Monday, March 31, 2008


Dear Friends,

You cannot imagine my disappointment to discover the restaurant in which I had so hoped to dine with my Husband just back from the war, was closed last night. Carolina's, where one should celebrate all quiet but momentous occasions, sadly was closed on our one evening in Charleston.

Consequently, we moved on to SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) another restaurant of note in these pages which did not fail to charm us. Go, if you can, and have the Warm Duck Salad maybe, which bounced with shaved radish, smoked almonds, and goat cheese all swathed in key lime vinaigrette (stay tuned for a recreation of that dazzling affair). Then (!), I had the Shrimp and Grits as I am known to whenever placed in a fine southern kitchen and longing for real low country flavor. I was a proponent of Carolina's Shrimp and Grits as you know, however, SNOB is, to my palate, a better moment in the sun for a dish far too underrated. SNOB's dish just sang with real live tomatoes, not canned, not hot house, actual diced tomatoes from an actual vine somewhere. And the spice just snuck around a corner in the dish. Just lovely.

My Husband had a dish called Grilled Wahoo, Couscous, Pea Shoots, and Something Citrus. My, it was wonderful. And it had the added attraction of causing me to exclaim, "he'll have the fish -WA-HOOOOOOOOOOO!" To he and I, of course, not to the server, certainly.

Now finally, someone needs to address with our friend Dan, sommelier and manager of that fine establishment that it may be beneficial to consider one or two wines in the $50 range. Because while the wine list is remarkably thoughtful and diverse, it is also remarkably costly, both in comparative mark-on and in comparison to the food. This is not, dare I say it, The Peninsula Grill at the Planter's Inn and one would do well to keep that in mind.

So long, sweet Charleston.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Dashing Host Chats

Good evening, one and all. I am relieved to advise you that the Dashing Host has dropped into just now to carry my weight on this day of husband's moving to Jacksonville and babies still needing fed, bathed, and napped. A good host knows many things intuitively, among them, to come to the aid of a lady (Dashing Host Rule #1). I see the his navy coattails zipping past the doorway and I can hear the ice rumble somewhere, so I know he is with you now. I leave in you in good hands for the evening. Nice to see you, JWR, and thank you for this kindness...

Psst! Over here, by the blender... Why over by the blender? Because it’s on the Bar over here and the children are over there. It won’t take long for the kiddies to find us— what child isn’t attracted to a shiny stainless steel machine with buttons and whirling blades filled with a brightly colored fruity libation? Until then, have a seat, I have some stories to share and a couple of ideas I want to run past you. Hors d'oeuvres are in the oven, the bar is stocked, ice maker is working, and we have nowhere to be. It’ll be fun, I promise.

Welcome Spring! The tulip trees are about to go off like fireworks and the cherries are dripping with blooms. Arches of snowy ornamental pears are engulfing the narrow streets of my little burg, winter is over and it’s about damn time. It’s always such a tease this time of year, without warning we emerge from that wet grey blanket of winter and step out into a 70 degree day, without a cloud in the sky, but just as you set up the tiki torches and get the table ready for a clambake, the sun sets and suddenly it is 40 degrees again. Try as you might, with blanket or sweatshirt, you file back inside and wonder how long this whole spring thing is going to last.

Here’s a drink that will get you through the chilly nights of spring through to the first perfect night of summer before it gets too hot and we can’t hear ourselves speak because of all the damn air conditioners. Beware, it has a bite, but enough to warm you to make it to the entrĂ©e.

I learned of this drink from a famous mariner from the Eastern shore of Maryland who I wish I had gotten to know better. Much like those cherry blossoms, sadly he passed away far too young. I was reunited with this drink when they served it at his wake, I thought it was fitting. Were I to have to think of one traveler to pour into my “to go cup” for that long walk down to the last boat, this would most certainly be the one.

The Dark and Stormy

Build in a Highball Glass with lots of Ice
1½ oz Gosling's Black Seal Rum
Top with Barritts ginger beer. (NOT Ginger Ale)
Garnish with lime

Friday, March 28, 2008

A la boxes

Sometimes fate and the pressures of a culturally advanced and precariously leveraged society can leave you with only a few moments to put dinner on the table for your family and others who might wish something other than a burger. Not, mind you, that I have one thing against burgers, they are some of my favorite food. But those kind souls in my life who survived the $50,000 Burger blitz of recipes are always relieved to see that time in my life has passed. And now a new haze of very long days and very little allowance for the time Blushing's haute cuisine can consume, has arrived. This state of emergency is known as Moving. And so with two pans, very little of anything and (God help you) I hope, the couple of remaining pieces of china you left out to feed yourselves, I am here to help you pull off a first class dish served on a pile of moving boxes headed for Jacksonville. Wish us luck, I am nervous as always when part of our world faces upheaval and broken, out-of-make, stemware.

I had a very hyped version of this dish at Zelda's in Newport in 2000 and I thought that it just could not be as difficult as the menu made it sound. In fact, I like my dish better and it
is nearly as easy as making coffee and as elegant as you would want it to be should you need a showpiece in less than 15 minutes for a pile of fish-eating dignitaries or demanding yet civilized ruffians.

Salmon with Thyme Honey Pan Sauce
Newport, 2000
Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs wild salmon fillet, sockeye, for example, cut into 4 even portions
Canola spray
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup very good honey
Juice of one lemon, zest of the same lemon
2 tsp. ground thyme
2 tsp fresh thyme (optional)
Kosher salt
Fresh ground

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spray a pan of any variety with canola and place fish, skin side down, on the pan. Season with salt and pepper and grate some lemon zest event over each fillet.
Place in oven and cook 12 minutes, or longer if you prefer fish more than medium-cooked.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium-low heat, add butter and allow to melt completely (you could clarify this butter, that is very nice, but hardly a necessity at home.). Add honey and stir until combined. Add ground thyme and fresh thyme if you elect to use it. Add lemon juice, allow to come to a steaming heat but do not boil.

Place each fillet on plates or a platter as you choose. Pour sauce over the top. garnish with a bit of fresh thyme or lemon slices. Serve, and bow to applause. Serves 4.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I can barely hold myself down to write to you today. I mean, I am wiggling and quaking with excitement. Because I am going to Charleston (!) for one night only on our way to somewhere else. As I mentioned, I have been to a lot of places, and I enjoy many of them, but none of them are Charleston, South Carolina and everything else pales in comparison to the truly special and dignified City of Steeples.

You are going to find a half a dozen good food bloggers out there who do nothing but drool on and on over Paris. And it can be argued that if you are to be any good at the food blogging game, now business, you had better know a thing about French food and its capital. It is hard to have a point of comparison for truly remarkable cuisine had you never encountered such a thing, I suppose. I have. When I tell you I have been there, wherever it is, I have: I have fine-dined all over Europe, Asia, and the Americas. But as those of you who read with me often know, that fact does not impress me about myself nor anyone else who blogs ON AND ON about Pierre Hermes. The macaroons are good, okay? But they sho' aren't Miss Jane's Pecan Chicken Salad in Charleston and in my eyes there is precious little they can do to stand up in the face of my Mom and Grandmother's Roasted Potatoes. And those two ladies are responsible for my culturing and my sensitivity to what makes a thing wonderful and perfect, so maybe that is why the commerical macaroon is a little special to me than the cookies we make in our kitchens at home.

I will tell you what my idea of great food is: It is on the kitchen and dining room tables of real Americans in the melting pot all across this nation. It is Margaret's Roast Beef, Dottie's Pickled Horseradish, Brandon's Sunday Crepe's, Christine's Grilled Lamb and a million dishes created by virtue of the legion generations we travelled from everywhere to arrive right here, together. I have enjoyed to no end the immaculate white peach dessert I once ate in Shanghai, an unbelievable foie grois temmpanakki in Taiwan, and an Alsatian stewed feat in Paris. I have consumed great pastries everywhere. In fact, I nearly staved to nothing eating French pastries one season thinking the reverse would be the effect. But the best food, is the one you made for me and put on your own table with the palpable pride of the generations from whence you sprung.

I don't often get lucky enough to see that intrinsic quality appear in fine restaurant settings because many dine out in order to feel decidedly as though they have gone somewhere different and special. I am not one of those diners and Charleston is a city where the traditions of a million fine cooks have converged to make some of the restaurants there as comforting as a home very dressed up for company and the food as lovingly prepared as it might have been if the ladies of my family or yours had dropped into the kitchen themselves.

So, when you tell me I can go to Charleston, I sit back in my chair and run through them again, the places where my heart goes for great Southern restaurant food. If I am given only one night I cannot chance some new venture to satisfy the way I long for the food back there where we lived for too short a time. This Sunday night, if you are looking for me, you will find me at one of two places: Carolina's or SNOB (Slightly North of Broad). I will be in a back corner table with my handsome Husband who I have missed terribly all the time he has been gone overseas. I cannot imagine a better evening than one that I can sit across the table from my him for the first time in seven months, in my favorite cheerful and glorious old city, at Carolina's where the food is somehow both modern and old-school Southern all at once, the wine list lovingly fussed over, and where Brendan, the world's most wonderful waiter, will swing by the table.

Let me tell you two things about Carolina's: The first is, the place is just perfect for a lovely, quiet Charleston evening: Find it down a cobbled path towards the harbor. As you go, you feel as though you have a secret old city hideout no one else might find. But you do find it and you are glad because you can collapse into their care as you might have your Mother's on that first weekend home from college. For my husband, I cannot imagine a better place at which to end a war, at least for a while. They are going to fuss over you quietly, you will barely notice because they are all Southern nuance and slight of hand. And they are going to make you some food that will make your heart warm and your mind feel safe.

The second thing you should know is that you should go see Brendan. I don't know this gentleman from Adam really. I know that he waited on my Mom and I not long after my Dad died and we just wanted to tuck in with my four month old daughter and have it go easy. That is the tallest of orders; Been through a tragedy and bringing with us a new life and still wanting to love dinner. But he and their magnificent chef pulled it off. We did kind of slump into our chairs that night. It had been a long trip and even longer journey back to Charleston, finally. "Just leave it to me." He said. And so we did: The food, the wine by the glass, everything so refined and gentle. I asked about the pork and thought longingly about the shrimp and grits. And that is just what came: Lacquered pork belly and some gorgeous red wine. Then shrimp and grits and some jaunty white wine. Then two (!!) desserts and a deep dark coffee. Somewhere they agonized over this perfection, but it was somewhere else. Because, at that table everything sang with ease, pride, refinement, and good old-fashioned manners. When I think of Charleston, that dinner stands out and I say to myself, "Hmmmmm, yum, take me home."

Now, SNOB is another game altogether but good for another set of reasons and really not to be passed up unless your consciousness is inextricably chained to one place as mine is to Carolina's.
SNOB is big, loud, sometimes very obnoxious, but never fails to deliver on some truly gussied up Southern dishes and some out of this world new things that one will remember. I don't drink the coffee there because it is not well selected nor thoughtfully brewed and as you know, I can be a smidge picky about quality. But I will eat everything else there without question or pause. I have once had to eat alone (sad face) in Charleston, and I found SNOB the best place to do so because they have a low reading bar looking onto the kitchen. But I defy you to read anything there while witnessing the frenetic pace of that kitchen. It is far too consuming.

Enjoy them both, and I hope I catch you there. Or maybe not this time, I have not dined with my Husband in too long. Wink, if you see us at Carolina's. Won't you?

How to find the good guys:
SNOB (Maverick Southern Kitchen)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Maui Sweet and Mrs. Lewis

The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, is, I imagine, nearly as much of a gift as if I had been there at Mrs. Lewis' side and been able to learn from her directly the recipes she carried through too short a life in the kitchen. She left Virginia and went on to become the chef at Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn, all the while incorporating those first Southern nuances of home into her dishes for a venerable old steakhouse in a city which might not have been entirely familiar with her style. Surely, it speaks volumes of her depth of understanding of food and her remarkable talent as both chef and writer that her extraordinary books endure, as comforting as home and always as modern as each new year in which I open them. The passage of time has nothing on these recipes, though occasionally the season at hand or availability make it more difficult to recreate the dishes so deservedly precious to Mrs. Lewis and now, her readers.

It was on another trip through her books that I came across a recipe of hers that has made me curious since the first time I was lucky enough to read The Gift of Southern Cooking: Braised Spring Vidalia Onions. The sort of onions one needs to get this glorious dish off the ground are just not front and center for us in the north at this time of year, nor easily attained at any other.
Probably it would be best to be growing them behind the house and rip from the new spring earth the early green and white vidalia's in the morning. I imagine I would wipe them as clean as I could and lay them in the big blue basket at the center of the table for a couple of hours so I might have them to look at and be able to smell the spring ground in the house for a moment or two.

Sweet onions here at the moment are enormous Maui's and in terms of growth and size are, past, far past, the point described in that recipe I adore. Why, I weighed an average supermarket Maui and it was one and half pounds. Consequently, some other course of action needed developed for us dreaming-Southern part-time Northerner's. I enjoyed this little dish so much it almost helped me to forget Mrs. Lewis' young, "golf-ball" sized vidalia's which will have to wait for another spring day, in another place. In the meantime, I am enjoying the softball sized Maui's and toasting her in what I most certainly hope is a great warm southern kitchen in heaven, with platters full of biscuits and strawberry jam and a big blue basket in the center of the table.

Braised Full-Grown Sweet Onions
adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock
North Salem, 2008

4 lbs sweet onions

1/2 cup butter

1 cup chicken stock

2 tbls. fresh thyme leaves

1 tsp sea salt, more to taste

1/2 tsp white pepper, more to taste

Trim the onions and slice across the whole onion in 3/4 inch widths to make thick discs.

Heat a wide covered skillet with high sides over low heat. Add butter and heat until completely melted, do not brown. Add the onions and toss to coat as well as you can in the butter. Season lightly with salt and pepper. The skillet will be very full, (don't be afraid, once the water cooks out the onions will be much smaller and softer). Add the chicken stock and cover the skillet. Turn the heat to low, tossing the onions occasionally, 15 or 20 minutes, until all are tender. The onions will not remain in discs.

Take the cover from the skillet and turn the heat up to medium-low, allow the liquids to reduce until the onions are just glazed. Reseason and serve.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Hurricane

I am not sure how the Hurricane, that deep red elixir of Mardi Gras, became incorporated into our Easter celebration. I can say for certain however, that it has gone beyond the glass. Yesterday, during dinner preparations, I found a pitcher by the stove. Then I noticed the ham had been cooked en Hurricane. I cannot explain this except to say that in a moment of creativity
the glass, or several, must have hopped into the roasting pan. Or, maybe the ham was christened with a Hurricane or two. But it any event it was wonderful, the way ham with Co-Cola Gravy can be when they do it just right way on down South.

I am passing on the recipe to you and I have thought of several other times when having a Hurricane in one hand might just be the best thing:
1. When making bacon.
2. When polishing the silver.
3. When vacuuming.
4. When awake.

My, they are lovely if a bit late for Mardi Gras this time around.

The Pat O'Brien's Hurricane (aka Ham Roasting Serum)
New Orleans, LA

2 oz light rum
2 oz dark rum
2 oz passion fruit juice
1 oz orange juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 tbsp simple syrup
1 tbsp grenadine
Garnish: orange slice and cherry

Shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a hurricane glass. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Observances

I have been at church. Praying. I pray for many important things, like the repose of souls, for one, and the safe return of our military members overseas. For the infirmed, poor old sick things. Busy little praying bee, but sometimes I become hopelessly sidetracked. Today was especially bad and I am still apologizing to the Lord over the matter, because I don't know how far into the prayer I was when I realized during today's service that I had become a praying vagavond on some kind of twisted trail of prayer for the pitiable. Only, I am not sure He meant for me to end up where I did, you see. I had rambled on to, "...and Lord, please help this congregation to find their showers first thing before Mass. If not that, at least help them to understand the correct use and necessity of hairbrushes. Why, Lord, is their hair all matted down at the center back of their heads as if they only removed a nested bird from there before entering church? Dear Lord, why is this gathering always so very dirty? Please help them to understand that even though they have just come from a constitutional with horse and dog, they should not enter your house still wiping the dirt from themselves. Good God, please tell them no matter how deep the pockets, the hygienic requirement remains. And, Lord, help me to understand why this congregation of ours remains so committed to the use of camphor as a fragrance...." I was, by then, both impossibly far afield from the course of good-work prayer I was expected to be following, and feeling dark and discomforted. Mass was over for me, I would have to begin again next week, this time with blinders and perfume applied liberally under my nose, both to help a Blushing Hostess concentrate on praying for the sick, not just the dirty. So much for Easter Observances.

I also observed the New York Times Dining section writing on a Swiss Easter Rice Tart
which read like a lovely and easy walk through a tart-pan park but in method was a good deal more labor-intensive, like tart boot camp, than I originally surmised. But I was a trooper, and in future I shall use the recipe I developed as a kin to theirs as a method of doing penance for being far too critical of the unwashed.

Happiest of Easter's to you.

Almond Rice Tart
Adapted from The New York Times
North Salem, 2008

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour and more for dusting

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, in small cubes

1/2 cup rice (I used arborio because that is what I had on hand, they used long grain)

3 cups milk

1 vanilla bean, pod opened and seeds scraped from pod

2 teaspoons grated meyer lemon zest

1/2 cup almond flour

3 large eggs

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Confectioners’ sugar

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt in food processor. Pulse to blend. Add 10 tablespoons butter and pulse 3 to 4 times, until butter is in pea-size pieces. Sprinkle in 3 tablespoons cold water. Pulse 4 times. Turn dough out on lightly floured work surface and knead gently a few times to form a disk. Do not over-handle or allow the dough to become warm from your hands, you must move fast. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour.

Meanwhile, half fill a 3-quart saucepan with water, bring to a boil, stir in rice, lower heat to medium and cook until rice is soft, about 15 minutes. Drain rice and return it to saucepan. Add milk, remaining butter, 1/2 cup sugar, the vanilla bean pod, and remaining salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until mixture has thickened almost to a risotto consistency. This will take 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the saucepan from heat and mixture to cool to tepid. Remove the vanilla bean pod. Pour into a bowl and add vanilla seeds and lemon zest. Mix almond flour with 1 tablespoon flour and add to bowl. Whisk in eggs one at a time.

Place oven rack in lowest position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove pastry from refrigerator and place on lightly floured surface. Lightly dust top with flour. Use a rolling pin to press down on dough to soften it. Roll out disk to 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press dough evenly into pan. Trim edges flush with pan. Pour filling into pastry.

Bake about 35 minutes, until filling is set and golden. Cool on a rack. Dust with sifted confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sharing traditions

Certainly our commitment to the largesse and dominance of our Easter Basket is not the only Easter tradition (by the way, we were far and away the largest basket at the Blessing today, tell your friends.), nor the only bonafinde memory. Every child has a best Easter morning memory. Why, my Brother has many memories related to winning the household Easter egg hunt (several of which remain under contested protestation, causing me to have to tell you we have confirmed results for only one of seventeen hunts, and that is the one I won, 1989). Our guest, The Dashing Host, has dropped in for a cocktail (I assure you with relief he has graduated to the hard stuff) and an Easter tale from the land of Before, that place from which we all hail.

And, before I leave you with the Host, an indulgent little aside, but I tell you because I tell you everything that leaps to mind food-wise: I am a dedicated reader of cookbooks. I will purchase and read any cookbook, anytime, and do so, if I must, by candlelight. And I have. I own an autographed copy of a cookbook written in Italian which offers 221 recipes for radiccico (I ate in his restaurant because I am not afraid to make appauling mistakes which one does not need a crystal ball to forsee. But, he gave me the book, okay? I did not coumpound the error by then buying the book which includes a chapter on desserts of radiccico, for the record.). All of this recipe reading of formulas so close to one another at times, has caused my mind to hang on to some particularly memorable recipes; The high spots, one might say. These are not the Cinema Paradiso of recipes in many instances, but they are all manner of interesting. One which my thoughts always return to when I read a story like the Host's below is the receipt for Cooter Pie in the original Charleston Recipts cookbook. It calls for the ingredients of another time and circumstance: Terrapin, in it's shell, which is hollowed, meat blanched off in some manner, and then returned to the shell to bake in a casserole-like fashion. For all the time we lived in Charleston and dined at very fine Southern tables when I was then a young New Yorker still new to the South and knowing only what I read, including the Cooter Pie recipe, I lived in fear of the moment the Cooter Pie would be set at the center of the table on an enormous piece of Haviland. It could still happen, couldn't it?And now, I will have to be on the look-out for Easter Bunny in Bay Head as well. See you at the Display, ya'll...

Notes from The Dashing Host, over by the blender

Every Easter we found ourselves on a bay, Bay Head, New Jersey or Tampa Bay, Florida. There were yacht club memberships at both. I think it had something to do with the wind. Bays were calmer it seemed, and allowed you to soak up the sun without being chilled by April’s unkind gusts of wind that reminded you that summer was a little more than just around the corner.

Since it was officially Easter we packed away the grey flannel and I wore new khakis. I wore the same thing every year. Khaki pants (with pleats), stripped tie and Navy blazer. Only the shirt color would change. About the age of eight, my mother settled on a shade of salmony-pink that I would coincidentally enough, cover my whole body in later that year regardless of the amount of SPF 100 I slathered on. As a result I spent the beginning of every summer with a nasty bout of sun poisoning, I distrusted summer, never understanding my mother’s devotion to it. I think now that it was perhaps that the color reminded her of summer — as she hated winter with manic dedication.

There was the traditional Opening the door to find the basket o’ goodies, followed by the Easter egg hunt and, being good Episcopalians, we made a point to drive by at least one Church on our way to brunch at The Club. No one owned a boat, but they talked about it and that was enough for membership. Brunch started with drinks and then followed by more drinks served with colorful plastic swords through the fruit in whatever clever nautical titled room we found ourselves-- whether the “Crow’s Nest”, “The Lighthouse”, or the “Commodore’s Cove” they all looked the same to me, only the trees outside the window reminded me if I was in Tampa or Bay Head, but that didn’t matter, the Roy Rodgers and Shirley Temples kept coming and by the end of the night I was high as a kite off maraschino cherries and had a mountain of plastic swords with which to entertain myself. Eventually we would find our seats, I slowly navigated my glass tumbler with my pockets full of plastic cocktail swords that poked me in the leg. Once seated, we made our way to the “Display”.

Buffet is simply not the word — Buffets have Sterno cans and aluminum steam trays, this was a Display of Spring Bounty, hogs and roasts and lambs with fresh mountains different cheeses next to asparagus and fiddleheads arranged around ice sculptures of boats or bunnies (this being Easter) with exotic arrangements of melon and other fresh fruit (but nothing too exotic) It seemed like the table went on forever, always with something new and unexplored. I credit these displays for my aesthetic on how food should be properly presented— none of that mamby-pamby minimalist French crap or a Asian fused smear of sauce — more like the description of The Ghost of Christmas Present, a heaping mountain of excess, dripping au jus and glistening in the candle light framed by leathery wood walls.

One Easter I was in Tampa. As usual, my Grandmother requested that I sit next to her to her right at the front of the table. She grilled me on my doings, my studies and basically what I was planning on doing with my life (at the age of seven you better have a plan, I remembered, this would later turn out to be a family survival mechanism for any holiday involving my Grandmother) She would look at you like a homeowner looks at a contractor being given a quote for a bathroom remodel— Hope, thinly veiled with distrust, while always wondering “will I regret this partnership”. Sue was a student of free will, either you were in control of a situation (life) or it was your fault as to why you were not.

I sat there trying to make second grade sound as interesting and complex as possible. Periodically Sue, my grandmother, would chime in with that falsetto southern accent of hers, “You know,” She began, “Everything changes in third grade… some, can’t --handle it…” then with her tiny eyebrow perched precariously high on her forehead, she would look away from her fork and slowly turn her attention to me. “Third grade, is when everything changes.”

Sue was famous for ending conversation with a surgical precision. This was as good time as any to venture back up to The Display and lose myself in the color and magic of the bounty. This time I noticed something in the back, amber and lovely, perfectly golden brown – There it was, a small plate of fried chicken sitting there like a pile of “get out of Jail, free” cards. Sure the display was gorgeous and awe inspiring, but no seven year old appreciates perfectly cooked lamb, beef wellington or fiddle heads. Lets face it, something battered and fried to a seven year old might as well be dipped in chocolate--Even if it was a vegetable. Fried chicken was also a bit of a delicacy to me. Remember, the elevation of the simple fried piece of chicken has only recently danced on the griddles of finer establishments. Prior, it was humbly served in buckets. As for having it at home; while my mother was raised south of the Mason-Dixon, cooking was not her forte – the kitchen in general was more of a instillation sculpture then a room used to prepare food, and on the rare occasion she prepared food, it was more preheating, then actual cooking. Cooking was left to the men in my family, often disguised as a hobby or passion, but in reality, a method of survival.

So, I did what any decent seven year old would do, I piled my plate high (making sure to leave some for others) and teeter tottered my way back to the table. I remember seeing my mother’s head pop up from the far side of the table and stare at me as I sat back down at the table, eyes wide sending me a warning signal much like a white tail deer flashes her tail to warn her brood of possible danger approaching. I, like the fawn who strays too far from the group was lost, my mother lowered her head and occasionally looked back to see if I survived the impending disaster. I sat down and immediately dug into the chicken.

It was lovely. A delicate crust disguised a bite of spice and sweet, the meat - perfectly done, it was still juicy but not so much so to frighten my naive palette. This was fresh, fried, and complete with that round flavor that tip-toes on all taste buds. It was at this point in mid rapture that I noticed my grandmother staring at me sideways. She wasn’t frozen but rather, noticing me eating, she was still talking with a family friend but was slowing her talking and abruptly tying up her conversation so she could focus on me. I sat there with a piece of fried heaven in between my hands realizing this gaffe, that I had abandoned my fork and knife at some point, and feared this is what was making Sue take notice. I quickly placed the chicken back on my plate, cleaned my hands and grabbed up the knife and fork. Sue watched me as I pretended that the hands on fowl incident had never happened. As I fumbled with the knife and fork, Sue slowly put down hers and with her hands, picked up the fried chicken on her plate.

“It’s good, isn’t it?” she said keeping her head forward but looking at me out of the corners of her eyes.

“Yes Ma’am!” I responded. Was this an olive branch? A way to say, to hell with formalities, some things you just need to sink your teeth into?

“I was afraid you were going to waste what was on your plate.” I relaxed, living through the depression taught Sue to never throw anything out, it was the utmost sin to waste anything. This often manifested in the most terrifying methods of “recycling”- more on that later. I often suspected she just didn’t want to take garbage to the curb.

My head lifted with pride, I watched as Sue and I ate fried chicken with our hands, and at the club! Smiling I offered again “I love fried chicken”.

Sue slowed eating for a moment and a wry smile slowly crept across her face, growing into a grin, like The Grinch, it kept growing until it curled up in tight little spirals on either side of her face. Her back arched and she said slowly “Oh, this isn’t chicken.”

Still eating, I looked at her, slowly processing her words. Of course it was chicken, It was fried, it had to be chicken. It was fried chicken. Sue sat there slowly chewing. I looked back expecting some other word, Hen, Rooster – Sue delighted in nothing more than being right and proving someone wrong, even if it was the smallest detail.

“This is Rabbit… Bunny Rabbit” she said still facing forward.

I was halfway through my plate and realized the pieces did not form a bird at all. Looking down the table no one else seemed to have “chicken” on their plate except me and my grandmother. The sinking reality came on like the yacht club had broken away and had began to sail off into rough seas. The worst was that I knew that I was unable to waste anything, and the plate must be left clean. I finished the meal in silence, slowly finishing each piece and assembling it like a macabre jigsaw puzzle. I ate the Easter Bunny. I ate the Easter Bunny. I ate the Easter bunny…and it was delicious.

Sue at the end of the meal looked at me and smiled again, this time putting her hand on my shoulder. “You have nothing to worry about. Third grade will be fine, it’s fourth grade that gets really hard”

Easter at the Yacht Club – (Fried Rabbit)

2 rabbits
2 egg yolks beaten lightly
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
oil for frying (high point oil like canola oil)
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
salt to taste

Wash rabbit and thoroughly disjoint.

In a bowl, combine yolks and buttermilk, slowly add flour, cornmeal, pepper, paprika, cayenne and salt. Beat until smooth.

Heat oil in a frying pan to 360 degrees. Dip rabbit in batter and fry in oil, 7-10 minutes on each side.

Reduce heat to 275 degrees and cook, turning frequently, until rabbit is done, about30 more minutes.

Remove rabbit and drain on brown paper.

Shirley Temple

Build in a large rocks glass (one with a wide enough base that the flailing arms of children telling stories cannot easily knock it over). Add ginger ale over ice and sprinkle grenadine syrup over.
Garnish with orange slice and a maraschino cherry ((add a shot of Makers Mark bourbon for the grown-ups).

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Blessed Basket

Here is a thought: How about getting up, everyday for a month, and baking thousands of loaves of Easter Breads from secret nearly-ancient recipes, slaving over these for hours each day, and not making a dime from it? How about creating thousands of little molded butter lambs in a church basement? Not for you?

Well, you are in luck. The Ladies of the Golden Dome, an organization belonging to our local Greek Orthodox church, willingly take up the task every year in Danbury, Connecticut. It is with reverence for their task, and for their bread, that I tell you something about us as a family, and about the Golden Dome Bakers...

I am not sure where our story begins, but let's call it in a land called Before, my Godmother's family, and now ours, follows a tradition handed down through her family. They gather all of the foods to be served at the Easter breakfast in their home, and I do mean all, and pack them into a large Easter basket. This basket is practically bursting with a feast we eat only once a year. It is filled with the Easter ham, smoked kielbasa, pickled eggs, hard-cooked eggs, pickled horseradish, scallions, butter, salt, Pasca bread, nut bread, poppy bread, sweet wine, and the butter lamb. It is meant to be blessed, and this blessed food is consumed at the Easter morning meal because it signifies the breaking of the fast. People from different parts of Eastern Europe have differing traditions, some bless their children's Easter baskets, other bless small portions of the Easter meals (Margaret has provided this website as an example). We bless it all. We usually win the unofficial biggest basket contest (which exists only in the minds of our people and is judged by our wandering eyes at the Blessing ritual), which occurs in a church locally whose congregation largely descends Eastern Europe.

That is what you need to know about me from hello: My Easter food is blessed. And if you are looking for me on Holy Saturday, you better look in a Ukraine parish, because I'm not at 121. And the week before, you can catch us picking up bread from the Golden Dome Bakers. You are welcome to join us not only because this involves the most important and reverent of Holy Days, Fasts, and Celebrations, but because this is a holiday tradition people of every walk could enjoy and share with children who will come to respect and consider another corner of the world each year while still remembering what we have to be thankful for. This year, our Easter family welcomes two new children into this tradition. They will learn to gather the basket, attend the blessing and the blessing lunch afterwards, and to slice carefully onto a dozen cherished plates and platters the bounty which recognizes sacrifice and history and unites millions of likely and unlikely people across the world.

This is our tradition, and as you know, sharing tradition is one of Blushing's goals and rules (Blushing Rule #7). You will need a very big basket and someone strapping to lug it about for you. Use this as a checklist (you will need to enlist the ladies of the Golden Dome or some like them as these breads are not an easy feat). I will leave it here so that in future years you can travel back, both to the list and the tradition. Your secondary goal is to have the biggest basket (Rule #8), which is an inarticulated but important part of this most marvelous tradition:

The Easter Blessing Basket
As noted at Margaret's, Hopewell Junction, New York

Pickled horseradish
Pickled eggs (in the style of beets)
Baked ham
Smoked kielbasa
Trimmed scallions
Kosher salt
Butter lamb
Nut bread
Poppy Seed bread
Pacsa with golden raisins
Halupka (egg chesse)
Colored Easter eggs
Manachewitz wine
maybe a bit of the children's Easter candy

Your basket should be adorned with ribbons and pussy willow and an embroidered lace cloth. It should be beautiful as can be when presented for blessing and carefully maintained throughout the year, this is of course, the vessel that has been blessed and captures small but critical remembrances of a remarkable human sacrifice. Treat it reverentially, even if you are not regularly worshipping any religion, it is a matter of respect for another and for their blessed traditions.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Waste not

Hello to you on this fine first day of spring!

I have arrived at what might be a great gift or a tragic albatross for you! In my pining for a cocktail nosh as satisfying and spice laced as the Mesa pretzels, I developed this fabulous little gem yesterday. The good news is that it is both buttery and will kick you in the teeth with honest spice. The bad news is, it's partially made of butter. But, come on, choose wisely and this will not be an issue. Or at least, eventually something much more fat-laden will hit your plate and you will met me off the hook. As you should, because, this is really from the, "waste not, want not," school (Blushing Rule #6): I caused you to buy chipotle in adobo yesterday and having obligated you to use only one tenth of the can, I am on a mission to help you put the remainder to use. Did I mention you can put them in a bit of Gladware and place them in the fridge? Or even freeze them? Sure you can! Stick with me, if I cannot make wonderful epicurean use of the remainder I will find a household or swimming pool purpose for it (Chipotle gum paste? Chipotle and brie en croute?), but it may take some time. I will ask the guests if they have any thoughts on the matter.

Now that I am thinking of it, that is a wonderful lead-in to advise you that we will occasionally have a visitor, as would be expected of any Blushing Hostess (what else would make me a hostess?), who will send notes from afield on relevant topics. He is one of my very oldest pals from ol' Pound Ridge and he addresses us from, "Over here, by the blender." He is a most distinguished and excellent guest and a Dashing Host (in navy blue blazer and khaki's) in his own right. Look for him right here.

Jalapeno and Chile Madeleine
North Salem, 2008

4 tbls butter, softened for molds
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tbls baking powder
1 tbls sugar
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp jalapeno powder (or half as much cayenne)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp adobo sauce from canned chipotle in adobo
3 eggs
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Grease 24 madeleine molds (or small muffin tins) very liberally with softened butter. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, place cornmeal, sift over the bowl the remaining dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter and milk, add eggs and whisk briskly until combined. Add this mixture to dry ingredients and when no longer able to whisk, complete mixing with a wooden spoon. Add grated parmesan and gently mix to combine. Do not overmix. Place batter by teaspoonfuls into the molds. Bake for 12-15 minutes, checking after 10 to turn pans, until puffed in the center and golden.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ease meets Heat

I was once again tripping around the kitchen, okay, I was prowling, hoping to find something in the dry and canned pantries that would add some remarkable flavor to dinner without process agony.

This ease-with-food movement is new to me. It accompanied the joyous arrival of our first child. I do not look forward to a day when I can return to several very labor-intensive and carefully choreographed recipes I have been hanging on to since my daughter's birth. When that moment arrives, she will not wish me to hug and kiss her all day, a scenario I can hardly believe, but many seasoned parents swear to me it is the lily-white truth. Stay with me then, in eighteen years, you and I will be well-versed on some really impressive French cuisine. Until then, you will be able to sense the ebb and flow of my husband and our family's presence: The more time I have to move about in the kitchen, the more involved the creations. When they are away, I will be at times shameless with the slow cooker and dutch oven!

Here we are at another of those recipes that will be fast and forgiving. Use more of what you like, less of others. This is not a hard formula and finding your own way to your favorite balance is part of the fun in life, not just slow cooker, in my humble estimation. I am pleased to take part of that journey with you. When you come to the end, taste it (Blushing Rule No. 5) and adjust to the ingredients you like best.

And, to keep you duly updated, our girl on Dancing with the Stars was remarkable, as we knew she would be, because she is a showgirl unequalled. You will need to read some other blog for an objective opinion. This is Marissa country.

Slow Ginger-Chipotle Ribs
North Salem, 2008

I recently used a short rib because I was interested in experimenting with them. I am trying to make them a favorite rib, but having a hard time. This recipe will be great with a country pork or St. Louis rib or frankly, any leaner rib cut. Until I get a handle only beef back ribs and so forth, I will refrain from recommending them. However, you would also have a lovely dish with a 3 1/2 pound brisket. You may substitute ginger ale, certainly, but then also add 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, or even, better a bit of freshly grated.

One chipotle in adobo will lend a little heat, two will be fiery, choose your weapons wisely.

The sauce is lovely just as it is when the ribs emerge, however, I have been known to place a sauce or two in a sauce pan over medium heat and reduce it down by half to concentrate the flavors. Depending on the meat, I might also make it into a legitimate gravy. It depends on my state of mind and, as discussed, on the disposition of said creepy-crawly baby.

1/4 cup olive oil
4 lbs. ribs
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. smoked paprika
Pinch of cayenne
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper, plus more for seasoning

1 cup barbecue sauce of choice
1 bottle ginger brew
1 bottle beer (the darker the better)
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
1 chipotle pepper in adobo (more to taste), finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup (or a bit more) beef stock
2 bay leaves
Pinch of cayenne
1 tbls. dried Mexican oregano

In a shallow bowl, combine flour, cayenne, salt and pepper. Gently dredge ribs in flour mixture being careful to coat evenly on all sides and shaking off excess.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine BBQ sauce, ginger brew, beer, chipotle in adobo to taste, garlic, beef stock, bay, cayenne, oregano. Heat, occasionally whisking, until ketchup and adobo are dissolved and evenly incorporated. Pour mixture into slow cooker basin.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until shimmering and very, very hot. Sear ribs, four or so at a time (do not crowd) until evenly browned on all sides. Remove browned ribs and place, carefully, in slow cooker as ready. Add a bit of additional beef stock to cover the ribs in liquid if need be. You will have two batches at least.

Cook on 4 hour setting. When meat pulls easily from the ribs, or a thermometer inserted in the rib reaches 165 degrees, they are finished. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Perfectly minted

It's time. No, not time for Starbucks. Put down the cup, I just saw a news report that cautioned us to be sure we buy seed packets because the second greatest depression is headed our way. That is, to plan on growing our own food. We need to start now, this is not an immediately rewarding process, it takes time. In my case, it take multiple seedling attempts so, I have to start early. And often.

Apparently, Bear Sterns' panic results in a resurgence of subsistence farming, or so this learned economist would have me believe. While I suspect there may be a good deal more to it, I am most certainly on board. Firstly, growing the food we eat gives me a remarkable since of accomplishment. I can be certain what went into the food which goes into my child. And, I can save the earth a few daily trips to the store for the invariably missing item which would have made everything perfect had it only been accessible at my moment of culinary creationism. Last year, I had drop-dead gorgeous tomatoes, cukes, pattypans, and a kitchen herb garden to beat all former years.

The most wonderful of all the items in that herb garden was a oddity: Pineapple mint. It is an alluring possible-hybrid gifted with a rounded green leaf with white tips. And it tastes exactly as you might imagine: Like pineapple and mint. Like a great mojito in the making. But it also lends itself to the most magnificent traditional mint sauce for lamb. You may be thinking of some ghoulish green slop out of a jar ; I you assure my relationship with the same jar is long standing and acrimonious, grandchild of a British national that I am. But, I elected to give the real thing a try. In actuality, mint sauce or jelly, when it is well done is a perfect companion for lamb. Even if you think I have finally gone off the deep end into a pool of hallucinatory green jelly, I beg you to try this along side your lamb. If costs barely anything, takes but a minute, and barely consumes four square inches on the tabletop. Go on, live a little. Once you become addicted, you can order it online and horde it easily forever because it will take over the ground, as all mints do.

Assuming many will not have pineapple mint on hand, my recipe is adjusted to available ingredients and improved upon. However, my happy simple discovery was merely 1/2 cup cider vinegar and 1/2 cup sugar heated together gently until the sugar dissolved. I removed it from the heat, added the mint leaves, stirred, and walked away. When it cooled, it was fabulous. But here is a swanky version to serve to a dressed up crowd:

Pineapple Mint Sauce
North Salem, 2007, for Ernie

1/2 cup white wine vinegar (cider, in a pinch)
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup pineapple, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup mint leaves, finely minced
Pinch of salt

In a saucepan over medium low heat, combine vinegar and pineapple juice, heat until mixture just simmers, do not boil. Remove pan from heat and add mint. Move mixture to a small bowl and cool. Add pineapple and pinch of salt. Taste and adjust vinegar or pineapple juice to taste. If your lamb is ready, best to try it with a bit of lamb.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dancing with Impatience

Oh, we were beside ourselves, waiting for the premiere of Dancing with the Stars to begin. We have busied ourselves, though, with St. Patrick's Day fare as this is a high holy day for our family. And then, as big a disappointment as could be leveled at us after the brisket meltdown occurred: The women do not dance until tomorrow night. We will have to have yet another feast for our cause celebre then. Break out the iceberg lettuce and water, we're having a party!

I have two recipes to share with you regarding Soda Bread, which, heretofore, will always be considered Dancing food. Let's say, this will go according to your taste. The first is my Mom's, and it is a very dense whole grain affair and it is not sweet. This is the perfect sandwich bread for a Waldorf Chicken Salad, as it is served at Stephanie's on Newbury in Boston. I would even add some walnuts, in that case. The second is one Dori adores. It is lighter and a white bread. Both are fabulous. But, whatever you do, my Mom cautions you, resist the urge to try to bake more than one loaf in an oven at once, this will yield disastrous (read Brisket) results. Finally, if you have an seasoned, broad, cast iron skillet hanging around, that's your girl for baking these loaves in the traditional method. Failing that, a baking sheet. Forget trying to put these in your stand mixer, it just won't work. Use a wooden spoon or your hands but do not overwork these batters. And now, having produced four loaves for this glorious day, I am off to the freezer. Pick one, and enjoy.

Mom's Irish Soda Bread
Courtesy of Mom, 2008

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbls. sugar
1 tbls. baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbls. unsalted butter
1 cup raisins
1 cup + 2 tbls. buttermilk
1 egg
(1 tbls. caraway seeds if you care for them, we do not.)

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Set one rack in the middle of the oven. If you are using a cast iron pan, butter it generously. If you are using a baking sheet, you could put down foil or parchment. I have forgotten to do so without consequence, however.

Over a large bowl, sift (in a strainer) the dry ingredients: Flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt. Add the butter and rub it into the dry ingredients just until it disappears. Add the raisins (and caraway, nut, whathaveyou) and combine.

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and egg and whisk to combine. Pour into the flour/ butter mixture in the large bowl and combine with a bit of elbow grease and a wooden spoon or spatula. It will be very heavy and quite sticky. With your hands, shape it into a round loaf. Place
into your pan, and with a large knife, heavily dusted with flour, cut a wide, deep cross in the
top of the loaf.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 15 or 20 minutes more, or until a knife interested in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool, as long as you are able, on a rack.

Someone else's Mom's Soda Bread via Dori, 2008

3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons
baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 pint
sour cream
2 eggs

2 tablespoons
caraway seeds (optional)
3/4 cup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

In a small bowl beat eggs and stir in sour cream. Add the egg and sour cream mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon. Batter will be very thick. Add the raisins and caraway seeds and stir well with wooden spoon or knead in with your hands. Place batter in a greased 9 inch springform pan. Dust the top with enough flour so that you can pat the batter like a bread dough evenly in the pan without it sticking to your hands. With a knife make a shallow crisscross on the top. Bake for 50 minutes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dreaming Parisian

Every year, when spring arrives and I revisit my dilemma regarding what to do with the perfect asparagus on the shelves at the store, I am reminded what I am always chasing. Some people have dreams, goals, who knows. I have soup. An asparagus soup, which haunts me like no other food I have ever known. I have spent a lifetime inching my way back to the taste of a winter evening in Paris just after Christmas when I was nineteen and on my own in Europe for the first time. I was terribly homesick for my family and I had not yet developed the curiosity about food which has been my mind's safe harbor through any difficulty, but that soup may have been the place where that trait took its first steps.

It was the Hotel George V, in the restaurant So-and-So, or what I assume is called Le Cinq, though I cannot remember the name specifically and I am not aware if Le Cinq has been there long enough to be the place in question. But it was indeed a restaurant in Le Cinq's current space. The soup was a creamy green and gold tone, it nearly glowed in the low shallow bowl. "Asparagus Soup with Shaved Lamb," it was called, or something to that effect in French. Can you imagine anything more promising of springtime than that bowl? And there it was, with it's miniature quenelle of creme fraiche, one small perfect chive, and a pyramid of perfectly shaved roasted lamb pulled into small shreds.

The soup tasted like a walk through a fresh spring afternoon: A little crisp, and grassy, but with something altogether new in its wings. Finally, it rushed out creamy and buttery. It
delivered the Parisian spring to your palate. If one asked the Captain what spring was like in Paris, he might have just had the bowl set before you and slipped away into the vast magnificence of that hotel, knowing there was nothing more he could have done or said to accurately demonstrate the season of youth and newness. How they must have concentrated to arrive at that soup. It was surely everything spring and it resonates still. It is a testament to the clarity of one's memories of spring that soup was created at all, and a testament to the purity of the creation that my mind has never let go of that bowl.

I have tried to recreate that soup each spring and not so much failed as not arrived at the top of the same peak. Some of them have been very, very lovely soups. Some have been worthy of a chow line in prison. Some have been happy middlers: The mousy girl of the soup universe. This years' is one to warm your heart on a rainy cold spring day. Intentionally, taking after my dreamy Parisian ghost, it is closer to a puree than a true soup. I am still not there but I have arrived at an enchanting soup. At times since that night in Paris, I have been almost relieved not to have recreated the soup, the elusiveness of that thing is surely part of the engine which keeps me here with you, trying and experimenting, and sharing. It is also quite possible no soup will ever again be my soup (though, I am not supposed to have that information if you and I are to have any hope of carrying on the way we do). It may never be as good anywhere as it is in Paris, in that old and refined hotel, where they keep my spring.

Asparagus Soup, 2008
North Salem

4 tbls butter, divided
1 1/2 lbs aspargus, cleaned, woody bottom stalk removed, cut into 1 inch bits
1 shallot, sliced
1 tbls. thyme
Kosher salt
White pepper
3 cups chicken stock, warmed
1/2 cup dry white wine, at room temperature
2 tbls. cream
Creme fraiche to top to your liking

In a wide pan over medium heat, allow 2 tbls. butter to melt in the pan. Add shallots, saute until translucent. Add asparagus bits and saute 5 mintues until bright green. Add thyme, season with salt and white pepper. Allow to saute 2 more minutes. Add stock and wine, bring to a simmer and allow to cook at the simmer for 5 minutes. Cool until luke warm. Place soup in blender and buzz until it is the consistency of fine puree with no noticeable bits remaining. Pour soup back into the pan and heat gently again to steaming. Add cream and butter, still until combined and butter is dissolved. Retaste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve with a bit of creme fraiche in the center of the bowl.

Recipe 9

Hello, everyone.

I am sorry I missed you yesterday. I got carried away with a beguiling little recipe my friend Hope sent me (she is exceedingly kind and patient with this blog, I believe, since she is a professional in this game, actually) and with The Spitzer situation. This circus is my new guilty pleasure. I have stopped trolling TMZ and sadly shaking my head at Britney's newest made-for-paparazzi problem and moved on, lock, stock, and barrel, to the NY Post: A newspaper I have never read before, because never has salacious gossip been commanding enough to take my attention from the New York Times, which gives me news and recipes. This is who I have become: A person who eats Shallot and Thyme Cheesecake while reading about Client 9. I occasionally stop to make pickled horseradish or harass my (newly returned!!!) husband, because I am now able to do so any time for as long as I like, because he is right back here, on American soil, where I wish he could remain. But anyway, I am pretty much consumed with this New York tragedy. So here is a bit of a morsel to have, as Hope suggested, with maybe a fig spread, and some great crackers. I might also like it with some smoked salmon, or a fillet of beef. In fact, I can imagine few instances when I would not like it.

Hope's Notes:You may vary the seasonings if you wish, roasted garlic, rosemary, cumin, chiles, curry powder, sundried tomatoes are some excellent substitutions, to change the character of this dish. Use your imagination and your favorite combinations. If you are nervous about turning this cheesecake out of it’s dish, you may simply omit the parchment, and bake it in a beautiful serving dish of your choice.

My notes: I buttered a pyrex pie plate liberally, and having no parchment paper handy, took the recipe's advice and decided to just run with it. Even with out parchment, it turned out easily on to my serving plate. I will swap out 50% or 8 ounces goat cheese next time because I think the recipe can withstand a change or two as long as the proportions of cheese to eggs remain constant. It's so delicious and so quick to put together, it will become a cocktail hour staple for us.

Savory Shallot & Thyme Cheesecake
Adapted from Cheri Madsen, for Zoom, Park City, Utah, 2008

Two 8oz packages of Philadelphia brand cream cheese
2 Tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ medium-sized shallots finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs (pull off tiny leaves and saute with shallots)
Garlic powder
Onion powder
kosher or sea salt
3 eggs

Put cream cheese and water in stand mixer with paddle and start on low. (If you can, pull the cream cheese out of the refrigerator for an hour before doing this for ease of mixing) Melt butter in small saute pan and throw in shallots and thyme leaves. Saute until translucent and fragrant.

Pour this mixture, while hot, into mixer with cream cheese and water. Mix for a bit, scrape down and mix again. Add Tabasco, garlic and onion powders, and salt to taste. When the seasoning is to your liking, add eggs, mix, scrape bowl, and mix again.

Spray preferred pan/ramekins with pan spray, cut parchment circle to fit bottom, place in pan/ramekins and then spray again. Pour batter into pan or ramekins and put in a water bath, in a larger roasting pan with water about halfway up. It is easiest to place the ramekins/baking dish in the roasting pan, transfer to the oven, and then fill the roasting pan to a height of half way up the side, using a kettle or some other vessel with a pour spout. Be VERY careful removing
the roasting pan from the oven.)

Bake at 325 for approx. 45 minutes, to 1 ½ hour depending on size of baking dish. It is done when it puffs and is golden brown. When you tap the side of the pan, it should look like ‘set’ jello.

Place entire water bath, with pan/ramekins on cooling rack or counter until it is only warm to the touch. You should be able to hold it in your hands with ease. Put serving plate on top and gently flip over. Let sit for one minute or so before lifting pan/ramekin.
Leave parchment circle on top and refrigerate cheesecakes overnight or for four hours. Peel it off before wrapping it to take on picnic or serving at home.

Yield: 3- 5inch ramekins or 1- 6inch cake pan

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Free to be You and Me

Rancho Relaxo. That is the name of someones home. I wish it were the name of my home. Maybe it will be. Half of our family is in motion, once again. To Jacksonville, this time. I have an opportunity then, to name that house. I grew up in one of those burgs where people gave their homes serious, reverent names: Seven Oaks. Edgewood. Merry Mount. Oh, how would old Bedford receive this news? Somewhere, the Robertson family is smiling right now. Maybe I have taken the right idea from everything we learned from them as children: Be the girl Bedford made, just don't fail to see the humor in where we came from. Naturally, like a good show horse, "Rancho Relaxo" would be it's nickname then, and something like "Idlewild" or "Green Corporale" would be its formal name, of course. I tease about not taking old conventions seriously, but I only tease. Oh, and by the way, that is the Breakers at Newport, not my house.

So, will you come, to Rancho Relaxo? We will have a relaxed sort of a salad, (as you know, I eat copious amounts of greenery now that salad can actually taste delicious) the sort that is salad topped with candy. Except the candy will be savory and no one will know its candy. Except you and I, kicked back with our Cactus Pear Margaritas, and living the good semi-clandestine life of kids from an old-prep community, in a house called Idlewild but only ever referred to as Rancho Relaxo. You, and me, free, and eating salad with candy.

Salad of Spinach, Pear, and Pecan Brittle with Vinaigrette
North Salem, 2008

3 cups fresh, clean spinach leaves
1 cup pecan brittle (recipe below)
1 cup thinly sliced pear
1/2 tsp. salt and more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbls. white wine/ Chardonnay vinegar
1 tbls. minced shallots
2 tsp. Country Dijon mustard
1 tbls. lemon juice
1 tsp. honey
1/4 cup olive oil

Into a large salad bowl add spinach, season with salt and pepper, and toss. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine shallot, country Dijon, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, and whisk until combined.While whisking vigorously, add olive oil in a steady stream to create emulsification (creamy and combined).

Lightly dress spinach in large bowl with the vinaigrette, keep remainder to the side and serve along side salad for those who wish more. Arrange pear slices around the top of the salad. Sprinkle pecan brittle over the top of the salad: crumbs are fine, but be sure pieces are slightly smaller than bite size. Serves 4.

Pecan Brittle

1 cup pecans
1 tbls. butter
3 tbls. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. chili powder (ancho, if possible)
1/2 tsp. dry ginger
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheet, spread pecan evenly and place in oven until lightly darkened and toasted. Remove from oven and set aside.

Into a small saucepan over low heat, place butter, sugar, and all remaining ingredients. Stir vigorously until mixture is melted and takes on a near-liquid consistency, do not allow this to darken or burn. Add pecans stir quickly until all nuts are evenly coated. Spoon hot brittle into a pile of any height or shape, onto tin foil. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Once cool, pull brittle away from foil, place on a cutting board, and with a large knife and a bit of effort, cut and break brittle into pieces slightly smaller than bite-sized. Don't worry about crumbs and small pieces, it can all go over the salad.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Best of the Rest

Hey there. I hope you're all well this evening.

As you will remember, I started off this day with the intention to do something with the first asparagus of what I am sure will be a spring to cherish and enjoy. One of my readers and I must have been on the same wavelength, or even literally the same page, of the Culinary Institute of America's gorgeous book, simply entitled, Vegetables. This book is new to the leaning, nearly splintering from book weight, shelf upon which my cookbook collection rests. It is a straightforward reference text, it wastes no words. It is as clear as an asparagus bell ringing: peel, broil, make sauce, top with hard cooked eggs and get on with your life.
I believed it could be as tidy as it looked on the page. It would have been, had I not made the unfortunate error of turning to Scaglio's Market in Katonah, NY to be the guys who provided the Serrano ham called for in the recipe, Asparagus a la Parrilla.

Not only did they not have Serrano ham (Murray's Cheese Shop would not have failed me) but instead they offered me two sorts of prosciutto, a stumper that occurs all over lately. I could choose from domestic, which caused a displeased reaction across the butcher's face because he felt it was "salty." Or, I could have di Parma, which he said was very good. This very good version was $36.00 a pound, which would have been okay were it a $36.00 a pound ham. But, it was more like a less expensive, very gamey, oddly porky sort of an unhappy boar, or maybe a mini-pig, but it was no piece of Italian piggy perfection. I came to know those glorious hams at breakfast throughout Italy. When they are good, they are so good I thought it might be worth risking arrest to get one home with me. That prosciutto they gave me will not be invited to breakfast in my Tuscan-villa fantasy, nor, come to think of it, in my Venice-flat fantasy. I should have expected as much from this market, the last precious cippolines I bought there, once peeled, were rotten. This is not a pride operation, unlike the Organic Connection, whom I have mentioned before. I needed to complete a task in as few steps as possible, but I should have waited the task rather than dealt with a dispassionate operation. Eat and learn.

Moving on. This is a noble asparagus recipe, though it will not seem unexpected. As it sits on the table, it looks not unlike all the good asparagus dishes I have known, predictably topped with the hard cooked egg. And sure, maybe we've seen it before but could be it is done because this is still a stunner of a harbinger of spring. One look at it and, deep breath, we survived another winter.

My notes on this project are as straightforward as the concept: Avoid Scaglio's. Second, pancetta would have been great here, prosciutto was okay. I did not have chicken broth handy (don't ask) so I made a quick stock of the trimmed asparagus stalks which would have been discarded, a shallot, water, and salt. I allowed it to boil and reduce for a bit, and it was great. But here is the rub: Next time, I will blanch the asparagus even though I would have sacrificed the char flavor. It just looks more appetizing, and for the first look and taste of spring it needs to be one foxy glamour girl of a bowl of asparagus. We're celebrating here. But, this is the CIA, who am I to second-guess? Enjoy, and remember me when spring time comes...

Asparagus a la Parilla
adapted from Vegetables, by the Culinary Institute of America
North Salem, 2008

1 lb asparagus, washed, tough stalk bottoms removed, and peeled
6 tbls. Olive oil or as needed
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely diced Serrano ham or pancetta
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 hard cooked eggs, chopped

Preheat the broiler. On a baking sheet, lay asparagus flat on one layer, drizzle over two tablespoons or so of olive oil, roll the spears around until they are coated, add a bit more oil if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Place on the top rack of the oven and broil for 7 minutes, then roll the stalks to the other side and broil again until a bit of char appears on the tips.
Place on flat service plate, and keep warm as able (but this dish will also be great cold).

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the ham and garlic, saute until the garlic is aromatic, about 1 minute. Add broth and parsley and cook an additional minute or until heated through. Whisk in lemon juice until worked into sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the ham and olive oil sauce over the asparagus. Garnish with chopped hard cooked eggs.
Barely serves 4.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Help me to help you

I decided to leave this intro photo up one more day. I like to see it when I sign in because it reminds me that Josh is on his way home after nearly seven months in Bahrain. The longest I was ever gone was just over three weeks and I wanted to go home then with a vengeance. I cannot image what seven months might do to a soul. Weary, it must be weary. But he arrives to a child that can eat (!) actual food (!) and loves to do so. So now, I will have two in my captive audience!

There has been a bit of frustration lately, however. Verbal scuffling. Skirmishes, even. The first has to do with Josh's demand that I send pictures of my daughter in the Red Sox apparel he bought for her, which means I will have to go get it back from the neighbors mini-pig who seems to love wearing it. Second, has to do with packages. What goes where, when, and how, and why, in time for his arrival is more of a filibuster to progress around this house today than any other circumstance I can remember, including the Brisket meltdown or that embarrassing gumbo incident in 2002. Those issues were out of my control. Once you make 8 gallons of gumbo or brine 6 pounds of beef, you are out there in no-man's land and only the fire department can help with anything that might happen in either case. But, this whole send-stuff-here thing and do-this but-don't-do-that sets of instructions are not my strong suit. I didn't get to the top of a mediocre industry by getting bogged down with other people's instructions. I like to think of myself as a trailblazer, blazing trails on this fine day, to the post office and beyond. Not a person who feels bound by the clear tragedy of another's thought process: I moved on as I saw fit. I feel good about my decisions. I feel bad that Brad will have to drive from Corpus Christi to Houston to get that package for Josh but, I feel like he appreciates a free thinker. I am (sort of) kidding.

Anyhow. I have the asparagus. I toted it around in my bag all day and really drilled down on what would be the best end for those first verdant stalks of a cold, aching spring. I contemplated Edna Lewis' and Scott Peacock's Asparagus and Scallion Pie, but it seemed too much like, well, a pie. I am willing to try an alternate but if some kind reader does not email me a suggestion, (which I will follow loosely, per the above) I might just revert to my oldest favorite: Asparagus Casserole with Horseradish. I will wait to get a message from you, or myself...

In the meantime, remember one thing: My daughter is a Yankee fan, she just has not said her first word yet but when she does, this Sox thing is history. While this is a tragic misunderstanding for a father and daughter to overcome, we welcome him nonetheless, fan-related faults and all, home.