I used to think

that bringing up baby was all about what “Mama said.”  If Mama says “go to bed”, then baby goes to bed.  If Mama says, “can you please change that music to something a little more dinner appropriate”?,  then baby changes Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, to a more mellow choice.  We have had baby for seven years now, and I was thinking that maybe something wasn’t right with our particular model’s response wiring. Then on television this morning, PBS sung out via some Helpful Heloise act that comes on between shows, “Children learn actions from YOU.”  I thought, “crap, it’s not the model, it’s me.”  And what am I supposed to do about that?,” I said (in my mind).  CHANGE?  And then like a Christmas carol loop that plays over and over over until another one takes its place–”Children learn actions from you.”

I looked around for a user manual. And felt ridiculous.
I thought about my cookbooks.  I love my cookbooks.  It would be nuts to think that I should have been born with all the knowledge a person needs to make a cassoulet.  I found “How to talk so your kids listen and how to listen so your kids talk.)

I’ll let you know.

A little Loire, anyone?

For all of you coming to cook at Chateau des Sablons this November in the Loire Valley, let me just begin to dream you through the week:

Saturday evening:  arrival (followed by dinner, wine and chocolate)

Sunday:

9:00 am  breakfast  (with croissants from Patisserie Metry)

10:00 am departure for Montsoreau flea market/antiques

lunch  in Fontevreau; visit to Abby (VERY good in Brasserie: Croque Madame with salad; 6.50 Euros.)

3:30 pm wine tasting with Jerome Godefroy

4:30 pm class with Faye

7:00 dinner

Monday:

8:15 am breakfast

9:00 am departure for Chinon

9:30 tour of Chateau of Chinon with wander through town

lunch at Brasserie del Paix
4:30 pm cheese tasting with Jean-Pierre

5:30 pm class with Faye

7:30 pm dinner

Tuesday:

8:15 am breakfast

9:00 am Bourgueil for fresh fruit and veg market (crepes/ La Trattoria)

Villandry/Langeais
4:30 pm class with Faye

7:00 pm dinner

Wednesday:

8:45 am breakfast

9:30 am depart for Bourgueil

10:00 am chocolate demonstration with M. Metry
7:30 pm dinner at former residence of Louis the 14th (complete with burning torches)

Thursday:

8:15 am breakfast

9:00 am departure for Samur

drive along D947 with the house/caves (forgive my terminology) on the right

12:00 pm workers’ lunch (long tables, full lunch, fabulous prices)

2:00 pm tasting/tour of Veuvre Amiot (gorgeous sparkling white; hard not to fall in love with)

5:00 pm class with Faye

7:30 pm dinner

Friday:

8:15 am breakfast

9:00 departure for Tour  (kitchen stores/ boutiques/historical center

12:00 lunch in Tour

2:00 depart for wine tasting

3:00 wine tasting with M. Druet Pierre Jacques Druet
7:30 dinner

Saturday:

8:15 breakfast

departure

A Fried Chicken Picnic

The worst movie I have ever seen in my God given life was playing last night in the park.  Nobody cared.  We were all happy (as New Yorkers can be), stretched out on a rolling sea of grass under a huge expanse of night sky with a twinkling view of Manhattan and the river beside us, watching a film.  In our neighborhood we are new at this kind of living.  It has been a world of no grocery stores, third world paving and chemical clean ups for a long time over in Long Island City.  We tend to order in, or eat frozen.  Pretty soon though I’ll bet there will be a whole lot of picnic baskets swinging around here–it’s human nature to pack food when you get enough oxygen and clues that an earth exists beneath your feet.  I support nearly all kinds of picnics, low brow, high brow, and even the take away that you might have otherwise eaten in front of your television, but what I really love are the classics.  Cold fried chicken, potato salad, string beans, biscuits, fresh fruit salad, and cookies.

Here is a recipe fro Southern Fried Chicken, adapted from the Great Edna Lewis:

Cut up a 3 pound chicken with a kitchen scissors into individual parts, cutting each breast half into pieces.  Bring 6 cups of water to the boil with a sprig of thyme, three pepper corns, a bay leaf and 3 tablespoons of kosher salt.  Allow to cool.  Place the chicken in a bowl and cover with the brine.   Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Drain the chicken, rinse well and clean out the bowl.  Get the chicken back in the bowl and pour a quart of buttermilk over the top.  If you drained the chicken in the morning, then it will be ready for you that night to start frying (leave it in the fridge again with the buttermilk for most of the day.)  Using a half cup of country ham or unsmoked bacon, flavor your fat by heating 1 stick of unsalted butter and 1 pound of lard in a cast iron pot, slowly, and then adding the ham, until the ham is beginning to crisp.  Remove from the fat, and bring the fat up to temperature (350 degrees).  Combine 1 cup of flour with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper.  Dredge the pieces of chicken thoroughly with the flour mix and allow to rest for at least fifteen minutes on a cooling rack that you have set over wax paper or sheet pan.  Without crowding the pan, fry the pieces of chicken skin side down for 10 minutes and then flip to the other side.  Drain on paper towels or brown paper bags.

Fearless hips

We eat dinner at about 7:00 pm.  I decide what to make for dinner at about 6:15 pm.  The night before last, I had this idea that it would help me relax about making dinner for guests if I didn’t worry about what I was going to make–not even decide on what to make until 45 minutes before show time.

At 5:00 pm I noticed that it was hard to focus on what people were saying.  At 6:00 I was sweating, and seeing only cereal when I opened up my dry goods drawer.  Time pressure can be a good thing, if you are happy to not care what happens once you start cooking–it’s a lot like the Samba class I took last night–there is the option of sitting in the corner, snapping to the beat, studying the moves and going home to practice, or just swinging your butt from side to side on the count of “and ONE!” and hoping it lands somewhere that it’s supposed to.  (Back at the ranch) I chopped up and onion because you can never go wrong with a delicious onion, and cooked it up with olive oil, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of parsely, a bay leaf and a few cloves of garlic.  I threw in some smashed cumin, a piece of tomato, and once all of that was sizzling and a little bit caramelized, I added chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (these things will kill you with the heat if you dump in the whole can; just add a teaspoon and freeze the rest.)  I rinsed off the (cooked) black beans and added those, with a small pour of red vinegar and a pour of water.

In another pan, I started a red sauce.  A spill of olive oil, then 2 cloves of whole garlic, uncut, then a good handful of whole fresh basil leaves.  When the garlic is nearly golden and the the basil has gone dark green (not at all brownn,) hand crushed San Marzano tomatoes, add them to the pot, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.  This is a technique from my living idol–Lidia Bastianich–making a red sauce to cook corn on the cob.  I tasted it for salt, and then added five ears of fresh corn and the cover.  In another pan I mixed up 1 cup of jasmati rice with a spill of olive oil, twice the amount of water as rice, a bay leaf, and salt.  On the side, I cut up an avocado and a fresh tomato, and sprinkled them with lime juice, olive oil and salt.  When everything was done, I mixed together the rice with the beans, spooned them onto a platter with a generous grating of cheddar over the top and a few cilantro leaves, and (after 5-6 minutes of cooking) I cut the corn into 2 inch pieces and arranged them around the rice and beans.  (Keep the sauce to make gazpacho tomorrow.)  On the side, green salad and that salad of tomatoes and avocados (I like them separate.)  This is really good with homemade Sangria, or limeade, but we had no time to make Sangria or limeade before we sat down because I had already pushed the envelope of time to the busting point.

Lentils

You know they are good for you, but the first problem with lentils is that they look like bed bugs.  If you have ever had bed bugs, you know what I’m talking about.  If you have never had bed bugs, and you’re wondering what those lentils are walking across your floor, those are bed bugs.  The second problem with a lentil is, it doesn’t taste good.  Boil up a pot of lentils with a little water and salt and you get yech, blech, eeyaaa, ptttt.  You have to work at it; you have to take on the challenge of transforming the lentil.  Think “Extreme Home Makeover”, or the first time you layered your hair, bought clothes that fit you and put on a little lipstick–who knew it was you?  There is always the curry route, or the Greek route–heavy on the tomato, stock and oregano, but I like the Tuscan route, which is a little bit of sass and a lot of (italian) soffritto.  Start with a better lentil.  I can tell you straight out that lentils from the area around Norcia in Italy, or the puy lentils of France are a million times better than our Jack Rabbit Version.  Get (a pound) them in a pot of cold water with a piece of tomato, a piece of onion, a clove of garlic, a spill of olive oil, a sprig of thyme, and a dash of salt,  Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.  Cook until just tender, and then turn off the heat.  Meanwhile, saute a few cloves of whole garlic with a few sprigs of thyme, a sprig of parsely, two onions, six carrots and five (inside) celery stalks that have been finely chopped.  (I also like to use a whole, unchopped pepperoncino.)  Use plenty of a delicious olive oil.  You don’t want them swimming in the oil, but you don’t want to be stingy with it either.  Saute until completely softened, over a medium heat.  It will take about 25 minutes.  Combine with enough of the lentils so that it’s a good mix.  You might not need all of the lentils.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Use kosher salt or sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  Give it about a tablespoon of good quality red wine vinegar, a healthy spill of your best olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Let it sit for half an hour and taste again.  This is delicious served at room temperature with roasted or fresh tomatoes and a piece of grilled fish or chicken.  Watch how people come back for more.

Zucchini

When I buy zucchini, I find that it is incredibly easy to let it rot.  Because my grocery store is so far away, I only make it there once a week and the zucchini is almost always the last thing that gets used up.  What are you going to do with a zucchini that you haven’t already done; plus, just looking at a zucchini could make you start snoring.

Nothing new happened last night.  I made zucchini with pasta, but I gave myself the challenge of making it the best I have ever made in my entire history of making zucchini with pasta.  I got out the old baguette from yesterday, and sliced into thin rounds to bake off at 400 degrees under the broiler.  When they came out, golden and gorgeous, I drizzled them with olive oil and salt.  I heat up a heavy saute pan and drizzled in more olive oil.  I finely, finely diced a quarter of an onion (red or yellow is fine) and sauted it for about five minutes.  I pushed it to the side and added 3 medium cloves of very thinly sliced garlic and about 9 fresh basil leaves that had been ripped in half.  I added a half sprig of rosemary, a pepperoncino (or a few red pepper flakes) and stirred everything together once the garlic looked like it was going the tiniest bit golden.  I seasoned with salt and a little freshly ground black pepper.  Next I got the pasta water onto the boil and seasoned it with salt.  I got the wierd bits off of the zucchini (happens when you leave anything in the fridge too long) and sliced it paper thin.  I added the zucchini to the onion and turned the heat up to medium high. When the water was at a full boil, I added about 1/2 of a box of De Cecco pasta.  In my mortar and pestle, I smashed about another 12 to 15 basil leaves.  When they were completely smashed, I stirred in olive oil with a fork, and seasoned with salt.  I stirred the zucchini, looking for a little bit of browning, but mostly for them to be completely cooked through.  I smashed the toasted bread slices with the fingers, grated a little lemon zest, smashed a half clove of garlic, and stirred this into them.  Right before I thought the pasta was done, I drained it, reserving about a quarter cup of the cooking water.  I tasted the zucchini for salt and pepper, and removed the pepperoncino (I use a whole one) and the rosemary sprig.  I tossed in the pasta with the zucchini, and added the smashed up basil.  I tasted again for salt and added a few little spoonfuls of the cooking water to make the pasta creamy.  (you could add a squeeze of lemon juice as well if you wanted.) I got it out onto a platter and sprinkled the top with some of the bread crumbs.  Absolutely de-lish.

Cheap Date Dinner

I’m good at cheap.  I grew up with cheap.  Everybody I knew did.  Being able to balance a food budget was written into the commandments of feeding children and if you didn’t follow the commandments it was punishable by public humiliation.  I remember when a slightly upscale grocery store opened a few towns over, we were the last to go.  (As a matter of fact, we never went, and I have no idea what they actually sold there, but I could feel the excitement of choice generated in the neighborhood and I wanted to be a part of it.)  I heard that along with a live cow and a live sheep out front, it was all mood lighting and wooden barrels and vegetables people didn’t know the names of.  Nothing like the President Choice, Last Chance Bananas and Pepperidge Farm Thrift Store places that we went to.
There were always certain things my mother held sacred and wouldn’t budge on.  We had powdered milk, (I would rather have pond water), second hand bread and unidentifiable spaghetti, but we never had canned vegetables–in the winter we had frozen and in the summer they came from a farmer she knew by name.  I am with her on the sacred chow front.
I love the idea for instance, that if I am going to eat beef, the cow ate what it was supposed to eat–like grass–and saw the big outdoors, felt the breeze on it’s cheek and didn’t have a 24 hour hook up like some kind of junkie, to antibiotics.  To me, that’s sensible shopping.  However, organic beef can cost twice as much as the norm, which is a drag, unless you think ahead.  I know I’m going out on a limb here, but here I go–I make a huge pot of sauce with organic beef meatballs.  I know this is delicate, and I’m not talking about when company comes over, I’m talking about when you are serving the people that show up at your table everyday.  Before dinner, they might get a white bean puree with roasted garlic and rosemary (about 89Cents) and slivers of (yesterday’s) toasted baguette.  Then (and this is the tricky bit) everybody gets two meatballs–that’s it.  But with that, the spaghetti, and a nice big salad on the side (fills ‘em up and encourages eating more salad.)  The next day, we have enough for meatball sandwiches.  This is nothing new–this is recycling and portion control–but nobody wants to talk about that–it’s a blast from the past that we avoid like the plague.  We feel we have to cook massive amounts, enough for our family, the family next door, and any possible cousins even when it is entirely clear that they will not be showing up.  Who really wants to eat all of that for the next five days?  Who out there can tell me that you don’t end up throwing food away?  Of course, you can always take my advice and kick it to the curb, or if you want to, you can just scream at me from the trunk.

Easy-peasy, and keep it coming.

Oh my God, it’s too hot to cook.  Never too hot to eat though.  I’m making a grandma special tonight, and it’s called “MAKE YOUR OWN SANDWICHES, ‘CAUSE I’M HOT.  How about ham and cheese with mustard, mayo, sour pickle, pimento, red onions and green olives?  Or sliced boiled egg with a curry mayo, sliced (steamed and dressed) string beans and shallot?  Or just sausage on grilled bread, brushed with olive oil with a side salad of cucumber, tomato and radish with plenty of salt, pepper and flat leaf parsley?

For dessert, ripe peaches and cherries already pitted in a bowl with another bowl alongside of whipped cream

(or if we’re going to make it true grandma style, it has to be cool whip)

Another sure bet to give it that grandma flavor is to keep asking yourself (and others) if you want some more.

Food Dude

Don’t anybody tell him, but Faye Delicious has a crush on Food Dude (Will Greenberg).  I just saw him for the first time on a web channel for men, called Spike.    He was making a “Dirt Cake”– packaged chocolate cake crumbled into a flower pot, layered with packaged chocolate pudding with a rose stuck in there “to impress the lady.”  For the food he suggested going to your local Italian restaurant to buy a bunch of stuff to throw in your own pans and call your own.

I like that way.

Cook’s interpretation because that’s my job:
Penne with Raw Tomatoes and Basil

Chocolate Wafer Refrigerator Cake with Fresh Whipped Cream

For the pasta:  Bring a pot of salted water to the boil.  Add the best penne you can find.  The individual pieces of pasta should look rough instead of smooth and have a brushed effect on the exterior.  Cook only until you think it’s not quite ready, then drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.  Meanwhile, chop up ripe tomatoes that you have growing in your garden, or borrow from your neighbor’s. Rip up a pile of basil leaves.  Chop one big clove of garlic, super finely.  Mix this all up in a bowl with extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and a grind of black pepper.  Taste it for deliciousness.  When the pasta is ready, and you have drained it really well, mix it with the tomato mixture.  Add a few drops of the reserved pasta water or a little more olive oil if you need to.  Taste again for pepper and salt.  Cut pieces of parmesan over the top, using a small sharp knife.

For the cake:  Crumble thin chocolate wafers into a loaf pan that you have lined with wax paper.  Whip a bowl of heavy cream, just until it begins to thicken.  Layer that on top of the cookies.  Repeat a few times.  Pit a cup of fresh cherries.  Reduce a half cup of red wine with 1/4 cup of sugar and a piece of orange zest.  When it is close to syrupy, add the cherries layer them on top of the cream. Keep going with a few more layers of chocolate crumbs and cream and then refrigerate.  When you are ready to serve, Rest a plate on top of the loaf and flip.

Chill

Some guy and his wife walking their dog stopped me on the street yesterday when I was walking my dog and said “hey, that’s a cute dog.”  Now normally I would have just grunted and kept on walking but lately I’ve been feeling grateful for any kind of compliment, even if it’s once-removed.  I straightened my skirt and stopped to let my dog sniff theirs.  They asked me if I was headed to the dog run.  “No”, I said, “just walking.”  “We don’t like the dog run” the guy said, “Do you?”  “Well, the dog likes it,”  I said.

“We find the people there to be a bunch of yuppies and not that friendly.”

“Oh,” I said, wondering if he was making a whole new kind of comment about me.

“We like the dog run over there” he said, pointing in the other direction, “People are more down to earth over there.”

Or maybe he was noticing the magic marker on my skirt, my sneakers with the chewed up laces and the old pencil in my hair and was trying to be nice.  This is why I can’t talk to strangers.  Too complicated.  It’s hard enough trying not to get stuck like a fly to paper with people I already know like my family, about how they feel about dinner, for instance.
Do they like the pasta or do they wish it had a spicier sauce?   Maybe they would have preferred a curry? Or no curry, just meat.  Maybe they wish we had a grill.  Or at least more salt. If this happens to you, and it can happen to anybody, STOP THE PRESSES! HOLD THE PICKLE, HOLD THE LETTUCE!  You would think since I am a cook for a living, I would be over this, but every once in a while the Fear that The Food is No Good comes crashing through.  All of a sudden, no matter what I make, it could be better and I am satisfied with nothing.  You know what this means?  It’s time for a vacation.  Forget cooking.  Eat your favorite ice cream and your favorite store bought cookies.  Eat raw vegetables with no more than salt and your favorite oil.  Eat a ripe peach.  Eat a beautiful piece of cheese.  Order a clam roll.  Take a break.