Off the Grid

September 6, 2010

I’m at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. My idea of Paradise: all I do here is write. No responsibilities, no chores, no internet. Really fascinating people. It’s heaven.

But I’m finding that I really, really miss cooking. For some people it’s all about the results – the food you end up with, the conversation around the table, the good feelings that come from a good meal. But for me cooking is so much more: just being in the kitchen gives me serious pleasure. I’m imagining that it’s kind of like those endorphins the athletic are always going on about. I don’t really believe that they enjoy running. Maybe they can’t understand how I enjoy feeding people.

Tonight film maker Laura Poitras, who has done some incredible documentaries about the American presence in the Middle East in the past 9 years, showed her work. To make My Country, My Country, she lived with an Iraqi doctor and his family as he ran for political office. When I told her how brave this seemed to me, she smiled and said, “Well, you know, I started out wanting to be a chef. And the hardest work I’ve ever done was working on the line in a restaurant. Compared to that, Iraq was easy.”

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September 2, 2010

Recipes aren’t roadmaps, they’re just suggestions of routes you might take when you find yourself in the kitchen. It’s the detours that are most satisfying part of cooking, the paths that you find on your own.

That’s why this note, from a professor at the University of Toronto, made me smile so broadly. It just came in, but I thought I’d share it with you.

Dear Ruth:
I really love the Gourmet book & it is a constant resource for me now. I wanted to say that the skirt steak with black pepper recipe (I don’t put that much pepper on when I make it :)) works very well with boneless, skinless chicken thighs with the leftover chicken making a great pizza (Jamie Oliver’s tomato sauce with dried peppers & fresh basil, baby king mushrooms & Asiago cheese).

The grilled onions in balsamic vinegar that go with the skirt steak recipe are now a house favorite & have now found there way into green beans (a variation on Mario Batali’s green beans & onions from his Multo Gusto cookbook).

FYI, here’s my simplified version of Maggie Ruggiero’s recipe:

Grilled London Broil with Red Onions

Stir together 4 cloves of garlic, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Add 1 1/2 pounds of London broil or skirt steak to the mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.Just before grilling bring to room temperature, remove steak from marinade, pat dry and throw the marinade out.

Peel 3 small red onions, but leam them intact and cut lengthwise into 3/4-inch-thick wedges. Insert a wooden pick horizontally through each wedge (to keep it intact while grilling), and marinate in mixture of 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper shaken in.

Grill steak about 10 to 12 minutes over a medium fire. REmove and allow to stand while you grill the onions for 6 minutes or so.

Cut steak crosswise into thin slices, holding knife at a 45-degree angle. This will serve 4 people.

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Wild Blackberry Pie

August 31, 2010

The surprise of finding wild blackberries creeping along the edges of the woods is one of the great pleasures of these deep summer days. Even the mean wild vines, stretching out their vicious thorns to scratch you, cannot dim the pleasure. The purple juice stains your fingers for days, a trophy, a tattoo.

No other pie tastes quite like this one, and few are so forgiving. The most important point is to taste the berries and decide how much sugar to throw in. Some berries are large, moist, generous with sweetness while others are so small, tight and circumspect that only heat can make them sweet. Taste the berries, and then add anywhere from half a cup to a whole one for 4 to 5 cups of berries.

You can thicken this pie with anything you like; I’ve used cornstarch, instant tapioca or flour. Choose one, and use about 3 tablespoons. You can add cinnamon if you like, but I think these berries deserve to stand on their own.

Stir the sugar and the thickener into the berries, squeeze in some lemon juice and mix gently. Toss the berries into a pie crust, dot the top with butter, cover with a top crust and cut some vents. Put the pie on the bottom rack of a very hot oven (425 or so) for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 375 and bake until fragrant and golden, about 45 minutes more.

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Warm Peach Cobbler

August 28, 2010

This is summer, served warm on a plate. Just peeling the peaches, uncovering that color just beneath the skin, makes me happy. As does the scent of this simple cobbler as it bakes, filling the house with its golden aroma

Peel 4 large peaches, and slice them directly into a glass or ceramic pie plate, being sure to capture the juice. Squeeze half a lemon over the fruit and toss in a half cup of sugar and a tablespoon of cornstarch.

Mix a cup of flour with a teaspoon of baking powder, and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda and salt. Cut in half a stick of butter and very gently mix in a third cup of buttermilk. Plop the dough onto the fruit, shake a little sugar over the top and bake in a 400 degree oven for about half an hour.

Serve warm, with a pitcher of cream.

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Fast, Easy, Satisfying: Indian Chicken

August 25, 2010

This is one of my favorite fast dinners; the most time-consuming part is pulling the skin off the chicken legs, and you can do that in about a minute. The yogurt tenderizes the meat, making it incredibly silky, and the spices penetrate it, making it sing with flavor. The high-heat of the oven gives it a few charred spots, which makes the chicken even tastier.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Pull the skin off 6 whole chicken legs (or a dozen thighs if you prefer).

Chop up a handful of mint and another one of cilantro, and stir them into a cup of whole-milk yogurt, along with a few good dollops of bottled vindaloo paste and some salt and pepper. If you like your food really hot, shake in some ground chile flakes too. Slather the chicken all over with this mixture, put it onto a foil-lined baking pan and roast for about half an hour.

Wonderful finger food – and terrific cold the next day.

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