Hot, Hot

It is better to arrange food than to cook it when it is seriously hot. I refuse to get more than one burner going at a time after 90 degrees. Make a little rice and black bean salad, and it is worth it to buy the good stuff and use a rice that has not been cooked, mushed and then freeze dried back into rice pellets. I love basmati. Plus, the stuff I buy comes in really cute burlap bags with handles and a zipper that you can recycle as a handbag and fashion accessory. Rinse a can of black beans really well. Put a pot of water on (two and a quarter cups water to one cup rice) along with rice, a drizzle of olive oil, a bay leaf, salt, and a whole, peeled, garlic clove. Cook until just done, covered and without stirring. Remove the aromatics and toss the rice, tasting for salt. Combine the black beans and the rice. Chop a tablespoon of fresh cilantro, slice two or three green onions, and crush a teaspoon of cumin that you have toasted first in a dry heavy saute pan for about 30 seconds. Squeeze in some fresh lemon juice (about one lemon) and a little more olive oil. Taste for salt and black pepper. You can add tiny bits of fresh red pepper to this, or fresh corn that is left over on cobs, or a little shallot. I like to add a tiny bit of fresh orange juice as well and even a little parsley to balance out the cilantro if I have it.
Serve it with guacamole made with two avocados, one minced clove of fresh garlic, the juice of one lime and salt, some tortilla chips, a side of fresh mango chunks.

Always

Ferdinand is trying to leave a teacher you would think you could only dream of. She has the patience of a lake that waits for a leaf to fall. She is a miracle of finding time to listen, to laugh, and to look into a child’s eyes. Every boy and girl feels like the most precious. She has taught me more about children in the three minutes when I drop him off or pick him up, than any other single source. He has been unable to sleep and worries that he will have to go on next year without her. How do you teach a child to leave someone who rests so deeply in his little soul? I think we will just have to take her with us. We will find out what her favorite food is and make it for dinner when we miss her and we will call to find out how she is and break all the school rules and have teacher parties at our house for the pre-k class of 2007 with her as our guest of honor. We’ll send her cookies.
Don’t ever leave for good the ones you love.

How cute are they?

blogff03441.JPGYou know that feeling that you get when someone is so cute you can’t help yourself but kiss them? There’s times you can hold yourself back and there’s times you can’t. Sometimes without even thinking through what it’s going to cost you or are they really that cute. Same with tomatoes. Yesterday my husband was walking by the Farmer’s Market at Union Square and couldn’t resist the tomatoes. He came home with two, for SIX DOLLARS AND TWENTY FIVE CENTS and away from the crowds of people desperate for a good tomato, they didn’t look so good.

A tomato worth taking risks for is seriously red. You won’t have to ask yourself, “is this red enough”. A tomato that’s ready for you and worth the risk of biting into will have you breathing deep and swaying just a little bit from the deep tomato aroma floating under your nose. You’ll be saying only things like, “Holy Cow, this is what I call a TOMATO. (whatever variety, red, yellow or otherwise)” Then you know.

When you find it, either slice it, salt it and have a tomato sandwich, or slice it in half, seed it, chop it and drizzle with the best olive oil you can find. Add a little salt, seven or eight torn basil leaves, and a clove of smashed and minced raw fresh garlic for every, I don’t know, pound and a half of tomatoes say. Put a big pot of salted water on to boil. Drop in a little more than half a pound of pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well. Chop up some fresh mozzarella, the buffala if you have it, and then toss your tomatoes and your cheese with the noodles, adding a few gratings of parmesan as well and more basil, olive oil and salt and freshly ground black pepper if you need it.

Get your cha cha back with a little red chili

I’m up. I’m in the saddle and riding. I got a haircut, bought some sneakers and made a buckwheat noodle spicier than I have ever made it before. Girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do to stay in the ring.
Mince a tablespoon of fresh ginger, a tablespoon of fresh garlic, and slice three or four green onions on the diagonal. Fry them all up in a little oil with a pinch of salt. When they are golden, remove them from the pan, and add another drop of oil and cubed extra firm tofu (not silken). Don’t touch. Let them sear on their own for a good 3 minutes or so until they are really browned on one side. Flip them and turn them out of the pan. With no heat, add a teaspoon of red curry paste (Thai kitchen), a teaspoon of oil, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Whisk to mix, then add the tofu, and the ginger, garlic and onions. Chop a tablespoon of fresh parsley or cilantro and drop that on the top. Bring a big pot of salted water to the boil and add buckwheat/yam noodles. Cook only for about 3 or 4 minutes, and right before they are done, add some fresh, chopped broccoli. Drain really well. The broccoli will be sitting on top of the noodles. Drizzle with oil, a little soy sauce, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or rice vinegar. Throw everything together in a bowl and toss gently, tasting for salt. It should spicy enough to bring the tears to your eyes, but not enough to make them fall.
Just in case though, keep the kleenex close.

Spidey likes pie

Don’t want to cook, not happy, I see the sun outside and it means nothing to me.
One of the great things about 2:20pm is, school’s out.
“Mom, don’t you just love spiderman?” “I do.” “Why?” “I like his suit.” “What about how he goes like this?” (pose) “Yea, I like that.” “Do you love it?” “I do.” “What does Spiderman eat?” “Pizza.” “Are you sure about that?” “Yea, I am.” “Can we get pizza?” “We can get pizza.”
“YEA!!! I love you, Mom.”
Sorted.

Stepping up

Today Ferdinand is stepping up from Pre-K. I don’t know whose big idea it was to have a graduation ceremony, but it wasn’t any good for any of us who wanted to sleep last night. Ferd was worried about the refreshments, he was worried about what he was going to wear and if he was going to remember to wear it, and he doesn’t want to graduate from Pre-K. He likes it. I don’t blame him. Who would want to leave a teacher that loves you, big windows for waving to your mama and daddy, and your own bathrooms, no 10 year olds allowed? I didn’t tell him that I quit kindergarten, but I did tell him that mama was coming upstairs on the first day next year and not leaving until he wanted me to, and if there wasn’t any room, I would just shove the other kids over and share a chair.
I have no time for rules when it comes to separation and kindergarten. I don’t believe in learning about the harsh realities of the world when you are five. I believe in cushy.
I am bringing lemonade and we made a pound cake stuck with rainbow toothpicks that have little flags flying from them. I wrote everybody’s names on the flags and Ferd decorated them. Then we worried we might not have enough cake so we made chocolate cookies and gingersnaps. I might bring a back up of shortbread.
For dinner we are having hotdogs on toasted hoagies and corn on the cob and roasted potatoes and peach ice cream for dessert.

Pasta sauce for a whole new set of teeth

When you reach a certain age, you have certain rights. If you are twenty for instance, it’s your job to eat crunchy vegetables, cook crunchy vegetables and go around telling everybody that that’s what you should be doing. When you are forty, you have the right to not talk about what you eat, and when you are eighty say, you have the right to eat what you want, how you want it.
In case you’re not eighty yet, take a day’s license to cook like you’re eighty. When nobody’s looking, keep the broccoli on the heat until it is no longer green, possibly no longer has nutritional value, and is nearly smooth, not a crunch or even the suggestion that there ever was a crunch. You will have one of the best sauces known to pasta and grey haired people.
The trick is, don’t fool yourself that you can use frozen broccoli or old broccoli, just because your cooking it to its limits. Start out with four or even five cloves of garlic, topped and tailed and then cut in half. Glaze a fine, heavy frying pan with your best olive oil. Saute the garlic until it’s golden. Throw in two sprigs of parsley and six basil leaves. Let them go dark green and gorgeous. Add one finely diced onion, and some salt. If you have to add a little more olive oil so that the onion is well coated, do that. Cook the onion for about fifteen to twenty minutes over a low flame until it’s calling to you. Add a few red pepper flakes. Maybe six.
Chop up a large head of broccoli, slicing the stalks very finely on the diagonal. Add that. Season with salt. Add about a quarter cup of hot water at a time, stirring around every once in a while until the water is evaporated. Keep going with adding the water for a while–it’s going to take you about forty five minutes; if you want to do it right, you have to remember 80 year olds have time to cook–until the broccoli is completely soft. Add salt and a grind of black and pepper, and if you like, a little more fresh basil torn in.
Pour half a box of orchiette into plenty of salted, boiling water. When it’s al dente, drain, reserving some of the water. Grate a pile of parmesan. Combine the pasta with the broccoli, adding just a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to help it cling to all of the noodles. Add the cheese, a few tablespoons of room temperature butter, and taste for salt and pepper, and tell me it ain’t great being eighty.

Stepping up

This morning Ferdinand’s pre-K class had a Fathers’ day breakfast and I signed up for the bagels and coffee. I didn’t think much about it until I thought about it, and then I thought, A. we have no bagels in our neighborhood and B. I have no coffee maker.
The hard thing about being the professional in these situations is being a lazy professional. Can I make bagels? Not so much. Can I try? Not so much. I took the train to the city instead and bought them from Murray’s on 6th Avenue in the Village where they make bagels every 10 minutes. I have no problems with the ethics of buying your way to success. I would have ordered 36 cups of coffee as well, but I think you can get put in jail around here for reheating last nights coffee and calling it fresh. At half past six this morning I shamed myself up out of bed and made 36 cups of espresso in my midget moka, and heated up the milk in my pasta pot.
For dinner I’m passing the torch. I’m going to tell Ferdinand, “listen man, now that you’re stepping up to Kindergarten, dinner is yours on Friday nights.” I see nothing wrong with a little raw food and sugar every once in a while.

Strawberry Pie with or without dinner

I am going to make risotto salto with the left over risotto tonight.  You just form little cakes the shape of small hockey pucks from what ever is left on the plate, dust them with a tiny bit of flour and then saute them in olive oil.  Asparagus risotto can be given a whole new life with an edge of good ricotta salata and a spicy little salad of fennel, mint, chive and arugula.
If you want some red on the table, make a strawberry pie from my Grandma Evelyn. You can totally cheat and buy a crust, but if you make a short bread crust, you don’t even have to roll the thing out. Just mix 1 stick of cold butter cut into tiny cubes into 1 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of sugar, and a pinch of salt, with your fingertips, until you don’t see anymore flour. Uneven lumps are what you are looking for. Forget about everything has to be pea sized. Press that into a pie plate and bake at 400 degrees until it is going a bit golden. Cool completely. Cover it with fresh strawberries, whole or halved (take the stems off). Mash a cup of strawberries. Thicken with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch that you have thinned out with a tablespoon of the strawberry juice that seeps out from the berries before adding the cornstarch to the bowl. Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of sugar. Cook over a low to medium heat until the liquid is clear. Pour over the strawberries on the crust and allow to set. Cover with freshly whipped cream.

Keep the crabs happy

blogff03401.JPGWhat am I going to do, go through life and not challenge myself? Yesterday at Fairway they had a massive basket of blue crabs and I bought every one that was not just living, but fighting. Then, just because I will always be clueless about how much seafood people eat, I bought a few pounds of shrimp as well. I had people coming over, and I was trying to convince myself that shellfish is quick and easy.
First I worried that the crabs were going to die in the refrigerator. Every fifteen minutes or so I opened the door to let them breathe.
When I had enough of trying to save them, I got ready to cook them and started to fill both sinks with water so that I could wash them the necessary three times. I had the full, unsolicited attention of Ferdinand. The crabs were fighting the fight to my left and to my right and from behind Ferd was saying “did you buy them for me, are they my pets? I love crabs. I love you, crabs.” He and his father took the crabs out to the backyard, loved them, trained them and then corraled them back into the house. It was too much for a few of them, which brought me down to only 2 crabs a person. I tried not to blame Ferd and got my aromatics ready for the pot: a leek without the dark green bits, a few bay leaves, some fresh thyme, some parsley, four peppercorns, a garlic clove, a lot of water and a drizzle of my best olive oil.
I added lemon juice and I remembered as my hand was squeezing the lemon, that lemon juice in the cooking water will continue to cook the fish way long after it comes out of the pan. I let it simmer for 30 minutes, hoping that all the acid would cook out. The crabs went in for about 5 minutes each, and the shrimp for about 2 and a half. I threw everything in the fridge and considered the situation. I decided to shell all the crab and the shrimp so that I could examine every inch of everything. An hour later, the shrimp were down by four or five, but the crab was all right. Forget putting acid in the water if you have no wine; just squeeze the lemon on right before you serve. I don’t know who said it first, but even the President makes mistakes, the important thing is, can you blot the sweat, pull yourself together and fix it. I drizzled a little olive oil into the crab, added the tiniest bit of sea salt, toasted about a half teaspoon of fennel seed for the one cup of crab meat that I had left, crushed the seeds in the mortar and pestle, added them and tasted for lemon juice. I served that as part of my main course on top of bruschetta, rubbed with raw garlic and olive oil. Along with it I had my platter of now nearly enough shrimp with a little olive oil, and a tiny bit of salt. I made a dipping oil for them by crushing half a clove of garlic in the mortar and pestle, a few basil leaves, mint leaves, thyme, and parsley, and then slowly drizzling in olive oil until I had about a third of a cup. Taste for salt, and there is nothing better.
For the appetizers, bufulata, a super creamy mozzarella made from buffalo milk that comes wrapped in a leaf, dried French apricots, seared green onion and French green olives. My first course was an asparagus risotto, I made a salad for my last course, my favorite zucchini ribbons with arugula and toasted pine nuts and currants, and fresh pineapple for dessert. It was meant to have a little mascarpone with lemon zest and tiny bit of sugar on the side, but I forgot it.
I love to cook, I really do.blogff0341.JPG