Oh Mama, Lasagna

You can say you don’t like lasagna, you can say “I would rather have a little salad with a carrot and a slice of apple”, but you haven’t tried the lasagna we made last night. If you have “FAYEFOOD”, then you have the recipe. If you don’t have FAYEFOOD, you should. (you can order it by clicking on that little picture of it on the right of the screen).
The secret is to start with a soffritto of finely chopped carrot, celery, and onion, cooked oh so slowly until it is completely soft between your teeth. No less than 30 minutes. Use your best olive oil, salt, a sprig of rosemary, a sprig of parsley and a sprig of sage. Before you put the onions in the pan to cook, cut a whole head of garlic in half, let it simmer until it is golden brown, and then add the battuto. (I don’t know if I spelled battuto right, but that’s what a soffritto is called before it hits the pan and becomes a soffritto.) I use about 3 small carrots, 2 stalks from the inside of the celery, two onions, a pound of beef and 2 cans of san marzano plum tomatoes.
The other secret is homemade pasta.
The other secret is when you make the white sauce, cook that flour and butter over a low flame until it tastes like shortbread, and slowly add the milk OFF the flame.
The other secret is don’t just use any old parmesan. Use the king–Parmigiano Reggiano
The other secrit is love, and love and love some more.

Do you chow-chow

You never know what can get your heart pounding. You might think you are ham-and-cheese-with-mustard-on-one-side-mayo-on-the-other-hold-the-lettuce-hold-the-tomato kind of person. You even might be all of that with a memo attached that says “please don’t talk to me about changes.”
But what about if you tasted chow-chow, and all of a sudden a ham and cheese sandwich moved you like no other ham and cheese sandwich had moved you before?
You don’t know unless you let yourself know.
Chow-chow is a classic Southern dip or spread that can be made with a whole variety of ingredients. The critical ones are sugar and vinegar, but beyond that, there seem to be few boundaries.
The other day I was trying to figure out what would be the best thing to take on a bus to New Jersey to a graduation party, featuring a menu of comfort food deliciousness (fried fish, collards, macaroni and cheese).
I flipped through one of my all time favorite Southern cook books–meant for a whole other event–but an invaluable resource just the same–”Being Dead is no Excuse.” I decided to make crustless sandwiches that I could cut into minis on arrival, based on a few of the Southern staples featured in the book.
Number 1: chow-chow, (I added toasted coriander seed to the recipe) on ham and cheese sandwiches (one side butter, one side chow-chow)
Number 2: egg salad with mayo and baby arugula
Number 3: Pimento Cheese

Chow-chow:
1 head of garlic, 1 3 inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, thrown in the food processor and chopped until smooth with a few tablespoons of wine vinegar (I used red). In a stainless steel pan, combine this with 1 1/4 cups of wine vinegar, 1 1/4 cups of sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1 28 ounce can of squished plum tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 2 1/2 hours. Towards the end, add a few tablespoons of chopped golden raisins and a few tablespoons of toasted slivered almonds. Toast about a teaspoon of whole coriander seed, then crush in a mortar and pestle and add to taste.

Pimento cheese:
1 pound of sharp orange cheddar, 1/2 pound of monterey jack, 1 garlic clove, smashed and minced, 1 whole chopped kosher pickle (remove the seeds), one small jar of chopped pimentos, a few chopped fresh chive, a few tablespoons of mayo, and salt. Taste.

I know you know how to make egg salad, but let me give you a tip: coat each side of the bread with a little homemade mayonnaise, be sure the eggs are not overcooked (start eggs in cold water, and as soon as they come to a boil, turn the water off, cover and let them sit for 12 minutes; throw them into ice water to send the sulfur away from the edge of the egg, preventing them from going that nasty green). Be sure the egg salad has just the right amount of salt. Freshly ground black pepper should be added, but just to bring out the best in the egg, not as a starring talent.

Blueberry muffins rule.

Last night, Ferdinand handed me a present all wrapped up in homemade wrapping paper, and said “this is for you Mom, I think you are going to love it.” And I did, I always have. It was a cookbook, the size of a postcard that I bought for myself about 25 years ago. (why shop for your mother when you take things you know she already loves right off the shelf?) It is 100 recipes for muffins, none of them very good, but all of them based on an incredibly exciting outlook of possiblities. Who knew you could make a peach muffin with toasted coconut and almonds. It inspired me to throw caution to the wind and not worry so much about the wrong and the right of what went where and with whom.
And after all of that traveling to the corners of the muffin earth and back, my favorite, hands down, no competition in my heart of hearts, is King Blueberry.
There is no muffin that delivers to me like the classic, perfect balance of butter to flour to sugar and fresh, bursting blueberries:
Bring all ingredients to room temperature.

1 3/4 cup of flour
1/2 cup of sugar
3 teaspoons of baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix all that together with a whisk, or sift it through a sieve.

In a bowl, mix 1 egg with 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter that has been melted and brought back to room temperature, and 3/4 cup of milk. If your ingredients are not room temp, they will harden the butter and toughen the muffin.

Now with your hand or a rubber spatula, gently mix the dry ingredients with the wet just until you see no more powdery flour. Lumps are OK. Don’t try to get them out. With one motion, add 1 cup of washed and dried blueberries.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven in a greased muffin tin. Fill the tin right to the top, but not over the top.

A green cow

My new name for cucumber and yogurt soup. And I have a new version: cucumber with whole milk yogurt, toasted coriander seed and fresh lime juice. Any kind of Indian bread on the side, is perfect. With a side of marinated chic peas, (red wine vinegar, olive oil, red onion or shallot and parsley) even better.
Peel, seed and grate four cucmbers. Add them to one quart of whole milk yogurt. Toast about a half teaspoon of coriander seeds (more to taste) in a heavy dry pan until fragrant. Smash them in a mortar and pestle and add to the mix along with one clove of minced, fresh garlic, the juice from one lime, a spill of olive oil, some fresh mint, salt, and pepper.

Deli dinners

I will clean the kitchen floor with a toothbrush, I will cook breakfast, lunch and dinner, I will brave the dungeon that my husband refers to as the basement to do the laundry but there is not one way that I am going to drive to the grocery store. I am driven, or I don’t go. Jonathan is away, so it’s me and Ferd and the deli. Now I admit, that I have a very special deli, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, with a massively overpriced and wildly diverse selection of food for such a small place. Doing all your shopping at the deli is no where near cost effective to the say the least, but it is possible–which for me, is the magic word.

Yesterday: Nine grain bread delivered fresh everyday from Tom Cat that I sliced and made a sandwich with chevre, toasted walnuts, currants, and barely wilted spinach.

The day before that: Corn tortillas with melted cheddar and jalapeno. Side of avocado slices, red onion and tomato with salt, lime juice and olive oil. Another side of black beans well rinsed with more lime juice, crushed coriander, raw minced (fresh) garlic, fresh cilantro and olive oil.

Another day: Potato pancakes with a side of braised leeks and a little dish of black olives.

The day after that: Fried eggs, bacon, roasted tomatoes and roasted asparagus

And on and on…Hot dogs, three bean salad and potato salad

Fried tofu with green onions, ginger and garlic and side of steamed broccoli drizzled with a dressing of rice vinegar,
sesame oil, soy and a dash of lime. Toast a few sesame seeds or cashews and sprinkle those on top

For dessert–Ronnybrook ice cream–Ronnybrook rules (if you are ever visiting New York, take a detour to Chelsea Market and visit the Ronnybrook ice cream parlor throwback, high on design and huge on flavor) and I bless my deli for stocking it.

Kid Dinner

I could call it “Miracle on 3rd Street” or “Hannah, Dinner Diva” or “My Tiny Tot Idol”. Every night at about 5:30 at my sister’s house, dinner for three children, ages 4, 5 and 6 is started. By 5:50 it’s ready for the table, and by 6:00 the table is set–with no plastic–for three children who snap out their cloth napkins and belly up for one main, two veg, one starch and a fruit. Lately she was thrown the loop of “no wheat”. Not even a hiccup. The pasta is made from rice, tortillas from corn, and the bread is gluten free.

There is the occassional complaint from one or more of the diners and every so often one of the diners has to be excused to move their breakdown to the other room, but on the whole, everybody sits, everybody carries on polite conversation and everybody eats something. By 6:45 the diners are in the bathtub, and by 7:15 they have themselves dressed in night gear, ready to read.

I have never seen anything like it.

Here is what I noticed to be critical:

1. Simplicity
2. There were no processed foods used, but nothing had to be cooked longer than 10 minutes
3. A lot on the plate was raw–cut up fruit, carrots, endamame; or steamed–broccoli, zucchini, string beans
4. Everybody gets some of everything
5. Lots of things on the plate, but no variation from one plate to the other.
6. No alternative dinner requests were allowed or provided
7. Reflections are accepted by the kitchen, but not complaints
8. Diners are required to consider all items, but they are not required to finish

Menus:

Tortillas stuffed with cheese and fried on a griddle (a little bit of olive oil on the griddle–cook one side, then flip)
with apple slices, carrots, endamame

Tiny burgers on toast squares with roasted potatoes and steamed string beans. For dessert–wearable fruit–place raspberries on fingers and then eat them one by one

Chicken skewers with a little salt, olive oil and one piece of onion at each end. Roast in the oven or saute. Served with fresh peach slices, steamed broccoli and yogurt and honey for dessert.

Pasta with butter and parmesan, sliced tomatoes on the side, field greens with pignoli, olive oil and salt.

Turkey tortillas and avocado (sliced turkey meat–you can roast a turkey breast yourself at the beginning of the week. 400 degrees with olive oil and salt. If you have fresh rosemary and garlic add that. Baste every 20 minutes with a little room temp. water til done) Fill tortillas with sliced turkey, shredded cheddar, and smashed avocado (add salt and a bit of lime and lemon). Saute on the griddle with a little bit of olive oil, and then flip.
Serve with grapes.

Omelettes with side of cucumbers, carrots, and whole wheat toast. Melon cubes for dessert.

Dinner for the adults (typically just as simple with a variation of ingredients) happens after all small diners are in bed.

I’m in.

Waking up

I was sure that I was not tired at all when I came back across the Atlantic–except that if I got myself to a chair at the kitchen table to just rest for a minute before I made my coffee, I couldn’t get up again. If I thought about making a piece of toast, I could imagine the bread on the counter and I could imagine the coils of the toaster heating the bread up, I could even smell it if I really pushed myself to my natural limits, and the rest rolled off the page of my things to do list like raw eggs on a slanted table.

As a mother, even if you can’t feed yourself, it is in the contract to do birthdays. Tired is not a valid excuse.

I was asked to make a vaninna cake with chocolate frosting with blue sprinkles in the shape of a dragon, and I did, nearly– substituting paper dragons with pearls for teeth on chopstick stilts stuck into a perfectly round cake, and it was assumed (by myself) that I would cook. I toasted croutons from yesterday’s baguette drizzled with olive oil and salt, tossed with cubed, roasted eggplant, red peppers, seeded tomatoes and onions, finished with shredded fresh basil, raw, minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon, olive oil, a dash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper alongside a salad of cannellini marinated in more garlic, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper, tossed last minute with tiny arugula leaves, pignoli and shavings of parmesan. The main dish was delivered at 6:30 pm and came in two beautiful cardboard boxes that said “please come again.”

The day after that, for a date scheduled when I thought I was more than I am, I made chicken salad sandwiches with oven roasted chicken breasts (drizzle with olive oil and salt and roast at 400 just til done), fresh thyme, balsamic, a dash of dijon, olive oil, a tiny bit of mayo and fresh lemon zest on 9 grain bread with field greens to take on a picnic where the states of New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut meet. I slept the whole way home.
The day after that I invited my friends over for dinner, needing to see them, and completely aware at this point that there was going to be no cooking involved, and ordered more pizza.
I adore take out. I love take out. I am a slave to take out.

I thought it could be entirely possible that I might never cook again, that a new chapter in my life had begun, that I would accept it like I once accepted being kissed by someone who moved me about as much as a postage stamp.

I woke up, about to skip breakfast–if you use whole milk instead of skim for your coffee it is easy enough to make it to lunch–and an unsolicited and unexpected desire for the smell of cornmeal on a buttered griddle overtook me like a wave that hits you from behind and carries you back out to see. I made pancakes for breakfast. Hot and homemade pancakes with a pour of Vermont maple syrup. Life is coming back.