Cook! (or not)

Menu ideas for a new year’s eve:

Grilled Ham and Cheese sandwiches
Roasted cherry tomatoes
Sauted mushrooms with wilted spinach and garlic
Roasted chicken wings with rosemary and red onions
Chocolate cake

Seared scallops with a parsley sauce
Stone crab with fennel seed and lemon on bruscetta
Braised leeks finished in the oven with heavy cream and fresh thyme
Warm yukon potato salad with lemon and garlic vinaigrette
Endive salad with lardons and mustard vinaigrette
Lemon tart

Pizza rustica (roasted peppers, eggplant, ricotta, parmesan, Fontina, wilted spinach and mushrooms encased in a short pastry)
Huge salad with arugula, white beans, parmesan, toasted pine nuts and shallot
Platter of assorted salami

Tiny meatballs
Marinated shrimp (dijon, lemon zest, olive oil, garlic, fresh thyme, fresh parsley; shove them together 3 on a skewer and broil just til done, flipping once)
Chicken breast (1 inch cube), green olive and onion skewer
Chic pea salad with red onion and garlic
Onion and pancetta frittata (cook the pancetta and onions very slowly together before adding egg); serve in tiny squares
Petit pot au chocolate

I personally am going to get Cuban take out and make a gingerbread with fresh whipped cream for dessert.

Better with baguette

Jonathan has flown off to England for a few days. None of us are good at separating, and tend to get stuck in trying to make light of the last few hours which is akin to putting a sperm whale on a slimming program. Somehow we ended up first in Bloomingdale’s, looking for a respectable shirt, and then empty handed, back on Lexington Avenue, west on 57th Street to find my favorite hamburger that is hidden behind a velvet curtain at the Parker Meridien; until yesterday when word must have not only gotten out, but been included in every Ed McMahn envelope in the nation. We were all there–the nation and my family–for as long as it took us to walk out the doors directly across the lobby on 56th street. Ferdinand agreed to take a raincheck on the fries and have a look at the model trains set up at Citcorp instead.
At home I made pasta with wilted baby spinach, fried garlic and peperoncino (red pepper flakes is a fine substitute.) Cook farfalle in loads of salted, boiling water until it is al dente. Meanwhile, in a heavy frying pan, heat up a little olive oil and add yesterday’s baguette, that has been cubed into half inch pieces. Saute until golden on all sides, and season with salt. Remove. Add another drizzle of olive oil and about 5 cloves of slivered garlic and heat until just about to go golden. Turn off the heat. Add about 10 red pepper flakes or one pepperoncino. Add half a pound of spinach for nine ounces of pasta. Turn the heat back on and saute the spinach just until it wilts. If you like, and you still have a minute before the pasta is done, you can lift the spinach from the pan and give it a rough chop so that it distributes itself throughout the pasta evenly. If not, don’t worry about it. Drain the pasta well, saving a bit of the cooking water in a cup. Toss the pasta with the spinach, drizzle with a little olive oil and a tiny bit of the cooking water, give it a few good handfuls of finely grated parmigiano reggiano, season with salt, and lastly, toss with the breadcrumbs. Taste. Have with wine. Have a thin slice of ricotta cheesecake for dessert. Say goodbye quickly and make all attempts to keep moving until he returns.

It’s the 24th; who’s cooking?

Merry, Merry to all of you, and I know it is entirely possible that Christmas Eve is here and nary a menu to be found. Think food that is going to make you happy as you cook it–bacon for instance–especially if you have a fireplace to cook it over. Bacon is great served stuffed into a Turkish flatbread with a side of broccoli rabe and crispy bits of onion or how about a baked apple with sausages. Not that a pig has ever done me wrong, I have never called 311 on a pig, I just like the smell of a pig cooking.
Yesterday I worked for people I love, which always make work good. I only hope that they don’t miss the chocolates I ate while I was there. I made leg of lamb with carrot, celery, onion and garlic that had been given a enough time in a saute pan with olive oil to go brown at the edges before getting thrown into a low oven with a good spill of a nice French white wine I found sitting by the fridge. Three hours later, and lots of love and basting, you can cut it with a fork. Along with, I sliced potatoes thin enough to see through and layered them with a drizzle of cream and tiny spills of fried garlic and sage. I like to bake it covered, and when it is completely soft, stick it under the broiler with a good sprinkle of parmegiano reggiano, watching it like a baby crossing the road. For a spinach sformata you have to cook a small mountain of spinach and squeeze it until your hands hurt. Add 1 pound of fresh ricotta for every four pounds of fresh spinach, 3 eggs, and then a good spoonful of mascarpone and parmesan, before baking until hardly set.
Serve a salad of spicy arugula with nothing but olive oil on the side and then come back in, both engines running, with a chocolate cake with whipped cream cream and espresso folded into the batter and then more cream and chocolate melted together to make a ganache for the top.
And then sit. Have someone make you a plate and give you a kiss.

Dinner in no time, cleaning subcontracted

I have rallied. I have been hugging the curb for the past five weeks, but I am ready now to face the space that lies beyond the edges of my head. This is when I am entirely grateful for my compulsive and squirrel like behaviors. I have gifts packed away in little paper bags behind every cabinet door that I bought one at a time and tiny balls of cookie dough that got mixed in phoenix like moments in the middle of the night. Not at all done though–it’s going to take me a good while to remember where everything is, who it’s for, which dough is which, and if it is supposed to get rolled, dropped or stuffed.

It’s time to compete. Make dinner in 29 minutes. Get out the chicken breasts, the onions, the fresh sage, and the skewers. Cut the chicken into 1 inch cubes, lay them out flat on the cutting board and season them well with kosher salt, then push them onto the skewers, every few cubes adding a small hunk of onion and a sage leaf. Heat up a heavy frying pan and coat it with olive oil. Add a whole, halved clove of garlic and saute for a minute. Get it out of there and add the chicken skewers, being sure that all the bits of chicken are hitting the pan. Over low to medium heat, let them cook until the edges of each cube are turning white. Flip.

Meanwhile, cut up some yukon gold potatoes, also about an inch all around, toss with olive oil, season with kosher salt, and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. Roast at 400 degrees until tender.

On a separate sheet pan, toss chopped broccoli with olive oil, salt and a few whole garlic cloves and roast that as well until it is still bright green and has a crunch left, but about to go tender.

Serve with a salad of cucumber batons and mascarpone with fresh mint.

Get up from dinner and leave the dishes on the table.

Meet Mr. Chili

Chili is not my kind of thing. Big bowl of beans with cheese and meat and enough heat to make you start crying? I have enough problems. Except you always have to be ready to make exceptions.  If for some reason you find yourself facing a bowl of chili that is pulling you in like chili never pulled you in before, well then, I would say take a moment and say hello, Mr. Chili.

This is good chili.  I was only meant to make it and ended up getting awfully up close and personal.

Cook 1/2 cup of chopped yellow onion with 3 minced cloves of garlic until completely soft, with a pinch of salt and a bay leaf.  Add a pound of ground pork, and a pound of ground beef.  Add a few more pinches of salt.  Cook through completely, and drain off the fat.  Add 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock and 1 mushed  28 ounce can of whole plum tomatoes.  Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup of raisins, 2 tablespoons of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of allspice, 1/4 teaspoon of cloves, a pinch of salt,   Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for 30 minutes.   Add a 1/4 cup of chopped pimento stuffed green olives, that have been rinsed, 1/4 cup of slivered almonds, and 2 cups of cooked black beans.  Taste for salt and serve with rice.
(Adapted from Havana Moon)

chicken in a second suit

I got a letter from my girlfriend today. She mentioned that it would be a good thing say, if the cooking world would take a minute to offer up what to do with a chicken that made its first appearance as a roast and made it through with enough meat on the bones to get more work. My first words of advice are: not soup. Or use the meat for soup, but buy new bones to make the stock bit. Then I say, chicken with dumplings, chicken pot pie, chicken tortilla soup, chicken burritos, chicken tamale pie, chicken sandwiches with stuffing and cranberry sauce, chicken and rice with green olives, tomato, capers and roasted red peppers, chicken ham and provolone melts with russian dressing, chopped chicken pot stickers with green onion and ginger, or chicken, feta, pepper, olive, chopped romaine, red onion and homemade garlic crouton salad with fresh mint…

Faye Grinch Hess misses train

I will never be awarded Hostess with the Mostess and I wouldn’t surprised if I will never be considered even for Hostess with the Minimum. My job is to cook for people, give them what they need, make them happy, make it easy and keep them comfortable. Show up at my house though, and it’s like you knocked on the door of girl-who-missed-the-how-to entertain-train: “You can make cookies, but I can’t be a part it”, “what do you think about eggs for dinner”, “how about another sweater”, “I’m not sure the batteries are working in the air mattress”, “I might have one coffee filter”, “there is no shower curtain in that bathroom” and “we are out of chips” are all quotes I collected from my own mouth this weekend. My best friends have amazing tenacity.
I defrosted a little carrot cake, had extra biscotti from the PTA party, stirred up some rice one night and made a lentil soup for lunch. Otherwise, we depended on the charity of others at delis and restaurants. Despite me, we had a great time, trying out cranberry tarts at “how sweet it is” on the lower east side, Cuban in Little Italy, gelato at Chelsea Market, Thai at Tuk Tuk in the boroughs and a bit scary, but an experience not to be missed at Five Star for Indian with a U shaped booth and fabulous dance routines and love gone bad films during dinner.

Ribollita for the overworked and overweathered

Enough with the snacks ladies, it’s time to start your cooking engines. There is slush outside serious enough to get into boots that are up to your armpits. Take a deep breath, relax that tightness that comes with having to cope with too much to do and grabs you in the lower back and across your chest. Think about lovely celery and get it out of the fridge along with sweet and luscious carrots and tight yellow onions. In one pan, cover a half pound of new dried cannellini with plenty of water and bring to a boil. Let them sit for an hour, off the heat and covered. Rinse and start again, with a garlic clove, a piece of tomato, a drizzle of olive oil, a good dash of salt and a sprig of thyme or a bay leaf and more water. Let these go until soft, covered with a circle of parchment paper that fits right inside the pot.
Heat up a heavy dutch oven and drizzle it with the salve of the gods, your best and beautiful olive olive. Top and tail three cloves of garlic–don’t worry about getting the skins off–cut them in half and get them in the pan. Bring them to just past pale golden and add a sprig of fresh thyme and a sprig of fresh parsley. The skins will pop right off the garlic now. Add two onions, the inside stalks of the celery, and one pound of carrots, all in a fine dice. Over medium heat, saute this around, adding more olive oil if you need to keep things slick. Season with kosher salt until the vegetables taste even more than delicious. Don’t leave the pan. Stick with it. Give it a stir about every five minutes, until the vegetables hardly resist your teeth when you bite into them. Add a 28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes that you crush first with your hand. Let this simmer for about half an hour. When your beans are tender, smash a third of them and add them to the tomato mixture. Add the rest whole, and enough of the bean cooking liquid to make a thick soup. You can either add chopped swiss chard right to the pot, or saute it first with a little olive oil before it goes in. Use one bunch. Taste the soup for deliciousness. Make garlic croutons by chopping up yesterday’s baguette into cubes, tossing it with olive oil and and whole cloves of garlic and baking them at 375 until just about golden. Put a few croutons into a bowl and pour a serving of soup on top. Shower them with slivers of parmigiano reggiano and if you have it, a drizzle of olive oil that has just been pressed.
I miss Italy. Like a heart valve.

Make (more) snacks

My friend Ann is arriving from Champaign on a 2:00 flight. I could say that I have three lovely casseroles and a succulent braised joint resting in its juices all waiting to be pulled out of the fridge and heated up in any given moment, but I am working on my honesty. Thank God for the act evolving. Having something to eat for your guests is critical, but the height of hospitality is no where near dependent on a main course. Dinner as you imagine it can surely even compromise all hopes of hospitality when dinner as you imagine it, leaves you freaking. If the impact of arrivals has left you without the ability to plan your menu beyond the drinks and snacks, then give it up and stick with drinks and snacks.

Put your music on–you are looking for something that strikes you deeply, but isn’t going to start you crying–turn the right lights on, light the candles, and chill the champagne. Forget the veal joint and roast some pumpkin seeds. Give them a drizzle of olive oil and toss them around. Salt them if they are unsalted. Crush a two pinches of cumin, a half a bay leaf, and mix around with a two pinches of cinnamon, a quick grating of nutmeg, and a teeny weeny pinch of cayenne pepper. Add about a tablespoon of dark brown sugar. Roast these at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. Taste.

Put out your good cheddar with crackers, and a bowl of beautiful dates and apricots.

Add a bowl of steamed string beans dressed with olive oil and fried parsley and garlic.

Arrange a bowl of new potatoes and planks of carrots (braised and drained) cut into cubes, some cut up red peppers, radishes, and green onions, and serve it alongside a little dish of curry mayonnaise. (1/2 cup of mayo, squeeze of fresh lime juice, half a clove of smashed fresh garlic, pinch of sugar, teeny bit of smashed fresh ginger, and a teaspoon of curry powder-salt to taste)

Chic peas dressed olive oil, lemon and slivers of baby red onion.

Get out the chocolate.

That’s dinner, baby.