed to communicate with one another just the same, the kitchen being a universal ground, I suppose, with calls for a pinch of saffron here, ground ginger and cinnamon there. Her son translated otherwise over pots and pans with laudable panache.

I was absolutely delighted, watching the furious flurry in the kitchen, while still tending to our other guests. Working with a cubed leg of lamb (bone-in), Mama added ginger, hefty grinds of black pepper, sea salt, and saffron for color as much as flavor, ground cinnamon, coriander and garlic (she quickly peeled off the skin with a paring knife before grating it with our Microplane), making a fragrant foaming broth of the whole thing with water.

While it all simmered, she boiled prunes, apricots, dried figs and blanched almonds separately, peeling off the skins, before sauteeing them.

Mama had already made lightly fried Pastillas, "triangle shapes" with ground chicken, almonds, golden raisins (I think), and spices wrapped in phyllo dough, and fried them lightly in vegetable oil. Such a burst of flavor, really incredible, topped with ground cinnamon.

Pepper salad was suprisingly good (my haunches usually go up when I hear anything to do with peppers) and I loved the gently cooked carrots tossed with parsley, coriander, garlic, cumin, lime juice, and paprika.

The lamb was grandly served in the tagine after all, with the boiled fruit, almonds, and the thickened sauce on the side.

In honor of the evening, to round out the meal, I made a Moroccan-inspired Pineapple and Banana Couscous Pudding with diced bananas sauteed in butter and brown sugar that along with candied pineapple and couscous were folded into whipped heavy cream and served in individual parfait glasses, garnished with sprigs of mint.

I hope nothing was lost in translation when I hugged Mama goodbye at the end of the evening, flustering through my French, "Quel plaisir! Je suis ravis!"

What a pleasure! I am ravished!

Soundtrack: bossa brava, tropicale!; Sarah Vaughan, Viva Vaughan; Dave Brubeck, Time Out; Billie Holiday, Billie's Best; Dinah Washington, The Best of Dinah Washington

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shouldn't You Just...?

Return the Tupperware that was filled with the leftovers your host gave to you after dinner, if only in the hope of being invited back again?

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new millennium

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Next Magazine Review - Mari Vanna

Imagine that your little Russian grandmamma had invited you into her elegant home for dinner…then take a deep breath and behold Mari Vanna. The food is often fantastic, but it’s the moments found in the gorgeous mismatched plates, the intricate linens, the drape of the lovingly lit chandeliers, and the careful placement of every storied detail that create a journey pulled from the pages of the Russian novels that line the bookshelves and graciously welcome all who enter this humble abode.

When in Russia, you know—we started with a few Vodkas ($9), one infused with tarragon and lemon, and another honey, and ventured further with some shots of the classic Russian Standard ($9) while gleefully slurping our Oysters ($4/ea), presented on a regal bed of shaved ice, with red wine vinegar mignonette and marinated horseradish. While the meaty Malpeques whispered slightly metallic, the slenderer Kumamotos spoke of a brisk plunge into the sea.

The Cod Liver Pate ($12) was certainly good, Pirozhki ($10) not so much, but the Blinis with Red Caviar ($25) stole the show anyhow—traditional blinis, similar to a thin crepe, were lightly brushed with butter and sugar. We made short work of the juicy caviar with a dollop of crème fraiche here, some chopped egg and onion there. If the fresh Vinegret ($12) beet and vegetable salad was like a stroll through a leafy glade, then the Vegetarian Svekolnik ($10) beet soup was like a gentle dip into a cool, refreshing pond nearby.

We loved the hearty (but pricy) portion of Chicken Kiev ($25), lightly breaded and tenderly cooked. Beef Stroganoff ($27) was another story, however: although it made a grand arrival in what appeared to be a Babushka-type tea cozy, alas it was regrettably bland, with indistinguishable mushrooms, and also just too expensive.

Smetannik ($10) with strawberries is a signature dessert, but I prefer to address it as an incredibly moist, creamy cloud. If we were dreaming something out of a Russian fairy tale, which would be easy to do at Mari Vanna, such a luscious confection would be the perfect thing to float away upon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sunday Meatloaf

Baby threw his back out, so he was alternately resting and sleeping this past Sunday. With not much to do apart from take care of him when he was awake, I grew bored and as I often do, I began to putter in the kitchen. We had just thawed some left over ground beef from one of our numerous meatball adventures, but hadn't decided what to do with it yet. So, I set to work to make dinner: Sunday Meatloaf with Tomato Jam for Two. For something so off the cuff, with ingredients we had on hand, it came out really well--and so did Baby, after a trip to the chiropractor Monday morning.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

For the tomato jam:
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I had Ragu spaghetti sauce and used most of the jar)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tb olive oil
2 cloves
1/4 cup or so, honey
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Saute the garlic in oil until golden. Add tomatoes. Simmer with cloves for about a 45 minutes (if you are using a jar of spaghetti sauce, as I did, this won't take as long). Remove from heat and add honey; stir in pepper and let thicken.

For the meatloaf:
1 lb. ground beef (we used short rib, rib eye, skirt steak meat)
About a cup of homemade bread crumbs
Roughly a 1/4 cup Old Bay Dip & Crisp seasoned bread crumbs (if you can't find this, just add more bread crumbs and some plain Old Bay seasoning)
1 egg
Several dashes of Penzey's Shallot Pepper
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Mix the meatloaf ingredients together, form into a loaf and place into an appropriately sized baking dish, sprayed three times with fat free Pam. Glaze your meatloaf with the tomato jam and cook in the oven for about an hour.

Friday, October 2, 2009

In The Kitchen With Tadashi Ono - Halibut Hot Pot

I recently enjoyed a staggeringly good dinner at Tadashi Ono's cavernous Matsuri restaurant anchored in Manhattan's Maritime Hotel. He personally selected a recipe for a Halibut Hot Pot from his new book, Japanese Hot Pots, to be featured here. Domo Arigato Tadashi!
Halibut Hot Pot
Inspired by Ara Nabe (a variety of grouper from Fukuoka)

Serves 4

1 pound halibut fillet
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for curing the fish (to concentrate the flavor and make the fish denser)
2 (6-inch) pieces kombu
1 ounce harusame (thin, tranparent starchy noodles), soaked in water for 15 minutes
1/2 pound napa cabbage, sliced
1 negi (a Japanese onion, or sub two large scallions per negi), sliced on angle into 2-inch pieces
1/2 package (about 1/2 pound) firm tofu, cut into 4 pieces
6 ounces oyster mushrooms, trimmed and pulled apart
3 1/2 ounces (half of a 200-gram package) enoki mushrooms, trimmed and pulled apart
4 cups water
1 cup sake
1 cup ponzu (the sweet citrusy ponzu sauce may be found in Japanese markets), for dipping
1/4 cup momiji oroshi (a blend of Japanese chilies and daikon available in Japanese markets), for garnish
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh chives, for garnish

To cure the halibut, very lightly salt it on both sides and place it in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the fish, wipe off excess moisture on its surface with a paper towel, and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Set aside.
Place the kombu on the bottom of a hot pot and the harusame over the kombu. Place the cabbage, negi, tofu, oyster mushrooms, and enoki mushrooms on top of the harusame, arranging each ingredient in a separate, neat bunch. Pour in the 4 cups water and the sake, and sprinkle in the 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Cover the hot pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover the pot and arrange the halibut slices on top of the other ingredients. Simmer until the fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes more.
While the hot pot is simmering, pour the ponzu into four small bowls.
Transfer the hot pot ot the dining table. Garnish the ponzu with the momiji oroshi and the chives. Dip the ingredients into the ponzu, and eat.

Serve with rice zosui:
This is basically a soupy rice, a shime that typically complements thinner, more delicate broths. The technique is simple. For four servings, add 2 cups cooked Japanese short grain rice to the remaining broth in a hot pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the hot pot boils, turn off the heat, mix the contents well, and serve in individual bowls.

Variations:
You can also prepare this hot pot with cod, Chilean sea bass, turbot, pollack, North American grouper, or barramundi.

Tableside Cooking Option:
Arrange the ingredients on serving platters. After curing the halibut, do all the cooking at the dining table. Add the supporting ingredients all at once, or reserve half or more to cook later. Cook a little of the fish at a time.

To order Tadashi's marvelous book, click here or here!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Waldorf=Astoria

Interior Design magazine is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Hall of Fame on December 2nd. I've had the privilege of working with the magazine and assisting the Director of the Hall of Fame in throwing the annual awards party at The Waldorf=Astoria since 2002. The glittery evening tops the list of events in the industry as the revered publication inducts select designers to join the ranks of their celebrated comrades, hosted by Interior Design's natty publisher Mark Strauss and vivacious editor in chief, Cindy Allen.

My favorite contribution to the always glorious night is creating the attire of the menu, suiting up what the guests will eat and the wines they'll drink. Reggie and I met in the lobby in the early afternoon, as we do, to meet with the gracious Jim Blauvelt, who once again led us to the belly of the Waldorf: the kitchen. We were seated at the chef's table and well taken care of as we worked out what was to be served this year.

We begged the staff to let us try some of the fried chicken that they happened to be cooking up for Bette Midler's Hula-Ween Ball. We actually got to try it this year even before The Divine Miss M did; one version was with buttermilk and lotsa pepper, flour and corn flakes. Another version added whole grain and Dijon mustard into the mix. Both were absolutely sumptuous and Hula-riffic.

Sips from a Canyon Ranch chardonnay, a Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc and a Bellerache Cotes du Rhone Blanc set the ball rolling as we lingered over our greens first and then other things, to wit:
Spinach Salad with pancetta, polenta croutons, hon shemijji mushrooms and a sherry vinaigrette; Organic Greens with a fantastic goat cheese brulee, an oven-roasted tomato, and carmelized endive with a honey lemon dressing; and a traditional Caesar Salad.

Tastes of red wine included a Cabernet, Pinot and California Zinfandel as we debated main courses.

Entree suggestions were Herb Roasted Chicken with sweet garlic and rosemary stock, with a side of ricotta gnocchi, smoky bacon and roasted root vegetables; Parmesan Crusted Chicken with morel risotto, asparagus and roasted tomato.

For desserts, we drooled over Classic Waldorf Red Velvet Cake with cream cheese and mascarpone icing; extraordinary Chocolate Griottines, a chocolate blackout cake with marscarpone mousse, sour cherry gelee and Rice Crispy pistachio crunch; over the top Peanut Butter and Caramel Mousse with a tres-leches center, white chocolate and peanut butter cookie crunch topped with a quenelle of whipped ganache.

So what did we choose?

There was no doubt that the crisp French Bellerache Cotes du Rhone Blanc was our white to pair with the meal; the others were fairly indiscriminate. The Dancing Bull Zinfandel from the Rancho Zabaco vineyard in California was the winner for the red.
Organic Greens won out over the other salads. Goat cheese brulee, anyone? The Caesar had a great dressing, but the romaine was pale and a far less appealing plate.
While the Herb Roasted Chicken was really good, and the ricotta gnocchi in cream sauce topped with the bacon was delicious, we'd served it in past years, so we embraced the new and went for the Parmesan Crusted Chicken. We chose a red onion marmalade to replace the roasted tomato that came with, as it was already in our salad, and would have been repetitive. I thought that was an excellent idea.
Classic Waldorf Red Velvet Cake had to be our dessert; it was created at the Waldorf after all and seemed entirely fitting. Besides the cream cheese and mascarpone icing had us dancing on the ceiling.

Citations to the most admirable crew that filled the kitchen on our wonderful afternoon:
Peter Orledda, executive sous chef
Peter Betz, executive banquet chef
William Lustburg, sous chef
Geron Douglas, saucier