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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Just saying the word ‘November’ makes the entertaining challenged run for cover. From now until January 2nd (The official start of the January Diet Campaign) these poor souls are awash with anxiety and culinary hurdles.

The easiest way around this conundrum is to entertain in restaurants or have your party catered. This method is rather expensive. If you are entertaining challenged have one large party and bang out as many pay backs as possible. In this vein you could do “co-mingling” entertaining. In its purest form this is a pot-luck. You supply a clean house and beverages and let your guests bring the rest. Be forewarned that without guidance your guests might all bring a chunk of cheese or desserts. Don’t forget lots of saran to wrap all those goodies up and give back to your guests (keep the ones that you like- they owe you). A variation is the "orchestrated foraged" party. This uses more gas and ingenuity but by tearing around your fair city you can create an “I can’t cook but I can party! menu. With a little bit of planning (you’re the hostess you know when the party is) you can order some excellent items from Zabar’s to intimidate your guests. Nothing like a little smoked sturgeon to show you care. Just gather as many exotic pre-made ingredients that your budget will allow and don’t forget that ever popular crudités (that says healthy) and your party will scream “Look I’m entertaining and having fun!”

There are die hard foodies like me who would rather be spit roasted than use someone else’s candied nuts. We stubborn stupid cooks feel that each entertaining event puts our sauté pans on the line. Having been a caterer means that I can’t do pot-lucks or cookie exchanges. And each year the entertaining bar is raised. I want to give a party like I used to be hired to provide. I rent dishes, wine glasses buy snappy invitations with R.S.V.P.’s and pick special stamps. The guest list is a pot pourri of people. There are always those tiresome neighbors, the boss who thinks he knows it all, and special friends to talk to while the rest of them face off.

The thing I hate about entertaining is that I have to clean the house and do the cooking. Catering was so simple. I showed up with the food and the house was clean. I didn’t have to mingle just make sure there was enough food and the kitchen was spotless when I left.

When we entertain, invariably my Not So Silent Partner with wine glass in hand, will decide to give the newbie’s a tour of the chateau. Is our bedroom with its 14’ butterfly on the wall or my office with 4 6’bookshelves filled with cookbooks necessary for all to see? So I dutifully clean all the nooks and crannies wishing we could do a series of parties since I went to all this trouble. But the hardest thing for me to clean for guests is the kitchen table. You see our kitchen table is a living being dedicated to reading. Layers of food magazines, NYT book review sections, and catalogs grace the marble surface. It takes months to get the right mix of medium so that no matter when you sit down you can exhume a never read piece of literature to fit your mood. Did I mention the random scraps of paper that garnish like a sprinkle of parsley on a dinner plate? I digress into my own entertaining quandary.

What I wanted to discuss was not only the impending doom of Thanksgiving, Christmas, (Hanukah, Kwanza) and New Years; but a little known French holiday that will ease your entertaining woes and put you at the top of the 2007 social circuit. Don’t tell anyone but Nouveau Beaujolais is the answer! On the 3rd Thursday of November (a week before Thanksgiving) at 12pm the Beaujolais region of France releases its first wine of the season. Yes, the wine has been shipped to your favorite wine shop but they can’t sell it before 12pm your time. In some circles nouveau beaujolais is considered a precursor to how good the wine year will be.

All you have to do is round up 3 different vineyard’s wines put paper bags around them; label them 1, 2, 3 rent some wine glasses (red cups won’t do!) and away you go! The menu? What’s easier? Cheese, fruit, store bought paté (for that gourmet touch). If your French side is clamoring for attention you can make gougere or fondue. You will notice that no EVOO was spilled nor “chunked” potatoes were “smashed” for this event but it was oh, so easy!! Dessert? You’re off the hook- a wine party doesn’t need it! Voila! A party! Your guests vote on which Beaujolais they like the best and then after the fabricated award is given to the wine and the suspense is done you can continue to drink in earnest. Now the secret to this party is the date. No one is thinking of a party before thanksgiving and your party won’t get lost in the holiday shuffle. When your friends think back on their holiday season and the endless holiday buffets they “enjoyed” they will remember your party first with glowing nostalgia and a well done!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Have You Made Your Grocery List Today?

Every counter in the kitchen, every pocket of my pants, and scattered around my pocket book and wallet are random sized pieces of paper written in various colors of ink creating grocery lists. I on occasion, absent mindedly pick up these lists of yore and feel calm as my eyes caress the items that make our house run. There were days of coupons, when I judiciously snipped, filed and threw away more than I used. Now I have moved on to obsess about which store to forage in for our supplies. My buzz words are local, organic, and sustainable.

They are not profound grocery lists full of forgettable ingredients for an haute cuisine meal but lists of mundane needs for the house to keep it running.

The list often starts out with the trilogy milk, o.j., and bread. Then the generic notation of meat, fish, potatoes and veggies. These items are road maps to creativity in the grocery store. Now the list gets into the occasionally needed but no less necessary item. So we add dog food both dry, and wet. Not to be outdone is the dry and wet cat food and an occasional addition of cat litter. There can be asides of less than exotic items that must be in the home at all times- flour, yeast, Perrier. Sometimes recipes have been researched in advance for a meal and those items receive special treatment with underlining, CAPITALIZATION, circles and exclamation marks! Vitamins need an added reminder because of their variety and we never need all of them at the same time. Holiday grocery lists are still pretty much the same but with a theme- the Thanksgiving list always mentions turkey, cranberry sauce, and cubed bread as if it could be forgotten!

Once at the grocery store of choice the list becomes alive and the word meat is translated into veal chops, hamburger, or pork. The fish becomes fresh scallops pregnant with sweetness, halibut cheeks with their unique texture, or the first wild salmon of the year. Vegetables burst into the cart after I have pondered their origin nestling amongst the organic milk and no pulp orange juice. The word bread always gives me a pause at the store. Here a decision has to be made. Who will be home during the week to consume it? Should the bread be an uncut artisan loaf or a pre-sliced whole wheat sandwich loaf and in that case are sandwich meats needed?

To keep my life simple I have settled on certain products that I can buy without pondering. I always buy the same basics. It keeps me simple- Aim toothpaste, Neutrogena soap, and for many years Cascade dishwashing soap that has been recently replaced with Seventh Generation dishwashing soap (see there is room for change). I save my questing for interesting canned goods, olive oils, mastering new ingredients, spices or which coffee to buy. Give me a free sample and if it passes the taste test it goes in the cart.

To come across an old grocery list that has made it through the washing machine is like an archeologist trying to put some import on a simple water vessel. The list is my own special map for taming the grocery store and wresting the supplies needed to maintain my household’s happiness. When I do find my maps dotting the house I glance at them, sigh as I remember cruising the isles for the items and then throw them away. I could save time by continuing the list, instead of using a new piece of paper, but it would like retracing my steps. A new sheet is needed for a new quest.

Sometimes the lists go AWOL before they hit the store and in that case I play the remembering game. It’s a win-lose game with the down side being a new list started as soon as the groceries are put away.

My grocery lists bridge the home and store. With them I am able to navigate the isles unscathed by temptations and bring home the bacon.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Restaurant Madness, A Culinary Poem

I don’t want to know that Sam is my Server
(Or attentive slave salivating for a tip)
Or Babs is my Busser
Or Desmond shakes my cocktails

I don’t want to be told that my entrée is a good decision
(Would they tell me other wise?)

I don’t want them to kneel at my feet

It would be nice to have my chair pulled out
And to always be told the specials
(And not hear them recited at the next table)

It would be nice to have my beverages topped off
Without raising my white napkin
And at the end of the meal I would like my
Check delivered face down

Until I am ready
To pay

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Move Away Gourmet!

Tired of being called a foodie or gourmet? Try on the word gastrocenti. Based on the Italian cognoscenti meaning the people who know this morph means people who know about food. How utterly continental!

And by the way the answer to the picture is in the What is this? comments section!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Another Angle

Here's the "ladies" from another angle- Now you can see those sexy toes!
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What is this?

I know it looks like kinky can-can but it really is a "useful" item. What is it? Comments please and the answer will be next week!
From Queen Art-o-Eat
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Friday, February 23, 2007

What Does This Mean?

From my Nation's Restaurant News, 2.12.07
Most frequently ordered foods at restaurants...
1. Burgers(17.4%)
2.French Fries(14.2%)
4.Breakfast Sandwich(6.2%)
5.Side Dish Salad(5.7%)
8.Hash Browns(4.1%)
10.Main Dish Salad(3.4%)

1.French Fries(13.8%)
4.Side Dish Salad(6.8%)
5.Chicken Sandwich(5.3%)
6.Breakfast Sandwich(4.9%)
7.Main Dish Salad(4.6%)
9.Chicken Nuggets(3.8%)

O.K. Lets see if we can extract some sense from these Mars Vs. Venus eating pattens. Burgers or fries? Fries or burgers? it's a toss up. Out of the top ten frequently ordered foods 17.2% are in agreement with Pizza. It also looks like men eat breakfast out more with breakfast sandwiches, eggs, doughnuts and hashbrowns. Women lean toward lunches and the real mystery is who are the 3.6% of the female public ordering rice?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Alpha Chef

In a recent article in The New York Times they mentioned couples in the kitchen. That sounded cute since it was Saint Valentine's Day and the western world (or at least the U.S.) was awash in chocolate, romance, and roses. I delved further into the article and found it talked more about how couples negotiate the hallowed grounds of the kitchen, and that's where I discovered myself. It seems that kitchen cooks are divided between the alpha's and the beta's. The article tried to soften the conflict with cute he and she head- butting but I saw something bigger. I had not only become the dominatrix in the kitchen but it was like a solo Iron Chef show-down every time I entered kitchen stadium! No wonder my NSSP (not so silent partner) who came into the relationship with a little brown file box of recipes only opens it on Sundays for waffles and rolled up pancakes. I don't start cooking until 5 being the night chef at heart and loathing to make any brunch type meals.

Then I thought of The Princess. When I grew up I was given the job of stirring My T Fine Pudding until it was done or stirring the lumps out of gravy or shucking corn in the summer. But The Princess had never done any of those things. My NSSP had occasionally suggested that I teach her how to cook but I dreaded these exchanges. I had no patience for bumbling hands. As a result the other 2/3rds of the household stayed clear and left the dog and myself to my culinary alchemy. Now The Princess was falling out of the nest with a darned good palate and no tools to satisfy it. Bad Mom.

As in any 12 step program understanding your bad behavior is one step to recovery or not. I love being an alpha chef. My ego soars as I sharpen my knife in anticipation of boning a chicken breast. My thoughts layer food elements together, mentally trying combinations before I put them in the pan. I get off on being in control. It makes me nervous when the NSSP declares it his turn to make dinner. I wait nervously in the living room waiting for him to ask for help so I can swoop in and right his wrongs. But that doesn’t happen. He produces a very nice meal, has learned to pick the dishes, and even garnish his food. Darn it, it’s tasty too!

I guess I just have a restaurant ego in a home kitchen!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Master Baker

He walked, or was it a strut or swagger. What ever it was it was purposeful, forthright, and with intent. His dancing brown eyes highlighted the all too healthy tan. The azure blue work shirt was opened one button too many. The gold chain, at least 18 karats was anchored with a medallion below the viewing point. His gold marriage ring was noticeable but one didn’t feel that it restricted his social movement. He was French with joie d’ vie.

He had a rounded paunch. Not the soft bread poking kind but one that was in constant use. One that felt curls, twists, and kitchen bends. He was virile and very masculine. His whole male package could make women of a certain age have an intake of breath and remember flirting, a hobby out of practice.

He shrugged his traveling bag off his shoulder and removed a nylon jacket and a neatly rolled chef’s coat. “I would like to hang this up; it has traveled a long way. I rode my bike up from Arizona,” his French accent caressed each word as his eyes probed mine.

It was his hands that mesmerized me. They were strong and muscular. Ragged finger nails capped the fingers and heavy calluses protected his hands from his profession as a Master Pastry Chef. Andre was a master of his profession. His passion was sugar sculpture. Working with sugar is a highly technical and artistic section of the pastry department that includes pulling sugar into gossamer sheets and the most delicate pastel colors. He could blow sugar balloons, imitate roses, and make a pond for swans to swim.

Sugar sculpture is a dying art, with few chefs developing the skills and having the patience necessary for blowing and pulling sugar into elaborate and decorative masterpieces. It takes years of dedication, perseverance, and burns along the way to master this discipline.

The sugar is boiled with water and glucose to a caramel, tartaric acid and food colors are added. As the sugar is cooled it is pulled to form a chain of sugar crystals which will give the sugar a pearl like shine. The artist goes to work molding, pulling, and blowing the sugar into the shapes. The final application is to hand paint or airbrush the finished product with food colors.

And here before me was a master ready to teach a class and hop on his red and chrome bike to ride back to Arizona. I gently took the chef’s coat and showed him the way to the back room. I shook out the jacket perhaps a little longer than necessary and stroked out the wrinkles.

I would not take the class and it would be better that way.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Meal Created #1

Many times I come home with no clue what to make for dinner. I know what ingredients I have bought to stimulate my palate but on most days there is not a complete meal ready to be cooked in my imagination. I crawl home, am greeted by the dog and cat, then I enter the kitchen. A glance at the clock, phone for messages and flip through the mail are the next decompressing activities. A glass of wine poured and then the refrigerator is opened.

I fumble through the paper wrapped meats, saran wrapped leftovers and plastic bags of veggies much the same as I flipped through the mail, looking for that one ingredient that will be the catalyst toward dinner. Part of the rummaging and fondling is also the mental evaluation of how creative or tired I am. There are very few nights that a leftover is left in its primary state and just reheated. There are also nights when no light bulb goes off before the stomach grumbles. At these times I ask for advice from my family. They usually throw out ideas quite different from my ponderings but are enough to jump start a menu. I hardly ever take their advice but file away their wistful meals for future times.

There are weeks when I'm on a roll. Thumbing through a new cookbook, finding seasonal produce, thinking of different country's cuisines can break the lethargy and make the forage through the refrigerator and pantry a quest toward the perfect meal. I'm an explorer as I poke and squeeze ingredients. Willing them to tell me how they would like to be prepared and presented. These protracted adventures are usually on weekends or at times when schedules can be stretched. When I am on this culinary quest my family's hunger drifts from my mental fore front. Many times in mid chop my husband will tentatively ask when dinner is. Quickly followed by "Just curious, no rush, I just want to know if I have time to..." My daughter however is more insistent with a movie to go to or a date. If the meal doesn't fit her time frame it's a quick sandwich and off she goes.

Then I am left to continue my dance with ingredients. Food is coming out of the fridge and pantry faster than it is being cooked. The counter is getting smaller and 3 burners hold simmering, bubbling pots and saute pans. This is the exciting time of the meal. Food is briefly in a holding pattern. As I come up for air I start imagining how I want to present the meal, which dishes to use, are there to be garnishes, what wine and glasses. How dirty is the tablecloth? Paper or cloth napkins? I turn my attention to these finishing details and once executed, delve back into the cooking. I love the romance of creating the meal. Sometimes it isn't up to my imaginary concept, sometimes it surpasses and I gloat at the dishs' perfection with each bite, regaling my husband with my culinary prowess. He is always supportive and since pushed to the edge of starvation is grateful for dinner at 10:00. At this point he would be happy with gruel.

Now up to this point no one has entered the kitchen except me. I've kept everyone at bay fighting them off with glowers and growls.With a full stomach and figuring it's the least he can do my husband smiles and suggests indulgently that he do the dishes. I look demurely at my plate and say o.k. he pats my hand, fills my glass with wine and says, "Go put some music on and sit down, I'll be done in a minute."

If he had made the meal that would be true but the culinary tornado has been creating for the past 2 hours and the kitchen looks that way.

"My God! He screams,"Don’t you ever put anything away? I can't even find the sink! You only cooked for 2 people! There are dishes everywhere! I still have to walk the dog!!"

Sitting in the big purple chair, I close my eyes, listen to the music, the rants of my husband and replay the tastes I have just created knowing that they are transient and perfect.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Grated Pie

For the record I didn't create this recipe but found it trolling around on the old internet. It intrigues me and I thought it needed a wider audience so I've added it to my site. I happen to have frozen dough and will give an update on this technique.

Please check out yulinka's website-
Grated pie, probably an invention of my late grandmother, is pie made of pastry dough that is frozen and then grated, instead of defrosted and rolled out. I hesitate to compare this dough to pâte brisée, since the recipe is completely unorthodox, but pastry crust is what it tastes like when baked. This is an admittedly odd recipe and technique, but it’s a longtime family favorite because it's easy and convenient. You can make the crust and freeze it, and when you have a hankering for some pie all you need is a pie pan, filling and a grater. I have yet to make this dough myself, but this recipe has always worked for my mom. I used one of her ready-made batches to bake a very good apple-pumpkin pie a couple of weeks ago.

For the crust: Beat together 3 eggs and 1 cup of sugar. Melt 2 sticks of butter; cool, add to eggs and sugar. Add 2 tablespoons of sour cream; mix well. Sift 2 cups of flour and 1/2 tsp. baking soda. Add the flour to the wet ingredients gradually, and knead until you form dough. Add more flour if the dough is too wet--about 1/2 cup should do it. Divide the dough into two rounds, wrap, and freeze.

For the filling: I sautéed four sliced, peeled and cored apples in some butter. When the apples were soft, I added a splash of Calvados, some sugar--1/3 cup, maybe?--a little nutmeg, ground cloves, cinnamon and ground ginger, and about a cup of canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling).

For the pie: You’ll need ½ crust recipe (one frozen round of dough). Butter a 9-inch pie pan. Grate the frozen dough until it covers the bottom of pan. Use your fingers to press on the dough so that it covers the entire pan and its sides. I used about ¾ of the dough round for this. Add the filling, spreading it evenly over the dough. Grate the remaining dough over the top. Use your fingers or a knife to fold the dough on the sides onto the filling. Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes, until the crust on top is nicely golden. Let cool.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What the French don't tell us!

A recent article in my favorite paper(The NY Times of course! dated 1.9.07 and under the Frequent Flier column) there was an article writen by Christopher Elliott about drinking discoveries that Marian Jansen op de Haar, (Fleming's Prime Steakhouse restaurants)has experienced in her travels. It's an easy-breezy article full of wit and long flight stories. What stood out to me was her next to last paragraph.

"Despite the polarity between French fries and French bubbly, all it took was a bite and a sip to convince me I'd found a perfect pairing. The acidity and the bubbles in Champagne refreshed the palate beautifully between every bite of the salty fried food."

I guess I'll have to give up ketchup as the side car to my French fries and carry champers to Mickey D's!

Monday, January 15, 2007

It's a Party!

What better reason to get dressed up than Saturday night! For most of us up on the restaurant food chain we had graduated from working Sunday brunch. For the rest, a little hangover made omelette's slide easier onto plates. Bags were brought filled with high heels, make-up, tight pants, and sultry dresses. After slinging dishes and waiting on customers it was time to party! We all piled into one changing room to beautify ourselves for a night on the town. All the men were gay, the straight men never lasted. All the women were horny heterosexuals. We all dressed together exchanging make-up tips and sharing a mirror that was vertical for lipstick and horizontal for a pre-party pick-me-up.

Where to go? Who thought they would get lucky and most important to the kitchen staff on hourly pay, where was it cheap? The ‘trons, flush after a night of tips took us under their wings and spent money with abandon forgetting about rent and essentials. An agenda was agreed upon and we teetered into cabs and cars for the evening’s excitement.

The world of girls and gays in the 80’s was a rite of passage for us all. Cyndi Lauper summed it up; “Girls just want to have fun.” Yes, it would have been nice to end the night with a romp in the hay after a steamy dance but dancing and humping never went together when you went out with the boys in the band. And the boys were so much fun!! We drank the same watered down cocktails, discussed the same tight pants and bulges. Both sexes were drooling with only the boys having the slightest chance of getting lucky. We danced with hedonistic abandon, both sexes knowing that at the last Donna Summers song we would careen out of the bar and into bed alone.

Some boys, ever opportunistic, continued on to the Charles River Fens to roam the parked cars for anonymous sex. In the early morning's mist the boys still went home alone to sleep off their night on the town. This wasn’t an option for the real girls and we went our separate ways.

We thought it would never end the way it did with AIDS and death of many friends. For that narrow window of time we were all invincible and would live forever.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Flavor Forecast for 2007

Just in from my Foodservice.com website- the 2007 top ten flavor pairings-

• Clove and Green Apple

• Thyme and Tangerine

• Tellicherry Black Pepper and Berry

• Sea Salt and Smoked Tea

• Lavender and Honey

• Crystallized Ginger and Salted Pistachio

• Cumin and Apricot

• Toasted Mustard and Fennel Seeds

• Wasabi and Maple

• Caramelized Garlic and Riesling Vinegar

Monday, January 01, 2007

Book cover

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Ruminations on Buford's Heat

I have recently finished Bill Buford’s book titled HEAT. Yes, it was well written in a hip journalistic style and garnished with expletives used liberally in a restaurant kitchen. There were flying sauté pans and it was a school of very hard knocks. I just couldn’t shake the fact that once the book was done Bill would return to his writing white tower and leave his culinary cohorts cooking endless Saturday nights in the pressure cooker of a restaurant kitchen.

Bill had culinary quests that he became impassioned about. Let’s go to Italy and find out when the first egg yolk was added to pasta (the Italians were intrigued by this quest and didn’t care about the when. They were more interested in the perfection of pasta with the addition). Butchering anyone? Find a butcher maestro to chain yourself to and master the pig. Just to remember the technique buy a pig in New York City and butcher it in your summer apartment.

Ever wonder about the creative force behind Mario Batali? We are teased with his intimacy with Mario, another screaming gonzo chef. For every even-tempered, woman-supporting-chef, there will always be the antithesis chef from hell who runs a kitchen on intimidation and brut force. Mario reinforces the latter.

Bill’s wife appears to be fully supportive of this mid-life crisis. Paying for numerous trips to Italy and accepting his minimum wage internship. She did rebuke him when he came home from working the line only to have food stench on his hands. What a swell guy…

There was oblique bragging about learning how to make Miriam’s tortelli, pasta that Mario never mastered. Bill came to the realization after three trips to Italy to learn its various subtleties that the end result had to be made by women or children with small hands. It wasn’t the type of thing that beefy muscled fingers could adeptly mass produce.

I guess I’m just a bit tired of these restaurant memoirs. It is a memory lane that I go down rarely and no matter how eloquently Anthony, Bill, or anyone else describes working in a professional kitchen my hands ache, feet throb, and I feel the layers of grease on my glasses when I finish the book. I don’t have romantic memories about cleaning a gas stove top after it has been flambéed or sautéed on for 10 hours nor picking up the floor mats that are saturated with food ooze. I am thankful for the skills I learned at zero hour. It was the supreme multi-tasking experience and thinking on one’s feet was paramount. I didn’t go to culinary school to learn my trade but I can’t imagine any school that could prepare you for the rigors of a Saturday night shift with a chef from hell abusing you to test your ego.

When all is said and done and I stop my complaining, it is an amazing, satisfying, and rewarding profession. Raise a glass to the humble masses preparing your food night after night.