For the ladies of the 80′s

It’s not that I’m wearing the same exact clothes that I was wearing in 1985, it’s that I may as well be. I have a pair of gouchos on at the moment that I bought at the very classy clothier Barney’s in NYC, and the truth is they are no different from the gouchos I had even before 1985 that I bought with my babysitting money at the Youth Centre in Hartford, CT.
I’m going to give you something to do with at least one of those favorite outfits. Have a party from a cookbook from the same year, The Silver Palate Good Times. (If you have the cookbook, take a look at Julee Rosso on the cover and tell me that isn’t a classic “what was I thinking putting a satin rose that looks like it’s a runaway float from a punch bowl, on my head for a photo shoot.” )

1. Curried chicken skewers

Bring 1 1/2 cups of half and half to a simmer. Drop in a whole chicken breast. Cover with the lid ajar and cook until done, about 25 minutes. Cool and cut into 1 inch cubes. In a food processor, buzz 3/4 cup of Hellman’s mayo with 2 tablespoons of mango chutney, 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon of curry powder, and 1 teaspoon of turmeric (they use a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and sherry instead of the lime juice). Taste. It may need a little lemon juice or salt. Dip the chicken pieces in the mayo and then roll them in chopped salted, roasted peanuts. Skewer them and serve with little dishes of dates and dried apricots.

2. String beans with ginger and garlic

Blanch 2 pounds of string beans in salted boiling water. Heat up a 2 inch minced and peeled piece of fresh ginger in oil and a few cloves of garlic. (when you aren’t serving skewers of chicken rolled in peanuts, add a cup of cashews and stir around to toast them; if you are serving the skewers, skip the cashews on the beans). Add the beans, a few drops of sesame oil to taste, and a tablespoon or so of soy sauce. Taste for salt.

3. Tostones

Buy green plantains. Slice off the peels with a knife, and then cut the plantains into 1/4 inch slices. Fry in 1/2 inch of hot oil and drain on paper towels. Press each plantain with a folded up paper bag to flatten. Fry again until lightly brown, and season with salt.
4. Carrot Ginger Soup

Cook one diced onion in a few tablespoons of butter until softened. Add 1/4 cup of fresh peeled and finely chopped ginger and 3 cloves of minced garlic. Continue cooking for a few minutes. Add 7 cups of stock and 1 cup of white wine. Bring to a simmer. Add 1 1/2 pounds of peeled and chopped carrots. Continue to simmer uncovered until carrots are completely softened. Puree in a food processor or with a boat motor until smooth. Add a few tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, a pinch of curry powder, a pinch of cayenne powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

The diet

Somebody is on a diet in this house after a visit to the doctor, and I don’t want to mention any names, but it isn’t me. I’m not sure what the diet is exactly, because it is a sensitive subject and when I asked I got the feeling I should leave it alone. I was asked to prepare smaller portions so that there would be nothing left in the pan to go back to. “But” I said, “that’s lunch; that saves me cooking lunch. I’ll tell you what I’ll do” I said, “I’ll give up my ice cream.” “Thanks”, he said. Giving up my ice cream is a lot, but he didn’t see it. “I’ll put the leftovers in the fridge where you can’t find them.” He didn’t even look up from his paper.
The thing is, I’m too old to take on the responsibility of somebody else’s responsibility. However, I do love a challenge. Instead of making chicken pot pie last night I sauced some chicken and broccoli, and served it over bruscetta with a salty Romano cheese.
Get the onion going in a heavy saute pan with olive oil, a sprig of fresh rosemary and salt over a low heat until it is completely softened and sublime. (about fifteen minutes) Blanch the broccoli in salted water for about two minutes and remove. Make your own stock by simmering a pound of bones, a carrot, an onion, a sprig of parsley, a clove of garlic and a bay leaf in plenty of water for an hour (or more). Strain, reserving the liquid and throwing away the rest. Bring that stock back to a simmer. Drop in a whole skinless chicken breast (or 2) and cook them for about twenty minutes until no longer pink. Remove from the stock and season with salt. Add a few tablespoons of flour and 1 tablespoon of butter to your onions. Whisk around until the flour loses its raw taste, but doesn’t go brown. Add a piece of lemon zest without the pith. Start ladling in hot stock, one ladleful at a time, until you have about 2 1/2 cups. Simmer over low heat until slightly thickened. Remove the chicken from the bones and shred. Add the broccoli to the sauce along with the chicken. Toast slivers of Italian bread under the broiler until just going golden. When they come out, drizzle with olive oil and rub once with a piece of cut, raw garlic. Remove the sprig of rosemary and lemon zest. Check for salt and black pepper. Spoon over a few pieces of bruschetta. Top generously with shavings of Romano.
No dessert.

What to have waiting

I have wandered into my grazing days. Warm weather hits and I no longer have the need to eat meals meant to put you to bed. Lord knows I always want to eat, I just want to eat a little, a lot.
The whole of this can be served right away, at room temperature, or put in the fridge to pick at as you please.
I am going to make chicken salad with red grapes and toasted walnuts and minced shallot and a 3 lb. roast pork loin (just heat up a sliced onion a few cloves of garlic in olive oil with salt for five minutes. Remove from the pan. Season and sear the loin on all sides, add the onions to the pan, pour over half a cup of good balsamic, and throw it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour. Baste. The temp should be 155 degrees. Let it rest 15 minutes before cutting.) Maybe I’ll roast a dish of onions as well along with pork with a little orange juice, balsamic, a sprinkle of sugar and salt until they are soft. I’ll make string beans and toss them with olive oil made the way it should be and a few raw garlic cloves and salt. I’ll roast some new potatoes, and serve it all with a piece of gorgonzola or roquefort, a baguette sliced into thin slices, toasted in the oven, and when they come out, a drizzled with olive oil, rubbed lightly with garlic and salted.

No reason why you couldn’t serve a lemon tart for dessert or even cheesecake.  I am happy to open the refrigerator door and slice a piece off of either every few hours, or every twenty minutes.

Breathe deep and eat dal

The other day I was having a mother chat and the one mother was saying to me (the other mother), how she finds it hard to work at night after her boy is in bed, but that there is no choice. “After he goes to bed”, she said, I do a little yoga to unwind, and then I have to get back to work.” I didn’t mention it, because sometimes you just don’t feel like drawing attention to certain things, but I do nothing like yoga after Ferdinand goes to bed. It is not uncommeon that I never make it up off of his bed after he goes to sleep and instead spend the night there fully clothed and teeth unbrushed. If I am however, feeling especially empowered, I might move myself over to lie down in a new spot near the television to watch a brain teaser like young teenagers singing to lose or win a dream. On my way to help smooth the lines of tension from the day, instead of a downward dog, I will unfailingly stretch my arm around all flavors of ice cream available in my freezer, or as many cartons as I can carry with a spoon, over to my show.
Before that I often try to improve the odds of my good health by cooking, and a dal makes an impressive stab at it. All you need is a 3 inch piece of ginger and two cloves of garlic. Smash those up with a few fresh mint leaves or parsely in your mortar and pestle until smooth. Heat up a little olive oil with a little butter, and throw the mix in with three finely chopped shallots (you can use yellow onion instead). Cook that over a low heat for about 15 minutes, seasoning with salt and throwing in a bay leaf.
Rinse off half a pound of yellow lentils or yellow split peas and then cover them in a separate pot with about four times as much water and a hefty pinch of salt. Spill in a bit of olive oil, add a bay leaf and a sprig of fresh thyme, and a garlic clove or the ends from the shallots. Cook, covered until soft. Prepare jasmine or basmatti rice. To the shallot mix, add a teaspoon each of toasted cumin and fennel seeds that have been smashed in the mortar. Add about a tablespoon of curry powder; stir around for another two minutes over the heat. Add the lentils, using a slotted spoon, and then going back for as much liquid as you like. Heat, taste for salt, and if you want to, as I always do, spritz in a little fresh lime juice. Top with toasted coconut.
Serve this over the rice along with a side of watercress, chive and mango salad.

Competing against yourself without the cameras

I found chicken in the freezer; there is a box of frozen peas still in there and a container of stock that I made last week. In the pantry drawer I found polenta, which escaped me for a while because I tend to use recycled yogurt containers instead of transparent Tupperware; out of sight, out of mind.
I am my own ready-set-cook. I’ll slice the chicken breasts ever so thinly into two or three filets, and then pound them with the bottom of a wine bottle, season them on both sides with kosher salt, and sear them over a medium to high heat in a heavy saute pan that has a few cloves of garlic and some olive oil in it. The chicken will cook through by the time it is seared on both sides. I’ll remove it from the pan, add a thyme sprig, squeeze in a little lemon juice or a dash of dry white wine, and then swirl in a good tab of butter. Pour that over the chicken, then sprinkle over the top some homemade toasted breadcrumbs, about 1/2 an inch in size, tossed with a piece of minced roasted garlic, the zest from half a lemon, a little salt and pepper, and a teaspoon of fresh parsely.
With the peas I’ll make soup. Chop up a few shallots, cook them around with a few cloves of garlic,, add a small sprig of rosemary or mint or parsely, or a combination of two or three, and cook gently, stirring for about 15 minutes. Add a small box of peas, and cook for 1 minute. Add 2 cups of homemade chicken stock. Cook for another minute at a simmer. Puree til smooth in a food processor, blender or with a boat motor. Thin out a little with more stock. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste for salt and black pepper. Serve topped with shavings of the best romano cheese you can find, or a dallop of fresh ricotta, or ricotta salata. If you have an extra hot and heavy frying pan lying around, you can also fry some potato shavings and put those on top as a garnish.
Make the polenta, pour it out onto a greased sheet, and then reheat whenever you’re ready for dinner.
If I can eat it, I win.

Nothing like a good choked up Chicken sa-te

If you are at MOMA on West 53rd, exit onto 54th and have the steamed dumplings for 4.95 at the Thai restaurant across the street. They are perfect for eating when you don’t want to eat really, you just want to talk and taste something that will make you happy. I can’t recommend anything sauted; anything sauted had the flavor of nearly solid and slightly cooled crisco.
We sat and talked and listened for an hour and a half, my girlfriends and I, getting it all out over beautiful dumplings and bad pad thai; water refills flying over to the table when we welled up. There is nothing better than a table in the back of a cave like restaurant with 70′s game show music playing just loud enough to muffle conversation too personal to have anywhere else.
In case you can’t get to 53rd street, you can always make chicken sa-te. I add yogurt to the marinade to make the chicken a little more moist, and lime zest if I can’t find lemongrass.

For 1 pound of chicken breast cut into strips, use 1/2 teapsoon roasted coriander seed and 1 teaspoon of roasted cumin seed. Grind them in your mortar and pestle. Add a teaspoon of finely grated lime zest or a tablespoon of lemongrass, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, 1/2 cup of coconut milk, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 cup of yogurt. Mix all this together, and pour over the chicken to marinate for 30 minutes.

Skewer the pieces and either broil or grill them, turning and basting every few minutes until they are just done. (don’t overcook)

For the sauce, combine 1 cup of coconut milk, a teaspoon of chili garlic paste, 1/4 cup of creamy peanut butter, a pinch of cumin and coriander seed, roasted and ground, a teaspoon of fresh coriander, 1 tablepsoon of sugar, and lime juice to taste. Taste for salt and black pepper.

Make a salad of tiny greens, mango, shallot, fresh mint and avocado to go with, using lemon juice and olive oil as your dressing.

Veal chops and thinking outside the box

Meat sauce is only better if you have time to sear a few bones. I usually use a chicken thigh, a piece of osso bucco, bits of shoulder, or anything that looks like it was just cut. The bones are good for slow release flavor and tough meat softens after a good few hours of cooking to be tender enough to eat without teeth even. Shopping for the right stuff I got into a situation with myself. Normally I buy organic. I like the idea that the birds and animals are fed what they were meant to eat, instead of pellets of each other and that they have a chance to frolic in the dirt for a while before it all comes to an end. I couldn’t find any organic bones, and at first I thought “oh, give it up and get the regular stuff”, but I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t give me a even half a leg to stand on when I’m yelling at Ferdinand about thinking outside the box, and creative conflict resolution, and commitment to what he believes in and protecting our earth and all the rest of what he has to listen to when all he wants is to get on with throwing his juice box in the garbage or packing his toys into the closet where his friends won’t find them. I checked the veal chops. They were organic and incredibly expensive, but I bought two. I seasoned them with kosher salt on both sides, seared them off in a hot and heavy pan with olive oil, without moving them or even peeking, until I could see the sides beginning to whiten around the edges. When they were beautifully browned on one side, I flipped them and did the same to the other.
I let them rest and after about fifteen minutes, I sliced most of the meat from the bone, and ate it immediately because I couldn’t stop myself. I cooked up swiss chard with garlic and had my second course as my appetizer. I made my sauce, and when it was ready to go for the long simmer, I added the veal bones and some chicken stock into the sauce. Let it cook for at least an hour. If you wanted, you could even put the whole chops to cook in the sauce after you sear them. Since the chops are delicious at any point, you can cook them for however long you like. The longer they are in the sauce, the more flavor you will get from the bone, but if you are in a rush, you don’t have to wait the two and some hours that you normally would for a joint.

Hannah Banana

My sister visiting from California left yesterday, and when I closed the door after her, I had to stop for a moment and wait for my heart to steady itself; to readjust to not having her close enough so that I could see her and feed her and touch her.
I am going to make a risotto. I need to make something that demands my constant attention and affection.
Halve 3 cloves of garlic. Saute it in your best olive oil, one that speaks to you and moves you. Add one medium finely diced onion. Keep it cooking over a low heat for at least twenty minutes. Season with kosher salt, and add a sprig of fresh thyme. Dissolve a pinch of saffron in a few spoonfuls of hot water and add that to the onion. Add the 1 1/2 cups of risotto. Stir for 30 seconds. Pour in a cup of a dry white wine that you love. Over medium/low heat, reduce until nearly gone. Right as the liquid is about to leave you, add a ladleful of hot, homemade stock. Keep stirring, gently and thoroughly. Season with salt as you go. Continue to add stock until the rice is al dente, just beginning to give when you bite into a grain.
Off the heat add a few tablespoons of room temperature butter. Fold in sauteed shrimp and top with braised mussels. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

What is the point cooking what you don’t want to eat

Do you ever look at what’s on your plate, possibly even after years of eating whatever it is, and say to yourself, “I don’t like this”. Don’t eat it. Just pick up the plate, and either give it to the guy next to you and let him eat it, or throw it away. I bought a pair of pants last Spring just because they were marked down from 200 dollars to 50. I hate those pants. They are cut too low, they are the wrong color, and I don’t like bell bottoms. Eat what you love. I’m not saying to forget your manners at dinner parties, I’m just saying if you’re home and there is a only stew meat, and you you don’t feel like eating cow, there is no need to make yourself into the cleaning crew. I love my freezer for holding onto foods that I bought under the pressure of having to eat well.
At the moment I am moved by food that demands nothing from me. I bought grape leaves in a jar that are already stuffed with rice and mint and currants that are fantastic with a squeeze of lemon and a sauce on the side of whole milk yogurt and peeled and shredded, seedless cucumber, a little salt and minced garlic. Roasted red peppers, (350 degrees, cut out the seeds, cut off the tops and tails, cut them in half and roast toss them with kosher salt and olive oil until they are soft), black olives, French feta, and a cold and crispy Pinot Grigio.

When was the last time you made croquettes?

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I’m making chicken croquettes tonight. A., I’m obsessed with thinking of things that Ferdinand will eat, and B., I kept all the ingredients for my chicken soup separate last night for some unknown reason, assembling the soup bowl by bowl instead of all together in one big pot. It’s good to do things just for the heck of it sometimes, to shake it up and see how it feels. I looked in the fridge this morning and looked at the little bowl of soffritto (sauted carrots, celery, onion, and garlic), and the other of naked chicken meat; “I’m making croquettes out of you”, I said. Here’s hoping they take me somewhere I want to go.
Throw your barely cooked chicken breast in the food processor and grind it up. Make a white sauce, by heating up 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of flour. Cook it up for a few minutes until that raw taste of flour tastes like just baked shortbread. Turn off the heat. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups of milk, about a quarter cup at a time. Turn the heat back on to medium flame, and whisking constantly, let it bubble until it is pretty thick, nearly like sour cream. Stir in your cooked soffritto and chicken. Grate in a little nutmgeg and parmesan cheese to taste. Taste for salt and black pepper. You can add a little chopped parsley or fresh thyme to this, but go easy. Stick the mix in the fridge. When it has cooled, shape them into cannelles (ovals tapered on the ends). Drop each into a beaten egg that has had a little water added to it, and then let them sit in a sieve that is resting on a bowl to let the egg drop off. Use Panko crumbs (in the Asian foods section). Get a big heap of the crumbs in a bowl, and keeping one hand for the wet stuff, and one hand reserved for the dry, drop the croquettes into the crumbs one by one, tossing the crumbs up around the sides and over the top. Set onto a plate or waxed paper. Heat up a large frying pan with a little bit of olive oil and a little bit of butter. Don’t be shy here, you want the whole pan to be covered. More is better than less. You want the pan to be HOT–whatever you put in there will make a big sizzle on contact. Set them in, without overcrowding, and cook to a beautiful golden on each side. The chicken is already cooked, so you don’t have to worry about being sure they are cooked through.
I served them with just a little salad, but they would be beautiful surrounded by a small pool of reduced heavy cream. Simmer a pint of heavy cream with a garlic clove and a sprig of thyme and a pepper corn and a pinch of salt added to it until it is reduced by half and strain.
They are delicious cold as well; in a sandwich or out.