Happy New

Dear (I don’t know what to call you–my readers, my people, my friends, my loves)–all of you,
I want to wish you a Happy New.
Whatever it is that you intend to do.

I wish you an open heart and the desire to jump fearlessly in.
May the need for food and love get all mixed together and find you in the kitchen up to your elbows in joy and deliciousness.
as ever and forever, Faye

(Best) Chicken Stew

If you were to ask me what keeps a marriage going, everyone has their list, but up on top if you were to speak to the man, it would be good, hot food.

I made a chicken stew last night. And if you are a little perplexed about what the difference is between a soup and a stew, I’m going to tell you. Flour. That’s it. People might fight me on that, but that’s what it comes down to. After you saute the onion, shallot, carrot and celery with a bay leaf, a sage leaf and a sprig of fresh thyme in a little butter and olive oil, until the onion is completely softened and delicious, taste for salt, and add a few peeled chopped potatoes (same size as the carrot-about the size of your top index finger knuckle), until they stick to the pan. Stir in a tablespoon and then some of unsalted butter and keep stirring until the butter melts. Sprinkle in a few tablespoons of flour and continue to saute over a low heat until the flour is toasted. Meanwhile in a pot of water, add a whole chicken breast on the bone, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of parsley, a carrot, a celery stalk, an onion and a garlic clove. As soon as the water comes to the boil, skim the scum from the top, and turn the flame to low. The chicken should be poached in about 20 minutes. Don’t freak and overcook it. Pull it out of the pot with a pair of tongs and allow to cool for about 15 minutes so that you can pull the meat off the bones and hand shred it. Put the bone, once it has been cleaned of the meat, back in the pot. As soon as the liquid in with your vegetables has thickened a bit and tastes good, be sure the potatoes are tender (cover the pan for a minute if you need to), and then turn off the heat. Add the chicken, (and peas and/ or fresh artichokes that you have braised ahead of time) and serve with biscuits, French bread or whatever moves you.

Mother perks

Joy is piped into my cellular structure when I watch my (6 year old) baby eat his dinner. To me, him chewing, is the best show in town and I know it’s all about survival–it is critical to be wired to keep the child alive–but it’s a great perk just the same. When I can convince Ferd to try something new, it gets even better. I have so much in my head at the moment that all I ever want to eat is soup; I made my favorite cannellini with a soffritto of carrot, celery, onion, fresh sage, thyme and garlic. When it was done I offered him a single bean.

“Smell it,” I said.
He took a bite.
“I’ll eat that,” he said.

TOUCHDOWN!!!!

Finely chop one onion, two carrots and two stalks of celery. Get those in the frying pan, on top of 3 cloves of garlic that have been whacked in half and sauted til golden. Add a good pinch of salt and about three fresh sage leaves and a sprig of thyme. Simmer over a low to medium heat without letting them your attention for about 20 minutes. If you like a soup with more body, add a peeled and finely chopped potato as well. Give it all a grind of black pepper. I keep cannellini in the freezer (in their liquid) that I cook up all at once, soaking first and then simmering, covered with a piece of tomato, a sage leaf, a good spill of delicious olive oil and salt (add the salt about halfway through) until tender. Add two cups of cannellini and two cups of their liquid. Smash some of the cannellini with the back of a fork and simmer everything together, tasting for salt and pepper before serving. Drizzle with your olive oil if it’s good.

What about the family?

There is no food in the fridge. I knew there was something I forgot to do. Can you imagine? I have been cooking, food shopping, making menus, and not one thing for my own family. Maybe I will just buy a little chicken and cook it with white wine and potatoes for them, some buttery carrots on the side and an apple crisp for dessert.
I miss them when I don’t get to cook for them.

Private party

Every Monday night I teach a cooking class in my corner of Queens. I am by no means a chef, but I can be funny and I love my job like a first crush which is good for business.
To keep my people happy while they waited for the lemon garlic cream to reduce for our pasta, I sauted paper thin slices of onion with a whole garlic clove, a few fresh sage leaves in olive oil and butter until they were absolutely and completely delicious. Sometimes this is the only way to know when something is done. I seasoned beaten eggs with a little salt and pepper, waited for a pan to get hot, gave it a good drizzle of olive oil, poured them in for a frittata and covered them with the onions. When the bottom of the eggs were set, I slipped them onto plate and then flipped them for no longer than it took to turn off the flame and get them out of the pan. Eggs love to be soft. On the side was a little salad of bitter greens and no bread. Not because it’s right or wrong but because I can’t eat all of that and bread and want more. “Do you remember I said, when you were in the 8th grade and boys thought the best strategy was to come at you like a hurrican with high winds?” “You don’t want to overfeed your people and risk losing your people. What we’re looking for is what started to happen in the 11th grade, when the boy would give you just enough to leave you begging for more.”
Then we threw rough cut linguini into a massive pot of boiling water and poured the reduced cream sauce through a sieve so that every bit of garlic that had been braising in the cream (along with fresh thyme, a peppercorn, a wide strip of pithless lemon zest and a little salt) was smashed through.
The steaks (2 1/2 inches thick): Half hour outside the fridge. A little salt on all sides (pepper later.) Sear the fat edge first until it was crusty. Then sear each side. About 8 minutes from beginning to end for nice, juicy and red. Tip out the fat from the pan, and put the steaks on a plate. Get a little butter in the pan, soften shallots until they give it up, add the classic piece of thyme and clove of whole garlic and a good pour of the red wine. Reduce, reduce, a few tablespoons of butter off the heat, the collected juices from the steaks on the plate and dinner is served. Along with we had a Tuscan spinach sformatta that we had been working on all at the same time. While the main course was on the table dessert was shoved in the oven, and ready in a half hour. It was a clafoutis set on the outside and creamy on the inside with fresh organic rasperries and organic cream. “You know” I said, “I am a big believer in seasonal” but “sometimes something happens between you and the raspberries that you can’t avoid and they end up in the cart demanding to be reckoned with in the middle of December, so what are going to do?”

Cookbooks collecting dust

These are hard times. Not to mention the fact that I have lost what little interest I had in muscle tone upkeep, facial, glutenel or otherwise and that
8:30 pm is looking better and better as bedtime. On top of all that, cash is tight. It hurts to buy the big pack of m&m’s and it gets tempting to ask if you can’t order the sandwich with just mayo, no meat.
These are the times to pull the cookbooks off the shelf and use them. It’s not the same to flip through and look at the pretty pictures. Go through your favorite cookbooks, pick three recipes that you haven’t made before and make them this week. People will smell your kitchen all stuffed up with love, and family members you haven’t noticed in a long time will be pulling up a chair to the table.
Here are my recommendations:

Tourte Milanese from “Baking with Julia”
Spiced Eggplant Salad from “Roast Chicken and Other Stories”
Sicilian Fish Stew from “Italian Easy”
Candied Clementines from “Silver Palate Good Times”

Then of course there’s always “FAYEFOOD”.

Defeated? Make soup, sleep, get back on your horse.

When I get nervous, a minute yet significant part of my brain closes down for business. It happened once years ago, when I was writing the names of a couple of lovebirds on an engagement cake, and WHILE READING from a little piece of paper taped next to the cake that said “Rhonda and Ronnie forever” I wrote “Rhonda and Ed.” “Forever.” I checked the cake against my notes and it looked perfect. According to the waiter that carried the cake to the dining room, the
groom-to-be was a little taken aback.
Last night it happened again. I was making bold efforts into a career as co-producer of food programming, giving up saute pan for video camera. I set up, my people came into view and the camera flashed “nightshot”. Perfect for a field in the country. I was in an apartment on 43rd Street with all of kinds of modern ammenities, including an ocean of electric light. I went through all of the buttons on the camera and came up nightshot button short. I pushed all other available buttons. The camera was still clearly in nightshot. I started to privately hyperventilate. Then I decided that it wasn’t so bad and kept filming.
As soon as I got home I checked the camera. The nightshot button was smack in the middle of the camera, on it’s own and uninhibited, bigger than all the others, and clearly marked. The tape looked terrible.
I had not one clue what to do so I made soup. I peeled all the potatoes in the house and revived the leeks from the bottom of the fridge. I let the two of them saute together in the bottom of a soup pot with a good pinch of salt until they stuck to the bottom, and then filled the pot with water until it nearly reached the top of the potoates. I ate the soup, and slept with my eyes open.
I could end my producing career for not being good enough before it starts, but I was having too much fun. Plus, as poor a camera operator as I am, I’m the only camera operator.
I made a new and improved list of what to do before taping: put tapes in camera hours in advance, test record, ask for help, and check for breathing.

Sweets

Last night my girlfriend said she didn’t have time to bake. Which is one thing when you are trying to keep the cookie jar full, and another when there are three bakery cases. I haven’t baked for the crowds for a long, long time, but it’s like riding a bike really–you just have to jump on and forget about remembering. She had chocolate ganache in the fridge without a home; I rolled that into truffles and dropped them into a dusty coat of Belgian cocoa. I made a pilgrimage to the walk-in regfrigerator for inspiration and from that made a tart of fresh ricotta, mascarpone, lemon zest and a little sugar topped with caramelized apricots and dried cherries over a shortbread crust, cantucci with dried figs plumped with a shot of brandy and toasted pignoli, brutti e buoni (ugly and good cookies made from two parts ground almonds, one part sugar and egg white to moisten), panna cotta with caramel, and a pan roasted apple lasagna with a bruschetta crust. I could say I did it on my own steam, but it’s amazing what a handsome man stoking a wood burning oven to make pizzas at the other end of the kitchen will do for stamina. Job perks.