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August 05, 2007

Depresseganza

As I was rounding up pages for August, I decided that there were two that deserved to be re-presented every year. On the last day of the month, I'll point to what is essentially the "About Me" page at Portico, just to be sure that everyone sees how handsome I used to be. And on the fifth, I will point to Fossil Darling's signature contribution to the enterprise: his recipe for a ghastly stew that he aptly calls "Depresseganza." The idea is that the mix of chili, corn, rice, and crushed tortilla chips is just the thing when you're feeling low - the ultimate comfort food. To me, it sounds about as comfortable as the upholstery that lines a coffin.


Culinarion>Extras>Depresseganza

July 15, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Lemonade

Kathleen is crazy about lemonade. She likes it very, very tart. I've taken up making a quart of it for her every weekend. As Kathleen does not care for cold beverages, I leave the container on the counter. Kathleen drinks it all long before it spoils.

Ingredients: five or six lemons, a third of a cup of sugar, and water. Some cooking involved!

Lemonade.

June 24, 2007

Shrimp Timbales

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Here's the recipe that I promised a few weeks ago. I wasn't entirely happy with the results. This time, I followed the instruction about the buttered foil (duh!), and I used the big Cuisinart instead of my little Kitchen Aid to purée both the timbale mixture and the sauce. Beaucoup plus satisfactory.

(I also used yellow peppers exclusively, contrary to the recipe I've given.)

Shrimp Timbales with a Pepper Sauce.

May 13, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Bell Peppers &c

Last night, I tried out a recipe from Gourmet's In Short Order that came out very well, but not well enough. I want to give it another try before passing it along with my little changes. Hint: the principal ingredients are shrimp and ripe bell peppers.

I used orange bell peppers. The recipe calls for a mix of red and green, but Kathleen and I can't stand green peppers. It seems to be a class thing. We know lots of people who can't stand bell peppers of any color. I didn't care for red peppers when Kathleen introduced me to them, but I came round, probably because I was doing everything I could think of to make myself attractive to her at the time. Eventually, I really liked them. And yellow ones and orange ones, too. But not green. Green peppers are, and taste, unripe.

I did take a series of snapshots with which to illustrate my forthcoming treatise on the grilled cheese sandwich. The Internet is the perfect location for this study, because I keep improving my method. And I wonder, all of a sudden, what parmesan and pancetta would taste like. Toned down, of course, by a thick slice of gruyère.

On my to-do list: the bread that requires no kneading. I've got all the equipment; now I just have to remember to do it.

April 29, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Tomato Soup

There's nothing to it - just a few chopped ingredients, simmered gently for a few hours. Then the work begins.

Tomato Soup.

 

April 22, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Tomato Soup

It's a beautiful day, and I'm going to take it off. What I am not going to do (probably) is purée this mixture of tomatoes, apples, onions, broth, and seasonings.

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What was I thinking, making a vat of tomato soup in April? They do say, though, that it's going to get chilly in the middle of the week. I'll have the soup ready by then.

April 15, 2007

Foie de veau Robert

It's curious. I was an unusually adventurous diner when I was a boy. I liked all sorts of things that children are well-known for hating. Chief among these was calf's liver. The reason for my liking it was simple enough: I was getting the real thing. Every Sunday night, we had dinner either at the country club that my parents belonged to or at the Hereford House, a steak restaurant at the bottom of the old Gramatan Hotel, right across from the railroad station. Neither kitchen would have dreamed of serving subprime liver.

What's curious is that I've lost my culinary curiosity. Or is it?

Foie de veau Robert.

April 08, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: The Truth About Eggs Benedict

When I wrote the "Eggs Benedict" page for Portico, it never occurred to me to look elsewhere than my old Larousse Gastronomique for the derivation of this wonderful dish. Perhaps I ought to have been cued, however, by the very different nature of the concoction given in the French encyclopedia. "Pound some cod" - ? And nothing about sauce hollandaise, either. I did wonder a bit, but I didn't investigate. Lazy me.

In the City section of today's Times, there's a lengthy piece about the invention of Eggs Benedict as we know it, "Was He the Eggman?," by Gregory Beyer. Benedictine monks have nothing to do with this story; genteel New Yorkers by the name of Benedict do. We know that Lemuel Coleman Benedict really existed. He wore raccoon coats and carried a whisky-flask walking stick to football games at Princeton when his nephew was studying classics there. In 1894, suffering from a hangover, he went to the Waldorf Hotel (then standing on the site of today's Empire State Building) and ordered up toast, bacon, poached eggs, and hollandaise. The maître d', an operator known as "Oscar of the Waldorf," was impressed enough to put the results on the menu. But he changed the toast into an English muffin, and the bacon into Canadian bacon. And then he completely failed to take credit for this invention, in later self-promoting articles.

That's the Lemuel Benedict story, more or less as reported in The New Yorker in 1942. I was not reading The New Yorker in 1942, because I was not yet born. In March 1978, Bon Appetit published a story about Eggs Benedict that attributed the invention to a Mr and Mrs LeGrand Benedict, and claimed that they asked for it at Delmonico's, not the old Waldorf. I was not reading Bon Appetit in 1978, because I was in law school.

Mr Beyer's piece is mostly concerned with the efforts of one Jack Benedict, a collateral descendant of Lemuel, to establish his relative's claim to fame beyond a reasonable doubt. One of the obstacles that Jack B seems to have been unable to surmount was the reticence of "Oscar of the Waldorf." Why didn't Oscar boast about having invented Eggs Benedict?

Here is my thinking. Oscar Tschirky, a Swiss from Neuchatel, arrived in New York on the day before the Brooklyn Bridge was opened to traffic, in 1883, and secured a restaurant job the very next afternoon. I assume that he already knew something of the culinary arts. I assume, further, that he knew of the rather icky dish that Larousse Gastronomique describes. If he thought about it at all, he would have known that it would never go over in New York. Along came Mr Benedict (LeGrand or Lemuel, take your pick - the LeGrand Benedicts do not appear to have left any survivors to toot their horn) with his peculiar breakfast order. Oscar had a brainwave. Eggs Benedict became a hit. But Oscar knew better to take credit for inventing "Eggs Benedict." He had, indeed, re-invented the dish, with a patron's help. But it was one thing to claim, as he did, to have dreamed up Thousand Island Dressing, which had no Old World roots, and quite another to get creative with a venerable French recipe.

Before he became "Oscar of the Waldorf," by the way, Tschirky was Oscar of Delmonico's.

April 01, 2007

I'm ready, Lord!

I'm probably crazy, but I feel a change in my bones: I am ready to keep a neat and tidy freezer. A freezer with plenty of empty space. A freezer so orderly that I don't even half to open the door to see what's inside.

But I'm not there yet.

My Freezer: the Dream.

March 25, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Risotto

Risotto has a somewhat intimidating reputation, but I can't for the life of me think why. Of course, I say the same thing about the soufflé. Both dishes require a certain focused attention at one or two steps of the production, but that's it. If you make sure that your egg whites are absolutely free of yolk before you beat them, and if you incorporate the beaten whites into the yolk mixture with a gentle hand - and if you resist the temptation to open the oven door to see how the soufflé is coming along! - your soufflé will be spectacular and delicious. Those aren't big ifs, in my view.

With risotto, you have to find the right setting for your burner. You want medium-low heat - just as you do for macaroni and cheese. As the rice heats up, it absorbs broth, swelling greatly in size. If the heat is too high, the rice will scorch and the broth will boil off. Once you've got the temperature down, all you need is a good sauté pan,* so that you won't have to stand over the risotto, stirring constantly. That's because risotto won't stick to a good pan.

While I wouldn't go so far as to say that risottos are as handy for using up leftovers as soufflés are, the chances are that you have the fixings of an interesting risotto somewhere in the fridge. All you really need is a bit of onion and reasonably fresh arborio rice. (If you haven't made a risotto in years - as was the case chez moi - just throw the old rice away and start over.) Last night, I made a shrimp risotto that I'd been dreaming about. It came out very well. Kathleen almost always praises whatever I put on the table, but she waxed quite extravagantly about the dish.

*Julia Child once remarked - over lunch at the Cirpriani in Venice, as I recall reading - that all a good cook really needs is a good sauté pan and a couple of good knives. I'd phrase it differently. I'd say that even the best cook can't get by without them.

March 18, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Welsh Whatever

One of the most savory of savory dishes is Welsh Rabbit. It's also great comfort food that can be varied to suit a wide range of tastes. Give it a try.

February 18, 2007

At my Kitchen Table: A "Simple" Dinner

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In a little more than an hour, Miss G will arrive with her beau.

It's to be a simple dinner, but the rolls are rising, and about to go into the oven, where the potatoes are already roasting. A stick of butter has been chopped and frozen. Whatever for, do you think?

At three pounds, the hunk of cow straddles the fence between steak and rib roast. I'm terrified of overcooking it.

February 11, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Eating Healthy

Before I run off to Eli's to buy a chicken pot pie for dinner, I want to share a treat from The Atlantic, where, on page 102 of the March 2007 issue, Sandra Tsing Loh tells us about two women, friends of hers, who roam the frontier of sexual adventure.

Which is to say I speak to you candidly about some lesbians I know, two lesbians. They live in a suburb of Los Angeles. They're both a hair north of forty. One is a computer technician; the other, a hospital administrator. Physically, they are much as you might picture them. For the past twelve years, Teri and Pat have had a special Monday-night ritual. They order an extra-large cheese pizza (sixteen slices). While waiting - and I am not making this us - they settle in on the couch with large twin bags of Doritos. Each chipped is dipped first in Philadelphia cream cheese and then in salsa. Cream cheese, salsa. Cream cheese, salsa. Cream cheese, salsa. The Doritos are finished to the last crumb, and the, upon arrival, the pizza as well. For Teri and Pat, this night of a million carbs is, by special agreement, guilt free. Both feel that it is better than sex.

That salsa bowl can't be pretty.

I couldn't begin - or, rather, I could only begin to eat that much food. I seem to have left the delights of gorging behind. The problem that remains is my taste in food, which is limited to dairy products, smoked meats, and deep-fried foods. With an occasional piece of chocolate (no more). What about pasta, you ask, and my reply is that pasta is simply a delivery system for dairy products and smoked meats. I wouldn't dream of eating an unbuttered dinner roll. While I can eat most vegetables without revulsion, they don't interest me in the slightest anymore. As a child, I loved carrot-and-raisin salad (made with mayonnaise - dairy!), but now I can't be bothered to make it. Increasingly, I only want to eat what I really want to eat. Otherwise, I'd just as soon go without.

On the bright side, I lost my sweet tooth decades ago. I get all my sugar from gin.

February 04, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Food for Thought

On Thursday night, I went down to the West Village to have dinner with Édouard, of Sale Bête, and le copain. The latter, a very fit triathlete, expressed an understandable impatience with the idea of treating obesity as a disease, at least on today's broad scale. I asked him if he had read Michael Pollan's critique of nutritionism in the Sunday Times Magazine. He hadn't, and I did a very bad job of arguing its importance, in part because I couldn't decide which is worse, Americans' credulousness or their government's inaction. As a result, my comments were disorganized and inconsequent. I hope I've done better here.  

There's a line of thought in Mr Pollan's piece that I don't take up at Portico: the bad science inherent in premature findings. What we don't yet know about life in scientific terms stretches like an infinite dessert beyond the little that we do know, and most of what we know is reductionist, the study of discrete areas. We know just enough about nutrition, it seems, to confuse everyone. Once upon a time, for example, fats were fats. Now there are "good" fats and "bad" fats. We can be sure that there is much more to be learned, and "scientists" who draw sweeping dietary conclusions from what we happen to know at the moment are not doing their job.

We had dinner at the Hudson Street branch of Le Gamin. My roast chicken was delicious, but I was too interested in the conversation to be very assiduous about cutting it up. Perhaps Édouard will be good enough to remind me of the name of the very fine wine that the three of us drank two bottles of.

January 28, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Washing Up

Every now and then, the dishwasher is empty when one of my dinner parties begins.* We're talking blue moons here. My Miele dishwasher, which I love, is set to run a perhaps needlessly thorough cycle that takes nearly two hours to complete. I cannot operate it at the same time as any other high-amp appliance, such as the water kettle or the microwave. This means that, in order to use them, I have to pull the dishwasher open. Quite often, I forget to close it again, and the dishes drip midcycle for a while. As a rule, when one of my dinner parties begins, the dishwasher is stuffed with bowls and utensils that I've used to make dinner, and I've just turned it on. And just because the dishwasher is full of pots and pans doesn't mean that the stove and kitchen counter aren't as well.

That's why, when I clear the table between courses (often just an entree and dessert), I take the plates out onto the balcony, where they usually sit until the next day. Here's how I clean up after a dinner party.

When everyone has gone, if I still have the energy, I empty the dishwasher (which would be easy enough if it didn't involve putting everything away), and fill it up with whatever's dirty in the kitchen. If there is any extra room, I clear as glasses and the dessert plates as the kitchen stuff leaves room for. I turn the dishwasher on and tidy up the kitchen. Then I go to bed.

The next morning, I empty the dishwasher and clear whatever's left on the table. Only when the dining area has been completely straightened up do I bring in whatever's out on the balcony. If I've had a big dinner, with more courses or more guests, the dishes from the balcony will fill the third load to run after the dinner.**

In a nutshell, my cleanup begins near the dishwasher and works outward. I must confess that the process can take several days. I've got a blog to write!

* For quite some time now, my only dinner guests have been Ms NOLA and M le Neveu, but I hope to broaden my reach in 2007. We did have Fossil Darling and LXIV last Sunday.

** Silver is washed by hand, as are certain fancy plates that I don't use too often. I also hand-wash what's left of my mother's wedding crystal. I think we've broken two stems over the years, which is amazing.

January 21, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Herbed Pecans

What are your thoughts about amateur cookbooks? I'm talking about the publications of Junior Leagues and Women's Associations. I've gotten rid of most of the ones that I inherited or accumulated; I simply don't have the room to keep them. Even if I did, I wouldn't consult them. I'm not looking for new ways of doing things - not anymore. I'm looking for more classics to do regularly, and the classics are best represented in the professional cookbooks - of which I don't have a great many as it is.

Nevertheless, there are two recipes that I got from the first Noteworthy, a series of cookbooks (perhaps there were only two) put out to benefit Ravinia, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's summer venue. One of them is for dilled green beans, and it's quite refreshing in the summer. The other one is for Herbed Pecans. These nuts are great with cocktails, and they're no trouble to make.

Herbed Pecans

6 tablespoons butter

4 teaspoon rosemary

1/8 teaspoon dried basil

1 tablespoon salt

cayenne to taste

4 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 325o. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the rosemary, the basil, the salt and the cayenne and stir. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and toss in the pecans until well coated. Do not break the nuts. Turn the nuts into a jelly-roll pan and spread them out evenly. Scrape any remaining herb mixture onto the nuts.

Bake the nuts for 15 to 20 minutes, or until well browned, stirring gently two or three times. Drain in a colander and store when cooled.

In my experience, it takes a lot longer than twenty minutes to brown the pecans, and throw in a whole stick of butter.

Do you read cookbooks, leafing through them more for entertainment than for dishes that you would actually prepare? It is probably a very good thing to do, but I can't seem to swing it. I have enough trouble reading the books that are in my piles to have the time to wade into cookbooks. I rarely look at cooking magazines anymore, even the ones that I really like, such as Saveur. It's sign, perhaps, that my skill in the kitchen has outstripped my interest in cooking.

January 14, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: My Ragù

MyRagu.JPG

My ragù. Miam! No - umami! And I swear it's not hard to make.

Freeze a tub of it if you like, but leave the rest on the stove, bringing it to a simmer every couple of days. It will get earthier and earthier.

Read how to make my ragù at Portico.

January 07, 2007

At My Kitchen Table: Making Bread

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I used to make bread all the time, but now I rarely do. Like all forms of baking, it's something that I'm willing to do only if I know that the results will consumed in short order. But I thought that I had better test the recipe for the cardamom bread shown above.

Read more about making bread.

December 31, 2006

At My Kitchen Table: What did we eat?

The other night, after dinner, Kathleen and I were recalling the foodstuffs of childhood. Kathleen could remember hers a lot better than I could mine. I remember Chung King chicken chow mein, Chef Boy-ar-di Spanish Rice, and TV dinners (the last superseded, eventually, by varieties of Stauffer's). I remember learning that I preferred spaghetti al burro - spaghetti with butter and parmesan - to anything with tomato sauce. I remember fish sticks on Friday. But I have no idea how often we had any of these "dishes," and I'm sure that there must have been others. Meat loaf? Macaroni and cheese? (Before Stauffer's, that is.) Surely - but I don't remember them. Salisbury steaks - I think I remember Salisbury steaks.

What I remember more surely is wishing that I could cook. This was not permitted, because cooking was something that girls and women did. My mother was of the opinion that I might as well be allowed to wear ball gowns as permitted to cook. And she can't have been crazy about my objectives, which were to conduct chemistry-set experiments in the kitchen and to have good-tasting dinners. My mother was devoted to taking good care of us, but that was not enough to make her like cooking - and you have to like cooking to turn out good food. I'm convinced of it. It is simply too much work, otherwise.

In time, we all grew up and became more sensible. A few weeks before she died, of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, my mother asked me to do the cooking for what we all knew, but didn't say, would be her last dinner party. I don't remember the menu, but I do remember that it came off nicely. When I wasn't serving, I stayed in the kitchen. My mother was very, very grateful afterward - almost effusive.

Her last words, hoarsely whispered on the night she died, were directed at me. "Did you freeze the leftover ravioli?"

The things I remember.

December 26, 2006

The Distracted Gastronome

It's the day after Christmas, which for almost everybody means "back to work," but not for us: Kathleen will be taking the whole week off. Hurrah! Not having had quite enough of PPOQ and LXIV at dinner last night, we are going to meet them this afternoon in the Petrie Court Café, at the museum, for a spot of lunch, after which we'll descend into the bowels of the Costume Institute to have a look at the clothes that kept Nan Kempner on the best-dressed list. (Ms NOLA and I have already been. It's quite a show.)

At about four-thirty yesterday, I summoned Kathleen from her bead-work to a small table in the living room, where I had set out champagne, crackers, and an ounce of sevruga caviar. I had bought the caviar on an impulse at Agata & Valentina on Sunday. It was scandalously expensive - $90! Of course, it's a miracle that there's caviar at all. Beluga isn't available anymore, having been outlawed in order to stop the overfishing, but sevruga, which is our favorite anyway, and ossetra are still on offer. But the prices have jumped. It seemed very much worth it, though, as we relaxed for little while in the late afternoon, before getting ready for dinner. The caviar tasted better than ever, and icy champagne was the perfect accompaniment.

When we arrived at Brasserie LCB - the former Côte Basque - the room wasn't half full, but when we left, the joint was packed. Everyone I bumped into seemed to be French, or at least francophone. It was as though chef Jean-Jacques Rachou had planned a home-away-from-home event for the expats. The warmth of the room was positively Dickensian. Kathleen and I have been to the bistro before, but this time I really missed the soft loveliness of the old place. I even missed the rustic harbor murals, which I was never keen on when they were hanging. Now it is all very Toulouse-Lautrec. And that's great; but I did feel a pang for le temps perdu.

Perhaps because I was having such a good time talking with our friends - and ribbing PPOQ mercilessly for wearing this homeless-person sort of garment over an elegant gold shirt, just as he did at our party last week - I didn't really attend to dinner with true gastronomic fervor. There was a lovely winter-vegetable soup to start. It had the slightly chalky texture of vichyssoise, but it tasted, deliciously, of parsnips, and I'd like to try to approximate it. I remember that the galantine of duck was very good, but nothing more specific; I must have been talking too much. The filet de boeuf Périgourdine was just as delicious as it was the last time I had it, but I just gobbled it up instead of doing it justice. Thin slices of bûche de Noël, however, made an impression. One slice was filled with chocolate buttercream, while the other was pale and liqueur-soaked. Miam!

Having assigned myself the job of selecting the wine, I chose what turned out to be a fine Brane-Cantenac. But I did have a couple of martinis at the beginning at the end of the meal. I had unaccountably run out of gin at home! When we got back to the apartment - PPOQ had a cab ready for us the minute we stepped outside, which was amazing, given the schmutzy weather - I had a finger of Laphroaig while I got into my sleepies. I remembered what the baby-sitters used to say - "He's a very good boy - when he's asleep" - and I wanted to be a very good boy. I was out by ten-thirty. Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2006

At My Kitchen Table

¶ Proposed Rules of Thumb for a Sunday Afternoon Gathering in Manhattan at Holiday Time.

.5. Know where the vases that you might have to use are.

1. Unless your guests arrived in wheelchairs or on the arms of attendants, they will have been out doing something the night before, and they are probably planning to do something else when they leave your house. Because these doings will probably involve alcohol, your friends are likely to be unaccountably abstemious chez vous, so don't bother stocking up for a rout. A few magnums of a good house wine that you'll be happy to drink yourself will do the trick. Ditto beer. Even soda may not be in much demand. What might be nice are individual bottles of sparkling spring water and a pitcher of New York's finest, accompanied by tumblers, ice, and a bowl of cut-up limes. Clear away the bric-à-brac and set up the bar where it belongs, on the sideboard. You will not always have a balcony.

2. Do your friends take good care of themselves? If so, then offer no more than one variety of cheese for every four guests, plus one extra wedge. Explorateur and reblochon are always popular, as is Parrano Gouda. Nobody is going to eat blue cheese, even if it's Maytag, but don't forget chèvre. Toothpicks with labels, identifying each variety, will turn out to be handy. Observe this rule by taking care of your guests even if they don't.

2.1. Grapes? Just enough for a garnish for the cheese platter. Don't forget the Bremner crackers! A bowl of Clementines will look jolly, but you may be the only person to eat them, obliging you rather rudely to run off to wash your hands the second someone finishes telling you an anecdote, or maybe sooner, and causing you to hurt your friend's feelings. Clementines may be easier to eat than oranges, but they're still juicy enough to stick up your hands.

3. Hors-d'oeuvre plates and cocktail napkins are all that is required. What were you thinking, getting out those buffet dishes? Discus?

3.1. Unwrap FreshDirect's lovely crudité platter - actually a wooden cratelet - and behold a composition that is almost, but not quite, too beautiful to eat. Put the accompanying dips into proper bowls.

3.2. Pinwheel sandwiches? These may get mixed reviews. Many will be consumed, but at the family post-mortem strong protests may be lodged. Of course, family members prefer your cooking, or they wouldn't come over so often. But your repose is essential. Stick with the pinwheels or order something else that does not require flatware.

3.6. Don't forget the dessert platter. The time to bring it out is when the tray of pinwheel sandwiches begins to look ratty. Otherwise, the table needn't be rearranged.

3.7. If a guest has brought an assortment of cookies from St Ambroeus, ditch the dessert platter and serve the cookies. The cookies will be devoured!

7. There is no point in serving coffee and tea on the coffee table in the Blue Room if guests are unaware that there is a Blue Room. You will be drinking a lot of tea, though, so keep that kettle bubbling!

8. You will forget to fill a bowl with Smartfood, and you will be grateful.

December 17, 2006

Sunday Morning

Comments are re-enabled, thanks to the persevering diligence of MovableType's fantastic support desk. Why did it take so long? Stuff happens, that's why. The manual is often useless, sad to say. But the site "works."

Which way to go? Should I tell you how awful the past couple of days have been - or at least the days until I convinced MT that I still had a right to Support (a different matter from the quality of the support once you're recognized!)? Or should I tell you how excited I am by today's blogmeet, here at my house? I've given a jillion parties over the years, but this one is hands down the most interesting-in-advance.

It's a sign of the New Me that I kicked aside any gastronomic ambitions and relied on FreshDirect for the comestibles. That said, I am totally ye of little faith. I shall insist that the three other bloggers review the afternoon's culinary offerings in pitiless detail. (And I'll translate Édouard's contribution into English myself, unless he insists.)

Bless me, Father Tony, for I have schemed. Let Joe and PPOQ form a fast friendship, and unite in healthy, if merciless, "criticism" of me.

***

Here I am, an hour before the party is to start. In a little while, I'll get dressed, but there's not much else to do ahead of time. I expect that I'll be brewing coffee and tea all afternoon, even though I may be the only partaker. There's enough wine to refill the Caspian Sea, plenty of beer, soda, and juice. I probably ought to have bought some sparkling water.

The platters from FreshDirect arrived nice and early this morning. Pinwheel sandwiches - check. Crudités - check. Chocolate-and-berries - check. Cheese -

All I'm going to say about the cheese (for the moment) is that I threw on a windbreaker and marched down to Eli's, where I spent the fortune that I had tried to save by going through FreshDirect. Because, of course, I didn't just buy cheeses. I bought holiday candies, miniature croissants, and two bunches of grapes. And, just to be sure, a few boxes of Carr's Table Water crackers. I wasn't very adventurous with the cheeses: Explorateur, Reblochon, Mimoulette, Camembert, Maytag Blue and Parrano Gouda, the kind that tastes like Parmesan. There's no way even half of it will be consumed, but the idea is to give everybody a choice. Food is very important at parties. It gives everyone something to do.

I haven't enjoyed the prospect of giving a party so much in years. I hope that everyone has fun.

December 10, 2006

At My Kitchen Table: Grilled Chicken

Outdoor grilling is fun - except when it's not. And it's not fun after dark. You can't see what you're doing! Given our tendency to eat after dark, even in the summer, I came to find grilling a royal pain in our weekend-house days. It's generally illegal in Manhattan - open fires must be kept at a functionally impossible distance from any structures - but of course people break the law all summer long. I am not tempted.

The broiler in a gas oven - basically a rack set beneath the fire - is not an effective substitute for an outdoor grill. You can't see what you're doing! Unless, that is, you keep opening the broiler and letting heat escape. But broilers are perfectly good for grilling meats. Top-quality steaks require no more than a dusting of salt and pepper, but most meats taste better if marinated for a few hours ahead of time.

Here's a tasty way to grill chicken. Combine about a half-cup of canola oil, three tablespoons each of sesame oil and soy sauce, and the juice of one lime. Blend very well. Fill a gallon plastic bag with thighs, drumsticks and wings. Pour the marinade into the bag, seal the bag well, and turn the bag several times to coat the chicken. Stow the bag in the refrigerator for at least three hours. When it's time to fix dinner, open the bag and set aside as many pieces as you intend to serve; store the rest in smaller bags of three or four pieces each, and freeze it.

There's no point in stipulating a cooking time. You'll just have to rely on the good old chicken-doneness test: when the juices run clear, the chicken is ready to eat. With practice, you'll be able to tell from the degree of burn on the chicken skin. Sometimes, when I'm unsure of serving time, I bake the chicken in a 350º oven for twenty minutes before running it under the fire. Either way, if you cook the chicken properly, it will be succulent at the table.

Gas oven note: the temperature in a gas oven is controlled by a sensor that shuts off the flames when the desired temperature is reached. The fire, in other words, is not like that on a stove ring - adjustable. It's either on or it's off. For temperatures below broiling, this alternation is called "cycling." Time was, when gas ovens did not cycle when set to broil: the fire stayed on until you turned the oven off. My newer oven, though, cycles even during broiling, and I find that I have to crack the oven door to keep a steady flame. If you're stuck with an electric oven, you've got my deepest sympathies. 

November 26, 2006

At My Kitchen Table: The Club Sandwich

Of the club sandwich on white toast with mayonnaise I sing, O muse - and why can't the general public get a good one in New York City? Is it the "club"? Do you have to work at one in order to understand what's wanted?

It would seem so. For six days in a row last week, I had a delicious club sandwich for lunch. The Buccaneer Beach Hotel, across the harbor from Christiansted, USVI, may be neither snooty nor stuffy, but it is very much the same sort of resort to which my parents liked to repair fifty years ago, and notwithstanding myriad advances on the modcons front - not to mention seismic shifts in the dress code - the ancient secrets of the club sandwich have been preserved. It was only on the day of departure that I didn't consume every last morsel - we had but ten minutes in which to eat before hopping into a taxi to the airport. Confronting, day after day, the concrete realization of a Platonic ideal inevitably provoked reflections upon the theory and practice of the club sandwich. In the hope that you, dear reader, will migrate to Manhattan and pursue a culinary career in one of the coffee shops across the street, I will share my thoughts.

The club sandwich is a tricky confection of bacon, turkey, lettuce and tomato. lubricated by mayonnaise, mounted on three, not two, slices of toasted bread, and cut into diagonal quarters secured by toothpicks. If we begin by contemplating its raucous backstairs sibling, the BLT, we see at once how important it is that the turkey in a club sandwich be moist and sliced very thin. For the turkey is not just "more meat." As a counterfoil to the bacon's crunchiness, it must be rosily tender. The first bite of a good club sandwich makes it clear that turkey is taking the place of ham, theoretically mouthwatering but factually, in view of the bacon, de trop. In other words, the turkey in a club sandwich is ham that comes from a different animal. The slices are paper-thin so as not to detract from the crunch of the bacon and the toast.

Most living things are largely water, but tomatoes are so watery that they make the rest of us look like clay. To participate in any kind of sandwich, tomato slices must dry out a bit, lest they subvert the construction like liquid icebergs. Spending a few salted minutes on paper towels is essential. And, speaking of icebergs, let's be clear about the lettuce: only iceberg will do. Romaine, which is equally crunchy, may be ideal for Caesar salads, but it's far too bitter for what is essentially the sweetest of savory concoctions.

Even the bacon is not a no-brainer. If it is undercooked, teeth won't cut it; overcooked and brittle, it is almost as destructive as soggy tomato. The bacon must be moist (okay, greasy) enough to adhere to its neighbor, which is neither the lettuce nor the turkey, both of which lie on the other side of the middle piece of toast.

The mayonnaise must be Hellmann's. I made a club sandwich once with some leftover mayonnaise that I'd whipped up the day before for something else, and the problem was that the mayonnaise tasted really good. The mayonnaise in a club sandwich shouldn't taste at all. Its strictly supporting role is to provide a creamy solvent to an ensemble of ingredients that are either very dry (bacon, turkey, toast) or very not (lettuce, tomato).

Finally, everything must be thin. The bite of a club sandwich ought to be melting, not a tug of war. It ought to be very easy to eat, not a production that requires you to open wide and say "AHHH."

At the Buccaneer, as at a few other seaside resorts that I've been to, the club sandwich is a compound, not a mixture. It does not taste like bacon-turkey-lettuce-tomato-mayonnaise-toast. It tastes like a club sandwich, miraculously smooth and chewy at the same time. It is well worth the hell of two plane flights.

November 19, 2006

At My Kitchen Table

Experienced readers will know that I am not worrying about turkeys or large groups of guests today. I am, rather, on out of town, this year to St Croix, in the US Virgin Islands. It will be my first proper Caribbean experience. Everyone says, "Oh, how great! Sun and sand!" It is very pretty, I expect, but there won't be any audible surf, which is for me the only reason for spending time near a body of water (other than the bodies of water that we have right here at home). I have been told that there is a very nice outdoor bar where I'll be staying, on a terrace, from which one gazes across the harbor at the town of Christianstad. Well, that I can manage.

I just found a video singing the charms of St Croix tourism. I'd have liked to see my face when the presenter said, "A good way to explore St Croix is to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle..." I love the history of all those little islands. Even being a US possession hasn't restored the driving to the right side of the road.

Kathleen will be taking pictures with the EOS Digital Rebel that she bought, pre-owned but unopened, at eBay last week. Because the CD drive on my ancient Vaio laptop, which I never use anymore except when we travel, is kaput, I had to copy the Canon software on to an Iomega Thumb and go from there. Then I had to figure out how to work the camera, because there was no point to taking it if we couldn't see the pictures on the spot, was there? As it turns out, the CF or memory cards are "optional" with the purchase of new EOS cameras, and Kathleen's did not come with one. So I had to cannibalize a Power Shot camera that I bought two years ago for our Istanbul trip - for Kathleen to use. In order to get the CF card out of the old camera, I had to read the Spanish-language manual, because the English-language manual was nowhere to be found. (Eventually I got the PCMCIA hang of it.) Having installed the Power Shot's software on both computers some time ago, I was disconcerted when the EOS installation was interrupted, as it was quite often, by a message telling me that there was a newer version of the software on my machine! This setup ate up no more than two hours of the day, but I was obsessed, and I triumphed. That was good. Kathleen picked up a big CF card on her afternoon rounds, so we're set.

The old laptop will be replaced early next year. Kathleen will choose it, for it will be her personal computer at home. She needs one. She has just about doubled her wardrobe for less than $500 at eBay in recent months. That's cool, but you don't pull it off without attending to dozens of auctions at a time. Which may make your significant other unhappy, because he's got entries to write and Gmail to check. The new machine will bring us up to date on connectivity. It will be interesting to find out how well wi-fi works in the apartment. M le Neveu always gets great reception when he's here, and we haven't even turned on our wi-fi router yet!

I'm getting to love this virtual kitchen table of mine, where I seem to spend most of my time not talking about cooking. The first thing that I'm going to do when I get home is log on to FreshDirect and order three pounds of plum tomatoes, two large Vidalia onions, three Granny Smith apples, and a big can of College Inn beef broth. These are the principal ingredients in a soup that I got through all of last winter without making - a first in fourteen or fifteen years. (possible autobiography title: How I Found Myself At My Blog And Stopped Cooking.) I'm also going to try that simple but extraordinary bread that was written up in the Times and then hailed by the far more trustworthy Thomas Meglioranza!

Whatever they tell you, don't fall for the "macerated cranberry sauce."

November 18, 2006

The Vertical Hour

Last night, at City Opera, I had one of the most delightful evenings of my life. I had gotten tickets to see Così fan tutte, an opera about which I couldn't possibly be pickier, just to see what City Opera would make of it. It's a sign of how far City Opera has come from the old days that it mounts a production of this opera at all. Once upon a time, mediocrity at the demotic house would be tolerated, but no longer. And the only thing mediocre about Così at City Opera is the visible flimsiness of the sets. Who cares about that? It makes me feel that I'm in Palermo or somewhere. The singing was fantastic, but more than that, I was sitting in a happy house. Thanks to surtitles, the audience was able to follow the characters' witty exchanges. The translations were absolutely barbaric, but if they'd been accurate, there would have been less laughter. (Guglielmo exclaims near the end, for example, that he'd rather wed the barca di Caronte than Fiordiligi. How many people know what "Charon's barque" is anymore?) I really loved the laughter. Everything onstage and in the pit harmonized beautifully. and Così was sublime and ridiculous at the same time. I promise to name names later. If I single out the captivating Kyle Pfortmiller, it's because he spent most of the opera barefoot. That's not why he was captivating, though.

I can't say more about it now, because I'm packing for our annual Thanksgiving escape. I've only mentioned Così because it's the reason why I couldn't use the tickets to The Vertical Hour that I mistakenly ordered for the same evening. The Vertical Hour is still in previews, so ordinarily I would hold off writing about it until it opened, but my old friend (and he is old) took the tickets off my hands, and I have asked him to give us an idea of the show. If I made him wait, he'd get very cranky. So keep your eyes on the Comments.

November 12, 2006

At the Kitchen Table

A few weeks ago, the wall oven developed an ignition problem, so I took to leaving it on all the time, set at low. This was far from satisfactory, of course, but the problem went unfixed for so long because I just didn't think about it during the daytime, and at night there was no one to call.

After a wearying round of calls, on Thursday, to Gracious Home - I'd bought the oven there, and expected them to be able to supply me with the name and number of a repair outfit, only to find that they weren't - I got out the Yellow Pages for the first time this century and came across a service on 125th Street. "I hope that you can help me," I told the gentleman who answered the phone. "That is what we are here for," was his reassuring reply. And, indeed, two repairmen were at the apartment within a few hours.

But guess who'd remembered to turn the oven off only an hour before they got here.

The oven was still far too hot to touch, much less to work with. Even so, I'm not entirely sure that the men wouldn't have had to come back anyway. Why should they have been carrying around a new igniter? Which is what they installed yesterday, when they came back in the late afternoon. I was able to use the oven Thursday night, too. I jiggled the dial a bit and eventually the oven came on, allowing me to make Suprêmes de Volaille aux Champignons, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia Child's recipe for four is very easily halved. Rather than parrot her, I'll tell you how I make this classic variation on a theme in my own way.

Continue reading about Suprêmes de Volaille aux Champignons at Portico.

November 05, 2006

At the Kitchen Table

So, there's a new edition of The Joy of Cooking. I gather, from Kim Severson's piece/s in Thursday's Times, that the analytical rigor of former Simon & Schuster editor Maria Guarnaschelli, who oversaw the 1997 overhaul, has been roughed up with Rombauer-Beckerisms. In my opinion, Ms Guarnaschelli created reference work for the modern weekday cook of such excellence that it ought to have been given a name of its own, instead of trading on the Joy brand. I say, now, that I'm not going to buy the new book, but of course I'm going to look at it in the shops. With any luck, I won't be impressed - because I can't have two editions.

I never buy cookbooks anymore, because to make room for a new one means getting rid of an old one. I have more books about food and cooks than I have recipe collections. I have always shared Julia Child's belief that cooking is a matter of mastering certain basic techniques and classic combinations. Like most men, I don't seek novelty on my dinner plate as a matter of course. And I seem to be going through a change of life: food just isn't that interesting anymore. There are a few things that I'm crazy about (my fried chicken, for example), but I am very much someone who eats to live, not the other way round. So I probably all ready have too many cookbooks.

EatingInBed.jpg

There was also, in the Times, an amusing piece, by Julia Moskin, about the craving for long out-of-print cookbooks. Nach Waxman, proprietor of Kitchen Arts and Letters, reports having over a hundred unfilled requests for Fernand Point's Ma Gastronomie. I myself filled out a request, once, in search of a copy of The Eating-In-Bed Cookbook, by Barbara Ninde Byfield (Macmillan, 1962). Someone gave it to my mother as a joke - I don't think it was I who did - and I dreamed of growing up and feasting on Caesar's Goat and Swordfish Agamemnon. I did bake the Elizabeth Barrett's Brownies for many years. And on one strangely memorable occasion I cooked up an orgy of food to be consumed in bed. Six or seven dishes - just for me! But I'm not nearly decadent enough to lounge for hours over tepidating food. It was fun to prepare and boring to endure. Mr Waxman never came through on the cookbook, but I found it through Alibris.

I know that I promised to tell you what I prepared for last Monday's dinner, but in fact there was no Monday dinner. M le Neveu had to grade mid-terms, and Ms NOLA needed an early night. Stay tuned.

October 29, 2006

At the Kitchen Table

Here's hoping that you've been having a good weekend, and that you've been able to stand back a bit from everyday affairs. Kathleen and I have been reconstituting ourselves. We were going to watch The Morning After last night, after reading a bit after an ordered-in Chinese dinner, but Kathleen drifted off during the reading part, which I extended for several hours, eventually falling asleep in my chair over Running With Scissors, which is a grand read. I finished the book this afternoon, right before tackling The Economist. Every week, I try to extract one hard nugget of interest from The formidable Economist, and here is this week's: a French university known as Toulouse I offers the fifth-ranked business program in the world, after Harvard, Berkeley, Chicago and Stanford. Who'd 'a' thunk it.

During the week, the lineup just fell into place, and I now know what sort of piece I'll present on any given day of the week. Sunday's feature (which is what you're reading) has a rather weasely title, one that permits me to talk about what I've been doing in the kitchen lately, or to pretend that I'm sharing a cup of tea with you at the kitchen table, shooting the breeze. The table is very virtual. My kitchen is not big enough to hold a table. It doesn't really hold two people, not if they're trying to get anything done.

Portico - the Web site that I've been running since 2000 - has had a cooking branch, Culinarion, for most of that time, but for a spell I took it down. Cooking just wasn't a specialty of mine, and my interest in food has taken a nosedive since the turn of the century. Still, one has to eat, and, having been ambitious in the kitchen from my twenties to my late forties, I can make a variety of dishes without looking at a recipe or, for the matter of that, thinking. And the mail that I get from readers of Portico - as distinct from comments at the Daily Blague - exceeds all other mail in quantity, if not in length. The purpose of "Kitchen Table" is to get me to contribute to Culinarion more regularly.

We are sometimes four for dinner on Monday, when M le Neveu and Mlle NOLA join us. (Often, thanks to her hours, Kathleen can't make it.) M le Neveu is always happy to see steak of some kind or another, and when my mind has been elsewhere, that's a blessing, because steak requires minimal preparation. But for tomorrow night's dinner, I think that I am going to try a boeuf bourgignon. Or perhaps a coq au vin. Either dish is best when made a day ahead of time, but I don't have a proper wine in the house at the moment, so whichever it is that I make, it will have to wait for tomorrow. I may try something different, from Classic Home Cooking, of which I've just obtained the new edition. Whatever I do, you'll read about it here next Sunday.

October 22, 2006

Clear Soup

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Can't say why I came across my maternal grandmother's old cookbook - or one of them - the other day. It's falling apart now. I have never explored the recipes, because the first one that I read was such a hoot that I never got any further. Entitled Cook Book: Compiled and Published by the Epworth League of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Duluth, Minnesota, and published in 1913, it's a collection of worshipers' "Tried and True" recipes. Above, a drawing of the second building erected by the congregation, in 1895; it seems to have burned down in 1924.

One Clinton Oblinger was either the perpetrator or the victim of a joke; his contribution may be found below the jump. It calls for techniques that Julia never taught us.

Continue reading "Clear Soup" »

June 21, 2006

Hot Dog Rules

When it comes to the simple things in life, I am inflexible.

This entry has been republished at Portico.

April 26, 2006

Blanquette de Veau

Blanquette de Veau is a surefire springtime hit that's good whenever the weather isn't too oppressively hot. It's an easy stew to cook, and it benefits from sitting overnight between the two phases of preparation. In the first, the meat is braised to tenderness; in the second, the braising liquid is converted into a béchamel sauce.

The classic French blanquette is a very basic dish, based on veal and onions alone. Whether Sheila Lukins thought it up herself or picked up the idea from, say, a clever German chef, she published a souped up version in the first Silver Palate collection (page 134), adding carrots and dill. I don't think that I could ever do without these enhancements. They shout "Frühling!"

Begin by reading the entirety of this recipe and transcribing the basics onto a sheet of paper that you can tack onto the kitchen wall. Measure out a half-cup...

Continue reading about Blanquette de Veau at Portico.

April 14, 2006

SriPraPhai

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Photo by Ms NOLA

Last night, Ms NOLA and I had an adventure: we became tourists. We went to Woodside, in Queens, on the No 7 train. Our voyage passed without event, but we were complete tourists, looking out the train windows at the Manhattan skyline (yes, it is always about us) and wondering whether the train that we were on would stop where we wanted it to (it didn't, but no biggie). Not to mention pulling Hopstop routers out of our bags.

Our destination was SriPraPhai. Behind this neat unprepossessing storefront lies some of the best Thai food in the Metropolitan Area. We got there at about 6:30, when there were still many families at the tables. Seventy-five minutes later, the Manhattanites were arriving and there was a wait for tables.

My experience was mixed. I loved the mee krob that I went out there to enjoy; it wasn't as ketchupy as the local restaurant's. I could have eaten both little cakes myself. The sautéed catfish with eggplant in a chili curry sauce, however, was not my kind of dish. That it was too hot wasn't really the problem; the catfish bones were. What a nuisance. I hate working at food.

On the theory that I might get hungry later, I ordered, for take-out, the dish that had first caught my eye, sautéed pork in a curry sauce.

It's my goal to get large groups of friends to go out to SriPraThai, so that everybody can have a little bit of everything. And of course there's plenty of Singha beer - really the best in the world, to my mind - to wash everything down with.

The main thing was: we actually went. We did not talk inconclusively and end up doing nothing. No, we decided to do this yesterday, and stuck with our plan even though everyone who was asked to come along backed out. Having braved the borough border (Park Slope doesn't count any more than going out to Fire Island does), we were blessed with what I hope was not beginner's luck.

I know I sound like a fatuous Gothamite. But this fun trip was so beyond what I was capable of thinking about, much less doing, before Remicade.

April 12, 2006

Kathleen Brady's Indian Melon Salad

Kathleen Brady is a lovely Irishwoman who lives in Winnetka. My dear Kathleen has known her since college, and I've had the pleasure of meeting her a few times myself. Learning that I was a cook, Kathleen Brady gave me a few recipes, and this one has been a staple of our summertimes ever since. It is the most refreshing savory dish that I know.

First, you roast a chicken. You don't overcook it, as I'm afraid I did the other night. You and your partner dine on the dark meat, reserving the breast. The breast is for this dish. Depending on the size of the bird, this recipe will provide too much for two or plenty for three. To serve four, poach half of a chicken breast (or more, if you think you need it), and chop it up with the roast meat.

In case you're not the sort of person who reads recipes through before starting in on them, I'll repeat the last line here: "Chill for three hours." It's essential that the ingredients sit together for a while in a cold place. For some reason, I've taken to balling the melon just before serving. If you're reading this months after publication date (April 2006), you can be sure that I've reverted to following the recipe. (Otherwise, I'll change it, won't I?)

Continue reading about this recipe at Portico.

April 10, 2006

My Life in France

Like most people, I became acquainted with Julia Child on WGBH's groundbreaking program, The French Chef. I was already interested in cooking, an activity that, because I was not a girl, was forbidden to me. But for me cooking meant baking, the branch of culinary art that most requires the attentiveness to quantity and texture that I had already developed by playing with my chemistry set in the basement. I was fascinated by white bread. Where did the holes come from? How did pasty dough become airy crumb? In any case, I wasn't about to be entertaining friends at a dinner party any time soon, so what struck me most about Julia Child was what most impressed all non-cooks who found themselves riveted by The French Chef: the bizarre harmony of Child's robust modulation, a plummy accent not much heard in the Sixties,* and the fact that she resembled no one's idea of a television housewife. Without appearing to be clumsy, exactly, she did not perform with the poised, balletic grace of other broadcast cooks, who knew how punctuate their maneuvers with fetching smiles directed at the camera. She didn't perform at all. Her unselfconsciousness on television was, and remains, startling.

Maybe that was how she became a media star in the first place. She did not even own a television set when she was asked to appear on a books program...

Continue reading about the My Life in France at Portico.

March 29, 2006

A World of Menus and Recipes

My mother-in-law called me up last night to ask for a recipe that she'd lost in transition. It comes from a wonderful old cookbook, A World of Menus and Recipes by a lady called Gertrude Bosworth Crum. Mrs Crum, who appears to have led an interesting life, ran Menus By Mail, a subscription service much used (it was said) by diplomats. When she published the book in 1970, it was rumored that Jacqueline Kennedy had relied on Menus By Mail, and that assured the book a success in certain quarters, notably my Jackie-holic mother.

In brisk, soigné prose, Mrs Crum pulls off the neat trick of appearing to address both the well-heeled and well-organized women who bought the book and their cooks. Efficiency is everything, and if there is a corner that can be cut, it's cut. Processed ingredients seem to appear in every recipe, and yet few of the recipes are budget productions. The menu from which the Beets in Aspic recipe is drawn is a "Weekend Luncheon" of Crab Salad (two pounds of crab meat - ouf! - 1½ cups mayonnaise and 1¼ cups mustard; simplicity itself), served with the beets ("If you have used a ring mold for your Julienne of Beets in aspic, fill the center of the ring with crab salad."), and followed by a Compote of Fresh and Cooked Fruits with Chocolate Cookies. I don't think that I've ever followed an entire menu.

Continue reading about Mrs Crum at Portico.

February 14, 2006

The Onion Soupçon

Not one, but two, recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking were on this evening's menu. We started with onion soup à la Beck, Bertolle & Child and went on to Poulets grillés à la diable. Not only that. There were five courses in all. The chicken came with steamed new potatoes. For salad, we had asparagus vinaigrette. Then, two cheeses, a camembert and a Shropshire blue, served with the Latest Thing, Late July saltines, made by the makers of Cape Cod Potato Chips. Finally, a store-bought, heart-shaped chocolate cake just right for four.

Neither of the Mastering dishes was difficult for me, but I wanted to follow the recipes as exactly as I could, and, aside from the conclusion that I need a better broiling pan - I'll consult Mastering for suggestions - I came away with a feeling of real success. One might not expect a chicken daubed with mustard, green onions, and cayenne to be subtle, but what we ate was subtle. It was also, to use Child's favorite poultry accolade, "chickeny." Ms NOLA saved the white-meat half of her split chicken and bagged it for leftovers: I was honored.

But the recipes aren't the half of it. The real secret of our good dinner was my understanding that I would focus on it all day. How obvious! And yet... For a few years now, I've been kidding myself with the idea that there are things in the kitchen that I can do in my sleep. In fact, although I can do them without much preparation or forethought, I end up doing them in a state of extreme pique, as if I were the Zsa Zsa Gabor of blogs. Of course darling but do you really expect me to cut up all these green onions when I should be reading The Huffington Post? Darling.

So today was devoted to kitchen matters. And what do you know? Dinner was easy and pleasant and even interesting - from a culinary point of view. It's been a long, long time since that was the case. (Conversation, with M le Neveu at the table, is always interesting, if you know what I mean by Chinese proverbs.)

Moral of the story: Once a week, I'll be a bonne femme. I won't be wearing it, but you can imagine me in Shapeless Black.

January 08, 2006

Salivation

Ever since the NSA wiretapping revelations erupted last month, I've been uncharacteristically uncertain of how to respond. On the one hand, the President "broke the law." He contests that allegation, and could probably - I'm sorry to say - garner a fair amount of legal support if put to the test. Even if he couldn't, however, it remains the case that most Americans are not greatly dismayed by this aggrandizement of presidential authority "in a time of terror" - an allegation that, as the Administration wants us to understand it, I contest. The sad truth is that most Americans are afraid. There's plenty of reason to be afraid, quite aside from terrorism, but I often sense that the things that frighten me aren't frightening too many of my countrymen. Or perhaps they're anxious because they "know" that there are problems (fuel, deficits, health care) that they can't be bothered to think about.

Am I afraid to confront the President? Not at all. I'm afraid of something else. What? This morning, I was hugely relieved to find that Economist columnist Lexington nailed it, in a piece called "The paranoid style in American politics."

As for impeachment, the prospect of having to defend Mr Bush against the charge that he went a tad too far trying to avert a terrorist attack is the sort of thing Karl Rove salivates about.

Impeachment proceedings could push the American electorate further to the right. I understand that the reasons against appeasement are very practical: if you don't stand up for your principles, then why do they merit respect? I also believe, however, in picking my fights.

There's more to come on this, but I've got to get myself to Carnegie Hall for a MET Orchestra concert. This will probably make me late as it is.

January 04, 2006

Lobster Newburg

For the second week in a row, plans were changed in order to make life simpler. We waited until the New Year to celebrate New Year's Eve.

Think of the restaurant markups on: two ounces of Sevruga caviar; three bottles of Moët & Chandon White Star; three good-sized lobsters. It was expensive enough just to buy the ingredients. I need say nothing about the champagne and the caviar beyond noting that M le Neveu and Ms NOLA, initially skittish about the caviar, did not need to be prodded to partake further.

And what did I do with the lobsters? I made that ancient classic, Lobster Newburg.

It appears that Stouffer's, the frozen-food provisioner, no longer offers this dish, which I remember well from childhood. What I don't remember is whether I'd ever had the real thing, made from scratch or served in a restaurant. A dim, blinking message suggests that I may have made it before. That would account for the intense familiarity of the dish's fragrance that just about knocked me on Sunday night: Stouffer's can't have been as liberal with the Cognac.

Lobster Newburg is a dish of sautéed lobster meat, flamed with Cognac and robed in a custard sauce of eggs and cream, served in pastry shells. To do it right, you kill the lobsters...

Continue reading about Lobster Newburg at Portico.

November 25, 2005

La Côte Basque redux

There's an old saying - well, not that old - that when you see married couples having lunch on a weekday, it's because they're on their way to the divorce lawyers. This always makes me chuckle, on the rare occasions when I do have lunch with Kathleen on a weekday. It doesn't happen often.

And it happened only accidentally today. When I got up at 9:15, I was surprised to see that Kathleen was still asleep, since she'd told me that she was going in to the office. I decided right away that I was going to go see Derailed across the street at ten, and when I left the apartment, Kathleen was reading the Times. Walking home from the movie - there is nothing that can be said about Derailed except: Clive Owen owns this film; he makes you forgive its creaky plot points over and over and over again; and "See this thriller!" - I wondered if I would find my dear wife snuggled up under the covers. It turned out that if the movie had been a half hour shorter, that's just what I would have found. Coming into the lobby when I did, however, I ran into my Prof's wife, and we were talking about La Côte Basque when Kathleen slunk into view. She said that she was on her way to lunch, and, after introducing her to Mme Prof, I invited myself along. We went to Burger Heaven, where we sat and talked for a long time, although not about divorce. On the contrary. We talked about how blogging has cleaned up my life. Ordered it and made it work.

But just now I'd rather talk about La Côte Basque, or, as it appears to be styled nowadays, LCB Brasserie Rachou. (The last part refers to chef-owner Jean-Jacques Rachou.) "LCB," which I find I automatically pronounce as "Ell-Say-Bay," seems quite arch, since it can't mean anything unless you know the name of the restaurant that, prior to last year, occupied the same space. La Côte Basque was one of New York's premier "temples of gastronomy," very grand and very expensive. Kathleen and I went perhaps six or seven times over twenty-odd years, almost always to mark a birthday or an anniversary. But the grand old French restaurants are no longer popular, and for the most part they've closed. M Rachou is to be applauded for coming up with an attractive, and, I hope, successful rethink. The quaint old murals and the Louis Quinze chairs have been retired (the Villeroy & Boch "Basket" is still in use, however). The new color scheme features a distinctive ocher mustard, with black trim. The walls have been lined with mirrors and adorned with belle époque light fixtures (with frosted glass shades) and amusing medallions of sporting folk circa 1900. There are even more banquettes than there used to be, which is very good, because - the only design error - the unupholstered bentwood chairs are almost shabby and obviously not comfortable. The floor has been covered in small tiles.

Other diners were presented with the full menu, but we, for some reason, were not; nor did we mind. The holiday menu was just fine, even though it didn't announce just where the prix had been fixed. (The figure turned out to be "$50" - extremely reasonable.) Kathleen chose salmon tartare, sea bass, and pumpkin pie. I went the supplemental route ($3.50 tacked onto each dish) and had crabmeat salad, filet mignon Périgourdine, and the restaurant's signature Grand Marnier soufflé. Everything was great, but the Périgourdine sauce was sublime. Complex but elemental, it was the earthiest thing that I have ever tasted; it was as though the meaning of existence could be packed into an exotic mushroom. Well, why not? It was. Thanks to an amuse-gueule of pumpkin bisque, we could hardly clean our plates, but I struggled manfully with that sauce (one slice of filet would have been enough). Almost as extraordinary was the bottle of wine that I chose, Lynch Bages 2001. Two glasses of Pauillac were enough to put Kathleen to sleep, but she managed to get home under her own steam, or at least with her head on my shoulder in the taxi. And so our luxuriously quiet Thanksgiving Day crept into the night. We hope that yours was just as warm.

November 09, 2005

Coq au vin

Coq au vin is a favorite dish of mine, and it's perfect for a relatively informal dinner for six. It can be made a day or two ahead of time, which is always great if, like me, you like to cook and you like to serve dinner to friends but you don't like to do both on the same day. Even without having to think of the main dish, I had plenty to do the other night before everyone arrived.  There was the salad of endives, walnuts, and forme d'ambert to prepare for starters, and the chocolate soufflé for dessert. (I started the soufflé before sitting down to the stew.)

The whole point of coq au vin is the soup-sauce in which the chicken braises. For this reason, I serve it with a good, sliced-up baguette. Noodles sound like a good idea, but they don't soak up juices, and rice and potatoes are not much better. It would not be totally insane to strain the dish and discard the solids - so long as you had a good piece of bread.

When I started cooking, coq au vin was, like boeuf bourgignon...

Continue reading about coq au vin at Portico.


October 21, 2005

Icebox

After lunch yesterday, I put on Topper and got to work on the icebox. (Amazing that such a word should survive into the twenty-first century, but that's what both my parents, born 1914 and 1918, called it.) Its condition was, to use the term a plumber once applied to my sink, "neglected." A sticky brown goo had spread over the bottom shelf, and getting rid off it tore my sponge to pieces. But I prevailed. The refrigerator is much cleaner. More important, it's emptier. The challenge will be to keep it that way.

Because of my non-moving back, I would be much happier with the sort of refrigerator that is mounted over, not beneath, the freezer, but nobody manufactures such an appliance for the space available in my kitchen. As a result, I'm faced with the choice of knocking things over because I can't see them or getting down on my knees. A third alternative, and real solution, occurred to me a while ago: everything is either in bins or on sturdy trays. This makes cleaning the glass shelves very simple. But I don't always load the bins and trays properly. That's why I want greatly reduced load. Ideally, I'd have a "bachelor's box" - beer and a few condiments. It will never be that spare. For one thing, I have jillions of condiments. Jams and jellies too - something of a problem because I don't have a sweet tooth and Kathleen is avoiding carbs these days and has never been a bread-eater.

It killed me to throw away all the chocolate. But it was unusable. And what do I do with two small bottles of Medaglia d'Oro instant espresso (essential for many desserts)? How about "brewing" a cup? I wonder what that would taste like now, in the age of Starbucks.

There's still too much in the freezer, even though I threw much of what was in it away. At least I reclaimed the ice bucket.

Topper was great fun. It's possibly the most Archie Leach of Cary Grant's movies. Constance Bennett and Roland Young are perfect, although I always think of Leo G Carroll in the title role, thanks to the Fifties TV show. And while we're making comparisons, Billie Burke's Clara is a lot less amusing than Lee Patrick's Henrietta (why the name change, I wonder). But the supporting cast sparkles with such luminaries as Alan Mowbray (as the butler) and Eugene Pallette (as the house detective). Hedda Hopper has one of her socialite moments, and Hoagie Carmichael plays himself. In the end, Roland Young's Topper carries the movie - which is as it should be.

October 09, 2005

Jarrets de veau

Here's a good winter dish: Jarrets de veau, or veal shanks. The recipe comes from Michael Roberts's charming Parisian Home Cooking, one of the few cookbooks that stand at the ready in my kitchen.

The first thing to do, of course, is to get hold of good slices of veal shank, properly tied up by the butcher. If you have never dealt with veal shank but are attracted by the idea of a meltingly good and simple stew, then simply ask your butcher how much "osso buco" costs today - you'll need between a pound and a half (for two) to three pounds (for four) of meat - and, if you can bear the expense (which will not necessarily be great), order two to four pieces. Ideally, all the pieces would be of the same size, but in practice they never are, because they're sawed from the same shank, and the calf of a calf is not unlike the calf of a human being: it swells and then tapers. Don't worry about this, though; you'll probably never prepare this dish for four matched appetites.

The second thing to do is to make mirepoix. You will already have done this. To make mirepoix, take two bunches of fresh carrots (the kind that are sold with their tops), three heads of celery, and two or three Vidalia onions (depending on size), and chop them up very fine. If you're like me, you'll cheat and pulse the vegetables in a food processor. The result won't be pretty, but then the result rarely makes it to the table, because, as "aromatics," they're used to infuse liquids with their flavors and then discarded. You want equal amounts of all three.

Over low heat, sweat the vegetables in clarified butter or oil...

Continue reading about jarrets de veau at Portico.

October 07, 2005

What's Gotta Give

There has been some talk around here about a "new me." Such talk is exhilarating, of course, in those early moments when a better future beckons with false assurance. I didn't fall for it this time; I knew that I was going to have to trudge every difficult step between where I am and the promised land, and that it wouldn't be easy. At my age, "new" cannot mean "additional." I am already fully booked. "New" has to signify "replacement." Something's going to have to go, and I hope that it won't be "cooking."

It will certainly, this change, involve a new approach to the kitchen, one that is very, very focused upon immediate needs. It is time for me to throw away - far away - the mentalité represented by my mother's deep freeze. It is time to stop having things "on hand." There's no need for that - I can scoop up the ingredients of a good meal without crossing the street, twenty-four hours a day. Walking a little further and planning a bit ahead, I can make a memorable meal in "no time." But there has been, for some time, a disconnect between the me who shops and the me who cooks. The latter has been showing a mutinous side, and the sooner I fire the me who goes shopping and replace him with the me who does the cooking, the better.

I really had no thought of dinner when I walked down to Agata & Valentina this afternoon. It was a multi-purpose trek. I dropped off a few items at the framer's, got a haircut next door, stopped at Cafe 79 for a grilled-cheese-and-bacon, and then crossed the intersection to my favorite cornucopium. The reason for the this stop was very simple: nuts were low. From the minute he arrives for dinner until dinner is actually on the table, M le Neveu is constantly reaching into the big jar of cashews on the hall table. I noticed the other day that there were so few nuts in the jar that I could see wood through the bottom glass. And I buy my cashews at Agata & Valentina exclusively. Why? Because I'm a man, and when something works, I do it over and over and over.

But, as long as I was there...

Focus! Focus! As the old granny says in American Wedding.

With Kathleen off in Korea for a few days, and Ms NOLA up at Yale, I thought that I might entice said nephew to a simple dinner of rib steak and fries. M le Neveu is qualified to offer up his cadaver for the Museum of Carnivores; no slouch myself, I am always impressed by his capacity. And his enthusiasm! Grrr. So I got a nice rib steak from Dieter, and then I thought about Kathleen's last supper before the trip, which, in my wandering mind, was to be tonight; somehow, we were already at Friday. I couldn't decide between veal and veal - veal scallops, that is, and veal shanks. I plumped for the latter. I make a great jarrets de veau - osso buco, more or less, without the tomatoes - and I will share the recipe with you over the weekend, perhaps, when nobody's paying attention. I also bought bags of cranberries (yay! cranberry season!) and a few fingerling potatoes - period. Incredibly austere of me. I bypassed the charcuterie counter altogether, because I haven't wanted sandwiches lately, unless they're grilled by somebody else. I thought about buying some shucked clams for a nice linguine dish, but firmness prodded me down toward the cash registers. On the way, I recalled that today is not Friday. All right; ya got me: I'm writing this last night. Today is Friday. But yesterday was not Friday, and that fact registered. So. What about tonight? I turned around and went back to the fish counter for some slices of salmon fillet.

The cranberries are cooling, the rice water is on the boil, and the salmon needed to be taken out of its poach ten minutes ago, but I was having much too good a time sipping Jack and blabbing with you. Ah! There's Kathleen - she's got a car in ten minutes. So we'll eat at about ten-thirty - not at all abnormal. It doesn't get abnormal until eleven-fifteen. At that hour, even I lose my appetite.

September 19, 2005

As Good As Homemade

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Throughout my little career in the kitchen, I have loved making soups. My tomato soup is a specialty of the house, as is my curried butternut squash soup. I make two mushroom soups, one a simple broth with marjoram, shallots, and chopped mushrooms, the other Julia Child's Velouté de champignons. And then there's Billi Bi, the great steamed-mussel soup that couldn't be more elegant. Don't forget chilled cucumber soup. Or Vichyssoise.

Most of the soups that I've listed hold for a few days, or longer; otherwise, I couldn't make them, since there are only two of us and only occasional guests. You will also note that most of the soups are purées. Soups with things in them don't last quite so well, and some don't last at all. Among these are New England Clam Chowder and minestrone. Not only doesn't minestrone hold, but it's impossible to make in small quantities. It is also a lot of work. I made it once, and it was almost okay.

One day, at the store, I was remembering lunch at my aunt's in New Hampshire. This was always a simple affair of soup and sandwiches and iced coffee. The soup was often Progresso minestrone. I was suddenly consumed by a desire to consume minestrone, but I thought I might do better than Progresso, and, boy, did I ever. I discovered Wolfgang Puck soups.

Wolfgang Puck New England Clam Chowder, French Onion Soup, Hearty Beef with Lentils Soup, and Old Fashioned Beef and Barley Soup. I don't know how they do it, but the manufacturers behind Wolfgang Puck soups have figured out how to put very good soup into cans. I could not make these soups any better myself. And the convenience! You don't even add water. Just heat the soup in a small saucepan and serve it with a bit of toasted baguette and a glass of wine. (Each can feeds two, but I can put one away all by myself.) This is really the way to enjoy life on one of those weekends when everybody in the house is deeply involved in a special project and nobody wants to spend a lot of time at the table. There's no reason to settle for a demoralizing snack.

Owing to the always-limited shelf space in Manhattan's supermarkets, the Food Emporium downstairs doesn't carry a dependable selection of Wolfgang Puck soups. Sometimes they've got nothing but Chicken Noodle and Tomato. That's why I looked for and found the Wolfgang Puck site. At first, I was disappointed, because nothing's on offer. Looking a little more closely, I had a voilà moment, and was soon at Foodlocker.com.

Now, the soup is cheaper downstairs that it is at Foodlocker. Depending on how much you're willing to buy at a given time, a can of soup costs between $3.15 (case price) and $4.49 (the four-can minimum - shipping included). Yes, that's pricey. But what you're getting here is a restaurant-quality product that I would have no shame in serving to guests. And I don't think that four dollars is a lot to spend on a nice lunch for two. It would cost twice that, at least, in the simplest neighborhood restaurant, and it wouldn't taste as good.

If you don't live one of the major American cities where Wolfgang Puck soups are distributed, then Foodlocker is your only option. Try it! You've read my recommendations; I'll vouch for all the ones I've listed. Maybe you've got a few friends who will go in with you on a case.

I'm not going to say anymore, lest my enthusiasm begin to seem suspect.

September 07, 2005

A Great Tomato

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Kathleen, overtired from weeks of late nights, took yesterday off as an extension of the long weekend, so I canceled my French lesson. When I called the Prof to tell him that we couldn't meet, I learned that he had brought back some tomatoes from his place by the sea. At about five, I went downstairs to pick them up, on my way to chercher le courrier (get the mail). They were beauties.

Two of them still are. I sliced one last night, and sprinkled it with salt and basil. The dinner was not a great success. I had poached some salmon steaks over the weekend, and I thought I'd figure out how to serve them with avocado. I made a buttercream-like sauce by processing the avocado, a bit of mayonnaise, tarragon and the remains of a lime from weekend cocktails. This "went with" the salmon all too well. It emphasized the salmon flavor while remaining utterly untastable itself. And of course it was too rich. I ought to have omitted the mayonnaise and increased the citrus. 

What with the richness of that dish, we couldn't eat the whole tomato, which made me very sad. (I did save it, but who knows what it's like now.) Seeing the platter by the sink, I was reminded of Chardin (by the lemon, probably), and I thought I'd immortalize the last slices of a great tomato.

July 14, 2005

An Impromptu Concoction

Two months, ago, perhaps, I took an avocado that had just reached the peak of ripeness and built a salad for it. I made up the recipe and I didn't take notes. I've improvised a few sequels, and last night's version was so good that I think it's time to write things down. The menu was simple: a broiled sirloin steak that had been powdered with Agata & Valentina's Italian Rub and steeped in the refrigerator for a few days, and the salad. I was sure that I had made far too much salad for four people, but there really wasn't much left.

Yorkville Salad

Prepare a green-onion vinaigrette by combining 2/3 cup of oil, 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper with the white parts of a bunch of green onions in a small food processor. Emulsify the ingredients. Spoon a tablespoon or so of the dressing into a large salad bowl. Decant the rest a small bottle and set it aside. 

Sauté the kernels of one or two ears of corn in a combined tablespoon of butter and oil for a few minutes. Scrape the corn into a large salad - tossing - bowl. Peel a seedless (hydroponically-grown) cucumber, chop off the tips, and, using a mandoline set for thin slicing, slice it into the bowl. Quarter one or two dozen cherry tomatoes, depending on their size, and add them to the salad bowl. Toss the salad gently with sprinkles of crumbled feta cheese as you add a handful or two of sliced red onion rings and a cubed red or yellow Bell pepper. Add more dressing as desired. At the last minute, peel and chop to ripe avocadoes and toss them in the salad bowl, and transfer the salad to a serving bowl. Top with more feta and serve.

Kathleen believes that the addition of a boiled egg or two would make this a complete meal. Mushrooms are a possible addition, but as the combination of avocados and mushrooms is always intensely earthy, they may not be suitable for every menu. I'm thinking about cubed roast beets and, possibly, cubed ham. 

Please let me know if you've been making a better version of this for years and can barely restrain from giggling at the fatuity of my naming this impromptu concoction after my own neighborhood.

May 17, 2005

Dinner for Four

B and I had penciled in a date six weeks ago, running through the weekends until we found one that was clear for all of us. We would "get together," leaving the details to be worked out later, or perhaps not wanting to waste time making plans that would probably be canceled. I think that we were all amazed that the date was still free when we got to it. If it had fallen a week earlier, I don't know what we'd have done, but it certainly wouldn't have been dinner here, with me cooking.

Already on Thursday, however, I felt up to it, and a workable menu presented itself. I shopped on Friday, before I'd even had confirmation that B and R (B's wife and Kathleen's schoolmate) would be able to come. I took it easy on Saturday until around five o'clock. At six, I called B and asked for an extra half-hour - seven-thirty instead of seven. That was no problem, and it gave me a luxurious cushion of time that I didn't really need. The dinner came off without a hitch. No, there was one hitch. While preparing the main course, I moved the bakery box containing a lemon tart off the stove, and it took a while to find out where I'd put it. I'd put it in a perfectly reasonable place, or in other words the last place I looked.

Well, now you know about dessert: I bought it. I didn't want to press my resources too far. On a perfect evening, I'd have served a chocolate soufflé with a raspberry coulis. Next time.

Continue reading "Dinner for Four" »

March 10, 2005

Makes My Day

The Culinarion branch of Portico generates an interesting kind of mail. Every six months or so, I get an email from someone far away, sometimes very far away, thanking me for a recipe. Today, it was a gentleman from the Dominican Republic. Responding to my page on cooking rice, he writes,

Hello:

My congratulations for your instructions.  That is the way all recipes and procedures should be given.  I assume you are a "practical-perfectionist".  I enjoy cooking.  Rice is our main food, we eat rice everyday.  Thanks again.

Letters like this never fail to make my day. But I have to weigh the suggestion that I take up recipe-writing full time against Walrus Pete's cheeky advice at Miss Gostrey's Guide. I had posted a long entry encouraging people to comment. (You can always say "thanks" and leave it at that.) Mr WP was on it in an instant. I can't say I didn't ask for it....

March 06, 2005

Just So You Know

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Hmmm - looks good. But what if I told you...

Continue reading "Just So You Know" »

March 05, 2005

Hu-Kwa!

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At least once a week, I root through the Internet looking for access to modest items that I would buy if they were available. Usually, it's just the DVD version of an old movie (Palm Beach Story has come out at last; more about that later), but once in a while it's a forgotten treat, or at least one that I've given up looking for in conventional venues. Such as Hu-Kwa Tea. Just as Twinings produces the only real Earl Grey tea, so Hu-Kwa is where you'll find the best Lapsang Souchong. A smoked oolong tea from Taiwan, Hu-Kwa is not a hit with Kathleen, who complains that it reeks of creosote and who just provided me with the following testimonial:

Sometimes it makes me ill when I smell it. It's true!

So we don't enjoy this delicate tea ("Delicate? What are they, nuts?") when the whole family is at home. I was introduced to Hu-Kwa by aunts of my mother's. They were half-aunts, really, and not much older than my parents, and they made a fuss of me from the day of my arrival. (Shortly after my sister's arrival - she was nine months old at the time, with plenty of personality - Helen and Bea took me off to a cottage that they'd rented in Brewster. "Your nose was a little out of joint," Bea told me a few years ago.) When I was old enough, they took me to shows and concerts; I'm quite sure that I entered Carnegie Hall for the first time on their dime. Among my first independent outings in the city were visits to their flat in the great Deco building on the corner of Second Avenue and Twenty-Second Street, and it was on one of these visits that they offered me a cup of Hu-Kwa. I took to it right away, and that's why there's nothing Proustian about the tea's ability to summon two lovely ladies: no intervening oblivion. In any case, I Googled Hu Kwa yesterday, and voilà: the Mark T Wendell Company, a tea firm in Boston, is still retailing the stuff ("since 1904").

February 24, 2005

Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! (Loose Links)

¶ What do you know: hardly have the electrons dried on my carbonara piece than Jason Kottke posts a link to Bacontarian, a collaborative Web log devoted to smoked pork. It's a brand-new site, and who knows where it will go, but follow it I must. And the links! Here's one that I won't even identify - be careful if you're at work, Oh, what the hell. I told them my zip code to see what would happen, and I got the following message:

Your zip code 10028 is covered by our New York office.

Due to overwhelming demand, there are currently no BaconWhores appointments available in the next two weeks. Check back soon for updated availability!

Right. Somebody sure had nothing to do one weekend. Soon I was at IHeartBacon, a serious cooking site from Seattle, which took me to Rate the Bacon, which is simply odd. Don't forget the Bacon of the Month Club! I'm afraid that I'm not ready for its level of commitment. When I order bacon my mail, I go to Nueske's. Nueske's bacon is smoked in applewood, and it is quite unlike anything that you'll find at the supermarket. But it is also unlike those nitrate-free bacons, which always taste like smoked salmon. I love smoked salmon, but not when I'm in the mood for bacon.

¶ Sometimes I wonder if I invented the peanut butter and bacon sandwich. Nobody ever seems to have heard of it, and, what's more, people tend to gag when I mention it. But if there were ever two foods more made for each other, that was in another world. This is a very high sodium treat, though, so I've been avoiding it. My mother made them for us when I was little - I think. Maybe my father liked them. I really don't remember. But they're delicious, and I don't really have to tell you that they're made of two slices of white toast, three slices of crisp bacon, and a spread of peanut butter. Note: take small bites and prepare to chew. Recommended for insomniacs. By the way, there are some kinky varieties out there. Mozzarella? Celery?

¶ Why "Canadian bacon"? Canadian bacon is smoked loin, not belly. That's why it's so lean, and impossible to fry without a little butter. There is no lard to render. But of course it's just right for Eggs Benedict, where true bacon would be much too salty and ham - well, hammy.

Dietz & Watson explains the world of cured meats and sausage, or at least that part of the world in which it traffics. 

Spaghetti alla carbonara

This recipe began in the pages of Giuliano Hazan's The Classic Pasta Cookbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1993), one of those super DK cookbooks with oodles of helpful photographs. (You can still get it from Amazon's Marketplace.) Spaghetti alla carbonara is one of the Classic Sauces, which puts it in a special chapter where every ingredient is pictured in an arc around a bowl containing the finished product. (Other classics are Pasta puttanesca, Pasta primavera, Fettuccine all'Alfredo, and, most important, a recipe for the Bolognese sauce known as ragù.) You don't really have to know how to read to use this cookbook.

That cookbook. This is my cookbook. I strongly advise you to read what follows all the way through before even thinking of making the dish. It's not that carbonara is in any way difficult. It's simply that I want you to savor my prose in tranquility.

Continue reading about the Spaghetti alla carbonara at Portico.

February 15, 2005

Great Ribs from the Oven

This is a recipe-in-progress, but it's reliable as it is. You won't wish you hadn't followed it. As is so often the case, the recipe that inspired it was a limited blueprint, prescribing ingredients and oven timing but omitting several practical issues. Let's face it: if you're barbecuing ribs by the pool, you can make a big mess. If you're roasting ribs in the oven, and then dining on them in an ordinary New York apartment, you can't.

The recipe will yield enough ribs to feed five or six people. Consider filling finger bowls with slices of lemon and water.

Mark Bittman's recipe for making barbecued ribs in the oven, which comes from How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (Macmillan, 1998) - is a new edition in the works? - doesn't tell you everything you need to know. The marinade is great, but the execution is limited to a specification of oven temperatures and times, plus a directive to apply the marinade during the last half hour or so. What, you say? Brush on a marinade while the ribs are in the oven? Well, Mr Bittman doesn't talk about marinade. He talks about something to brush onto the ribs during the final hour of cooking. I call it a marinade because I let the ribs soak in it for a few days before dinner. From the start, I knew that the execution part needed work.

Continue reading "Great Ribs from the Oven" »

January 12, 2005

Can You Handle It

The contents of this page can be found at "A Week in Istanbul" at Portico.

December 23, 2004

Easy, but...

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The ingredients for Tomato Soup are not expensive, and I might as well give you the recipe:

Into a soup pot, put two choppped sweet onions with some butter, and cook them over over medium heat until they're soft. Add 30 quartered plum tomatoes and three quartered Granny Smith apples. Stir to blend. After a minute or two, pour in a shot or two of good Calvados. When the alcohol has boiled off, add four cans beef broth. Throw in a couple of bay leaves, but don't crumble them because you'll want to remove them. A few berries of white pepper won't hurt; add salt very judiciously if you must. Simmer this mixture for about an hour, until the apple skins float away from the apples.

There, wasn't that easy?

Now we get to work - and here's where the money comes into it. You will see in the picture, center, an All-Clad stock pot, flanked by a Cuisinart and, in the sink, another All-Clad item, the base of their pasta pentola. Sitting in the pasta pot is a chinois, or very fine conical sieve. The cooled contents of the stock put are run through the Cuisinart (three ladelsful for four minutes) and then strained through the chinois. I might as well venture that this is a man's work, and it takes about an hour. When you are done, there will be about three-quarters of a cup of debris in the chinois - apple skins, tomato seeds, paper labels that are hard to remove and that remain mysteriously intact during the food processing. The rest will fill the stock pot with a rich and velvety tomato soup that never tastes quite the same from batch to batch. (Although it might if the ingredients were measured by weight.)

I invite you price the equipment in a Chef's Catalog. Of course, the All-Clad and the chinois will outlive you, so thoughts of amortization are not silly. But I have to stop myself when people ask how hard my Tomato Soup is to make. "Hard" is not the hard part. 

November 25, 2004

The Usual Suspects

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Happy Thanksgiving, mes vieux.

As you can see from these pictures, Kathleen is the better photographer. If I'd moved the glass in front of her, she wouldn't seem to be sitting in purdah. But she rolled her eyes when I suggested sitting next to her on the banquette and getting a waiter to snap the shot. So here we are.

A few years ago, cleaning up after one of our Thanksgiving feasts, Kathleen and I had a little heart-to-heart. We decided that there was nothing wrong with our recipes or our cooking techniques. We simply didn't like turkey. We didn't like it whether we made it ourselves or were eating somebody else's. Nor did we really care for anything else on the Thanksgiving menu, except for cranberries, which would be a summer dish in our house if we had room for a deep freeze and could stock the berries until temperatures climbed. After considerable meditation, Kathleen hustled us out of New York City last Thanksgiving, on an ostensible 'vacation' to Paris whose only purpose was to spare us the turkey and stuffing. This year, I convinced her that extreme measures weren't really necessary. In the event nobody pressed an invitation upon us, and all our nearest and dearest had other plans. Not that I waited. I booked a table for two at the Café Pierre in September - having called in June to find out when they'd be taking reservations for 25 November.

Because we were brought up on old-fashioned lines, Kathleen and I walk into an old-fashioned restaurant (even one as spruce as the Café Pierre, which, as I noted the other day, has been acquired by the Four Seasons chain) with feelings of comfort and relaxation. We don't feel that we have to behave in an unusual way or remember forgotten protocols. You could say that we get to be ourselves for a few hours, but that might make us out to be princely refugees from some ancien régime, which we're certainly not. I seem to recall an editorial in today's Times about suppressing desire on this day of thanks - a Puritan idea, thank you very much, that I couldn't disavow more heartily.

What did we have? There were few choices on the prix fixe menu, but we had no trouble finding good things to eat. An endive salad with blue cheese, a terrine of foie gras, truffled risotto and black sea bass on chanterelles, chocolate mousse with caramelized banana and pumpkin pie - it was all quite lovely, and not what we get at home. And to drink, a '99 Grgch Hills cabernet.

"Do you think that anybody else can tell that we're married," Kathleen asked after dessert. I omit the question mark because she wasn't really asking.