Category Archives: Food

Girls’ Night out in the ‘Ville

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve the friendship of Jayne and Gretchen, but I’m glad that after what — eight years — they still want to hang out with me.

We met at a former employer of mine, where they were, and are, stars, and where,for the first time of my life, I found a job where I felt out of my depth in a couple of important ways. It wasn’t all my fault (trust me!) but the mysteries of the payroll taxes, different in all fifty states, was something I came to undertrained and mystified.

Having my life’s work and happiness dependent on the quarterly accounting schedule was something I didn’t take to like a Canada goose to the man-made ponds of our office campus. Gretchen and Jayne helped me with the nuts and bolts of W2s, 1099s, and county taxes in Indiana, but more than that — we clicked. I’m older than either of them, and we’re different, each of us, in all kinds of ways. But we’re more alike than we’re different, we rejoice in our victories, have kids to be proud of, husbands to joke (very kindly) about, and sympathy for the professional and health mountains and valleys.

Best of all: I know that if I ask for advice, I’ll get it: frank, thoughtful and loving. No, strike that! Best of all is the laughter.

Erase any concept of Girls’ Night Out involving Cosmos and Manilos. We met at the Towne Tap, a Warrenville fixture dating back to the fifties. It’s a tiny, friendly wood-paneled roadhouse with a Cheers vibe. It shares a building with Al’s Pizza, another ‘Ville fixture, and the businesses have a symbiotic relationship. A drinker at the Tap walks next door to Al’s, orders a pie, gives his name, and Al’s will deliver it to your table at the Tap.

I’d like to thank Gretchen — another girl from the ‘Ville — for suggesting the Tap, because in all my years of residence, I’d never bought a beer there. That’s time wasted. I’m a big time pizza snob, because I think our home-made version is at least as good as Mozza’s. But! Al’s makes a damn fine thin crust pizza.

We didn’t party into the wee hours: a couple of brews apiece, a pizza, two hours. But when I’m hanging with these two amazing women , even when the conversation turns sad, I’m happy. I’m lucky.

 

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Filed under Drink, Food, The 'Ville, Twenty bucks, Worth it anyway

A Whiter Shade of Sauce — Especially for Your Thanksgiving Green Bean Casserole

More recycling form Daily Gullet!

 

A Whiter Shade of Sauce 

It’s never inspired a wild fandango, let alone cartwheels cross the floor. Calling it Béchamel doesn’t make it chic and rolling the ls in balsamella won’t make it sexy. It’s White Sauce, pale, pure and reliable, the Vestal Virgin of Escoffier’s Mother Sauces.

 

It’s a Mama sauce, a Maman sauce, a Mom and Mummy sauce. . There’s no macaroni and cheese, no creamed spinach, no creamed potatoes or onions without White Sauce. No lasagna, no rissoles, barely a scalloped potato. No soufflés. No crap on clapboard. No sauce for chicken fried steak or salmon patties. No choufleur gratinee or cute little coffins of chicken a la King. No éclairs, cream puffs, or Boston Cream Pie, because isn’t pastry cream white sauce with sugar, egg and vanilla?

 

 

In this order, place butter, flour and milk in a saucepan, some salt, maybe a twist of beige from the nutmeg grinder –all it calls for is some attention with the wooden spoon and an eye to the size and activity of the bubbles. The proportions were way simpler than the multiplication flashcards by father drilled me with in third grade. My mother called them out over her shoulder as she cleaned the big can of salmon and chopped parsley.

 

Forty years later she would have said “Listen up!” or if she’d been Italian, maybe the stern “Ascolta!” I remember: “One tablespoon each of butter and flour for thin, two for medium, three for thick. Keep stirring. Watch the heat – you don’t want to burn it.” Some Maternal Units would never besmirch the snowy stuff with black pepper – though not my mother, Julia Child was passionate about thee white pepper only rule. I like the black specks, (always) a grating of nutmeg, and (often) a pinch of cayenne. When I have extra time I add a fillup of my own: I throw a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and a few fresh tarragon leaves into the milk, warm it up to the small bubble stage, then let it cool down and let everything infuse. I strain out the herbs before I add the milk to the roux and ponder what a great idea the bouquet garni is, and what a clever cook I am.

 

Research is fun, and I stacked up my reference books on the kitchen table — otherwise known as my study. First: let’s get the history out of the way. It will surprise no one who buys that story that all French cooking started as Italian cooking that Catherine di Medici‘s Italian cooks introduced it to the French when she married Henri II in 1533. Well, could be – but why do Italians call it balsamella, not caterina? Larousse Gastronomique tells us about Louis de Béchameil, Marquis de Nointel, who got a plum job as Louis 1V’s Steward of the Royal Household. “The invention of béchamel sauce is attributed to him, but it had, no doubt, been known for a long time under another name. It was more likely to be the invention of a court chef who must have dedicated it to Bechemeil as a compliment.”

 

And who was Louis’s chef de cuisine? Francois Pierre de la Varenne, that’s who!. Varenne(1615-1678) included a recipe for Sauce Béchamel in his Le Cuisiner Francais. I wonder if it was a printing error in the first edition that dropped the i in the Marquis’s name? I hope the Marquis was flattered enough to give Francois a shift off.

 

But as I pulled books at random from the stack and read recipes, the room was humming harder as the ceiling of my self-respect as a food historian flew away. The formula for a white roux and milk sauce reads like a formula for papier mache binder. Careme starts with a veloute made from white veal stock then pumps it up with a liaison of eggs yolks and cream, with a walnut-sized piece of butter and “a few tablespoons of very thick double cream to make it whiter. Then add a pinch of grated nutmeg, pass it though a white tammy [sic] and keep hot in a bain marie. ‘

 

Let’s fast-forward eighty-odd years to Escoffier’s Le Guide Cuilinaire (1907   ) translated by H.L Cracknel and R.J. Kaufmann. (John Wiley and Sons, 1979.) Um: meat? Yes, the ‘Scoff adds chopped lean veal, two sliced onions and thyme to the roux and milk mixture, allows” them to simmer gently for two hours, and pass through a fine strainer.” Maybe Cesar Ritz liked the veal gelatin.

 

While Escoffier was wowing London, Charles Ranhofer was chef de everything at Delmonico’s in New York; the late nineteenth century’s Achatz, Keller and Waters combined. He was a white-whiskered tyrant with more energy than a grill cook at the Billy Goat Tavern under Wacker Drive. He’s his take on béchamel, on page 293 of his 1183 page master opus The Epicurean:”

 

“This is made by preparing a roux of butter and flour, and letting it cook for a few minutes while stirring, not allowing it to color in the slightest; remove it to a slower fire and leave it to complete cooking for a quarter of an hour, then dilute it gradually with half boiled milk and half veal blond. Stir the liquid on the fire until it boils, then mingle in with it a mirepoix of roots and onions, fried separately in butter, some mushroom peelings and a bunch of parsley; let it cook on a slower fire and let cook for twenty-five minutes without ceasing to stir so as to avoid its adhering to the bottom; it must be rather more consistent than light. Strain it through a fine sieve then through a tammy [sic] into a vessel.”

 

Not content with the veal presence and the mushroom peelings, Ranhofer adds a mirepoix of root vegetables? Will the madness never end?

 

Let’s fast forward thirty years and hop the train from Manhattanto Bostonto check out Mrs. Fanny Merrit Farmer’s cooking school and her The Boston Cooking School Cookbook – my edition’s from 1913. Fanny infuses a cup and a half of veal stock with carrots, onion, bay leaf, parsley and peppercorns for twenty minutes. (So much for any pretensions I may have had about steeping a few herbs in the milk.) “Melt the butter, add flour, and gradually hot stock and milk. Season with salt and pepper.”

 

The Rombauer Ladies don’t include a recipe for béchamel in the 1975 Joy of Cooking. If you look it up in the index you’ll find “Bechamel sauce, see White Sauce.”  You know, the recipe with the roux and milk and salt and pepper?  What I’ve called Béchaml since I was a hoity-toity teenager in the kitchen? Maybe Joy set the modern formula for Béchamel in this country; it’s awesome they called it White Sauce.

 

James Peterson’s recipe in Glorious French Food (2002) requires: shallots, celery, a carrot, a garlic clove, thyme, bay leaf and “4 oz. (115 g.) of prosciutto end, pancetta or veal and pork trimmings.” C’mon Jim, am I making aa sauce or a stuffing for ravioli?

 

If there’d been a waiter with a tray, I would have called out for another drink. I felt like someone who’d spent her life telling people how to make pate by grinding up Spam, or insisting that Mario Batali told me that he heats up Chef Boy-R-Dee at home when he wants pasta that’s really authentic. Or a schoolmarm who’d been teaching creationism forever, saw the light, and realized she’d been talking up her ass for years with her skirt tucked into the waistband of her pantyhose .Had I never made a Béchamel sauce?

 

In my not Smithsonian-sized cooking library I found the writer who, for the first time, called White Sauce Béchamel.  I’ll give you a hint: the year is 1961. Want another? Her kitchen is on view in the Smithsonian. You got it: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I. Julia, Louisette and Simka are my first in-house references for “plain” Béchamel Sauce.  But: in a preface about Sauces Blanches, the Gourmettes say: “Sauce Béchamel in the times of Louis XIV (yeah Varenne,) was a more elaborate sauce then it is today. Then it was a simmering of milk, veal and seasonings with an enrichment of cream, In modern French cooking a béchamel is a quickly made milk-based foundation requiring only the addition of butter, cream, herbs or other flavoring s to turn it into a proper sauce.” The recipe doesn’t mention butter, cream, herbs or other flavorings. .

 

And now that there is no reason and the truth is plain to see, the word “Béchamel” will never again pass my lips. I’ve never known squat about real Béchamel:  I’ve known about White Sauce. And along with my grandmothers that’s what I’ll forever  call it: White Sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Food, History, On the Street Where I Live

Required Watching: How To Peel a Whole Head of Garlic in 10 Seconds

I watched Rick Bayless make mojo de ajo on his PBS show last Saturday, and I decided that I needed some, bad. Mojo de ajo (slow cooked garlic in a bath of oil) requires tonnes of peeled garlic cloves; Chef Bayless used four whole heads. He said something like: “Yeah, peeling four heads of garlic is a drag, but it’s worth it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo from garlichealth.wordpress.com.)

Well, flap my flippers, what popped up on my Facebook feed yesterday but this 10 second demo courtesy of Saveur mag. “How to peel a whole head of garlic in ten seconds.” I was grabbing garlic heads from the garlic/onion bin within, well, three quarters of an hour. (I read Roger Ebert’s blog posts via Facebook before I even brush my teeth.)

I promise, very soon I’ll send WordPress that 55 bucks so I can plant video directly on my web page. But until that happy day comes, just follow this link:

http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/video-How-to-Peel-a-Head-of-Garlic-in-Less-Than-10-Seconds

 

Lor’ lummee, It works! It involves “shaking like the dickens,” and my dickens might have involved fifteen seconds — I’m a girl and all. The second head I shook took much longer , which puzzled me until I realized that I hadn’t smashed the head hard enough to separate every clove. The smashing is an important step. I’m going to use that toolbox-to- kitchen-utensil drawer essential, the rubber mallet, next time.

I’ll talk about mojo de ajo another time and another place. But, amigos, I made it, and with my new garlic peeling skills, I’ll never be without it again. So help me God.

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Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Food, How Cool is That?, Site of the Day

Poached Pears

There are some recipes that never, ever fail. Let’s consider the pear, a fave of mine because they’re one of the few fruits that can ripen on the window sill. (Except of course, my Asian pears from the backyard tree, which don’t taste like pears, never ripen and are used principally as compost fodder and wasp nectar.)

 

Lou was lured by the price: Bosc pears at a dime apiece. I love the elegant, slim-waisted Boscs, but these were tween pears; undersized, skinny and sullen. Oh, and harder than a cheap lip gloss.

 

I should have lined them all up on the kitchen windowsill to ripen, but I spared just two. I don’t need dessert every night, but last night I was feeling the poached pear love, so I peeled, seeded and poached. I know that any but my maddeningly useless Asian pears can be poached into something good, even skinny Boscs.

 

So: you don’t need good red wine, never a problem in my house. I slapped those pear halves in a pan, covered them with a slop of Châteaux Cheepo, dumped in too much sugar, some cinnamon and a couple of cardoman pods. I tastds the liquid, realized it was way too sweet, then added the grated peel of a lemon and all it’s juice. Those hard skinny pears took almost an hour to poach – the unlooked for bonus was a deep, thick, first-boil caramelly sauce.  Even with sullen pears this worked like a dessert charm: if I’d been working with ripeBartlettsthe result would have been so much better.

 

I chilled the pears and warmed up the sauce. I tucked some ricotta into the scooped out belly of the pear halves, drizzled them with honey, then spooned the thickened sauce over everything. That spot of green garnish is a lemon balm leaf, chosen because it was pitch dark, the lemon balm surges outside my back door, and I’d have had  to stagger in the dark to find the mint.

 

Oh man, they were good, and I remembered that Julia had taught me about poaching pears when I was a cooking neophyte in my twenties. Talk about cheap and cheerful, ageless and accessible. (White wine works well too.) Next time I’ll sub Greek yoghurt for the ricotta and I have a hunch it will be better. I wonder if I should have added some mint, or rosemary to the poaching liquid? Nemmind, I have four poached halves in the fringe, and two whole pears on the windowsill.

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Filed under Food, History, On the Street Where I Live

Apron of the Day: “Off the Hook”

Fry more fish, open more oysters, bake more bluefish. Here’s the Apron of the Day in my new “Field and Stream” series. Thanks for the idea, Jayne — I have more different deer and quail prints than I could have thought possible.

It’s oppressively hot and humid tonight, but I hustled Loulander outside for a quick photo shoot.

The fabric: I love the colors and I added a bright button on each pocket just to, I dunno, follow the fun forms of the lures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The apron:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This camo fabric cracks me up — truly. It’s fish camo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The apron. Note that I’ve made Loulander smile and he’s trying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s burger night tonight here in the ‘Ville, and as soon as the buns have risen enough to bake I’m gonna be all about a cheeseburger,topped with Charlene’s tomatoes and some cheese. Some late season Illinois corn on the cob will make it fab. But hold the lettuce: I don’t hold with no stinkin’ lettuce anywhere near my cheeseburger!

 

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Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Collections, Food, Needlework, Reversible Aprons, Sewing

Groovin’ With Grains

I’m not the crunchy granola type, but I’ve found decent whole wheat pasta, whole wheat couscous, and (maybe because my ancestors were Scots) I love barley. Bring on the bulgar! Smooches for spelt! Tonight, thanks to Lidia Bastianich, I’m fooling around with farro. It’s a kind of whole wheat barley, so packed with nutrients that it alone, with a few lentils, will keep you alive forever. And hot and lean forever.

Two nights ago we made Lidia’s “Farro With Pork Stew Potenza Style.” Well, the pork stew was ridiculously good and easy, but Dio Mio, we had to slum it with (white) rice. I was intrigued by farro, so yesterday we headed out to the local Whole Foods, and yes they had it — five bucks for a pound bag. Whoa, I was unworthy.

I hate to type, but I figure you’d like to read the whole label.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Montebello is an Italian classic. A monestary built in 1388 where authentic artisan famers use long forgotten Old World techniques to create premium 100% Italian foods full of distinctive flavors and aromas…And not far from the summit, overlooking the Adriatic, grow acres and acres of organic Farro and , that sustained the Roman legions centuries ago.”

The package said I should soak it for eight hours, then simmer for thirty minutes. I soaked it for an hour and cooked it for forty-five minutes, with a bay leaf and some fresh thyme , rosemary and oregano from my garden, A small blast of lemon juice and some parm — tastes fab, It has that creamy graininess with a teeny bit of bite that a well-made rissoto flaunts. But, amici: buy a cardboard cylinder of Uncle Ben’s Barley, cook it the same way and you’ll have the same end product. Not organic, sure, and not blessed by 14th century monks, but cheaper and with comparable food value.

Here it is plated up with the pork stew and a tomato/scallion/basil/ricotta salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice that half slice of buttered bread at the top of the plate? I decided to go all responsible tonight and made  the Light Whole Wheat Bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes. I should have fussed more about the crust, but I didn’t. The flavor and grain is good, but I’m eating it warm so I can’t make a judgement on it’s quality until tomorrow, when it’s cool. All I ask for is a few decent slices for toast and a tuna salad sandwich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got to say, whole grains make you feel full, which is why they’re so valuable, globally, as a food source. On the other hand, they’re making me wonder why I don’t own Birkenstocks and sport temp henna tatoos. But, it was all good and I won’t need a late night snack tonight.

 

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Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Books, Food, Home

Making Bread: Cheap Cheerful and Guilty

I might have posted on this subject before — forgive my failing memory — but I’m gonna do it again. The eternal question: why don’t we get our act together and make our own bread ? Every other day?

It’s not as if we live in Paris or Montreal or Saigon, where a bodacious baguette lolls around every corner. We live in the Land of Bad Bread, unless you’re willing to spring five bucks for a spurious loaf of La Brea.

In the last couple of weeks I made this loaf of white sandwich bread, straight off the back of the King Arthur Dried Baker’s Milk bag:

Tall, wide grained, and kneaded in the KitchenAid: approx five minutes hands on work. So why don’t I have a few loaves in the freezer? I guess I’m a lazy slut.

Glom your eyes at the rye loaf cooling on the countertop. Lou made it with zero drama — so why not twice a week? (In fact, half the dough’s resting in the fridge for rye rolls later in the week.)

I mean, before the Cuiz and the KitchenAid I was perfectly capable of kneading my own dough with my own two mitts, following the recipe from “Joy,” With my beloved machines, I should be able to crank out a loaf every other day, but I don’t.

Baking bread is the furthest thing from rocket science — peeps have been doing it for thousands of years, fomenting their own yeast from the air instead of ordering it for the King Arthur catalogue. (Fermipan!) I’m going to spend a few more minutes of rising time to flagellate myself for my laziness, then I’m going to build a big ham and swiss on Lou’s gorgeous rye

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Filed under Food, Home, Les than 99 cents