Mother Mode

I negotiated for two problems of the math to be done before dinner and the rest after.  I bargained for snack and a glass of milk to be consumed while sitting at the table before 15 minutes of Poptropica.  I accepted hanging on the couch before taking a shower.  And then I lost it.

8 yr. old person:  When’s dinner?

Over 40 person:  It’s coming.
8 yr. old person:  Is it ready?

Over 40 person:  Not yet.  Almost.

8 yr.  old person:  Now is it?

Over 40 person:  Nine minutes.

8 yr. old person:  (catching sight of the broccoli) Are you–What are you making?

Over 40 person:  Pasta and..

8 yr.  old person:  I WANT MINE ON THE SIDE!

Over 40 person:  I’m not..


Over 40 person:  No!

(And then just in case the 8 year old person didn’t hear, the over 40 person continues)

I’m not going to put it on the side!  And you know why?  Because if I put it on the side you are going to grow up to be a great big pain!  Mushy cereal, I understand!!  I’m not going to make you eat mushy cereal, but you like pasta, you like broccoli, and you can eat them all together!

(Silence from the 8 year old person.)

I chopped the garlic and parsley incredibly fine, about 3 tablespoons of parsley and 4 cloves of garlic for 6 ounces of pasta and half a bunch of broccoli (2 stalks.)  The beauty of making pasta and broccoli is that you make it ONE POT.  Get your water to a rolling boil and season it with salt so that it tastes like a well seasoned soup.  Add a high quality pasta like De Cecco.  Cook until tenderish on the outside, but stiff and definitely not done.  Add fresh, chopped broccoli flowerets to the pasta water, right in there with the pasta.  Continue to cook until the pasta is seriously al dente, about 3 minutes more.  Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking water in a heatproof glass.  Rinse out the pan with a little cold water, and then get it back on the heat.  Give it a spill of olive oil and a knob of butter.  Add the garlic and parsley and cook over a gentle flame until the garlic is beginning to go golden. Turn off the heat.  Give it a shake or two to continue the cooking.  Add another tablespoon of butter or two and the reserved cooking water.  Add the pasta and broccoli and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  If you like parmegiano reggiano you can stir that right in or HAVE IT ON THE SIDE!

Teaching menus

I have been trying to figure out the right thing to serve before my creamy leek, scallop and cod chowder for weeks.  It’s tricky making menus for a cooking class in France.  I need to capture the terroir, the season, the lust for taste and without getting complicated or taking too long.  I need to have enough burners on the stove and space in the oven for everything to be ready at the right time.  I have to engage my audience, but not overwhelm; I have to seduce them slowly and profoundly–I want them to smell, stir, and eat France, and to take home a need to cook and recreate.

I think about it staring at unfolded piles of laundry and marching up the steel slabs of steps of the Polaski Bridge.  I ponder textures and timing and balance.  I need a saturation of delight but just enough to start a smoke of wonder about what’s coming next.  The goal is to need for more.

I decided on pumpkin.  Tiny dark green pumpkins with a deep orange flesh that are sliced, salted, oiled and roasted with no effort at all.  Over the fire, we’ll crisp up fat chunks of salted slab bacon into lardon and finish with just a few fried shallot slivers and flat leaves of parsley.

Next course: salad of frisee and tender dandelion leaves with an absolutely classic Dijon vinaigrette.

Dessert:  Lemons stirred into a sweet curd and baked into a crust.

Yesterday’s news

My upstairs tenants have been obsessed with vacuuming.  It’s an honorable obsession, though a futile one.  I am tempted to write notes about the dangers of running up the up escalator and of dustbusting after midnight.  Dust in New York City grows like weeds in a prairie.  You can’t clean it all out.
There are more productive obsessions, like cleaning the refrigerator.  If you catch a refrigerator in time, you can eat the crumbs.  My last lonely ingredients: nicoise olives, cherry tomatoes and a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano.  I paired it up with pantry cleaning:  old bread and a smashed clove of garlic, olive oil, and a few leaves of arugula are perfect together.  Cube and toast the baguette in the oven before you start, and finish with red wine vinegar.  Or make pasta.  Pasta is the god of new life.  Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add half a pound of orchiette.  In the time it takes the pasta to cook, smash 3 cloves of garlic and mince.  Jarred garlic is unacceptable. If you find it in your fridge or in your pantry or in your friend’s pantry, throw it away.  I don’t care how old it is.  Add the garlic to the olive oil along with a sprig of rosemary and a few leaves of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley.  Halve and seed the cherry tomatoes.  Get them in the pan over a medium high heat, with a pepperoncino (or not) and a pinch of salt.  Meanwhile, peel and finely chop a yukon gold potato.  Push the tomatoes to the side in the pan and add the potato.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook until golden brown and tender.  Combine with the tomatoes and a handful of pitted nicoise olives.  Save a spoonful of the pasta water, drain the pasta well when it is still toothsome and dump it into the pot. Stir everything to the side, add a knob of unsalted butter, a small pile of finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano and the spoonful of cooking water.  Give it another toss, taste and serve.  It would be even better with last night’s escarole and garlic.

Amost half way there

I met my friend Kelie Adams when I was seven years old.  I had just moved to the north end of Hartford and knew not one soul.  I memorized the one hour bus route back to where we came from.  A girl without a friend is a girl lost.  I can’t remember how I found Kelie or her front door, all I remember is knocking on it and saying “my  name is Faye.”

Her mother pushed the screen wide open to let me in, and that was it.  I played at Kelie’s, I ate at Kelie’s, I schemed, dreamt, and slept over at Kelie’s.  All these years later, it warms me to no end that we never stopped dreaming and scheming and that one of those dreams–to get families cooking and eating together again–brewed in a cafe over on 9th Avenue two years ago, is now supported by an even bigger network of friends. In two days you have brought us almost half way to our goal of buying new equipment for Dinner Confidential.

I’m sending all my love.

Dear MJ,

Let’s hear it for liking to cook and eat!!!   These are two massive hurdles right there–you already have the fire, you just need to figure out the food.

I’m going to start with the input from family.  Let your kids know that pizza is an option, but it’s an option not a mantra.

Try this on them:

What would the world be if every tree were the same, every fish were the same, every car that drove down the road, the same.  What if when they went to school, they always studied the same word of the same chapter of the same book, they were always asked to do the same assignment and they always turned in the same paragraph.  I am sure there is something fundamental that can be learned from studying like that, but hopefully they won’t tune into that and will go for the prediction that their eyes will start to roll around in their head and their brain will start to shrink.
Forget telling them the crazy number of nutrients our bodies/brains need and thrive on in a day.  They don’t care.  That your husband does is fantastic.  When you make a pasta dyed magenta from the beets, he’ll support you.

I think the trick to inspiration is to find stuff that inspires you to cook.  Ingredients, recipes, cute butchers…off the top of my head the book “Plenty” comes to mind, which is all about fruits and vegetables, and easy to pair with a seared chicken breast that’s finished in the oven.  Other good ones are “Italian Easy” and “Two Easy”  by Rogers and Gray.

Get family members (including you) to make a list of their favorite dinners.  Tape it to the fridge.  They can add to it if they want to.

For the trial run:

Monday: Soup; and use it as a main course.

ie Potato leek topped with shavings of parm is easy to puree fresh chopped spinach leaves into and you could serve hard boiled eggs, or sliced oven roasted ham, olives, chopped raw veg(carrot, cel, radish, cherry tom’s on the side

Chicken soup with noodles and peas.  A classic, but start it with a Tuscan soffritto and top it with a stream of La Macchia, and oh baby.

Cannellini with escarole–start it with plenty of garlic sauteed in olive oil and add a little chopped flat leaf parsley.

Tuesday: somebody’s favorite dinner combo.  Pick from your list.

Wednesday:  back up food–any kind of pasta–meatballs or meat sauce with a big, bountiful salad

Thursday:  roast something.  A chicken, a pork loin, a beef rib, with nothing more than rosemary, sage, thyme or any one of those, some heads of garlic and a few tomatoes cut in half.  On the side is where you can go crazy–saute a few tomatoes with a little shallot, salt and pepper until they taste crazy good and then add steamed string beans.  Or roasted fennel and carrots, or stuffed zucchini, with a little of yesterday’s bread chopped up with herbs and pecorino,

Friday:  pizza with platter of raw veg
Saturday:  kids cook (cold cuts are cool.)
Sunday:  something completely new from a favorite cookbook and EVERYBODY has to be in charge of something.  It could be setting the table, making the dessert, picking the menu, but Sunday isn’t just MJ day anymore.
Every single night, serve a bowl of beautiful fresh fruit.  This is so way Italian.  And if it’s part of dinner–nobody leaves the table when the fruit arrives, they stay and cut themselves a piece–they are going to eat it, instead of just admire it.

Let me know what happens. xoxo

PS  one more reason to cook:  in today’s Daily Mail: “Happy Meal shows no signs of decomposing after 6 months.”

Dear Dinner Confidential:

I could go on for hours re the dinner dilemma.

The breakdown:

1. I like to cook, I like to eat, but I hate meal planning and grocery list making.

2. I don’t get much input from the family

Kids: What!? We are having THAT!? Can’t we have pizza?


Me: Do you have any suggestions for dinners this week?

Husband: I need to eat more fruit.

So meal planning is a challenge. I need to figure out a way to get the family more involved.

We manage to sit down and eat together every night but I need suggestions for meals that can be made ahead of time or made quickly while they are showering after soccer practice.

To add to the challenge, my husband is going to Afghanistan for 6 months. As an adult I will be outnumbered. Don’t want to resort to kid food like we have in the past (i.e. tacos, pizza, breakfast for dinner!)

On the plus side:
I swear they think I am a better cook since I went to Italy! Maybe I am. They love the LaMacchia Olive oil and have even started eating salad since I use that on the greens. My older son begs for gnocchi.


Monday through Friday

My menus for the week of cold and rainy, blustery and miserable:

Chicken noodle soup with tiny sauted dice of garlic, onion, celery and carrot, and potato, broken Fettucine and string beans served with escarole and garlic on the side and for dessert, braised dried apricots, figs and prunes with a swig of Gran Marnier and a garnish of toasted walnuts and mascarpone

Beef Stew with croutons on the side and a big salad of frisee, radicchio, arugula, bibb, flat leaf parsley, shallot, topped with sweet gorgonzola or stilton bleu cheese, fresh apples for dessert

Pasta with sauteed red and yellow peppers, onions and rosemary and a few red hot pepper flakes with side of roasted, purred eggplant (add a little olive oil, thyme, lemon juice, drop of balsamic and garlic) on a crouton served a bed of dressed arugula, and side of raw carrots, and cured black olives–dessert of fresh ricotta with a tiny bit of cocoa, tiny bit of espresso powder and sugar to taste served in espresso cups

Whole roasted chicken with rosemary, sage and thyme served with roasted potatoes and roasted tomatoes (roast separately then mix)–if you have an excellent pecorino or parmesan, shave some over the potatoes as well. Serve with braised string beans and rip in fresh basil.

Pumpkin Risotto with side of sausage, (there are some excellent chicken sausages out there as well), broccoli with pancetta and onion on the side. For dessert: chocolate truffles and fresh pears

Pasta Fagioli with side of raw/braised veg salad–a mix of string beans, radishes, olives, capers, carrots, celery and peppers (basically any raw veg you have left over from the week. You can serve it all raw, but I like to braise the beans and carrots for a second–dress with olive oil, lemon and salt. It’s a good place for jarred hot peppers if you like that kind of thing.)

PS you can search any of these recipes on FAYEFOOD in the search option on the right.

Recipe: Zucchini soup

It is reported that zucchini have Vitamin A and Vitamin C and all kinds of health benefits from being good for your eyes, to helping to prevent prostate cancer. I’m all for it. If you’re cooking dinner and you can squash in extra protection against Lord-knows-what’s-out-there, why not?
The best zucchini are about six inches long, pale green and ridged. If you can’t find them, do the best you can. Buy small, firm and bursting with youth. Saute two minced shallots or one small onion with 2 cloves of garlic and the yellow only of a strip of lemon zest. Move this around a heavy saute pan with the best olive oil you can get your hands on, a few red pepper flakes, a few fresh basil leaves and a flat leafed parsley sprig until the onion is so tender and delicious you could cry. A little caramelization is okay. It should take about 15 minutes. Add the zucchini, in a half inch dice and saute without stirring for the first five minutes. Add salt and a grind of pepper. Remove the lemon rind. When the zucchini is tender, add water, homemade vegetable stock or homemade chicken stock, just to cover. Bring to a gentle simmer, then turn off the heat. Puree with an immersion blender until nearly smooth. Return to the heat and a spill of heavy cream. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.