About Me

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on the downward side of the age mountain.

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.