Help is on it’s way in a meatball

I love a food that’s good to me, one that, if it had a mouth would say, I’m here to help. Meatballs will do anything for you, and it doesn’t matter what the meat is. You can make them out of lamb and in miniature and serve them with a cucumber yogurt sauce as an appetizer. If you make them out of beef, after you eat the spagetti, you can have them on a hero, or just stand in front of the fridge and eat them cold. Pork meatballs are great floating around in a chicken stock with some long asian noodles and baby spinach leaves wilted into the broth, or there is nothing wrong with turkey.
Tiny little turkey meatballs with pasta, green olives, grape tomatoes, caramelized shallot, and fresh thyme. Pick a little noodle like orchiette or short ridged penne, and don’t forget to buy a decent one. A good noodle makes all the difference.
Chop half an onion for a pound of meat. Pour some of your best olive into the pan and add the onion, along with a few sprigs of fresh thyme and even marjoram, if you have it. Add two cloves of minced garlic, a few red pepper flakes, and stir around over a low to medium heat until the onions have completely melted. You don’t have to, but if you have the time, cook the onions a little more to help develp the flavor (a good twenty minutes.). Let this cool. Add it to one pound of ground meat along with 3 Tablespoons of heavy cream, 1/2 a cup of fresh bread crumbs, one egg, 1 Tablespoon of fresh parsley, salt, and pepper.
Roll them into tiny balls, about one inch across and brown them in a frying pan with olive oil. When they are done, wipe the pan out and add a bit more olive oil. Chop three shallots, and add them to the pan.
Meanwhile, get the pasta going and season it with salt. Cook the pasta until it is al dente.
When the shallots are beginning to caramelize, add two to three cloves of chopped garlic, a few sprigs of thyme, and a pint of grape tomaotes. Allow the tomatoes to wilt. Add a half teaspoon of grated orange zest and some green olives.
As soon as the pasta comes out of the pot, toss with the half of the meatballs and the tomato mixture. Taste for salt and pepper. If you need, add a little more olive oil, a Tablespoon of butter, and a few drops of the cooking water from the pasta, along with finely chopped parsley.

Leave the dishes in the sink, but COOK!!

I think one of the most difficult things to take on when you are trying to decide if you have the time to cook dinner or not, is the responsibility. Just for a minute, I want you to forget the idea that dinner means hot, or that dinner means absolutely the most fanstastic thing you ever ate, or that dinner means loads of food on the table, all cooked by you, and then at the end, you are over there by the sink, singing and having a great time doing the dishes. This is no good for you, and it’s only give you bad dreams and make the takeout industry even richer.
The next time you shop, just for the heck of it, throw a little pack of those fancy homemade sausages in the grocery cart (seafood sausage, duck…I love chicken and apple). Walk over to the vegetable aisle, feel no guilt about not buying anything else, just pick up a bag of prewashed baby spinach, a head of garlic, four big potatoes, and walk on out.
When you get home, you don’t have to start worrying about anything, just kick your shoes off, pour yourself a glass of something good to drink, and get out a big, heavy bottomed frying pan or any pan with a cover. Fill the pan with just two inches of water, and add some salt. Peel your potatoes, cut them up into cubes, and drop them in the water. Sit down for fifteen minutes and read the paper. Drain the potatoes when they are tender. Dry out the pan. Drizzle some olive oil in there, and mince three big cloves of garlic. Set the heat on low, add the garlic, and as soon as it gets a little golden, turn off the heat. Spoon this over the potatoes, with an extra drizzle of oil if you need it, and salt and pepper to taste. Get a little more olive oil in the pan. Add the spinach. Stir it around with a pinch of salt and pepper. It will be wilted in about two minutes. A drop more olive oil in the pan, and add the sausages. If they are thick, cut them in half length-wise. Saute until they are cooked through. Serve everything together. If your heart is palpating that it won’t be enough food, buy a few kinds of cheese, one hard, and one soft and have a cheese course after dinner instead of dessert.

Making Mussels

I always have such high hopes for what I’m going to get done before Ferdinand wakes up and after he goes to bed. If I give up going for a walk in the morning, which is let’s face it, daily, I can get last night’s dishes in the dishwasher, breakfast made, his lunch packed, and my teeth brushed. After he goes to bed, nothing. Not one thing. I used to try and tell people before I had a kid myself, “make tomorrow’s dinner tonight.” I apologize for that. Last night, I didn’t even get last night’s dinner made. It was a miracle that I made cookies, and for that, Jonathan and I had potato chips, corn chips, some ice cream and some beer.
To redeem myself, I’m making the mussels that were meant for last night, for lunch. Clean them really well in a few changes of water. Make sure they’re lively. Heat up a pan with some of your best olive oil and then throw in about three cloves of minced garlic for two pounds of mussels. Add some chopped parsely to the oil, let it get a dark green, throw in some red pepper flakes, about and eighth of a teaspoon, and then three of four diced new potatoes. Cook the potatoes until they get golden on the bottom without moving them around. Season with salt. Then add half a cup of good, dry white wine (NOT COOKING WINE), a few Tablespoons of tomato sauce, or three or four whole tomatoes that you have crushed in your hand. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender. Add another spill of white wine, and the mussels. Cook for about three to five minutes until they open. If some open before the others, just take them out and set them into a bowl. When everything is ready, pour it into a serving bowl, drizzle with your olive oil, and squeeze a little lemon over. Serve with a crusty bread.

The North end of Manhattan Avenue

It can be a good thing to make a left turn instead of the right turn, even if it takes you another five minutes to get where you’re going. There are no grocery stores in my neighborhood, so I have to walk all the way over the Polaski bridge to Brooklyn to get to a lousy Key Food. About three quarters of the way over the bridge you have the option of taking about four flights of stairs down to Ash Street, and just for the heck of it–I have been shopping at the same grocery and walking the same way for twelve years–I went down the stairs.
The North end of Manhattan Avenue is as close to quiet as you’re going to get around here. A cafe called the Ashbox, with mismatched old wooden chairs and people sitting outside at the one table made me feel like I was Dorothy and had dropped down somewhere into a contemporary Kansas. There was even another cafe with a gorgeous coffee machine a little further south, still on Manhattan Avenue–Greenpoint groovers sipping their joe and reading papers–and then my favorite finds, Pio Pio Rico, a Peruvian restaurant with amazing plantains and ceviche, the Rivera Market, a tiny store with a big return, and the Acapulco Deli and Restaurant. I took Jonathan back there for lunch today and for $14.95, we got two chicken burritos with rice and beans, a side of guacamole, and beer. I scrapped the Key Food all together.
If you can’t find good burritos you can make your own.
Use either flour or corn soft tortillas. Flank steak is excellent as well in a burrito. Marinate it for fifteen minutes in crushed limes, cilantro, red onion, and garlic. Season it with salt and pepper, and throw the whole thing on a grill pan, cooking just two or three minutes on each side so that it is still a little pink in the middle.
In a separate frying pan with a cover, saute a diced onion and some minced garlic with a bay leaf and a good drizzle of olive oil. Add salt and a sprig of fresh thyme or parsley. If you want the beans to be spicy, add a few flakes of red pepper flakes, or a chopped jalapeno to the onion. When the onion is soft, add a can of well rinsed black beans, and stir around. If you have a little sauce left over from yesterday, add a few Tablespoons. Add two and a half cups of water and one cup of white rice. You may need another drizzle of olive oil. Bring to a simmer, and cover until the rice is tender, about fifteen minutes. Shred some lettuce and toss with finely chopped jalapeno, roughly chopped onion, and tomato. Season with salt. Smash some avocado with garlic, lime juice, and salt. Shred some sharp cheddar. Pile a little steak sliced on the diagonal, some rice and beans, a little cheese, some avocado, and a spoonful of sour cream onto the tortilla. Wrap the whole thing up by rolling it. Serve with the salad, and corn on the cob that has been smeared with a mayo mixed with lime juice, cilantro, a dash of ground cayenne pepper, and salt, and then packed with parmesan all over. Drink with beer or limeade.

Revival food

When you have a friend that is ailing, and your heart is broken knowing hers is broken, and there is so little that you can do except love her with all your might from far away and call every two hours to see if she is any more all right than she was the last time you called, I think the thing to do, is go to her, or if you can’t get there quick enough, send food. If she is within driving distance, an excellent suggestion would be motza ball soup. If you have no matzo, make her some sauce from your best tomatoes and a tiny little bit of cream to make it smooth and sweet. If she lives far away, send biscotti that she can dip into her tea. It is best to make something that she can keep a while or freeze, just in case she can only eat a mouthful at the moment.
For your sauce, drizzle in your very best olive oil into a sauce pan with three whole cloves of garlic. Let them get a bit golden, and then add three or four whole fresh basil leaves, clean and dry. Turn off the heat. Add your favorite canned whole tomatoes, preferably a San Marzano variety from somewhere around Naples. Crush them with your hand before they go in the pan. Turn the heat back on and simmer for about half an hour. When the garlic is soft, smash it up against the side of the pan with a fork. Taste for salt. Add a few more fresh basil leaves. When your pasta is al dente, drain well, and then add back to the pasta pot or a big saute pan with a few good spoonfuls of the sauce. Add a few Tablespoons of heavy cream, taste again for salt and pepper, and maybe even another few torn basil leaves. If it needs a bit more sauce, add enough to make the pasta creamy without being drowned. Add Parmigiano Reggiano to taste, some grinds of freshly ground pepper, and serve.

For the biscotti, combine 4 whole eggs with 6 Tablespoons of oil, one cup of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Add nearly 2 and 3/4 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, a pinch of cinnamon or a little lemon zest, and a pinch of salt. Add one cup of roughly chopped almonds and raisins, mixed. The dough should be thick enough to hold its shape in a log. Form the dough into three long logs on a greased sheet pan. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly golden brown and set in the center. When cool, slice into quarter inch slices, lie them flat on the sheet pan, sprinkle them with sugar, and bake at 300 for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Whatever you make, your love will be in there, and she will get it.

Who me?

There are not a whole lot of people that are going to ask you what you need.
You do it.
For dinner I’m going out, and I need to eat something that I didn’t cook.

Fish pucks

I told Ferdinand not to lick the puddles in the park, but he always gets in a good three laps before I can get to him, so I wasn’t surprised when he wasn’t feeling well this morning. All he has had to eat is a bite of a ginger cookie, half a piece of toast, and two potato chips. I have been following him around all day trying to tempt him, and eating everything that I make that he won’t finish.
For dinner I’m just making fish cakes. Fish cakes are good even when you’re not hungry because you can make them in miniature if you feel like it, and just eat two or three of them. I have a tiny bit of salmon left and some mashed potatoes, and I’m going to add an egg yolk, a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise, some chopped shallot, a little parsley, some garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Form them into tiny little pucks and cover them with a sauce of whole milk yogurt, another bit of mayo, a spill of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, chive, and salt. Eat them with pieces of avocado and slices of tomato, and a small salad of watercress on the side.
The important thing is to cook them in your good olive oil, making sure that the pan is hot before they go in, and that you give them plenty of time on each side, so that they are a beautiful golden brown. Lift them out of the pan with a really thin spatula.
Lemon pie is really good for dessert with these, and if you have a good recipe for one, let me know, because I’m in the market for one.

The little chicken that could

When I’m nervous, I try to stick to cooking things that I really know. Life can feel so uncertain sometimes, and if you know you have a good piece of meat and you know you can sear it the way it should be seared, it’s something to hold onto.

Beside that, it is the season of assembling meals instead of cooking them, so it’s important to go over searing. I know a lot of people have grills, but I don’t, so instead grilling things to throw over a salad, I sear them. I have started ordering my groceries on line, and I resisted for a long long time, but they made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. If I order on line, I don’t have to take Ferdinand to the grocery store. It’s been good so far, everything incredibly fresh, but I got a chicken breast the size of a small ham yesterday. If you try and cook that in the pan from start to finish, it’s going to be dry as a bone. You could always braise it, but a quicker alternative is to take it off the bone, get rid of the skin, and then cut each breast horizontally into three pieces. Skinny stuff like that can be cooked in minutes. Once it’s done, here’s what you could do:

a salad with romaine, fresh corn, blue cheese, avocado, chive and chicken

fresh figs, spicy basil, finely sliced shallot, small dallops of mascarpone, arugula and chicken

a tossed warm salad of chicken, string beans, tiny diced potatoes and pesto (very nice with a tomato salad with olive oil and balsamic)

The secret to your key ingredient: get a heavy frying pan hot and then add a delicious olive oil. Add a few cloves of whole garlic. Season the chicken with salt, and lay the filets in the pan a few at a time, so they aren’t too crowded. When they are a gorgeous chestnut color on the one side (and don’t go flipping them before they are ready), FLIP. This is when you add your sprig of rosemary if you want to. Cook them on the other side, JUST until they are cooked through. If they are a teeny bit pink inside, it’s OK unless you are pregnant or super old. They will finish cooking after they come off the heat. Dried up chicken is not nice. When they come out of the pan, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and a spritz of lemon if you like, and then assemble and dress your salad. If you are one of the lucky gals who came with me for a food tour of Florence this Spring, now is your time to use that reduced balsamic you bought. Little drops of it are beautiful on a fig salad.

Try it again

I know for a lot of people getting a haircut is no big deal, but I wear my hair up to cook and just because it bugs me, so I don’t see the point in having someone try to make it look good. On top of that, there is way too much mirror at a hair salon. I don’t ever need to see that much Faye. The thing is, remember before you ever had a boyfriend you would say to yourself, if I had a boyfriend, what the heck would I say to him? And then you got a decent one, and it was a bit of stepping through a swamp at first but then you felt like you couldn’t live without him? I found a good stylist. He knows what he is doing, he doesn’t make a big deal about it, and he offered me something to drink. I may even go twice a year.

Fish is like that. If you are picking up rock solid, plastic wrapped fish in the freezer section and thinking, why would anyone in their right mind want to eat this? It is time to change. Fresh fish, fish that was swimming the same day you eat it, or at least in the last few days, is different. It tastes good.

When you look at it, it looks like it may even still be living. It has a healthy glow, plump, and if it’s whole it should have clear eyes and red gills. If they guy lets you smell it before you buy it, it should smell almost sweet. One of my favorite ways to have a salmon steak–a very non threatening thing to buy if you’re trying to get back to fish–is to sear it in a hot pan with your best olive oil and a whole garlic clove. When you flip the fish to the other side (and try to flip it only once) add a few sprigs of thyme. Right before it’s done (it should still be a little pink in the middle), add a squeeze of lime. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. I made new potatoes to go with it, just boiled them in a little salted water with a spill of olive oil until they were tender, tossed them with fresh parsley, toasted cumin and coriander, salt, more olive oil, and a little more lime juice. I served it with a bitter greens salad.
When you get something the way it should be, you get why it’s worth getting.

Farmer Ferd is bringing in the goods

I love avocados, and when it’s over a hundred degrees and you’re feeling like a puddle with shoes, avocados are your best friend, because they can be eaten raw. Buy the ones that are black skinned and slightly soft. Corn is your second best friend because it can be eaten nearly raw. Boil it for four minutes, and that’s it. Ferd planted a garden this Spring, and we reaped this one this morning. There are ten corn stalks that came up in a one foot radius–we’re city folk–we haven’t gotten the idea of just how much space one seed needs yet.
You could forget cooking and just make a sandwich with sharp cheddar cheese, avocado, tomato and red onion, and have your corn on the cob on the side, or cook just a little bit and make an avocado, fresh corn, and potato salad.
Throw some diced new potatoes (with skins) into salted boiling water with a drizzle of olive oil and a garlic clove. Cook them until they are just tender, and then drain well and spread them on a sheet pan to cool. Sprinkle with a little salt, not too much freshly ground pepper, another drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lime. If you have some fresh thyme sprigs, throw those on top. Cut up an avocado so that each bit is the same size as the potato pieces. Boil the corn and then season each one with a little olive oil or butter and salt before you slice off all the kernels. Use at least one and even two cobs. Smash some mint in your new mortar and pestle (because I know you went out and bought one yesterday, with a clove of garlic and a little more olive oil. For every eight to ten small potatoes, use about a quarter cup of mint. If you like cilantro, add half as much cilantro, right along with the mint. Add some more lime juice, and taste for salt. Fresh chive cut into long bits is beautiful in this, or even tiny pieces of shallot. Have it with cheese melted onto soft tortillas and folded in half with bits of jalapeno, and skirt steak or marinated shrimp that you throw on the grill. (Guests love to grill; get them to do it) Ice cold beer or lemonade is to avocados what bread is to a sandwich.