Friday, August 28, 2009

what to bring to summer parties

Is it just me, or is summer flying by? Looking ahead to Labor Day and the coming weekend, here are some ideas from the Dinner Party archives on what to bring to a potluck/barbecue/picnic, a question I often find myself mulling over this time of year. Any of these recipes would be a welcome addition to a party. You might even get yourself asked back.

Lemon-mint slushies
The paloma
The red and the black

Charred onion dip and potato chips
Chile-lime peanuts
Pineapple salsa and tortilla or pita chips
Tuna-stuffed peppadew peppers
Salami-wrapped Mean Beans

Kitchen sink summer salad
Simple tomato salad
Summer melon with cucumber, basil, and feta
Mixed-up salad

Key lime pie
Coffee ice cream tart
Oatmeal-coconut raspberry bars
Peanut butter brownies
Strawbaby shortcake

And here's inspiration from a few other sources:

Fruity desserts with funny names (grunts, slumps, buckles, pandowdies) [via Gourmet]

Make-ahead picnic salads
(quinoa with sugar snap peas, green bean and tomato salad with tarragon dressing) [via Food & Wine]

Refreshing melon agua fresca [via Smitten Kitchen]

In other news, Dan and I are heading down to Richmond, Virginia for an outdoor wedding with barbecue and a bluegrass band. Fun, right? I'll return to posting sometime next week.

Until then,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

a slurpee for grownups

Miss the Slurpee drinks of your youth? I've got a post over on Good Food Stories, a great blog co-run by my friend Casey, on how to make lemon-mint slushies, a grown-up (read: slightly bougie) take on the Slurpee. Cocktail umbrella optional.

Monday, August 24, 2009

what's for dinner, david lebovitz?

Today's Q&A subject is writer David Lebovitz. In the world of food bloggers, David is a heavyweight. Readers from around the world click over to his site every week to read about his life in Paris, get recipes for the latest fabulous dish he's made, and gaze at his incredible photographs. Unlike the average food blogger, David spent twelve years making desserts at Chez Panisse, is studying the art of chocolate making at Callebaut College in Belgium, and has authored several beautiful cookbooks, including Room for Dessert and The Perfect Scoop. His most recent book is The Sweet Life in Paris, a memoir about his life as an ex-pat in Paris, with recipes from his adopted city as well as nostalgic dishes from the home he left. I am a huge fan of David's work and couldn't be more excited to have a little window into how he entertains. To be so lucky to sit at his table!

1. Name, occupation, and city

David Lebovitz, writer, Paris

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

It was about 2 months ago. I made Mexican food for three French friends; carnitas, Rancho Gordo heirloom beans cooked in bacon, crumbly cheese (there's no queso fresco here, so I used Italian dried ricotta), corn sautéed with cilantro and chile powder, and tortillas were the menu. They loved it all. But were particularly interested in the dried beans; although they have dried beans in France, they'd never seen any like those. I like introducing French people to things that have been 'mis'-represented here, such as Mexican food. Since it's unfamiliar, the restaurants that serve it do a not-so-stellar job of presenting it, so they have a bad impression of the food. Similar to if Americans thought that Panda Express at the mall represented the food in China. Or the croissanwiches in America, which hopefully have disappeared, were indicative of the croissants in Paris.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?

Le grand aïoli-a big platter with all sorts of raw and barely-cooked vegetables, potatoes roasted in lots of garlic and thyme and olive oil, toasted bread rubbed with more garlic, and roast chicken. Alongside was a
bowl of garlic mayonnaise. And to wash it all down, lots of icy-cold rosé. It's a meal that everyone likes, including vegetarians, and is pleasing to Parisians (who don't eat enough vegetables) and Americans (who don't drink enough rosé.) [ed note: Cool, I made this too!]

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?

Wine. I only drink beer if I'm at the beach in Mexico. I love cocktails, but since moving to France, I've become a lightweight and get smashed on 1/2 a martini. Most of the cocktails here are so loaded with ice, it's hard to get a buzz. But American-style cocktails I can't handle anymore.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

The soundtrack to the movie 9 1/2 Weeks.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner tomorrow night. What do you make?
Roast chicken. And I'd buy one from the woman with the rotisserie at the market. She does them better than anyone, including me. But if it's not market day, I get a pintade (guinea fowl), drape it in bacon strips (big, fat, smoky ones) and roast it off for an hour. On a separate sheet, I'd roast root vegetables with thyme branches and shallots cut in half, until they're all brown and crispy.

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?

No one is allowed in my kitchen with me. Not because I'm territorial, but because there's no room. My kitchen is about the size of a Mini Cooper.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?

I will sometimes buy frozen berries or things like corn kernels, which are impossible to find fresh in France. Being American, sometimes I just have to have corn. Berries are super-expensive in Paris; if you buy a 'barquette' of blackberries at the market, there might be 12 specimens in there, and would cost at least €3-€4 (around $5.) When you're cooking them, there's not much difference. And they do have frozen pitted sour cherries as well as fava beans in France, which are amazing.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?

Always ice cream. It can be made in advance, and I love making ice cream. Plus everyone loves it, especially homemade.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?

Justin Timberlake

[Photo credit: Louisa Chu]

Friday, August 21, 2009


Maybe it's all the Mad Men I've been watching, but I've been in a cocktail mood lately. Doesn't that show make you thirsty too? In honor of hot weather and the even hotter Jon Hamm (good lord), here are some summer drink ideas:

Just in time for season three, Bon Appetit has a Mad Men-inspired menu including Moscow mules, pepper martinis, grapefruit gimlets, and something called the "perfect turkey." [via BA]

Also from Bon Ap, light and fizzy cocktails to get you slightly buzzed [via BA]

A gorgeous raspberry caipirinha (and a traditional version) over at Whisk: A Food Blog. [via Whisk: A Food Blog]

Melissa Clark concocts a heavenly-sounding chamomile syrup to liven up gin-based cocktails or mint tea. [via NYT]

A new trend (at least to me): ice cubes infused with spices, herbs, and fruit. Doesn't that sound refreshing? [via Gourmet]

Also from Gourmet, creative non-alchoholic drinks can be found in Paris, of all places. How about a frosty glass filled with muddled raspberries and strawberries, fresh grapefruit juice, lemon, and soda? I could go for one right about now, actually. [via Gourmet]

A cocktail it isn't, but cold-brewed iced coffee is an equally important thing that helps me get through the summer. The Kitchn has a primer on how to make it. I suggest using a French press for this, if you have one. [via The Kitchn]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the red and the black

A few years ago, I tasted a mysterious drink at the James Beard Awards, which I was covering for work. I attended the event with a photographer, and after we captured all of the shots and details I needed, we decided to loosen up and actually enjoy the bounty of fancy food and cocktails surrounding us.

I know I had a glass or two of Champagne, and some itty bitty desserts, and a taste of some sort of pork-of-the-moment, but the main thing I remember consuming that night was a tangy cocktail called The Red and the Black. It had chunks of strawberries and a good hit of tequila and was made by a bartender at Back Forty, a restaurant in the East Village run by chef Peter Hoffman, a champion of farm-to-table eating before it became the trendy thing to do. The drink tasted kind of like a cross between a margarita and a strawberry dessert, with a lingering spiciness. Weird and delicious. I drained my glass, trying to figure out what all of the ingredients were, and thought about it on the whole cab ride back to Brooklyn. And so I visited Back Forty a few times with friends and enjoyed the drink at its source.

And then I found the recipe in Food & Wine, and may never have to wait for a table there again. Although they do make very good salads...

To make the drink, you muddle strawberries into a bright red pulp, and combine them with lime juice and tequila. The secret ingredient? Black pepper simple syrup. (You know I love my flavored syrups.) A mix of black peppercorns, water, and sugar, the dark brown syrup gives the drink a surprising peppery heat. And the flavor is echoed in a salt-sugar-pepper mixture you use to rim the glasses, which adds an extra spicy kick to each sip.

Last weekend Dan and I were invited for dinner at Sarah's house. Instead of bringing my usual bottle of wine, I brought a batch of Red and Blacks, both regular and nonalcoholic (omit the tequila and add some seltzer). I did not take pictures of the rest of the menu, but here is what we ate: peaches, basil, and goat cheese on baguette slices; chilled corn soup in the prettiest tea cups; chicken salad with artichokes, tomatoes, potatoes and homemade mayo; salad; and a nectarine tart. Lovely, no? Sarah's hostessing skills are exactly how you'd imagine them: perfection. In addition to my drink, another guest brought a bourbon-prosecco-pear cocktail. Which is to say, by the end of the night we were all happily buzzed.

The red and the black cocktail
Peter Hoffman's recipe via Food & Wine.
(Makes 10 drinks)

2 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups warm water
1/2 cup coarsely cracked black pepper, plus 1 Tbsp. finely ground black pepper
2 quarts strawberries, hulled and halved
2 1/2 cups blanco tequila (20 ounces)
1 1/4 cups fresh lime juice (10 ounces)
1 tsp. salt
1 lemon or lime wedge

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of the sugar with the warm water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the 1/2 cup of coarsely cracked black pepper and let cool. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 3 hours. Pour the black pepper syrup through a fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup.

In a large pitcher, muddle the halved strawberries. Add 2 1/4 cups of the black pepper syrup, the tequila and fresh lime juice (reserve the remaining black pepper syrup for another cocktail). Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.

On a small plate, mix the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar with the finely ground black pepper and the salt. Moisten half of the outer rims of 10 rocks glasses with the lemon wedge and coat lightly with the pepper-and-salt mixture. Fill the rocks glasses with ice. Stir the drink well, then pour or strain into the prepared rocks glasses and serve at once.

Monday, August 17, 2009

looking backward, looking ahead

Last week, my friend Megan came by for an after-work dinner. It was a busy week between dogsitting, meeting up with a visiting in-law, drinks with friends, and of course, work, but we wanted to see each other so we made it happen. I, however, didn't do much in the way of menu planning, other than choosing a recipe from the latest issue of Bon Appetit, a chilled zucchini soup topped with shrimp and cilantro cream. Usually chilled soups other than gazpacho don't call my name, but this sounded kind of nice, and I could whip it up the night before and let the flavors meld overnight.

The soup, a mix of sauteed onions and zucchini and chicken stock, was easy enough to throw together, as was the cilantro cream. The shrimp, upon closer reading* of the recipe, were meant to be served ceviche-style, cooked in lemon juice in the refrigerator overnight. I love ceviche in restaurants, but I was a little skeeved out to try it at home--especially on a guest. So I marinated the shrimp as instructed, and then quickly grilled them the next day. (*Note: Upon actual closer reading of the recipe--and help from a kind commenter--the shrimp should be cooked, then marinated. So, um, my bad.)

I also whipped together a mixed-up salad of ingredients I had on hand--an avocado, some fresh corn kernels, and cherry tomatoes. The avocado was tasteless and spongey, so I tossed it and instead, fried up a can of chickpeas I had in the cupboard. Frying chickpeas is my new favorite thing for snacks or salad garnishes, and it was an easy stand-in for the creamy, fatty avocado. Looking for a little extra something, I grabbed a container of kalamata olives in the fridge, diced up a handful, threw those in there too, and hoped for the best.

Even topped with the shrimp, the soup tasted a little like spa food to me. It reminded me of something you'd eat poolside at a Miami hotel, or some sort of posh slim-down resort in Malibu. Not that I have ever been to either of those places. In spite of the soup's verdant color and fresh zucchini flavor, something about it seemed a bit restrained. I found myself stirring in several extra spoonfuls of the cilantro cream just to give it a little more creaminess, a more decadent mouthfeel. Luckily the richness of the salad--the crunchy fried chickpeas, the salty olives, the creamy fresh corn kernels, helped offset the soup's virtuousness. A few glasses of wine also tend to offset virtuousness.

After dinner we ate slices of Megan's amazing lemon-glazed pound cake (recipe, por favor!), turned on the TV, and watched some old performances from our high school days. Dan recently had the home movie, which was on VHS tape, transferred onto a DVD. So now we can easily scan through kids singing accordion-backed songs about fish in French, improvisational comedy involving hula skirts and lampshades, and an improbably good live rendition of a Nick Cave song. Hey, we went to an arts school.

Some moments were definitely cringe-worthy, but there's something heartwarming about having shared memories of a time and place--to see faces of people you haven't seen in 10 years and cry out their names simultaneously, to recognize old teachers and mimic their voices, to laugh at old inside jokes remembered suddenly.

Dinner was bittersweet for me. Like another good friend, Megan's leaving New York too. (And they are both moving on the exact same day, which is kind of weird on a cosmic level.) But being in the same city again was great while it lasted. Now we connect on a new level and can talk about work, and husbands, and the stuff of adult life, not just the hippieish days of our youth.

Dinner with Megan
Chilled zucchini soup with lemon-cumin shrimp and cilantro cream
Mixed up salad
Pound cake with lemon glaze

Chilled zucchini soup with lemon-cumin shrimp and cilantro cream
I stuck pretty closely to this Bon Appetit recipe, except for cooking the shrimp in a pan.
(Serves six as a main course, four as a starter)

Cilantro cream:
1/2 cup sour cream (or Greek or plain yogurt)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 small garlic clove, pressed
salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk sour cream, cilantro, and garlic in small bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

1 lb. peeled cooked medium shrimp
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced (about 2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
6 medium zucchini (about 1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
Juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add zucchini; stir to coat. Stir in broth; bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until zucchini is tender, about 10 minutes. Cool to lukewarm. Add chopped cilantro and lemon juice. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Transfer soup to large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Divide soup among bowls. Top each with shrimp, dividing equally. Spoon a dollop of cilantro cream over each, garnish with cilantro sprigs, and serve.

Mixed up salad
Use this recipe for the chickpeas to serve them as a snack, or in the salad with the other ingredients.
(Serves two to four people)

For the salad:

1 can chickpeas, drained and patted very dry
3 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 ears corn, shucked and kernels removed from the cob
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
4 basil leaves, julienned

For the dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp mustard
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Pour the flour into a small bowl, then add the chickpeas. Toss until evenly coated. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to smoke a little bit, add the chickpeas. Keep shaking the pan so they brown evenly on all sides. Be careful for exploding bits--I like to wear an apron when doing this. When the chickpeas are golden brown, take them out of the pan and set them aside in a bowl.

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes, corn, and olives and toss until coated. Plate and sprinkle the chickpeas on top. Garnish with the basil. Serve immediately.

Friday, August 14, 2009

sunday supper for three

Dan's father Larry is in New York for work this week so he joined us for dinner on Sunday. Usually Dan and I spend Sunday nights in our pajamas, eating dinner and watching a marathon of TV shows starting with 60 Minutes and ending with True Blood. So having company was a nice change of pace. We both wore normal clothes and actually ate at the dinner table. Classy!

We also had another guest, whom we are dog-sitting. (I must show his photo because I am like the proud mother of a newborn. Except he is not mine.)

I wanted to make a fresh and summery meal that didn't require the oven, which turns our apartment into a furnace. Although I still caught Larry mopping his brow. Embarrassing. When trying to figure out a menu, my mind kept wandering toward seafood recipes for some reason. I thought about making grilled shrimp skewers, or poached salmon with pesto, or a big bowl of steamed mussels with crusty bread. And then I thought about linguine with clams, an everyday sort of meal that Dan and I eat a lot, but somehow it sounded more appealing than any of my other ideas.

To give the pasta an extra something special, I made breadcrumbs with parmesan and chopped parsley—the perfect crunchy foil for the garlicky clam- and bacon-studded broth and slippery noodles. We easily polished off almost two pounds of clams that night. Paired with a salad full of crunchy summer vegetables and feta, it was a great Sunday dinner. And we still managed to get quite a bit of TV viewing in. Nothing keeps my father-in-law from watching True Blood. The man must get his weekly Sookie fix.

One sour note: the panna cotta I made for dessert didn't turn out the way I had hoped. The custard tasted more watery than creamy, even though it was infused with vanilla and made with heavy cream. And the gelatin formed a thick layer at the bottom of each serving, making a mess when I unmolded each one. On top of that, the white peach puree I made was more like applesauce than a silky dessert topping. Gag. So I ditched the peaches and quickly melted some chocolate and swirled it on top of the panna cottas, a last-minute attempt to make them more edible. It didn't really help. But no matter—we were too distracted by killer vampires, lusty Bible-thumpers, and heart-eating zombies (eek!) to care.

Sunday night dinner with Larry
Fried chickpeas
Linguine with clams, pancetta, and parsley
Arugula with radishes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and feta
Panna cotta

Linguine with clams, pancetta, and parsley
We eat this recipe, from Jamie Oliver, year-round, but I like it best in the summer. Maybe it reminds me of the beach?

1 lb. dried linguine pasta
olive oil
4 strips pancetta, sliced, thinly (or bacon)
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 dried red chili, crumbled (or 1/2 tsp. chile flakes)
1 1/2 lb. clams, cleaned to remove any sand
1 glass white wine
1 handful chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Cook your linguine in salted boiling water until al dente. Meanwhile, get a pan hot and add a couple of good lugs (tablespoons) of olive oil and the pancetta. Fry until golden, then add the garlic and chilies. Soften them slightly and add the clams. Stir, then add the white wine. Put a lid on the pan and cook for a further couple of minutes until all the clams have opened–discard any that remain closed. Remove from the heat and add the drained linguine. Stir in the parsley, correct the seasoning and serve with all the cooking juices. Top each serving with breadcrumbs.

Parmesan breadcrumbs
(Makes about 1 cup)
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small pan. Over low heat, toast the breadcrumbs until slightly golden, about 2 minutes. Be sure to stir the mixture to prevent it from sticking and burning. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

how to throw a weeknight dinner party

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time. I rarely have people over for dinner on a work night unless it's super casual. Meaning, you're probably going to have to help me out in the kitchen and we're probably only eating one thing. But sometimes Friday night or, God forbid, Wednesday night dinners happen. All of which are great, but if you're planning to have a whole mess of people over after work and want to eat before midnight, it's best to approach things a little differently.

With that in mind, here are a few tips:

Keep it casual
I'm a casual-kind-of-gal pretty much all the time, but even if you're not, weeknight dinner parties are the time and place for it. Don't worry about place cards, wine pairings, fussy flowers--unless any of those things make you happy. Serve food buffet-style, enlist a friend to help bartend or pour wine, use disposable plates and napkins (eco-friendly if you can) if the thought of doing dishes at 3 AM on a Tuesday makes your heart palpitate.

Set the table the night before
Whether everyone will be eating at a dinner table with pretty place settings or sitting around the living room with plates on their laps (don't laugh, that's what we do at our house), it will save you a lot of time to set this up in advance. Put out each person's place setting, or stack dishes on a buffet table or wherever the food will be. Don't forget the flatware, napkins, and glasses. It might seem a little OCD to do this the night before, but you'll thank me when people arrive and it's one less thing to think about.

Make things in advance if you can
If you have time, choose dishes that can be prepared the night before and reheated later. This extends to other types of food and drinks as well. Many desserts (especially frozen ones) are best made in advance. If you're serving a pitcher of mixed drinks, you can do that the night before. But if you must make everything on the spot (why?) at least do your prep work ahead of time. Wash and pre-chop vegetables and herbs, shuck corn, make dip, etc.

Did you refill those ice trays in the freezer? No? Do that now. (This is always my fatal error.)

Put things in their place
If I know I'm going to be serving tortilla chips in a big bowl, I'll just take the bag of chips and stick it (unopened) in the bowl. That way, all I have to do is rip and pour when people come over--no hunting for the bag or bowl. You could also do this with things that need to be refrigerated. For example, put dip or salsa in the bowl you want to serve it in and cover it with plastic wrap. Seems like a no-brainer, and it is, but these little steps really save time.

Let people help you
I'm going to assume your friends and family are nice people. Usually nice people offer to help out in some way, be it bringing wine, a pan of brownies, or some cheese and crackers. Although it's tempting to carry the weight of the evening on your shoulders like a dinner party superhero, let people help you. They want to help, it lowers your own expenses, and helps you cross one more thing off your to-do list.

This is just my personal preference, but firing up the iPod while I am getting things together helps put me in a "party" mood. Even if I'm still in my work clothes and haven't had a drink yet.

Don't stress

Above all, if I can impart any lasting knowledge: do not freak out. No one has higher expectations than you. (This is good advice for life in general, but especially for dinner parties.) Whenever I go to someone's house for dinner, I'm so thrilled to be fed and curious about what is on the menu that I am rarely disappointed. And the same goes for you. Most people are so excited to have someone cook for them that they are not going to care if something is slightly burnt or if they have to use paper towels because you ran out of napkins. Especially on a weeknight, which allows for a huge amount of error, I think. We're all tired--so let's just eat and drink and have fun.

Monday, August 10, 2009

what's for dinner, michael ruhlman?

I'm very excited to introduce a new column at Dinner Party today. It is a Q&A called What's for Dinner and will hopefully be a fun window into how food writers, chefs, bloggers, and other notable people who like to entertain at home. Don't you want to know what other people serve at dinner parties? I do!

Our first subject is author Michael Ruhlman. Michael is the author of the seminal The Making of a Chef, a book about the Culinary Institute of America, where he trained alongside the students. Since then, he has written companion books The Soul of a Chef and The Reach of a Chef, as well as multiple cookbooks including The French Laundry Cookbook. You'll also find him judging Iron Chef America and palling around with his friend Anthony Bourdain...that'll up anyone's cool factor. Michael's most recent book is Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, which explores the relationships between ingredients and how the right ratios can help you master any basic recipe, from bread dough to stock. In addition to all of this, he runs a very popular blog, which has a lively community of food-obsessed readers. In short, the man is most impressive, and I am thrilled to have him here in my little corner of the Internet.

1. Name, occupation, and city
Michael Ruhlman, writer, Cleveland

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
July 4, close friends and their kids.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
All so extraordinary, not a one stands out.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
A mix of Chet Baker, Benny Goodman, and Billie Holiday.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner tomorrow night. What do you make?
I almost always have something confited, duck, pork belly, in the basement fridge, so that, a salad and bread.

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
Donna [his wife] helps with prep.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
I buy more stuff from the store but it usually requires some cooking.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
Whiskey and cookies.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?
Christ and my dad, along with living family and friends.

[Photo: Courtesy of Michael Ruhlman]

Friday, August 7, 2009

dinner party on shelterrific

I've got a post over on Shelterrific on how to make carbonara with bacon, peas, and mint. It's a rich and indulgent meal for those rare summer nights when you don't feel like eating a salad, but still feels reasonably healthy because it has peas in it. And mint! Okay, okay, it's not really healthy, but that's not the point. Occasionally, my need to eat decadent food trumps my need (desire?) to fit into a bathing suit. This is a recipe for one of those days. And it would be excellent for company.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

guest post: pickling as soulcraft

Hi, all. Today we've got a guest post from my husband Daniel. But instead of writing about his usual dinner party soundtracks, here's a thoughtful piece about pickles. -Lisa

Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon has a great website full of author interviews. Recently, I was reading one with Matthew Crawford who wrote a book called Shop Class as Soulcraft. Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy and owns a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond. He argues that our society no longer values manual labor. Here’s what he said to Powell’s:

ome people, including some who are very smart, would rather be learning to build things or fix things [than getting a liberal arts education and working in an office]. Why not honor that? I think one reason we don’t is that weve had this fantasy that we’re going to somehow take leave of material reality and glide around in a pure information economy. Crawford believes we’re disconnected from handicraft not just at school and on the job but in our role as consumers, too:

f you try to fix your own car nowadays, you may pop the hood and find theres another hood under the hood; there’s a design trend to hide the works.” It’s hard to get a handle on things. When the world lacks a basic intelligibility, it doesn’t elicit action and responsibility. The experience of individual agency can be elusive.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), r
ight next to the Crawford interview is an interview with Karen Solomon, author of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects. Solomon considers herself a crafter and wants to encourage people to “take that pride and ownership with their food that maybe they didn’t have before because they were buying it at the supermarket.” She says:

It becomes a fun craft project; it becomes something to be proud of; it becomes something to share as a conversation piece, and in that manner, it can
be kind of infectious. To say, “Oh, do you like that butter that you’re eating on your toast, friend? Well, I made that myself.

So what does all this have to do with me? Lots! If anyone has taken leave of material reality, it’s me. I have a liberal arts education. I work in an office in front of a computer all day. I live in a small apartment in a big city: no garden, garage, or shed. I have no idea how to fix a car. The only time I really get to work with my hands is when I make dinner, and frankly, when you live with a master craftsman like Lisa, it can be hard to make yourself useful. [Ed: Aw, that's sweet. You can make yourself useful and clean the bathroom. Kidding. Or not?]

That’s why the idea of making pickles spoke to me. When my dad told me that my great grandfather used to pickle cucumbers and green tomatoes in the backyard of their Montreal home every summer, that was all I needed to hear: I knew pickling was in my blood. I ordered up my jars, scoured the web for a simple recipe, and hit the farmers market with Lisa in a matter of days.

We settled on dill cucumbers (the classic) and beans with curry (the experiment) for our first go-around. The recipe comes from Jamie Oliver’s excellent show and companion cookbook, Jamie at Home, which is a kind of primer for people who want to roll up their sleeves, dig in the dirt, and connect with food. He’s come a long way from that Naked Chef bachelor flat, hasn’t he? We used Jamie’s brine and marinade but substituted our own vegetable and herb combinations. You know what? It was pretty damned easy. But not too easy. I got to tell Lisa to stand aside while I fished the packed jars out of the pot with a colander and the wrong-sized tongs, boiling water splashing over the sides. Now that was satisfyingly manly.
Our pickles aren't even ready to eat yet (they need a couple more weeks to achieve full flavor), but we're already planning our next attempt. Call it pickling as soulcraft. Call it reconnecting with my roots. Just don't call it a barrel of fun (because that's corny).

Spicy dill pickles
Adapted from Jamie at Home.
(Makes six 1-quart jars)

For the pickling liquid:
1 quart cider or white wine vinegar
1 quart water
2 Tbsp. sea salt

For the pickling marinade:
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped (we used 1 to 1 Tbsp. red chile flakes)

Vegetables and herbs:
2 lbs. cucumbers
1 handful dill sprigs, plus extra

Make sure you have some small sterilized jars ready to go. (To sterilize, dunk the jars and lids in boiling water for a minute or two. Remove and place on a clean dish towel.) Bring the pickling liquid ingredients to the boil in a big pan. Put the pickling marinade ingredients into a large bowl with your chosen herbs and mix well.

Place the vegetables in the boiling pickling liquid and leave for around 3 minutes—they'll probably rise to the surface, so keep pushing them down to ensure they are all immersed. Lift the pieces out with a slotted spoon and place them into your bowl of pickling marinade. Toss together—it will smell fantastic. (It did.)

Pretty much straightaway, put the hot vegetables and pickling marinade into your sterilized jars, filling them to the very top. Fill the jars with the pickling liquid, as well, dividing it evenly among the jars. Cover the vegetables completely with the liquid and put the lids on tightly.

Put the jars aside until they're cool. (We took the additional step of processing the filled jars by submerging them in boiling water for 15 minutes. This seals the wax so they’ll keep longer. Through subsequent research I’ve learned that processing the jars for a shorter period of time will give you a crisper pickle. We’ll see.)

Store the jars somewhere cool and dark—it’s best to leave them for about 2 weeks before opening so the vegetables really get to marinate well, but if you absolutely cannot wait, you can eat them sooner.

Monday, August 3, 2009

recipe for a happy thursday

1 bottle of rose wine

Diana Ross and the Supremes on the stereo.

Toasted baguette slices topped with goat cheese, pear, black pepper, and basil. (Sorry, no photo. I was distracted and we ate them too fast. But you get the idea.)

A colorful bunch of snapdragons in a mason jar.

Salad niçoise, prettily arranged on a big platter and dished out (kind of sloppily) with a big spoon.

Franny's hazelnut gelato and chocolate sorbet from the very-cute Brooklyn Larder. Spendy ($9 a pint) but worth every spoonful.

A new friend across the table who also really enjoys dining in. You cozy up on the sofa together and somehow there are a million and one topics that must be discussed and you can't get the words out fast enough. And then 11:30 rolls around and it's a school night but you just want to keep talking, and who needs sleep anyway? Wouldn't it be great to stay up all night swapping stories and talking about family, and TV shows, and bad '90s-era music?

It was such an energizing evening that after the dishes were done, my teeth were brushed, and the lights were off, all I could do was lay in bed and smile up at the ceiling. I think I'm starting to get the hang of this weeknight dinner thing.

Salad niçoise
You can serve this in individual bowls or plates, but I think a big platter makes for a prettier and more dramatic presentation.
(Serves 2 people, very generously)

1 small head lettuce (I like red leaf or Boston), washed and torn into pieces
2 eggs, hardboiled, peeled, and sliced in half
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 handful olives
1 large handful green beans (or yellow wax beans), trimmed and steamed
1 handful red-skinned potatoes, steamed and halved
1 can good-quality oil-packed tuna (I like Tonno)

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. tarragon, minced (parsley or basil would be nice too)
salt and pepper

The only challenge in putting this dish together is cooking some of the components. I like to bring a large pot of water to a boil, and then cook everything in the same pot, removing each item when it is done. Usually, I put the eggs and potatoes in first, and after about five minutes of cooking, I add the beans for another three minutes. I remove the beans, and put them in an ice bath. When the potatoes are tender, I pour the potatoes and eggs out into another ice bath. When everything is at room temperature, you can add it to the salad.

For salad assembly, make a layer of lettuce on a platter, then top it with the ingredients, arranged in small piles or however you like. Whisk together all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl to make a dressing, then pour it over the salad. Serve immediately.


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