Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's Probably All about the Pie, But...

It is the day before Thanksgiving. The turkey's been thawing in the refrigerator since last Thursday, so I hope it is ready to have the wrappings removed for an uncovered night in the box, which Alton Brown says makes the skin crisp.
Alton Brown at the TV Academy
I've got some shopping to do today before I get home, mostly fresh vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, and sweet potatoes or yams. I don't have to do the mashed potatoes this year (yay) because a guest volunteered. I really hate the hours of peeling potatoes. Well, it feels like hours.

My husband makes the stuffing. It bears no relationship to the stuffing I would make (I'm not into raisins in my stuffing), but it makes him happy. It's a big bird, and with sit-down scheduled for 5 o'clock, Len will have to get up earlier than he likes to on Thursday morning to get his part done. I suggested he do his prep work today, but I doubt very much he will.

I'll be baking tonight. Pumpkin pie is a must, because it is my son's favorite. Len won't eat pumpkin. More for us. A friend is bringing an apple pie, and I might consider baking one as well.

Plus, other friends are bringing something from Carrara's Pastries, my very favorite place to buy desserts. It always reminds me of my many cousins back East, and how they'd bring wonderful things upstate with them from Italian bakeries in Brooklyn. If you happen to be in Agoura Hills or Moorpark, they also sell wonderful gelato.
A Treat from Carrara's Pastries
Tomorrow, I'll be making a sweet potato souffle, a recipe I found about a half-dozen years ago which is a successful replacement for the marshmallow-topped casserole everyone thinks they want for Thanksgiving. Ugh.

 Sweet Potato Souffle
I've long given up on green been casserole, which sits like a lump in my stomach and then gets thrown out when it isn't eaten as leftovers. (I even tried to fix that by making it completely from scratch, and it wasn't any more successful.) Brussels sprouts will be cooked with currents and chestnuts (I found peeled chestnuts for a bargain at Super King a few weeks ago, must less than the $10/jar I've had to pay in the past if I wanted to avoid the slow and dangerous process of roasting and peeling them.)

My favorite part of this holiday is actually getting to use all my best china and silver. We'll have 14 at the table tomorrow, at least 4 fewer than I thought I would have, so there will be plenty of room to spread out and do elaborate place settings.
Thanksgiving Past, 2013
It's not a lot of fun to clean up when things have to be hand washed, but I save that for Friday, when I'm also swapping out my regular dishes for my Christmas china for six weeks. I am addicted to buying dishes.
 What My Kitchen Looks Like on Friday Morning
Here are some photographs of previous turkeys and previous dinners.Some of our friends are no longer with us, some have moved elsewhere, some have had a bad year. I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving, free of stress, and surrounded by friends.

 Practice Bird, 2009

Actual Thanksgiving, 2009
 David Wise, Audry, Liz Mortensen2010
Len Wein, 2010
Sara Katz-Scher, Sam, Harlan Ellison, 2011
Len Wein, Ed Green, Liz Mortensen, 2011
Liz's Salad, 2013
Liz Mortensen, Susan Ellison, Harlan Ellison, 2013

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Special Summer Dinner

I don't usually cook during the summer for the Sunday Super Supper Squad, but sometimes I get tired of grilled meat patties on bread or I find something interesting at the store. Recently, that was a bone-in pork shoulder, which made a fantastic, low-
maintenance main dish.

It weighed about 11 pounds. I cut the fat cap/skin into a diamond pattern (sort of, because none of my knives was really sharp enough and I wound up using the kitchen shears, so not so pretty.) Then I made a rub of fresh herbs: rosemary, marjoram, thyme, oregano, mixed with garlic cloves and kosher salt. This I rubbed all over the meat. Then it went into a very hot oven (450 degrees F) for 45 minutes, until the fat cap was browned. I added some carrots and a couple of cups of chicken stock to the pan, put it back into the oven, turned the heat down to 225 degrees F and pretty much ignored the roast for the next 8 hours or so. I did occasionally baste and turn it, and about an hour before it was done I threw in some lemon soda (to make up for the alcohol I try not to use when I expect some of my friends to attend dinner; I would have used apple juice if I had any.)
The roast in progress.

When the roast was done, I took it out of the oven, removed the fat cap, covered the roast and let it sit while I crisped up the cracklings (cut them into pieces and put them back into a 400 degree F oven for a short while) and strained and reduced the pan drippings for a very tasty gravy.

I also threw several pounds of "baby" carrots in the crock pot with some salt, brown sugar, and butter, and let them cook on high for about four hours for an easy vegetable side. I made baby white potatoes by covering them whole in olive oil, garlic, salt, and rosemary and roasting them for about an hour at 400 degrees F.
Carrots before cooking in the crock pot.

While the roast was being ignored for so many hours, I made my first batch of Sorbet in my new Cuisinart Supreme Ice Cream Freezer. This one has a built-in condenser and can make 1-1/2 quarts of ice cream, sorbet, sherbet, or frozen drinks at a time. First up, raspberry-peach sorbet. I've been increasing my reference cookbooks to make the best use of this wonderful new toy. It has a large footprint, but more than makes up for the fact that I never have room in any of my freezers for the two quart tub that needs chilling before I can use my other ice cream maker.
 Raspberry and peach purees.

Mix the two purees with simple syrup and chill well before churning.

It takes about an hour in the ice cream churn 
(add frothed egg-white about 15 minutes before finish) 
for lovely, not so sweet as store-bought, sorbet.

I got an amazing deal on the Cuisinart Supreme at Tuesday Morning: $100. It usually runs $199.99 there, but it was half-prince for the end of summer clearance. The same machine will cost anywhere from $200 to $500 and change on-line, so it is one of my better recent finds at Tuesday Morning.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tea on Chatsworth

My girlfriend Gloria and her granddaughter, Seven, left Comic-con with me today to see a little bit of San Diego. We drove over to Del Coronado so they could get a look at the wonderful Hotel Del and we drove up to Balboa Park to see where the zoo is, even if we couldn't find parking at the Del or have time to see the pandas.We did get to go for tea at Tea-upon-Chatsworth, a darling shop over in Point Loma, across the bay from our hotels.
 Seven had never gone out for tea before today. We tried four teas, and the savories started with a red pepper soup and the sweets ended with a strawberry shortcake. Everything else is on the tower. It was tasty and about half the price of tea in L.A. these days.
 The soup.

 The savories.

 The menu for the Queen's Tea.

The teas we tried were a lavender infused Earl Grey, a vanilla flavored black tea, a white tea with a wine name, and a rooibos called Chocolate Cake. I'm taking four ounces of that loose tea home with me.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lunch: ISO Crab Cakes

The first crab cake of Comic-con. Every year I seem to be in search of great crab cakes in San Diego. This one is pretty to look at, but somewhat disappointing because it was served luke-warm and is kind of bland. Also, the waiter could have said it came with the same small salad I had just ordered. Roy's at the Marriott Marquis.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tea Time

Planning a trip to San Diego for Comic-con always has me thinking about where I might go for tea during the week. This reminded me that I still had not written about the Belmont Tea I had in June.

The Belmont Tea goes back 10 or 12 years now, when I first started paying more attention to the Triple Crown than I had for a long time. I remember watching Secretariat and Seattle Slew each winning the Crown a mere three years apart, but there's a lot more attention paid to the Kentucky Derby most years, because the likelihood of one horse winning all three races is pretty small--the last time was in 1977, a year after Seattle Slew, by Affirmed.

None the less, there have been a number of years where a horse has one the first two races, signalling at least a pie in the sky hope that there could be a Triple Crown winner. And that's where the Belmont Tea comes from.

I am a native New Yorker, and I lived in New York for the first 23 years of my life. I was living in New York City when Secretariat won, so, with a horse up for the Triple Crown, I decided to host an afternoon tea to watch the Belmont Stakes. Girls only. Hats encouraged. So far, we have had disappointing races but pretty good food.
From left, Sharon, Kerry, Jess, Deb, Barbara, Betina, Laurie, Lorien, Erin, Maria, Maria, Mary, Liz.

California Chrome gave us the excuse this year, coupling the Belmont with my now 23 years as a California resident. It was the first Belmont Tea in the new house because the potential party was thwarted two years ago by scratching the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness a day or two before the third race.

I encourage my guests to bring a dish and I try to do the basics of scones, lemon curd, and a variety of sandwiches, but the more other people bring, the less I have to make and the more I get to enjoy my own party. I'm also more than happy to welcome help in the kitchen when I need to finish up the prep, and this year was no exception. While I had made the chicken salad, sliced and salted the cucumbers, and boiled eggs for egg salad sandwiches, I was still putting sandwiches together when people arrived. In came the volunteers, and I found myself wondering for the umpteenth time how I ever was able to hold a party in the old house with its galley kitchen and lack of counter space.

I am grateful to Laurie Perry who brought Walnut and White Chocolate Scones, which were the hit of the party, since I never did get around to baking my recipe for plain scones. Susan Ellison, true Brit that she is, put the cucumber sandwiches together. Laurie pitched in and made the egg salad and then she and Barbara Hambly built egg salad sandwiches and the chicken salad sandwiches. Liz Mortensen made tomato and mozzerella sandwiches, and Kerry Glover brought tuna sandwiches. It takes a long time to trim crust from bread, but I am happy I can go to Bea's Bakery in Tarzana to get Pullman loaves of various kinds and get them sliced very thin.

My friend Lynn Latham scheduled a trip in from New Orleans to make it for the tea. She made her mother's pimento cheese sandwiches, a true Southern dish. Jess stuffed cucumbers with a spicy shrimp filling. Other friends brought fruit and cakes and we made 4 or 5 different kinds of tea, including a large dispenser of hibiscus iced tea.

Over the years, I've been collecting snack sets so people can have a dish with a place for their tea cups. I'm rather obsessed with them, actually. I have triangular milk glass snack sets for 30 people, as well as ones with floral decorations, and I recently picked up three which have horses on them! When looking for tea pots with horses, I found a beautiful set of dishes with Arabian horses, and shortly before the Belmont Tea I splurged and bought the tea pot, sugar bowl and creamer. So pretty. I found antique frosted Libby Tom Collins glasses with bounding horses a few years ago. They make great iced tea glasses. I also have found collector's glassware from a number of different years for the three races. They use the logo art for the particular year and usually have a list of all the winners of that race printed on the back. They all identify the horses that won the Triple Crown (and I've got one glass that lists only them.) Do you know how many horses have won the Triple Crown?* Can you name them?**

From left, Sharon, Deb, Barbara, Betina, Laurie, Lorien, Erin.
From left, Lorien, Erin, Maria, Maria, Mary, Liz, Kathryn, Lynn, Susan.

*Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown.
**Sir Barton, Galant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed. The only jockey to win the Triple Crown twice is Eddie Arcaro, on Whirlaway and Citation, both from owner/breeder Calumet Farm--the horses were trained, respectively, by Ben Jones and his son Horace Jones. The only other owner/breeder to win twice was Belair Stud with Galant Fox and Omaha--both trained by Jim Fitzsimmons.

Monday, April 7, 2014


My husband is a secular Jew.  He has ties to the culture, but hasn't been in a temple since we went to Jack Kirby's funeral or maybe the bar mitzvah for a friend's child. We do light a menorah for Hanukkah (even though we once almost set fire to the house that way) and we've gone to friends' houses to celebrate Passover on occasion. We never did a Seder at our house until two years ago, when one of our "adopted" daughters decided we should do it.

It was so successful, her parents decided to come out and celebrate with us last year. Janis Ian happened to be in town, so we invited her to come as well. This year, it looks like we are doing a second night seder because everyone's schedule makes first night impossible and Janis said she'd be back in town and hoped we'd be doing Passover again. How could I possibly refuse?

The name is taken by another blog (quite a good one, I might add), but I'm basically a shiksa in the kitchen. This is not the food of my people, but it is the food of many of my friends from college and, back at Hofstra, I got my first experience with lox, whitefish, bagels, and matzoh. It wasn't until Len and I got married and a fellow Hofstra alumna invited us to Seder that I experienced the madness of cooking for dozens of people with severe restrictions on ingredients: no leavening, no dairy because meat was being served, no grains. What were they thinking? Plus there are a few things that are rather awful, like gefilte fish from a jar.

My own Seder had some interesting problems. Sara's mother Amy is allergic to onions, but the brisket recipe Sara insisted we had to make is flavored with dried onions. Not only that, but onions figure prominently in many of the recipes I made last year. My friend Liz is a pescatarian. Janis is allergic to eggs. My son is allergic to oranges, which is used to flavor a number of recipes I looked at. Wine for cooking? Not when a guest is a recovering alcoholic.

But who should let such things stop them. I now own half a shelf of books devoted to Jewish cooking, many of which are Jewish holiday cooking. And the Internet is a wonderful way to find appropriate recipes.

I've replaced awful jarred gefilte fish with a fabulous, light recipe from Wolfgang Puck. I did braised lamb shanks last year in addition to the beef brisket (and saved the extra bones so I've got it in the freezer for this year's Seder plate if I need it.) I make a mean matzo ball soup that's a big hit, and I even made a vegetarian version of it last year when our friend Liz said she wanted to come.
Sara, the initiator of our Seder, is on the right in the photo above, her mother Amy is in the middle, and her friend Emily is on the left. Sara said she'd help cook the first year, but then didn't get to the house until hours after the brisket needed to be in the oven (fortunately, I had the brisket and the rest of the ingredients--dried onions and cranberry sauce--so it was ready at the appropriate time.)
The Seder table needs some specialized dishes, so I got the Seder plate, on the left, the first year, and the matzo plate the second year. Sara's parents gave us the Elijah and Miriam cups above the matzo plate. Maybe I will buy the afikomen pocket this year or maybe I will just sew one myself. I've got about a week to get it done.

The Haggadah that Sara provided is one that she used when she was a child. Sara has no intention of growing up, so that's the one we've used. Michael pulled out a hand puppet to use as Pharaoh, and the whole thing had Janis in hysterics.
So Janis announced that she and Len should write a new Haggadah for Passover. I fully expect that she and Len should be very busy with that RIGHT NOW. Perhaps she can write some new music while she's at it, so we don't sing prayers to the music of "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain" or "Clementine" this year.

Desserts are a big challenge for Passover with the dairy leavening restrictions. But Zoe Francois' wonderful blog Zoe Bakes has two fabulous desserts for Passover.
My son has made this flourless chocolate torte from Zoe's recipes for three years in a row. It was a huge hit when we took it to friends' seder where the males are all dairy intolerant, because it is made with non-dairy margarine and "creamer." Decadent.
The other dessert that we got from Zoe's website is chocolate-caramel matzo. They are rather addictive. My son is working down in Orange County these days and the 65 miles means he's probably not going to be home for a Tuesday night Passover. Fortunately, both of these desserts can be prepped ahead of time, though it may be me making them this year.

I am not sure how many people will be at Seder this year. It's rather like Thanksgiving in that the number of people can vary greatly, and also like the November dinner, there's always room for someone else at the table. I do not ever expect to have the 40-50 people my friend Joann often has. That's just too many for it to be fun.

On Saturday, because my son came home from Orange County (where he now works) sick, I made a pot of chicken soup and decided to give a try at making schmaltz and gribenes. I found directions from the Shiksa in the Kitchen. I had two chickens, which actually seemed rather fatty in parts, so I was off to a good start. I stripped the chickens of their skin and as much of the fatty deposits as I could get off before throwing the pieces into the stock pot.
 To the best of my ability, I cut the skin up into small pieces and threw the mass of everything into a non-stick skillet on medium low and watched the fat melt into oil, which I continually strained into a jar. It was a slow process.
When I finally got as much of the fat rendered as I thought I would get, I threw in some sliced onions and raised the heat to let the onions cook and everything brown and crisp. I also added some salt and pepper.
Gribenes, or Kosher Bacon
Once I was done, my husband said that it was like being at his grandparents, but he could not tell me what the gribenes was for, other than giving ones self a heart attack. But he sure loved the taste. We called Harlan Ellison, figuring an older Jew might know the answer. We were wrong, but Harlan got half of the gribenes I made when we dropped by to pick up his wife for the theatre later that evening. I hope he enjoyed it.

I have been told that some people put gribenes in the middle of their matzoh balls, as a lovely surprise. Sounds like a bit too much work, and it would lack the appeal of the freshly-made crisp cracklings.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

No Barbie, but Lots of Good, Local Food

Len and I went to Australia in October. It was an amazing, though far too short, trip. And the food was fantastic.

The first day in, we searched out a restaurant that had been reviewed in a magazine article about Sydney's great eateries just before we left. It was literally down the street from where we stayed. It is called Cafe Nice and it is on the second floor of the building. If you don't look up, you'll miss it. We watched some buskers underneath the elevated train between us and the Harbor from our window seats. It was the only rainy weather of the trip.

The salad nicoise was recommended and it lived up to its reputation. That was our first experience of sticker shock--the minimum wage is $15 an hour, including for restaurants. Tipping is truly optional (although a line does show up on a credit card receipt.) Once you factor in the living wage, you realize this is a much better way to do things than in the U.S. and it turns out that breakfast and lunch may be more than you expect to pay in the U.S., but a nice dinner at a good restaurant isn't much different than here. When I think of my niece struggling to make ends meet between acting gigs, I think Australia has a better approach.

Our first night there, foolishly because of the travel and time differentials, we decided to take a dinner cruise around the harbor. We had a lovely time, but I was almost falling asleep on our table before it ended!  
The view of the Sydney Opera House from our dinner boat.

We had several meals, besides breakfast, at our hotel, mostly because we were too tired to go out anywhere else. It was actually a pretty good choice for dinner.
An amuse bouche of salmon with taragon at the hotel restaurant.


I ate oysters every chance I got. They were local and they were delicious. And that's how I got a sea shell to bring back to my friend Sharon Baker at work.

Len ordered the charcuterie and onion soup because he didn't think he was very hungry. I did help him finish the platter, which was very pretty and really good.


Onion Soup.

I seem to eat a lot of duck when I eat out, probably because it's one of those things that Len refuses to eat and it is more effort than I will put into cooking for myself.
 Duck breast.

This duck breast was cooked perfectly, with a wine-reduction sauce, haricot vert, and potatoes. I'm pretty sure I staggered back to our room after dinner.

 I ate a lot of fish while I was in Australia, some which I had never eaten. John Dory was one I wanted to try, since Gordon Ramsey constantly has his chefs make it. Turns out that it is a white fish, not that different from some we have here, but very popular in Australia.

I did contemplate trying kangaroo, despite my general ban on red meat in my life. Unfortunately, the only place I saw it on a menu was as carpaccio, which I decided would not necessarily be a good start. So no 'roo this time.

We found a really good Chinese place near our hotel, where we ate after our excursion to the Blue Mountains. The plan had been to eat at a favorite restaurant of my friends' out there, but Len suddenly didn't feel well, so we went back to Sydney. The prices at the Chinese restaurant were higher than we'd expect to pay here, but the dishes were quite good and the staff attentive. Since we were in the financial district, it was very quiet on a weekday night.

I never did get to a proper tea, but my friend Sharyn and I stopped for some morning refreshment at a shop in this big Victorian building, filled with all kinds of interesting small shops. The scones were different from those I've eaten before. Tender, rather than flaky or dry. I picked up a small cookbook with tea recipes (books are also expensive) at the Museum of Sydney, so I hope a recipe in that replicates Australian scones.

Coffee was an experience. The Aussies take their coffee very seriously. Hugh Jackman is so serious about it that he opened a coffee shop in New York. I'm still not sure what a "flat white" is, because my drink of choice was chai, but poor Len could not get a coffee shop to produce a drink they way he likes it here. It was pretty funny. Coffee prices were remarkably similar to here, by the way. Starbucks is failing miserably over there, again because Aussies take their coffee seriously and they don't like "Charbucks."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler

It's Mardi Gras, and this is the second King Cake I've made in two days. One was for the Sunday Super Supper Squad, celebrating the season and the Oscars. This one went to work with me this morning.

I used a box mix from Mam Papaul's. The kit comes complete with colored sugars and a plastic baby to put under the baked cake (I do not have a ceramic baby to bake in the cake; I hear some people use dried beans.) It is often carried by Cost Plus World Market, though perhaps it is not in stock at the moment. I try to buy mine early.

Saveur has a recipe for a King Cake which looks fairly simple to make. Both are raised brioche doughs. Unlike the cake above, which has a praline filling augmented by pecans, the Saveur cake has a cream cheese filling. You can find it here.

I've never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I was there once for Halloween, and that cured me of the notion to go to New Orleans for the bigger party. I'm not big on crowds, especially drunk crowds. Tonight, we will eat from Sunday's leftovers of shrimp jambalaya, vegetarian gumbo, red beans and rice, and courtbouillon. There's a part of me that would like to make a Hurricane, but it's a school night and I can't over-sleep in the morning.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Comfort Food

Two weeks ago, we had a little competition in our kitchen for the best spaghetti carbonara. My husband has a recipe he's been making for years and one of our acquired daughters challenged him with her rendition (she, like me, is Italian-American.) It was a pig-out night. Here is Len Wein's recipe:

8-10 slices of bacon
4 regular Italian sausages (or 1/2 lb. sausage meat)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2-1cup Half-n-Half
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly ground nutmeg to taste

1 lb. uncooked spaghetti or linguini 
1 T. Salt
2 T. Oil
8 qts. Boiling water

Slice bacon into 1" pieces. In a large skillet, sauté until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and set it aside on a plate. Squeeze the sausage from casings or use unencased sausage and sauté in bacon fat, breaking up the ground sausage as you cook. Sauté for about 10 minutes over medium-to-low heat until cooked through. Add garlic and sauté briefly. Return bacon to the skillet.

While sautéing the meat, cook the pasta according to package directions in the boiling water to which the salt and oil have been added until done. Drain spaghetti and return to empty pot. Toss with meat mixture & bacon grease until well coated. Make a well in the center of the pasta, break the eggs into it and quickly scramble the eggs and coat the pasta. Toss in the grated cheese. Add about half the Half-n-Half and mix over low heat. As the liquid is absorbed, add the remainder. Add black pepper & nutmeg. When the pasta is plated, sprinkle with more Parm.

There's room for plenty of variation. Olivia used more bacon, no sausage, and no cream. Tonight, we had no sausage, but there was a container of diced pancetta n the refrigerator, so we used that. Try to not burn the bacon. I prefer to use freshly grated imported Parm. Olivia used Parm and Romano, which added a nice salty taste.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Tarnishing the Brand

Yesterday was a run-through for Thanksgiving dinner, which means not everything had to be traditional. For example, I did not stuff the turkey, hoping to spend less time working on it on Sunday. Instead, my husband and I each made stuffing that we baked separately. That worked out just fine, but I doubt he'll go along with it for Thanksgiving itself.

Since I picked up a fresh turkey at Costco on Friday, I decided to try a dry rub instead of a brine and I used the mix I found in the February issue of Bon Appetit, with star anise, fennel seeds, fresh thyme, hot pepper flakes, brown sugar and kosher salt. The rub worked well and everyone enjoyed the turkey. Unfortunately, the rub proved too much for the Cuisinart Spice and Nut Grinder I bought from Sur La Table.

I'd wanted an actual spice grinder for some time. When the coffee grinder was one of the losses from the house fire, I had an excuse to buy one made for spices. I think I had a discount at Sur La Table after taking a class and they had the Cuisinart in stock, so I bought it. Unfortunately, I can't remember when exactly I bought it (certainly within the past two years, because it did not precede the purchase of the new house.) I did not actually use it until Saturday.

It ground to a complete and utter stop. I thought it might have just overheated, so I let it cool off. Dead as a door knob.

I am very disappointed. I suspect it is too late to return it. I no longer have the box, although I guarantee I've got the receipt somewhere in a box. I own a lot of products with the Cuisinart name--I still have my original food processor, purchased in 1978, and it works just fine. But this item did not live up to expectations.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Roasted Radishes

Every year, I like to try a new dish at Thanksgiving to add to the standbys. Four or five years ago, I learned how to make a sweet potato souffle, which has been a huge success and beats the hell out of the sweet potatoes with marshmallows everyone seems to expect and then won't eat. This year, I gave roasted radishes a try. I'm still stunned by the approval ratings.

The dish was prompted by the many bunches of radishes that were arriving twice a month in my farm box. Like fresh tomatoes, I think I'm the only person in my house who will eat the fresh radishes, so they were piling up in the refrigerator. I stumbled upon a recipe on-line and realized it would be a quick fix during the busy prep that is Thanksgiving. It also turns out to give a lovely burst of color to the table and it could not be easier.

Remove the greenery and long root from three bunches of radishes and scrub the bulbs. Coat the radishes with a layer of olive oil and spread on a roasting pan. Generously sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh herbs (thyme and rosemary are good choices.) Stick the pan in an available space in the oven (I think I used a temperature of 375F, but I've seen 425F suggested.) Cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring as you have time, until tender but not mushy.

As I said, very easy. And very good.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NY Times Gets It Wrong

I just read a puzzling article in the New York Times. I haven't read all of the comments, but I did note that some people reacted the same way I did. They found the writer arrogant and annoying.

The writer is describing the differences in the way her parents eat versus the way she and her siblings eat. That's fine. I get that there can be differences. I remember the first time I took my mother to an Ethiopian restaurant close to 35 years ago. She liked the food--she's always been an adventurous eater, as was my father, and so were all of us kids--but she couldn't deal with the community platter and eating with her hands. It made me giggle.

What had me metaphorically hitting the roof was her assertion that her "baby boomer parents" served slop and glop starch, just like their frugal parents had done in the depression. Whoa!

I'm a baby boomer. I sure didn't eat that way as an adult. My parents were children during the depression, but that's not the way they ate either, and it sure as hell wasn't the way my grandparents ate. Just because your parents had no skills in the kitchen is not a reason to make ignorant sweeping generalities about other people of their age. It just shows that you don't know what you are talking about. Hence, an arrogant and annoying writer.

I grew up in an Italian-American family, with a little Czech thrown in on my father's side. My grandparents kept gardens and used wild foods like greens in their cooking. My Czech grandmother could stretch a strudel dough by hand. My Italian great-grandmother made wine in the unheated back room of the house. My father hunted and fished, and there was often venison on the table in the winter, trout in the summer.

Food was a great celebration and a lot of the convenience foods of the 1950s were banned from our household. We never had frozen dinners. My father specifically refused to have Chef Boiardi canned goods in the larder. There was less objection to Campbell's soup, but mac and cheese was made from dried pasta, not Kraft, and tuna noodle casserole was regular home made fare on meatless Fridays. My mother baked, I learned to bake. I started pouring over her cookbooks by the time I was about 10, teaching myself how to make doughnuts and pizza. It was a time when there was still required Home Ec in junior high, and even then I couldn't understand why boys weren't required to take it as well.

Sunday meals were filled with extended family and always included a pasta dish in addition to a main course. Often my grandmother would make the pasta by hand. As I have written elsewhere, the smell of flour and eggs always accompanies my thoughts of her. She died in 1962, and my mother still complains that her own stuffing or tomato sauce does not taste like her mother's.

Eating out was a challenge because options were limited to us near home. I came from a truly small town of about 4,000 people. There was a coffee shop for breakfast after church on Sundays (we collected the little containers that had jam to use as doll dishes), there was a "nicer" restaurant for special occassions, but the nearest pizza place was 30 miles away until after I went to college. I am now under the impression that having a pizza place nearby was pretty unusual until the 1960s, but that was not my experience. If my parents really wanted to celebrate, we'd go to Binghamton and eat at the Little Venice, which, contrary to its name, actually served southern Italian food. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, no one knew what northern Italian food was.

My parents had met through mutual friends who were Greek-Americana, which introduced us to a different kind of ethnic cooking at an early age. I first learned how to make Greek food to impress a college beau, and it remains one of my favorite cuisines, along with its close relations in middle-eastern foods.

When I went to college on Long Island, and then, like the writer of the article, moved to New York City after college, the vast array of world cuisines was suddenly available to me. As an editorial assistant, my lunch generally alternated between the $1.50 lunch specials at Shalimar (Indian) and Cedars of Lebanon, each around different corners of my office. There was a Spanish (not Mexican) restaurant a few block from my apartment where I once saw Norman Mailer having dinner. Ararat was a special-occasion Turkish place, memorable for its sweet, thick coffee. I had my first experience with sushi and shabu-shabu because a photographer friend loved all things Japanese (I now have a son with the same obsession.) As everybody should, I have a story about the Russian Tea Room. New York has perhaps the greatest variety of food in the world (even when I lived there), which is probably far different from San Antonio of the Times writer's childhood. (It's been about 15 years since I visited San Antonio, and I had some terrific meals along the waterway.)

I too lived briefly in the San Francisco area, and there's still not pizza that compares with what you can get on any street in New York. But I was blown away by the Chinese restaurants, not limited to the Cantonese fare of the New York of my youth. I first had potstickers and hot and sour soup at a cooking demonstration at the Lou Henry Hoover House at Stanford. I was taken to Sam Woo's and entertained by the legendary Edsel Ford Fong and had noodles I've never found anywhere else.

So, Amy Chozick, as a friend of mine said, you are a food snob, and your premise, blaming the uninspired food of your childhood on your baby-boomer parents being raised by Depression-era survivors is wrong. Let me suggest a few other things: your grandmother, like my late ex-mother-in-law, was raised by someone from a white-bread culture who never learned to cook interesting food or was limited by the foods available in their area. I have found that many of my friends, whose families' time in this county greatly exceed the 100-125 that my families have been here, were raised on food that reflects that of your child hood. More recent immigrants are more likely to serve ethnic fare. Maybe your mother learned to cook in a Home Ec class, which had cookbooks provided by the gas or electric company and was heavy on the frozen or convenience foods of the 1950s and 1960s, or maybe, like a number of the well-educated, full-time working women I met when I lived in Washington, she just never learned.

What does the well-educated woman make for dinner? Reservations. Perhaps that wasn't practical for your mother, with a growing family in a pre-foodie-culture city. I raised my son, whom I suspect is around the same age as Ms. Chozick, to be an adventurous eater. He grew up eating sushi, Chinese, Indian, Turkish, Greek, Lebanese, Mexican and Italian foods. That was easily accomplished in the Washington, D.C. suburbs of the 1980s.

I cannot tell you how many women I've known who were amazed that I did all of my dinner party cooking myself. I still meet contemporaries who marvel that I enjoy cooking. There is a crowd of people at my dinner table most Sunday nights who love the way this baby boomer cooks. So the problem, Ms. Chozick, isn't the baby boomers. I suggest you eat a little crow for your next meal and be nicer to your parents.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Separation Anxiety

My son gets very nervous when he has to separate eggs. I was taught to use the two halves of the shell method. The link shows you what is, without a doubt, the simplest, most tidy way I have ever seen to separate an egg. I recommend that you just open a fresh bottle of water and empty it out before you try to do this. I'm not sure I'd trust how clean the bottle would be after drinking from it, no matter how hard you scrub. Using a plastic bottle to separate an egg.

I'm almost tempted to bake an angel food cake, just to give it try. There is little as much fun as applying science to your baking (creating a vacuum is what sucks in the yolk, if you weren't aware.)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Duplex on Third

Len had to go to Cedars for some tests today, so I decided we'd take advantage of our location to try lunch at Duplex on Third Street, directly across from the hospital complex. We were not disappointed.
The restaurant has been open just about a month, and my friend Vanessa DiSteffano is the pastry chef. Our waiter let her know we were seated out on the veranda and she soon popped on by to say hello. She looked and sounded very happy.
Seviche at Duplex on Third.
We asked for menu recommendations and she said the seviche was very popular. I decided to give it a try along with the gazpacho to make a meal. Len decided to try the roast beef sandwich after Vanessa said they cooked everything in house.

Vanessa sent over two desserts from her menu for us to try: brioche beignets with a Valhrona  chocolate center and a panna cotta with apricots. If I can figure out how to import them, they eventually will show up here. Both were delicious. I'm looking forward to trying the crab cakes the next time I visit.

Getting the pictures that I took on my iPod over to this blog has been a challenge. I could get them to upload to Facebook, but not to Blogger. If anyone has a clue why this would be so,  please let me know.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Return to Sur la Table, Part 2

As it came up on June, I realized that I had a personal leave day that I hadn't used and I would lose if I didn't take it before the end of the month. I tried to take it when my friend Melinda was in town, but her plans changed and I didn't want to waste it by hanging around my house. Not that I don't have plenty to do around my house, but I wanted to really enjoy the day. So, when I saw a class called "Celebrating Julia Child" that Vanessa DiSteffano was teaching on a Friday at Sur la Table, I thought it would be an excellent way to spend part of the day. Even better, I called my friend Susan Ellison who loved the idea of going with me.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Julia's birth. Like many people, I remember her early shows on public television and the skewering she got from Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live. Merle Streep got her distinctive voice down pat for Julie & Julia a few years ago. While classic French technique was not part of my culinary self-training, that movie did inspire me to give it a try when Bon Appetit did an August article about Julia and the movie, with some of her classic recipes. I bought a copy of Julia's famous tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, when I started rebuilding my cookbook collection after our fire. (I find it somewhat intimidating, but incredibly informative.)

My first step in learning classic French technique was to take two knife skills classes at Sur la Table (I sent my husband and son to one as well, and Michael has great knife skills because of it.) I don't do a lot of French cooking and we don't eat at many French restaurants, but I have to admit I'm always impressed by the food.

The menu for "Celebrating Julia Child" was Bouillabaisse with Clams, Mussels and Fresh Salt-Water Fish; Puff Pastry Tart of Heirloom Tomatoes, Eggplant, Caramelized Leeks and Gruyere Cheese; Cognac Flamed Breast of Duckling a l'Orange; and Grand Marnier Soufflé. Vanessa arranged the class so that we all got to work on each dish on the menu. (This is not always the case at Sur la Table. Depending on the menu, participants may only work on one or two of the dishes.)
Susan Ellison with our two team mates for "Celebrating Julia Child."
Our working group consisted of Susan and me and a pair of good friends who were spending the day together for fun like we were.  Susan is British and is a lot more competent in the kitchen than she sometimes lets on, but I think she favors baking over cooking, much as my son does.
Bouillabaisse simmering in the pot.
Bouillabaisse ready to be eaten.
 The bouillabaisse came together so quickly, I forgot to take photographs of the stew in process. Basically, the aromatics were chopped and cooked, liquid was added, the fish was cleaned and added, and a few minutes later, we ate.
Mise en place for the vegetable tart.
 The vegetable tart was a lot more steps. The puff pastry shell needed to be blind baked. 
Prepping the thawed puff pastry.
Blind-baked puff pastry cooling.
The vegetables and cheese needed preparation.
Sauteed leeks.
Cooking the eggplant with the leeks.
Filling the tart.

A layer of goat cheese.

The tomato layer.
Adding sardines prior to baking.
The garnish needed a special cut.
A chiffonade of fresh basil to be added to the finished tart.
The finished tart.
All done!
And then it was on to the duck breast. I love duck. I felt very lucky to have it for two of the memorable meals I ate in Chicago earlier this year when I went to see my sister. Since it is not something Len likes, I'm unlikely to make it at home. It was much less intimidating learning how to do it at the class. And rendered duck fat is like making gold.
Prepared duck breasts, fat side down to start.
When they easily release, flip them once. Look at all that lovely fat. Think of sauteed potatoes.
The duck breasts were sliced and combined on one platter.
Vanessa prepares the sauce for the duck breast.
Flambeing the sauce.
Finishing the duck.
The other potentially intimidating aspect of this menu is the souffle. My big souffle production is usually limited to the sweet potato souffle I make for Thanksgiving, which isn't that hard and I don't give too much thought to it falling. The Grand Marnier Souffle was actually quite easy. My usual concern is the incorporation of everything without deflating the lovely egg-whites, but we definitely got through it.
Souffle batter.
Filling the baking ramekins.
This is one of the classes that ran late, because, of course, you must eat your results before leaving. We used to be able to take left-overs home, but the City started making noise and the company became concerned about food safety if students didn't properly store the food properly in transit. So we had a very nice lunch.
Our buffet.
Sur la Table is offering several other Celebrating Julia cooking classes over the next few months (it is actually a recurring theme) with different menus. Check out their on-line cooking class listings to find one near you. Taking a class at my local Sur la Table also means that I get a discount coupon which can be used for a week when shopping in the store. In California, it usually just covers our sales tax, but I'm happy to have it. I picked up a couple of nice goodies for my kitchen, including a 2 gallon drink dispenser with a blue-glass lid and some more pieces of Le Creuset which were already on sale (adding to my savings.)

Michael wants to take a class with me that focuses on preserving. He particularly wants to learn how to make jams and jellies. There's a class coming up at the end of next month which should be perfect, but I'm waiting to see what's available when the September and October schedules are posted to see what kind of seasonal fruit they'll be doing. That way, we might be able to start working on Christmas baskets. Bon appetit!