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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Queen of Sheba Cake

"What on earth is a Champagne party?" I exclaimed to Baby as I read about the Queen of Sheba cake (The Hundredth Show) in Julia Child’s The French Chef Cookbook. She scribes, “The Queen of Sheba is a dessert in itself, or can be the main attraction at a tea, coffee, or Champagne party.” Who has Champagne parties these days and what’s more, what do you serve? The answer began to appear quite readily, when an extraordinarily generous friend gave Baby and me 250 grams (roughly 8 ounces) of caviar as a gift. That’s what you serve at a Champagne party! I tried my best to spoon my way through the tin, but it was evident I was going to need some help!

We made the cake of rum, almonds, and chocolate on Friday. It was definitely labor intensive and a little tricky trying it for the first time (we experienced a snag melting the chocolate, not trusting ourselves) but the results were well worth the trouble. As it baked, we started plotting out the menu and calling people to come for brunch on Sunday. For starters, we knew to dress the central caviar platter with toast points, chopped red onion, capers, lemon wedges, and blini (buckwheat pancakes). This particular blini by the way, another gift that accompanied the caviar, was news to me. Unlike the blini that I’m familiar with, that are about the size of a Sacajawea dollar and topped, these pancakes were rolled out like elegant parchment, to be gently folded and filled.

Amidst the outreach of invitations, I was suddenly struck with the memory of a Martha Stewart gathering that she had mapped out in her book Menus for Entertaining, the chapter entitled, Come for Champagne and Caviar. So, I guess I had heard of that sort of party before, but it’s an old book, and I’m older still. We plucked out the recipe for Beet Horseradish sauce, as piquant as it is pleasantly pink, with sugar snap peas for dipping. I also made the Salmon Rosettes with Dill & Mustard Sauce, on pumpernickel rounds.

Baby loves making his potato pancakes, and offered to make them (and you won’t find any better, believe me). This time he topped them with a marinated, fine dice of tuna tartare and drizzled a blend of Stonewall Kitchen wasabi cream and sour cream, and placed them on a tray over a bed of parsley. The Reader’s Digest Secrets of Better Cooking supplied Stuffed Eggs with Caviar. Spoonfuls of the most buttery, delectable miso-glazed cod were passed around, I also futzed some smoked salmon with the dill and mustard sauce and tossed in a few of the blueberries that our friend had brought. That’s right, salmon and blueberries—try it.

We freely poured both Champagne and Mionetto prosecco, with offerings of juice, such as blood orange, grapefruit and Fuji apple (and the lightest splashes of elderflower-scented St. Germain liqueur) and watched the spread disappear as our guests came and went, having shared with us this most lovely afternoon.

Et voila, mes dames et monsieurs, a perfect Champagne party well suited for a Queen of Sheba cake!

Soundtrack: Great British Bands Play the Music of Noel Coward; Evil Under the Sun soundtrack; Sinatra Sings Cole Porter; The Great American Composers – Cole Porter

Next Magazine Review - Scarpetta

355 West 14th Street (@ 9th Avenue)

2:15 a.m., somewhere around 1996: I’m drunk at The Village Idiot. Flash forward to 2006: as 14th Street gentrifies with its neighboring sisters in ‘mo town, the lowly gin joint upgrades to Gin Lane, a fashionable big boy’s club. When my steak arrives, it’s only adequate. Dale DeGroff’s drinks are better. But everything is overpriced and I’ve the sneaking suspicion that the boys in question are really just playing dress up. Gin Lane goes down quicker than an olive in a blisteringly dry martini. Cut to present day: the marvelous Scarpetta has newly taken residence, and Scott Conant (Alto, L’Impero) is the master behind the Italian fare.

My foodist friend and I were seated in an intimate cozy corner, and from the onset we were simply agog. We ordered fine Classic Negronis ($12) straightaway, made with Bombay gin, vermouth, and Campari. Wholly traditional, it’s a delight to see Negronis popping up on menus all over the city. We are mad for them! Soprasetta bread arrived with extraordinary mascarpone butter, as did luscious eggplant and tomato caponata.

Vibrant Raw Yellowtail ($16) was duly enhanced by a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt. Fantastic! Tuna “Susci” ($16) with preserved truffles was also highly festive fish. An order of Burrata ($15), that staggering orb of mozzarella and cream with a soft middle was wonderfully paired with marinated eggplant.

We split our gloves applauding the supple pockets of Duck & Foie Gras Ravioli ($25), served in an unlawful butter sauce. The simple Spaghetti ($24) was also incredible, a perfect coil of homemade pasta with tomato and basil.

News struck that they had run out of the Hampshire Pork Chop ($28)! We opted for the Moist-Roasted Capretto ($28) instead, with peas and fingerling potatoes and an order of Creamy Polenta ($15) with truffled mushrooms. My pal loved the stewed goat more than I did, but as she pointed out, it was a much quieter dish than what we’d just experienced and naturally might seem a come down. However, we were in total agreement about the divine polenta, as well as our love of Scarpetta.

Praise The Pearl - Blue Smoke's Blood-Orange Margarita

I have to admit, I've been a little ahead of the blood orange curve, having created a drink of my own, the Bloody Good Screw (email me or post a comment if you'd like the recipe). Perfect for brunch! Just today when I opened New York magazine, I dropped it almost immediately and ran to get a pen to write down the ingredients for Blue Smoke's Blood-Orange Margarita and then ran further, out the door, to purchase them. I didn't even look to see what Adam Platt was up to. The recipe is below (it's delicious!), with my suggestions and comments in italics.

Blue Smoke’s Blood-Orange Margarita

4 blood oranges, peeled, segmented, and seeded
1 tablespoon simple syrup (combine an even ratio of sugar and water in a bottle and shake until sugar is dissolved) I use a 2:1 ratio of water to sugar, it's too sweet otherwise for me. I also boil it all until melted together, and let cool by an open window while peeling the blood oranges.
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 lime wedge and coarse salt I suggest Morton's Coarse Kosher Salt for rim
2 ounces puro blanco tequila I had a convenient nip of Don Julio Blanco Tequila on hand
1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice (approximately 2 1/2 limes I don't think this is true, I used a half of a big juicy Persian lime)
3/4 ounce orange liqueur I used Cointreau also on hand, I wonder what using Patron Citronge might be like
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce blood-orange purée
1 lime wheel (optional) I didn't do it, I just used a lime wedge.
1 blood-orange wheel (optional) I didn't do that either.

In a blender, combine the orange segments, simple syrup, and lemon juice and purée until smooth. (Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use; the purée will keep for up to two days.) Oh, just drink it straight away!

Moisten the edge of a rocks glass with a ¼-inch wedge of lime. Sprinkle a good amount of salt on a plate and press the outside rim of the glass into the salt. Chill glass in freezer for a few minutes. Fill cocktail shaker and glass with ice. Add the tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur, simple syrup, and blood-orange purée to the shaker and (1) shake vigorously. (2) Strain into glass and (3) garnish with orange and lime wheels.

(Adapted from Mix Shake Stir, Little, Brown, 2009.)

What they don't tell you is how gorgeous it looks too!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Praise The Pearl - Klee Brasserie's Spaghetti and Caviar Carbonara

M.F.K. Fisher wrote vibrantly, wickedly, about love, death (and stew) amongst the molluscs in her seminal tome Consider The Oyster. In tribute to the great lady, I propose to humbly submit Praise The Pearl, in which I take the opportunity to post this sidebar to Evenings With Peter, simply lauding a culinary element that for one reason or other, I find to be fascinating. The posts may occur over the course of any given number of days, but one thing remains steadfast, on my part at least—the earnest hope that you enjoy reading them. So here's the first then, about Klee restaurant in Manhattan, and a dish that I'm quite taken with.
Daniel Angerer, of Austrian descent, is wildly busy helming the European American Brasserie Klee, with his sublime and gracious first mate Lori Mason right on deck. Angerer took Bobby Flay to the mat on Iron Chef in 2008; the rest of us are just lucky enough to visit his restaurant in Chelsea. His list of daily specials travels “through the foods of Europe (and America on Sundays)” but the Friday special is a particular favorite of mine. As I seem to be obsessed with carbonara at the moment, I am delighted with Chef Daniel’s entirely clever Spaghetti and Caviar Carbonara (although I could go on about Thursday's utterly mad Orecchiette and Escargot). Traditional pancetta is part of the plan, yes (house-made, by the way), but that's where tradition pretty much ends. He tosses in a bit of cream here, a little bit of carrot there, but there are no eggs involved, as tradition would have it anyway, and that’s no yolk—no, the divine fit of inspiration here concerns the coral-colored, precious orbs of rainbow trout caviar. Would eggs by any other name so shamelessly burst forth in the mouth with such a delectable salt?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Next Magazine Review - Best Mac Daddy

The Mac & Cheese ($14) from The Half King (505 W 23rd St, btwn 10th/11th Aves, 212-462-4300, puts mozzarella, cheddar, and American cheese together at their cheesy best and tops it with parmesan. Bacon absolutely seals the deal, and little chunks of tomatoes and broccoli florets are thrown in for a healthy touch. It’s a huge portion, perfect to share.

Ditch Plains (29 Bedford St @ at Downing St, 212-633-0202, shamelessly offers Ditch Dogs (2/$12), featuring two fantastic, smoky hot dogs in a basket with thick shoestring French fries and scrumptious mac n’ cheese on top, made with gruyère, American and parmesan cheeses. We swore to split only one cheese-laden dog, but both ended up going down our respective hatches in a feeding frenzy. Utterly delicious and appalling at the same time.

With our ginormous (no, reaaally) Burger ($10) from Nolita House (47 E Houston St, btwn Mulberry/Mott, 212-625-1712, we loved the side of delicious Macaroni & Cheese ($6) with tight spirals of gemelli pasta in a variety of four cheeses baked with bread crumbs. The place is always so fun but the Bluegrass Sunday Brunch in particular literally rocks.
Zemi (130 Ninth Ave @ 18th St, 212-924-6950) tops my favorites list once again with their Macaroni & Cheese ($10), an excellent, homey, creamy dish, with extra sharp cheddar, Parmesan and a little added Asian flair from the baked Panko bread crumb crust.

Although groovy cocktails might seem to be the main attraction at Tillman’s (165 W 26th St, 212-627-8320, such as an ultra-smooth U’luvka Martini ($15), you have to try The Mack ($9), just fabulous, with apple smoked bacon, peas and heady, fresh sage in a combo of sweet mascarpone and parmesan cheeses, with a topping of perfectly browned bread crumbs. And by all means, keep the cheesy-goodness going on with the scrumdidiliumptious French Onion Soup Grilled Cheese ($14).

I'm in mourning for the Mac & Cheese Kroket from bamn! (erst of 37 St. Marks Place @ 2nd Ave, 212-358-7685,, as they very recently closed. It was a secret combo of cheeses deep-fried with macaroni. That’s all you needed to know at 3 o'clock in the morning, or anytime, really. And also, it was only $2. Requiesat in Pasta.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Buon Giorno! When Baby and I went to Italy last summer, apart from sipping Negronis and visiting various ruins, we also ordered a carbonara pasta in the three cities we visited: Venice, Florence, and Rome. Although the classic dish arrived on our plates in different variations, our hands-down favorite was at the Taverna de Romana, on the via della Madonna in Rome. Not only was it dirt cheap, it stayed the closest to tradition and didn’t incorporate an overly creamy sauce, mimicking an alfredo as so many places tend to do here in the states.

We had traveled with Baby’s sister-in-law and wily nephew, whom I shall affectionately refer to here as Mama Bear and Baby Bear (Baby’s brother, Papa Bear, doesn’t like to leave the country). They live in Los Angeles but just came to New York to check out a few colleges, as Baby Bear enters into his freshman year this fall. Children grow up so quickly, don’t they?

So they were coming for dinner and we decided to make an Italian dinner as a reunion of sorts. We knew we wanted to make carbonara of course and Baby had a recipe from his McCall’s Cooking School binders that are comprised of recipes he’d received monthly in the mail back in the 70’s. I thought of pizza too, as a starter, but didn’t want to be cliché nor did I want something so heavy to impede upon the carbonara. I’m not really too interested in making my own dough, and as we had a tube of Pillsbury pizza dough in the fridge that I wanted to use, I stuck with my idea and began to construct a pizza plan, lightening it up with a lot of vegetables. Instead of a tomato sauce, I chopped an onion, the white parts of two leeks, and two garlic cloves and sautéed the lot in olive oil. When it had all wilted, I deglazed with balsamic vinaigrette, threw in a few grinds of salt and pepper and made a quick jam by adding a few tablespoons of honey. When the mix had cooled, I spread it on the pizza dough. After salting and draining shavings of zucchini and yellow squash (either a mandoline or a vegetable peeler will work) in a colander for 30 minutes, I dressed the pizza. The topping was grated Gruyere cheese; the whole thing went in to a 425 degree oven for 17 minutes, as the Pillsbury package dictates, perhaps a little longer to thoroughly roast the vegetables with a nice color. It was gorgeous all around.

Now here’s the weird part about the tomato flan and in order to explain it properly I have to go back a few years. Baby and his old pal, Boho Gal, went to Florence in 2000 and discovered the marvelous Cibreo restaurant where they served tomato flan, instead of butter to go with table bread. Back in New York, they happened upon Pepolino just below Canal Street and remarked on the tomato flan that they also served. The waiter overheard the conversation and immediately told them that he and one of the managers had come from Cibreo to open Pepolino! When Baby and I went to Florence last summer, he was anxious to revisit Cibreo, where we had a most incredible meal, where yes, they still served the tomato flan. When we told our friends over dinner at Cibreo about the Pepolino story, the owner overheard us and fled to our table to impart her story of how she had gone to New York to help her coworker friend open Pepolino. Extraordinary! The capper comes with this dinner for Baby’s family, when I was looking through a collection of clippings I had amassed years ago (probably around 2000), trying to find something to make and found—a recipe from the New York Times, the recipe for Pepolino’s tomato flan that I had completely forgotten about and had never made. It’s just delicious and impossibly easy. I want to serve it all the time, as Cibreo does, to be slathered on country bread instead of butter.

I tore up green and red leaf lettuces and tossed them with olive oil and salt to serve with the carbonara, which came out great, but I didn’t follow the McCall’s recipe entirely. The recipe is sort of faulty anyhow and I don’t think that making the pasta first, as is suggested, is wise. You have to heat it up again and rinsing the pasta with hot water only strips it of its starch and the eggy dressing doesn’t cling to it as well. I also used pancetta instead of bacon and a blend of shredded cheeses (parmesan, asiago, Romano) instead of just parmesan. I meant to temper the eggs with some of the pasta water but draining a steaming vat of pasta is so immediate and intense, it’s often easy for me to forget to reserve a cup of the liquid. The cheese coagulated too, the McCall’s recipe suggests adding it too soon: it really should only be added in at the very end.

Gourmet magazine came through again, just in time, this month offering a rustic Ricotta and Polenta Pie, which was a perfect way to end the meal. It wasn’t difficult (I used prepared dough here too), we just had to soak apricots and tart cherries in a dry white wine the night before assembling the pie.

And as the glasses of Gavi flowed and the Peroni was poured, Baby Bear and I rocked out to Van Halen and AC/DC into the night and we didn’t even need an air guitar as I had just given Baby a ukulele in honor of our anniversary.

Soundtrack: Lou Reed, Transformer; Tom Waits, The Heart of Saturday Night; Neil Young, After the Gold Rush; Van Halen; AC/DC, Back in Black.

P.S. We were so taken by the tomato flan that we considered its possible variations; we wanted to make a flan out of everything the next day. First up was asparagus, with roasted shallots and a blend of lemon and olive oils, but the flan fell flat, as we were remiss in our exclusion of something acidic, like a little red wine vinegar. Up next is winter squash that we look forward to make with orange, rosemary, and roasted garlic. Below is the original recipe for tomato flan adapted from Pepolino that I had clipped from the New York Times.

Tomato Flan

1 8-ounce can Del Monte or other tomato sauce
12 large basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnish
4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (about 1 1/3 envelopes)
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil
12 slices country bread

In a blender or food processor, combine tomato sauce, 6 leaves basil, garlic, ¼ cup olive oil, gelatin and salt and pepper to taste. Blend at high speed for 2 minutes.
Lightly oil 6 small cappuccino or other cups. Divide tomato mixture among cups. Refrigerate 20 minutes.
To serve, dip bottom of each cup in hot water to loosen flan. Unmold onto 6 plates. Garnish with a basil leaf and a drop of olive oil. Place 2 slices bread on each plate.
Yield: 6 servings.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Next Magazine Review - Good Stiff Ones

On at least several occasions we’ve all had a liquid lunch or drank our dinner. Lord knows I have. Here’s where to do it in stuporous style.

Good Stuff Diner (109 West 14th St @ Sixth Ave, 212-929-2555) makes a good and stiff Singapore Sling ($7.95) with its hefty pour of Bombay gin, cherry liqueur and lime, and we love it the way we love our men: strong and fruity.

Commerce (50 Commerce St, @Barrow, 212-524-2301, pours the best Negroni ($12) I’ve ever had! Masterfully prepared with Hendrick’s gin (itself an infusion of rose petals and cucumber), Campari and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, it’s certainly a strong drink and may take some getting used to, but here its graced by sheer perfumed divinity and Commerce is a wonderful place to be initiated.

The Spiced Vanilla Mojito ($11) is listed as “something cool” on the menu at Smorgas Chef West Village (283 West 12th St @ West 4th Street, 212-243-7073, but for me, this fantastic mix does the trick any time of the year. Muddled limes, ginger and mint dosed with Bacardi over crushed ice is indeed coolly refreshing, but the perverse addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, cracked black pepper and vanilla also makes me want to grab one to go and snuggle with my baby by a roaring fire.

We reveled in the hand-crafted concoctions served from the sprawling bar at Chinatown Brasserie (380 Lafayette St @ Great Jones St, 212-533-7000, while seated at our half-moon banquette underneath whimsical, overblown red lanterns. The Frozen Mai Thai ($10) with Meyer's Platinum Rum, pineapple, lime, orgeat (almond syrup) and a whiskey-soaked cherry is pure, frosty genius.

One of the classic cocktails that Elettaria (33 West 8th St @ MacDougal St, 212-677-3833, lists on its delirious drink menu is the Zombie Punch ($14), circa 1934. I am just wild for it although not terribly familiar with most of its ingredients, to whit: Appleton’s VX, Brugal gold, 151 El Dorado Demerara Rum, lime, Velvet Falernum, and Absinthe 14. But it’s served in a tiki cup with a big straw. Further questions?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Next Magazine Review - Asia De Cuba

Asia De Cuba
237 Madison Ave (btwn 37th/38th Sts)

On a recent trip to Miami, I had the pleasure of dining at Asia De Cuba in the newly opened, gloriously fantasy-scaled Mondrian hotel overlooking the bay. The coolly chic setting and extravagant dinner equally conspired for a wonderful evening. I thought I should revisit the restaurant’s first fusion-fueled location in the Morgans hotel, here in New York. I hadn’t been since somewhere in the 90’s, when it was a sheer revelation in its Philippe Starck-ness décor. Asia De Cuba still sets quite a table and quite a scene.

A bracing Mai Tai ($14) was first up, made with Bacardi O, Gosling Dark Rhum, a host of juices and almond syrup. Then the food arrived, like a delicious culinary landslide, served family-style to feed roughly four (also can be tailored for larger parties). Tunapica ($24) is a must, with tuna tartare, Spanish olives, and coconut in soy-lime vinaigrette, stacked on wonton crisps. Crispy Calamari Salad ($25) was a risky but triumphant gathering of hearts of palm, banana, cashews, bitter greens and sesame orange dressing. Sumptuous Lobster Shiitake Potstickers ($30) are my favorite, in vanilla rhum and lobster coral sauces.

Rare Pan Seared Ahi Tuna ($43) was quite good, served over crunchy wasabi mashed potatoes, made so by wasabi peas! Delicate Miso Cured Alaskan Black Cod ($38) is richly, melt-in-your-mouth good, served with black bean and edamame salad. Asia De Cuba ‘Mar y Tierra’ ($79), their version of surf n’ turf, presents nicely done slices of wagyu striploin and huge tempura shrimp sprouting outwards like Cuban cigars. Avocado pineapple salsa and spoonfuls of spicy chipotle béarnaise go with. For sides, we ordered the fantastic Lobster-Boniato Mash ($16) with great lobster chunks and Plaintain Fried Rice with Avocado Salad ($12), another clever union that suddenly made sense.

Desserts are divinely decadent, utterly ruinous combos. The jaw-dropping Bay of Pigs ($19), a super-hyped banana split, practically covers the table, knocked over the top with coconut “sushi.” We also practically stabbed each other’s hands with our forks going for the Piña y Crema ($14), a gorgeous vanilla cheesecake with caramelized pineapple and passion fruit syrup. Simply fusion-fabulous!

Next Magazine Review - Co.

230 Ninth Ave (@ 24th St)

By Peter Sherwood

The vibe is undeniable at Co. (pronounced “Company”), the 56-seater already abuzz with a hip, hungry crowd all too eager to try any number of the pizzas emerging hot! hot! hot! from the EarthStone gas oven. The newest spot from Sullivan Street Bakery’s Jim Lahey is just as incendiary from what we could tell. But it’s hardly traditional. When the menu asserts, “Our pies are not always round,” there’s already an implication that extends beyond circumference.

We sat at the bar, anticipation having gotten the best of us, unwilling to wait for a table for two. After hovering around the wine list, I finally landed on the suitable Chenin Blanc ($12/glass, $44/bottle) from Long Island. My cohort cut to the chase and ordered a Palm Beer ($8), a lighter lager. To temper our taste buds we chose the rich, softened Italian Taleggio ($5) cow’s milk cheese from the à la carte selections, which we followed with a single Toast ($4) featuring a generous slathering of delicious chicken liver. Other options included roasted eggplant and pinto bean. A Butter Leaf Salad ($7) worked with wonderful roasted butternut squash for a beautiful taste, and lemon and olive oil for a silken dressing.

Though everything we’d already tried wasn’t a mere preamble, we were ready for our pies! The basic Margherita ($13) was very good, with a chewy crust, topped by fresh tomato, a thin layer of buffalo mozzarella and a summery burst of basil. The Flambé ($16) however, had a lot of cheese, including more mozzarella and Parmesan. It also featured an excellent crust, upon which danced broad, sweet slices of caramelized onions and lardons (that’s bacon, bub) in a creamy béchamel sauce. Boscaiola ($17) was a major thumbs up. Here the tomato and mozzarella trucked with pork sausage, mushroom, onion and chili, which had a definite bite.

Our dessert was a few tingly orbs of Blood Orange Sherbet ($3.50) with flecks of vanilla bean. It was a little tart, not unlike St. Joseph’s baby aspirin, and resembled Russian dressing; both are meant as entirely good things. Yes! We were certainly in good company here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Duck, Duck, Goose!

Tiny telephoned, telling me she was blowing into town, so I urged she come for dinner. Now, the hearty gal likes to eat--a lot. Of course, I wanted the meal to be special, too--so what seemed in order? Nothing less than a festive Duck a l'Orange, which always reminds me of the first time I came to New York, when my Dad took me to dinner at the glorious Algonquin Hotel, while I was in high school. I still remember sitting in the Oak Room with him, both of us nattily attired, ensconced in a banquette, starting with our plates of escargots. We didn't serve such things as duck in New Hampshire, that I was aware of anyway, much less dressed with something as profound as an orange sauce. But I recklessly ordered the duck and in a single, simple moment, created a memory.

I had never tried actually making duck before, although I have cooked a goose! Both incidentally required dry vermouth (a good use for it apart from waving the bottle over a dry martini) and when I made the goose, it was to concoct a New Year's Eve feast fit for a queen (he's actually a very nice guy once you get to know him). At that particular fete, caviar and blinis were up first, a Lobster Salad poached in Court Bouillion was next, courtesy of Michael Lomonaco's '21' cookbook. And as the Christmas holidays generally tend to speak Dickens to me (ghosts in full attendance!), a Goose with Gooseberries seemed appropriate as the centerpiece. I used a recipe from a Reader's Digest cookbook volume from 1973, Secrets of Better Cooking, that an elderly cousin (who has since passed, bless her), a woman very influential to me, handed down some years ago. I braised fennel and radicchio for complementary side dishes and served Red Velvet Cake as dessert. Of course, there was also champagne creating quite a good way to ring in the New Year.

But back to the Roast Duck a l'Orange at hand! Looking to Julia Child's recipe in The French Chef Cookbook (The Nineteenth Show), I set out to find the fowl, which was no mean feat. None of the nearby supermarkets had duck but I did find an independent neighborhood butcher that sold the game five-pounder. Once I was back home, I peeled the fat off and pricked the skin as Julia says, much like I remembered doing with the goose, to release the fat. But unlike the goose, there was no basting involved. I salted the cavity of this bird, peppered and stuffed it with orange rind, which Tiny came over early to help with and supremed the oranges (peeling the rind and separating the segments from the pith with a paring knife). We turned the duck every quarter hour until cooked, allowing an hour-and-a-half at least. The orange segments then conspire with orange liqueur such as Cointreau to make the sauce. Orange bitters are also involved! You may also want to consider using Patron Citronge, I would like to try that next time.

We served French pitted olives in a martini glass as an hors d'oeuvre before serving a leafy salad (shorn red and green leaf lettuces with simple oil and vinegar dressing) as a starter. Tiny commandeered the sauteed buttery shoestring potatoes that Julia encourages as a side, which we also made with parsley and duck fat, as the duck finished. Now while one guest could never eat the actual duck or any sort of game (we made her a special Chicken Paillard), she did confess a desire to get into the bowl with the duck fat potatoes and eat her way out. I was so pleased with the potatoes and especially the duck, when the dish was finally presented. Not only was the sauce good, but the duck itself was truly, delicately infused with the flavor of the orange.

So what of dessert? I thought back to that dinner in the Oak Room, eating escargot and my first Duck a l'Orange, where I finished it all off with my first gigantic slice of of New York cheesecake. Bien sur! That was just what to have! Tiny brought a very big cheesecake, courtesy of Junior's that we could all share for dessert (at least that was the hope!). We toasted the whole dinner in honor of my Dad, who swore he was working out the train timetable so he could meet with us.

As wine continued to flow, we broke out the Barbra Streisand cds and into song as well. Baby capped off the evening with his unparalleled version of Goldfinger by Ms. Shirley Bassey.

Et alors, mes amis, a dinner of duck destined to delight and apparently, one that also inspires song!

Soundtrack: Astor Piazolla, Tanguedia de Amor; Martinis with Mancini; Henry Mancini, Combo!; Lee Morgan, Cornbread; The Ramsey Lewis Trio, The In Crowd

Chicken Livers a la Francaise

A quiet night at home was most wonderfully attended by making Julia Child's recipe for Chicken Livers a la Francaise from The French Chef Cookbook. After all, not every evening can be besotted by an exquisite, labor-intensive dish like Coquilles Saint-Jacques. We usually save dishes like that for guests! In keeping with our attempt to more fully utilize our stack of cookbooks, we once again looked to Ms. Child's epic tome for the Chicken Liver recipe which is as simple as it is satisfying, instead of being as time consuming as it is caloric. And besides, Baby is on Weight Watchers, so we lightened it up a little.

We both, Baby and I, have a long history of eating chicken livers, as well as comforting memories that we associate with them, having been fed chicken livers since we were children. Our parents just used to fry them up, with a little salt, pepper and onions. My father would even throw some chicken hearts in there, which I loved and ate with abandon (I still do). Years later, a friend in college dipped the livers in bread crumbs too before sauteeing them for me. Not only did I still think they were delicious but they were about ten cents a pound at the supermarket and what college student can balk at that?

Keeping Baby's fat intake in mind, I didn't purchase any bacon such as Applewood Smoked (my favorite) or even turkey bacon to go with our livers, which I have incorporated before with much success. Nor did I light the thing on fire with a few jiggers of brandy. I just followed Julia's recipe, straying only in using an Osborne Tawny Porto I had on hand instead of the Marsala wine that she lists. I also did not toss them in a final tablespoon of softened butter. I don't think it's really necessary. The dish came out very well, and we were both very pleased with our delightful dinner. I tore up some green leaf lettuce for a side salad and drizzled on it my favorite Shallot Champagne Vinaigrette from Michael Lomonaco's '21' Cookbook, and placed Baby's chicken livers on a bed of spinach (as Julia suggests), which I had steamed with garlic, parsley and thyme. A glass of a French Michel Girard & Fils Sancerre was a perfect accompaniment--Baby had a Pellegrino.

Et fin mes cheres, what a lovely evening at home with Chicken Livers a la Francaise!

Soundtrack: The music of good conversation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Baby and I were just enthralled watching DVDs of Julia Child's show The French Chef and became so inspired that we decided to really try and utilize any of the many cookbooks filling the shelves in our pantry more frequently. The French Chef Cookbook that features recipes from the ground-breaking show was a natural to start with and first up was Cassoulet (The Thirty-ninth Show)! And you must say it as she would have, like a flute stuffed with cotton. Cassoulet!

Now, we don't shy away from the complicated meals, the ones that take a week to prepare. Ask our recent guests that reveled in Onion Soup, Lobster Yorkshire Puddings with a vanilla chive sauce and tarragon chiffonade as a precedent to our Filet Mignon (with homemade demi glace) and a side of asparagus drizzled with Michael Lomonaco's Shallot Champagne Vinaigrette from '21'. But we certainly picked a doozy to start out with in recreating Julia's Cassoulet. We started on Monday, and finished on Friday, shortly before our guests arrived.

Apart from the food served, the success of any dinner party hinges upon the guests involved. Ours were split into three camps, who were excited for three different reasons. For the Sisters M, Cassoulet is their favorite thing, and they immediately set out to find red wines for a perfect pairing; Slushy had never tried the dish before; and Islip (Slushy's boyfriend) had never heard of anybody taking a week to prepare a meal. I recently learned that we inspired him to make a somewhat elaborate meal of his own for Slushy. That's perhaps the most exciting news.

Once we had settled on our main dish and the guests involved, I started thinking about what else to serve--and I must say that everything we created for this meal was a really wonderful journey. So Cassoulet is probably the most hearty dish ever, right? I didn't want to serve cheeses, meats, or anything else to weigh our guests down. I remembered from years back a friend had served salted radishes with butter as a starter. Perfect! I kept the leafy greens intact and spread them across an olive wood cutting board with a ramekin of butter on the side. Not only did it all look gorgeous by the flicker of candlelight, the radishes were quickly devoured.

Recalling an article from Saveur (my favorite magazine, I've kept every issue--it features Reese's Cups as readily as it does foie gras), I thought an elegant platter of white asparagus with pink-tinged tips would make for a superb first course. It certainly wowed our friends, and never having made it before, wowed Baby and I as well. It was Saveur that taught us to shave the tough skin of white asparagus, which you don't have to do with the green variety, and simmer the stalks in water with butter, lemon and salt (I assume to remove the bitterness). I added Bay leaves to the water for another layer of flavor. Riffing on the aforementioned Shallot Champagne Vinaigrette, I brushed a blend of lemon and oregano infused olive oils, garlic, and white wine vinegar on the asparagus.

The Cassoulet was well worth the time spent. It was decidedly a hit! We had prepared our lamb on Monday, and made our sausage cakes. Tuesday, we roasted the pork! As we had theater tickets on Wednesday, we took the night off. Thursday, we soaked our beans and prepared for the final assembly. Then the Cassoulet only had to bake for an hour before it was ready to go.

We had just planned on serving lemon sorbet with basil for dessert but I was unsatisfied with that. How do you serve something as rich as Cassoulet and then cap it off with sorbet? No, we needed a bejeweled crown. Then the March issue of Gourmet magazine arrived with a recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Clafoutis ("somewhere between custard and cake") and it was easy as pie. Most of it's done in a blender and couldn't be more jaw-dropping.

Et voila, mes cheres, here we have a perfect evening suited for Cassoulet!

Soundtrack: Martinis with Mancini; Austin Powers Soundtrack; Serge Gainsbourg, Couleur Cafe; Paris Combo, living-room