Tuesday, November 29, 2005

leftovers sandwich

one of the first dinner parties i ever hosted was with mara, in the june of 1996. we had graduated from college only days before, and were still high on the fumes of celebration, accomplishment, and comraderie (just around the corner were reality, confusion and, well, ohio, but that's another story). we hosted a small dinner at her parents' comfortable and lovely house in massachusetts and carefully planned a menu of north african carrot soup and lamb salad with cornichons. knowing mara, she also made an elaborate and delicious dessert but i cannot remember it now. we shopped at a local market, picking only the finest ingredients and purchasing a container of the at-the-time-unknown-to-me creme fraiche. it felt very adult. and yet i imagine we used our parents' credit cards.

the dinner party was a success--we set a formal table, and we topped off the meal with a moonlit walk, all 8 or so of us getting lost a few miles away and accepting a hilariously overpacked ride home from a neighbor. the next day, for lunch, we ate leftover lamb salad wrapped in flour tortillas and i discovered the beauty of a "leftovers sandwich."
1) the flavors have had time to marinate and deepen.
2) almost anything, put on a sandwich, is a good idea.
3) with that sandwich come the memories of the first eating, so that the day after our successful and exhilarating party, we got to experience the evening all over again.

the traditional leftovers sandwich, of course, is the day-after-thanksgiving sandwich. my favorite was last year's: a crusty ciabatta roll, a whole-grain mustard, turkey slices, cranberry sauce, and mashed sweet potatoes, eaten perched on a high stool near a roaring fire. if you haven't already done so, make yourself one, before your leftovers go bad--or run out.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

good gravy

the organic turkey was delicious. there was a humorus episode in which i unwrapped it and decided it smelled funky, mom ran to the the neighbor, who speaks very little english, neighbor thought we were asking her to prepare the turkey for us, and gamely began rinsing it, poking it, etc. we finally conveyed our concerns about smell at which point she nodded, patted the turkey, and exclaimed brightly: "it's natural!" which indeed it was.

my guide that day was a stack of "cook's illustrated" magazines. i had a subscription for about two years and only used it once or twice. decided i would go through every single one and find some gems. i made a cook's illustrated gravy, from scratch, which was certainly the most professional gravy i have ever made (samuel and i gleefully swapped gravy stories the next day; only once you've done it do you know this feeling of pride). i made smashed potatoes , for which the secret ingredient was cream cheese. i made baked acorn squash with brown sugar glaze, for which the secret ingredient was the microwave. cornbread mushroom stuffing came courtesy of martha stewart, my favorite jailbird/celebrity homemaker.

wendy carved the turkey for me, like she always does. mom made her always good cranberry sauce and excellent mushroom barley soup, joan made terrific walnut string beans, and we had more pies than we knew what to do with.

i am still having issues with how to get everything the right temperature at these shindigs, but if i am lucky, i'll have a lifetime to get it right.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

giving thanks

thanksgiving has come at just the right time. see, i have not been feeling very thankful. in truth, the phrase: "how come everything i touch turns to shit?" actually went through my brain the other day. i realized, even in the moment, that this was a nadir.

so, in an effort to remind myself of all the things i have to be thankful for, a list. 26 items, one for each letter of the alphabet.

A is for apples from the farmers market.

B is for buddy, my dog-cat.

C is for cobble hill. quiet and beautiful, my new lovely home.

D is for "the dying gaul," a movie that amazed me. deeply beautiful and deeply flawed.

E is for ethan, my brother.

F is for my friends, who are top-notch.

G is for gastronomy, which brings me joy (see "J").

H is for hot chocolate.

I is for the island of manhattan, which though i have left it, i still love.

J is for joy, when and where i find it, which is more often than i realize or acknowledge.

K is for klemperer, jerusha. will try to be thankful that i am me.

L is for laurie, for her life advice and listening (that's several L's)

M is for the middle eastern market, sahadis, my neighborhood market.

N is for new technology, such as my new ipod, new ibook, new silicon baking tins.

O is for opportunity, which even though i am having trouble seeing it, i know is out there (kinda like the tooth fairy...).

P is for pretzel croissants from city bakery.

Q is for quiche, which i love to make, and love to eat.

R is for running, which i can do now, despite my belief a few years ago that my knee would never heal well enough for it.

S is for seymour, my lap cat.

T is for the organic free-range turkey that we will enjoy on thursday. this is me putting my money where my mouth is.

U is for upheaval, in a good way.

V is for deborah madison's "vegetarian cooking for everyone," a terrific staple of my cookbook library.

W is for wine. wit. words.

X is for expression, the gift of which i do possess and must remember to use.

Y is for yoga, and what it does for my body.

Z is for sleep, which is easy, quiet and plentiful in my new home.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

home cooking

in one short day, i loved someone and lost her. my old boss and I were chatting by our desks one day a few years ago, when the conversation came around to food (this happens a lot with me).

"you know who you'd love?" she asked, "laurie colwin."

she lent me her copy of a slim paperback called "home cooking." colwin's writing reminded me of emails from mara, of short stories by lorrie moore, of the musings of a good friend i never knew i had. she does not write about restaurants or caviar or filet mignon. as the title suggests, every meal takes place in the small kitchen of her first, starter, NYC apartment. she argues against fancy kitchen gadgets and for dishes that remind one of childhood. she is witty, humble and knowledgeable.

i google searched my new best friend, excited to learn about her other books and her life today. perhaps some part of me hoped i'd end up in her kitchen making bread with her, cracking silly jokes and getting flour in our hair. i was devastated to discover that she had died young, several years earlier, leaving behind a husband and a small child. mourning my loss, i devoured "more home cooking," a collection which was published after her death.

two nights ago i made a supper for myself that included "squash tian," a colwin "recipe" that actually just reads like a paragraph. it has become an old favorite of mine and is perfect in the fall when the butternut squash is at its best. it is absolutely simple and terrifically delicious. vintage colwin, you might say.

squash tian

for squash tian, proportions aren't the issue, method is; but for 4 people you probably need about 2 big butternuts, or 4 of the sweeter medium-sized delicatas. peel, seed, and cut the squash into 1-inch chunks. shake the chunks in a bag of flour, shaking off the excess flour, and put them into an oiled or buttered shallow baking dish. scatter the squash with about 1/4 cup good parmesan; 1 large garlic clove, minced; and pepper to taste. drizzle the tian with about 1/4 to 1/3 cup best olive oil and put into a preheated 400 degree oven. the oven must be really hot, or instead of a crispy topped, melting dish, you will end up with a sodden mess-- trust me, i have had this happen. bake the tian for 30-40 minutes. i myself would be very happy to eat this with salad, but as we do not necessarily live by vegetables alone, something else must be provided...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

what's up with organics?

i try to buy organic dairy. it's widely available, and therefore requires no extra effort, only slightly more money. organic veggies are harder to come by, and organic meat, unless you're cooking for yourself, is pretty hard to procure. i feel strongly about eating organic, and yet my daily practice is less than stellar. it's similar to the distance between my attitude and my practice on the issue of vegetarianism. i have been known not to practice what i preach (along those lines: while waiting for my indian takeout tonight, i picked up a tatterred old issue of "real simple," april 2005 and read a great piece by jonathan safran foer about his ever-changing relationship to food, vegetarianism, and identity. it reminded me of my own feelings, and was beautifully written).

the usda recently passed some new guidelines on the definitions of what is technically to be considered organic, only to have it overturned immediately by the organic trade association. there's been lots of resulting buzz about organic food in the media lately, and i have felt the need to become more informed.

last weekend i attended a baum forum event called "what's up with organics?" i attended an earlier symposium of theirs, last winter, on susatinable agriculture. hilary baum routinely gathers those people who are at the heart of these issues and creates panels that, in their diversity, look at issue from many sides. she includes scientists, farmers, administrators, educators, and business people.

i learned an incredible amount this past weekend. rather than boring you with details i will give you a few highlights:

1. the pesticides found in conventional foods present "unknown health risks." whereas this is slightly more heartening than hearing that they are directly connected to cancer, the word "unknown" is scary to me. and just because something has not ben proven yet, does not mean that the results found someday will not be terrifyingly huge and profound.

2. if given the choice, buy organic valley instead of horizon. horizon, like many other organic brands, is owned by giant agribusiness company dean foods. organic valley is an independently owned farmers' coop.

3. along the same vein: boca is owned by kraft, odwalla is owned by coca cola, stonyfield by danone, kashi by morningstar, etc etc etc. this was a real eye-opener for me.

4. many farmers are angered by the usda's regualtion of organics, and are repelled by the notion that you could call something "organic" and still have 5% synthetics in it. as a result, some farmers have rejected the term organic entirely.

i could go on and on. and i plan to. not go on ranting to you, but go on educating myself, and furthering my commitments, and lessening the gap between what i believe and say, and what i do.

p.s. i bought a mac. and now the settings on here are all screwy. hence the cessation of uniform type, color, style etc.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

je suis so french

picking a place on the globe and fashioning an entire dinner as though eating there, is a favorite planning technique of mine. i am not proficient enough at any particular kind of cuisine to stick with one geographical locale. and so was born: mexican night. greek night. you get the picture.

yesterday, monday night was brasserie night, pour ma maman et mon frere. on le menu were lentil salad with lardons and fried egg, onion soup, brie/sausage and bread, and steamed asparagus. the lentil salad is from gourmet magazine apparently, though i found it on epicurious,

3/4 cup lentils (the small green kind, called "french lentils")
6 oz. thick cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch strips
(i used regular thin cut bacon and it was perfectly good, but lacked that vrai lardon quality)
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh chopped tarragon
1 tbsp olive oile
(if your dinner is like mine, some people will want eggs, some will not. make one egg per person, for those who want)

cover lentils with cold water by 2 inches in a sauce pan. simmer, uncovered until just tender, about 20 minutes.

blanch asparagus in boiling water for about three minutes, until bright green, then shock with an ice bath

while lentils are simmering, cook the bacon in a skillet, and try not to burn yourself with flying bacon grease. once bacon is crisp, fish it out and drain on paper towels, leaving the grease in the pan.

add the leeks, carrots and celery and cook until just tender. add the red wine vinegar and cook until most of it evaporates. remove from skillet and add tarragon, half of the bacon, salt and pepper to taste. transfer to a bowl and keep warm and covered. don't clean the skillet; there is still bacon-y goodness there to exploit.

drain lentils and mix with veggies.

add a drop of oil to the skillet and fry up however many eggs you'll need, over easy.

put a blob of lentil salad, covered with an egg, with asparagus spears on the side.

put on a beret, pop in the "best of edith piaf," giggle to yourself over the brilliance of monsieur jerry lewis, and dig in!