May 13, 2014
In my novel, Delicious!, Lulu's mother engages in a Thrift Contest with the other women working at the Goodyear Plant; the idea is to reward the woman with the most patriotically spare lunches. It's an idea I came upon in one of the Department of Agriculture pamphlets, which the government put out to encourage people to ration their food. The prize was an entire ham, an almost unheard of luxury during the war.
But of course once you'd won your ham, it would have been your patriotic duty to parcel it out in little bits, making it last. I went through all my WW II cookbooks, looking for thrifty ways with ham. And there, hidden among the Peanutbutter Lima Loaves, the Liver Gems and Eggplant Puddings, I finally found a recipe that sounded like something I'd like to eat. I was so excited that I ran right into the kitchen and made a batch. They're good!
½ cup finely chopped ham
2 tablespoons pickle relish
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons mustard
1 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons shortening
1/3 cup milk.
Preheat oven to 375.
Stir together filling ingredients.
Mix dry ingredients and cut in shortening. Stir in milk. Roll out to a 16 inch square. Cut into 4 squares.
Put ¼ of ham mixture on each square, fold over into a triangle, press edges together and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.
May 12, 2014
I found this recipe in a group of war time recipes torn from a magazine. The page had a date, but the name of the magazine is lost to history.
I tried it because I imagined Lulu, the little girl in my novel Delicious! finding this recipe and thinking she would try it. "Mother will love this dish!" she would have said to herself when she read the ingredients.
She would have been right. Mother wasn't very adventurous, and she probably would have appreciated the inoffensive, eager to please nature of the eggplant. But Lulu, I'm pretty sure, would have been bored.
1 large eggplant
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ onion, minced (1/2 cup)
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons cooked rice
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees
Boil the eggplant in salted water, stirring occasionally until it is fork tender, 15 minutes. (I found it took half an hour, and even then it wasn't completely tender.)
Cut a horizontal slice from the top of the eggplant and carefully scoop out the eggplant with a spoon, leaving ¼ inch of pulp all around. Finely chop the pulp and set aside to drain.
Melt the butter in a skillet and sauté the onion, salt, a few grinds of pepper for 5 minutes. Mix in the parsley. Transfer to a bowl until cool, and mix with the eggplant pulp, rice, egg yolks, and breadcrumbs. Moisten with a little cream if necessary. (I did not find it necessary; it was moist enough without the cream.)
Fill the eggplant shell with the mixture and bake for 25 minutes until golden.
Ever try to boil a whole eggplant? A very strange process; it wanted to float like a boat, and I kept having to push it down to submerge it in water. It took half an hour to cook all the way through, not the 15 advertised minutes, and even then, it wasn't completely soft. Still, I managed to scoop out all the flesh.
It wasn't bad. But it was very bland, and having made it once I don't think I'd bother to do it twice. Lulu, I imagine, would have been disappointed that she didn't have something more delicious after all that trouble. "Eggplant," she would have thought, "surely there are better things to do with it." And then she would have written to James Beard and asked for his advice.
May 10, 2014
A brief stop at The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market, before going upstairs to tape Close Up at NY One with Sam Roberts. I love the energy of this place, which is almost always packed with people tearing steamed lobsters apart with their fingers, slurping oysters at the bar, eating sushi or simply browsing the extensive seafood offerings. I thought I was just looking around, but when I saw whole sea urchins at the oyster bar, I couldn't resist.
Even though they weren't as well-cleaned as they might have been, each fat orange lobe was sweet, sexy, singing of the sea. It felt like the most indulgent treat – just the thing on a gray New York day.
How can something as simple as a broccoli rabe frittata be so satisfying? Stopped in to meet some friends at The Breslin, thinking I'd have just a few bites of this puffy little egg cake before moving on. It turned out to be so delicious I had to order my own. Deceptively simple and utterly seductive, this was gently bitter, soft yet slightly crisp, spare and somehow rich. I litterally couldn't stop eating it. Then I had to steal some of this spectacular Caesar salad, dripping with anchovies, larded with crisp croutons and wonderful finger food.
Wandering down Elizabeth Street on my way to the Leonard Lopate show, I walked by the new Black Seed Bagel. I'd heard there was always a line. There wasn't. Impossible to pass up this opportunity to get in the door. It's a tiny place, spare and very crowded, and I stood for a while, studying the offerings. In the end I decided to go old school. This is the #1.
I like the size of the bagel, the density, and the way each one is baked over fire. Such a relief not to be faced with those airy baseballs that pretend to be bagels in New York these days. Small and compact, this one was delicious right out of the oven. But I can't help wondering what the bagels taste like once they cool down. Next time I'll get some to go.
Traveled on to Boston, where I ate one of the most delicious sandwiches of my life: heaps of rare roastbeef with crisp shallots, cheddar and Thousand Island dressing on a lovely little brioche from Cutty's in Brookline. It was so delicious – and I was so hungry – that I'd eaten the whole thing before I thought to take a picture. But I'll be back for another.
But here's my favorite flavor of the week.
After our talk at the Brattle Theater, Barbara Lynch took me to B&G Oysters. The oysters were perfect: cold, gorgeously opened, spilling with liquor. These clams, however, were even better. Fried Ipswich clams are my guiltiest pleasure. I've loved them my whole life. When the bellies are fried just right they turn into a kind of crisp, mysterious clam pudding. The B&G clams were so spectacular I ate two orders almost single-handedly, and I know I'll be thinking about them all week. I wish I'd eaten more when I had the chance.
Just one of many reasons to go back to Boston.
May 9, 2014
If you’ve stepped into a movie theater in the last twenty years, chances are you’ve been lured into buying a bag of day-glo popcorn. It's often delicious, especially when doused in that fake butter. But consider something I just learned: the oil that’s poured over the kernels before it’s popped can cause skin rashes in concentrated form. Unsettled yet? A medium bag of popcorn and a medium soda have the same number of calories as three Big Macs. It’s hard to imagine why. But it certainly doesn’t make me want to eat the stuff.
But I love popcorn. And so I make my own.
My favorite is Rancho Gordo red crimson popping corn. (I wish it popped red, but sadly it turns white with heat.) I haven’t been able to get it for an entire year, but I just discovered that it’s back in stock, and I can't stop making it. This is popcorn with minimal husk, and it actually tastes like corn. Pop it on the stovetop in a little neutral oil, drizzle with real melted butter, and finish with smoked paprika and salt. Or grate some parmesan or cheddar cheese over the top (it clings). Refreshingly straightforward. Totally addictive.
May 8, 2014
Among the recipes I considered putting into my novel, Delicious!, this was one of my favorites.
After Lulu harvested the last ripe Climbing Trip-L-Crop Tomatoes there were a lot of green ones left sitting on the vine. In the cool of the Ohio Autumn, some simply never ripened. But the war was on, everyone was using every edible bit, and Lulu didn't want to waste them. She went to her Department of Agriculture pamphlets and found they suggested this recipe for green tomatoes left on the vine.
What I love about this recipe is that it's a perfect example of what novice cooks had to contend with. This is exactly as printed in a pamphlet for wartime ration cooking. The recipe works…. but only if you fiddle with it. As a beginning cook, Lulu would have ended up with a liquid mess.
Green Tomato Mincemeat
4 quarts finely chopped green tomatoes (about 30 tomatoes )
2 quarts peeled and finely chopped tart apples (about 8-10 apples)
1 pound raisins
4 tablespoons minced lemon or orange peel
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 ½ cups brown sugar
2 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup vinegar
½ cup lemon juice
Combine the tomatoes, apples, raisins, lemon or orange peel, cinnamon, salt, allspice, cloves, brown sugar, sugar, vinegar, and lemon juice in a large pot.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until thickened, about 2 hours.
If the mixture is still not sufficiently thickened, raise the heat and allow it to boil gently, stirring constantly until ready.
I tested the recipe as written and ended up with something sadly soupy. It certainly did not need those 2 cups of water. The apples, tomatoes, vinegar and lemon juice provide plenty of liquid. I simmered it for a good two hours, which should have been enough. Then, disgusted, I strained the liquid off, reduced it separately, poured it back into the pot and gently boiled the mixture, stirring constantly so it didn't burn.
Would Lulu have known to do this? Probably not. I think she would have simply sat there, staring at that sorry mess.