November 2011

Escarole salad 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

11.30.11 My Baloney

My baloney has a first name. It's Mortadella. I'll bet you already know that baloney is a bastardization of bologna—actually, Bologna, for the city in Italy from whence this delectable pork sausage hails. But are you aware that it's named for the mortar (mortaio) that in conjunction with a pestle was originally responsible for the finely ground meat that forms the basis of this heat-cured salume? (Salume is how Italians refer to charcuterie or, more basely, cold cuts.) I have no love for Oscar Mayer's offspring, and shudder to think what goes into those inspid, rubbery slices. They're barely fit to kiss the hem of the real deal: a rich, dense and savory concoction, flavored with garlic, coriander, nutmeg and sometimes studded with pistachios.
Cubed mortadella 790 xxx
this is not your childhood bologna
I get my mortadella at Eataly's fabulous salumeria where I can have it cut to order in a thick slab. For some gathering over the next month I may even make this recipe I came across for "Mortadella Smear" in Saveur. Trust me, it surpasses its unfortunate name in every way. Pureed mortadella enriched with a velouté sauce and a little cream, slathered on grilled bread and drizzled with balsamic. What's not to like? This diverges wildly from the mortadella of yore and is more akin to paté whipped up by a lazy Italian contessa.
Fried mortadella 790 xxx
into the frying pan
Mortadella has a fair amount of fat, so it fries up beautifully crisp. You can do thin slices, which are quite nice, almost chip-like, but I prefer chubby little cubes that come out chewy with crunchy edges. The perfect vehicle for them? A fresh escarole salad tossed with tangy anchovy dressing.
Escarole leaves 790 xxx
bitter(sweet) greens
Escarole, also known as "broad-leaved endive" (but not called that by anyone you know) is a member of the chicory family, along with puntarelle, radicchio and Belgian endive. It's slightly sweeter than its bitter brethren and is a sadly under-appreciated green. (Here's a recipe for a very simple escarole soup.) Delicious cooked—sauteed with shallots and chile, wilted in garlicky oil—escarole is secretly a salad diva. Served raw, it's gutsy without being aggressive and has gently curled edges that are made for cupping dressing.
Garnishes 790 xxx
crowning touches
We had this salad one night for dinner along with cups of creamy butternut squash soup sprinkled with spicy toasted squash seeds, and it reminded me that I've been meaning to talk to you about something: GARNISHES. The way you finish a dish can make the difference between good and extraordinary. G calls it "kicking it up a notch"—unabashedly ripping off Emeril's catch-phrase—and it's a call to action in the kitchen. You can always make something just that much better with an extra drizzle of spicy green olive oil, sprinkling of coarse sea salt, frizzle of herbs or dollop of crème fraîche.
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top it off
This is where the notion of condiments comes into play. Homemade chutney, spiced pumpkin seeds, curry salt, fried sage, pickled onions—these have the power to bring your cooking into focus by adding flavor and textural counterpoints. Use your imagination, your creativity and your palate, and have fun gilding the lily.
Quince paste cube 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

11.28.11 The Original Apple

When I was growing up, every 7 years my family lived in Spain. My father was a professor of Spanish literature, and he spent his sabbaticals doing research, writing and collecting the Sephardic ballads that were his specialty. The year I turned 15 there, my sisters (5 and 7 years older than I) were already out of the house, so I was  essentially an only child. I went everywhere with my parents, which meant a very diverse cultural life (opera, theater, dance, symphony, museums, galleries), lots of meals out and visits to some very fancy Madrid residences. Perhaps because we were in Europe—or maybe it had something to do with the almost exclusively adult company—the rules relaxed a bit and I was often allowed a glass of sherry, cointreau or vino tinto. This set the stage for expanding my appetite, too, and I tried many unknown delicacies: octopus, white asparagus, kidneys, membrillo. The latter was a deep-amber-colored jelly that was often brought out with the cheese course (another novelty), a sticky, sweet confection to pair with the rich oily Manchego. At the time, I had never seen a quince, and it's a bit of a leap anyway from that fuzzy, essentially inedible fruit to this jammy nectar of the gods.
6 tostada 790 xxx
photo by gluttonforlife

11.25.11 Recovery Mode

I reckon my own turkey tostada would look a lot better than this, but I have absolutely no intention of making one (and photographing it) in time to inspire you to use your leftovers, so this shot will have to do. Last night, driving home with an overfull belly, I told G that the only thing I wanted to eat today was some grapefruit sorbet. We received a huge box of Florida beauties from his parents last week, and it seems like the one thing that would go down well today. Of course I'll be making turkey soup with the carcass—that will come later—and there will undoubtedly be a sandwich at some point, but for now, I am sitting in front of the fire with a cup of roasted buckwheat tea (my latest obsession) and a tall glass of green juice (apple-celery-parsely-ginger). After throwing my back out on Tuesday, I spent the better part of the next two days on my feet in the kitchen, which was not exactly what the doctor ordered, so today will be all about R&R. I'll be doing some shopping from the safety of my own couch (Aesop is now available online; check out their seasonal kits!), catching up on magazines, and maybe even starting one of the new books I ordered on my Kindle (this, this, or this, all eagerly anticipated). In case you're planning to eat, I'm offering you my recipe for turkey tostadas as well as...

Leaves 790 xxx
photo by george billard

11.23.11 Heartfelt Thanks

I threw my back out. Had a fabulous massage on Monday night and by yesterday afternoon I felt that weird incipient wobbliness (this has happened before) and soon enough I was in full-on crisis mode. I have to lie on the ground and put my legs up the wall for 30 minutes at a time—not the best position for cooking, or anything else for that matter—and thus far it hasn't helped much, so the first thing I'm grateful for is that I'm at my sister-in-law's house and not welcoming the hoards into my own. Tomorrow I'll be thankful when I look around at this wonderful family I married into, complete with adorable nephews and a mother-in-law who likes my cooking, not to mention for the gargantuan feast that will be laid out in all its aromatic glory. Our menu? Since you asked:Devils on Horseback (Dates stuffed with Parmesan & Wrapped in Bacon)Pigs in BlanketsSalami Chips with Spicy MustardCheese with Pickled RampsChicken Consommé with Mushroom RavioliTurkey Two Ways, Deep-Fried & RoastedBrandied CranberriesGingered Green BeansShaved Fennel & Brussels Sprouts SaladClassic Billard Stuffing2 kinds of GravySpicy Yams with PancettaMashed Potatoes & Celery RootApple-Cranberry PiePumpkin Custard with Candied Pumpkin SeedsVanilla Panna Cotta with Wine-Poached Apples (Winos)Chocolate Cake (for the kids)3 kinds of Cookies (brought by Mum)Life is short, life is sweet, we're so lucky to have plenty to eat. Seems excesssive, no? Hopefully no one will slip into a food coma. In case I do, let me say thanks to you now, gentle reader, for your support and encouragement. I picture you out there, clutching your morning latte or evening glass of red wine, maybe stealing a moment at your desk or while the baby's napping, and I am inspired to keep sharing with you all the things for which I am grateful so that together we can make every moment count.  I wish you all a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!
Bowl 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

11.22.11 Kernel of an Idea

The time between when the turkey goes in the oven and when you actually sit down to eat it stretches before you like a yawning chasm of temptation. It's virtually impossible not to ruin your appetite with all the snacks there just to "tide you over." A crudité platter with some sort of dip doesn't have to be a vain attempt to steer people away from the cheese (this is a great option), as anything that crunches tends to appeal greatly. That said, you might want to offer a big, healthy and very satisfying bowl of kale chips that even the kids and your very picky father-in-law will enjoy. And a recent post on this lovely blog reminded me of the joys of popcorn, especially when spiced with something as intriguing as shichimi togarashi, the piquant Japanese spice blend. You can find it in Asian markets and sometimes Whole Foods, and here's a recipe for making your own. Of course you can season your popcorn any way you like: sea salt and malt vinegar; rosemary and lemon zest; chile salt; cinnamon sugar; cumin and coriander, etc etc. The point is it's quick, easy and cheap but still quite delicious and it won't weigh you down (unless you wind up eating the whole bowl).
Bite 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

11.21.11 Proceed Gingerly

Ever get a craving you just can't shake? A couple of weeks ago, I began dreaming of gingerbread: dense and dark, with chewy edges and chunks of crystallized ginger. The cakey kind, not the drier, more brittle sort used for gingerbread men and their over-decorated houses. I'm partial to a tangy lemon glaze on mine. The crackle finish it makes on top and the way it seeps into the crumb is simply irresistible. You don't need anything else with this gingerbread—no whipped cream, no ice cream, no applesauce—just a nice strong cup of tea. I don't recommend it after a hearty stew or pasta, you'll feel too leaden. It's the perfect cold-weather breakfast, lazy afternoon snack or highly anticipated finish to a light dinner.
Cookbooks 790 xxx
2011: a very good year for cookbooks

11.18.11 Cooking the Books

When you're a cook, cookbooks spur you on, inspire you, guide you, educate you. They can introduce you to exotic flavors, school you in new cuisines, generally rock your world. Within the pages of a new cookbook lies a whole odyssey. This is why they pile up on my bedside table; cooking from them is actually optional. Sometimes I just read them and what I've learned seeps gradually into my everyday cooking. But I definitely use them in the kitchen as well. That's the beauty of cooking: if you can read, you can do it. That said, I have compiled a large list of some excellent tomes that came out this year, some of which I have cooked from but all of which I will get to at some point. For all the reasons above, I think they make great gifts for cooks and dreamers alike.
Thanksgiving2 790 xxx
pilgrims' progress

11.17.11 Ready, Set, Go

My sister-in-law says I am giving her àgita with all my early talk of Thanksgiving but guess what—IT'S ONE WEEK AWAY. If you haven't formulated your game plan by now, you really need to get cracking. Maybe instead of going to your in-laws, you're headed to an inn and won't be slaving in front of a hot stove at all? Maybe you're one of those people who sneers at holidays and will be taking advantage of the opportunity to eat Chinese food and go to the movies like a good Jew on Christmas? If so, best to avert your eyes now, because this entire post is about recipes for Thanksgiving. I will refer you to some of my own past posts, but I've also compiled links to other great resources with tons of recipes, techniques and tips for sailing through this feast with style and aplomb. (In case you think this link compilation thing is shirking, trust me, it's not. My ass is flat as a pancake from sitting in front of the fire glued to this computer as I tumble down one interweb rabbit hole after another in pursuit of hot links for you.)
Artists 790 xxx
photos courtesy of nell dodge

11.16.11 Arts & Crafts

I'm one of those people who prefers to think of coincidence as convergence. You know those moments when you're hoping for a job and the phone rings and it's someone offering you one? Or you read about a restaurant, make a reservation and when you walk in your good friends are already having dinner there? It's not happenstance, it's meant to be. Well, something along those lines happened with 603 Here & There. First, I read an interesting interview with founder Nell Dodge on a favorite blog. Then, my friend Peter asked me to test-drive some maple syrup he's selling on his website—sourced for him by Nell Dodge in New Hampshire. So 603 Here & There became here, there and everywhere. It was time to investigate further. Turned out that I fell in love with Nell's online holiday pop-up site and was able to chat with her about some of the wonderful items she sells. The best part? Nell, a New Hampshire native who has returned to her hometown for a spell, features lovely work from local artisans. Two of them, Ann and George Saunderson, a couple married for 40 years whom Nell has known for most of her life (pictured above), really captured my fancy.
Online shopping 790 xxx
mistress of the (shopping) universe

11.14.11 Gifted Program

You can run but you can't hide. I kind of hate to bring it up, but you'll love me when they're all said and done. The holidays, that is. (Hey, don't shoot the messenger. They're on their way whether I announce it or not.) Which is why I'm posting my collection of online shopping resources even earlier than last year. By the way, I still stand by all the suggestions of 2010, so you may want to have a look. Gwyneth already posted hers, and they're worth a gander, too. Because you really, really, really don't want to leave this until the last moment. If you look up hell in the dictionary, there's a picture of a mall on December 23rd. Don't go there. I do confess to feeling a little guilty about the carbon footprint of mail-order shopping, but then I think about the gas I would use to get to the store, and the karmic goodwill I am preserving by not having to engage with fellow humans in combat-shopping mode at this time of year. So make your list, and don't dwell too long on naughty or nice. Save your energy for finding gifts that will leave them all gob-smacked with glee.