Monday, July 28, 2008
When this season rolled around, I saw the previews but had no interest in the first episodes because of the ineptness I had witnessed before (that blame goes all the way around with that bunch of dubious would-be-stars, judges, and guests). Then more than ten years in the fashion industry got the best of me and after one glimpse of Lisa Garza's stylishness, I was forced to get myself caught up if only to be able to say that once upon a time I actually saw a beautifully dressed elegant woman appear on the Food Network (though, I have to admit, the heels were ridiculous, there are dozens of gorgeous flats which would have helped her to be taken more seriously).
Having looked back at the original shows in which she appeared (and it seems she really got the goat of the food bloggers watching and commenting on Next Food Network Star), I suppose there are moments when the blogging community might have found her abrasive, cold, and an unlikely television personality. Maybe these are bloggers who have not tuned in for the sparkling, effervescent, amusing, warm, and snuggly Martha Stewart Show. Well, don't feel you've missed her best shows. Our Omnimedia icon is no warmer than her chilled watermelon icepops. By the same token, a quick sail through beloved Paula Deen's book will yield her admission that she is tough and exacting. A moment watching Rachel Ray be herself is a study in forceful demanding egotism. Authority and warmth, in my experience, can be safely and effectively mutually exclusive. What's more, I would guess they are never good friends in the television environment where one has a very short time to ice the cake and tell you a story about their dear mama.
No business is a kind one. To be successful, you have to get hard. The nature of succeeding is understanding that you cannot be all things, you have to maximize your gifts, cut your losses, and keep adapting. The nature of accomplishing those feats can rub some the wrong way but not me. If Lisa Garza appeared in an interview chair before me I would hire her straight away. This girl is no push over. She learns, changes, and grows. She is tough and a survivor and a presentable and articulate business person. And make no mistake about it, Lisa Garza is a business, one that I hope will do phenomenally well and have longevity. People of this caliber are not easy to find, nor, in many cases are they easy to stomach. But their industry clearly needs them.
It was disappointing Lisa did not win. It seemed the concept she settled on, "Beautiful Basics," was both solid and elegant. Her demo was easy to watch and the food was, thankfully, not another Food Network venture into a thousand Betty Crocker recipes. She brought a level of polish Food Network has never before demonstrated. She did not throw on an over-sized man shirt (Paula, Ina) or a cleavage-bursting Michael Stars tee or half-caftan (Sandra, Giada, Rachel, Ingrid) in order to fit into the FN cookie cutter. She was different and I hate to think that could have been her downfall with the network.
Speaking of Food Network, oddly, we were never given the opportunity to mention any of this to the network as viewers: The viewers choice did not contribute to the winner and the network is accepting no comment feedback. This whole deal is a little fishy if you ask me but I could not tell how or why.
For a fleeting moment, she gave Food Network some elegance. It is not at all surprising the network neither understood or valued this trait in a chef. It is a shame. And though a curious and surprising one, hardly the worst one for the Food Network in the past year.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Oh, they were sorry piles of wilted iceberg with canned olives carelessly tossed with thinly shaved yellow onions and a couple of mushy pink-hued tomatoes. All this finery was doused liberally with red wine vinegar and vegetable oil. These so-called salads looked like decomposing remains from better iceberg in days gone by. They no more appealed to the palate than two week old sliced lemons.
Grocery stores and even the old pizzeria's in New York have come along way since then. Good news for anyone who is preggers and cannot, cannot tolerate the smell of cooking, or cooked food, no?
6 cups hearts of romaine, cut into bite-sized pieces
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted
2 English cucumbers, peeled and cut into medium dice
3 roma tomatoes, cut into medium dice
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into medium dice
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
Place the romaine in a large salad bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add to the romaine the olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and mozzarella. Drizzle the olive oil and lemon juice evenly over the top and toss gently to coat. Fold in the feta cheese gently. Serve.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
It never ceases to amaze me the way dishes go by. One of the many reasons I began Blushing Hostess was to chronicle my cooking life and the recipes and garden yields that influenced the dishes we ate. In a collection of cookbooks I keep towards the bottom of the shelves, there are thousands of worthy recipes. Though, they have for a few years now seemed to me more recipes gone by, if you will, than current and influential.
I know restaurants that seem to cook from these very cookbooks. They have commanding and moving views of the Boston and Cape Cod shorelines, old captains chairs for seating, and thin red-patterned worn carpets. They smell a little shore-line musty, smack of another time when people actually wore dinner jackets while eating out on vacation and dining with ladies with bouffant hair, sheath dresses made of thick polyester fabrics and wearing big plastic beads for necklaces. They served dishes of a legendary and high order that go by names youthful trendy diners have little connection to: Newburg, Thermador, Imperial, and Diane to name a few. It was an age of thick white sauces, fish covered in butter, then sprinkled liberally with cracker crumbs and more butter before being passed for mere seconds under a broiler. There was a time this was some pretty haute grub, okay? I'm young, but not so young as not to remember eating a Oscar this or an Imperial that. The truth of the matter, as I have intimated plainly to you, is that some places of this ilk remain. And the truth of me is that sometimes, I seek comfort in the things I associate with my first fine dining moments with my extended family.
It is ever so rare these days that I would pick up any cooking magazine and see one of these old fat-laden, heart-attack threatening renditions of butter, more butter, wine, stock, and cream. Oh, but there are days I want them back fiercely if only to uncloak a primary truth about restaurant food of this near age: Just because it looks healthier than the old days does not mean that it is. Restaurant food is not, for the most part, intended to help you govern your health. It is intended to taste fabulous in order to bring you back again and again. It is intended to make you crave something they do well.
Here are a couple more painful facts but facts nonetheless: Truly good steak is finished in butter. Tasty sauces are finished in cream, or butter. Salt punches up the flavor of everything when used correctly (Don't believe me? When you bake that next batch of chocolate cookies, sprinkle some grey sea salt over the top just as they come out of the oven.) If you are eating rich foods, restaurant or not, in moderation these occasionally creamy buttery bursts on your tongue will not be your greatest undoing. If you are eating them with abandon every night, why, you may have yourself a problem by next week. The point is, while the names and cooking techniques vary from the age of smoke-filled seaside joints, the fact of caloric and concerning ingredients remains.
But if, in the course of a moderate and careful life, you occasionally wish for a beautiful plate of food which is admittedly not the lowest in calories but is the highest in gorgeous, old-restaurant with a view of the Cape shore-comfort, make this dish. Or make it, for a guy named Mr. Micheli, who years ago sent it into Gourmet magazine in remembering his mother. I imagine her with a lovely big do, a sheath dress, and wearing a big necklace. I too make this in her honor, and in honor of the way it was.
Chicken (or Halibut) Louisa
adapted from Mr. Micheli's recipe as published by Gourmet, 2000
I occasionally use fish steaks of halibut here to make it special but Mr. Micheli, that old fox, he used boneless chicken breasts to make it a thing you could make on a Tuesday night. And you will be fine with dried tarragon though, tarragon is a lovely thing to have in a kitchen garden for salads and pot pie crusts, just off the top of my head...
4 (1/3-inch-thick) chicken cutlets
(1 1/2 lb)1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
1/2 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 or 5 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 extra-large chicken-bouillon cube, crumbled
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat. Brown chicken on both sides in 2 batches, about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer chicken to a plate and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.
Add shallot to skillet and cook, stirring, until tender, about 1 minute. Add wine and deglaze by boiling over high heat, scraping up brown bits, until reduced by half. Stir in broth, cream, tomatoes, and tarragon. Simmer, stirring, until tomatoes are softened and sauce begins to thicken, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Return chicken, with any juices accumulated on plate, to skillet and simmer until cooked through. Serve with rice.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Nonetheless, something about the below recipe when it was originally published in the the New York Times told me it should have fallen into the timely and comforting category rather than the luxe restaurant-food-at-home claim the article attached to the original recipe (which was for Artic Char, virtually the same thing which can be treated in the same manner as the salmon below). This is a fairly fast, unbelievably painless, and remarkably impressive dish to make.
What I have learned from this and my other fish recipe love is that given how quickly some fishes cook, my old axiom should no longer apply: A long cooked fish is a nasty fish so, let's call this easy, pretty quick, and outside the "good things take time" conventions. I am not sure it is luxe food. Though, it is deeply good, chest warming, and satisfying food.
Roasted Salmon with Ancho Shallot Butter
adapted from this New York Times recipe
Use more or less of the compund butter as you wish. Lovely with brown rice.
Ancho shallot butter:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
1/4 cup white wine
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 teaspoons ground ancho chili pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
Canola oil spray for greasing the roasting pan
4 6 ounce ounce boneless salmon fillets
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the ancho-shallot butter: In a small skillet over medium heat, heat oil and add shallot. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer until evaporated, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
To make the compound butter: In a mixing bowl, combine softened butter, ancho chili, coriander, honey, salt and sauteed shallot. Mix well until blended and smooth. (New York Times note: "May be used immediately, or covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days, or covered and frozen for up to 3 months; bring to room temperature before using.")
Now the salmon. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow metal baking pan, and arrange fillets in a single layer. Salt and pepper the fillets. Then spread each with 2 tablespoons ancho-shallot butter. Bake 10 minutes. They will still be right pink on the inside. Plate, re-spoon pan sauces over each plated filet. Serve.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
This second pregnancy is much like the first: I can tolerate cold, scentless foods best. There is the occasional craving in the first three months and a desperate need for ice cream at most times. While I cannot explain these oddities to anyone around me in a way that makes any sense, I see some evidence there may be little hands at work: My daughter is a fierce eater of very good ice cream and avocados now that she can choose her own sustenance.
Jennifer always got the call when I needed a burger then. My Mom had to eat a good deal of Indian food with me, that ended in an unfortunate dish of Chicken Vindaloo which sent the seventh-month babe wildly fighting inside. And John made a probably a hundred ladies-portion-turkey-lettuce-tomato sandwiches and blueberry-muffin-extra-butter at Kingsley's as those months passed. All of this was a marked improvement over those first three months in which food was just an agony for me, and vitamins no less a nightmare.
This is by way of a warning: There is only so much cooking I can manage because I cannot tolerate the smell of food. More cold food will appear here because these recipes are tested according to what I can manage, normally against a multitude of obligations and pursuits, but now against a queasy, easily-offended, and relentless stomach. Bear with me, will you?
Grilled Corn and Cojita Salad with Lime Dressing
This salad is best at this time of year when the corn is super fresh and sweet. I prefer Cojita to many Feta applications because it is less salty and more creamy in texture as crumbling cheeses go. You could add a roasted poblano to this salad for some heat...
8 ears of corn (preferably sweet), cleaned
1 cup cojita cheese, crumbled
1 medium red onion, diced
Juice of one lime
1 tablespoon chili powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Coat your grilling surface with non-stick cooking spray. Heat your grill to medium.
Place the corn ears on to the grill. Cook for 7 minutes on each (relative) side, or until cooked through. This will depend on the size of the ears.
With your chef's knife, cut the kernels from the corn into a medium bowl. Add the cojita, red onion, lime juice, and chili powder. Toss vigorously to combine.
Season with salt and pepper to combine. Serve hot if you must but flavor deepens with a couple of hours in the refrigerator.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
This tiniest of notes appeared in the New York Times Dining Section recently:
TARRY LODGE Joseph Bastianich and Mario Batali have taken over this place and will reopen it in September as a pizzeria-trattoria: 18 Mill Street, Port Chester, N.Y., (914) 939-3111.
That was the entirety of the mention but it should have been a fifteen page dissertation on why that is such ticklishly good news that those two talented gentlemen are desperately needed on the scene in Westchester: Because we are hungry and there are far too few places worth the wait.
Some of the best real Italian you'll ever eat, (and on your way home from work, Kins).
Sunday, July 13, 2008
There have been many bright moments since I wrote last.
Two of my favorites are the littlest: Firstly, we have been looking at this old farmhouse in the Carolina's, wondering if it might be a good place for us to have as an occasional home. It is part grand old home, part farm, part historical landmark. It needs someone, either a Rehabilitator or a Sucker. My Dad's love for history was handed down, when we are shown an old house we see its history, not problems too inconceivable to attempt to remedy. As we debate the finer points of historical renovations and doing proud the family who worked that land for 150 years, I was pleased to be reminded of Bunny Williams book, An Affair with a House. The book is a definitive and loving recounting of a lifetime spent in stewardship to a grand old home. It does seem one might like to take their time in deciding to which old place to give a lifetime and a new heartbeat. We do need more growing space, always. And Josh also thinks it would be nice to have a silo. Since I am from the 'burbs originally, I am in no position to second guess.
Secondly, while once again wandering Charleston unsuccessfully searching for a sideboard (owing to my inability to concentrate in that town altogether.), I noted that Charleston Recreation has several week-long summer class offerings. One of them is Southern Protocol and is a regular part of camp rotation in Charleston. Children begin with a week in the age 3 to 6 group and advance later to the more senior mannered group, ages six to ten. As readers of Blushing Hostess Entertains will attest, I love nothing better than protocol and love that a business which protects saying just enough, dressing neatly, and encouraging lovely dining habits, thrives. Though no surprise it would do so in the gracious City of Steeples.
Oh, my. And in this last week there have been moments I would care to forget. Ah-hem, the silent expletive rich dialogue I had with myself noting the work of a plumbing contractor, who will now be known as Mr. Fix-One-Break-Two-Others. The barrage, well, that happened after several confused, head-tilting back and forth minutes staring at his dastardly home "improvement" and thinking no way is that guy ever going to work for Bunny Williams...
It was past time to stop staring at the broken wall, fixtures, and tiles and move on to something far more pleasant and fragrant, like peaches. The season is in full swing all over and who can resist the rising scent of peach pie from a kitchen? That is summer Sunday supper lofting gently on a hot breeze through the porch window and down to the field. That, my friends, is the best fragrance on earth. Which brings me to a delicious but frustrating item.
I was looking for an old, old recipe I lost from Southern Living Magazine, a publication which I generally have no use for culinarily for two reasons: The recipes are pantry-kitchen sink type of stuff. You know, pull out 15 cans, heat, spread over chicken, bake. And secondly, unlike Gourmet and Bon Appetit, they have not cataloged all of their recipes on their internet site. If you are looking for something of theirs which has not been archived, you are left to rely on every Tom, Dick, and idiots transcription methods at hideous, ineffective places like recipegold.com and the like where they no more read or edit their own stuff than actually make any of the food they mention.
In any event, in its otherwise useless culinary life, Southern Living did one thing right: The Georgia Peach and Praline Pie, published in 1998 and virtually off the publication radar ever since. I searched high and low (very, very low, did you know there are some very illicit websites with food names? Well you know now, and so, unfortunately, do I.) and finally found this unreliable piece of trash which does two things I cannot tolerate in a recipe: It does not give you measurements for the same ingredient divided: In other words 1 cup plus 1/2 cup flour divided, and instead combines them. Once you use 3 tablespoons of the the 1/3 cup flour it does not define how much is remaining to be used elsewhere. Secondly, in my book, if the recipe has two distinct parts the ingredients should be separated. Filling from crumb topping, in this case. If you have the patience to sort through this recipe, this is an amazing pie, or tart. If you don't, I will never blame you. But swing on by of a Sunday evening, and be sure you've left room for pie.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Through my childhood and into college I was not a breakfast eater. Long into professional life, it became clear I would have more patience for the situations a morning and lunch-less day could bring if I would just eat something as I started out. Breakfast in several cultures did not save me: Pork dumplings in Hong Kong? Congi in Singapore? Gamy salami in Italy? Beige questionable eggs in Guatemala? Nothing put before me made the prospect of consuming food at an ungodly hour any more pleasing.
Until one frigid winter morning in London seven years ago. Josh and I tumbled out of a wind tunnel on the street in front of Harrod's looking only for a bit of relief from the cold. Earlier, we had experienced the offer of a hotel breakfast which looked quite depressing: All the cold things were luke-warm and all the hot items were cold. Nothing looked to be enticing enough to expend a good chew on. We passed. At Harrod's then, we followed signs to the cafe and ordered scones if only to give ourselves an excuse to be out of the winter for a moment.
The scones were fluffy clouds, speckled with berries and tipped with gold. Next to them sat clotted cream and the house preserves. Along side they brought good strong teas. The combination was memorable and exciting: Certainly if breakfast had been as delicious, as balanced in textures, and had flavors so complimentary, I would not have stayed away. We went back every day for three days. I took the preserves home, packed along side ten bottles of Molton Brown lotion (the best, hands down).
Breakfast remains the hardest meal of the day. At least I have been provided a reason to continue to seek out great breakfasts. As frequent readers know, the lemony, crunchy, zip of toasted zucchini bread passed muster, like a dozen of my favorite scone renditions, as do any number of toasted muffin possibilities. I share these with you today as they are great breakfast food (full of blueberry goodness) and munchies (Josh is still not a breakfast convert). This recipe makes enough for an army of breakfast non-believers.
Blueberry Crumb Muffins
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups milk
3 1/2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ground pecans
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick cold butter, cut into 1/2 dice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
Using an electric mixer and paddle, cream the butter and remaining 3/4 cup of sugar until smooth and pale in color, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. In another bowl, combine 3 1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder, and salt. Alternately fold in the milk and flour mixture, being careful not to over mix. Fold in the blueberries. Spoon 1/4 cup of the filling into each prepared muffin cup.
In a small bowl, combine the crumb ingredients: 1 cup flour, brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon. Mix well. Add the cold butter. Using your hands, mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumb-like mixture. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the crumb mixture over each muffin cup.
Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Firstly, New Orleans has itself an official cocktail by vote of its (not otherwise occupied?) state legislature. I can no more vouch for the Sazerac as for the people who wisely took it upon themselves to proclaim it the first cocktail of this great city, but on my (or surely the Hosts) next turn through New Orleans, we will duck into Commodores Palace and find out what made this Herbsaint mixture worthy of an act of a state legislature. I imagine it being better first tasted in the place where it was invented and made by those who understand the historical import of a drink that rises to this level.
And now, we've a bit of levity provided to us by the kind folks over at Modern Drunkard Magazine and their thesis on The Secret Language of Cocktails. After reading the brief description of each sort of cocktail drinker we encourage you to click into our "Comment" area below and tell us what kind of drinker you are.
What? They have nothing to say about the Champagne Cocktail? Certainly this means we are international women of taste and mystery? And what of the other perennial favorite, the Cactus Pear Margarita? I fear the outcome of that one will not be good news but I feel confident the Mesa Grill patrons will stand by their choice...
I just like the look of a cold cocktail on a searing hot summer day, don't you? What are you drinking?
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I expected nothing from the tortilla rolls on the plate: By then, I had consumed three days worth of unimpressive food items on a strictly life-sustaining campaign to just get back to LA without starving to death and collapse into a chair at Ivy with my old friend and regale her with sorted food tales from the no-man's land of cuisine that little burg shaped up to be. But that tortilla roll, all on its own, created my love for authentic Mexican food and saved me from a life of secretly eating granola bars while travelling in Mexico. When I think of how close I came to throwing the towel in, I am ashamed of my unwillingness to continue to digest nasty, soggy textured, goopy plates of unidentifiable beige food in order to find the diamond of Mexican dishes. As luck would have it on that trip, I had left the granola at home in Boston and I was hungry enough to repeat the fright, sometimes outrage, and usual quesiness which accompanied my unlucky meals there.
Inside these handmade tortillas was a tender chicken that was just a vehicle for the sauce the chicken had been bathed in before meeting tortilla, lettuce, and cheese. I cannot tell you another thing about the place, I really only wanted to get out of there in one, perhaps slightly bedraggled fashionista, piece. But the sauce was something a little tomato and a lot piquant. I have spent several years trying to reach back to it and the lime drink on the table (a far wiser idea than drinking water thereabouts).
I have arrived at the sauce, after unsucessfully experimenting with some of Diana Kennedy's suggestions (her recipes were good, but not my sauce), which it turns out, has been with me all along in a Rick Bayless book.
You will use this sauce again and again: In enchildas, on pasta with lots of veggies, over eggs for huevos racheros, for casseroles, broiled fish, slow cooker sauce for chuck roast, and even as a dip. It the fastest sauce I make, ten minutes end to end, it freezes beautifully and will never fail you.
Tomato Chile Sauce for Enchiladas
about 4 cups
wildly adapted from Authentic Mexican Cooking, by Rick Bayless
Chef Bayless calls for fresh tomatoes in his recipe. After trying the fresh tomato version, the San Marzano version that appears below is far tastier, faster, and less of a nuisance to deal with.
The 3 jalapeno called for here will not make this sauce spicy because they are seeded and deveined. If you like it hot, keep the seeds and veins in, or use 5 serrano in the same fashion.
1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole San Marzano tomatoes
3 fresh hot chiles (jalapeno or serrano), stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
Into the large bowl of the food processor, place the entire contents of the San Marzano tomatoes, the chiles, onion, and garlic. Process the mixture until pureed, maintain some texture if you wish.
Now you must fry the sauce in a large, heavy bottomed pot or skillet: Heat the oil in the pot until searing hot, when a drop of water tossed into the oil sizzles. Add the pureed mixture from the food processor all at once, being careful to keep yourself out of the way of any splatter. Stir the sauce vigorously and constantly for 5 minutes over this very high heat. As the puree sears, it will cook into a thicker, more orange-colored sauce.
Use with chicken or beef for tacos, enchilada, or burritos to marinate the meat and pour over the top of the finished item. Also, over eggs and tortillas or migas for brunch. Allow to cool and use as a dip for crudite. Add one tablespoon cream and this is a fabulous, refreshing twist on a standard pasta sauce. Broil it over fish. Use it as a base for a great Mexican style homemade pizza with mangchengo...