Menus from this weeks (work) parties:

Party 1:

started with a platter of little tastes:  medjool dates, clementines, shaved fennel with olive oil and lemon, radishes with a dish of French sea salt and almonds

teeny first course: the red grapes with fresh tarragon and ricotta salata with a little olive oil and salt

first course: Linguni with lemon zest, fried parsley, garlic, basil and toasted breadcrumbs

main course: seared chicken marinated in dijon, lemon, parsley, thyme, garlic and olive oil with tomato confit, slow cooked fennel puree, and a toss of roasted fingerling potatoes, carrots and leeks

salad:  zucchini pappardelle  (raw zucchini sliced thinly lengthwise) with olive oil, shallot, nicoise olives and mint served with a pecorino scacciata (like focaccia)

Party 2:

Passed Hors’doeuvres:

Pear with gorgonzola on bruschetta

Lardon

Spinach Sformata

Poached shrimp with beurre blanc

Mushroom Risotto Cakes

Salad:  Arugula with orange, fennel, shallot and basil

Main Course: Seared chicken with mascarpone, rosemary and lemon, zucchini trifolatti, cannellini and polenta

Dessert: Flourless chocolate cake and cream

The trick:  if you’re serving a lot of people, instead of reheating the chicken (chicken should never be served hot), which is when you can really dry out the bird, make a velute sauce, that you douse the chicken with right before it goes out.  There is the quick way (a roux of butter and flour with stock added) and then there’s the FAYE WAY:  make a chicken stock and after 3 or 4 hours, strain it.  Add a pour of good dry white wine.  Continue to cook the liquid until it’s a rich golden brown.  Swirl in a few tablespoons of unsalted butter and season with salt and pepper.
Today is rest day.

Weather forecast

Not so nice. It reminds me of when Ferdinand and I get really mad at each other about something and the only thing I can think of is to say “Ferd, we are stuck and we have got to change the direction.” We either hit the “love” button on a stuffed lion that he has which starts the tune “I love you babe” going which gets anybody’s head bobbing and automatically feeling more relaxed, or if that doesn’t work, we walk around the block.

It’s all about distraction.

Try a teeny tiny plate of it. This is a Jamie Oliver classic: seedless red grapes, slivers of ricotta salata and fresh tarragon leaves. Toss it together with a pinch of salt, half a grind of black pepper, and a few drops of your best olive oil.

Food gets me all worked up.

I got up from my desk yesterday to make lunch and as is usual, I ate while I was looking in the fridge.  Nicoise olives with fennel fronds and lemon zest; could have been some parsley leaves in there as well.  I was moved to sing.  SIT DOWN GIRL, I THINK I LOVE YOU; NO STAND UP GIRL AND SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT!

Food gets me all worked up.  I got the frying pan going and threw in a good spill of olive oil  and chopped shallot with slivered garlic and few leaves of parsley along with a sprig of rosemary.  On the tip of the rosemary sprig, I shoved a whole pepperoncino (helps me find it to remove before serving.)  I don’t know why it’s so hard to find pepperoncini in the States–it’s not like they weigh a lot.  You could always substitute a few red pepper flakes.  I chopped up a zucchini and a red pepper and got that right in after it.  Water went in it’s own pot to boil for the pasta with a good pinch of salt.  As soon as the pasta was al dente (use a good pasta–De Cecco–it is so worth it), I added it to the zucchini mix along with a good handful of olives and a douse of reserved cooking water from the pasta.  I grated a beautiful goat cheese from Coach Farms to shower over the top.  Yes, yes and more yes.

The Truth

You know about eating your vegetables.  You love fruit.  Your middle name is broccoli.  And if it’s not fresh, you don’t want to know about it.
Okay.  That’s all right.  I like it.  All I’m saying is do you Walk the Walk or do you just Talk the Talk?  There is a very vocal and visible part of America who are holding onto their half pound hamburgers and then it goes a little misty about which the group the rest us of stand in.  There is a group out there who know what’s good for them and they have cookbooks that tell you how to cook it. When it comes time to the Grocery Cart of that group however, I say it doesn’t look so different to the carts of the people that made Mr. Jamie Oliver cry.  Ask yourself if this sounds familiar:  You pass by the apples and some of those go in.  You walk past some greens, and might get some of those because you like greens and if you do or don’t you know your are going to find them next month sometime in a slick slurry in the same bag they came in.  So maybe not.  You think frozen peas, and head on over to the frozen food section and the frozen dinners start looking really good.  You get a stack of frozen dinners.  That snack aisle is crazy it’s so convenient: vitamins from green tea leaves and soy grits packed in a bar with chocolate for lunch and powdered (real) cheese corn puffs for a snack.  The soda aisle has way more flavors than the fruit aisle with sell by dates forgiving even to a herd of turtles and no calories.  You get a couple of packs and the sugar free, reminds you to head over to the jello aisle because if you aren’t too busy this week, you might have some time to boil a little water.  Instant oatmeal in envelopes to keep the dust under control go in the basket.  Milk goes bad so fast, it’s better just to buy the no fat half and half with the power punch of hazelnut.  Those jelly bellys at the check out–who can pass them up for the car ride home?

Stretch the hand out for baby arugula greens.  Power up those biceps and lift a yellow beet into the cart.  Hand curl your way around a pomegranate and make a salad.  Wash the greens and spin them round til dry.  Julienne or grate the beet.  Slice a bit of fennel paper thin.  Section out a mandarin so that you have no membrane and just the juicy fruit.  Dice a shallot.  Squeeze out a few pomegranate seeds.  Toss it all together with a few parsley leaves and the best olive oil you can get your hands on.  Give it some seasoning with sea salt and a grind of pepper.

My Grandmother’s Cheesecake

My grandmother died the day after Christmas at my mom’s house. She was the kind of grandmother that if you were given the chance to win the Big Prize, and you had to choose between Door number 1, Door number 2 or Door number 3, and you chose Door 3 and there she was you’d be screaming YES!!! YES!!! and you would be jumping up and down and you would be crying and laughing and your whole family would be running up to the stage to jump up and down with you and the balloons would be flying around with the confetti. It would be the Jackpot. Going to her house for the weekend was the Grand Prize on the same show. Friday night she took you out for pizza and then Saturday you went to J.M. Fields to pick out a toy, and then you came home to watch TV and eat chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. There were always popsicles in the freezer and potato chips in the pantry and on the Sunday before we left, we would work the candy counter at my Uncle Nil’s in East Haven–a huge roll top antique filled with every penny candy you could imagine. When I think about my grandma, food is in the same breath. Vegetable soup with a meat broth and dumplings, chicken liver pate with sour cream spread on the top, quiche, plates and plates of handmade cookies, cakes, pies and crumbles, bread that she made that morning, ribbon candy, fresh fruit salad with Cool Whip and a High Boy with the bottom drawer jam packed with the recipes. When she would show up for visits at our house, she brought a hinged, flat topped basket with a cheesecake in it. It was the best cheesecake I have ever known.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring 3 eight ounce packages of full fat Philadelphia cream cheese to room temperature, along with 4 eggs. Beat the cream cheese in an electric mixer, and add 1 cup of granulated sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, along with 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, a pinch of fresh lemon zest, and if you like another pinch of fresh orange zest. Pour this into a crust of 1 cup of crushed graham cracker crumbs that has been mushed around with 3 tablespoons of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 45 minutes and check for doneness. It should be ever so slightly loose in the middle. Spread with a 15 ounce container of sour cream that has had a few tablespoons of sugar added and a drop or two of vanilla extract. Bake for 5 more minutes and remove from the oven. Cool in a warm place. Serve with all you love and best quality preserved cherries.

Ribollita

I just want love in a bowl.  I want healing in a spoon.  I want all my vitamins in a single dish supper.  You can’t beat Ribollita for this.  Don’t pay any attention to the name which is anything but appetizing and will only make you feel like a geriatric before your time.  (ribollita=reboiled).  You will need a few teeth to eat my version, but if you are missing them, you could just puree the lot and be sure that the bread is fully soaked with the liquid before digging in.


Ribollita

 

Sauté together, one bunch of flat leaf parsley, one bunch of celery, 1 medium sized carrot, 3 medium sized red onions, and a sprig of thyme, with salt and pepper, until the vegetables are soft.  Add one 28 oz. can of whole plum tomatoes from Italy, that you squish with your hand,to break up, as you put them in the pan.  Cook these together for about thirty minutes, over a low to medium flame.  Add about 4 pounds of swiss chard, which you can either throw right into the pot after washing and chopping it (remove the stems and blanch them for munching on the side with a drizzle of olive oil), or you can lightly sauté it first in a little olive oil and garlic before combining with the tomato mixture.  

(Cook 1 1/2 cups of beans with thyme, garlic, olive oil, and salt, after soaking). 

Add one cup of cooked cannellini beans, and cook for another half an hour.  Puree another cup of cannellini beans, til they are not quite smooth, and stir into the soup.  Cube and toast a rustic loaf of bread in the oven, and then drizzle them with your best olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Drop the croutons into the soup, while it is still in the pan, or into individual bowls.  Grate freshly grated parmesan as it is being served, and drizzle with a little more–absolutely best and new if you have it–olive oil.  Add a little more cooking liquid from the beans if you like, but the soup should be quite thick.  In Italy it can be practically no liquid at all, just soaked bread, but I like it a little soupy.

The success of this soup is fantastic bread, beautiful Parmigiano Reggiano and best quality olive oil from the last pressing.  Do what you can.

How to help in Haiti

This morning’s paper has left me heartbroken.  Hospital patients are lying in the grass.  Those left living are wandering the streets.  There is no home left to go to or dinner to eat.
Call an organization that you know is legitimate and has the ability to get to Haiti to help immediately.  I chose Doctors without Borders.  87% of the donation goes directly to those in need, and Doctors without Borders is already there.
Medecins Sans Frontiers
I am going to make some red beans and rice to keep the people of Haiti with me–if I could I would carry it to them.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil with a pour of olive oil, a thyme sprig, a celery sprig with leaves, a parsley sprig, a bay leaf, a garlic clove and a shallot.  Add one pound of (rinsed) red beans.  Simmer until tender with a piece of parchment placed over the water in the pot.

Saute 3 shallots and 3 cloves of garlic with a pinch of salt and a thyme sprig until well softened.  Add the beans, lifting them from their water, and give them a turn with the onions.  Add 1/4 teaspoon of cloves, 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano, and the same of cumin.  Add 2 teaspoons of sweet paprika and pinch of chili powder.  Give it a good grind of black pepper, and stir again.  Lay a sprig of parsley, two bay leaves and one more of thyme on the top.  If you like it hot, you can rest a whole scotch bonnet pepper in there.  (remove before serving)  Add enough of your cooking liquid from the beans (and stock if you have some) to equal 5 cups, along with two teaspoons of kosher salt.  Add 1 cup of rinsed long grain rice and simmer, with a lid to cover.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Who out there has never had an orange?

Last night on the phone, my girlfriend told me that she volunteered to sell snacks at the high school to raise money.  She suggested clementines and bananas.  The event organizer said, “I don’t think that’s going to work.  I don’t think they are going to buy fruit.”

“They are definitely not going to buy it if it’s not offered.” my girlfriend said, and brought along a whole bucket of clementines and conviction to the cafeteria, and sure enough they weren’t that popular.  One girl had already spent 50 cents and was looking for something else to round out her dollar.  “These clementines are great” my girlfriend said, “two of these are worth that other fifty cents.”  “What is that?”  the girl asked her.  “It’s a clementine.  It’s like a little orange, only better and sweeter.”  “I’ve never had an orange before.”  This is what the girl said.  Right there in Illinois.  She has never had an orange.  My girlfriend handed over one of the clementines, on the house.  “Taste that,”  she said, “you’re not going to believe it.”  The girl put a section in her mouth.  “Oh my God” she said, “that’s crazy–that’s good.”

That’s fruit.

Holy Cow.

What to have with that yogurt and honey at breakfast?  Orange sectioned out with a knife so that you have only the juicy, naked fruit, medjool dates (take the pit out first and pull in half), wide slivers of lightly toasted coconut, and walnut halves.

Blind date versus the List

You know meal planning for the week can be like getting married.  Yes I love you baby, but am I going to be in the mood for you on Tuesday?  Coq au Vin is a looker, I can’t argue that it doesn’t taste good, and to be desirable for as long as Coq au Vin has been desirable is impressive.  None of that is going to keep me from wanting to crack crab legs and dip them into a spicy mayonnaise, with no warning and in the middle of the week.

The reason to make a meal plan is because the reality of what’s available to you in the middle of the week without it leaves you with a choice of Fruit Loops or frozen fish sticks.  You might have to accept that not fresh crab legs or George Clooney are available where you tend to hang out. Without planning, a rotation of dinners can get locked in like an old haircut.

Start with the basics.  Always plan to make a stock.  (chicken bones or wings, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, fresh garlic, parsley, fresh thyme).  Having stock in your freezer is a necessary for cooking. It’s the same as having boiling water on hand when it’s time to have a baby–it comes in handy.

Plan on making something really basic for two nights:

1.  Roasted chicken with carrots, potatoes and string bean–go crazy and serve it with biscuits

2.  Meatballs and sauce with a salad you haven’t had in a while, like baby greens with oranges, green olives, shallot and toasted walnuts.

Now mix it up.

3.  Buy a pack of best quality puff pastry dough and make an onion tart to serve with potato leek soup.  None of the ingredients will go bad if you don’t get to it.  For the tart:  a few onions that have an onion bulb at the bottom and the greens still on the top (young onions) or the freshest onions you can find, about 4 thick slices of best quality bacon, and a few sprigs of parsley.  Cut the bacon into matchsticks, saute for just a few minutes until beginning to get crispy, remove from the pan along with most of, but not all of the fat, and give a quick saute to the onions and parsley.  Roll out the puff pastry and cover with the onions and bacon, along with some grated gruyere and bake in a 400 degree oven until the puff pastry is cooked through.

4.  Go out on a limb and choose a menu from your favorite  cookbook.  The challenge will push the outer edges of your envelope and make you feel like you learned a new language. (my favorite cookbook of the week is Sunday Suppers at Lucques) and the menu is Winter Vegetables Bagna Cauda (fennel, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, potato) blanched separately but in the same pot of salted water doused with a sauce of olive oil and butter that has had an anchovy, a tiny hot pepper, slivers of garlic and a few parsley leaves heated through in it before using.  Seared lamb chops with roasted radicchio and a flageolet gratin (you can substitute cannellini for the flageolet).  The gratin I love–you saute dried beans FIRST before simmering in the liquid with olive oil, rosemary and chile, diced onion, fennel, garlic, thyme and bay leaf.  Then you add water and salt til the beans are tender, then you add them with some of their liquid to a gratin dish that has been coated with caramelized onions, and once the beans are in there, you cover them with a layer of buttery bread crumbs before baking for a little over an hour.

The rest of the week make your standards.  Or eat grilled cheese and sliced tomato.  Or make a roast beef and have it with horseradish cream and roasted root vegetables.