One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.
Laurie Colwin

Monday, July 20, 2015

Eggplant Parmesan

Melissa Clark wrote a piece for the NYTimes last winter, Parmigiana Dishes to Warm Weary Souls.   It's definitely worth your time to read it.  If you do, be sure to watch the video of her making cauliflower parmesan; you will get a good idea of her technique.  She uses panko when she makes Parmesan; I use plain dried breadcrumbs, 4C brand preferred.

This is not the Eggplant Parmesan you would make if you were using Marcella Hazan's recipe in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking or eating in Italy.  It is a version of Eggplant Parmesan attributable to the Italian-American immigrants who arrived in America in large numbers between the 1880's and the 1920's.  My own grandmother was born in 1897 in her family's apartment at 193 Mott Street, New York City.  She was the youngest of eight children, and the first to be born here, making her the first natural-born American in my family as my mother was from England.  "Nanny" was a good cook and made fried eggplant often, but I don't remember her ever making eggplant parmesan. Homemade manicotti, yes; eggplant parmesan, no.

Layer Eggplant like Tiles
In my opinion the best place to get Parmesan cheese in New York City is DiPalo Fine Foods at 200 Grand Street, two blocks south from where my grandmother was born.  It's often packed with customers, so be sure to arrive with your patience intact, and don't forget to take a number as you enter the store.  The quality products and personal service are worth the wait.  (While you are there, you might want to get a box of DiPalo's round cheese ravioli, made with their own creamy ricotta.)

Eggplant Parmesan
Adapted from Melissa Clark, NYTimes

Serves 4 with leftovers

A little butter
1 recipe of NYTimes Cooking Simple Tomato Sauce
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella
1 to ½ cups of grated Parmesan cheese (Get the really good stuff; don’t skimp here.  The amount you use will depend on how fluffy you grate it.  I use a classic Microplane so it is very light and fluffy.) 
6 large eggs
Wondra Flour (Use Wondra, not all-purpose flour; it is granular, which helps keep the breading from being too heavy.)
Plain dried breadcrumbs (Do not use seasoned breadcrumbs)
Vegetable oil (I use peanut oil)

Either make the Simple Tomato Sauce and let it cool before proceeding with layering the ingredients, or make it ahead.  Put the sauce into a bowl.

Beat 6 eggs and put them through a strainer into a small bowl.  Don’t skip this step; it makes the breadcrumbs adhere smoothly to the eggplant.   It's a small thing that makes a big difference. 

Wash and dry the eggplant; don't peel it.  Cut the eggplant into slices about ⅓-inch thick or a little thicker.

Set up your station to bread the eggplant - one plate with Wondra, one plate with the beaten and strained eggs, one plate with plain dried breadcrumbs.  

Liberally season the flour with salt and pepper, and stir with a fork to mix thoroughly.

Coat the eggplant first with the Wondra, then with the eggs, and finally with the breadcrumbs, setting the breaded pieces of eggplant on a platter as you go along.

When the eggplant pieces are all coated, shallow fry them in vegetable oil (I use peanut oil) until golden-brown on each side.  Be careful not to burn them.  Place each piece of browned eggplant on another platter as you go along until all of the eggplant is done.

While the eggplant cools a little:  

Grate the mozzarella on the large holes of a hand-held box grater.  I use a Microplane Box Grater; the large holes are "cupped," and make easy work of grating the cheese.  Put the grated cheese on a plate.

Grate the Parmesan cheese on a classic Microplane.  Put it on another plate.

Assemble everything within easy reach - the sauce, the two cheeses, and the platter of eggplant. 

Take a casserole 3-inches deep - I use a Pyrex 11-cup casserole (easy to find in the grocery store) - and butter it.  Then add in this order (1) a thin layer of sauce, (2) a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, (3) slices of eggplant, (4) grated mozzarella, and start over again.

The order is:

Parmesan cheese
Parmesan cheese
Parmesan cheese
And so on.....

Do as many layers as will fit in the casserole, ending with sauce and Parmesan cheese.  Do not end with mozzarella.  By the time I am done, I have used all of the sauce and all of the mozzarella.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 40 minutes or until the eggplant is bubbling all the way through.  Let rest at room temperature for ten minutes before cutting to serve.

Before Going into the Oven - Parmesan Cheese on Top
Print recipe.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Simple Tomato Sauce

Adapted from NYTimes Cooking

NYTimes Cooking is available at this time without charge to anyone who wants to use it.  As a reader of the NYTimes who looks forward every Wednesday to the food section, I find NYTimes Cooking to be a treasure trove of recipes, and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone willing to listen.  The site is user-friendly; it's easy to save recipes, print recipes, share recipes, and email recipes.  Poke around and see if you like it too.

When I make tomato sauce for pasta, it's usually very plain with few ingredients, and I don't use tomatoes packed in puree.  My favorite tomato sauce (and I am not alone in this) is Marcella's Sauce with Tomato and Onion.  I also like Luisa's Pasta with Ricotta, which she hid in plain sight here.  (I'm not alone liking this one either.)  But when I was perfecting a recipe for Eggplant Parmesan based on Melissa Clark's Parmigiana Dishes to Warm Weary Souls, I decided to try the tomato sauce she recommended, Simple Tomato Sauce.  This is now the sauce I use for Eggplant Parmesan, which is a great recipe, especially for a dinner party as you can do all the work ahead.

For Simple Tomato Sauce I like to use two 28-ounce cans of Italian tomatoes in puree with the letters DOP on the label, which in English means Protected Designation of Origin.  There is some controversy about whether or not this designation indicates superior tomatoes or not; I find them to be good, but you might want to read what Serious Eats has to say on the matter.

Simple Tomato Sauce
Adapted from NYTimes Cooking

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 28-ounce can Italian Tomatoes packed in puree (I use tomatoes with the label DOP)
2 sprigs basil (optional - If you have them, use them, but if you don't, do not substitute dried basil.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Put the tomatoes in a large bowl and crush them using your fingers.  Do not do this in a blender or food processor as it will make them too fine.  If the tomatoes have been packed with basil leaves, remove and discard them.

Warm the oil in a 4-quart non-reactive sauté pan, and add the garlic slices.  Cook until the slices turn slightly/barely gold; watch carefully, don't let them color too much or burn.  If you do, you have to start over. Add the crushed red pepper flakes, and cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in the contents of the bowl with the crushed tomatoes, add the basil if you are using it and the salt and pepper.

Bring sauce to a simmer, and taste to check the seasoning.  Add a little more salt if necessary.  Cook at a steady simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary, until the tomatoes have thickened into a sauce that is not at all watery, but not jammy either.  This will take about 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove from the heat and discard the basil if you used it.

If you are using this sauce to make Eggplant Parmesan, let it cool to room temperature before proceeding with layering the ingredients.

Print recipe.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Shrimp Roasted with Garlic and Parsley

Adapted from Make It Ahead by Ina Garten

As I was waiting for the elevator, a new tenant came into the building, picked up her mail, and came to stand by me.  She was holding a small cardboard package from Amazon.  I introduced myself and said, “It’s so much fun to get a new book.”  “Yes,” she said.  “I’m sure it’s Ina Garten’s newest.”  I replied that I had already received mine as it was pre-ordered, but I wasn’t too crazy about it.

She looked at me and said “I used to work for her.”

Open mouth; insert foot.  I felt stupid, AND I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I have now made two recipes from the book, Garlic & Herb Roasted Shrimp and Make-Ahead Zabaglione with Amaretii, and both of them are really good recipes, definitely keepers.  Two for two means there must be a lot more in the book that I am going to like.

Ina Garten’s recipes have, for me, always been so reliable that I would be willing to make them for a dinner party untested.  If I had a daughter who liked to cook, I would give her one book for every occasion that came along until she had a complete set.  And this book, Make It Ahead, would certainly be included.

Shrimp Before It Goes Into the Oven

Shrimp After It Comes Out of the Oven
With my thanks – and apologies – to the always-reliable Ina Garten, here is my adaptation of the shrimp recipe I made last night, which will replace the shrimp scampi recipe I have used for years.  There are so many side dishes that would go well with this dish, but I do highly recommended crusty French bread to dip into the delicious sauce you end up with.

Shrimp Roasted with Garlic and Parsley
Adapted from Make It Ahead by Ina Garten

Serves 2

2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon (3 cloves) minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
A few generous grindings of black pepper (or to taste)
1 pound large shrimp (I only buy shrimp from the USA)
1 large lemon
½ teaspoon of Maldon Salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the shrimp, rinse in a small colander, and set aside.  (Personally, I don’t devein it.)

In a 10-inch black iron skillet, melt the butter.  Turn off the heat, and add the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes (crushing them a little with your fingers as you put them in).  Turn the heat back on, and cook over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes.  Do not let the garlic even color. 

Remove the pan from the burner, and zest the entire lemon directly into the pan.  Slice three  ¼-inch slices from one half of the lemon, and set them aside with the other unsliced half. 

Next, stir the parsley into the sauce, and add the shrimp in a single layer.  Stir to coat it well with the sauce, and season with the kosher salt and black pepper.  Stir one more time, making sure the shrimp stays in a single layer.  Tuck the 3 slices of lemon among the shrimp.

Put the skillet into the hot oven, and cook until the shrimp are just cooked through, to pink and just firm. I don’t brown them at all.  The amount of time this takes will depend on the size of the shrimp and the accuracy of your oven temperature.  The size shrimp I use are normally cooked in a hot oven in 8 to 10 minutes, but it could take even longer if the shrimp are really big, so keep checking. You don’t want to overcook them because they will get rubbery. The deliciousness of this dish depends on the quality of the shrimp and not overcooking it.

Crush the Maldon Salt over the shrimp right before serving.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Simple Beef Stew

Adapted from The Kitchn Cookbook by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand and Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

Jennifer and Amy
When Amy was visiting recently, her friend Jennifer came to dinner. As she was leaving, she looked at my bookshelf and noticed that I had all of Laurie Colwin's books sitting there, side by side.

I discovered Laurie Colwin back in 1989 when I picked up a copy of Home Cooking at the (then) tiny Barnes & Noble on East 86th Street. Once I found her, I read everything of hers I could get my hands on and was stunned - and saddened - when she died in her sleep from an aortic aneurysm in October 1992.  She was 48 years old; three years and two days older than I.

When I worked in Chelsea, I used to walk down the street from the General Theological Seminary and wonder which was the house she had lived in.  Where had she lived with her husband Juris, played with her daughter Rosa, cooked for friends?

There are so many quotes of hers I remember at odd times of the day and night, but this is my favorite:
I love to eat out, but even more, I love to eat in.  The best dinner party I ever went to was a black-tie affair to celebrate a book, catered by the author's sister...
When the food appeared at this party I could scarcely contain my delight.  It was home food!  The most delicious kind:  a savory beef stew with olives and buttered noodles, a plain green salad with a wonderful dressing, and some runny cheese and chocolate mousse for dessert.  Heaven!
From Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin 
If you have yet to discover Laurie Colwin, you're in for a treat.  All her books are still in print, and Open Road Media has published them in e-book format.   In addition to Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, which are the collected columns she wrote for Gourmet magazine, she wrote stories and novels.  Every two years or so I re-read the novels I like best, Happy All the Time and Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object.

The Kitchn adapted this recipe from Home Cooking, and I have adapted it further.

The Kitchn's recipe and Laurie Colwin's recipe calls for 1-inch cubes of russet potatoes to be added with the other vegetables; however, I don't add potatoes.  I feel they thicken the stew too much, and crumble into leftovers when reheating.  If I wanted to eat this with potatoes, I would steam red or white creamer potatoes cut in half, and toss them with butter to serve with the stew, not in the stew.

This stew is delicious served with - not over - polenta or, my favorite, Quaker Old Fashioned Grits (not quick-cooking) mounted with lots of butter and heavy cream.  Good sides are buttered green beans and watercress and radish salad dressed with a vinaigrette.  I like Julia Moskin's French Vinaigrette.

Mutti Polpo and Passata

Simple Beef Stew
Adapted from The Kitchn Cookbook and Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

Serves 6 to 8

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika (Make sure it's not stale, and use the best you can find.)
3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds beef chuck, grass-fed if you can get it, cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes
About 1/2 cup olive oil
1 scant tablespoon Wondra Flour
2 cups red wine (whatever you will drink with the stew)
14.5 ounces tomato puree or passata, which is the same thing.  (I like Mutti Passata)
1/4 cup tomato paste
14-ounce can of Italian tomatoes (I like Mutti Polpo* - finely chopped tomatoes.)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 garlic cloves, smashed
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Maldon Salt

*If you do not have Mutti Polpo, I suggest you use the dependable Muir Glen Whole Peeled Tomatoes with their juice, which you finely smush/chop in a bowl, using your fingers and/or kitchen shears.  Also, note that tomato puree/passata is not the same thing as canned tomato sauce.  Canned tomato sauce often has flavoring added to the tomatoes; for instance, Muir Glen adds onion powder and garlic powder.  If that's okay with you, go ahead and use it.  

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Combine the flour, paprika, and 2 teaspoons black pepper in a large bowl.  Toss in the beef cubes, a few at a time, and keep turning them over and over until they are completely and thickly covered in flour.  Set the cubes aside on a plate as you go along.  Keep each cube separate, not one on top of another.

Heat 2 to 3 glugs of olive oil in a black iron skillet.  Make sure the olive oil coats the bottom of the skillet evenly, and get it hot over medium heat.  Brown the cubes all over, and remove them one by one to another clean plate as you go along until they are all browned.  If the flour in the bottom of the skillet starts to burn at any time, clean it out, and start with fresh olive oil.  See Note.

Add enough olive oil to a large Dutch oven -  I use a 7-1/4 quart Le Creuset Round French Oven for this - and sprinkle in a little Wondra Flour - a scant tablespoon.  Cook, stirring; it does not have to brown.  You are not making roux; you just want to eliminate the taste of uncooked flour.

Add the red wine, tomato puree/passata, tomato paste, Italian tomatoes, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper.  Sitr, and cook until the sauce warms up and amalgamates, about 5 minutes.

Place half of the meat into the pot, followed by half of the smashed garlic cloves, half of the carrots, and half of the onions.  Add the remaining ingredients in the same order.  Top with the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf.

Cover the pot, and place it in the oven.  Cook for 2 hours and 40 minutes.  Remove the cover, and cook for 20 minutes more.  When done, sprinkle with a little Maldon Salt to finish.

Serve with grits, polenta, buttered noodles, or steamed and buttered halved creamer potatoes.


I deliberately do not brown the meat in the Dutch oven I am going to cook the stew in because I don't want to keep cleaning a heavy pot as the meat browns, and the flour on it burns in the bottom of the pot.  It's much easier to clean a skillet, if necessary, as I go along, and I usually do clean it out halfway through the browning of the meat.  If you decide to brown the meat directly in the Dutch oven to preserve the fond, 
instead of thickly coating it with all-purpose flour, lightly coat the beef with Wondra Flour,  and eliminate the step where you add Wondra Flour to olive oil in the pot.  That way there won't be as much flour to burn in the bottom of the pot .

Print recipe.

Browned Pieces of Beef

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Cooking is a Good Thing

There has been a profusion of writing lately about the horrors of cooking, especially dinner.   The first one I read, which I found here, made me sad.  The second one, which I read at The NewYork Times, annoyed me.  The third one, Why Cooking Sucks, which I found here, appalled me, particularly the part about two families spending summer vacations in one house on Cape Cod and what a mess the kitchen was and how cooking dinner was not fun.

For a period of a few years during the 1990's, every summer my friends Carolyn and John rented a house for a month at Sea Island, the beautiful barrier island that sits off the coast of Georgia.  The Cloister had not yet been torn down and replaced by the extravagant modern hotel it is today; it was still the beautiful building designed by Addison Mizner, and the resort - if you could call it something as mundane as that - was populated mostly by gracious, low-key Southern people enjoying a calm, maybe even downright sleepy, good time.  You could sit on the beach reading Ah, Wilderness! just yards from Cottage 57, where Eugene O'Neil wrote it and imagine him emerging from his library, built to resemble the captain's quarters of a ship, to stroll down the beach.

The house Carolyn and John rented was filled with them, their two daughters, Jane and Amy, and their families, and lucky me.  The young husbands Lamar and Wright came and went as their jobs in Atlanta allowed, but the girls and their children were there for the duration. There were always eight of us for dinner during the week and up to twelve on the weekends.  During the day everyone did whatever he or she wanted - sit by the pool, swim in the ocean, ride horses, play golf. But starting at 4:00 p.m. the girls and I would start cooking together, and at 6:00 p.m. we all sat down to family dinner.  Often, after we had finished eating, everyone else would pile into the car and head to Sweet Mama's on St. Simon's for ice cream and cake, and in the sudden - almost startling - peace and quiet, I would clean up the kitchen, a job I enjoyed.

Clarke, Lamar, John, Carolyn, Wright, Amy, Jane holding John
I am certain that if you asked any one of us about those summers, the family dinners would be mentioned by each of us as one of the highlights of the month.

Janet, Jane, and Lamar
Now Jane is gone, and the next time we go to Sea Island, we will sprinkle some of her ashes on the beach she so loved, in the place she always longed to be.  We will sit down together and toast Jane with a glass of her favorite prosecco.  Instead of going to Sweet Mama's, I will make a little yellow cake in Jane's honor.  It won't be as good as Lady Jane's; we have yet to find her recipe, but we are still looking!

After I went through Jane's recipe box looking for her signature cake recipe with no luck, I turned to Shirley Corriher, a food scientist and cook who lives in Atlanta and who taught Jane how to make French bread.  Her book Cookwise, The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking is one of my favorites, and I turned to the section on Cake to see what she had to say.  She explains that there are rules to be followed if you want to make a successful cake, and there are two formulas, one for regular shortened cakes and one for what she calls popular high-ratio cakes.

Formula for High-Ratio Cakes from Shirley Corriher

  1. The weight of the sugar should be equal to or greater than the weight of the flour.
  2. The weight of the eggs should be greater than the weight of the fat.
  3. The weight of the liquid (eggs and milk) should be equal to or greater than the weight of the sugar.

The recipe I found at King Arthur Flour for a Plain & Simple Golden Cake followed these rules exactly, and the cake I made turned out light and delicious.  I used King Arthur All-Purpose Flour since it was what I had on hand.

A Simple Yellow Cake
Adapted from the King Arthur Flour Website

6-¼ ounces King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
7 ounces flour
1-½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
4 ounces milk
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9 x 2-inch cake pan, and line it with parchment.

With a fork stir the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Cut the butter into pats, add it to the bowl, and with a hand mixer set at low speed, mix until the mixture is evenly crumbly.

In another bowl whisk the milk, eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract together.  Add half of this mixture to the flour in the bowl, and beat until just combined.   Then add the remaining mixture, and, again, beat until just combined.

Now beat it all at high speed for 15 seconds.

Put the batter in the prepared baking pan, and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.  The top should spring baked when pressed with your finger.  Do not open the oven to check until at least 30 minutes have passed.

Remove the cake from the oven, place it on a rack, and after ten minutes, run a knife around the edges, and turn out onto a plate.  Remove the parchment, and let cool completely before serving.

This cake can be iced or not.  I served it with macerated strawberries and vanilla ice cream.  Softly whipped heavy cream would also be lovely, scented with a little Amaretto if you wish.

Print recipe.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

For Jane

Jane Lauer Maddox June 16, 1959 - May 31, 2014

Spoken By Victoria for Jane at Her Memorial Service on June 6, 2014

Say not in grief that she is no more
but say in thankfulness that she was.

A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come.

-R. Tagore

Lamar and Clarke and John have asked me to express their heartfelt appreciation to Birdie Porter, who devotedly took care of Jane at home for the last three months, and to the incomparable Dr. Eric Minenberg, physician assistant Amy York, and the staff of Peachtree Hematology/Oncology.  Jane was their amazing patient – Dr. Minenberg called her one of a kind – and they worked together as a team for the last six and a half years.  A very special thank you to Stan Thomas, Jane’s unsung hero, and to everyone at Thomas Enterprises and the Jordan Company, and to all the family and friends who kept the Maddoxes company, as well as fed and watered, whenever they needed it.  Please accept my apologies to any of you special people I have inadvertently forgotten. 

I met Jane – appropriately - at a party on March 20, 1978.  She was 18 years old and had driven to Atlanta from her school in Virginia, to join the festivities surrounding the purchase of WPCH from her dad’s company by the Meredith Coporation, where my husband worked.

From then on, I watched her go from a carefree freshman in college to Lamar’s fiancé, and finally to the extraordinary woman she became - a dutiful daughter to Carolyn and John; a close sister to Amy and sister-in-law to Wright, Joel, and Laura; an exuberant aunt to Emily, Graham, Will, Kipp and Katie; a loving great-niece to Aunt Marjorie; and a supportive wife and devoted mother to her three darling boys, Lamar, Clarke, and John.

The rest of us were lucky enough to call her friend, including all these young men sitting here who came and went and ate and slept at what is basically their second home and her enduring legacy, the Happy House of Jane. 

Kerry Izzard once told me that every man who met Jane fell in love with her, and she should know since she has a husband and four sons, to a man, completely besotted with Jane.  But I think that is true of us girls too.  We all fell in love with Jane.  Throughout her illness, she was unwaveringly optimistic and unflinchingly brave. She saw only the flowers, never the weeds.

And she was magical.  After spending years of vacationing at Sea Island, hoping each and every morning at 6:00 a.m. to see a turtle as we walked on the beach, on the final morning of what we knew would be the last time the whole family was there for its annual vacation, we headed out for our walk and, not believing it was happening, stopped to watch a sea turtle as she headed back to the ocean after laying her eggs.

Jane was the happiest person I have ever known.  She lived by what turned out to, unfortunately, be her too true motto “Life is far too short not to have a little umbrella in your drink.”   

In time, Jane’s passing will seem real, but right now it doesn’t.  I can’t imagine I won’t hear her voice at the end of the telephone, or cook with her, or see her beautiful hair turn gray.  Jane and I have the same birthday, and one way or another have been celebrating them together for thirty-six years.

I always thought we would have many more.

Jane would surely scold me for ending my tribute to her on a sad note.  So I will leave you with what I know Jane would herself tell you today:

Think of me; miss me; but don’t mourn me.  And most of all, in the words of my second favorite, Jimmy Buffett, "count all your blessings, remember your dreams."

Print Eulogy

BG Christmas 2012 at Jane's

Jane's group of special friends is called the BG's, which stands for Birthday Girls.  They have been friends for the past eighteen years when they met as a result of having children in grammar school together.  In the photo they are Tiana, Judy, Betsy, Barbara, Lisa, Joanna, Jane, and Melody.  They celebrate each other's birthdays and get together every December for a Christmas party.   

Jane and Me
December 2012
Photo by Melody

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Molly's Peaches in Wine

Adapted from Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

Copyright Orangette

Actually, to say that finding a pizza cook was more complicated is an understatement along the line of Michelle Obama has arms.
My Favorite Quote from Delancey by Molly Wizenberg                                                                                        
I don’t do critiques here.  Not of restaurants, not of recipes, and not of books.  A critique would mean I’m giving you my opinion about the good and the bad parts of something, and that’s not what I write about.  If I talk about it here, it means I like it, and sometimes it means I love it.

And that is the operational word about Molly Wizenberg’s second book, Delancey.


First off, I’ve been a dedicated reader of Molly’s blog, Orangette, for years.  Second, I thought her first book, A Homemade Life, was splendid.  And maybe it shouldn't be third, but when I head downtown to the Essex Street Market to buy cheese from the pristine selection at Saxelby Cheesemongers, I get off the subway at the station shared by Essex Street and Delancey, the street for which the restaurant, and by default, the book Delancey was named.

On the official publication date, May sixth, the book was delivered, but I didn’t get it.  I kept waiting for a knock on the door of my apartment, but it didn’t come, and when I checked the tracking link on Amazon for where my book was, I found out it had been delivered to a different address – through my own fault in the pre-ordering process.


I couldn’t stand it anymore, so as I was getting ready to head off to bed, I downloaded the book and fell asleep wearing my glasses and holding my Kindle with Delancey on the screen.

I read it at every available moment until I finished it, and I have one thing to say:

Just read it.

Then make something from it.

Since my favorite dessert is Strawberries with Vanilla Ice Cream, I figured something just as simple might be the ticket.  I can’t always find good stone fruit in New York City – rarely local and certainly not at this time of year.  But last week the peaches at Fairway were so fragrant you could smell them from across the room, and they beckoned to me, reminding me of summer vacations spent at Sea Island, Georgia, buying peaches at the farmers’ market on St. Simon’s so this is what I chose.

If you like sangria, you will like this.  It is rather more of an idea than an actual recipe. Molly was inspired by David Tanis’s A Platter of Figs.  The deliciousness of this dessert will depend on how good the fruit is.

Molly's Peaches in Wine
Adapted from Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

For four to six people take 4 medium sized ripe peaches – the best you can find (and Molly says nectarines are delicious this way too) – and rinse them, gently pat them dry, then cut into thin slices.  Molly says she likes to get 12 to 16 slices per peach, which, obviously, will depend on the size of the peaches you start out with.

Put the slices into a bowl and add 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Mix gently, and add 2 cups of wine – Molly suggests a crisp dry white or rosé.  I used a Grüner Veltliner, which is a lovely white wine from Austria that I generally keep on hand because it is so food-friendly and goes especially well with the things I like to make.  Then taste and add more sugar if you want it sweeter; Molly generally likes it made with 2 tablespoons for herself and up for 4 when making it for Brandon since he likes it sweeter than she does.  The amount of sugar will, of course, depend on your own preference, the sweetness of the fruit, and the wine you are using.  (I used three tablespoons for two peaches.)  If I had superfine sugar in the pantry, I would use it here.

Put the sliced fruit and the wine in a covered container.  (I made it with 2 peaches so a recycled jam jar was perfect.  Obviously, a French jelly jar with a red lid would work well too.)  Chill for 6 and up to 24 hours – 12 to 24 is probably best. 

Serve cold in squat glasses that you can easily get a spoon into.  Don’t forget to drink any liquid left in the glass.

This recipe can be increased or decreased as you wish, using sugar to taste and planning on using about ½ glass of wine per peach.

Print recipe.

Friday, May 9, 2014

At Long Last Meatballs - Meatballs with Pine Nuts and Currants

Adapted from Buvette, The Pleasure of Food by Jody Williams

I love meatballs.  Always have.  Always will.  So it wasn’t a big surprise when we met Godfrey and Angela at Gusto Ristorante on Greenwich Avenue that I ordered the Sicilian meatballs. 

What WAS a big surprise was that they were the best meatballs I had ever eaten.

They were about the size of a walnut, a little lumpy, and studded with pine nuts and currants, and there were eight of them bathed in a dark, smooth sauce.  At the waiter’s recommendation, I ordered the house-made tonnarelli with pecorino cheese and black pepper to eat with them, and the chewy, square-shaped salty, cheesy pasta was the perfect counterpoint to the meatballs – sweet in one bite, savory in the next.  If you want to know more about this delicious pasta, check out what Rachel has to say.

I Googled around and found out that the meatballs were originally made at Gusto’s by the chef Jody Williams, who by then had moved on to Morandi, taking her meatballs with her.  So I had two places to eat them and try to figure exactly what was in them.  I started experimenting around and came up with some pretty good meatballs, but none of them held a candle to the original.

Then, accompanied by a little NYC buzz, Jody Williams opened Buvette, her jewel-box of a restaurant on Grove Street in the West Village.  She calls it a gastrothèque - a place to hang out, read the paper, and eat and drink good things from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.  The first time I went there, I was disappointed not to find meatballs on the menu (but I did eat delicious roasted beets with horseradish crème fraîche and almonds and started trying to replicate them at home too).  The waiter told me Jody Williams was working on a cookbook, and I have been waiting for it ever since.

It was released last week, and I was lucky enough to win a copy from FOOD52.  There it is - on Page 194 - the recipe for THE meatballs.  Currants and pine nuts and garlic, oh my.

Having this book doesn’t mean I won’t be going back to Buvette, but it does mean I can enjoy the meatballs (as well as the Roast Beets with Horseradish Crème Fraîche) at home any time I want.  In my large collection of cookbooks, Buvette is a stand-out - highly recommended.

At Long Last Meatballs (Meatballs with Pine Nuts and Currants)
Adadpted from Buvette, The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams

Your favorite tomato sauce simmering on the stove

1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4  cup dried currants
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon freshly-chopped flat leaf parsley
2 ounces homemade breadcrumbs from white bread (if you don't have your own bread, use Pepperidge Farm Sandwich Bread)
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground beef
Pinch of red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons Maldon Salt, crushed between your fingertips
1/2 teaspoon freshly round black pepper
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese grated on a Microplane
1 large egg, beaten
Neutral oil for frying - I use grapeseed or peanut

Toast the pine nuts on top of the stove.  I use a 10-inch cast iron skillet, which gives me plenty of room to stir them as they toast.  They get crunchy as they turn slightly golden - they do not have to actually color - so take them out a little before you think you should.  Above all, do not let them burn, or you will have to start over.

Put the currants and sherry vinegar in a small bowl, and add a little warm water to soften them.  Let soak for 10 minutes, then drain.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet, and add the onion, and cook to soften. This will take about 6 minutes.  Then add the crushed garlic, and cook for 4 minutes more.  Add the parsley, and cook for 1 more minute. Remove the mixture from the skillet to a small plate with a slotted spoon, and using a fork, mash the garlic into a fine paste.  Then let this mixture cool.

Break the egg into a large bowl, and beat with a fork.  Then add all of the ground meat, the cooled onion-garlic-parsley mixture, the drained currants, toasted pine nuts, chili flakes (crushing with your fingers), nutmeg, Maldon Salt flakes (crushing with your fingers), pepper, cheese, and breadcrumbs.  Mix thoroughly with your hands.

Portion this mixture into meatballs using a 1-1/2 inch scoop to make them all the same size.  Roll them with your hands, but they do not have to be perfectly round; a little lumpy is okay.  Heat about 1/4-inch of a oil in a large skillet, and brown the meatballs on all sides.  I like to use a neutral oil, grapes or peanut, to cook the meatballs, but you could use olive oil.  Add to your simmering tomato sauce, and cook for 20 minutes.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Flavia

Adapted from Julia Reed's Corpse Reviver No. 2 in But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria

The Flavia

Alex Witchel and Frank Rich used to be tops on the list of people I have never met who I want to invite me to dinner.*  I was hoping for great conversation and these lamb chops.  But not any more.

I want Jon Meacham to invite me to his place for a party.

Yes, we can discuss Thomas Jefferson.  Yes, we can talk about Winston Churchill and FDR.  Yes, I can ask what Joe Scarborough is like and see if he doesn’t think Mika Brzezinski should get the Nobel Peace Prize for trying to keep the decibel level on Morning Joe down.

But what I really want is to have Jon Meacham’s wife Keith and her friend Julia Reed have me over so we can cook and eat together.

There is nothing that makes me happier than discovering a new canapé or spending long days - and nights - planning a party.  I have clocked so many hours with my friend Keith Meacham, who, like me, was born in the Mississippi Delta, armed with legal pads and Post-it notes, poring over seating charts and mapping out possible menus, that her husband Jon, the author and editor of Newsweek, now refers to us - with more than a hint of derision - as the “crabmeat caucus.”
 from Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties by Julia Reed

I keep all of Julia Reed’s food columns from The New York Times in a binder.  (The one called Member of the Club is my favorite.)  Her books Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialities and But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria are dog-eared on my shelf and downloaded on my Kindle and iPad for easy access.  I even went as far as subscribing to Garden & Gun magazine so I can read The High and the Low, Julia Reed’s monthly column.

In a previous incarnation, I lived in Atlanta for eight years.  I celebrated Thanksgiving weekends cheering for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on their home turf or watching the Georgia Bulldogs play football between the Hedges.  I ate my fair share of “puhmenna” cheese, hot pepper jelly, and (don’t tell anyone) had a Varsity Hot Dog or two, and I agree completely what Julia Reed meant when she said this about New York:

In a city where “hors d’oeuvres” all too often mean ubiquitous skewers of dried-out chicken saté or half-cooked snow peas with an ambiguous “fish paste” piped inside, it is relatively easy to wow people, and I have yet to discover a deviled egg or a giant lump of crabmeat bathed in homemade mayonnaise that didn’t do the trick.
from Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties by Julia Reed

The 2014 holiday season is upon us, and in honor of Julia Reed, on New Year's Eve I will be drinking as much Veuve Clicquot as I can get my hands on, but once January second rolls around, and the post-holiday doldrums kick in, I’ll be dreaming about green grass, blue skies, 80-degree days, and this drink - my go-to summer cocktail for entertaining, which I adapted from Julia Reed's Corpse Reviver 2.

It's named in honor of Flavia de Luce, the intrepid sleuth in Alan Bradley's marvelous mystery series that begins with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, because with the Pernod left out, the corpse is left cold, not revived.

Flavia (pronounced Flay-via)
Adapted from Julia Reed's Corpse Reviver No. 2 in But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria

For one drink

1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce Plymouth Gin
1 ounce Triple Sec, Bols if you can get it (I never use Cointreau because I think it is too "heavy.")
1 ounce Light Lillet
Garnish with a cherry (I use Tillen Farms Merry Maraschino Cherries, made with pure cane sugar and no red dye.)

Shake, shake, shake the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice until very cold.  Serve in a martini glass garnished with a cherry.

*After I’ve had dinner with Julia Reed and Keith Meacham, Pat Conroy rises to the top of that list.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Luisa's (Delicious) Raj Curry

Adapted from The Wednesday Chef and Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater

For a while I have been trying to come as close as possible to the Anglo-Indian curry I used to eat at the Devon House - a restaurant that used to be located on the northwest corner of Madison Avenue at 93rd Street.  It was not in the basement, but a few steps down, in a beautiful brown building.  The staid dining room had blue walls with cream trim; the mahogany tables were covered in crisp white cloths; and the servers were all women who wore grey skirts and navy blazers.  Inexplicably, I always felt as if I passed through a portal into a dining room in Bermuda when I went there. 

I didn’t eat there often.  Money was tight; the restaurant was expensive; and I like to cook at home.  But I did go whenever we were eating out, and I got to choose where.  If I didn’t eat the curry, which was cream-based and studded with pieces of boneless chicken and shrimp and maybe a little mango chutney,  I ate faultlessly-prepared Dover sole, and it was always a conflict which dish I would order.  On a perfect night I would get one, and a companion would get the other, and I could taste both.  

Every time I pass Number 1316 Madison Avenue, I realize how sorry I am the Devon House is not still there and think longingly of the evenings I spent eating good food in that lovely room.

Thanks to the always dependable Luisa, who told us about this on February 6, 2012, I do have a recipe for chicken curry - not the same as the curry at the Devon House, but very good - to tell you about.  It comes from that Nigel Slater.  He calls it Chicken with Spices and Cream, but I call it Luisa's Raj Curry.

Luisa’s Raj Curry
Adapted from The Wednesday Chef and Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater

4 to 6 chicken thighs, either bone-in/skin on or boneless/skin off
2 tablespoons butter (if you keep clarified butter hanging around, which I don’t but always threaten to, use it here)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
A lump of butter the size of a walnut
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder (Madhur Jaffrey recommends Bolst’s Hot Curry Powder, which is very good - and not very hot.)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I like Vietnamese, often called Saigon Cinnamon)
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
Juice of half a lemon
Black pepper

If you know in advance you’re going to cook this for dinner, rub salt into the chicken, and let it sit in the refrigerator on a rack for a couple of hours.  If you haven’t done this, don’t fuss, just rub the salt into the chicken right before cooking.

If you are using boneless/skinless chicken thighs, dredge them with Wondra Flour.  It's granulated and will coat it lightly.

Heat the butter and oil in a skillet; I use cast iron.   Add the pieces of chicken, and cook, turning over, until the skin is taut and golden or the Wondra Floured chicken has browned.  In another pan (I use a  stainless steel sauté pan), add a lump of butter the size of a walnut and the onions, and cook until they are soft – about 6 minutes; add the garlic, and cook until it is fragrant but not burned – 2 minutes more - stirring occasionally.

Stir in the curry powder and cinnamon, and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes so the spices “bloom” and are not raw when you add liquid to them.

Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock, and mix to blend.  Let it get warm.  Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is done – about 15 or 20 minutes.

Stir in the cream.  Cook for just about 2 minutes to let it mingle and thicken a little.  Taste the sauce, and add salt to taste, if necessary.  Stir in the lemon juice, cook for a minute more, turn off the heat, add black pepper to taste, stir once again, then serve.

Luisa recommends serving this with basmati rice; I usually make the Basmati Rice Pilaf from Cook’s Illustrated and buttered green beans or chopped cabbage sautéed in butter  If I have the time, I fry some pappadams.  In a pinch, I will serve really good, high-quality potato chips (don’t laugh until you've tried it – you will like them).