Retro Recipes and Traditional Fare
Years ago when I was a round nugget of a child running around in terry-cloth shorts I had a book I read to myself many times over. It involved some Amphibian or Owl With Shoes who lived inside a mushroom or hollow tree. I can’t remember much of the story but the one thing that stuck in my brain was that on many occasions this anthropomorphic critter would find himself without food or drink and would simply chop an onion or think about sad things in order to create his own version of tear tea. I remember being disgusted by the thought of sipping one’s own saline tears but that didn’t freak me out as much as the things he’d think about to coax the tears out of his eyes and into the kettle.
Torn books, uneaten mashed potatoes, no internet (ok I added that) and stubby chewed-up pencils that were no longer needed and left to roll behind the oven, never to be seen again. As a kid I could see those pencils laying there waiting to be found, just looking up at the ceiling thinking “I’m still good! Please! Anyone, I Can Still Make Notes And Drawings For You, I Promise You! Please? I’ll be good!” and wouldn’t you know I would begin sobbing every single time I got to that damn part of the story! Here’s where it gets bad – and you might want to stop reading here – the lead character would fill his pot up, wipe his eye, smile and exclaim something like “Tea’s Ready!” and flutter away.
What the hell? Did you really get my 5-year old emotions in a tizzy so you could have tea and then just walk away smiling? What about me? What about those pencils? They are still there, tiny and little, craving the warmth of a human hand! That hasn’t changed just because your thirst has been sated! You goshdarn son of a bitch dirty bird!
“…definitely the tuna tartare, and the hazelnut crusted chicken, and… then a nice, big crudite platter…”
My client was reviewing my menu suggestions for her 150-guest cocktail party, adding the last one on her own.
“NO”, I said, a little more aggressively than I had intended. “No”, softer now, but with the same sentiment. “I just can’t do crudite anymore.”
My client paused. The phone was silent. “Ok”, I caved, “we’ll figure something out. Maybe a small crudite is alright.”
Years ago, I worked as a free-lance chef for a big-time catering company in Los Angeles. We would cater colossal parties for the astronomically rich, where every display was over the top. There were epic platters of food – with sausages and cheese flown in from other countries and cupcake towers the size of New York brownstones.
We would cut vegetables for days, whittling jicama and carrot wedges into little pointy daggers, nipping the tops off radishes, and blanching broccoli and sugar snap peas into the brightest green they could be. It was a thing of beauty for sure, but we had to buy and cut three times more veggies than anyone could ever eat.
Catering is all about making platters look full at all times – which means there has to be tons of coverage. We have to make sure that if someone suddenly goes on a Persian cucumber binge, the display still looks abundant. Hey, nothing says success like excess, right? Well, 75% of the cascading peppers, baby tomatoes, and asparagus would wind up in the garbage. It was heartbreaking.
Raise your hand if you like breakfast for dinner? I LOVE breakfast for dinner and these days I am guilty of doing this more than once a week.
Life gets busy and time isn’t always on my side. On those days, I open the fridge at 5pm, stare at what’s on hand and dishes like this Shakshuka are prepped, cooked, and put on the table within 30 minutes.
Not only is this a great dinner (Levi and Isaac ate the sauce with a loaf of bread and a side of turkey sausage), but the leftover sauce, one or two eggs, and a bit of bread is a very, very easy week day morning breakfast.
The first time I made this for Eli, after he ate it, I got both a hug and a kiss. It’s a win-win for all! Keep a dozen eggs and this sauce in the fridge at all times. Now, that’s an order!
So far I have kept my New Year’s resolution to eat healthy. (Okay, so maybe except for the wine and a little chocolate.) This commitment includes a granola breakfast. (Later in the day, the menu gets very green.)
I have been obsessing about making the perfect granola to support my resolution. I have played with ingredients such as coconut (all formats: oil, sugar, shredded), millet, dried apricots, wheat germ, quinoa, etc. and I intend to continue messing with the recipe just to keep things interesting.
But as of today, I’m eating the one described below. It’s tasty, and makes me feel almost good about the fact that I’m not eating a croissant with jam.
Try it, knowing you can substitute almost everything with something else, if you are feeling granola obsessive. (This may not be the case for you if you, say, have a life.)
Smoked salmon is one of those things nobody ever told me about until I was grown up. I mean, I guess I heard about it, but it was food beyond my reach. It never appeared in our kitchen; in small-town Illinois, it seemed exotic.
Other things I didn’t see much of included calves’ liver and oysters but when I tasted them for the first time, I knew it would be the last. I had quite a different reaction to silky, seductive smoked salmon.
I’ve never been able to convince my children of the virtues of smoked salmon: they have thus far refused to taste it. If you have a more open-minded group at your house, try this sandwich—it’s pretty great.
These tiny, almost impossibly perfect little Forelle pears are the kind I could only imagine in an Hironymous Bosch painting. They weigh almost nothing and go down in two bites.
I had never seen them before, and when I looked them up I discovered they are an old variety dating back to the 1600s in Germany. I spotted them in a supermarket and asked the staff what their name was. “I don’t know, but no one is buying them.”
I scooped up a few and coveted their shiny colorful beauty in such a small package. I placed them on a plate and put them in front of one of my recent paintings. I gazed at them for almost a week before deciding to use them to make a French classic dessert: Poires Belle Helene—a chocolate dessert with a healthy twist to it.
As far as easy desserts go, this has to be one of the easiest. Poach the pears. Ladle warm chocolate sauce over them. And use any kind of pear. I just happened to fall in love with these little wonders!
This is one of those recipes that seems more complicated than it is. Make it once and you’ll never need to look at the recipe again. Eat what you make and you’ll become addicted, learning new ways to use the nutty, spicy, sweet, deeply satisfying condiment. It’s a no brainer on simple grilled, broiled or poached fish or chicken, but it’s on vegetables where the sauce really shines.
Suzanne famously serves it atop potatoes. I’ve featured it here on this blog as part of a Grand Aioli, a dish where dipping becomes an art form of customization. I love it dribbled on fried eggs, tucked in a tortilla with whatever as a “colonial” salsa. I would really like to know your favorite way to eat Romesco. A spoon anyone?
If you can’t find dried chiles pasillas then substitute the more commonly found New Mexico chiles. Pasillas have a more complex sort of winy flavor and a bit more heat than the brighter flavored New Mexico chile.
This is one of those recipes where the quality of the bread makes a tremendous difference. It’s a peasant dish and assumes a peasant loaf, so try to find a great natural local natural yeasted bread in your area. If all else fails, use La Brea Bakery. I used a couple slices off a small boule from Roan Mills.
My house has been overrun with hungry kids lately (and I like it that way). I don’t mind it at all but there better be something coming out of the oven at all times. Can you imagine the look on a gaggle of teen’s faces when you pull out a tray of freshly baked doughnuts? Yep, it’s as priceless as you can imagine.
Also, have I mentioned my town does NOT have a doughnut shop? It must be some kind of joke. It’s a totally unmet demand as far as I’m concerned and I think someone could get rich quick if they put one in. Anyone, anyone? Now, there are doughnuts in the bakeries of all the grocery stores, but they are not the same as a doughnut shop doughnut. You understand what I’m saying.
Therefore, I started making my own doughnuts. We love the cake-like ones as you see here. And they are so easy to make…so easy.
My son, Eli, and his friends took up fishing a few years back. He has an awesome fishing rod, but he has since retired it. He has replaced fishing for varsity football, work (yes, he works – in a restaurant), and girls. He is 16 1/2 after all! Although he has given up the sport, his friends haven’t. And every time his friend Owen catches something wonderful, he calls me up and asks if he and I can cook together.
This past summer he caught massive amounts of blue fin tuna. I became the lucky recipient of pounds of tuna and when he called, I knew exactly what I wanted to make. Tuna Tartare! Most of the ingredients can be found in the pantry, all that was missing was the fish. I made the ginger oil before he arrived, but waited to chop, cut, and assemble the rest of the ingredients until he arrived.
Upon assembly, I realized that I didn’t have any won ton skins on hand (not really one of my pantry staples), so I sent the teenagers to the market. They couldn’t find the won ton skins(never thought to call and ask…boys), but they managed to bring home 2 pints of ice cream and some other crap, that I NEVER buy and is way too disgusting to mention. I improvised with some tortilla chips. I ate it sans the chips and when the tartare disappeared, they asked for more. With a fridge full of freshly caught blue fin tuna, I couldn’t refuse.
During the heat of summer I'm always looking for foods that are light, refreshing, and ultimately cool. I never crave hot foods in summer—and who does? The best cuisine for staying cool under the sun has always been Mediterranean. These foods, especially the dips and spreads, never make you feel like you've been weighed down. Many vegetables make a delicious dip, but eggplant dip is particularly popular in the region and beyond.
Baba ghanoush, the famous Lebanese dip, is part of a traditional meze platter, which can include, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, olives, and flatbread. In Greece they have a similar dip called melitzanosalata. The basic recipe consists of roasted eggplant that is mashed together with garlic and parsley. Tahini (sesame seed paste) and lemon juice can also be added for more flavor. That's all you need to create this appetizer. When you're looking for something simple for summer entertaining, baba ghanoush might just be your solution.