Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning


Food and Drink

Thanksgiving – An Operator’s Approach

I love thinking about menus, and even more so, “menu game plans.”  How does one get dinner on the table for friends and family while working, managing kids, keeping your sanity.  The question gets bigger with the holidays.  What to cook, how to make it happen, how to avoid family roadkill along the way. 

So this is what I do. I plan.  I write it all out. I spec out what gets done when.  I do this often – holidays, dinner parties, etc.  It’s most fun when you throw work travel into the mix (i.e. I will be in California Wednesday through Thursday late afternoon…guests arrive Saturday at 7PM…no sitter coming by to help…how to make it taste good and look easy!  This for me is FUN). 

As Thanksgiving approaches, I pulled up my Game Plan from 2009, the first time we hosted Thanksgiving and the first time I cooked a turkey.  I just love this – this is organization, thought, operations, execution, getting things done.  The only thing it’s missing is a spreadsheet.  Maybe in the future I will do Gantt Charts.  Take a look, and happy planning!

Thanksgiving 2009 Game Plan

A Tale of Success and Simple Indulgence

I claim no originality here, I simply tell a tale of success and raw indulgence.

Snow snow and more snow.  In the fridge, what to make?  And what to make to eat in less than 15 minutes? 

Get out a big pot, fill with water, high high heat.  Yes, we are going pasta here.

Second pan onto the stove.  Large.  Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  Cut up 3 pieces of  bacon.  Into the pan on medium high heat.  Smash a clove of garlic – basically still whole so you can get it out.  Also, in with the bacon.  Get out 3 eggs.  Grate a bunch of parmesan while the bacon cooks.  Once the bacon is about crispy, turn off the heat. 

Is the water boiling?  Yes indeed.  Lots of salt into the water.  Pasta - 1 lb of whatever you have.  I like Spaghettini.  Set timer for 9 minutes.  Put your collander in the sink (Boy Scout motto – be prepared). 

When the timer has dwindled to 2 minutes, turn your heat back on under the bacon pan – medium heat.  Discard the garlic clove (ciao, bella).  Add a few red pepper flakes.  Crack the 3 eggs into the pan – it's like you are frying them.  Do not be tempted to turn the heat up.  We are looking for really runny, not ready to eat yet fried eggs.

Use a mug to grab a mugful of the pasta cooking water.  Drain your pasta.  Turn 2/3s*** of it into the pan over the eggs and bacon.  MIX MIX MIX.  Drop your cheese in.  MIX MIX MIX.  If it looks a bit dry, add some pasta water from your mug.  Lots of black pepper.  Salt to taste. You are tasting, yes?  You get it – MIX!

Two dishes.  Pasta into the dishes.  More cheese on top.  More pepper.  Don't hesitate.  If I need to tell you what to do next, well, nevermind.

** For extra credit you could have chopped a scallion or two while the pasta was cooking.  If you did – good for you.  Put this on top of your pasta now. 

It's an even more simple carbonara.  It's done in less than 15 minutes.  It's absolutely delicious.  I would share a picture but it demands to be eaten right away, and really, who am I to quibble.  It's simple and easy but demanding and sinful – not only must you eat it right away, but you must eat it all.  It does not keep.  Oh well.  I was taught not to let food go to waste.  Eat it all.


*** I made 1 lb and used only 2/3.  I kept 1/3 for leftover plain pasta.  It's just good to have around. 

Dinner Party Menu for people who have children and want to look composed…

Had a friend over for dinner last Saturday.  Needed menu.  This is what we came up with…


Stinky Cheese and Bread (Morbier is a nice choice)

Corn Pudding (try this recipe from Bon Appetit…I added some Asiago cheese.  Delish.)

Zucchini Arugula Salad (the sleeper hit of the meal, it was awesome.)

Grilled Butterflied Chicken with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon

Apple Crostada

Why is this a good menu for a working mom when you have kid(s) running around and its Saturday so you have 75 errands to do, but guests are showing up at 6pm so they can meet the kid(s), so you need to cook/bathe child/set table/get kid to bed all while being watched by a GUEST?  Because, the cheese is purchased; corn pudding assembled ahead and baked when you need it; salad is just tossing, not really cooking; chicken marinates all day and then you outsource cooking it to your husband who will grill anytime anywhere anyweather; apple crostada, use a Julia recipe for crust or buy crust, assemble it, put it in fridge then bake when needed.  See, easy.

Something old, something new…

Nothing borrowed, and thank god, nothing BLUE, because I am talking about FOOD in this here post.  Yes. 

A combination of very sad, neglected old folks came together tonight to make one delicious easy soup. It all started with an odd, old package of Knorr Vegetable Dip in the back of my pantry.  How did that even get there?  Did we MOVE with that?  It must have been two, perhaps three years old.  It was time.  Then there was the half of an onion in the fridge, a parmesan rind about to waste away, about 10 almost wrinkling looking though still good fingerlings, and a half a head of cabbage.  Who ever uses up that last half of the cabbage, really?

Well, all of this made it into a pot tonight, along with three garlic cloves, a can of cannelini beans and six or seven cans of water.  Salt.  Pepper.  A little love.  An hour simmering on the stove.  And here you go:

Top THAT with a crouton, perhaps rubbed with garlic and some parmesan melted on top and darn if you don't have a nice bowl of soup.  Chin up, old parm!  Glass full, sad cabbage!  

What is “Save Gourmet”

Honest answer: I don't know yet.  BUT, I have a lot of rough thoughts – here are a few:

  • Gourmet closes – there is an outpouring of sentiment from loyal readers everywhere that this is a loss of a cultural icon. Gourmet was more then just FOOD.
  • Gourmet, for me, struck the most delicate balance of marrying and fostering the accessible with the aspirational in terms of cooking and living.
  • Every month, Gourmet expanded my culinary and cultural horizons. Food, my friends, is one of the things that makes the world go around and defines cultures. With the loss of Gourmet, who addresses this now? (yes, I know, Saveur, etc. I still feel like there is a void here).
  • We as Americans now eat out all the time, barely sit together around a table and should be afraid of eating ground beef. SOMETHING has to be done about this. The readers of Gourmet -and the staff that created Gourmet – care about these things deeply. And, let's be honest, we are an unhealthy group of folks. Caring about the quality of your food, valuing a meal, creating it yourself…all of these things can actually help address these pretty major societal issues.
  • My husband and I were looking for an apartment a few years ago. We live in NYC. Do you know how many places we saw – new beautiful buildings – that had NO space for a dining room table!! Honestly. The brokers all said the same thing "nobody eats at home anymore, and if they do, they sit in front of a TV but the family dinner…sorry you silly silly people, but the family dinner is a thing of the past." Well, I will tell you what – it is NOT a thing of the past in my world. We don't do it every night, but boy do we think it's important so we do our best to make it happen as often as possible. This, to me, is a breakdown in family values, in connecting with loved ones, in helping your children learn to communicate and learn to listen, learn to try new things, learn to have patience.

There is more to life than Chicken Nuggets, people. 

So this is all a work in progress – and honestly, I don't know if anything big (or small) will come of it.  But when I think of Save Gourmet I think of all of the above.  Saving Gourmet to me means saving values and ideals that I hope we hold sacred, that build our communities, that encourage exploration and curiosity. 

I would love your thoughts.

Moving to Maine to be a cook!

Just kidding.  I still have several things I want to accomplish in my current career before I pack up and pursue the Other Job.  But maybe someday. 

However, It is no surprise to any regular reader of this blog that I love to cook.  For now, a weekend of cooking will have to do.  This is a big week in my house for food.  We started marinating a pork roast in jerk spices and beer last night.  It will be grilled tomorrow night.  We will also have roasted kale.

Yesterday for lunch there was cauliflower garlic pasta which my daughter decided was her new favorite thing.  Today we made panko/Parmesan crusted turkey cutlets for, well, anytime.  They are really just good to have around.  We also made some broccoli.  Also good to have around.  There was a cut up whole chicken roasting in the oven this afternoon too.  We dried the skin really well, tossed on some salt, pepper and smoked paprika (to keep things interesting) and let 'er rip at 450 degrees for about 35 minutes. 

And because my mother is visiting later this week and we will be eating short ribs (braised in port and red wine and veal stock, oh my!)…so I am in the midst of my first veal stock (virgin veal stock!).  Apparently veal stock is a thing of wonder of awe, so why not.  It's in the oven right now, where it will stay until 4AM when I wake up to turn off the oven, remove the stock and go back to bed.  It better be good.  Though I will say, I already love it because my house smells amazing and because who ever thought of putting a stock in the oven!  Low maintenance and maybe, just MAYBE, really high mileage!  Again, it better be good. 

At some other point this week we will have chicken paillard with parmesan breadcrumbs, escarole, rosemary and capers. 

I say this not to brag (it may all be just awful) but to make you hungry. 

And with all that, I am pretty excited about eating this week.  But can you believe it, I forgot to figure out dinner for tonight.  Good thing I have a full fridge.

One last thing, if you happen to be a great baker, please send me some favorite and FOOLPROOF recipes to  I am the worst baker and it's an area of shame and misery for my family (seriously, I have been known to make hockey pucks out of sugar, eggs, milk and flour).  Help me out, would ya?

Don’t pigs hunt for truffles? Ummm, yeah, because pigs are really smart. Keep reading.

Since we were talking about food…

Wait…we weren't talking about food?  Oh.  Well, we should have been.  You see, I think a lot about food and I guess assume you do since you are reading this.

I enjoy things that are high impact, high reward and deceptively simple.  I appreciate complication as well, but high mileage, low maintenance can be extraordinarily satisfying when thinking about food that, say, might work for a dinner party.

Have I got a dish for you.  Fish en Papillote with Julienned Vegetables and Truffle Oil

Awwwww, yeah.  That's French in that there title, so immediately it sounds complicated.  Julienned?  Please.  Just a tricky way for saying sliced thin (sort of – look it up, take your time – it's not hard).  Truffle Oil?  Sounds expensive.  Try a couple bucks an ounce, and a little goes a LONG way. 

Try this recipe – CLICK HERE.  Do not be turned off by the paper folding thing.  Just do your best.  I promise, even if you botch it, it will look awesome when it comes out of the oven.  Your guests will freak.  I modify the recipe – I use white wine (a good one) rather than lemon (though lemon would be fine); I added sliced shitake mushrooms to my vegetables as they were cooking; I use a bit more pepper. 

I would have posted pictures but, well, we ate it all way too fast.

So, for a dinner party?  Start with a soup – maybe a fresh pea soup that you have MADE AHEAD.  You can make it look fancy by swirling a little creme fraiche in it.  Then serve the fish (make the veg ahead of time; assemble the packets before everyone arrives); and for dessert do something like panna cotta with berries (also, NOT hard, looks hard, make ahead; tastes great).

Get ready to answer "How did you do all of this?" and perhaps "Oh my god, did you have this catered?"

Recipe tweaking, my daughter the clepto and a desperate housewife.

Well I just cannot leave well enough alone – and that is good because we all have our own mark to make on this world.  So yes, I am going to tweak a well reviewed, well received, professionally edited recipe from Epicurious.  Here it is: Roasted Chicken Breasts with Paprika, Chick Peas and Tomatoes.  It was good.  It would have been great with one major modification: no oil on the chicken.  Yes, use the spice oil on everything else but on the chicken alone, just shake cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.  Make sure, btw, that you DRY the chicken first.  The key here is crispy skin.  I hate soggy chicken skin.  Truly, what is more vile?  But crispy?  Truly, what is more delicious?  So why add oil?  Oil only defeats your quest for crispy skin.  And yes, I used thighs. I like thighs better because, well, they taste better.  This is a matter of personal preference. 

My 18 month old daughter is a thief.  She lifted a Hershey Bar at a grocery store today as we rolled through checkout.  Oh yeah, that was my kid.  This is yet another sign that she is channeling my dad.  Not because he was a chocoholic (he was – EPIC) but because my Episcopal priest of a dad had a tad of the clepto in him.  Let it be said, post-humous, that he was known to in his words "sample" the merchandise at grocery stores and other establishments.  He never got caught.  Divine intervention.  And for the record, I returned the incriminating evidence (good thing I am a total chocolate snob and only eat dark expensive chocolate).

John Hughes has died and this is a major loss to our culture.  I grew up with those movies.  This calls for a marathon.

I had no child care today so ended up taking a vacation day at home with the kiddo.  How did we spend our time?  Naturally, channeling suburban mothers far and wide, we went to Target.  Damn that place.  Is there a $100 tax upon entry?  Seriously, I went for diapers and left a c-note poorer.  There was that little toy for Avery, the wipes that I remembered were running low, cannot forget the overnight diapers and of course, there was Ina.  I have been holding out on buying Ina's new cookbook Back to Basics but today I caved.  So in her honor, tonight I am making dinner from said cookbook.  Menu: Tuscan Chicken, Asiago Polenta (inspired by her cheddar grits), Confetti Corn.  And then, not inspired by Ina, blueberry turnovers.  For the record, I am barefoot, I was in the kitchen and I am not pregnant, all suburban not working today mom evidence to the contrary.

I don't even know what happened in the market today.

Close to finishing The History of Love – pretty darn good book though I loved her hubby's book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close much better.

And finally, anyone notice that in the children's book Where Is Baby's Mommy, the mom is only found at the end buried in the bed with the covers over her head?  Could she be more depressed!  Anyone else have a desperate housewife moment with that one?  Seriously, they may as well have put tequila in her sippy cup! 

Three Cheers for the Bota Box

Sometimes it's nice to give credit where credit is due.   In my house, we drink a lot of wine.  We cook with a lot of wine.  Therefore, we generally have a lot of wine around.  My husband knows more about this subject than I do – we like to divide and conquer our areas of expertise…makes for good balance in a relationship. 

The only problem is, wine can be really expensive.  So in times like this, we look for bargains.  In general, the concept of "Bargain Wine" gives me a hangover just thinking about it.  Plonk = Headache.

But not always.  Enter, Bota Wines.  No, this is not a sponsored post (see beginning – I like to give credit where credit is due).  We bought a box of Bota Chardonnary not too long ago and it's not half bad.  It's actually, pretty darn nice for an everyday wine for drinking/cooking (btw, I would NEVER cook with a wine that I found undrinkable.  You are asking for trouble if you do this).  So thought I would share our discovery.  At $26 a box, you are bound to be happy and feel pretty smart.  Just don't tell.

And if you are reading this and find yourself horrified at the thought of boxed wine, screw you because you are obviously a TOTAL ELITIST snob don't take my word for it, read what Chow has to say.  Happy vino!

I just LOVE a well executed consumer product.  Send me some of your favorites.


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