Staff dinner: Eggplant, tomato and shrimp


My sister is arriving in three hours to start taking pictures of the food that I haven’t started to cook yet, and I hope that she doesn’t freak out that although all of the staff are committed to excellence, none of the staff is over three feet or four years old.
Hopefully she will over look all that, because I’m going to make her a delicious lunch, and I bought her a massive bag of jelly belly’s.
Marinate a pound and a half of shrimp with half a head of garlic, sprigs of fresh thyme, lemon peels without the pith, and a splash of olive oil for at least an hour.
Pan fry 8 chopped baby eggplants in olive oil that has had three, unpeeled, and sliced in half, cloved of garlic simmering in it until they are golden. (Take the garlic out before you put the eggplant in). Season the eggplant with salt and don’t disturb them in the pan until they are golden on one side. Turn the heat down and continue to cook until they are no longer white. Add more olive oil to the pan. Add two more cloves of garlic, cut in half, and five basil leaves. When the basil is dark green, add about a cup to a cup and a half of grape tomatoes and a few red pepper flakes. Season with salt. Toss around in the pan for about five minutes, just until heated through. Combine with the eggplant and drizzle with your best olive oil and a grind of freshly ground black pepper. Wipe out the frying pan, drizzle with a little oil, and when it’s hot, add the shrimp carefully, so they are all lying flat in the pan. You may have to do this in batches. Season with salt and a teeny bit of pepper. As soon as the edges are white, flip them with tongs, and almost immediately take them out of the pan. Overcooked seafood is no good.
Toss them together with the eggplant and tomatoes, and serve at room temperature.
Serve it with tiny lentils in seasoned with lemon juice, diced shallot and olive oil, some French feta, and a loaf of bread that you would drive across town for.

Home

No cooked food tonight. I bought Fontina, Gorgonzola and Asiago, to have with a baguette that I slivered into ovals and rubbed ever so gently with a the cut edge of a raw garlic clove and drizzled with olive oil. For dessert I have red grapes, peaches, and chocolate.

Waiting

There is always a fear–the thinnest sliver when my husband has been gone from home–that he won’t remember me when he comes back. It is for no good reason, but I lie awake with it torturing me the night before his plane is supposed to land, so there is only one thing to do. Make soup.
The squash is just beginning to show itself at the farmer’s market. Slice two whole butternut squash in half, drizzle with your best olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Set it in the oven at 350 degrees, and roast until it is completely soft. Meanwhile, peel and dice about three or four yukon potatoes and one small onion. Get two or three cloves of garlic going in a heavy bottomed frying pan, the garlic just sliced across the middle, add a few sprigs of marjoram and one of thyme. Scatter the onion around the pan and be sure there is enough olive oil so that all of the onion is coated. Season with salt and about three red pepper flakes. When the onion is soft, and I mean beautifully, melting soft, add the potatoes. Stir them around a bit, then let them brown a little on the bottom. Scrape up the bits with a metal spatula, add a little water, a little salt, and then perch the cover of the pan on top so that it allows some air to escape. When the potatoes are done, taste for salt and give them a few grinds of freshly ground pepper. Add the squash, that has been removed from it’s skin, and try not to break it up too much when you mix it into the potato. Add enough water to ease everything from the pan, but it should be quite thick. Make some croutons (I like long, thin, diagonal slices) from a loaf of good Italian or French bread by toasting them in the oven, and melting some parmesan on top. Serve on top of the soup.

How to beat Spongebob


While Jonathan has been away, for my own sanity and survival, I have been trying to teach Ferdinand how to listen, and good manners. To learn table manners, I realized the first thing I was going to have to do was get him to the table. He likes to sit in his egg chair and eat in front of the TV, and I can’t argue with him that it’s not really a problem if you’re shoving six pieces of pancake in your mouth at the same time, if the only one looking back at you is Spongebob.
The hardest part is convincing him that it is all going to be worth it. I try to lure him over by changing the decor for dining. I put up his own drawings for ice breakers, pictures of his cousins, and a calendar that we made to mark off the days until Dad comes home. I lit a candle and put some music on. Fire always peaks Ferd’s interest.
He eats whatever I eat, with ketchup, and it’s easier to start with a menu that you know is geared for success. Last night we had tiny organic turkey meatballs, string beans with olive oil and garlic, and mashed potatoes, and then chocolate cupcakes, fresh whipped cream, and colored sprinkles for dessert.
Here is what we had to work on: no swinging the napkins over our heads or wearing them like a hat, maintaining more food than ketchup on the plate to start, keeping your head above the table at all times, laughing at mom’s jokes, and not asking mom to tell the same joke more than three times.

Old Friends

I have been a cook for about a hundred and and twenty eight years now, (if you count it in dog years, which you have to really, because cooking is hard). You would think that when I’m hungry, ideas would spring from my head like little baby spiders going out into the world for the very first time; sometimes, but you know a lot of the time I do the same things over and over and over again. The trick is, to improve your list of standby’s. You wouldn’t throw out your oldest best friend just because someone new came to town with some good jokes and a cute outfit.

Shake up good old black beans and rice with finely diced shallot and garlic, say two shallots and one clove of garlic, for one can of beans, and one cup of uncooked rice. Cook the shallot and garlic until it is beautifuly golden, and then add one teaspoon each of coriander and fennel that you smashed up in your mortar and pestel. Instead of regular rice, try thai sticky rice, simmered with a bay leaf, a little olive oil, salt and a squeeze of lime. When the rice is done, stir in the shallot mixture, and a well drained can of black beans. If you can find a green heirloom tomato, seed and chop, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and if you like it spicy, a little red pepper flakes. Let sit for a moment, and then stir into the rice. Taste for salt and lemon juice. Serve with corn on the cob, slightly smashed avocados with salt and lemon, and tortillas sprinkled with a good cheddar, folded in half, and grilled or heated in the oven until the cheese melts.
PS I know I’ve had a lot of garlic and shallot going on. A. Garlic and shallot is a good thing B. I bought a heck of a lot of garlic and shallots in a fit of, “it’s getting late, and I’ve got to buy something”, so I gotta get through it.

Cooking under pressure


Next weekend I am cooking for four days straight for the book; the big book of all the recipes I could never do without, and would never want you to be without.
“fayefood” All a good idea, and making dreams come true and all the rest of it, but HOW DOES ONE PERSON COOK EVERY RECIPE IN A BOOK AND LOOK GLAM FOR THE PICTURE AT THE SAME TIME? I need a staff.
There was a time when you would have made this chicken flattened under a pile of bricks, and you can still do that, but if you are hell bent to find a brick and people are waiting, then forget the brick. Pay the extra buck to test your butcher’s talents and have him bone the chicken, leaving the breast in one piece and removing as many bones as possible, including the leg bones. Get your finger in between the skin and the flesh to make pockets where you can stuff 4 to 5 poached garlic cloves (whole cloves simmered in salted water until they are soft), a few tablespoons of a mix of fresh sage, rosemary and thyme, and about three good pinches of salt. Anything left over, rub on top. Put the thing in an a baking pan coated with olive oil, drizzle olive oil over the top, and squeeze the juice from a lemon, all over it. Baste every ten minutes with the pan juices, and roast at 375 degrees.
If you want to get involved, you can cut the chicken in half and sear each half skin side down before you roast it, or sear it, the leaving it skin side down in an oven proof pan, throw a brick on top, so that the skin stays in contact with the pan, and roast until done.
Serve it with my favorite fat, red, ripe and juicy, chopped tomatoes tossed with the great big croutons, roasted in the oven, and then when they come out, seasoned with salt and drizzled with gorgeous olive oil. Add some ripped up basil, and if you have to, a little bit of balsamic and cracked black pepper.
For dessert, reduce your FAVORITE (we’re under pressure here) red wine with half as much sugar (ie. 1 cup of wine to 1/2 cup of sugar) and a one inch wide strip of lemon zest with none of the white stuff. It should look almost syrupy when it’s done and taste out of this world if you used good wine. Pit some cherries, and let them soak in there (off the heat) for a good ten to fifteen minutes. Serve with almond cake, or thinly sliced Italian bread, rubbed with butter, sprinkled with sugar, and lightly toasted.

Penalty, oversharing!!


There is such a thing as too much information. Too many recipes, too many ingredients, too much, too much too much. Take a little piece of tuna steak, season it with kosher salt on both sides, sear it in a hot pan with some delicious olive oil until it is nice and brown on both sides. It should still be a little pink in the middle. Get it out of the pan, and on a plate.
In a little bowl, toss together some chopped and seeded ripe and deep red tomatoes with some nicoise olives, some diced shallot, and some minced fresh parsley. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and spoon over the fish. Serve it with crusty french bread and new boiled potatoes that have been cooked in salted water with a drizzle of olive oil and a whole clove of garlic. Finish them with more olive oil, salt and pepper. And little lettuce leaves in a salad. The end.

Want to come to Italy?

Just a little note that I have a week available from April 28th to May 5th, in case anyone wants to get a group together for a whole of fun cooking and eating and drinking wine and traveling around the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside.
email me at fayehess@eathlink.net

In a hot dog fog


I have been a single, working mother with no babysitter for about two weeks now, and Ferdinand and I have been eating nothing that takes longer than ten minutes to cook. Not thirty, and not fifteen. Ten. I was trying to think about what to make for dinner last night and I thought “I want to cook about as much as I want to put on a costume and enter a contest to lift a two ton elephant.” I got worried about it for a minute, but thank goodness I was too tired to remember what I had been thinking as soon as Ferdinand’s hot dog and frozen french fries started burning up on the stove.

Then this morning, when I was in the back garden trying to decide if I was going to mow the lawn or let it go for another week, I saw a squash blossom. What do you know, my heart starting beating out of it’s deep freeze, and I got all veklempted about the smooth and creamy taste of orchiette with zucchini sliced ever so thinly and almost melted into a sauce with garlic and shallot and fresh basil and the tender petals of zucchini flowers torn in at the last minute with shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano. I’m coming back.

Thinly slice about eight small, very, very, fresh zucchini for 9 ounces of pasta. Heat up your best olive oil in a pan with three to four whole cloves of garlic and one minced shallot or half of a very small onion. Season with salt and pepper. When the shallot is soft and a little golden, add three to four basil leaves, and after a few more seconds, the zucchini. Add more salt to taste and one whole cayenne pepper (and don’t forget to take it out at the end). Let the zucchini cook, without stirring for about two minutes over medium heat. Turn the heat down and set a lid over the top so that it is ajar. Cook until the zucchini has completely collapsed. Meanwhile cook 9 ounces of pasta al dente. Drain well, reserving a bit of the liquid. Combine the pasta with the zucchini, a Tablespoon of heavy cream, or a spoonful of the pasta liquid, hand grated parmesan, and some torn basil and zucchini flowers. Taste for salt and black pepper.

How to make everybody happy


I really shouldn’t perpetuate that kind of thinking, but if you are obsessed and there is no stopping you, then when you are planning on having a whole bunch of people at the table, and you worrying yourself sick about who likes what, here is what you do.
Build your menu around things that are really basic and non threatening, like chicken breasts and sausages. Not all gooped up into a casserole–because then you’re just going to get people digging around and making a mess of it with the spoon to find the bits they like–but all nice an separate, with everything on it’s own plate.
Throw the sausages into boiling water with a little red wine, a garlic clove and a bay leaf. Cook for fifteen minutes, then brown them off in a pan, right before you are ready to serve.
Drizzle some fine and fruity olive oil over chicken breasts that have their skin on and their bones in, season on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper,and set in a baking dish. Scatter halved garlic cloves over them, wedges of lemon, and rosemary sprigs. Roast at 400 degrees uncovered, until they are just done, and no longer pink. Do not overcook.
The art is in the sides. It’s true that there will be a lot of dishes to do at the end of it, but what’s family for? A lot of dishes makes it look like a feast, and people can either take some of everything, or just a tiny little bit of chicken and then sit and talk about all their allergies to somebody other than you.
Make a carabonara of pan roasted, diced eggplant (dice everything pretty small so that it cooks faster), diced zucchini, diced red pepper, and onion and garlic. Cook each vegetable in the pan one type of vegetable at a time with a little bit of garlic and olive oil, and then stir them all together with fresh thyme sprigs, parsely, olives, and capers. Finish with a little balsamic and lemon.

Dice some tomatoes and stir them up salt, with baby mozzarella, basil and olive oil.

Roast some new potatoes tossed with salt and olive oil.

Make a warm carrot salad of barely boiled or steamed carrots (season the water with salt), olive oil, balsamic, a pinch of sugar, some red pepper flakes, and a splash of oj or lemon.

Slice up about four onions into a pan generously drizzled with olive oil, and stir them around with some salt and pepper added until they are golden. Add a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar or balsamic, and keep stirring, adding a few drops of water and keeping them over a low heat, until they are completely soft.

Serve a cheese board and tossed greens and pears with grapes when everyone is done with the first table, and then for dessert, well, forget dessert. Ask people to bring it. You will be doing enough.