It’s Osso Bucco Time

Is it getting better?  No.  Is it time to make Osso Bucco?  Yes.  I am about to take on the New York City Department of Education single handedly and with no cute suit.  If a person can make a good Osso Bucco, they can do anything.  Or so I like to believe.

Buy good meat.  Meat with a history you can be proud of.  Lightly dredge both sides with a teensy bit of flour, shaking off any excess.  Season both sides well with kosher salt and a bit of freshly ground pepper. Heat up a heavy frying pan and sear them well; flip and sear again.  Remove from the pan.  Pour off the fat and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  For six pieces of osso bucco, you will need one pound of carrots, all of the inside pieces from a head of celery, two onions and three cloves of garlic.  Chop it all very finely with the exception o of the garlic–leave the garlic whole.  (you can use the food processor if you have to EXCEPT for the onion.)  Saute for about half an hour over a low heat.  Towards the end, add a few tablespoons of tomato paste right in the middle of the pan, scraping the veggies to the side to give the tomato room to toast.  Let that go for about a minute, and turn off the heat.  (No one said it was going to be easy.) Meanwhile get some of those raw chicken bones you have been keeping in the freezer and bring them to a boil in a separate pot.  At the boil, throw away the water (not the bones), wash out the pot, rinse off the bones, and start again–same bones, new water.  Add a carrot and a stalk of celery and an onion and a parsley spring, a sprig of thyme, a bay leaf and a piece of tomato.  And a pepper corn.  Let it all come to the boil and allow to simmer for a hour or so.  (The point is also to completley engage one for an extended period of time to distract from anything/everything that is going on in the world outside your door.)  Now.  Set the osso bucco into a baking pan and scrape the vegetables that you have sauteed over the top.  Get them around the edges as well so that the meat is surrounded.  Pour either red or white wine (red is traditional) into the saute pan to get all of that stuff sticking to the pan, and bring the wine to a simmer for about two minutes.  Pour that over the top.  Add some of your stock, just to cover the bottom of the pan.  Cover the pan with foil, making slashes over the top to allow steam to escape.  Braise for about 2 1/2 to 4 hours, depending on how thick your osso bucco pieces are.  When the meat is fork tender, it’s read.  Check the pan every twenty to thirty minutes, to be sure that there is always liquid, (not just fat) in the bottom of the pan.  Serve with polenta and swiss chard and watch the new episode of GLEE for a laugh.

Apple Crisp

Sometimes there are no answers and there is no visible blinking beautiful light at the end of the tunnel–just tunnel.  Make apple crisp.  Even better, have somebody else make you apple crisp and serve it to you warm with a little heavy cream.  This is sugar at it’s best–HEALER.

Jonathan made me a mini with the four apples that we picked from our tree upstate.

Peel and core the apples. (For a maxi use 6 apples fresh from the farm as possible.  Try intimidating your grocer into getting the phone number of the guy with the apple farm.)  Toss with sugar to coat.  Heat up a heavy frying pan and add 2 tablespoons of butter.  When the butter starts to quiet down, add the apples.  No stirring.  Let them go until there is obvious caramelization happening around the edges of the apples.  Give them a flip and then let them go again so that they are beautifully and fully caramelized.  Remove from the pan right away.

In a bowl, rub together 1 stick of cold butter that has been cut into pieces, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of flour, and 1/2 cup cup of old fashioned rolled oats.  (not quick)

Put the apples in a baking pan and cover with the topping.  Set under the broiler, with the broiler at 400 degrees, until golden brown.

To prepare him for our visit, I told Ferdinand that his great grandma was dying.  He said, “has anyone asked her what she wants before she dies?”  I said, “you mean like does she want to go to Disneyland?”  He said, “Mom, at this point, she can’t go to Disneyland–I think all she’s gonna want is television, Cheetos and chocolate.”

Low, low slow day

Last night, my mother called me just before I left for work, because what they thought was a sinus infection is actually a cancerous tumor that has spread through my grandma’s face.  She is dying.  And you know, that’s what people do when they are about to turn 99. But no matter when your grandma dies, it’s always your grandma dying.
I went to work and after sauteing my carrots, celery and onion with bay leaf and thyme in a beautiful cast iron pan, over a low enough flame to let them melt and caramelize at a pace in time with meandering over a stretch of lovely beach in search of shells, and adding the potatoes and fresh corn to simmer away into the corn chowder that I fall in love with all over again, every time I make it, I added the milk.  And with everyone around the pot, waiting for their first course to fill their hunger from waiting, the milk curdled.

Some days are meant for for sleeping.

Backyard Chickens

Ferdinand forgets sometimes who wrote the lyrics to a particular song–him or the Beatles–for instance.  I decided it was time to start the conversation about the difference between fantasy and reality.

I tend to fantasize more about what a beautiful thing it would be to have chickens in the backyard.  My friend has them, and they are super cute even though they don’t lay eggs anymore.  You only have to change the hay once a day and they are happy with the ends of a tomato or fresh corn on the cob.  You can of course build a coop for them yourself with all your tools, or order them a little house on the internet called an “Eggloo”.  And then if they do lay eggs–bonanza–start collecting and cooking!  Ferd and I could wander into the yard when the sun came up and sprinkle little snacks across the grass and I could make cakes and big breakfasts and instead of lemonade, Ferd could sell eggs.  The only thing is, I have never gotten along with chickens.  This is the reality I have to face.   Am I going to take them to Italy and France with me when I travel for my job?  Where does the hay go?  What happens in the winter–space heaters?  Just wait until the firemen come to inspect–”oh Mr. Fireman, I wouldn’t worry about that–that’s just my chickens keeping warm out there in the dry grass with the added protection of radiator that is hooked up to my house with an extension cord.

I have immense respect for people that can bring the country to the city and raise chickens on a grass patch normally reserved for a future of cement and the occasional unidentifiable bird on its way to Florida.  Any connection of Faye with that, and we are in that instant in a flying leap from reality over to fantasy island.

My poor son has been born to a mother who yells and refuses to raise anything other than a child.

In my defense, I make snickerdoodles:

2 3/4 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of baking soda

2 teaspoons of cream of tartar

pinch of salt

sift together and in separate bowl, cream 1 cup of unsalted butter with 1 cup of granulated sugar and 2 eggs.

Combine everything.  Roll individual balls in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of sugar with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 8-10 minutes.

Corn chowder

We came home from upstate last night with a bag of carrots and a thermos full of milk.  (No I was not milking the neighbor’s cows–even though Ferdinand was insisting that their proximity to our tent made for a great opportunity.)  In the fridge I had celery hearts and four ears of corn.  The beauty of corn chowder is that if you know how to saute your vegetables, you can create your own stock that creates a richness on its own without the heavy cream.  I have had corn chowder on the brain, ever since my brother in law came to visit.  He had been taken out to one of those restaurants that depress me to think about, only because I would give my eye teeth to go, but forsee at least another sixteen to twenty seven years before it’s in my budget to get a cake from the dessert cart at the bar with a seltzer, let alone a seat in the dining room with an entree.  I grilled him about what he ate–I would have asked him how the napkins smelled, and what music they were playing, but that kind of obsession gets embarrassing.  He said for about $96 a bowl he had a corn chowder that was infused with corn subtleties that he had never experienced.  When he asked the waiter, he was told that the husks and cobs all get thrown in the pot.  AHHAA!

The 96 cent version:

Saute in olive oil with a tablespoon of unsalted butter, one finely chopped onion, two finely chopped carrots, and the inside stalks from a head of celery (finely chopped) with one finely chopped shallot, a bay leaf and a few sprigs of thyme.  Give it all a short grind of black pepper and a few pinches of kosher salt.  Let this go, stirring every once in a while–and never leaving the room, so that you can smell disaster before it starts–until it is completely softened.  Now cut up a few small or 1 large yukon potatoe(s), with skins into about 1/2 inch cubes, and add those to the pot.  At this point, turn the flame down, and you want to avoid stirring for a few minutes, so that the potatoes have  a chance to stick to the bottom of the pot.  Once they are stuck, give them a stir and add just enough water to cover the potatoes.  Cut the corn from 4 to 5 cobs of corn.  Add that along with a few of the rinsed husks and two cobs.  Cover the pot and simmer until the potatoes are nearly tender.  Remove the husks and the cobs.  Now add about a cup of milk or to taste.  Season with salt and little more pepper.  If you like, add a little chopped, fresh parsley right at the end.  That’s it.  This is delicious served with homemade biscuits.

PS  Plan A for the show is taking awhile.  It can be hard to accept that the world has 5 million things to do before they consider OUR NEW SHOW, but that’s the beauty of Plan B.  Kelie and I have moved onto a whole new list of people to send the show to as well as a search for a corporate sponsor so that we can produce the show ourselves if we have to.  I have never not produced whatever I have done myself, so what’s one more…

The skinny on eggplant

When you eat it, eggplant can really make you wonder what they heck you were thinking when you bought it.  I’ll tell what you what I was thinking:  it was cute and purple and in season.  If you don’t do it right though, you get (like I got) big, bitter, spongy squares of no good, over priced organic eggplant and you start thinking maybe Stouffer’s is not so bad after all.  Whoa mama.

How you cut it, counts.  For a ratatuoille, cut the eggplant into small cubes no larger than 1/2 inch.  Be sure the frying pan is heavy and hot and that the olive oil you use is your best, before the eggplant goes in–eggplant absorbs soaks up oil like a sponge, even with the hot pan.  For a sandwich, try cutting it into rounds that are paper thin.  Same deal with the pan–hot and heavy–season lightly with salt and tiny grind of pepper.  It will only take a minute to fry on both sides.  Be sure there is no more tinge of white to the flesh, and it’s done.  Try covering a baguette with the slices of egpplant overlapping each other, and then shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano, topped with baby spinach leaves that have been dressed with a little olive oil, lemon and salt, and finally the other half of the baguette.  Oui, Oui!!

Doesn’t take direction well

Yesterday was the first time in my little life that I ever walked off the job.

I got a phone call from a woman whom I had met years before who was now working as a housekeeper and personal assistant.  She asked me if I was available to work for her boss on Wednesday morning, for a party that was happening on Friday.  It’s happened before, and why not–people don’t have the time to cook, so they hire someone else to cook, and call it their own.  I asked her if her boss could call me so we could work out the details.  “She is very busy” she said. (and what am I, chopped liver?)

“I need to talk to her” I said.  Would you send a dancer into Swan Lake without knowing the choreography or even what show it was?  “Don’t worry” she said, “It’s no problem.  You just come here.”  It was sounding like late night crime TV.

“Please ask her to call me,” I said.  “OK” she said.  “Tuesday night.”  Tuesday night I got a call from the housekeeper.  “She’s very busy” she said.  I was sending out cooking show treatments, looking for Ferdinand’s homework folder, letting his dinner get cold on the stove, typing menus for France and Italy and worrying that I had still hadn’t bought my plane ticket between Rome and Paris or bought new underwear for the past two years.  “I’m busy” I said.  “You come tomorrow.  She has books.”  This was getting weird–some kind of Candid Camera remake or wacko blind date.  “Be here at 9:30″ the housekeeper said, “we’ll be ready for you.”  “But I have no idea what she wants on the menu.  I don’t know how many people are coming, I don’t even know where she lives.”  “It’s no problem” she said. “Don’t worry.”
On Wednesday morning at 9:30:
I made my way over the marble and into the kitchen.  I was handed 3 loose sheets of yellow paper by the assistant–the house grocery list with my grocery list plus a few things to make a cheesecake–and Lady of the House lost patience with me all together when I started to sit down to have a look.  “GO, GET GOING!!” she screamed at me, in a panic that everything at the market was going to be gone before I got there?  I have no idea, except I hate being screamed at before I properly meet someone.  I left before I could get past the pink post-its and notes scribbled in the book.  Do you remember that feeling when you really ARE on a wacko blind date, and you think to yourself–I am just going to walk the walk here and not hurt anybody’s feelings and when dinner is over, I will never have to do that again.  I think that must have been what I was thinking.  I am not sure,  because I also felt like I was about 20 feet under water.  I talked about it with the cab driver on the way over to the market.  He told me “there’s crazy ladies, very crazy ladies out there–you cook and then you go home.”  It sounded like a plan.

I started to go through the list:  1. Frozen spinach.  Now how am I going to do that? How do I go ahead and walk past the tender tiny spinach leaves that I yearn for, get goosebumps for, would tango for, if they were done just right with a little pepperoncino, olive oil beautiful enough to make your heart beat if it had stopped, and a pinch of salt from the sea.  I threw the spinach in the cart.  How could she fight me on the spinach?   2.  Canned chicken stock.  I don’t even know where the canned chicken stock is.  And you want to know why?  Because if I did, you know where I would be don’t you, like some kind of missionary in the canned and boxed stock aisle preaching to the good people about the beauty of MAKING YOUR OWN.  I passed by the carrots, celery and onions, and headed towards the organic wings and backbones.  And then there was the Contadina tomato sauce.  This is where it really crumbled.  I picked up the can of Contadina, and I looked at it, and I put it back, and I picked it up again, and I read the label.  Onion powder, garlic powder.. you know the rest and a scene came back to me of my 5 year old niece in the flagship store of FAO Schwartz walking around with a little rabbit that she had carefully picked out as a gift, feeling fine and ready to walk up to the cash register and go out into the big wide world when all of a sudden, she saw–The sparkly, pink, gold, silver flashing, feathers flowing, tulle tripping, dreamy palace of princess aisle.  She stood right where she was, threw the rabbit to the floor and said, “I DON’T WANT THE BUNNY, I WANT THE TUTTU!

When you know who you are and what moves you and what makes you tick so loud it can be heard in the next town over, there is no rabbit.  There is no Contadina.  I put it back on the shelf and got the ingredients to make my own sauce.  When I got back to the house, I only had half of what was on the list and legs instead of thighs for the fricassee, pate instead of chopped liver, no oreos, no chocolate pretzels, and no Philadelphia cream cheese.

It went downhill from there.  Lady of the House was not interested in my spinach, my stock or my sauce.  She asked me, Had I Seen the Recipe.  She made comments about my timing and how my canned whole plum tomatoes were not organic.  She refused to let me use salt or pepper.  Because she doesn’t like it.  I took off my apron and told her very politely we were not a match.  She had hired the wrong cook.  “When I cook for you, you get me, all and every part of me from the bottom of my heart.”  That was not me, in that jar.   For me it would have been like making love to my husband with someone else in the bed and me in a chair on the side.” I refused her money and left.

I had cream of wheat for dinner last night.

(OMG)

For a teaser of the SHOW go to http://fayedelicious.blip.tv/

Kelie and I are frozen solid like a couple of pre global warming ice floes, so I couldn’t talk about the show yesterday. (Mondays are Dinner Confidential Report Day.)  We think our plan is working.  So then what do you do?  Who thought about that?  I am convinced now that the fear of following a dream has a teeny weeny bit to do with fear of failure, and much more to do with fear of success.

The problem is, or the good thing is, we are sticking to the plan. We decided that if an emotional hurricane or a scheduling tornedo blows in, we stick to the plan.  If a problem occurs, we have a meeting (either at home with lots of snacks–we like popcorn, or at a place with good coffee and cake), to come up with a Plan A and a Plan B of how to solve the problem.  We look at A, then B, decide which one is best, fix the problem, then keep going. It’s mothermode–no matter what happens, no giving up.

To recap last week:

1.  We had finished our DVD for the pitch piece (that took us one year and we stopped working on it when we ran out of money.)  We needed copies.  Check
2.  We had about 10 people we wanted to send it to.  We needed to choose our top three–who was connected, combined with who cared.  Check

3.  On a whim, we sent the piece to a guy on Food Network, who happens to live in my neighborhood.  He asked for a treatment.  We looked up how to write a treatment on the internet, and started writing.  We sent it off to treatment professional (a husband of a friend of mine.)  In exchange for the advice, I made a big box of cookies and sent them off to California.  Treatment:  Check
4.  We needed to figure out our approach to these people.  What were we going to write in the letter that would be doable for them without asking too much in our request for assistance.  We changed our wording from would you like to produce the show–to a much less threatening–do you know anyone else who might be interested in taking the show forward, and a back up plan of do you know someone who might act as our mentor?  Check

5.  We needed a good looking package.  Kate’s Paperie.  Check.  Beautiful blood red envelopes with creamy paper, and a little sassy silver envelope for the DVD.  Italian paper clips.  Check.

6.  We called Kelie’s connection in the business.   We were asked to overnight everything.  We called my connection.  We were asked to mail it in.  We picked the third to mail the package to–because I’m sure she has connections, which is a necessary, but mostly because she is one of the nicest people ever, and would be behind us no matter what.  You need this on the list.  Actually all of our first three people are like that.  Very important.  Check.

7.  Now we are waiting.  Check.  Check.

The only thing to eat while you wait are snacks.  Homeade popcorn with butter (you need the fat when the nerves kick in), Chocolate Covered Pretzels from Fairway, Fresh Pineapple chunks,  and toasted almonds with red pepper and cinnamon.

Last night I made dinner in about 4 minutes.  I could tell you that they were pork chops, but I don’t eat pork chops.  It’s just that in real life you know I don’t have an apetite for anything but vegetables or chicken at the moment, which is way to boring for the rest of the world.  Anyways, either pretend it was pork chops (organic if possible) and season them well with salt and pepper and rub your best olive oil into them.  Stick them under the broiler for about 3 minutes per side, leaving them to rest for a minute before cutting into them.  How thick they are ultimately determines how long you cook them, but they should be about as firm as that fleshy bit between your index finger knuckle and your thumb nuckle when you make a loose fist.  (and still a little pink)  If you are stuck like glue to chicken, just throw a chicken breast in the oven with the skin and bone attached, sitting on top of about 3 garlic cloves and a sprig of thyme, salted, peppered, and olive oiled.

On a separate sheet pan, throw on a big mix of carrots sliced on the diagonal, an onion cut into thinnish wedges, yukon potates, skin on, cut into thinnish wedges, and celery cut on the diagonal.  Toss everything with salt and olive oil and roast at 450 degrees until tender.  Scrape the pan juices into a frying pan, add a knob of butter and about the same amount of flour, and whisk over medium heat.  Crush on in one of the cloves of garlic.  Spill in your own chicken stock, or a little white wine and continue whisking until slightly thickened.  Pour over the chicken.  This is beautiful with mushrooms as well.

You’re a Liar!

I have one thing to say about that Mr. Wilson: Bad Manners.  And to Mr. West:  jumping up to say you disagree about who really deserves an award WHILE the girl is accepting her award is ALSO Bad Manners.

The day after Mr. Wilson shouted out like he was in some kind of divorce court, while somebody else–aka The President–was talking, people from his own party gave $500,000 to Mr. Wilson’s opponent.  And when Beyonce walked on stage to accept the Best Video of the Year award, she did not say “thank you Mr. West for causing such a scene for me, would you like to go to dinner?”  No. In what was supposed to be her own moment of glory, Beyonce called Ms. Swift onto the stage instead, to give the moment to Ms Swift, so she could say whatever she had planned on saying before Mr. West so rudely interrupted.

Beyonce should win an award just for that.

When stuff like this happens, it’s great for mothers everywhere.
Which brings me to my own home front, where we are struggling like the rest of ‘em with manners.

On the one side:  They are not fair.  They are stupid.  They are boring.
On the other side:  They make living together possible.

Exhibit A:  “I hate this” during dinner.

Nobody wants to hear that; not the cook that made it, and not the other people who are trying to suffer through it.  “This is not my taste” says the same thing with a lot less stress.
Lunch is a whole lot easier.  I’m not there to monitor it, and I accept that Ferdinand wants the same thing everyday.   Just in case you are interested in more than peanut butter, or you are working on sharing at work, here are some suggestions:

Fajitas:  Sauted big chunks of red peppers and onion with either a little piece of seared steak (slice on the diagonal) or seared chicken, wrapped in soft tortillas.  Have it with corn cut off the cob, stirred around with a little mayo (or yogurt and mayo or olive oil), a little lime juice, some finely grated parmesan and a few grains of ground red hot pepper.

Burritos: while we are on the soft tortilla kick.  Make some black beans and rice (enter it into the search option of fayefood for recipe) and top with shredded cheddar and spicy arugula or baby spinach and wrap in tortilla-great room temp.

Curried chicken salad with thinly sliced green apple and a side of string beans

Roasted butternut squash soup with parmesan croutons

Mushrooms, red pepper, spinach, onion and eggplant  (just roast everything in it’s own space on a sheet pan) and then pile it all onto a ciabata with goat cheese.

Leftover seared salmon flaked into pasta with a squeeze of lemon juice, a dribble of olive oil, a rosemary sprig, a little minced shallot and garlic (and peas even) with a side salad.

a bento box of mixed dried fruit, your favorite cheese, toasted walnuts, slices of french bread and grapes

chicken skewers with peanut dipping sauce (peanut butter, lime juice, soy and rice vinegar) and a side of buckwheat noodles with scallions, lime juice, walnut oil and salt.

Flourishing Figs

My mother said I could keep her raincoat as a birthday present, which is fortunate, as NYC seems close to becoming an ark building situation.  Apparently figs love hot sticky days mixed up with buckets of rain.  I’m going to hammer a take-out window into the front of my house featuring fresh-fig-everything to bank on my bumper crop out back.  I could serve fresh figs over pastry cream nestled into a flaky tart or figs with fresh mozzarella and basil or even a quick plate of gently roasted figs, grilled French bread drizzled with olive oil, and duck breast slowly seared in a cast iron pan, and then flipped over the last minute, just long enough to take it to pink.

Start with dessert.  To make pastry you need cold butter, cut into cubes.  The coldness of the butter is what keeps it just separate enough from the flour to stand on it’s own, when they rubbed together, which makes gives that gorgeous flakiness.  Use 7 tablespoons of unsalted butter with 1 cup of flour, a pinch of salt, and a slightly bigger pinch of sugar.  Rub the butter into the dry ingredients, using only your fingertips.  There should be an unevenness to the lumps when you are done, with some slightly larger, some slightly smaller, but no more evidence of flour.  Pour in drops of ice water, just a few drops at a time, until the dough comes together.  Mix around with your hand just to combine.  Freeze for half an hour.  Allow to sit for a few minutes out of the freezer, and then roll to about and 1/8 of an inch.  There should be streaks of butter visible in the dough.  Roll the dough over the pin, and then over your tart pan.  Without stretching the dough, tuck it into the corners of the pan, placing the dough into the inside edges first, and then up and over the sides.  Tuck the bits that hang over behind the inside edges to create a slightly thicker edge.  Freeze again for about 10 minutes.  Cover with a piece of parchment paper and fill with uncooked beans.   Bake at 425 degrees in a preheated oven for 10 minutes.  Remove the beans and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden.

For the pastry cream, bring 2 cups of milk to the simmer in a saucepan.  In a separate bowl, combine 2/3 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of flour, and a pinch of salt.  Whisk the hot milk gradually into another bowl of 3 slightly beaten egg yolks, in a thin stream.  Add the flour and sugar mixture, and continue mixing.  Over a low flame, continue whisking until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon and looks slightly thickened.  Strain through a sieve, and refrigerate.  When the mixture is cool, add 1 cup of slightly beaten heavy cream.  Spoon into the tart shell.  Cover with quartered fresh figs and a few raspberries.  Serve immediately.