Menus from the Dinner Squad

Think of these like one of those design magazines where they throw all options possible into the same room. You might just want the bedspreads and the lamp. Or the roasted potatoes and a glass of milk.

Monday: *Becky’s Grilled cheese sandwiches with pimento cheese spread, broccoli rabe with garlic, tomato soup

Tuesday: *Chiara’s chicken with prunes and orange, mixed wild greens, and bread to cry for–do what you have to do to get the good stuff

Wednesday: *Braised ribs (a Faye Delicious cooking class classic,) *pickled carrots and zucchini, roasted potatoes

Thursday: eggs any way, toast, stewed tomatoes (I have no idea how to make these, but I love them–suggestions welcome,) roasted asparagus

Friday: *Martha’s Spanish Chicken from Elizabeth H., leeks and peas, sliced mango, strawberries, banana with fresh lime&toasted coconut

Saturday: STIR FRY!! and the world is your oyster. *Kristen’s magic beef.

Or if you have never stir fried in your life (like me) and as much as you love to eat stir fry you are completely intimated every time you have even looked at the wok section, put your boots on. Get yourself a pizza.
Or from Susie who helped me remember it: make a warm potato salad of braised potatoes tossed with avocado, baby spinach leaves, new red onions and a dressing of lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh parsley and have it with a hard salami and a sharp cheddar on the side.

Sunday: Soup of choice (I suggest a massive bowl of *fruits of the sea cooked to perfection in a broth of stock, tomato, peperoncino, thyme lemon, and beautiful olive oil ) with raw vegetables and bagna cuda and side of *Mary’s cous cous

RECIPES:

*Becky’s Pimento Cheese Spread:
In a large bowl, stir 1 1/2 cups mayo (Hellman’s or Duke’s) with a 4 oz jar of drained pimentos. Add 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 1/4 tsp. ground red pepper. Stir. Toast 1 cup of pecans, then chop and add. Shred 8oz of extra-sharp cheddar cheese (don’t use the pre-shredded stuff…fresh cheese makes a difference!!). Stir together..stores in frig up to 1 week. Serve with celery, crackers or as grilled cheese sandwich.

*Chiara’s chicken with prunes and oranges–do this before oranges are out of season.
Or even better, you could have the original if you come to cook with me in Italy; I’ll take you to dine with the ever lovely and elegant Chiara at the ancient Villa La Macchia.)

Rub with oil and butter, a dish that is big enough to hold the chicken. Season the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff in a mixture of sliced oranges, prunes and chopped white onion. Drizzle the top of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with herbes de provence. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, then turn the chicken upside down (breast on the bottom now) and add another cup of prune/orange/white onion mix to the pan. (For 2 chickens, 1 box of prunes, 3 oranges, 2 onions)
Continue to roast until fork tender. Turn the chicken one more time for the last 10 minutes.

*Kristen’s beef stir fry: How about tonight’s thinly sliced fillet of beef tossed in sesame oil, sesame seeds, ginger and garlic, soy sauce and lime juice, and stir-fried with broccoli and matchstick carrots?Forgot to mention, a shake of Chinese five-spice in the beef marinade AND just BARELY cook the beef. It’s hard when stir-frying to just to continue to fry, but stop at medium rare… you’ll be glad you did. The most TENDER bites. Such a pleasure to feed my Teenager hot off the coach from

*Mary M.’s couscous salad: Simple and delicious. Couscous with chopped cucumber, green onions, tomatoes, chick peas, fresh parsley all tossed with a dressing made of olive oil, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, coriander powder, salt and pepper.

*suggested by Elizabeth H:
http://www.marthastewart.com/338434/arroz-con-pollo

Braised Ribs: season intact racks of pork ribs (organic is best) with salt and pepper, and sear in a little olive oil on one side. Pour off the fat. Set the ribs aside. Add a few heads of garlic that have been cut horizontally across in one wack, a few sprigs of rosemary and a solid pour of white wine; simmer to get up all the good stuff from the pan. Pour over the ribs. The liquid should come up about a half inch from the bottom. Cover tightly with foil and slash in a few places. Braise over a low flame or in the oven at 350 degrees. Watch to keep up the level of the liquid. Switch to water if would drink the rest of the wine. After two and a half hours, check for complete tenderness.

Pickled carrots and zucchini: Bring to a simmer, 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar, 6 cups of water, a bay leaf, a clove of garlic, a sprig of parsley, a (regular) clove, a good few pinches of sugar, a few peppercorns, a celery sprig and a bit of a leek end. Give it a solid drizzle of olive oil. Let it go for a good half hour, add salt to taste and then the slivered vegetables. Simmer just til tender, first the carrots, then the zucchini.
Toss with a bit of olive oil and taste for salt/pepper.

Frutti di mare: start with a can of San Marzano tomatoes, and I remove them from their juice. I heat up the pan glazed with olive oil with half a head of garlic, a sprig of fresh marjoram, and a sprig of parsley. I add finely chopped and peeled potatoes until they have begun to color and stick to the pan, and then just enough water to barely come to the top of the potatoes. I cook that with no lid, a whole peperoncino and a little salt until the potatoes are barely tender. I add a cup of dry and delicious white wine and squeeze of lemon. Remove the peperoncino. I let that cook for another five minutes, and then add my tomatoes that I have squished with my hand. Another ten minutes over a low flame. Potatoes do not like to be rushed.
In ANOTHER pan I get my olive going with finely chopped fresh garlic, a little chopped fresh parsley and a swirl of butter. When the garlic is nearly golden, I add a half cup of white wine, let it simmer for a few minutes, and then add tiny little mussels, covered, just until they open. I remove them, and do the same with shrimp still wearing their shells as I did with the mussels. As soon as they begin to curl, and I give them a sprinkle of salt, and set them in the bowl. Lastly a tender white fish, chopped into three inch long pieces, cleaned, but bone and skin on, seared in olive oil with a pinch of salt right at the end. The fish is cooked only until no longer pink and not a second more. I combine all the seafood and give everything a swirl of the best olive oil in the house and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Another swirl of olive oil for the tomatoes and potatoes, and tiny bit of fresh parsley, and then I ladle some into everyone’s dish, and then a pile of fruits of the sea. Fantastic.

One more chic pea

I don’t know how many times I have looked at a can of chic peas wondering what I was going to do with it. Take being married. After the years roll by, perfectly happy going to one of 3 places to eat and reading the paper after toast on Sunday and waking up next to the same (granted) beautiful face for the 5,840th time, you can begin to ask yourself, but what if we tried something different?

Last night, I didn’t have it in me. I sauteed a shallot (use 2 for more flavor–I’m feeding an eight year old) and two cloves of paper thin garlic with a sprig of rosemary, a sprig of parsley, s&p and a peperoncino (a few red pepper flakes are fine in olive oil, and a slice of bacon fat that I had saved from breakfast. Add the juice from a 28 oz. can can of San Marzano tomatoes. Reduce til there is barely the hint of liquid. Remove the peperoncino. Add 4 drops of your best balsamic. Bacon and balsamic are the pom poms on the hem. Add can of well rinsed chic peas and a cup of homemade stock. Simmer to deliciousness. Get your pasta going on the side and cook until seriously al dente. Add the sauce along with a handful of Parmigiano or Grana Padana. Taste for salt and pepper.

Out on a limb, I used whole wheat macaroni and braced myself for the complaints. Registered: 0

Eliptical

I love this word. I picked it from a Time’s review this morning like fruit still warm from the vine.
Eliptical: characterized by extreme economy of expression or omission of superfluous elements.
It’s the kind of word you could shout out on the dance floor. My mother would say it is a good description of how I chose to live life as a child.
I was just getting ready. Holding down the fort.
There is beauty in the silence of bread and water. And there is beauty in boeuf bourguignon and a bottle of glutenous wine.

I was having a hard time letting go of cold weather last night. I made a whole wheat pasta with fried sage leaves and hunks of roasted garlic that you could easily imagine eating in rooms of cold stone walls and glowing fires.

No way but through it.

Last night after one of my best friends left my house with her daughter to go on back home to Illinois, Ferdinand stood looking at the front door as if it had just swallowed them whole. “They left,” he said. He looked at the door a moment longer and then he said, “I’m so sad, I can hardly take it.” He sat down and cried. There is no explaining away how much it hurts when love walks out your door. I had ordered pizza. I made soup. I offered tea. He didn’t want to brush his teeth or read his book. “No thanks, mom” he said, and went to bed.

Roasted butternut squash soup: Split the last butternut squash of the season into sections and remove the seeds. No need to peel. Season with salt and pepper and give a good spill of excellent olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees until fork tender. Cool slightly and remove the skins. Saute an onion on a low/medium flame with a few sprigs of marjoram or tied thyme, parsley, the inside stalk of celery and a piece of leek, for as long as you can stand it. If you have a peperoncino and a bay leaf they wouldn’t hurt. The onion should be completely softened and delicious enough to eat when it’s done. Add two cloves of freshly minced garlic and one chopped peeled potato. Let it go until the potato sticks and then add enough water to cover with a good pinch of salt. Add the squash and simmer a few minutes more. Rest a moment. Remove the bouquet garni and peperoncino. Puree. Taste for salt and pepper. Add grated parmigiano reggiano, a pour of cream and a splash of water if you need to thin it out a bit.

Winter turned to Spring

Jonathan took me out for lunch yesterday. We ordered a huge pile of string beans with ginger and garlic, vegetable dumplings with wrappers as tender and thin as new leaves, and cold, spicy sesame noodles and a tiny cucumber salad, and carried it over to the wavy deck chairs by the shore of the East River. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore.

In my kitchen:

‎(As a disclaimer, I am a cook by trade, but I do live a little like a monk.)
One stock pot, 1 pasta pot, 3 whisks, 2 sheet pans, 1 excellent chef’s knife that my mother gave me when I was 21, one bread knife, 1 large stainless saute pan and 1 small one. 3 sieves, (1 for baking) and a cheese grater. Plus baking bowls, cake pans, measuring gear, 1 metal spatula and 3 heat resistant rubber ones, 1 wooden spoon, and I think that’s it. For electric: a food processor, and an immersion blender. Oh, and a few cutting boards. I can fit it all in a bag to take to a job if needed. (One of my clients used to have no equipment whatsoever.)

I thought that was it. But then I remembered:

I have a milk jug for heating milk and a moka pot for making coffee and I am going out to buy a one cup sauce pan because I adore them. I have no kettle (because I burned it.) I am going to get one of those and I would give my front living room wall for a le creuset dutch oven. I have always been insanely jealous of my sister, who was out one Saturday hunting for tag sales and happened on a woman who sold her entire le creuset collection to my sister for $10. (The collection had been a gift from her mother in law and they had just had a “situation.”) I also have a traditional American rolling pin and an one from India. I need a paring knife like I need my thumbs, and I don’t have one. Well, I do, but it’s useless and it would be easier if I just tried peeling or slicing with my thumb. And I do have a peeler that I got from a guy in an outdoor market when I was teaching in France that promised me the thing would last my lifetime and into the next. It somehow got pushed under the kettle I burned, but the blade still works beautifully. I also forgot about my aprons and tea towels and for some reason I am really attached to all of that. Maybe because a lot of the tea towels were gifts and I get to think of people I love every time I go to dry my hands or lift something from the oven. I have a salad spinner and a ball that you fill with cream and sugar and roll around on the floor to make ice cream. I have a coffee grinder (from my first marriage) that I just relocated in the basement. I do have a toaster, but I hate to look at it, which is probably why I forgot to mention it. I also have a terrible habit of throwing stuff away. In my last sweep, I threw away all of our receipts from last year. I told my husband I can’t find them. April 15 is looming around the corner like a dog out to get me.

Nothing in me wants to go to the store and buy more. Especially when looming in the cabinets of a best friend or sister, brother, mother or neighbor whom I haven’t met yet, might have EXACTLY what I’m looking for.

I feel a swap coming on. I have no pickled zucchini, but I could make cake.

If you send the kid to school or not

I do dream of homeschooling. I wonder what Ferdinand’s days would be without having to get out of bed everyday at the crack of dawn and coming home with three waking hours left to split between homework, dinner, showering, reading, and playing as fast as he can. Two nights ago he was sitting in front of his buckets of dinosaurs and giant spiders, and he said, “Mom, how do I play with my toys?” I checked his forehead. I tapped his knee to see if his lower leg moved and asked him how many fingers I was holding up. I held his face a few inches from mine to check his breathing. “What do you mean?” I said, “Play with them like that kid in Toy Story.”
I was under cloud cover; words escaped me. He managed to get the dino to eat a grasshopper as big as it’s head and then to bat the grasshopper with a badminton racquet a good ten feet. I canceled reading and let him unleash his war of the plastic giants.
I imagine him eating a hot lunch and learning math by measuring the area of the couch to see how many of his friends can squeeze in it. I am not convinced that “training at an early age is important to prepare us for the things we have to do that we don’t want to do, when we get older.” Maybe what we need, is to learn to always do the things we love to do. No one had to teach me to suffer through years of ballet. No one had to teach me to live in an apartment with no heat and clean chickens for a living in order to live in NYC. No one had to force me to study when I was ready. When I kicked in to loving school I was in college and I made up for every other lost minute.

It would be a beautiful thing if all public schools were set up to teach for the joy of learning. It’s just not possible. It’s a whole lot of crowd management, often unreasonable competition, and hours that can add up to a full time job. I love my son’s school, but the day is too long and there are too many kids in the classroom. There is a community of homeschooler’s big enough in NYC to sustain a hefty education through the efforts and wisdom of others all working together to come up with an alternative. The missing link is me. I know clear as a bell that I can’t homeschool.

No matter what road you take, it is a whole lot of working it out. Take dinner–if you homeschool or if you don’t homeschool, at the end of the day, you still have to make dinner.

I met a woman from New Jersey who homeschools her four children under the age of 12 with no set curriculum. Once a week they go to a homeschool co op, one of the little girls goes to gymnastics once a week, the 12 year old has a chess lesson and they make trips to the beach or the zoo and even Italy. She is with her kids all day, everyday with the exception of one night when she teaches a course at a college. Her husband leaves before the sun is up to get to work and is back home at about 7.

Is there a right and wrong for how to do it?
Click the link HOMESCHOOLING/DINNER
for what’s happening next on Dinner Confidential.

Eggplant on 74th street

Tiny little eggplants with the enviable skin of an apple in October and a shade of purple glowing white to violet, in a way that I have only ever seen on my own eyelids in the early 80′s, stole my heart at the Indian grocery last week. I squeaked and cooed at them and then bought them up like candy.
Slice up the eggplants and lay them on sheet pan drizzled with olive oil you can proud of. Season with salt and pepper and give them another drizzle of olive oil over the top. Bake or broil them at 400 degrees. You can’t be shy with the garlic. Sliver up 3 hefty cloves and get them going in a heavy pan with olive oil. In close to the same moment as the garlic hits the pan, drop in torn fresh basil leaves. Add a minute amount of red pepper flakes, or a whole pepperoncino if you can count on yourself not to lose it in the sauce. Smash a whole can of San Marzano tomatoes with your hands or any other serious tool you have. Add this to the oil, taste for salt and pepper and let it simmer while the water comes to a boil for the pasta. Check the eggplant. When they are done, they should have no more whiteness and be heading towards golden. It can happen in stages, so be ready to pull some off the pan and stick the rest back in the oven. Roughly chop a ball of fresh mozzarella. If you can find mozzarella di bufala, even better. Let it drain if it needs to. Grate a good handful of Parmigiano Reggiano. Add about 3/4 of the box of a good De Cecco or quality brand pasta. Be sure the water is salted. Cook til al dente (the white line when you bite into the noodle is nearly visible, but just nearly.) Drain well. Add it back to the pot, and stir in enough sauce, the eggplant (chop it first if you like) the parmesan, and the mozzarella. Rip in a little more basil or even a tiny bit of chopped parsley.
If you have the chance, get yourself to 74th Street in Jackson Heights and go shopping.

You could..

You could sit across from the same man on the same bus every Monday through Friday or meet him under a waterfall and never fall in love with him. You might say hello to him, you might even say “Yea, I’ll go to the movies with you.” You might date this perfectly acceptable man and marry him. As people do.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that when you walk into the room and there he is standing, your heart starts pumping new blood to every inch of your body and the hairs on your arms start to tingle.
And you might open a box of practical noodles when you get home and mix in a can of perfectly acceptable cream of mushroom soup and call that dinner. There is nothing wrong with marrying a man who doesn’t move you from the inside out and eating beige food, I am just saying there are other options. Worth considering.
There is the opportunity within the space of half an hour say–to recreate a humble plate of Umbrian farro stirred into a deep red tomato sauce, with cheesy strands of an earthy fresh mozzarella, and hints that Winter will end one day with fresh and fragrant basil leaves drifting through the grains–that you ate on a stolen cold and rainy afternoon at a restaurant hidden down one of the many stepped and steep cobblestoned streets of Perugia.

First buy the farro. Buy the “pearled” variety so that you don’t have to soak it. Get it in a pan of water with a spill of delicious olive oil, salt, pepper, a bay leaf, parsley sprig and thyme. Meanwhile, thinly slice three to four garlic cloves and start them sizzling in more of the same delicious olive oil along with about 8 whole fresh, grown in dirt basil. Smash a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes that were picked at the peak of ripeness somewhere around Naples. Just before the garlic is noticeably golden, add the tomatoes. Taste for salt and pepper, and if you like heat, add it in the form of a pepperoncino. If you are worried about not being able to find it again, add it to the oil in the beginning for just a minute or two. Chop up some fresh mozzarella and grate a good handful of Parmigiano Reggiano. When the farro still has a chewiness, but no dryness, drain well and stir into the bubbling sauce. Add the cheeses and more fresh basil leaves, ripped in to taste. Taste again for salt and pepper. If your olive oil is so beautiful you could sip it, drizzle a bit more over the top and stir through.
Serve with a salad of spicy leaves and fat, fragrant, handmade sausages.