Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pink Fluff..Homemade Marshmallows

I have been threatening to make homemade marshmallows for ages. Finally saw peppermint marshmallows I cannot resist. And I ask you this, too: why ever buy fluff again (some of you may ask why Ever buy it at all. It is obvious you have not known and loved the great fluffernutter sandwich. I digress.)

These were simple..well, if you don't count me boiling the syrup over and fretting that the tablespoon or two I lost to the stovetop would alter the chemistry enough that I would not have marshmallows at all, just goop. It didn't. But use a deep saucepan. When the stuff starts to boil, no amount of blowing on the surface of the boiling mixture (a known and well-used method in restaurant kitchens, no joke) kept it from overflowing. That's okay. I needed something to clean up while I whipped the concoction of gelatin and sugar syrup to fluff.

I followed Alton Brown's recipeRecipe, using peppermint extract instead of vanilla. I swirled red food coloring through it all, too. ( note to self: a few drops will do!) I may gild the lily and add chocolate to the top, as one person did..but that sounds like work.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why I Write...

A fellow blogger, Van Waffle, who generously did a guest post here at Babette Feasts a while back, posed the challenge to some bloggers to write about why we write. Van's essay is here, a truly thoughtful piece about what writing has brought to his world and his life.

For me, I think it is simpler. I write partly because I can. I always knew I was a good writer through school. An award-winning essay got me a trip as an exchange student to South America, where I made friends I have to this day, people I call family in Montevideo, Uruguay. I placed out of writing classes in college. I turned in decent essays.

And then I stopped writing. I took a job where I could find one (in retail). It required no writing. Then I took a job when I wanted to move to New York City--I worked in a bank with people who seemed a lot more intelligent than I was. Am. I didn't write that much there, but what I did write, I relished. To this day, one of the best things I did there, totally for me, was attend a business writing seminar hosted by a crusty older man, someone who really knew how to write. Anyone who had that guy as a teacher would have been lucky. Attending that class made me realize I really was as good a writer as I thought.

And then I still didn't write much.

I got married. I changed careers and worked in a professional kitchen as a chef. I loved that job. I sure didn't write there, but...once again, I was good at what I did. Really good. I moved up fast. It's a tough job, not for everyone, but I still remember it as about the most fun I ever had in a job.

Then I had one child..then another. I didn't take much time off, ending up working in catering, still meeting great people, but putting in about 40 hours in 3 days, sometimes 4 days, all in the evenings or all day Saturday and Sunday. Catering was pretty backbreaking work. Some of the glow was off the cooking gig.

And then we moved to another city in another region. When I thought I was ready to get back into the kitchen, I got offers of starting as the salad maker. Again. I had proved myself in the one of the top restaurants in the country, moving all the way up to expediting, and they still wanted me to make salads. I finally landed a job as a pastry chef with a shift of 11 p.m to 7 a.m. If I thought catering was a grind, this was a grind and a half. All of the work and none of the fun. And I was pregnant with child number three.

I came home exhausted and just decided I needed a job where I could make money and stay home.

So I decided to write. I got out books titled "How to Write and Sell Magazine Articles" and followed the instructions. And I started to sell work. Bit by bit. Writing has sustained me with a modest income, allowing me to be around for my kids and fulfill some need to do something I'm good at doing.

No, it's not writing the great American novel, although I'm determined to write that someday, too. It's a job. It's a craft. A craft I am trying to hone all the time. I can pick out fun blog posts, poignant posts, even, I am sorry to say, boring ones. It's not all great, but I'm trying to get better. When I do get inspired I write a personal essay here and there. Those are fun, too.

But there is more. The blank page or screen is, indeed, a place for me to write down heartaches, sadnesses, angers...the therapeutic letter to some bonehead, written with venom and brilliant turns of phrases, written so I can get it ALL off my chest...and then take a deep breath, delete that note and compose a calm, professional and reasoned reply to said bonehead.

I think the day my brother died and in the days after, I wrote a lot in his memory. I wrote a poem, I wrote a haiku and finally this small essay, which I repost every May 20. Those helped. A tiny bit.

I write because I can. And I am glad I can.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Twist on Marcella's Lemon Chicken.

I first wrote about this recipe last fall after making it a few times. Since then, the recipe has evolved to suit the tastes of our house... It has become a go-to favorite here ever since. I've made it countless times, changing it up just a bit...but finally, this is the end result. Many thanks to Marcella for the first iteration of this recipe, her chicken fricassee with lemon and egg from Essentials of Italian Cooking. Now here's the more plebeian version...I cannot believe I don't have a photo for you. We must eat it too quickly for me to get something...I promise one is coming.

Babette's Adaptation of Chicken with Lemon and Egg from Marcella
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1 cup beef stock or bouillon (I use Better than Bouillon)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 egg yolks

1. Use large cast-iron skillet. Add butter, melting over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until softened.
2. Push onion to side of skillet. Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towel. Add to skillet in single layer and reduce heat to medium. Allow to brown well on each side, at least 5 minutes per side. Salt and pepper chicken.
3. Add beef stock, scraping bottom of skillet to get up any good browned bits. Reduce heat so liquid is at very slow VERY SLOW simmer. Cover, leaving lid slightly ajar. Cook this slowly 45 minutes, turning chicken thighs in stock every now and then.
4. After 45 minutes, uncover. You should have just enough liquid to cover the bottom of the skillet.
5. Whisk lemon juice together with egg yolks. Remove skillet from heat and quickly stir lemon juice/yolk mixture into skillet, turning to coat chicken thighs. Work quickly to keep egg yolks from "cooking"--the juice/yolk mixture should combine with the remaining stock to make a silky, thickened sauce.
6. Turn chicken thighs and sauce onto warm platter and serve immediately. Serve with something like orzo to get every last drop of sauce from this dish.

Serves 6 to 8

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pizza in Punxsutawney...a little Bit of Paradise

Behold. The Pizza Oven...
There is something to be said for a place where you can have plenty of land. You know. Land where you can build a pizza oven.
You know what else you get with a lot of space? An  Aga. Just saying. I love Punxsutawney.

Friends F and S indulged me in inviting myself to their home in Punxsy to make pizza in the oven. F built the oven, the stone walls, the stone house..but it was that pizza oven I was after.

F built a fire early in the day so by the time we arrived, the coals were glowing hot. I brought the dough and a few toppings. They had some great mozzarella cheese, homemade sausage, basil from the garden.

Take some basil. And green beans. And oregano. And...and...and...

And that oven.

I practiced on a little foccacia.

It seemed easy enough. But as I made bigger pizzas, it was tougher to get them off the peel and onto the floor of the oven. I lost some toppings into the oven. Oops.

But with practice? I got this.

I use Carol Field's pizza dough. I cannot get it thin enough--or could not last night...I plan on learning to toss pizza dough, so I think I can conquer that problem. How hard can it be, right?

Here are two winning combos and my secret ingredient for really great pizza:

Stretch your dough. Brush the dough with EVOO mixed with anchovy past, just a touch. No one will know but you, and it makes it awesome.

I like to sprinkle just a little parmesan cheese on next in case toppings are wet-ish.

Great topping number 1:
Fresh marinated mozzarella (oil drained--we used mozzarella bocconcini from Costco), homemade sopresata, and drained and chopped artichoke hearts. I chopped the artichokes and drained them on paper towels while we waited to make the pizzas. I tore the mozzarella as I put it on so it was not too big.

Great topping number 2:
Red onion, thinly sliced and sauteed. Red bell pepper, thinly sliced and sauteed. Smoked gouda.
Prep the dough the same way (anchovy olive oil, sprinkle of parm) and top.

I think we cooked a little too late--my host thought the oven should have been hotter, and for the very last pizza, he raked the coals (I should have paid more attention) and the pizza cooked a lot more quickly...I liked turning the pizza in the oven with the peel--once it was in, if I waited about a minute, it was easy to lift and turn the pizza to take advantage of the coals.

Awesome night--thanks, my friends!!
Until we cook again...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thursday's Thoughts

Goat cheese, olives, lemon, herbs, black pepper, olive oil. Done.
During June, Thursday became my essay day, so I'm going to keep it going--even if I HAVE missed nine days of blogging since the blogathon.

I think often about simplicity in the kitchen. The days of me cooking for days have passed. The kids are almost all out of the house, our circle of friends seems smaller (so many were soccer and gym parents--those things ended and so little replaced it). Our family almost is never all together.

But that is all okay, because into the space left by big gatherings is a sense of simplicity. My new, go-to app of goat cheese, olives, lemon zest and olive oil, with plenty of herbs (this is from Leite's, and they use thyme; I use whatever I have on hand) and black pepper. My favorite breakfast is unflavored greek yogurt with my own granola, a drizzle of honey and frozen blueberries. Lunches are leftovers. Dinners? Well, either I am testing a recipe, but when I'm not, I want easy. Easy includes grilled lamb sticks (ground, seasoned lamb pressed onto skewers--we get it at the supermarket and it's an "easy" dinner), chicken teriyaki in the crock pot, Marcella Hazan's lemon chicken. Caprese salad, especially in the summer. Chicken marinated with lemon, garlic, rosemary and olive oil.

See? So simple nothing needs a recipe, really, just some instructions.

But really it's about that simplicity--even if I need to think ahead. To me, even homemade pizza (dough and all) is simple as long as I've remembered to start the dough in the afternoon.

I still love having people over and hosting family and friends for special occasions. It just doesn't seem to happen often enough.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to keep it simple, but keep it special.

My Special Variation of Marcella Hazan's Lemon Chicken:

It's easy and a variation of her full-chicken-cut-
up approach (plus I leave some stock in skillet because it makes such an awesome sauce): brown a finely diced onion in butter in a large cast-iron skillet. Add boneless skinless thighs. Brown well. Add 1 cup BEEF stock, cover and simmer at the lowest of simmers 45 minutes, with lid slightly popped so stock is evaporating...turn thighs a couple of times while simmering. When there is just a bit of stock covering the bottom of the skillet, stir in a combo of 2 yolks and 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice...OFF the heat, that is...stir stir stir til it thickens...DONE. A one dish meal.)

Monday, June 30, 2014

The End!

I think this is the first photo I ever loaded to Babette Feasts..
Here are things I have loved about this month.

Everything was a potential topic. Recipes, essays, photos, my art. I thought about it often.

I made notes to myself while I was out and about about ideas for the blog.

I got to read a lot of other fabulous blogs.

I woke up and had a plan for the blog.

I got it done.

I love blogathon. If I take anything away from this month, it will be to schedule posts for the next few months.
...Otherwise, Babette Feasts languishes.

What have you loved?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wordle Sunday

I especially like the spot that says "always push great food."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Things About Summer

Summer Bounty

. It's hot. The oven shuts down, the grill goes on. And I buy a toaster oven, because let's face it. Sometimes you still have to brown things. I just don't want to brown them in that huge heat box.

2. I keep trying to cook from the market. Lots of good stuff in the markets now. Peaches. Lettuces. More peaches. One of my favorite memories is being at a market around closing time and landing a case of peaches for not much money. I made peach jam...I sure could use a case of peaches now.

3. Drink real lemonade. Please do one thing this summer: make real lemonade with REAL lemons, real sugar. There is nothing like it.

4. Eating outside may not be for summer--for us, at least. I think spring and fall are great for eating out on our porch, but the afternoon sun starts beating down on our porch around 4 p.m. and the heat doesn't quit until the sun dips below the horizon. It's too hot to eat out there. Not too hot for my morning cup of coffee, though! (I am researching shade options! Maybe we'll get to eat outside again if we have more shade.

5. Grills can have very long lives. I bought our grill used for about $50. It gave us two full years of service, even when I asked it to fire up in the winter. The bar where the gas comes out--the piece with tiny holes in it--the burner?--finally just rusted through. Huge flames were licking up at the food, burning everything...we were reduced to cooking around the edges...but then I saw a replacement burner, bought it, installed it in about five minutes (okay: maybe 10!) and voila: We've still got this grill running. Maybe next year it'll get new grill grids. The ignition never worked, so I'm not worked up about it...The year after that? New bricks to spread the heat...And maybe by the year after that I'll have to replace the burner again. Repair before replacing, right?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Places I've Seen...

This week, Susan introduced me to the fabulous Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, where the writer makes up words to suit certain situations, feelings, etc., where no word yet exists...I love each word I read more than the one before it...from the blog:


n. the desire to care less about things—to loosen your grip on your life, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you before you reach the end zone—rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.

Kelly Kautz shared thoughts on a food photography class hosted live by Todd Porter and Diane Cu. I can't believe I missed the free class, but I will be keeping my eyes open for the next free event hosted by this pair.

I still cannot resist kitchen hack lists. This week's has a new one for me: freezing chopped herbs in olive oil...love it.

Gorgeous photos from a surfer. I was stunned by these.

For Harry potter fans, Snape's Instagram.

Wise words for young women graduating (mostly) but for young people in general, as well: Letter to a Young Dumbass.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Little Black (Cook) Books

I thumb through a stack of old recipe books--but these aren't cookbooks at all. These are the little notebooks every great line cook keeps in his or her jacket pocket to make notes.

I learned about keeping the books at my first job, working for Peter Hoffman at Stringfellow's, a UK nightclub that wanted to conquer the NYC scene in the mid 80s. The nightclub was flashy, and the menu was awesome. Peter had spent a lot of time in Japan and was using Japanese techniques, French flair, local ingredients and a heaping dose of respect for the food in his kitchen. (I should add he had a heaping dose of respect for his crew, too. I was the only woman in the kitchen, and it was an awesome experience, even when I was closing up and walking out at 2 a.m. after gutting salmon and removing gills--or something.) I never worked so hard or laughed so hard or loved a job so much as I did in kitchens.

But this isn't just about my work in the kitchens. It's about the books. These little books take me through those years. I absolutely loved cooking in restaurant kitchens. I never had any "Kitchen Confidential"-like experiences--never, not once. I worked for Peter, then for Danny Meyer at Union Square Cafe, then I catered in Philadelphia and worked for Jack McDavid there (and worked alongside Bobby Flay before he was a huge name--he introduced his first (I think) book to The Book and The Cook crowd and cooked his dinner at Jack's Firehouse. I made him laugh and made Jack angry at me for muttering under my breath...)

The books have neatly printed pages, where I obviously had some time to actually write. These are far from recipes--lists of ingredients followed by the word: Combine.

The Grill set-up at Stringfellows. It was a big deal for me to move from cold station to grill, but I had to on nights when the rest of the crew left early (always one person stayed behind to cook for the late revelers).

There's a list of sweet desserts for the week I subbed for the pastry chef while he was on vacation. I wasn't great at it, but I tried.

My first little black book
One post-it note in Peter's handwriting. Robert's revised recipe for Garam masala and the beef marinade.

My best friend Michael's notes for tempura batter. I lost him to the AIDS epidemic just a few years later. It was Michael who placed the sticker from the case of Wensleydale cheese onto the front of this book, where it still clings to this day...

The pear pickle I still make at times. Long list of ingredients followed by the commands: Combine. Boil. Simmer 5".

There's a break in the book when I moved to Union Square Cafe--that was push push push from the minute I stepped into the kitchen. The writing is sloppy. I shadowed a youngster, Pete, on day one, and from there on out, I was on my own. Some of the staff resented me, smirking as I tackled about 15 lobsters for the lobster with lemon mayonnaise dish they served back then. The smirks changed when I didn't complain and got everything ready in time for service, then, day by day,  earlier and earlier until I reached a point where I was ready long before service and jumping in to help anyone else. I worked my way through every station in that kitchen, finally expediting (I was good at that) and then, finally, into the office to be steward after I decided to take a break from the kitchen when I was about six months pregnant.

I remember Lars because we made his recipe for gravlax, and I have that recipe, with his  name alongside it

There is Martha's tiramisu, Marcie's truffles and her sour cream coffee cake. Corbin's crepes. (By this time, I had moved on to working in Jack's Firehouse.) A series of vegetarian recipes when Jack tasked me with coming up with some good veggie entrees.

The back of the book is stained but filled with a long list of Family Meal ideas, another job I had at Union Square. We fed the staff well--I didn't want it to be an afterthought, but it always had to be frugal. The lunch shift would sit down late in the day for lunch at 3 or 4 and eat with a glass of wine. The dinner shift would overlap, enjoying the same meal, fortifying themselves for the night ahead.

There's a little diagram of a kitchen setup for a catering event. A list of things that went wrong and ideas for how I could do better next time.

Then, finally, a page introducing my last real line job, at Cobblefish in Manayunk (in Philadelphia). Corbin was chef, the book was a gift from him. There are a few recipes, desserts...I was a help in a small kitchen then, working three and a half days over weekends. By then I had two kids under four. I still loved working but it was tough to be a mom, losing sleep and then pulling shifts, standing for about 10 hours until Midnight and still commuting home. You leave tired but awake. You want a drink and camaraderie. Everyone at home is already asleep after all.

Then we moved. We left the east coast for Kentucky. I loved Kentucky and had big plans to work there, too. The food scene in Louisville is great. But after talking to a few people, I got only offers of starting at the cold station.


I couldn't face that. I took one job, an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at a local, upscale hotel. I made desserts and breads (all I could think of was if I was the best person for desserts they could find...hmmm.). I was three months pregnant with my third child. I wasn't getting any of what I loved from kitchens to start with--the intense friendships and working relationships that a lunch or dinner shift gave me. I was alone. Quiet. Tired. Lonely. That was when I left the kitchen and started writing about food (and more).

That book has a few half-hearted entries under the hotel name, which I neatly entered after the Cobblefish entries. They look like ideas I had that I wanted to explore. Then I never wrote in that book again.

But I still cherish the books and use the recipes, the lists and notes only I can understand. And I savor the memories, remembering the people I knew and loved and laughed with.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What's for Dinner: Second Haiku of blog month..

The cupboard is full but my brain is empty

Thinking of dinner
Nothing comes to mind. I think
I could do better.

Good Advice. Maybe I'll do this instead of cooking...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Recipe Tuesday: Duck Terrine with Figs, My Paris Kitchen

Duck Terrine with Figs from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

I mentioned My Paris Kitchen  by David Lebovitz in an earlier post--our book club cooked from it for an end of year feast. I decided to tackle his Duck Terrine with Figs for the club--but started it too late. It's supposed to sit, weighted, in the fridge for two days, allowing flavors to blend and mellow.

I went ahead and made it anyway, figuring we could enjoy it at home in two days--the recipe makes a full loaf pan AND enough for a side bowl (about two cups extra)--so book-clubbers got the extra bowl, unseasoned, and it was good.

But the seasoned stuff? That was great.

I do not have Mr. Lebovitz's permission to reprint the recipe here, so I can only encourage to you go buy the book--there are loads of enticing recipes to make (you should SEE how many I've marked)--but as for notes on this particular recipe (Update: I found a blog where the recipe is reprinted with permission. Go visit Serious Eats for the recipe.):

1. It's really very simple. I did the variation using chicken thighs and it is delicious. I also didn't have the brandy he requests (figs get soaked in brandy), but bourbon made a fine, FINE substitute.

2. It's a big of chopping, a lot of food processing. Based on reading through the book, I've decided, because Mr. Lebovitz mentions it, to let my food processor live on my counter. I'll use it more. (And indeed, I already did, when I used it to shred two pounds of carrots for the carrot salad in the book.)

3. Once all chopped, into the loaf pan (plus bowl) it goes. Bake until internal temp reaches 160ºF (I did use an instant read thermometer for this), cool, weighted, then place, still weighted, in fridge.

4. MAKE THE ONION MARMALADE. Actually, it's shallot marmalade, but I had red onions and white onions. Still delish. It is fabulous on the terrine.

5. Add the cornichons! Crunch, tang, sweetness? All the keys that make something sing for me...

So it didn't make it to the book club dinner. It did make it to a beach bonfire and it's been lunch for days now...a thin slice on a nice roll with a touch of onion marmalade and some cornichons: heaven. Now if I were just in France....

Monday, June 23, 2014

Food art monday

I paid an outrageous amount for an artichoke the other day. Cooked and didn't share it. Because I am selfish that way...but here's a glimpse of it...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Repost: Rules to Break in the Kitchen..

Since I've written this, I don't actually wash that black cast-iron pan so often. I add oil, heat it on high, which cooks any bits of food off. Then I add just enough kosher salt to scrub the surface, using a wooden paddle to really rub where I need to...Then I let it cool and dump the oil/salt mixture into the trash. These days, I must admit I don't wash it that often...but there ARE still times I do...but the hot oil/salt trick does such a great job--try it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

6 Kitchen Rules I Routinely Break--You Should Too

There are some absolutes in a professional kitchen, some from home kitchens--things we do just because...well, we do... And some of them are great...and some simply don't work for me. So here you go...things that might make my first chef (Hi,Peter Hoffman, owner of Savoy in Tribeca!!) or my mom or my nana shudder...

1. I wash my black cast iron pan. Look, I get it--layers of flavor settle into the very being of the pan. Romantic. Flavors down the centuries. Blah blah blah.

No. Just no. Here's why. I might be cooking up onions and garlic one day...and then making biscuits for shortbread (sweetISH if not sweet sweet) the next. I don't WANT the flavors to be there.

So while I may not scrub with Dawn and a scrub brush, water always hits the pan after use. Mind you, so does a coating of oil and then I pop it into a still warm oven. It is pretty damn nonstick at this point and I love it. (Buy Lodge: Made in America....) But really? Wash it.

2. While we are on the subject of washing, I give my mushrooms a rinse. I was taught to patiently wipe the shrooms with a damp paper towel...washing them would make them act like sponges, I was told. Well...I'm not that patient. Now I toss them into a colander and give 'em a quick shower, shaking off excess water before popping them into a hot pan. Me? I don't think they suffer.

3. I cook ALMOST exclusively with extra virgin olive oil. I'm told it's a waste of money, but...hmm. I like the flavor...(sometimes, I know, I really DO want the non-flavor of vegetable oil and that is in the house..)...and it's what is at the side of the stove. And I like the flavor, did I say that already?

4. I don't buy expensive nonstick pans. Don't put your money into nonstick pans if that coating is on the inside of a $100+ pan. Heck, don't do it if the pan is $30+...I haven't come across a nonstick surface that lasts forever--not the way I cook, at least. And no, I don't use metal, I wash them by hand...but ultimately, I toss them and buy a new set of nonstick pans...once a year. And I don't spend a lot (check out Ikea)...(or do what I  plan to do and replace them all with cast iron eventually...cast iron that I WASH...)

5. I use skim milk almost every time they say milk, no matter what--yes, even in baking. This is another form of lazy, because unless I plan, skim is what's in the fridge. I've never had it not work...I think some things may lack some depth of flavor, but...not enough that the family notices.

6. I keep butter and some eggs always at room temperature. I have never used margarine, only butter--and I do not like rock hard butter...not at home, not in a restaurant (it's always a mark against a place if they bring be bread and rock hard butter...) Now this doesn't mean there's a pound of butter on the counter...At most, there's one stick in a covered glass butter dish. I guess if you don't have A/C, this wouldn't work in the height of summer, but other than that? Always there. Same goes for some eggs. I go through eggs relatively quickly, so this isn't a problem for me (although if my mom visits, we play the she-puts-the-eggs-into-the-fridge, I-take-them-out-of-the-fridge dance...until I snap and say: LEAVE THEM ON THE COUNTER. IT'S WHERE I WANT THEM..) Again, I used them up quickly and if I'm baking, I want eggs at room temperature...So if half a dozen are on the counter for a few days? No. Harm. (Again, YMMV if you live in a hot climate with no A/C)....

Bonus Item: SUBSTITUTE, PEOPLE, SUBSTITUTE!!! I have experienced cook friends and family call me now and then and ask: Can I substitute red onions for yellow? Can I use white wine if I don't have sherry? Can I use sherry if I don't have white wine? Chicken thighs instead of breast? Will bourbon work for whiskey? YES, OF COURSE YOU CAN AND OF COURSE IT WILL.
Again, these are some experienced cooks asking. No, of course sherry doesn't taste like white wine. (But onions DO taste like onions)--I can't begin to tell you the recipes I make...when I at times only have half the ingredients. Be bold. You really can't ruin it by subbing one veg for another or one wine for another. (Okay, so there's the time DH wanted a whiskey sour and subbed Scotch for the whiskey? That? THAT didn't work...) (Caveat: The same doesn't hold true in baking, as I bear witness to time and again in my rough attempts at baking...Baking is for precision...cooking is not!)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Kitchen Hacks...

I love the hack posts that are floating all over the internet--kitchen hacks, life hacks, office hacks...here are a few of my favorite kitchen hack posts.

A better way to cut cake, keeping it fresher longer!

If you use these creamers ( I don't, but I have some friends who ALWAYS do--I'm going to beg them for the bottles), recycle them for snacks and such--air tight...I think they would make great dressing bottles for my homemade balsamic.

You know the shower caps you never EVER use from the hotel room amenities? Save them and use fresh caps to cover bowls of food on the picnic table...

Ditch the avocado slicer you've never used. Slice the avocado in half, remove the pit. Hold the avocado skin-side-down in the palm of one hand. With a butter knife in the other hand, slice the avocado one way, then slice the other way, cutting through just to the peel. Use a spoon to scoop the cubed avocado out. Want an uncut half avocado? Holding that half avocado skin-side-down, just use a spoon to scoop the entire half avocado out. Have your way with it.

Have you seen the video on cutting cherry tomatoes (or grapes, for that matter?). Cut a whole bunch at once with one slice of the knife...watch the video, but in a nutshell, you corral the tomatoes on a plate. Place another plate on top of said tomatoes, but one that leaves a gap between the two plates...now just slice between the two plates. Done and dusted.

Did you know you can toast nuts in the microwave? Did you know all nuts are better toasted? Just spread them out on a plate, microwave 1 minute at a time, stirring and checking on them after each minute...Keep a close eye as they'll go from toasted to burnt rather quickly. How did I go all these years not knowing about toasting nuts in a microwave?

Poach eggs easily in plastic wrap:

Friday, June 20, 2014

What I've Seen this Week on the Web.

I look for funny. Avoid the scary, sad, offensive and political...because that is how I like it.

Brian Williams Raps Baby Got Back. Jimmy Fallon? Genius.

Michael Ruhlman really WORKS a Farmers Market--you should work it, too.

This from my son (language ahead!-i). I always like to envision different GPS voices/attitudes. This one cracked me up.:

Opera at the grocery store? Okay:

My friend Jen Singer's take on the great/bad of Summer Break.. From her post, among the things she loves/hates:
I love/hate you for: giving my kids summer jobs/preferring their paying jobs to my unpaid yard work.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Food and Friends

I love food and wine people. For the most part they are truly a great bunch to be around. Of course there are exceptions to every rule--how someone could be wined and dined on a press trip and still be a curmudgeon about it all, while enjoying the beauty of, for example, Nevis, is beyond me, but I've sat next to people like that.

But I will say it again. For the most part, food and wine people are my people. It may stem from dinners growing up in a mostly Italian family, noisy, argumentative, loving...did I mention noisy? And plenty of good food. We spent hours post-meal around the table every holiday, and I cherish those hours. To this day, a good meal ends the same way, dishes long cleared, coffee cups emptied, perhaps one more round of post-dinner drink poured. (Okay, these days, I'm more apt to suggest we move to the comfort of sofas, but only after at least an hour around the table!)

So it is with so much delight that I've found myself surrounded by some real foodie friends yet again in my new hometown. It all started when a few of us just wanted to get together to practice/learn French. Then a book club was suggested. Then the brilliance of an end-of-year book club meeting that focused on a food book and a cook book. (Thank you, Jill!) (For the record we read Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton and cooked from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz.)

To me there is something so special about cooking for friends. Yesterday, my husband posed the question, "Would you rather entertain than be entertained?" and my answer was an immediate yes. For me, cooking/entertaining has always been about hospitality and surrounding myself with people I love, meeting new people I come to love.

He then asked me to rate entertaining vs. being entertained (it's the way his mind works. We rank it all...) To me, the two are so close because I simply love both. I'm social that way. I think there is a far greater disparity, however, if someone prefers being entertained to DOING the entertaining. If you would rather be entertained, I'm guessing you probably want nothing or little to do with actually hosting an evening.

Either way, to me, an evening over dinner with friends is a special evening. Food is great, but loving friends is greater.

I'm lucky.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Monday's Art on Wednesday: Bermuda Onions

I sketched this on regular sketchbook paper. I will definitely tackle this again on watercolor paper. 

Guest poster Pat got Monday's spot, so I'm posting my onions today. Last week Jackie asked about how or why I got started painting...I love watercolors enough to want to be good at this particular thing. They really just capture beauty so well. I took lessons eons ago with a fabulous painter in Louisville, KY, Aline Barker. Fast forward to today, years later and a few painting classes in between, and I realize how fortunate I was to have had her as a teacher. I only regret not starting sooner and ever putting the brushes down (I didn't paint once in Florida. I wasn't happy there.)...It was one thing I wanted to get back to.

Almost a year ago, I turned to a painter friend and said, "I'm going to try to paint every day." So I started. I've painted almost daily ever since. I blog it over at My Year Of Watercolor, where I let you know you'll see the good AND the bad. It hasn't been so very bad so often that I've been embarrassed, although there are a few entries where I cropped the entire painting down to one tiny area that I liked...and sometimes, that's enough, to look at an entire painting and find one thing that I'm okay with.

Painting is so different from everything else. It's challenging. It's brought me into another world of people I never would have met otherwise. So I keep on going.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tea Time!

Twice in the past three weeks, we've had tea at home, with a lovely tiered tea plate (thank you, Kerrie!), plenty of tea, sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, champagne--the works. Both times we had cucumber sandwiches, but ya know what? Just not a fan of cucumbers unless their in a pickled salad...I love smoked salmon, but I think I was the only one...egg salad was a hit, of course. But the second time around, I created two sandwiches that were top of the list. Tomato Cheddar and Ham with Curried Honey Mustard. Both were simply put on thin white sandwich great and both were the first two sandwiches to go.

Here's the thing: nothing says you can't turn a tea sandwich into a regular sandwich, right? So here are two sandwiches to live on this summer:

Tomato Cheddar:

2 or 4 slices bread
About 4 ounces cheddar, grated
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tomato, sliced

Pop bread into toaster. While bread toasts, mix cheddar with mayo and chili powder. Spread over 2 slices of bread, 4 if you want to stretch it even more and cut calories. Top with slice tomato. Serve open-faced and enjoy. (Or close the slices for sandwiches you can pack.)

Ham with Curried Honey Mayonnaise
4 slices bread
4 teaspoons mustard (I used my fave, brown deli mustard)
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon curry powder
4 ounces thinly sliced ham

Pop bread into toaster. While bread toasts, mix mustard with honey and curry powder. Spread evenly on toast, top each piece of toast with 1 ounce sliced ham. Enjoy open faced, or close up for sandwiches to pack.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Guest post: Meet Pat and Pretty Food

Pat was a neighbor of mine for far too short a time. We moved out, she moved out...but not away. Now I get to visit her in the gem of a house she and her husband found, mere minutes away from where we first met. I love getting together with her and I love that she has jumped into he blogathon.
She blogs at Pat Blumer: I really should be in church right now, where she makes me smile and makes me think. Go visit her there.

For today, I am lucky to have her as my guest poster. I give you Pat:

Pretty Food

Only once in my life have I witnessed a bona fide meltdown over a poorly presented plate.

My husband and I were with new friends, Suzie and Dave, at adowntown Atlanta restaurant. It was the first visit for all of us; we had heard rave reviews about the new-Asian cuisine. Food writers throughout the city promised a dining experience like none other -food not only delicious, but gorgeous – colors and textures thrown together to produce tantalizing works of culinary artistry - diners finding themselves in quandaries as to whether or not they should violate this art with a fork!

As we were escorted to our table we admired the pretty food on the tables of other diners; Suzie even stopped dead in her tracks at a table or twoWhen seated I noticed Suzie kept her head on a swivel, twisting and turning to examine our fellow diners’ entrees. (hmmm…) While the rest of us began perusing the menu, Suzie began wondering aloud if she should ask the next table which dishes they had selected because of how delicious they looked(oh Lord …We all felt confident in assuring her that anything she ordered would be wonderful and that she should just relax.

We were wrong, big time.

The entrees soon arrived with much fanfare and were placed before our expectant eyesAll seemed well, for about a second and a half.Suzie took one horrified look at her plate and exclaimed, loudly, “It’sliquid! It’s … liquid!” The rest of us forgot the artistry placed in front of us and peered at just what on earth she could be talking about. And sure enough, her food was swimming in a plate that was just as plain, blandbeige in color as any entrée I have yet to see in any restaurant, anywhere.

Little did my husband and I know that Suzie had a history of choosing poorly. Her husband, Dave, was Johnny on the spot and saidcalmly, and with great intent, “Here Suzie, have mine”, as he shovedhis plate under her nose in exchange. But she was way past diversionand continued to lament … loudlyIt was at this point that Dave looked at my husband and said in a hushed voice, “This always happens to her; whatever she orders is always brown and runny. It was at this point that my husband switched over from wine andordered a double scotch.

She kept on, “It’s liquid! It’s liquid!” Adjacent diners stared. Waiters flitted and offered anything short of their firstborn to rectify her choice. Nothing doing. By now, I was past mortification and somewhat entertained! We had gathered quite a crowd and I was interested to see how this would play out. But suddenly the chefappeared – that man just came out of nowhere. What you say you no like my food?!” Whoa … things had escalated past entertainment – at one point I thought we would be asked to leave. Heck, by that point, I was ready to leave!

All the while, poor Suzie wasn’t blaming anyone – she just could notbelieve her stupid, bad luck at always selecting beige food! By this time she was in tears, apologizing, sniffling and hiccupping, “No, no it’s okay … I’ll eat it. She stuck to her guns, refused a different dish, calmed down and began to taste with trepidation. We all began to breathe again, except, of course, for my husband who had been self-medicating during the entire debacle. He was breathing just fine.  

Poor Dave. Poor us. After all the drama, I am to this day clueless as to what food we ate or even if it was any good.

But I learned a good lesson. It can be summed up in one word – garnish. No one could argue that the enjoyment of a meal beginsbefore the first morsel is placed upon the tongue. Faced with a beige or unappetizing dish, it’s doubtful we will enjoy it. Since forever, food just tastes better if it’s dressed up. My grandmother always dusted her deviled eggs with paprika and expertly placed a green olive half in the center of each one. I still do the same to this day.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Re-Post: Begin the Beignets

I wrote this when Bryn was just 11, about to turn 12. She was already quite the chef and she still is. She even takes photos of her food before eating. You never know where you'll find a masterpiece.
Her food always turns out well, and she's learning the art of restraint and subtlety (we went through quite a phase of way too much garlic)....

But she wanted to make beignets after eating them at Moderne at MOMA in NYC. These are awesome...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Begin the Beignets

We are still talking about the beignets dessert we had at The Modern, the lovely restaurant run by Union Square Hospitality Group at MOMA in NYC. They were light, not greasy at all and delicious dipped into the caramel sauce or the fruit salsa (mango salsa, if I recall correctly) or the maple ice cream (I think that was it; I didn't take notes) ...trust me on that, I made sure they were delicious with ANY of the sides...

At any rate, Bryn has been talking about them ever since, so what else to do but make beignets and blog about it?

It isn't that difficult--it's a yeast dough. I gave it one rise in the bowl, turned it out, rolled it, then let it go for another rise. I used a pizza cutter to cut them into diamond shapes, then fried them, dusted them with sugar and enjoyed...I had some dulce de leche in the fridge, so I dipped them in that, but does it sound strange if I say the dulce de leche was too sweet? I don't think real caramel sauce is so sweet. At any rate, I didn't like it so much like that. Guess I am a purist when it comes to this--straight up with the dusting of sugar.

I didn't have the needed evaporated milk called for in the recipe, so instead, I used a 4 oz. carton of vanilla yogurt. I thought it gave the beignets the subtlest hint of tang...Very nice.

We will not discuss here the near disaster we had the following day when Bryn wanted to surprise me by frying up the leftover dough--this recipe makes enough for a crowd, so I'd popped it into the fridge. But we are not discussing that here. Suffice it to say....

Bryn learned the following:
  • Hot grease splatters.
  • Hot grease smokes.
  • Hot grease burns.
  • Water does not cool off grease but makes it splatter some more.

believe the following:
  • Bryn is lucky only her fingers got some splatter burns.
  • We are lucky the house didn't burn down.

I KNOW this:
  • Bryn is not allowed to turn on anything but the microwave and the kettle when no adults are around. Can you believe she decided to whip up beignets for kicks? Sheesh. The next Julia, right?

Barb and Bryn's Beignets:
(Makes about 40 2-inch beignets)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeats
3/4 warm water
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 ounces vanilla yogurt
3 3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
Vegetable Oil for Frying
Powdered Sugar

1. Mix the yeast, water and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Let sit until creamy (about 10 minutes). Add salt, egg, yogurt and mix with dough hook. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, mix, then add butter and mix until combined. Add remaining flour and mix until dough is just pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Drizzle with a tiny bit of oil, smooth oil over dough, cover with plastic wrap and leave in warm spot for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.

2. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Pat into rectangle, dust top with flour then roll out to 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Measures about 15 inches long by about 10 inches wide. Cut into diamond shapes (cut straight across one side, then on the diagonal the other way). Cover in place with a clean dish cloth. Let rise another 40 to 60 minutes.

3. Heat about 2 inches oil to 350 degrees. Gently drop beignets into oil, one at a time. Don't crowd oil or heat will lower. Turn after about 30 seconds. Fry until both sides are golden brown. Drain on paper towel. Cool slightly then dust with powdered sugar: Eat NOW.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's Hot

Plus it is World Cup and I am tired of cooking. I need cold dishes stat:

Balsamic vinaigrette coleslaw: toss very thinly sliced cabbage with thinly sliced onion and some homemade balsamic vinaigrette and some celery salt. Let marinate and enjoy.

Caprese salad and all variations: fresh tomatoes mozzarella and basil. Same on a roll. Use pesto instead of basil. Try it on a pizza. Chop it up and toss in a bowl with lettuce.

Greek salad with plenty of oregano, feta and lemon and kalamata olives

Any salad, maybe with some sliced ripe strawberries.

Yogurt with homemade granola and frozen blueberries to cool me off.


Cold plate of pate, cheese, olives, marinated roasted peppers and great bread.

What do you eat when it is hot out and World Cup is on?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th

I didn't visit many sites this week. Too crazed. But yesterday's post reminded me of this gen about whet it takes to develop a recipe:

I do very much the same as XX--I would add if a magazine comes after the fact (and payment agreement/contract) and wants recipes from sources, I say I will approach the sources, but that the pay doesn't cover my reformatting or testing the recipes--that takes time. So if you think they will need it, ask about it and make sure you are compensated. Sources, chefs included, often have little written well or scaled to serve 6 people. You might be doing the scaling. 

I've also gotten permission to use both a recipe and photo from a cookbook publisher. That's fine and great. I don't test those and let the magazine know I'm not testing those--they get printed with full info, where they appeared, etc. 

When I develop a recipe, I write it first--like Bev, I will research things such as proportions for a sauce, best techniques, etc. I list ingredients in the order I touch them in the recipe. I work in the kitchen with paper and pen/pencil--my recipe has arrows moving ingredients around, adding salt here, deleting another ingredient there...things that just don't work when I'm in front of a stove. 

I second the use of a spiral notebook. I recently lost a recipe I had written on a separate piece of paper--I had tested it and it had my notes on it. I did a quick recreation, but that was painful. 

Know the audience as best you can. They very well may not be eating truffles. Ever. So don't write a recipe with truffles. Ever. 

If I can, I like to use weight vs. volume, but of course, I have to follow a recipe's style. If you are writing a recipe, it is easy to follow a style--just read the recipes in the magazine you are writing for. Don't use "Tbsp" for tablespoon if you see "tablespoon" written out. 

Pay attention to whether they number steps or bullet point them or write them as a paragraph. 
I time the recipe, but I also ADD time/round up to prep times when I am asked. I am very fast in the kitchen, and I know others are not. I never add time to cooking time--if it takes 15 minutes at 350F in my home, it ought to take 15 minutes in someone else's 350F oven. 

I do a lot of meat recipes--they are hard to always make pretty (lots of brown)--I like to cook rare to medium rare to get some pink (one client gets food photography from me, too)--and garnishes MATTER. A lot. 

Speaking of seasonality and cranberries: I always buy extra cranberries for the freezer in November and December because someone always asks me to develop a cranberry recipe for them in ...July. 

I try never to develop a fresh pumpkin recipe for someone in May. No, you cannot find sugar pumpkins or jack-o-lantern style pumpkins ANYWHERE in May. (You can often find other squash recipes, so I will develop squash recipes or canned pumpkin recipes)... 

When I proof, I look at ingredient list and tick it off as I read through the instructions and see it mentioned--it is really easy to skip something important (yesterday, I caught the sugar missing from a panna cotta recipe)... 


Know your strengths, too--I know if I am developing a dessert recipe I will work harder than if I am developing anything else...If you fail once, hit the books looking for reasons before you test again--one recipe that comes to my mind is a lemon meringue pie that brought me to tears at a photo shoot! 

Pay attention to--and list--the little things--recently I asked did readers REALLY be need to told to slice a steak when they have cooked a 1-pound steak and later are directed to put 2 1/2 ounces of the steak onto a roll (building a steak sandwich)--I mean, how ELSE would one get there? Bev wisely talked me out of snark: Yes, Barb: they really need to be told to slice the steak. So I repeat: list the little things. Write them.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Recipe Developer

Oops. Let's try this pizza crust again....

Some things you should know.

1. If I am developing beef recipes for a client in an ongoing manner (months)--it won't matter if my family loves loves LOVES the recipe. They won't see it again, because next month? Next month I have to develop five NEW beef recipes.

2. You might have to be a guinea pig if you come to dinner at my house. You can't just say "this tastes good." You will have to weigh in on salt, missing something ingredient questions and how to improve a dish. Don't be shy.

3. Yes, I really do test every recipe.

4. Yes, dessert recipes are waaaaaaay more difficult for me than savory recipes. Lemon meringue pie at a photo shoot once reduced me to tears. But I learned some stuff.

5. Not every recipe is a winner, and my family DOES let me know.

6. Sometimes you will eat turkey and cranberry sauce in July in my house.

6a. I am the one buying 5 bags of cranberries for the freezer AFTER the holidays (see #6 above). I will need them in July.

7.  No matter how much you wish it, you cannot make a real pumpkin appear in July. I know this from experience too. However, a great photographer can make a fake pumpkin look close to real by  giving it some soft focus in the background.

8. Count on some superior editor will say how SHE would have photographed the pumpkin soup IN a pumpkin (pooh, so original). In July. Good luck with that one. SHE was not on the phone call with sources IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE who were willing to maybe ship a pumpkin (although not necessarily the jack-o-lantern style pumpkin you are expecting) for several hundreds of dollars (when your food budget was $100--for the entire shoot). If you're curious, yes, this I also have lived through.

9. Yes, you CAN cook for me. I am not really a food snob--well, unless that means cooking me good food. And good food can, indeed, include a hot dog! Just make it a good hot dog on a good roll with good mustard.

10. Yes, sometimes I think Cheerios makes a great supper.