I love entertaining, even if I’m not as good at it as I’d like to be. I’m always a little too ambitious, where my guests find me sweating over a few simmering pots and an open oven when they arrive; too adventurous, excited to try out a brainy, untested dish over a failsafe standby; and I hate this but I sometimes I just choke in those crucial last minutes, sending rookie mistakes like under-seasoned or cold dishes out to the table. One reason I like to entertain is that it’s a muscle, and you can develop it, but more than that, hanging out at a dining table with new and old friends is one of my favorite things to do, and if I could do it every night I would.
So last weekend, after a very long dinner party hiatus, I had some friends over. I’d been rereading my Diana Kennedy books and was discovering Rick Bayless ones, so I decided a few Mexican-inspired dishes would be nice on a balmy July day. I made:
- A batch of creamy poblano rajas from More Mexican Everyday, to which I added a sheet pan’s worth of mixed roasted mushrooms; this was taco filling and I’ll write up the recipe sometime soon.
- This corn salad: a hit.
- From a pound of Rancho Gordo Bayo Chocolate Beans—one of the fruits of their partnership with Xoxoc—some vaguely refried beans. I cooked them with bay leaf and onion until creamy, then fried them in a bit of olive oil and garlic and mashed them with some of the bean-cooking liquid until creamy, but still a little chunky. Very good, and great with breakfast the next day.
- And because I’d bitten off more than I could chew, I enlisted the help of two of my guests for the rest of the menu: genius guacamole, from Kristin Miglore’s wonderful book Genius Recipes
- . . . and a platter of ceviche, served cold and heady with grapefruit zest, serrano and fresno chilies, and lots of herbs.
It was quite a feast. There was even a galette for dessert. I should have taken pictures, but—too much to do. Continue reading
Martha Rose Shulman, the prolific author of some of my very favorite, whole foods-oriented, weeknight friendly, never boring recipes, has written a few times about her habit of using up the lingering odds and ends of her dry goods—beans, pulses, grains—before the end of the year. This makes for a clean slate in January, and prevents any of those items from going bad while hidden up in the corner of a top shelf for a few years. It’s always seemed like a good idea to me, but I’ve never really made a point of doing it. But this December, we’re on. I began with this perfect, post-Thanksgiving meal.
This recipe is really more of an idea. I thought about going the soup route with my lingering black beans and farro, but instead I landed on something like “dry soup,” or a “black bean and farro soup bowl,” or—bingo—”deconstructed soup.” The idea is to take the elements of the soup I might have made, strip it of its broth, and amp up the garnishes. Furthermore, when I combine beans and grains in a soup, one or the other often turns to waterlogged mush as the leftovers sit, and this method eliminates that.
Do you have a bottle of mirin in the back of your fridge or cupboard? Do you remember what you bought it for? I used to forget about my mirin until a recipe like Heidi’s Black Sesame Otsu came along, and then afterward I’d let it get pushed back into the shadows all over again. Thank goodness it takes a very long time to go bad. But over the past year I’ve been reaching for it a bit more frequently and experimenting with it in some less obvious ways.
It’s almost over. 2013 has been good to me, with exciting developments and lots of change, but with all the fluster and the bluster, with all the new types of stress and the unrelenting, unfamiliar feeling (for me) of not quite being able to maintain the grip on things in the way that I would like to, I know that I’ll be just fine when 2013 is a speck in the rearview mirror. Maybe it always feels this way, with the rush that November and December always are. And maybe the fluster and bluster is just a sign of activity. Whatever. Next.
My grandmother had the tradition every New Year’s Eve of setting outside a coffee mug that contains a quarter, nickel, dime, and penny. The coins should be shiny, and the mug should go out where it’ll get lots of air circulation. This was thought to promise prosperity, and I’ve never missed a year, never deviated from it or questioned it. The only thing is that living in New York, my access to the outdoors is a fire escape, so I’ve never been sure if that’s enough air circulation or not. Maybe you’ll want to give this a try. Continue reading
In weather like this—here in New York we had a scorcher of a Forth of July weekend—I’ll find my way to the beach the way birds migrate south, the way flowers turn towards the sun, the way sleepeaters get to the fridge. The body knows it needs the sea breeze and saltwater plunge before the mind does.
Food is usually an afterthought. I’ll toss odds and ends—carrots and radishes, a bunch of grapes, leftover salads, bread, cheese, crackers, whatever—into the cooler with a few ice packs and/or frozen water bottles. But planning ahead has its rewards, and this “beach linguini” has been a hit two years in a row. Last summer I made a batch for my friend Lesley’s and my annual Fire Island day trip. Then this past weekend, it functioned as leftovers. I served the cold linguini for dinner on Saturday night, then took the rest out to the beach.
The other night I found myself sitting at my computer thinking about ghee. Several years ago I had a habit of regularly making it, and I’d use it in all manner of curries and sautés—it was fun to keep on hand, and it would last for forever. It’d been a while since I’d made a batch. As I was sitting there, I had the realization that ghee is nothing more than—get this—strained browned butter. It’s not that I ever thought ghee was a complicated thing to wrap your head around—surely others have conceptualized it this way before. But in any case, it was revelation enough that it catapulted me into the kitchen.
To make ghee, melt a stick—or two or three or fifteen—of butter over medium heat in a saucepan or small skillet that’s not black (it’ll be hard to gauge the ghee’s color if you use a dark pan, such as a cast-iron skillet). As it cooks, sizzling away as the water evaporates, the solids will separate, clinging to the sides and dropping to the bottom of the pan, and they’ll begin to take on color. You’ll want to watch closely, because once the solids start to color, they can go from blond to black in a matter of seconds. Look for them to turn reddish-brown—which is when you have browned butter! Remove the pan from the heat and immediately, carefully pour the butter through a cheesecloth-lined sieve to strain out the solids. (The purpose of separating the solids is to allow the ghee to have a high smoke point.) Once it cools, you can keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several weeks. Continue reading
At some point last year, my friend and 61 Local colleague Laura and I were at work, whiling away a slow shift by discussing dinner clubs. We came up with the idea for one that focuses on a curated selection of ingredients, where each 6-course dinner would have an ingredient spotlight, and then each course would have to use it in some interesting way. As we explored the possibilities, we decided that we needed to see this dinner club realized. Laura and I picked the ingredients—olive oil, honey, ginger, miso, mint, and orange—and I assembled our cooks and diners: Camila, Colin, Matthew, Laura, Nozlee, and me.
Dinner clubs are always fun for someone who likes to cook, eat, and linger over a dining table talking about food. But this one has been so much fun—so exciting, due in part to getting a great balance of food-curious people who are largely new to each other, but also because of all of the creative and delicious dishes that we’ve tasted. A few highlights: For our olive oil dinner, Nozlee made martinis that featured olive oil-infused vermouth. For her ginger appetizer, Laura made ginger-scented meringues stuffed with gingery, curried blue cheese. And at this most recent dinner Colin made a miso-banana ice cream, flavored with kecap manis, the sweet, thick Indonesian soy sauce. Continue reading