Do you know what you want, what you really, really want?

One of the things I always try to shove in between knife skills and how to roast chestnuts to drink with vino novello is, know what you want. Not what your kids want, or your husband or your wife or your best friend, but you. And it can be very unsettling to talk about, so I just give it a quick mention and then start pouring the wine and stirring the sauce.
I say start with what you eat. Everytime you eat a meal dream about exactly what you want to eat, and at least every once in while be sure to get it. You have to be careful though, because it tends to rub off onto the rest of your life and you find yourself boarding planes to Italy to cook for fabulous groups of people that have an amazing zest for life.
I’m leaving tonight, so I’m too nervous to cook. I’m going to wilt some spinach with garlic and salt and olive oil, set it over a colander to drain, and then give it a squeeze. I’m going to pour a little more olive oil into the pan, get it hot, and then fry a few eggplant slices, and sprinkle them with salt and a grind of pepper. Then I’m going to thinly slice some surprisingly good looking tomatoes I have (from sitting around so long), dress them with olive oil and salt and drop of the best balsamic, so good you could drink it, but only a drop, slice my fresh mozzarella di bufala, and put the whole thing on the best piecs of focaccia known to NYC from Sullivan Street Bakery.
That’s what I’m dreaming of.

It’s a slippery slope

Ferdinand doesn’t want to wear his new winter coat. He finally agreed, and the tears were running down his cheeks, and he was doing his best to keep his little lower lip from quivering, but how could I let him be that sad over a coat? There are times when it’s worth it to win the battle, even though it feels like you are losing years off your life in decades, but there are times when you don’t need to make a kid wear a coat or even make dinner. I’m buying him a down vest and a fleece and we’re having pancakes and bacon tonight with chocolate milk.

a very little dinner

Now listen to me, if you buy something you would never normally buy at the grocery store, and you never use it, and it sits in your fridge until you have to throw it out, that does not count as trying something new. That just counts as buying something new.
And I know that it takes three times as long to make dinner when you are looking at an alien on your counter. You have to drag out the cookbooks and call your friends, call your mother and get way more involved than you need to on a weekday at 6 o’clock when you have no time for all of that.
The idea is important though. It’s like walking down a different block to get to the subway or parting your hair on the other side to see what else there is to see and see what it feels like.
I always buy cheddar, fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano. Sometimes I buy gorgonzola. But last week I had to get more of something that I tried for the first time only a few weeks ago, because it was so good. It’s called Miticrema Spreadable Sheepas. Who knew? It is like falling down in a field of clover and the little lambs are munching the grass around you, and the sky is all around. It’s delicious. It transports. And you could make it into spinach pies or you could just make a very little dinner and spread it on a rye cracker with baby arugula leaves, avocado and pepitas. (buy pepitas toasted and salted–they’re pumpkin seeds). Drizzle with lemon and olive oil, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

I’m leaving for Italy on Wednesday, so I can only eat very little dinners; my heart is breaking at the thought of being that far away from my Ferdinand for even a minute.

Two little pumpkins

Nothing is safe in my house when I am looking for an inspiration for dinner. When you buy pumpkins, go for tiny. The big pumpkins are good for cutting up and scaring small people, but once they have a candle melting in them and they have been on your stoop for a few days, why would you want to eat that?
Wash about two or three little pumpkins, cut them into quarters, toss them with olive oil, some red pepper flakes, salt and whole garlic cloves, and roast them on a sheet pan. When the pumpkin is soft, remove from the oven. Dice up a quarter pound of pancetta. Pour a bit of olive oil into a heavy saute pan. Throw in two whole cloves of garlic. Add the pancetta and cook the pancetta until it is beginning to crisp, then add the onion. Try to get the onion into as fine a dice as you can. Continue to cook until the oninon is completely softened. Add a few red pepper flakes, a half teaspoon of crushed coriander, a sprig of thyme, and give it a stir. Taste for salt. You won’t need to add much since the pancetta is already salty. When all this is delicious, remove the pumpkin from it’s skin and add it to the pan with a little stock, or the juice from a can of San Marzano tomatoes. Let it simmer for a minute. Taste again for salt, and adjust the liquid. You can add a little hot water if you need it. It should have just a bit of extra liquid, but it shouldn’t be super soupy.
Make your croutons by slicing a ciabatta or baguette on the diagonal, toasting them, and then rubbing a garlic clove over them very lightly, and giving them a drizzle of olive oil. Set one in a soup bowl. Ladle the pumpkin on top. Give it a dallop of fresh ricotta cheese, and an extra drizzle of olive oil. This is also good topped with parsley chopped super fine with a bit of fresh lemon zest, (no pith), a teeny bit of smashed and minced raw garlic, and some olive oil.
Serve with oven roasted red peppers and a salad of bitter greens, or a salad of thinly sliced fennel and thinly sliced apple dressed with lemon, olive oil and salt.
Roast pork is also delicious with this with a fruity glass of red wine.
If you do use the last of your little pumpkins for this, you are going to have to go out and buy more if they did originally belong to the shorter set. It’s not right taking other people’s stuff.

Brining and Writing

I don’t want to get anybody all worked up into a frenzy, but I have two pieces of news for you. FAYEFOOD, the cookbook is having its test run at the printers today and Thanksgiving is next month. If anyone is thinking of either writing a book or cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I want to you to locate the Tylenol in your home, and start sleeping now, because there is no kicking back to watch the game once either one of them are in the oven. Both are entirely worth it. What is better than getting all the love you can muster and everything that means the most to you and putting it into words or a turkey? (or a child, or a job; it’s a long list)

I can’t pretend I know how to write a book yet, but you can count your blessings that you found me when it comes to making turkey, because I have it figured out.
Start small to practice. Buy a turkey breast with the skin on and the bones in. Alfred Portale is a food genius and I think his brine recipe gives a lot of boost to a part of the bird that otherwise should only be photographed, and never eaten. Brining breaks down the fibers of the meat and helps to tenderize it, giving you a very juicy result. Add little bits of flavoring to the brine water and little bits to the roasting pan, and everything is going to be all right.
Soak the breast in 2 quarts of water with 3 tablespoons of salt and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Add a few bay leaves, a pepper corn or two and some sprigs of fresh thyme. Let this sit overnight or for at least six hours and up to 24. Keep it in the fridge while you wait.
Wipe the breast with paper towel to dry completely. Do not add any more salt. Heat up a heavy saute pan, add a little olive oil, and set the breast in there skin side down over medium heat. Don’t move it or lift it until you see the edges beginning to whiten a bit and the bottom caramelizing. When it is a lovely brown, turn off the heat and transfer the breast to a baking pan, unless the saute pan can go directly into the oven. Cut a head of garlic in half crosswise, and stick that under the breast with some rosemary and sage springs. Grind on a little pepper, drizzle it with olive oil, and roast for 350 degrees, basting with the pan juices every fifteen or twenty minutes.
The juices should be no longer pink. It should take about an hour and a half, but it depends on the size of the breast.
This is delicious with pasta with fresh porcini, roasted butternut squash with crostini, and wilted dark greens. Make a french apple tart for dessert.

Still going and the sugar helps

I have been married ten years today. Ten years ago, I made a tiny little white cake filled with caramelized pears and pastry cream and covered with penuche frosting, packed a bottle of chamgagne, and went down to city hall. For me there is no celebrating without sugar. I didn’t need the wedding part, but there was not going to be any kind of getting married to anybody, without a cake.
For the best white cake I ever had you have to try Rose Levy Barenbaum’s version from the Cake Bible. It is alchemy at it’s best. Otherwise, soften 1/2 cup of butter. It is critical to have the butter soft, but not runny. Gradually mix in 1 1/2 cups of sugar, creaming little bits of sugar into the butter until with each addition, it is completely smooth. Sift together 3 cups of sifted flour (sift before measuring) and 1 tablespoon of baking powder. Add this alternately with 1 cup of milk. Beat 4 egg whites until they are just beginning to set with soft peaks. If you beat them too much, they will have given up all the oomph they’ve got before they make it to the oven. Think of a balloon. At a certain point, if you keep blowing up the balloon, it is going to pop. Bake in 2 greased and floured (or sugared) 9 inch pans at 350 degrees until the top springs back when touched.

Peel, core and slice two pears. Toss with sugar to coat. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a heavy frying pan, and when it stops sizzling, add the pears. Don’t move them in the pan until they have a gorgeous caramelization around the edges. Toss and cook a bit more until slightly softened. Cool.

For the pastry cream, there are a lot of fantastic pastry creams out there, but I love the good old pudding recipe made with two egg yolks instead of the one egg that you would normally use. Bring 2 cups of whole milk to a simmer with a vanilla bean that you have sliced down the middle and scraped into the milk. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1/2 a cup of sugar that has been mixed with 1/3 cup of flour.
Be sure to add the sugar and flour mixture very gradually to the egg yolks so that they don’t granulate. No big deal, it’s just like making vinaigrette.
Add a little hot milk to this drop by drop to temper the egg. When you have about a quarter cup of the hot milk in there, you can go ahead and whisk in the rest all at once. Bring back to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add a pinch of salt. Taste. It should make you feel all lovey-dovey. Cool.

Fill the layers with the pears and the cream. Frost the whole thing with penuche.
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar. Add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. When it is completely cool, beat in 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar.

those greens

I know you all ran out and bought beets last night. Or if you didn’t, and you are going to today, here is what you do with the greens. Make aqua cotta, which basically means “cooked water.” It was for times when there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of other stuff to use for making dinner.
Make your chicken stock like I told you a few days ago. It is important to bring the bones to a boil and throw out the water and start again before you add the carrot, onion and celery, for this one, because you want a clear, pure tasting broth. All those coagulants that come floating to the top make the stock taste murky.
Clean the leaves of the beets really well in a clean sink half full of water to remove the sand. Strip the leaves of the spine, and then rip the leaves into large pieces. When your stock is all done, Heat about two cups of it in a sauce pan with a pinch of salt (never add salt to the stock until you are ready to use it) and a drizzle of your favorite olive oil. Add the leaves, and cook them at a simmer for about ten minutes, until the leaves are tender. Toast a nice thick piece of your best French baguette cut on the diagonal for plenty of surface under the broiler, flipping once. When it is golden, rub lightly with a raw garlic clove and drizzle with olive oil. Set it in an individual soup bowl. Rest a few of the beet greens on top. Pour hot stock over the whole thing. Drizzle with a little more olive oil. Grate on some Parmigiano Reggiano and when the bread is soaked through, enjoy. This is great with a side plate of assorted salami and prosciutto, and maybe some raw vegetables cut up with a side of bagna cuda or a homemade poached garlic and anchovy mayonnaise.

Look hard

You know nobody asked me out until I was a senior in high school, and even then it was the preacher’s son who lived out of state. I was a little crazy looking on the outside but if they had had the patience, they would have realized that they weren’t going to find better when it came to eating dinner. I didn’t really start cooking until a little later.

Beets are a prize. Says me. Not all goodness is evident on the stand, and if I looked at a beet and didn’t know what it was, I would think why waste your time to pull it out of the ground? You could miss a lot with that kind of thinking. Get your gloves on, pick out the tiniest ones you can find, and if they have them, grab the gold ones or the candy canes (pink and white striped) as well as the classic deep purple. Scrub them in a sink full of water, and then cut the greens off (you can blanch these and then saute them with garlic and olive oil). You can cut the root off as well, but if you do find the tiny beets, you don’t have to. Cut the beets in half, and toss them with kosher salt and your best olive oil.

(I’m going to tell my favorite oil: La Macchia. Only available at Fairway Market in NYC. Worth the trip to NYC)

Spread them out on a sheet pan and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour. Uncover and bake until tender, about another fifteen minutes. When they are cool serve them with toasted walnuts, chunks of gorgonzola, tiny roasted potatoes and baby arugula leaves. Spritz on some lemon juice, some long fresh chive, and another drizzle of oil.

I will never be mother of the year, but I know how to make a turkey burger

I don’t know what is going on with my blogging site, but for some reason, it won’t post any pictures. It’s not right when you try something over and over and you are really trying, and nothing gets better. I’m having the same issue at the moment with Ferd. Getting a four year old to listen is nearly impossible most of the time, and some of the time, I really think that it would be easier if I tried to explain myself in my super calm voice in a super clear way, to a wall in the bathroom. At least then, when there was absolutely no indication that the wall had taken in even one word, I could take a hot shower instead of fooling myself into thinking that I should keep talking.

I’m making turkey burgers for dinner, and I love turkey burgers, not just because they’re good, but because if I make them , I don’t have to fight the fight. Ferdinand loves them too, and they always work if you know the tricks.
Soak your breadcrumbs in whole milk, or even cream if your heart is feeling like it wants to take on the challenge. Saute the onion with salt and fresh thyme or parsley and a little salt over a medium heat until they taste good enough that it is difficult not to eat them all right away. When the onion has cooled a bit (use about a half an onion for a pound of meat) add it to the turkey along with half a cup of FRESH crumbs that you made yourself soaked in enough milk just to get them really wet. You can’t cheat on the crumbs. Just pull stale bread apart into little chunks and let the milk do the rest of the work for you. Add one beaten egg, a teaspoon of tomato paste that you toasted in your onion pan, and salt and pepper to taste. You can cook up a teeny weeny little test patty to taste for salt.
Form into burgers and cook in your best olive oil until browned on both sides.
Serve with avocado that you chunked up with a fork and seasoned with fresh lime juice, minced garlic and salt, some tomato slices or homemade salsa, some thinly sliced shallot and some pieces of green olive. Or you could go the route of blue cheese on top with endive and red onion. Or cheddar cheese and jalapeno.
You could even make the whole thing into a meatloaf shape, cover it with fresh thyme sprigs, a few thin onion slices, tomato slices and olive oil, and serve it with roasted sweet potato and sauteed swiss chard.

Chicken Courage

I was booted from the jury. They didn’t like my answers. The thing is, you cannot assume that just because someone is wearing a lawyer suit, it means they know what they are talking about. I have to assume that when the lawyer is giving me information, it might have less to do with the truth, and more to do with his own agenda. I have a four year old. Lawyers are no match for four year olds in the art of manipulation.

The same with recipes. Just because you see something in print, no matter how fine the book it comes from, there is no guarantee it will work. Always keep your mind open, but never lose your common sense. One of the best chickens you will ever make will be with mascarpone, lemon and garlic and rosemary. Do not get it all under the skin before you sear it. Wait until you season all your peices with kosher salt (keep the skin on and bones in), being sure to get all sides of it with the salt, then sear them off until they are beautifully browned, and let them cool. For one whole chicken use
6 ounces of mascarpone mixed with half a teaspoon of lemon zest (no pith), a little salt, a teaspoon of well chopped fresh rosemary, and one finely minced and smashed garlic clove. Stuff about 2 tablespoons of this mixture under the skin of each piece of chicken, trying to spread it out a bit. Roast at 400 degrees until the chicken is done. DO NOT OVERCOOK!
Serve with roasted butter nut squash risotto cakes and a tossed bitter green salad with chives, homemade croutons and nicoise olives.