How good do you want it?

You get a lot of people who are really proud of their meat sauce. Then you get a lot of people who look at a package of ground meat and think, “I’ll put that in a pan with an onion add a jar of tomato sauce and everybody’s happy.” To those people I say: I want to improve on your happiness. I want to take your happy and I want to make it taste better. But then I have to say, “are you ready?” Because there is sauce, and then there is sauce.
Just like there is kissing and then there is kissing.
It’s up to you and the sauce.
Try this and see what happens, season with salt and sear off in olive oil, one chicken leg. Remove it from the pan. Add 2 sausages and sear those (mild and no fennel). Remove from the pan. Add a pound and a half of beef chuck that has been ground twice by you or the butcher, season with salt, add a bay leaf, and brown that over a low to medium heat, until it is nicely browned and completely cooked through. Drain the meat. Pour the fat from pan, but leave any brown bits, stuck to the bottom. Add a spill of good olive oil. Add one clove of garlic and let it get golden. Add a few tablespoons of minced cured, but not smoked, pancetta. Let it go for a minute then add 1 onion, finely chopped, 1 inside stalk of celery, 1 carrot, a good pinch of salt, and over low to medium heat, saute for about 20 minutes, stirring often. Add the meat, season with salt, and give it a good, gentle stir. Add 1/4 cup of good dry white wine. Let it simmer until the wine has disappeared. Add about the same of homemade, unsalted chicken stock. Let it simmer until the stock disappears. Push the meat to the side. Add 2 tablespoons of Italian tomato paste and let it sizzle on the bottom for a minute. Combine with the meat. Add another good spoonful of stock. Let it simmer until the stock disappears. Add about a cup more of stock and turn down the heat, to let the sauce simmer for about a half an hour. Meanwhile, reduce 1/4 cup of cream with a sliver of garlic and a pinch of salt until reduced by half. Add this when the half hour is up. The sauce should be moist. Add a tiny bit more stock if it needs it. Taste. Get your best parmigiano reggiano ready. And if you want to take it just one dance step further, reach for the pasta maker and roll out some noodles.

Walking through the darkness of new

I am so tired of my hair. I had to hide the kitchen shears. Yes I could go to the hairdresser to sit in a chair with a tablecloth wrapped around me for extra glamour, in front of a mirror the size of a public aquarium, to talk about–my hair, but I don’t want to do that. I hate looking at myself and I hate change. Which brings me to shrimp. I have one way of doing shrimp, much better than my way of doing my hair, but still, I’m tired of it. There is more to life than shrimp in a classic French marinade and I want to know about it, even if it means peeling my fingers off the mustard jar one by one to get there.
If you are going to force yourself into a panic attack, you might as well make whatever you have to do on the side, easy. Shrimp on a skewer. Throw all the shrimp in a bowl, drizzle well with the best olive oil you can get your hands on, and for 2 pounds of shrimp, 3 whole cloves of garlic cut in half, 4 sprigs of parsley, and just over a half cup of your own pulverized bread crumbs. Let this sit for half an hour. Lay the shrimp out on a piece of wax paper. Season on one side with kosher salt. Shove them onto a skewer so that they are up-close-and-personal-touching each other. Grill for 2 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other. You can give them a little sprinkle of finely minced fresh parsely and a squeeze of lemon–or not. They are delicious.
I am going to serve them with pasta dressed with a sauce of zucchini trifolatti–an egg yolk stirred in right at the end of tossing the pasta, and ripped shreds of fresh basil.
Then, if I’m still living, I’ll take a deep breath and see how I feel.

Arrivals

The beauty of a can of cannellini and a head of escarole is this:
“Hello!!!!!!” to my mother in law who has just arrived from the other side of the Atlantic,
(hand in pantry drawer;pull out the beans and can of “oh, beauty” olive oil) and
“Hello!!!!!” to my brother in law, arrived with mother,
(hand in fridge, pull out head of escarole and resident sprig of fresh thyme)
Talk, talk, talk, pan on stove. Oil in, garlic in. Talk, talk. Fill sink with water, throw in the escarole. Sit. Drink a little wine. Get up, move escarole from sink to collander to pan on stove. Shove hand into salt bowl, grab and release over greens. Stir, stir, sit. More wine. Up. Taste the greens for goodness. Move them to a bowl. Drizzle them with your “oh, beauty.” Wipe out the pan, more “oh, beauty” ; quick as a flash, mince another 2 cloves of garlic and into the oil they go. Sprig of thyme. Flame off. 5 red pepper flakes in. Open can of beans, rinse like you mean it, and over to the pan of garlic they go. Salt and squeeze of a lemon. Greens in. Showers of shavings of your best parmesan. More of that olive oil right over the top. On the table with bread, dried sausages on the side for the brother in law. Talk, talk. No problem. Everybody off to bed.

Cook outside Cortona (or just watch and eat)

OK people, listen up. I have added two weeks to my Spring/Summer schedule, including one in JULY! Here are your choices: April 26th to May 3rd OR July 5th through the 12th.

This is your big opportunity to have no other obligations but to walk up and down Tuscan and Umbrian hills, squeeze sheep milk curds into cheese over a wood burning fire, roll out fresh pasta (or just watch), have Faye cook all your meals and teach you how to do it, laugh at my jokes, and taste some of the best olive oil known to man or woman, at the lovely and untouched by time, Villa Scarpaccini. We will be staying at a farmhouse on the Scarpaccini estate, walking distance from Mercatale di Cortona.

For all the inside scoop, go to FAYEFOOD.COM/COOKING CLASS

For dinner how about a little ham and egg with your noodles? If you have it in you, start by making your own pasta–if you don’t have it in you, you should be signing up for “How to want to cook” with me. Or get out 9 ounces of De Cecco. Dice up a small onion and add that to some beautiful olive oil along with 2 or 3 whole cloves of garlic. Cook that until you can barely stand it, over a low heat. Add about 4 ounces of pancetta and let it sweat until it is getting crispy, but nowhere near burned. Put the pasta water on and give it a dash of kosher salt. Beat together 6 egg yolks with a few spoonfuls of heavy cream, somewhere between 2 tablespoons and 1/4 of a cup. Grate 1 cup of parmigiano reggiano super fine and whisk that into the yolks. Chop 1 tablespoon of fresh flat leaf parsley and hold it to the side. When the pasta is ready, drain well and reserve a few tablespoon of the cocoking water. Slowly incorporate the cooking water into the yolk and cream mixture, whisking constantly. Now drizzle that into your pasta, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the onion and pancetta. I love this with oven roasted tomatoes on the side. Of course I could make the whole thing for you, if you would just come to Italy!!!

Sticks and Stones may break my bones, and cheese will never hurt me

I am highly impressionable. Yesterday morning my husband suggested my wet hair maked me look “drab”. I will never show the world my wet hair again. Last night after dinner and wine, he said entirely out of the blue (my hair was up) “you know…you are looking beautiful this evening.” I memorized my hips to the side, shoulders forward position that I happened to be sitting in at the dinner table. It is going to be hard to find me sitting differently from here on in. This morning, the NYT featured melted cheese. Now I can’t think about anything else. They covered every angle and many countries. I have decided fonduta is going on the appetizer menu of my springtime classes. I had all intentions of making lentils with a soffritto of caramelized carrot, celery and onion for dinner, with nothing more than wilted greens and garlic on the side, but now of course, I can’t imagine a dinner without cheese. I am going to add whole heads of oven roasted garlic, tucked into an oil coated, oven proof dish with bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and lemon peel, drizzled with the best olive oil, covered and baked in a slow oven until they collapse under a fork, then smash them onto grilled croutons with a side of a good, soft, off the charts with the fat, goat cheese made even smoother with a spill of heavy warm cream, and on the side, just to remind you that crunchy things exist and are appealing, a little salad of chopped endive with a mustard vinaigrette. With dry hair, hips at an angle and shoulders straight ahead.

Plan B needs sleep

Do you remember going out way back at the beginning of the dating career and thinking, “you know, there is something about this that I like, but I just know it could be better.” That is how I feel about the lamb I made last night. It was a nice looking, fresh shank in the store and when it was done I had no complaints, but there is a lot of room between no complaints and feeling like there may have just been a small and steady earthquake.
I am convinced it has something to do with size. I am going back to the store today to get the tiny shanks, and start all over. The first time around, I added red wine, clear broth, onion, garlic and thyme. Good enough I think, but for pushing the envelope of good enough into just a little bit of lamb bliss, I did some research. I have every book I own on the floor open to shank, and I have picked the brains of cooks across the web.
Plan B: I am making the pledge not to walk too far away into the rest of my responsibilites of family life and general stress and fatigue, and I am going to stick with the lamb until I know for sure that at any given moment the liquid surrounding it is maintaining an ever so gentle whisper of a simmer. I am sticking with chicken stock, but instead of using raw vegetables to make the stock, I am going to give them a good saute. I like the red wine, and I am adding the tiniest bit of carrot to the mix of onion and garlic that head into the pan after the lamb has been seared. Mr. Portale adds a lemon zest, which I have to say I like, so I’ll follow Mr. Portale. I can count on Mr. Portale to know what he’s talking about.
I will let you know how Plan B goes as soon as I have a nap.

Taking on the world and dinner

I don’t know about you, but when someone comes over to my house around dinner hour, just a nice drop-by, and I haven’t given one thought past the possibility of having noodles with butter, I tend to freeze up like one like a sub zero puddle. During otherwise normal conversation, what I hear on the headset of my head is:
“FAYE, DO….YOU….KNOW….WHAT….TIME….IT….IS? And then after massive efforts to ignore myself, OFFER…..FOOD!!!” Last night at about 6:30 I heard myself say to my guest, “you hungry? how about pizza? I love pizza, don’t you love pizza?” My guest looked at her cell phone, which I took as a bad sign. “Or I could cook” I said. She perked up and sat back in her chair. I think people hope for home cooked food. I think that people are getting tired of pizza, and I just don’t have the personality I used to, to hold people with conversation alone. I still couldn’t think past the butter and noodles. “Do you eat pasta,” I said? “yea sure,” she said. Before I could get “with butter” past the last little editor I have left I said, “OK”. Which is a good thing. Don’t feel that you have to explain yourself before you start. Those tiny minutes just after you offer to cook on the fly and before you actually start cooking can be crucial in making it look like you can stand up and do what you say you can. Rule number 2, put on a pot of water to boil, just like when there is a baby about to be born. You may change your mind about the pasta, but then you are ready if you want to blanch vegetables or poach shrimp or make a quick stock. I got the water going and stuck with the pasta. I checked supplies and noticed a tub of cherry tomatoes, a basket of baby arugula, a little parmigiano reggiano, and some new garlic. I knew had fresh ricotta in the freezer which was a gamble since I was short on time, but I decided to shave the edges of it like you would cut a block of chocolate, and it worked. I pan roasted the tomatoes with flat leaf parsley and garlic. Those came out of the pan, and in went more garlic and fresh croutons for toasting. When those were done, I grated the parm and washed the greens and waited for the pasta to be al dente. I cleaned the frying pan one more time, added a shot of my best olive oil, 3 cloves of minced garlic and a spring of fresh rosemary until the garlic was just going golden. As soon as the pasta was al dente, I drained it, saved a little of the cooking water, added first the tomatoes, (1 tub for 9 ounces of pasta) the ricotta (about 8 ounces), the parm (about 1/2 cup), the garlic and rosemary twig, and lastly the arugula (salted and drizzled with just a sprinkle of the olive oil) and the croutons. It reminded me of the casseroles I used to read about when I was a kid that were an attempt to get the whole dinner into one dish; but in a noodle suit and no time in the oven. And it worked. Nobody had to go home from Faye’s saying, “I know what she says, but I have never actually seen her cook”. Next to who is going to be voted in for president, and is the homeless man at the end of my street going to make it through the night, this is the kind of thing I worry about.
To drink, we had our newest addition of a San Giovese bag in a box. Perfect; and think of all the bottles you save from being sent across the ocean.

TV Magic moves East

Miss “no-makeup-and-not-one-tight-piece-of-dermis” just got back from glam land. It is hard being over 17 in Los Angeles and my trick is to keep the focus below my ankles. My cute red shoes are worth every red cent I paid for them. I saw salads and palm trees bigger than life, ancient lips and breasts renewed to whale pup firmness, ate sushi and steak that was so good I could have cried, and spent an absolutely fabulous weekend that I will never forget with my friend Jeannie.
There is no tour guide like a best friend. We talked for hours at a cafe tucked in between the shops just down the street from the Brady Bunch house, we drove through Beverly Hills and admired the other half, walked to the highest points far and above for a view of the city below, ate and ate and ate some more, took turns on a massage chair, and capped it off with a tram ride to the dreamland of the Getty Museum.
And when I came home, a most amazing thing happened, that I would have never believed wasn’t a trick of TV smoke and mirrors, if I hadn’t eaten the goods–my real life husband sat down to study a Faye Delicious Cooking Video and made the potato leek soup step by step. Can I just say it was the best potato leek soup I have ever had. I am going to take full credit and say that in FAYEFOOD studios, highly effective bits of television are in the making.

No time for neither here nor there

Out of a responsibility to get Ferdinand to eat more than cereal and milk I made turkey meatballs last night. Ferd doesn’t love turkey meatballs, but he doesn’t hate them, and with a side of mashed potatoes (loves them) and a sliced up apple (loves it), he’ll finish thte plate. I feel about the same about a turkey meatball as a I would about a man who sat next to me, smelled pretty good, a little cute, and not that interesting. Nothing that would make you get up from your seat if you were tired, but why stay? I stared at the meatballs and mashed left in the pan. Having meatballs and mashed with nothing else, you might as well eat off a styrofoam tray. I fried some onions in butter and added some chopped flat leaf parsley, and used them as a gravy. It wasn’t enough. I took a bite from Ferd’s apple core. AH HA!!! What I needed next to my dinner to lift it into the land of the living and twitching was a salad with color and bite. I pulled out dark green and purple baby romaine from the fridge, sliced up a New York State Empire into thin wedges, grated a sharp cheddar, diced a bit of shallot, toasted a few walnuts in a frying pan and tossed it all together with my beautiful olive oil, and a pinch of kosher salt. Meatballs made it back into my little black book.

Boeuf from memory

The first time I was in France, I arrived sometime in the middle of the night, and we continued to drive through the black and wooded countryside until we found a place that was still serving “Boeuf Bourguignon.” Bless the French for cooking way past the hour that I would have kissed everyone good night and hung up a sign that said, “YOU COOK.” Jonathan has amazing food memory. He had been to this place before, a massive cafeteria that was part of a shopping mall, primarily for car parts and washing machines close to the Swiss border. I had no faith. I pulled a bowl of yogurt from the line, a baguette, a cup of tea, and a bottle of evian. When we got to the tiny table amongst hundreds exactly like it, the aroma coming from the next tray was too much for me; I made Jonathan give me his fork. The bouef was beautiful. Absolutely and perfectly beautiful. The smoothness of a deep red wine surrounded gentle bits of beef that had been seared and stirred and loved for an undeniably major part of the day. I drank from his wine glass and then ate some more. “This”, I said, “is ridiculous.” “You have yogurt”, he said. I got my own bouef and we sat and ate until they closed and then slept in the car.
To recreate food memory is it’s own dark and dangerous road, and my first attempt was a misery. I bought a nice looking package marked “organic stew meat”. Don’t do it. Lord knows what the butcher throws in a pile and then chops up for unsuspecting dream seekers. I worked magic on that stew for three hours, and at the end of it I had a pot of tough tasting liver chunks. The problem is that, you can never be sure that the butcher isn’t putting in cuts that should be cooked in a flash, along with the slow stuff. The liver effect can happen from chopped up round, and who can tell what’s what when it is all pushed together and under plastic? Buy either chuck or top blade and cut it up yourself. You need the connective tissues that are in these cuts, to work their melting wonders for you.
Dice an onion and get it going over a slow heat in a good drizzle of your best olive oil. Add a sprig of thyme and a bay leaf. Season with salt. When it is seriously soft and completely irresistable, remove from the pan. Add another drizzle of olive oil. Cut your chuck (about 3 pounds) into large chunks and season them with salt. Toss them with flour, and brown on all sides. Pour off any fat. Add the onion, along with about 2 cups of a good–very, very good–deep red wine. Try a pinot noir. With the first cup, deglaze the pan, just working up any bits of anything stuck to the bottom, and let it simmer a little. If you have the kind of life that will allow to make a dark stock (roasting bones and vegetables under caramelized, then simmering until delicious) then add a cup of that, along with the rest of the wine. (If don’t make dark stock, you can always use your own chicken stock that you made without roasting the bones, or even water. Don’t even consider a stock cube). You want the liquid to just cover the meat. People add things like a piece of carrot, or bits of a tomato, or even salt pork, but I just like it straight. Let this simmer for about two hours with the lid ajar. Taste. Swoon. You can swirl in a little nugget of soft butter that has been mushed with equal parts flour at the end to thicken. Serve with noodles or rice or even just baguette, if you have a good one.