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


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

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.