Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Celebrations


Deep down, I believe New Year's Eve celebrations are for the young, the wistful, the unmarried. Each year I proclaim that--but on the years we're invited somewhere, we easily ditch Jim Svejda's broadcast and eagerly show up on our host's doorstep. With bubbly, of course.

On the nights to ourselves, we plan an upscale menu: oysters or blini with salmon roe (and vodka, clearly an homage to my nonexistent Russian roots), and a bottle of bubbly big enough to last the night (Cost Plus--a magnum of Segura Viudas cava is $9.99!! Time to stock up!). And something extravagant for the main course.

Here's beef stroganoff from the City Cuisine cookbook, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. It's a bit of a last minute affair, but this is what I cooked for Christmas Eve, a luscious addition to a menu when you're pulling out all the stops.

Have a pot of water boiling, ready for a pound of fettucine or broad noodles. Start boiling before you cook the meat.

Slice a trimmed 2 pound beef tenderloin in 1 inch slices. Lightly salt and pepper the slices. Allow to come to room temperature. Saute 2 1/2 cups sliced mushroom caps in 1 tbls butter. Add 1 1/2 cups julienned dill pickles (Bubbies are what you want here) and 2 tbls pickle juice. Cook until slightly reduced, (two minutes). Begin cooking noodles. Add 2 cups heavy cream. Cook until reduced by half.

While sauce is reducing, heat in a skillet 2 tblsp oil, until almost smoking. For medium rare sear meat two minutes each side. Serve on a bed of noodles, with the sauce ladled over.

A blissful way to say farewell to the old year, and welcome to the new.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Between gigs


The strange week between Christmas and New Year's is filled with hopes and regrets. Is it a fallow time, a recharging week for you? Or is it filled with projects and prospects? It's a restless week for me, looking at the lights and ornaments that we took so much trouble and time to hang; now they represent a significant amount of time to unhang and carefully store. I have silenced the Christmas carols, at least until KOST 103.5 starts broadcasting them again, next November. And I am looking far ahead to next year's calendar, at the winter break dates for the university which has accepted my daughter. All that hope, fear and anticipation of going away to school. I feel like a cocktail shaker, being shaken and stirred.

So I shall distract myself with lists and plans. What new foods to cook in the coming year? Years ago I tasted quenelles--it's time to try a recipe or two. A fish soup with croutons and garlic mayonnaise is something else I have a hankering for, along with Margaret's biscuits. Hmmm, just thinking about those biscuits makes me feel light headed and light hearted--

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Now, starving readers, grab a cookie or a restorative glass of something, and put your feet up!

The Restless Dez

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cookies Lessons Learned

DO
Bake cookies, even if they're out of the freezer.
DON'T
eat all the dough before you pop them in the oven.
DO
Share with your friends.
DON'T
ask your Alzheimer-addled neighbor how they were.
DO
Put on the Christmas Carols.
DON'T
Substitute the salt for the sugar.

Here's another one of my all-time favorites:

Pecan Bars

Combine 2 cups of flour with 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Add two sticks butter, mix until crumbly. Pat dough into the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes until light brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with 2 1/2 cups pecans.

While the shortbread bakes, mix one egg, one cup brown sugar, 2 tbls melted butter, 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 cup corn syrup. Pour topping in thin stream to cover the surface and pecans. Bake for another 25 -30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool and remove from pan. Reserve for those you love best of all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Christmas Tale



Is it because of Catherine Deneuve or that it's set in France that has given this movie such great reviews? In search of seasonal films I rented this one. How French was it? Arty family, check. Lots of food, drink, sex and cigarettes, check, check, check and check. Dysfunctional family? Yup. Incomprehensible plot? Ah, yes, in a nutshell. If it's obscure, that means it must be deep, right?
Rife with family drama (a sister banishes her brother from their family, why the other members of the family go along with this, is never quite explained) schizophrenia, twice, antisemitism, did I mention terminal disease and bone marrow donors? You'd think with all of this going on there might even be some dramatic tension. You'd be wrong.

It was so bad I had to go right out and rent my all time favorite seasonal flick: Die Hard. (Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, and a Christmas tree).

The only thing that got me through this art film was a batch of these cookies, which a neighbor introduced me to years ago at a cookie exchange. They are for people who love almonds and sugar. They're flourless and flawless.


Angel Cookies

Finely grind unblanched almonds until you have 1 3/4 cup.
Combine with 1 1/2 cups sugar and 3 large egg whites. Set your hand mixer to medium and beat until thick, about 3 minutes. Beat in 1 tsp almond extract and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Drop onto parchment paper and press a few sliced almonds on top. Bake at 375 degrees until just brown on top, about 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then remove from parchment paper and onto rack. Cool.

Heavenly. Simply divine.

Wait, don't go yet! Need a wine and movie pairing list for the holidays? Check out this link!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hannukah Shout Out

Hey, y'all, in honor of the last night of Hannukah, here's a clip of mine published in the Los Angeles Times a few years back--

This year Hanukkah overlaps with Christmas. On my kitchen counter the challah sits next to the tortillas. In the pantry the masa harina is somewhere behind the matzo meal. In the refrigerator I store rendered chicken fat, or schmaltz, next to the manteca, or lard.

Let the culture wars begin – and like everything else in my life, they begin at home. My husband and I were quite smug about being ahead of the curve on the Latinas-marrying-Jews trend, which hadn’t yet been documented when we wed 14 years ago.

He arrived as a teenager from England; my family has been here for generations. In his home, the language in which to keep secrets from the children was Yiddish; in mine, Spanish. My favorite joke is that I married the immigrant.

We were married by a rabbi and a Baptist minister – my grandfather.

The first bris I attended was my son’s.

Today, in my household, we celebrate holidays different from those celebrated by my mother and sister. Although my daughter understands Spanish, she would prefer to be taught Hebrew by her father.

The religious education of our children is something I thought we had settled years ago. Now, as the time for bat and bar mitzvahs draws near, it is taking an unexpected turn, an unanticipated urgency. It is not at all settled. The menorah, the Christmas tree. The Sabbath candles, chicken soup with a lime squeezed into it.

Cultural fusion or cultural confusion? It depends on whom you ask.

What we tend to forget as we talk about “culture” or other cultures is that culture and traditions are things we create, maintain or brush aside every day. Culture is in continual flux, and those touch points or traditions that somehow remain constant do so because we make the effort.

A cozy culinary juxtaposition doesn’t brush away the pain of a family member storming out of our house because our children sang in a Christian choir. Neither does it diminish my own ambivalence about going to temple.

As much as I love the thought that we all are more similar than we are different, even with the best of intentions and motives, even with love and tenderness, we chafe against each other. Our expectations are not met. In the worst moments, our differences, our disagreements, all loom large and insurmountable.

How then, does this play out in the classroom, in larger society?

I think it depends on which definition of ourselves, our families, our society we want to cling to. I believe that American culture, like all others, is fluid, not fixed.

In my own case, I look forward to baby-sitting my grandchildren and peering into the kitchens of my children, where I will find the seminal ingredients of their own new traditions.


Hmmm, perhaps starving readers need a recipe to make this go down more easily?
Here's something that I hope every one can agree on:

Hello Dollies, or Magic Cookie Bars

Melt one stick of butter and pour into a 13 x 9 baking pan. Grind 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, sprinkle evenly on top of melted butter. Pour 1 wonderful can of condensed milk (gawd, I could eat that on its own, all by myself) evenly over crumbs. Now layer 6 oz of chocolate chips, one cup chopped walnuts or pecans, 1 1/3 cups coconut. Press down firmly before baking at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, and call a truce long enough to enjoy these with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scottish Shortbread

This is the easiest and the best. Dense but light, with a perfect, not overpowering, sweetness. This recipe is lifted from Irena Chalmer's Christmas Cookies & Candies, with its nostalgic cover of a snow-frosted village. Voted favorite Christmas cookie by both my mother and son.

Beat 1 cup soft butter until creamy. Beat in 1/2 cup sugar. Sift in 2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder. On a cookie sheet flatten the dough into a rectangle, around half an inch thick. Lightly mark to creat 1" x 2" bars. Sprinkle with two tblsp more of sugar or sprinkles. Bake 15 minutes in 350 degree oven until lightly browned, cool completely to store in an airtight container, provided you can keep friends and family members away from them long enough.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I want it all!


Start here, here or here.
Yes, it's Christmastime, that greedy time of year, and along with sugar plum fairies I dream of cookies. Flat ones, frosted ones, puffy ones, crisp ones, chewy ones. I want them all!

Starving readers already know I love oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and lemon bars. From biscotti to polvorones I bake and devour them all. So I wanted to share some of my favorites in a few of my upcoming posts.

Here's one, again drawn from not only a woman's magazine, but an ad in the mag. Something about Land O' Lakes' wholesome maiden assured me that I would love these Orange Butter Cookies. The first time I baked and frosted them, I ran over to my neighbor and shared them with her, or else I was going to eat them all!

Beat 1/2 cup sugar into 2 soft sticks of unsalted butter (1 cup). Grate and add 1 tsp orange peel, 1 egg, 1 tsp vanilla. Gradually mix in 3 cups of flour. Chill the dough. Roll dough to 1/8 ". Cut out (I like circles, around 1 1/2 inches). Bake at 350 degrees until pale gold, with lightly browned edges.

While cookies bake, mix 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar with 3 tbls orange juice and 1 tsp orange peel. Blend until smooth. Brush glaze over just baked cookies.

Five dozen helpings of yum.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cookbook Corner




I've had this little book for years; I love the recipes and the photographs. So for this morning when a brood of writers show up at my doorstep my part of the potluck will be its moist and crumbly Sour Cream and Pecan coffee cake:

Sift 2 cups flour with 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 tbls baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt.

In a separate large mixing bowl cream 1 1/2 cups sugar into 2 sticks soft butter. Add 1 1/2 cups sour cream (or plain yogurt). Beat in, one at a time, 3 eggs. Add 1/2 tsp lemon zest.

Mix in dry ingredients until smooth.

Butter and flour a bundt or tube pan. Pour in half of the batter, shake the pan a bit to even it out.

Mix 1 1/2 cup chopped pecans with 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1 tbls cinnamon. Sprinkle that mixture more or less evenly over the batter. Now fill the tube pan with the remaining half of batter.


Bake 350 degrees 40-55 minutes until cooked through, cool in pan 10 minutes before turning out and sprinkling with powdered sugar, like a light snowfall---and just like a light snowfall, watch it disappear.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Half Baked or Twice Baked?

Once a year dear friends of ours invite us over to celebrate Christmas with a celebratory Saturday night dinner. It has proven so successful that even the menu has become part of their entertaining tradition. I don't want to appear ungrateful, I think it's lovely that they serve filet mignon, and end with chocolate cake. But what I really crave, what really fills me with warmth, love, and gratitude, are the twice-baked potatoes. I wait for them all year long. And I even ask for seconds, to get me through the coming year.

Believe it or not, it only recently occurred to me that I didn't have to wait a year, I could make them on my own. O the thrill of cold weather! The excuse to light the oven and keep it burning!


Here is what you'll need:

Fat russet baking potatoes. Heat your oven to 425 degrees, rinse your potatoes, dry them, then using a stick of butter smear a bit of butter all over their exteriors. Place in oven for 30 minutes. Remove--prick all over with a fork (a tip from the Joy of Cooking) and bake another 20-30 minutes, depending on the size.

Remove from oven, slit them in half length wise. Scoop out potato flesh, drop into a mixing bowl.
Per potato add to the bowl: a tablespoon butter, a tablespoon or so of sour cream and milk, salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons sharp cheddar cheese (and bacon! and chives!) Mash your potatoes, coarsely. Place the filling back into their skins (or jackets). Taste the mixture. Missing something? If it doesn't taste good now, it's not gonna taste good later. Add it now. Grate a bit more cheddar cheese on top as a garnish, and return to oven to bake 5 minutes.

Now there's no reason to wait a year between your twice-baked potatoes.

Novice chefs may wonder: will they need oven mitts? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Drinks to Decorate by--



For many years getting the Christmas tree up and lit in one day was my obsession and expectation. You can fill in the timetable yourselves, but inevitably it all ended in tears. A year or so back it occurred to me that I could stretch this activity out over the weekend! One day to find the tree, the tree stand, and its illuminated better bits, the other day to hang the decorations and hide the storage containers. Two days. And instead of tears it now ends with one of the following:

Mexican hot chocolate
or a
Tom and Jerry
The mixture of rum, brandy, frothy milk and sugar, is now a warm, sweet way to end the evening. A couple of those easily explain the gaps in the tree lighting. I found the Tom and Jerry recipe in Saveur magazine, where everything is luxe, calme and volupte.

News flash: not quite ready for Christmas? Still pining for the angst of autumn? Check out my latest story here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Involtini


I love watching Giada de Laurentiis as she cooks or travels. All right, all right, maybe she is a bit too perfect. But she traveled to Los Olivos and sampled some marvelous looking stuff: involtini di melanzane, or eggplant rolls, eggplant wrapped around mozzarella, slathered in a mouth watering tomato sauce at Trattoria Grappola, and I just had to have some. So the next time we were wine tasting at my favorite spot, we dropped by the restaurant and ordered it for dinner.

Giada was right, it was heaven.

Lately I've had such a craving! So I've tinkered and modified, and think I've come up with a winner. Particularly because I'm not frying the eggplant, I'm baking it.

Slice the eggplant lengthwise, 1/2 inch slices or so. Place on your tinfoil lined cookie sheet-brush each side with olive oil. Bake 13 minutes at 350 degrees, flip the eggplant, bake another 10 minutes or so until you feel they're cooked through. Remove and cool.

While the eggplant is baking, make your nifty tomato sauce:

Coat the bottom of a saute pan with a thin slick of olive oil. Mince a clove or two of garlic, toss in. Turn heat to medium. Dice and salt three or four tomatoes--or use two cups canned tomatoes. Add to sauce pan. When the tomatoes start to cook down, lower heat and simmer till done. Add some basil leaves for the heck of it. (Oh, color and flavor, too). Ladle half a cup or so to cover the bottom of a small baking dish.

Slice a log of mozzarella, an ounce or so per eggplant. Lay the mozzarella on the center of the eggplant slice, fold over the edged of the eggplant. Place seam side down in the baking dish. Do the same for the rest of your slices. Ladle the rest of the sauce over the eggplant, grate a tablespoon of parmesan cheese on top. Bake in 350 degree oven until heated, and the cheese is happily melting.

Just writing this down makes me want to rush out to Super King and pick up a couple of more eggplants--where are my car keys?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lemon Bars


Fellow blogger Cafe Pasadena kvells about Europane's lemon bars here. I have been known to sneak off to Auntie Em's between classes and devour a monster-sized lemon bar without sharing one crumb. But the best? The absolute best? Home made. Melting shortbread topped with a tangy layer of meyer lemon sunshine, still faintly warm from its time in the oven. Gentlemen, (and ladies) start your juicers! (Or preheat your oven, to 350 degrees)

Into one cup softened unsalted butter beat one half cup powdered sugar. Gradually mix in two cups of flour. Spread dough across the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until light brown.

As the crust finishes baking, pour 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice into two cups of sugar. This dissolves the sugar wonderfully. Beat four eggs, add 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, then pour in the lemon sugar mixture while blending. Pour the mixture on top of the hot crust, and return to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned. Cool completely on rack, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Another recipe of mine whose origins are from a women's magazine, long, long ago. Wanna get fancy? Grate some lemon zest into the shortbread as you mix it.

For the price of one upscale bakery lemon bar, you've got an entire batch. These lemon bars also have mystical properties. They definitely win friends and influence enemies.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Stuffed and skint

Okay, you ate way too much and you're too broke to go the movies today, much less Christmas shopping. What to do, what to do? How to idle the day then evening away?

A few recommendations:

Go back to bed (or stay in bed), taking your favorite novel with you. Loaned it out? Grab your favorite book from childhood. Drink hot cocoa/hot coffee/hot tea

Antsy? Take a walk and enjoy this marvelous time of year.
Antsy AND irked by household guests? Start vacuuming. At 6 in the morning. (Ah yes, we were house guests once when this happened).

6pm and still in bed? Raid the fridge for leftover dressing. My brother-in-law likes making a stuffing sandwich for his post-Thanksgiving snack.

However you spend this quiet day, I hope you unplug and opt for reality of the nonvirtual kind. What are you up to?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

And the rest is gravy...

Along with canned roasted peppers, I don't understand why people buy canned gravy. Or those little packets of flour with salt added. Gravy! It's delicious, it's what frugal people used to make, and it's easy!

Proportions:
One part fat (drippings or butter)
Equal part flour.
Three parts liquid (stock or water or milk)

During Thanksgiving I get a fat separator and place a cup of fat siphoned from the turkey in a saucepan. I gradually sprinkle in a cup of flour, whisking. I cook this over medium heat so the flour is cooked through and doesn't have a raw taste. I add three cups of broth, either canned or from the turkey, gradually, it thins and thickens and cooks. Now, the fun part: season to your taste.

Recommended: salt, pepper, dried thyme and tarragon. Some people have poultry seasoning in their cupboards, that'll work too.

Wait! That reminds me--this recipe for a fellow blogger, mashed potatoes:

One medium peeled russet potato per person, and one for the pot. (This means no waxy new potatoes, white or red. They don't mash right.) For this recipe let's say 6 potatoes. Slice in half, and cover with water in a saucepan. Add half an onion. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 20-30 minutes. Drain.

Now here's the fun bit. Drop in two tablespoons of butter (if you're into 15 year old nouvelle parisienne cuisine, add a pound of butter and puree--you're done, and so are your guests) and a liquid. What'll it be? Normal: milk. Variations include: buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. Your dietary preferences decide. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Want a zing of garlic? Use garlic salt or a tablespoon of garlic powder. Easy.

Really, in our family, mashed potatoes are just an excuse to pour on the gravy.

This just in: besides many, many other things, I am grateful for not hosting Thanksgiving this year. Our refrigerator just passed away last night, in its sleep.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gobble, gobble

A wickedly funny fellow blogger asks about turkeys. A simple recipe. Does she know who she's talking to? Does she realize she's talking to a compulsive cook who made a turducken for the fun of it! Simple? Where is the challenge in that? The drama the catharsis the tears? The momentary sense of accomplishment? Or-- does she know deep down that I made that elaborate recipe but once, and have a secret standby in my pocket? Hmmm. She's deep, that one.

Turkeys are problematic and I blame the media: movies, commercials, print ads. Each and every one of them has a glistening deeply browned turkey, occasionally framed by mini pumpkins or crab apples as garnish, waiting to be divvied up by the knife-wielding patriarch. Fine slivers of dry white meat are piled upon polite guests' plates. Even Shirley Corriher buys into this by basting her brined turkey with a butter/corn syrup mixture.

What about brining, someone asks? Been there. The stuffing, which in my opinion is the point of Thanksgiving, tasted like the sea.

Bleh, I say. Double bleh.

I know my weaknesses. And presentation is one of them. I don't care what the damn thing looks like, if it tastes of heaven. So I pull out my secret weapon: the Reynolds oven bag. I follow its directions, after having stuffed my bird with Mrs. Cubbison's corn bread (I follow those directions, too. And when I don't have fussy guests, I add oysters to the stuffing. WOW!).
This variation on turkey bag roasting I learned from my mother: roast it breast side down. You won't have a beautiful bird. Instead you'll have a moist and tender one. Uh, one more tip. Just be sure the damn thing's defrosted before you begin.

What? Too understated? Too simple? Too commercial? You'll have to go elsewhere, then.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Need a head start?

Mark Bittman gives 101 ideas for a head start on the day right here.

Here's my head start: a case of champagne. That should get you through the day, come burnt turkey, braised feelings, or even sitting at the children's table. Oh, heck, do I have to wait til next Thursday?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sweet something on the side


Nothing like the prospect of dining with family members and their significant others to up the anxiety level. Why not allay the prospect of negative feelings with a forkful of good stuff?


I'm not sure of the source of this recipe, I clipped it out of one of those humble women's magazines (between the diets and the dessert recipes) ages ago.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Peel 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes. Cut into cubes, place in saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Drain. Add 3 tbls butter onto the hot potatoes, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup milk with one egg beaten into it, and 1 tsp vanilla. Mash the mixture coarsely, pour into a (2 qt) baking dish.

Mix 1/3 cup flour with 1/2 cup brown sugar. Cut in 2 tblsp cold butter; add 1/2 cup pecan pieces. Sprinkle the dry mixture evenly on top of the mash. Bake for 25 minutes.

I'm not hosting Thanksgiving this year, and my only task for that meal is gravy. (More in another post). I will miss this sweet side dish so much, I'll have to make it for another meal.
Like roast pork and braised red cabbage, a perfect fall combo.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Elite dim sum


To celebrate a birthday, we had dim sum on Sunday. That choice is a crowd pleaser, because 3/4s of the family is sick of rice and beans, and the other quarter can't wait to go out to a restaurant.

Elite is really my favorite spot because...drum roll... a) instead of being surrounded by kind women proffering the wares off of their carts (once my son dashed ahead of us, by the time I got to the table he had 10 steaming containers on the table!) you order off the the menu. b) there are photos on the menu, explaining exactly what it is. I don't know where you eat Chinese food, but that in itself is revolutionary. So often I have felt glum and out of the loop, while people who could speak to the waiters in their language got something surely delicious. Sunday we got a few of those dishes we never knew how to order, like the scallop dim sum, and the sticky golden buns.

Dish after dish after dish. We devoured the duck, the macau pork, the har gow. But still the plates came. We ate the shrimp and asparagus in rice noodles, and bao. Good grief, did we really order three different bao? We ate quickly, to clear the pots for the next round. We spilled hot tea; we splattered the creamy goo of one bun all over the teapot. We continued to eat until we stuffed ourselves. Then we ordered another round of shu mai, and ate some more.

Can't wait for the next birthday there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

California Dreamin'

This was originally published on La Bloga:

Unfolding Stories, Unfolding Lives

There's a Middle Eastern grocery store that I often visit, for its ingredients and excellent produce prices. One afternoon, not too long ago, guilt forced me to shop without my young daughter.

That afternoon I stood lifting my plastic sacks of beans, rice, chiles, fava beans out of the cart and onto the counter while my daughter exhibited her usual irrepressibility, causing the cashier, to smile at her, offer her a candy, and then say in mildly accented English, "She reminds me of my own daughter."

Ah, and what is your daughter up to now, I asked.

"She was going to be a doctor. She was an excellent student. And a happy girl. Up until the day she died. Car accident."

The cashier rang up my purchases, glanced at my daughter, then turned away and began wiping her tears. I stammered something about being so sorry. I didn't bring my daughter shopping with me again. I couldn’t bear the longing in the woman’s look.

Awhile ago we were house hunting in the Pasadena area. We finally settled on a home in Altadena, but occasionally I drove through a charming neighborhood to keep tabs on a home we didn't make an offer on, one that seemed so inviting, so full of the promise of family life, with its two storeys, its gables, a child's nursery in the attic, that it seemed destined for a happy family. As time passed I noticed baby accessories then toddler toys sprouting on the front yard; I caught a glimpse of the parents playing with their children. A sense of pleasure filled me, that of a mother of toddlers watching others like herself.

More time passed and as I drove by I noticed that the father appeared ill.

Now as he pushed a stroller up the tree-lined street he was bald. This home began to hold a morbid fascination for me, and I purposefully drove up that street more frequently. I caught a glimpse of him in a wheelchair, then he disappeared from sight completely.

Oh no, I thought to myself.

A "For Sale" sign appeared. Then that family was gone.

Twenty years ago I took a train from Boston to New Haven, during a time in my life someone I loved fiercely was dying, and my life was spinning into dizzying, sickening, circles. The young lady sitting next to me reluctantly struck up a conversation, but somehow it turned to her plans, once she graduated from Brown in month.

"I am going to California. One day I'll run a major film studio," she announced matter-of-factly. "And I know exactly how I'm going to do it."

In the midst of my own grief, being sideswiped by life seemed more probable, but I was fascinated by someone whose life's plan was so clear to her.

The cashier of my produce store stopped showing up. When I asked about her, another woman said, in a pitiless voice, "She was a teacher in her own country. What was she doing here?"

Through a friend in the neighborhood I found out that that young father did indeed die, and his widow moved back east, to her family.

As I think about them now, I prefer to imagine that the cashier is a teaching assistant somewhere, if not a teacher; that the survivors of that father have found something wonderful, if not to replace him, but to enrich their lives. And that driven young woman? I like to believe that her name flashes on the screen at the beginning of the TV shows I watch, or at the end of the films I see.

So many stories if we merely open our eyes and ears to perceive them. Then fill in the blanks to suit our own needs.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cookbook Corner


Really, this woman has it all. Looks, wealth, personal tragedies, a sense of humor, and killer cooking sensibilities. Oh, plus the posh British accent. I picked up this book at the library the other day, and there are dozens of recipes I look forward to trying. She does, like Sandra Lee, pull ready-made items from the pantry, but unlike Sandra Lee, Nigella Lawson's combinations sound utterly appetizing.

A couple of summers back my husband's aunt served dinner in her garden (that's what the Brits call a back yard.) We crowded around a picnic table, and hid from the rain (that's what the Brits call summer). To end the fabulous meal, because this aunt is an amazing cook, she ladled out a very strange concoction. Well, this volume of Nigella's has the recipe for Eton Mess (that's what the Brits call dessert heaven). You can find it right here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Carnitas

There are two kinds of recipes that I prefer: complicated and delicious or simple and delicious. From Diana Kennedy, this is one of the latter.

You will need:
2 pounds of cubed pork shoulder or butt. Place it in a heavy saucepan, add a teaspoon of salt, barely cover with water. Heat on high until boiling, then reduce heat to a simmer. As the water cooks away the pork becomes tender, (add more water, if still tough) then cooks in its own rendered fat, giving it a partially crisp exterior. Stir a little at the end to brown evenly. Total cooking time: 45 minutes to an hour.

Use for soft corn tortilla tacos. Garnish with guacamole or pico de gallo. (Yeah, yeah, my kids will hate me, but) rice and beans, too.
Delicious.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Challah Bread Pudding


Around the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur my mother-in-law or my husband picks us up a wonderful round or loaf of challah bread, rich and moist and eggy. I'm pretty sure we could devour it all in one sitting, but I usually end up stashing half of it in the freezer for a cool day when I feel like making bread pudding.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Take four cups of cubed challah, dry it out a bit. ( I place it in my oven with the pilot light, for an hour or so). Place in a large mixing bowl. Add a cup of cubed apples or pears, which have been sauted in a tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons sugar. To bread mixture add half a cup of raisins, if you like.

Beat four eggs; beat in 2/3 cups sugar, a teaspoon vanilla. Beat in three cups of milk.
Pour the liquid mixture over the bread cubes. Gently pour that into a baking dish.
Place the baking dish inside a water bath. Okay, what does that mean? You take your smaller baking dish, the size of a brownie dish, where your bread pudding is. You place that in a larger dish, 13 x 9 inches, for example. Now, you pour hot water into the larger pan, until the water comes more or less up half the side of the smaller dish. Why? To ensure that the eggs don't decide to go hardboiled right in the middle of your much-anticipated dessert.

Bake until set in the center, 45 minutes to an hour. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Witches' Menu

by Sonja Nikolay

Live lizard; dead lizard
Marinated; fried.
Poached lizard, pickled lizard
Salty lizard hide.

Hot lizard, cold lizard
Lizard over ice.
Baked lizard, boiled lizard
Lizard served with spice.

Sweet lizard, sour lizard
Smoked lizard heart.
Leg of lizard, loin of lizard
Lizard a la carte.





Which reminds me, I've got to get shopping for dinner.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More guilty secrets


It has occurred to me that I am a fussy eater. Hmm. Faithful readers may not be surprised. Due to various circumstances my husband has been cooking lately, and I have been a glum and unworthy dining companion. Dear, dear.

And yet--
some of my favorite meals have been cooked by others: fancy stuff, simple stuff, hamburgers--
That's it! If he would stick to hamburgers instead of curry, perhaps I would be a sprightly and worthy dining companion. I have decided I really don't like curry made from mid-western recipes found on line. Unfortunately, as is the pattern in my house, three other people do.

I am curious, readers, what is your favorite dish made by someone dear to you? Mine is any pasta made by my son. (Oh for cryin' out loud. Doesn't that sound just like a mother?)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cooking for U-2


I haven't been to a concert in many years, and the thought of record turn-out was daunting to me. I don't do sports, either, so all that pre-game tail gate madness is like a foreign country.

What had I been worried about? Bikers? Boozers? Skunks? Or matching a menu to the Irish humanist bard as well as the Black Eyed Peas? From Guinness to Pilipino cuisine presented a challenge.

So we packed snacks, potato salad and oven baked barbecued chicken wings. We spread a serape under a tree, listened the the sound check, eavesdropped on the smooching Italian couple next to us (they didn't mention Sutri, or Berlusconi, or Italo, unfortunately) enjoyed the perfect weather and drank Lambrusco. (If I had realized how long the lines at the loo were, I wouldn't have drunk at all). And had a memorable, soul filling experience. The wonderful thing about U-2 is that they make you feel deep and humane and virtuous by simply attending their concert, worshiping at the temple called Bono.

Fanny Farmer's baked barbecued chicken wings:

Take 12 wings, trimmed of the tip and neatly severed into two bits. Lay them in a casserole dish.
Mix well: the juice of two lemons, 1/3 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup honey, one minced garlic clove, and two dashes of Tabasco sauce. Pour over chicken, bake at 325 degrees for an hour, turning the chicken occasionally.

Serve to great acclaim, provided you don't have to take the shuttle back to the car park to retrieve it--because somehow in all your pre-concert anxiety, you left the food behind---

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Herb for All Seasons

I love tarragon. It brings a savory, flavorful element to a dish. Some say almost licorice, but I disagree. Shake it up with your oil and vinegar for a salad dressing; mince it, along with parsley, basil (and goat cheese, too, why not?) in your morning scrambled eggs and you've got an omelette aux fines herbes.

We are particularly fond of this recipe, which the French have been cooking forever, and which I've adapted from Craig Claibourne's.

I think it's simpler if you choose either 4 chicken legs or breasts. In either case, season with salt and pepper then coat lightly with flour.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet. Lightly brown the chicken, a few minutes each side for white meat, 5-10 minutes a side for dark. (Always remember: skin side first!) Remove.

Add and saute a tablespoon or so of shallots. Or green onions. Or onions. The French really aren't as fussy as you might think, at least for daily cooking. Cook until wilted. Add half a cup of white wine, cook down by half, scraping the browned bits off of the bottom. Shake in three tablespoons flour, and stir it in. Now sprinkle the paste with a teaspoon dried tarragon. Slowly add one cup chicken broth, blend well. Add the chicken, cover your skillet or saute pan and cook gently, 15 minutes for white meat, 25 or so for dark. Off of the heat pour in 1/4 cup heavy cream, season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.

The other night we ate this with baked potatoes and creamed spinach. Very, very nice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

BYOB


Definitely time to give the cook the night off, scrape the change out of the sofas and car, stop by the wine storage cave, pick out a particularly nice one, and head off to dinner...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Swordfish Tacos



This is a photo from a review of La Grande Orange's swordfish tacos. Want a simple recipe for them? Here's mine, courtesy Epicurious via Bon Appetit. Yah, ages ago Bon Appetit actually printed these. Helas, that was the year a short story of mine was published and my daughter was born. I only had eyes for my infant; and now she's applying to colleges. What can you do?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Little fuss less muss pot roast


It's so simple
to braise a cut of meat and put it stove top to steam cook until tender. Add vegetables towards the end, like carrots and potatoes, and you've got a great dinner, plus a start with the leftovers for ropa vieja.

You will need a a thick pot with a snug cover. Coat the bottom of the pan with a slick of oil; heat to high. Sear your 2-5 pound chuck roast until browned on all sides. Salt and pepper. Add a cup or two of liquid: stock or water. The liquid should sputter furiously, scatter one sliced onion on top, turn heat to low, cover. (The Joy of Cooking recommends a whole onion studded with three cloves).

Now, go plant your daffodils or read a book or just admire the cold weather outside. Get some darning done; pick up your knitting; listen to an opera. I like checking and turning the meat every half hour, adding water as necessary. By two hours a small roast will begin to be tender, longer, of course, for larger roast. Once the fork can piece the roast, now's the time to add more vegetables if you like, slices of pared and peeled carrots, peeled and halved potatoes. Give the vegetables thirty minutes to cook through, by this time a fork should easily pierce the meat.

Scoop the vegetables out, and set aside, keeping warm somewhere in some convenient container. Set the meat on your cutting board.

Slice the meat across the grain, and return to the cooking juices. Serve with your vegetables, maybe some broad egg noodles, coarse mustard and horseradish.

Or try this:
Before returning the sliced meat to the casserole take your potato masher and now mash the remaining juices, carrots and onions into a coarse sauce. Add half a cup of sour cream, and salt to taste. Return the sliced meat carefully to the sour cream sauce and warm through gently.

Carbs not an issue? Serve with potato pancakes. (Go ahead and cheat. Buy and bake some tater tots). Wow. Just the ticket to get through a cold damp night.

What's your pot roast variation? Full disclosure: I've never tried the instant onion soup flavored kind.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Favorite Things



Very few recipes make everyone in my family happy. But when I watched Mark Strausman cook with Martha Stewart a simple tomato sauce and a zowie chicken parmesan, I had to track it down . Now it's a family favorite. The only way I tweak it is instead of full chicken breasts, which to me cook unevenly and dry out easily, I slice them lengthwise, getting two or more thin cutlets, without having to pound them. Then I follow the recipe word by word. The combination of tomato sauce, crisp breading, melted mozzarella is one of my very favorite things.

Here is the recipe for the chicken. For the sauce click
here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and...


The Rubaiyat of Persian poet Omar Kayyam coined and completes the phrase with "thou" but the photograph is what happens when your very own thou forgets the cheese.

Stilton, double Gloucester, camembert, gorgonzola, and on and on and on. Simple, little muss, deeply satisfying.

Need something cheesy and hot, but bored with macaroni and Velveeta? Here's a bit of heaven from Marcella Hazan. Pasta with gorgonzola sauce.

For every pound of boiling pasta (fettucini, elbow macaroni if you prefer, but use gnocchi and die happy) place three tablespoons of butter in a skillet. Add four ounces creamy gorgonzola (Roma deli's great for this) and 1/3 cup milk. Place heat on low, add two teaspoons of salt (be fearless!) and mush the cheese as everything melts together. Drain the pasta, add to skillet, along with 1/4 cup heavy cream and 1/3 cup grated Parmesan. Toss. Serve. Devour.

No wine glasses or hearts will be broken over abandonment issues with this dish...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Please pass the schmaltz

First, cue the music here.

Food is, of course, all about our culture. A cultural signifier, a reveal. Chicken fat is also known as schmaltz, which also means sentimental. Wildly sentimental. In my opinion that was due to the tremendous affection a well fed chicken and its frugally harvested chicken fat stirred in people long before the food police and moralists demonized animal fats.

We can spar with statistics, but I think of most food like this:

Son: "Is chocolate bad for you?"
Me: "If chocolate was the only thing you ate, it would be bad for you."

You could say the same about anything, including carrots.

I use schmaltz to saute rice, chicken livers, and add to matzoh meal for matzoh ball soup. One way to get it is to simply skim the fat off of your home made stock. Another way, when I'm feeling particularly frugal, like these days, is to buy those fryer chickens on special, and bring them home to butcher and make stock. The livers and fat are an extra bonus.

To render you should: gather fat from the neck and cavity. If you come across extra fat from butchering the chicken use that as well. Place in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat. Simmer until the fat is rendered; you may need to adjust the heat and add more water. If you do it right you'll have a bonus: gribenes, little pieces of chicken skin cooked brown and crisp, delicious!

Strain and cool the fat. Store it in a covered glass jar in the fridge where it will keep for months.

Need another schmaltzy music clip? I got it right here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

More Dining Deals--


Feeling flush or frugal, there are three course lunches and dinners for every budget (if you can fit in $16 plus tax and tip) right here.

As I browse the restaurants on offer, there is an incredible selection here! If money and calories were of no concern, you could practically tour the world cuisines.

My choices: Santa Monica for Anisette (I peered in once and felt transported to France) and Ocean Avenue Seafood for the oysters and stunning view. Downtown LA to sample Feniger's street fare at Street, and back to Pasadena for Parkway's s'mores and Pops champagne. How 'bout you?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Kuo's Key

A number of years ago I got on a Chinese cooking kick. I checked out half a dozen library books, but this is the one I had to own for myself. Sure, you've heard of Julia Child, Craig Clairborne, Marcella Hazan. But Irene Kuo?

She breaks it down and makes it simple. Who cares if the kitchen and you look like a monsoon swept through, the taste test is worth it. Try her recipes and you'll be a convert.

The other night I wanted to do something new with the eggplant I had bought. This is one of her recipes:

Slice one large eggplant in half vertically; trim the stem bits off. Now, make incisions into the eggplant on the cut side in a cross hatch or diamond pattern. Place the eggplant halves, cut side up, in your vegetable steamer (I use the pasta basket of my pasta pot). Steam gently for 40 minutes, until the eggplant is on the verge of collapsing. Move the eggplant to a serving platter. (Good luck on this step. I'm still trying to perfect my technique here.)

For the sauce:

Heat a small saucepan until hot (lots of Chinese cooking seems to ask for this). Add 1 tbls oil (peanut or vegetable) and 1 tblsp sesame oil. After ten seconds add 1 tblsp minced ginger, 1 tblsp minced garlic, stir for another 10 seconds, or until the ingredients release their aromas.
Remove from heat; add 2 tbls soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar, stir until the sugar dissolves.

Pour over your steamed eggplant. Serve hot or cool.

The result? Stupendous. I've got to pull that cookbook out more often.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Late to the balsamic vinegar party

More than twenty years ago Marcella Hazan urged Americans to sprinkle a bit of sugar on their strawberries, along with a dash of balsamic vinegar. Gradually this stuff climbed into menus and crept onto our kitchen tables.

I haven't been a fan of its sweetness in my vinaigrette, but it's in my pantry, waiting.

The other day I was eating a pretty nice peach. And I thought about the vinegar, and how I had never tried it on strawberries because the thought horrified me. Within a moments I had sliced the peach, sprinkled sugar on, let it macerate a minute, then added a splash of the balsamic vinegar.

What had I been afraid of? The result was a mouth popping combination. My daughter looked skeptically at it, sampled it, then begged for her own. Ah, what's next on the culinary experiment horizon?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yippee! 100 today--



Posts, not years, or degrees, thank the gods (oops, too much Battlestar Galactica). Today a couple of my favorite posts:

Enfrijoladas: I wanted to popularize this not-very-well known but delectable dish, and, as bonus points for mentioning lard, it got me invited to a biscuit heaven brunch. Arugula: I just loved the fairy tale aspect. A comment in this post led to rose musings, recommendations, and savorings. This post led to a gumbo gambole.

A round of appreciative and loud applause from me to faithful commentors, aka Margaret, Karin, Petrea, Karen and Susan. And CO, you were my very very first unknown to me to leave a comment, thanks for posting and thanks for hanging around. Italo-live from Italy, mille grazie for infusing all of us with your humor. Annonniemoose and anonniemice-- I appreciate all of you for braving the brutal world of blogging to drop a line every now and then. In return I promise not to bite. And to the casual visitors and commentators, thanks y'all, for dropping by.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Still too darn hot---


Any time it's over 100 degrees I melt. Lighting the stove on a day like this seems criminal.
Here's something that I find really refreshing. Normally served as an antojito, or a snack before dinner, I think it makes a terrific breakfast too.

Slice a watermelon into manageable chunks. Sprinkle with salt. Squeeze a bit of Mexican (or Key) lime juice, add a very light sprinkle of cayenne. It's an eye and a taste-bud opener!

Variations:

add peeled and sliced segments of orange. Delightful contrast.

Or skip the watermelon and do this with oranges and peeled, cubed or julienned jicama. If your
jicama is dry and starchy, it's too old. You want something succulent and fresh.

Looking for a sweet and salty drink for your Friday happy hour? Remember La Paloma.

Music pick? Cole Porter and Kiss Me Kate here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More frugal and sustainable---


Monterey Bay Aquarium also recommends farm-raised rainbow trout as sustainable. Super King stocks bright-eyed specimens at low cost. (There must be a downside here, but it's hard to meet all demands.) What to do with a couple of glossy fish, complete with heads and tails?

Rinse your fish and pat dry. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside and out. I love aromatics, like thyme and rosemary, I add those, inside and out. Or you could use tarragon, and/or marjoram. Whatever mood you're in.

You could also score the skin, and press herbs into the exterior as well

Light your grill to medium. Place fish on grill. When the trout interior is getting a cooked-through look, turn your fish.

Guests (or you) can't bear the head, tails, et cetera? You can filet it at the grill. If it's too tough to filet, it's not cooked through yet. I think fish is best when still the tiniest bit opaque.
Sides for this hot hot day: My vote is grilled red peppers steeped in anchovies and garlic, a sliced tomato salad, and a delectable potato salad. Or pilaf, aioli, and tzatziki. Whatever you decide, I'll be enjoying it with a glass of chilled, crisp rose.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back to School

Start dates for this fall's academic calendar have ranged from mid-August to mid-September.
This poem always makes me think of the beginning of the school year:


Taste of Purple

Grapes hang purple
In their bunches,
Ready for
September lunches.
Gather them, no
Minutes wasting.
Purple is
Delicious tasting.



-- Leland B. Jacobs


This poem evokes school cafeteria dining:


A thousand hairy savages
Sitting down to lunch.
Gobble gobble glup glup
Munch munch munch.

--Spike Milligan

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy New Year


Rosh Hoshanah begins tonight. Sporadically we've celebrated with my mother-in-law, who served apples and honey, to start the year off sweet, not because that's how they did when she was a girl, or when she had children, but because that's the way she heard it's done in this country. Traditions are an interesting thing. Sometimes they're more about who we think we're supposed to be.

I asked my daughter what food did she want to celebrate the new year with? Her response: apples and honey, and matzoh ball soup. The forecast is for 100 degrees today.

Besides chilly weather, for a great soup there are two secrets: home made stock and chicken fat in place of vegetable oil in your matzoh balls. Other than that, the standard recipe on the box should do.

Mix one teaspoon of salt into one half cup matzoh meal. Crack two eggs, blend slightly add two tablespoons of melted chicken fat; mix. Add two tablespoons stock. Mix into the matzoh meal and let sit for fifteen minutes.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Shape the meal into balls. They will expand, shape them into the size you prefer. I like golf balls, some people seem to enjoy basket balls. Place formed balls into the simmering water, cook on low for 50 minutes.

Transfer gently to hot stock. Serve.

Like egg creams and chopped liver, unless you've been raised on it, this is an acquired taste.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Simple, Sustainable and Frugal


Canned wild salmon is approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium as safe and sustainable. Where I buy it, it's usually under $3 a large can, too. What to do with it? You can sprinkle it in place of tuna in your salads. Or, for a hot meal, you can add a few ingredients and make salmon croquettes. (Doesn't that sound infinitely more appetizing than fish cakes?)

Drain a large can of salmon. Remove skin and bones, (unless you're like me and enjoy getting another dose of calcium by gnawing those edible spines). Place in a mixing bowl, flaking the fish.

Mince 2 to 3 tablespoons of onion, saute in a little butter or oil. Cool. To the fish add half a cup of matzoh meal or bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cooled onion, crack open an egg, mix gently and thoroughly.

Shape into six patties. Grease a large skillet with butter and oil. Fry patties on medium heat, turning gently, until cooked through, 4-8 minutes.

We devour it with a side of macaroni and cheese. But that's a post for another day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cold snap


Yippee! It looks like it going to be cool for one, maybe two days! A great reason to pop something in the oven, forget about it for awhile, then retrieve it. This Jamie Oliver recipe fits the bill perfectly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Salt and pepper the desired amount of drumsticks and thighs. Place them in a baking dish which fits them snugly. Scatter a chiffonade of basil (a bunch, chopped fine), he recommends colorful cherry tomatoes, I find quartered regular tomatoes work just fine; add a head's worth of unpeeled garlic cloves, drizzle olive oil over the entire mixture and use your hands to spread things around. Bake for an hour to 90 minutes, until the chicken skin is crisp and the meat falling off the bone tender. You can also add baby potatoes, and a finely minced chile pepper.

My son, the gourmand, pops the garlic out of its skin casing and spreads it on his baguette.
This is a meal that four out of four people in my household actually enjoy. Like the cool weather, a small miracle.

Friday, September 11, 2009

More book pairings


Why is an international best seller the mental equivalent of Ambien? Snoozeville? I'm plodding through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I suspected it would be mediocre, but it's just terrible. Riven with cliches, paragraph after paragraph of clunky exposition, with barely enough characterization to fill an espresso cup. Yikes!

And why all the accolades? Because it's set in Sweden? Harumph. This calls for reinforcements. Since the characters seem to enjoy clinking shot glasses and knocking back the Aquavit, well, then an Aquavit pairing menu might help us to get through the book.

You will need:

Shot glasses
Your favorite brand of freezer cold Aquavit

Spread cream cheese on
Dark whole grain bread
Top with chunks of
Smoked trout or slices of smoked salmon.

Need green?
Peel and slice cucumbers, sprinkle with red wine vinegar, salt, and a dash of oil.

Looking to host a party? Clear out a space in your freezer. Take an empty gallon milk container. Slice off the top third. Fill with water. Drop in greenery: rosemary, lavendar, green herbs, etc. Place in freezer. As the ice gets firmer, add your bottle of booze. Set overnight.

Run warm water over the plastic container. You will have a block of ice holder for your water of life. And it will stay frozen for the next round of shots. There. That was my Martha Stewart moment for you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What am I?


Chopped liver? Okay, so the name isn't as classy as pate or foie gras. Since Trader Joe's is no longer reliable, here are two versions, one rustic, one a bit more sophisticated.

Rustic:

Saute half a minced onion in chicken fat. What? You don't keep any on hand? Substitute vegetable oil. Cook onions until nicely browned, remove from saucepan, set aside.

Take half a pound of chicken livers. Remove any green bits (bleh) and gristly connective tissue.

Add more chicken fat or vegetable oil to skillet. Saute the chicken livers two to three minutes per side, on medium heat. When done livers should be pink, not raw or gray inside. Remove.

Using your mezzaluna or sharp knife chop the livers into small bits. Using a fork add the onions, a bit more chicken fat, salt. Now it should be a lumpy, not smooth, consisitency. Salt to taste, adding a diced hard boiled egg.

I like it on water crackers, with perfect dill pickles and a beer. Or even a wonderful Coca Cola. Now that's fusion cuisine.

Upmarket:

Shred two slices of bacon. Saute slowly in a saucepan with a bit of olive oil. Add a quarter cup diced onion. Brown.

Again, with half a pound of chicken livers, remove gristle, and this time slice the livers into fourths.

When the bacon is cooked through, add the livers, salt, pepper, and a big pinch of crumbled sage. (don't be shy, it's great!). Cook for two to three minutes total, turning the pieces.
If it seems too raw or too little moisture to cook them through, add a tablespoon of water.

As the water evaporates add a tablespoon or two of brandy. Cook the alcohol down, remove from heat, cool.

Pour the cooled mixture into your blender. Add a tablespoon of butter, and puree.

This stuff is delicious on crackers. To make yourself work even harder, spread on baguette slices, sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese and run it under the broiler.

Any guesses on which version's kosher? Any wine recommendations?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Return to the Joy



It's Labor Day, and in its honor let's think of cooking as a delightful form of entertainment and entertaining, rather than a tedious drama. I've been cooking from the 1975 version for years. In fact, in this jubilant spirit I've decided to cook each and every one of its 1,437 recipes throughout the course of the year. Who knows where something like this might lead? A book deal? A movie?

I know, the stuff of dreams.


Like this teriyaki marinade (from the Joy) for your Santa Maria style tri tip. Quick! Get shopping and it'll be ready for today's grill.

You will need:

A wonderful chunk of tri-tip. Place it in a large zip lock bag.

Combine:
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 tbls brown sugar
3 mashed garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tbls sherry

Pour into the ziploc, marinate the meat for as long as you like, but six hours should do it.

Grill to your taste.

Accompany with a pot of beans, pico de gallo, and garlic bread.

Tune in Wednesday. I think I'll tackle Joy's sea turtle soup. May need a couple of tanks of gas to find just the right ingredients. Maybe Meryl Streep can play my agent?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Down for the count


The Restless Chef is out today-- smoked by the fire, grilled by the heat, down on the floor gasping for breath, soon-to-be pickled by self-medication. I hope to have something tasty and entertaining up by Monday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Times They are A Changin'


This place can evoke vivid just out of high school memories for me, where a friend and I inhaled the intoxicating aroma of coffee being ground, bought bags full of stuff, then feasted on nuts and exotic cheeses. A decade later, this is where my beau and I stocked up on Spanish champagne, and lots and lots of pâté. I once unpacked all this stuff in front of my roommate, who looked at me as if I had raided a pantry on Mars.

Prepping for a party recently I stopped by to stock up on our favorite pâtés, but couldn't find them. I asked the clean cut type if I wasn't looking in the right spot, or if they were out.

Clean cut type: "What's pâté?"
Me: Pause. "I'll ask someone else, thanks."
I asked the young woman working at the cheese section who responded as if I had assaulted her.
"It's seasonal," she said.
What season? Really, what season is pâté?
As I turned I heard the clean cut type ask her "What is it?"
Huffy female: "Really gross stuff."

Foolishly, I had thought Americans had become more sophisticated in their tastes, but I think it really means we have simply become more neurotic. I thought to myself that I knew Trader Joe's when people were actually excited by their products. Gasp! With that thought I realized that I had just identified the good ol' days when things were better back then.

I'm old! Help me to my walker please, and put me down gently when the time comes...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fire Fire Burning Bright


The trouble with 107 degree temperatures backed up by billowing smokestacks coming from a 35,000 acre neighboring bonfire is it puts a real damper on the appetite. The kids walk by and wonder out loud if the rabbits are going to be okay, the husband walks by and wonders where we keep the insurance policy, and I wander towards the freezer to ensure there's plenty of ice to chill my current beverage of choice.

There's enough smoke and cinders in the air to keep the doors and windows sealed shut and dispel any thoughts of grilling or barbecuing.

The radio blares menace, the computer displays streaming video and the DC 10 threatens to return with 12,000 gallons of fire retardant.

What's on the menu today? Ice cubes.
Plenty of them.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Huelga


What if you went on strike, and nobody noticed?
Helas, I cooked nothing these past few days.

My children ate:
frozen burritos
ramen noodles
and finished up the banana popsicles hiding in the crusty recesses of the freezer.

My husband picked up animal style hamburgers, catering to his food nuttiness, and eliminating all prep and clean up.

Lesson learned: I'm not sure. I will accept guidance from my readers. In the meantime, I have a craving for a pesto pasta salad. If they're nice to me, maybe I'll share it with them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cooking: the Dark Side


The problem with braising, basting,baking, roasting, grilling, simmering, sizzling, searing, peeling, pureeing, is, in the end, you are alone in the kitchen with the dishes.

Oh, yes, I've made deals and chore charts, wheedled and cajoled, bribed and threatened, jumped up and down until my natural golden tan turned purple, and it works, for just that day. Memories, in this family, are short it seems.

Including mine, because once the tantrum has passed, there I am, plotting and scheming and devising another meal.

Like writing and smoking, it's an addiction.
Unless, unless--
maybe it's time to go cold turkey. How long can a family survive on microwaved popcorn and quesadillas?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Guilty Pleasures






Before
"Dexter" became a hit it was actually a novel (or two). I read the first
one, and was appalled. When the ads for this series came out, I was horrified! When Netflix ran it on "Watch it now" I was irrevocably hooked.

I was swept away by the music, the writing, the characters, strong women and non traditional casting. (Plus the Latin flare of Miami doesn't hurt, from my perspective). And now, Season 3's out on DVD.

What, besides buckets of popcorn, do you devour while watching this? Humbly, I recommend you dine before the marathon of Jimmy Smits and murder-infused episodes. Since we still can't fly direct to Havana, why not make it Cuban?

Tentative menu:
Cuba libres or mojitos, but perhaps a licuado would be more authentic
fricase de pollo
white rice.

Dessert?
Pick up something at Porto's.

What? You got a problem with serial killers?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Endless possibilities

















Quick! Before summer moves on its merry way--For all you pizza and/or lovers of all things Italian (oops, my biases are showing) here are a couple of promotions to hop over to before they vanish--

Zucca's: PIZZA AND PERONI
Thursdays, 5-9pm
$5 oven-fired pizza and $5 Peroni beer on the patio. They say: "It’s the best place to gather after work or before a night on the town!"

Now, hold your horses but that Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali's hip trendy spot that does a rushin' business from 5:30pm to close, you know, the one where you can squeeze in beside a celebrity whose name you forget or really never did know because you're not that actor's target demographic, yeah, that's right, Osteria Mozza is offering this:

Every Monday through Thursday a special three-course menu exclusively at our "Amaro Bar." Choose one item from Nancy's Mozzarella Bar (or share the Mozzarella Tasting for two), one Pasta, a Dessert and a glass of either Bastianich Friulano or La Mozza Morellino di Scansano for $35 (plus tax and service). No reservations are necessary; the seats at the bar are available on a first come first served basis so walk on in.

Also, Ruth's Chris in Pasadena is offering complimentary wine tasting on Mondays from 5-7 to the end of August. Unaware of this I dashed in there last Monday, just like a tourist, looking for change for a dollar and, after feeding the meter was rewarded with sips from three different wines. They also mentioned the possibility of complimentary snacks. I left a bit happier than I had entered.

Despite the recession, job dramas, the endless back to school supply list of books, clothes, what, what do you mean you need pencils and paper too? all I can say, in a word, is andiamo.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Secret Vices





















Now that I've read
Catching Fire I better understand the author's premise. Cooking food releases nutrients, makes food taste better, and is a societal building block. However, I have a few words of advice to him if he wants to make bazillions of dollars. Buried in the middle of the book is the fact that people who commit themselves to eating only raw foods often lose weight. Market it as a dieting book.

So, want to lose pounds quickly? Just cut out the cooked food.

As we wait for hell to freeze over, let's amuse ourselves with an ice cream cone. Current secret vice: strawberry cheesecake. (Ah, I remember it from my childhood. And now my daughter has discovered it, too). In a sweet passage from Neil Gaiman's and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens the children can't possibly believe there's an ice cream store in America that sells 31 flavors. It's too fabulous to be true.

What's your current food or drink vice? Anything you're willing to share here?

Monday, August 17, 2009

To Have and Have Not























You've booked your cottage/cabin/rental complete with sitting room and mini-kitchen. The NY Times recently did a post on absolute vacation packing kitchen utensil necessities, where the comments ranged from mine (corkscrew, then nothing else matters) to Pyrex measuring cups, assorted spices, muffin pans and an induction cooker. Really, people? Okay, I may be restless but I'm not nuts! And if facilities are truly limited, hey, that's why God in her wisdom created Chowhound and Zagat's, among lesser entities.

I know a couple of you have headed out of town, any thoughts?