June 26, 2007
Had lunch at The Spotted Pig today. You can’t get in there at night without an endless wait, but in the daytime it’s airy, pleasant, relatively calm. People in this funky room are laid back, happy, chatting from one table to the next about what they are eating.
But everyone seems to be eating the same thing. Burgers, big ones, with Roquefort and huge piles of lacy fries. And even on this absurdly hot day, sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi with crumbs of brown butter and crisply fried sage leaves.
One bite and I instantly understood. They seemed to fly up off the plate and float into your mouth where they hovered a moment, like feathers, before evaporating. And then you were left with crisp shards of sage, a bright green flavor, and the memory of the cheese. They were so good you found yourself dreamily putting first one little puff into your mouth, and then another, until you looked down and found that the plate was empty.
Afterwards we had bowls of cherries on ice, and tiny cups of intense coffee.
A wonderful meal.
June 15, 2007
I just came up with this list of food books for NPR, to go along with an interview I did with Steve Inskeep. So I thought I might as well post it here as well.
The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber. I was talking to Diana the other day, and she said, “There’s something safe and wonderful about being raised by a strict father, but it has its drawbacks.” That’s pretty much what this memoir – about growing up partly in Jordan and always with food – is about.
Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey. Madhur is an extraordinary cook with an amazing ability to recall – and recreate – the evocative flavors of the India she grew up in.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. The original bad boy chef – and so much fun!
The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten. Before there was Bill Buford there was Steingarten. Few people are as erudite – and no one is as food-obsessed – as Jeffrey Steingarten, who will follow any food trail to literal absurdity.
The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin. Could be subtitled: Why life is more fun for people who like to eat.
The Apprentice, By Jacques Pepin. There is a reason why Jacques Pepin became one of our most celebrated French chefs. He’s a cook with a remarkably interesting mind.
Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle. A novel about identity theft that contains some of the most wonderful descriptions of cooking that I’ve ever read. And why not? Another Boyle book contains the great short story, Sorry Fugu.
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. The ultimate writer’s writer, Mitchell is not usually thought of as a food writer. But so many of his stories are about markets, pubs and restaurants. And this book contains my all-time favorite food story, “All You Can Hold for Five Bucks.”
Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. You’ve never read Laurie Colwin? What a treat you have in store.
Between Meals by A.J. Liebling. Most famous quote: “The primary requisite for writing about food is a good appetite.” Probably our greatest food writer.
Hotel Splendid by Ludwig Bemelmans. An endlessly amusing behind-the-scenes look at a great hotel restaurant by the man who wrote the Madeline books. Bemelmans wrote from experience; he worked at The Ritz.
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. Contains a remarkably graphic, and completely unforgettable, behind-the-scenes look at restaurant kitchens.
Coming Soon:Fair Shares for All by John Haney. An extraordinarily affectionate book about growing up hungry in London’s East End.
June 13, 2007
I persuaded Alice (Waters) to come on the Leonard Lopate show today, to talk about Slow Food. Alice always says that she’s shy, and the tininess of her voice makes this seem true, but when she cares about a subject, she can roar. And she cares, deeply, about Slow Food.
I picked her up at Otto, where she had just talked Joe Bastianich into helping her raise seed money for the big Slow Food Nation event she’s planning next May in San Franciso. I snagged a couple of pieces of pizza as I walked out the door; they do make great pizza!
I think it was a really good show; Leonard is such a great interviewer, and Alice was enormously articulate. Leaving, we decided to stop in at David Pasternak’s book party at Esca. We knew we’d be late, but Ed Levine was still there, with Lolis Elie, who was in from New Orleans. So we sat down outside, and David brought us some razor clam ceviche and crudo. It was lovely there, until the rain chased us inside. David consoled us, first with wine and then with the sweetest softshells I’ve ever tasted, the meat juicy and rich, the shell so tender it barely existed. Dave introduced us to his crabman, who he calls the “Ed Norton of the business” because he apparently works for the Department of Sanitation when he’s not out on his boat.
The rain was torrential now, so we stayed and ate trawberries. They’re the best I’ve had this year – from Tim Stark – and even Alice was impressed into admitting that she hasn’t had any this good in California yet. Then she admitted, Jersey girl that she is, that our tomatoes are better than the ones out west.
By now I had to get back to work, so we ran through the rain. Alice and Lolis were going up to Lincoln Center to drop in on a rehearsal of Wynton Marsalis. I was tempted… but I do have a job.
Tonight I’m having dinner with Nancy Silverton, who’s in town promoting her book.
It’s been a fine food day.
June 3, 2007
We were planning on going out to the hot new sushi bar with Robin and Mitch last night, but at 4 o’clock there were… complications. We had to stay home. I was still at work, but I asked them if they’d come over for dinner instead. I couldn’t leave the office until 5:30, they were going to show up at 7:30 (with some of their Manfred Krankl wine), and there was no food in the house. What to do?
I decided that a tenderloin of beef was the perfect solution. Ran to the butcher, bought one, along with a couple of bunches of fat, beautiful asparagus, and some lovely little cherry tomatoes that smiled up at me. Then I sniffed out some mint and rosemary, and found some very pretty, very small potatoes and threw them into the cart as well. A ripe Robiola caught my eye; how could I resist? A loaf of bread, a few cherries…. My final purchase was a couple of pounds of apricots. I’m so happy they’re in season. And a bunch of flowers.
I got home and, still in my high heels and work clothes threw a quick apricot cobbler into the oven. Apricots are the best – you don’t need to cut or peel them, just pull them apart and put them in the pan. I scrubbed the potatoes, rubbed the tenderloin with olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper, surrounded it with rosemary and let it sit for a while. I tossed the cherry tomatoes with olive oil and salt as well, and chopped up some mint to mix with it later. I put the asparagus into the sink to soak and went to set the table.
In my mind, when I envisioned dinner, I suddenly saw hollandaise sauce sitting next to the beef. It would be good with the asparagus too. And all of a sudden, I just needed to make some to round out the meal. I don’t know where that came from – I haven’t made it in years- but it seemed right. So I began separating the eggs and melting the butter.
The meat smelled wonderful, roasting in the oven, and just beneath its round, brown aroma was the gentle scent of the potatoes and the fruity scent of the roasting tomatoes. The hollandaise came together without a hitch. It was a great meal. The meat was rare and incredibly tender. The potatoes, roasted in the same pan, were fluffy and tender. The little tomatoes came alive with the mint (and it was so much easier than washing salad), and the asparagus just lapped up the hollandaise sauce. Manfred’s Pinot Noir was terrific too.
Total time from walking into the house to putting dinner on the table: 1 hour 12 minutes. Who says good food has to be time consuming? (The recipes are almost all from the Gourmet Cookbook.)
For dessert we ate the cobbler, still warm from the oven, with vanilla ice cream melting across the top.
April 27, 2007
Green almonds are the most lovable nuts. Small and fuzzy, they’re the sweet, cool celadon shade of apricots before they begin to blush. Looking at them you suddenly see that they are related to apricots (and peaches), which makes the fact that amaretti are made out of apricot kernels suddenly leap into focus.
But the best thing about green almonds – other than the fact that their season is so fleeting you get to anticipate them for most of the year – is their extreme delicacy. Peel back the fuzzy exterior and you find a teardrop nestled inside. This kernel has the color of pearls and a texture somewhere between aspic and pears. The flavor is so subtle you have to concentrate hard, but that is part of the pleasure. Swallow too fast and you’ll miss it altogether.