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Happy Birthday to Me

Though I had been toying with the idea for a little while, the final decision to host a dinner party on my birthday weekend was made only hours before the event itself.  I had not thrown a party in a while, and I considered the menu planning and grocery shopping a gift to myself.

Had I made this decision a day beforehand, I might have tried out the cassoulet recipe in The NY Times magazine last Sunday.  It’s still chilly enough in the Northeast to make the idea of a cassoulet party very appealing.  And it’s been something I wanted to try – such a project.  Bean-soaking, confit-making, in addition to providing another opportunity for me to confront my lamb issues.  But it may just have to wait until next winter.  Instead, I built the menu around a recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, something called a sweet-salty potato far.  It involves grated potato, raisins, prunes, and a crepe-like batter.  (Oh, I can just hear the groans of raisin detractors far and near!)  Dorie’s description, and its Breton roots captured my imagination.  The infinitely more common version of the recipe is the traditional far breton, a clafoutis-type dessert, studded with prunes. Continue reading “Happy Birthday to Me”

If You’re Not Makin’ Whoopee . . .

How about makin’ whoopie pies instead!

Seeing the delight on the faces of the loved ones who are the fortunate recipients of these all-grown-up Devil Dogs will bring its own special satisfaction.  I used a 2003 Gourmet recipe, and so should you.

Dinner with Jean

There is much to enjoy about Downton Abbey, but Violet, aka Dowager Countess of Grantham, as portrayed by Maggie Smith, is the creme de la creme.  Which is what led me to rent The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for a recent movie-watching evening with “my gerls”  (can’t you hear Miss Brodie and her Scottish accent now?)  To the enormous pleasure of spending an evening in the company of the romantic and passionate Miss Brodie, we added the pleasures of rib-eye steak, pommes dauphinois and Toutoune’s Winter Salad. Continue reading “Dinner with Jean”

Bisquick Be Gone


My mom is a fabulous cook.

I just wanted to put that out there before telling you that the pancakes of my youth involved Bisquick.  Continue reading “Bisquick Be Gone”

Anna’s Request

“Will you make this for lunch, Mommy?” Anna asked as she held a magazine photo in front of my face.

She couldn’t have made a better choice.  It was the Monday following Hurricane Irene and I had been rendered carless thanks to the flooding that occurred in the parking lot of our building.  We were planning a walk to the grocery store later on, but for lunch I needed to work with what I had.  And what I had, thanks to a day before gift from my sometimes-farming boyfriend, was a beautiful little assortment of fresh red and yellow grape tomatoes.

Into my favorite 50¢-at-a-yard-sale cast iron skillet went some olive oil and chopped garlic, followed a few minutes later by the halved tomatoes.

Basil, of course, would have been the herb of choice, but having only parsley on hand, we went with that.  A generous shower of parmesan finished things off.  Voilà – Anna’s lunch!

Mediterranean Inspiration

Between fish tacos and margaritas, I got quite a bit of reading in during our visit to SayulitaMediterranean Summer by David Shalleck, the story of his summer as a chef on a private sailing yacht in the Mediterranean, was a perfect beach read, except that it made me want to race to my kitchen.  But on Sunday night, when I had retrieved my daughters from their annual week in Massachusetts with my parents, it was time for David’s Linguine with Clams and Zucchini.  Additionally, Greta informed me as we were driving home from our Connecticut rendezvous spot that she was feeling the need to do a little baking.

“Can we do that, Mommy?  Can we bake something?”

“Well, I picked up some nectarines at the farm stand this morning.  How about a nectarine crumble?  And we could use some of those blueberries you’ve got there from your blueberry picking expedition with Nana and Grampa.  How’s that sound?”

“Good!”

The thing that made me want to give this clam recipe a try, was the idea that the almost over-cooked zucchini provides a coating that allows the sauce to better adhere to the linguine.  (Plus, as you know, I’ve just got a thing for linguine and clams.  New twists always welcome!)   You cook the zucchini in garlic and a nice amount of olive oil, remove the zucchini, and then cook the littlenecks (I had to use mahogany clams from Maine on this night) in the zucchini-garlic-flavored oil.  Add some hot red pepper (which I had to forgo in consideration of my daughters’ sensitive palates) and parsley, toss it all (including zucchini) together, using a bit of pasta water to make a bit more of a sauce, and va bene!

As for the crumble, we peeled the nectarines, added the blueberries, and Greta did her magic with cinnamon and grated nutmeg.  She then mixed together some whole wheat flour, oats, brown sugar, dash of salt, and pinched it all together into crumbles with half a stick or so of butter.   Many would insist that vanilla ice cream is the only appropriate accompaniment, but I prefer something to cut the sweetness a bit – honeyed yogurt or creme fraiche will do the trick.  If you’ve got some heavy cream in the fridge, how about that?




Sometimes There Really Isn’t Room for Improvement

There’s not a thing that can improve this.  Some of you may argue.  You may want a baguette or mozzarella or homemade mayo.  But for me, here’s perfection:

Just-picked, fat and juicy tomato

A slathering of Hellmann’s

Few leaves of basil

Sea salt, ground pepper

Arnold “Oat Nut” bread

Dinner for an August Night in June

The schools were closing early due to the 100 degree heat, and a sweet little bag of key limes became the inspiration for dinner.  Steak fajitas with guacamole, rice and beans seemed the perfect dinner for the south of the border-type heat we were experiencing.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but for a brief period of time I worked in the garde manger station of David Burke’s now-defunct Park Avenue Café .  We were responsible for cold appetizer preparation, and for a few hot summer days, this included a special of guacamole.

Park Avenue Cafe, circa 1997

A quick search on Epicurious produces 48 guacamole recipes.  Among the several versions found on The California Avocado Commission website is guacamóle auténico, which calls for cumin, tomato, sweet white onion, Serranos, cilantro, and lime juice.  Meanwhile, back in the kitchen we were told that Chef Burke’s version was the authentic one, and being young and impressionable, I believed it and have stuck by it.  Our version called for nothing more than salt, lime juice, and cilantro.   I seem to recall that some chopped tomato may have garnished the plate, but it certainly wasn’t incorporated into the guacamole prior to serving.

Aside from ingredients, another place where the guacamole camps diverge is on the question of texture.  There are some folks out there who apparently like their guacamole to have the texture of Cool Whip.  Should you find yourself invited to my home for margaritas, the guacamole I will serve you will be chunky.  The preparation of the avocado is, in fact, my favorite part of guacamole-making.  After scoring the avocado in half the long way, twisting each half in opposite directions to release one side from the pit, you can (carefully) smack the heel of your chef’s knife into the pit and twist to remove the pit from the other half.  You can then take a smaller knife and score the flesh of the avocado diagonally in one direction, then the other, forming a diamond pattern. Now, take a spoon and, pressing the back of the spoon against the shell, you can scoop out the flesh, and voila!  Diced avocado!  (For those visual learners among my reading audience, the next time I have avocados on hand, I will take a few photos of this process and add them here.)

One thing about which I’ve learned that my sous chef friends were mistaken, however, is the notion that submerging the pit in your guacamole will prevent discoloration.  Thanks to the thorough experiments of Harold McGee, author of The Curious Cook, I now know that the best way to prevent browning (which is caused by the interaction of oxygen with an enzyme in the avocado), is to lay plastic wrap directly on the exposed surface, being sure to eliminate all air bubbles.  While the pit will protect the small bit that it touches from browning, Harold tells us that a light bulb would perform the same function.  Nothing magic about the pit, and plastic wrap does a more effective job.

Margaritas, anyone?

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