Friday, December 29, 2006

Committee returns from hippie Christmas; probably totally smells of patchouli

Our Christmas wasn’t what I’d had in mind, for several reasons:

I didn’t count on taking off without wishing all of you happy holidays, but the advertised “high speed internet” at our rented cabin eluded me.

The “fireplace” was a wood stove with glass doors that hadn’t been cleaned since ever, and because the catalytic converter was broken we had to feed it hunks of wood every two hours rather than every twelve.

The “fully equipped kitchen” consisted of four propane-fueled burners and the saddest little toaster oven I’d ever seen. Four burners sounds promising, but they were feeble, they might as well have been powered by Fred Flintstone’s feet; it took an hour to boil water for pasta.

The “terrific claw-foot bathtub” had a shower-head attachment, but only persons 4' tall or less would be able to wash while standing; we are a little taller and it was like bathing in a bucket.

The “work of numerous local artisans” touted by the owner is best represented by the unique piece below, which was hung in the pantry (apparently on account of her curious sense of modesty).

uhhhhh . . .

What do you mean you're not familiar with the mythic vajayjay bird?

Then there was this, which I call "Minge Panic."

minge panic

There was also a deer pelt room divider (four deer skins!) that freaked us out a little bit.

a corner of the cabin we rented

We nonetheless managed to have a pleasant holiday. It was far too warm and unsnowy for cross-country skiing so we went for a hike at the Tivoli Bays nature preserve.

Christmas Eve hike at Tivoli Bays

We accidentally wandered off the trail — it was covered with leaves — and exited the preserve at Bard College rather than at the entrance where we'd parked the car. Below is the college's rather spectacular Fisher Performing Arts Center, designed by Frank Gehry.

Fisher Performing Arts Center, Bard College

You can see more of the building here.

We found our way back to the car without any help from the locals; thanks again Mr. Runs-back-in-his-house-at-sight-of-unarmed-strangers-in-driveway.

Our Christmas Eve truffled chicken could not be cooked in the toaster oven; some of them are large enough to roast a small chicken but the one at the cabin was suitable only for toast for two. I suppose it's just as well; my planned menu had already been scratched due to capricious last-minute shopping. We decided to simply pack up the car and stop by Gourmet Garage to fill our cooler on our way out of town, and they didn't have truffles; I picked up a nice-looking chicken and a small tub of D'Artagnan's white truffle butter instead, plus a few other staples. (More on this tomorrow; I think it's important to bring a few basics when you'll be cooking elsewhere for a few days).

Fortunately we were able to secure a reservation for Christmas Eve dinner at Madalin's Table, the restaurant at the Madalin Hotel in downtown Tivoli, or as close as one can get to "downtown" in a town too small for traffic lights. I did not realize until a bit of googling just now that the hotel was featured in a recent article in T, the New York Times travel magazine, although it hadn't yet opened at the time. The restaurant has since been reviewed in the paper as well.

Madalin Hotel, Tivoli NY

Madalin Hotel, Tivoli NY

Dinner was very good, notwithstanding that one of the owners was very cranky and didn't like the fact that we'd even been given a reservation; the policy apparently is reservations only for parties of 6 or more, and he wasted no time in letting us know about it. The other owner cheerfully brushed him aside and made sure we were seated promptly, and all was well.

The amuse-bouche of braised pheasant with a cranberry relish and finely-chopped almond could have used a bit more moisture, but our appetizer of cornmeal-dusted fried calamari was just right. I had a grilled shell steak and my friend had lovely crisp-skinned and juicy roasted chicken. We'd had champagne before we got there so I don't have further details about the food, sorry. I do remember that the coffee we had afterward was superb, the best I'd had in a long while; there were three or four choices on the menu, all single-origin beans roasted by Monkey Joe Roasting Co. of Kingston, NY. It was served in a french press and it was just perfect.

On our way home a couple days later we stopped at the Red Hook Village Diner, where a sign above the counter proclaims that the coffee is "Eight O'Clock brand." I remembered eating at this diner once years and years ago while visiting a friend at Bard; the breakfast isn't remarkable — at least, mine wasn't — but the diner itself, built in 1927, is charming.

Red Hook Diner

Red Hook Diner plaque

My scrambled eggs and bacon weren't memorable, but it is nice to be given a choice between homefries and hashbrowns, and to be served toast that's already buttered; I wish more restaurants did the same. Lunch or dinner here would at least be worth trying, and maybe dessert too; I noticed a big, homemade-looking cake under glass.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

merry Christmas exiles

Me with Christmas crazy-eyes, 1976.

There hasn't been any mention of Christmas menu-planning here at Tiny Banquet because this year's festivities will be exceptionally low-key; we're renting a cabin in upstate New York and don't have ambitions beyond getting crunk by the fireplace and maybe doing a bit of cross-country skiing.

We'll be just two people and a little dog so our Christmas Eve roast beast and Who-pudding will have to be on the small side. I'm thinking I'll make a roast chicken with slices of black truffle under the skin. I hate that truffles are a cliché of good eating, but they are in season, and I once had chicken prepared this way and it was ridiculously good. It was years ago at Restaurant Hélène Darroze and I wish I could say more about it, but apparently I also had plenty of wine with it and my memories are hazy. Anyhow, there will be hopefully be some potatoes roasted in goose fat on the side, from this recipe or this one, and maybe some braised endive, or something else green and not-crisp. For dessert there will be something soft and light that doesn't require last-minute attention, possibly poached pears or some sort of custard. Leave recommendations in the comments if you have any; I probably won't be doing my ingredient-shopping and final-decision-making until Saturday morning.

In the meantime, I'll be doing a bit of research on how to tell whether the aforementioned thrillingly-expensive fungi is fresh. Any recommendations on truffle-buying are also welcome! Just keep in mind that my firm is being very coy about bonuses — entirely typical of a place where announcements of secretarial department mutiny go out at 5 pm the night before — so I might end up subsituting chips of cardboard or something.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

last-minute gifts for cooks

I realize it's a little late to post a list of suggestions but some people spent early December buying themselves holiday presents and are just now getting around to shopping for others. Besides, there is too much else to do at this time of year. How often does one have the opportunity to see Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed sing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" at Carnegie Hall? I am not going to feel bad about putting off my shopping; expedited shipping is a marvel, and I am more than happy to cough up a few more pennies for it if it means that I don't have to fight my way through unsightly and slow-moving hordes of tourists in Christmas sweaters.

So, the gifts. Trust me, the cook on your shopping list most likely does not need or want an electric pepper mill, a talking pepper mill, a two-foot-high pepper mill, or any combination thereof. You should probably also stay away from anything labeled "gourmet," unless it is actually the Gourmet magazine cookbook; the word is thoughtlessly bandied about by the same incompetent crowd who can't figure out quotation marks, and they haven't got good taste.

  1. For the urban farmers' market obsessive who is prone to blathering on and on about free range-this and organic-that and clomps around Manhattan in Scottish wellies and is pining for rare-breed chickens of her own — do you know someone like this? — a photograph from the Double Rabbit Farm store ($25) would be a memorable gift. These are giclee prints of photographs by Courie Bishop and James Fitzgerald, young, conscientious, creative farmers doing something I admire in southwest Minnesota.

    Farmland by Courie Bishop and Dreaming Field by James Fitzgerald

  2. For the person who makes you soup: a beautiful Marc Newson stock pot with bakelite handles ($199, but it is jewelry for the kitchen)

    stock pot.jpg

    and a copy of Patricia Solley's An Exaltation of Soup ($12.80 at Jessica's Biscuit). This is not a cookbook that I own but I've wanted it ever since I stumbled across Solley's website,, which is filled with well-researched soup history and appealing, unusual recipes.

  3. For anyone and everyone, a gorgeous Japanese ginger grater in the shape of a tortise or a crane ($20 each) from L.A. shop Tortise. These are hand-made using Edo-period techniques.

  4. For the cutie design-snob who lives on salads but offers her guests good cheese, a salad tool set ($49) and cheese knives ($49) by Aarikka Finland. Both sets are available at Saga Living (St. Paul, MN); they'll wrap 'em up in Marimekko paper at no additional cost but you have to order by Dec. 15th.

    aarikka salad.jpg aarikka cheese slicer.jpg

  5. For a giver of dinner parties, an adorable salt & pepper cellar from Salt Traders ($36).

    It would probably fit in a stocking, as would a couple small jars of their remarkably good salt. Did you try the Danish viking-smoked salt a couple years ago when everyone went bonkers over it? The rosy-pink Flor de Sal Hibiscus ($19.95 for a 5 oz. tin) is a more recent addition to their store; the Sarawak creamy white peppercorns ($4 for a sampler bottle) sound lovely too.

  6. For the design-snob with tree-hugging tendencies, a cast iron "stream" plate from NYC's Moss ($55). It's a beauty, and the ridges mean that deviled eggs and endive leaves and other roly-polies will not wobble away.

  7. For the person who makes you tea, a cast iron Staub tea pot ($108) from Brooklyn shop Bark.

    I have been wanting a Staub mussel pot for ages but this teapot has a sort of Russian-constructivist thing going on that I just love. Note, Manhattanites, that Sur la Table has only the black teapot on their site and it's out of stock, but I think I've seen the colorful ones at their Prince St. store. I think Broadway Panhandler has them too.

  8. For your friend who is still drinking out of the same hideous scratched-up plastic tumblers they've had since college, a set of "lollipop" glasses ($8 each) from Anthropologie, or girl glasses from Fish's Eddy ($20 for a set of 4).

    Is this a Hanukkah gift? Then get the Heroes of the Torah glasses! These are $16 for a set of 4 at Fish's Eddy.

  9. For your foodie friends' baby: "development of a bean" and "honeybear" onesies from Portland, Maine shop Ferdinand ($15 each)

    and a veggie rattle by Bla Bla ($29) from San Francisco's Rose and Radish. Ridiculously cute!

  10. For the cook who is happy to make breakfast at any hour, a sturdy glass cutting board in a cheerful breakfast print ($29) or in the shape of an orange slice ($19.99), both from Monterey Park, California shop Loft Party.

  11. More for the cook's stocking:

    A bottle of Stonehouse California olive oil ($12-16). Lisbon lemon sounds particularly delicious.

    A bottle of Tocca dish soap ($13.50) from The Paris Market (Savannah, Georgia), which smells good enough to dab behind your ears.

    A clever little spaghetti book ($22) to measure servings of dried pasta, from Scandinavian Design Center. They're in Sweden but will ship anwhere.

    A bottle of hard-to-find Fee Bros. orange bitters ($6.95) from The Grateful Palate, which can immediately be put to use in post-present-opening cocktails.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

relief for a gravy-sodden palate

I was going to do some post-Thanksgiving analysis of what worked and what didn't, but we've all read plenty about turkey and stuffing and pies for now, right? I'll save it for pre-Thanksgiving next year. In the meantime, there are some photos from our Thanksgiving here.

So, on to something new. Once the leftovers were gone I found myself craving something something spicy, or tart, or something slightly exotic. As I was reading the December issue of Saveur (No. 98) I decided I had to make the banana-tamarind chutney right away, as it sounded like it could be all of the above. Also, it's by Madhur Jaffrey and as I've mentioned before I really love her recipes.

Her tamarind article also includes a helpful sidebar showing how to make your own extract from the fruit. You put a couple tablespoons of the fruit (sold in blocks; I chose a Thai brand, pictured below, because the Indian one was dry and hard) in a bowl and pour boiling water over it. When it's cool enough to put your fingers in, you loosen as much fruit as you can from the seeds. Then you let it sit some more, and after 15-20 min. you force as much of the thick, soupy stuff as you can through a strainer. I recall doing this several years ago, but only once. Tamarind freaks me out a bit. I love its tartness, but the fruit itself — ugh. It's sticky and it has crunchy bits in it, and to a New Yorker it might evoke — I will whisper because this is disgusting — some sort of cockroach stew.

tamarind fruit making tamarind extract

It was worth being brave, though; the chutney is great. The tartness of the tamarind is balanced with banana, golden raisins (plumped in hot water first), and a bit of sugar; a teaspoon of garam masala gives it complexity. We ate it with not-homemade naan.

banana tamarind chutney

For a main course I wanted to use some of the amchoor I picked up at the Indian grocer — it's a powder made from finely ground unripe mangos, and it's tart in a gentle way, sort of like sumac.

amchoor powder

Still in a sort of post-Thanksgiving stupor and unwilling to do anything fussy, I opted to make a very simple amchoor roasted chicken. It was delicious, tart but not at all mouth-puckering. It was very difficult to not eat all of the tasty, tasty, spicy skin before putting the leftovers away.

The only thing I might change about my recipe below is to roast the chicken at a lower temperature. I roasted it at 450 because that's what I'm in the habit of doing, but probably 350 or 375 is better for a bird coated with spices. It tasted fine but the spice mixture got very, very dark.

amchoor roasted chicken

Amchoor roasted chicken

1 3- to 4-lb. chicken, rinsed under cold running water and patted dry
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. amchoor powder
1 tsp. fresh-ground cumin (see note below)
1 tsp. kosher salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 small onion, peeled and cut into four pieces
1 handful cilantro leaves and stems

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Put the butter in a small bowl and set it aside. When it is room-temperature, blend in the amchoor powder, cumin, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Use your fingertips or a small silicon spatula to break up any lumps of amchoor powder.

Put the chicken in a small, shallow roasting pan (on top of a rack, or cut-up carrots if you prefer) and tuck the wingtips underneath the bird. Put as many onion pieces in the cavity of the chicken as you can, along with the handful of cilantro. If the legs are sticking out, tie them together with kitchen twine.* Rub the seasoned butter all over the chicken and roast for 60 minutes, or until done.

Note: To make fresh-ground cumin, toast the seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat until they are fragrant. (This should take just a few seconds; you don't need to brown them). Grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder.

* If you are like me and can never find your twine in the cabinet when you need it, remove the strings from two teabags, tie them together, and use that. The teabags can still be used; you'll just have to fish them out of your cup with a spoon.

Monday, November 27, 2006

il più Bruni non indossare un travestimento?*

In case you missed it, a sort-of-hilarious article — which I came to via The Food Section — on whether NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni "might be hitting the dressing-up box." There's a whiff of coyote vs. road runner here; Chef Gordon Ramsay, nervous about his staff's ability to spot the man, has "given the maitre d' a keyring with a photograph of Bruni on it" and is considering further measures.

read the article

If you are curious, Gawker has several photos of il più Bruni. And as long as we're on the subject, I hope you already know and love The Bruni Digest, which I can no longer read at work because it makes me laugh out loud like an idiot.

* Lo spiacente, I don't speak Italian!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

the Thanksgiving menu

Thanksgiving menu

menu with sweet little turkey from the New York Public Library digital image gallery

My family doesn't really have an iron-clad Thanksgiving menu - there is always a big turkey, gravy, stuffing (cooked outside the bird every year in recent memory, so technically it's dressing), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie for dessert, but the other dishes tend to vary, and even for the staples we don't use the same recipes every year. The one exception is my stepfather's mashed potatoes, which no one in their right mind would ever fiddle with. I have mentioned them here before, even though this blog wasn't yet around last Thanksgiving.

It's hard not to think about past Thanksgivings at this time of year. One of my most memorable - not at all in terms of menu - was the Thanksgiving near the end of my college semester abroad in India; several of us did independent study in Kathmandu, Nepal for the last month of the program and Thanksgiving dinner was, I think, "Italian" pasta at a rich-white-people hotel, followed by drinks at a bar called The Blue Note. (I can't remember whether the place indeed played jazz; I do recall, however, a restaurant named Alice's Restaurant that played the song Alice's Restaurant at least once every 30 min., and a restaurant proudly named Typical Nepali Restaurant). A few of us had rented the ground floor of a preposterously-American-style home for one month; it had marble floors and a maid who made good milky tea every morning but not much furniture or personality, and the only thing to do, really, was lie on the floor and smoke hash and listen to the landlord's family whooping it up upstairs. They were sort of nouveau-riche carpet merchants and they loved to blast Hindi movie soundtracks. There was a badminton net in the front yard and a green American-ish lawn, but outside the gate were trash heaps, packs of wild dogs, and vendors hawking everything from flip-flops to freshly-slaughtered goats. The contrast depressed me in a way that the sights of India never did.

Another memorable Thanksgiving — totally because of the food; emotionally I was numbed by my first year of law school — I had an amaaaaaazingly delicious early dinner with a friend and her family at Danube, and then somehow went home and cooked a vegetarian feast for a small group of friends with nothing more than 4 burners and a rickety toaster oven. (That's at my ex-BF's apt.; the toaster oven has since died and been replaced by a panini press). I hadn't taken up cooking more than a few months before that, and I dutifully noted my menus: we had dumpling squashes with wild mushroom and cranberry stuffing, sweet potato and yam galette, celery root-pear remoulade, honey-roasted pumpkin salad with sage croutons, and pumpkin mousse.

Thanksgiving ragamuffins No.43-45

Thanksgiving ragamuffins No. 43-45, also from the NY Public Library digital image gallery

Even when I wasn't blogging I tried to keep menu notes for major dinners, and I see that this year's menu isn't all that different from last year's, or the year before that. Both years I went to my parents' house in Connecticut and helped cook, and the routine this year will be the same: I will make most of the side dishes and desserts, and the grown-ups will make the turkey and the gravy. (I did once assist a friend in the preparation of a Thanksgiving turkey and gravy so it's not a totally mysterious process to me, but my mom's turkey and gravy are always delicious and I'm more than happy to stand around and remind her to stop opening the oven door so often!).

So, the menu:


Thanksgiving hors d' ouevres should pique one's appetite efficiently, in one or two bites; I think it's best to keep pre-dinner munching to a minimum unless people will be arriving several hours in advance. I also think there should at least be one crisp thing, since so many of the dishes that follow (stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc.) will be on the soft/mushy side.

  • Thyme-toasted almonds — I've made these before and they're delicious. I have probably tried at least five different recipes for herbed/spiced nuts of one type or another and I feel like every one has been a big success - really, how often does someone serve you a bowl of warm well-seasoned almonds or walnuts or cashews, made with fresh herbs and maybe an interesting, carefully-chosen salt? They are appealing to just about everyone and you should set them out in small bowls because it is too easy to gobble up handfuls. (Constantly replenish the bowls, though, unless you are going for a gulag atmosphere). Any of the recipes I linked to can be prepared earlier in the day or even a day or two ahead of time and warmed just before serving - 5 or 10 minutes in a medium-hot oven is perfect. If you are going to try the thyme-toasted almonds, just quadruple the recipe and make a pound of them; they'll be eaten long before they go bad. You don't need to quadruple the olive oil or the salt — 3 tablespoons of oil for a pound of almonds is plenty, and salt them to your taste. The nuts won't absorb the oil; it just helps the thyme stick to them.

  • Apple, red onion and blue cheese tart in a caraway crust — I've made this tart before and it's excellent and not too filling. I'm going to make one and cut it into small squares.


  • Herbed Sally Lunn Rolls and Sweet Potato Biscuits — I made both of these the year before last and was very, very pleased with them. The herbed rolls left an impression on me as the most professional-looking (and -tasting) things I'd ever baked, even though I'd become exhausted and left the dough to rise overnight. Apparently it has enough butter in it to keep it from drying out; the delay didn't seem to hurt it at all. The sweet potato biscuits are a nice textural contrast and the leftovers are great for making midnight-snack sandwiches or for breakfast the next morning. I am not at all an Emeril fan and found this recipe only after noticing that the one I first intended to use seemed to call for too much liquid, but it's a good one and you can go ahead and quietly tuck it away for future reference with nary a Bam!

    sweet potato biscuits

    sweet potato biscuits from a past Thanksgiving

  • Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Bacon — I contemplated using this Chow recipe but 1 1/2 lbs. of brussels sprouts to serve 8 sounds stingy. To serve 8 who, Blue States Lose regulars? ("Leotard Fantastic, could you pass the brussels sprouts? Or the blow, whatever?") Williams-Sonoma has a similar recipe that reads better, and that's the one I'm going with. We'll be 8 rather than 6 so I'll sort of 1 1/2 it. I should add that I have roasted my own chestnuts twice, but only because I'm an idiot and it took me that many times to understand what a terrible, tedious, uncomfortable process it is and that the $10-$15 jars of roasted and peeled ones are so totally worth it. Maybe it's not so bad with one of those new chestnut-cutters but both times I ended up really, really cranky and with sore fingertips.

  • Sweet Potato Puree with Brown Sugar and Sherry — I made this at least once before, maybe twice, and *loved* it. Everyone else seemed to like it too, although I don't think we have anyone who likes sweet potatoes as much as I do.

  • Mashed Potatoes — see above. I don't know what else is in them besides celery salt but I promise to document the process this year if at all possible.

  • Roasted turnips and/or celery root or parsnips with horseradish-herb butter or turnips Anna — Depends what looks good at the greenmarket. Last year I came across beautiful baby turnips and roasted them with thyme and honey — very good.

  • Maple-glazed carrots &mdash This recipe is very similar in technique to the Marcella Hazan one for braised carrots that I've come to love, only with maple syrup rather than parmesan for flavor. I don't know if anyone but me really likes carrots but I am on a sort of one-woman mission to make Properly Cooked Carrots fashionable.

  • Stuffing — As I mentioned we cook ours outside the bird, and I really think it's best that way. It gets crispy on top and, as Bittman noted in the article I linked to above, you have a lot more control over the moisture. It's hard to find a recipe that doesn't have eggs or cream in it (my mom is allergic to both) but this one from Food & Wine looks good. So does this one from the Times. I'm going to make a sort of combination of the two, with sourdough bread, sausage, apples, celery, onion, herbs, and maybe chestnuts if there are any left over from the brussels sprouts.

  • Turkey and gravy — My mom makes both and they're always delicious. I intend to take lots of photos this year to document how they get that way.

  • Cranberry sauce — Mom is making this, I think with the F&W recipe for cranberry-bourbon-relish that I sent her. This one for chunky apple-cranberry sauce sounded good too. I was hoping there would be nice shallots at the greenmarket so that I could also make some sort of shallot confit, but there weren't many to choose from.


  • Pumpkin pie — I think I'm going to go with this very simple recipe for brown sugar pumpkin pie. In the past I've made this one with rum; one year it was excellent and one year it just wouldn't set. I think my mom's oven (since repaired) was to blame, but I'm not stuck on it enough to keep making the same one every year.

  • Mincemeat pie — My mother is making this. I think tartlets are preferable because mincemeat is way too sweet and too chewy to eat a whole slice of, so I'm going to bring a set of tiny tart shells (about 1 1/2" diameter) with me and make my case against The Pie as best I can. A flurry of comments agreeing with me would be a nice Exhibit A, don't you think?

  • Apple crostada with brown butter streusel — I think we usually have a pecan pie but this recipe sounds so good and I can't wait to try it.

It's a lot of food, but I think everyone invited to a Thanksgiving dinner should be sent home with leftovers, both because it's in the spirit of the holiday and because the leftovers are so uniquely perfect together. A sandwich made with sliced turkey, a few spoonfuls of stuffing, and a thin layer of cranberry sauce — and maybe some gravy, or a good, hot Dijon mustard — is something everyone should try at least once. Leftover mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes are good for breakfast, patted into little cakes, dusted with flour, sauteed until crisp on the outside, and served with eggs, or with the sausage that didn't get used in the stuffing. Roasted vegetables keep well and are perfect for lunch the 2nd day after, when you are not up to eating anything besides vegetables. Leftover desserts will give you nothing but grief (either because you'll eat more of them than you should or because you'll let them go to waste) and should be generously divvied up among everyone who walks out the door.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Committee promises renewed efforts to normalize relations with Blogistan

Wow, I haven't posted anything in ages. I'm sorry to report that I wasn't preoccupied with something fascinating; I was just working a lot. Probably not a bad thing, since my billable hours hitherto reflected an ambivalence so pure and so true that it remained untouched by greed.

I intended to write a bit about a party I went to but I see now that it was three weeks ago; in blog-time it might as well be last year. Since it was a mostly-bloggers party, it's been amply and ably covered here and here and here and here, and surely a few other places. I will add only that it was really great to meet Ann and her Boy; to make the acquaintance of a witty and delightfully potty-mouthed blogger I hadn't known about and his consort/collaborator; also, to meet a woman with the brilliant idea to begin organizing a dumpling party, all of this at the lovely Electric Stove HQ (thanks again Chris!). Did I take any pictures? Noooooooo. I suppose it's just as well; until I am ready to invest any more of my pennies in a fancier camera I would have had to shout "Sorry everyone, I'm just gonna turn all the lights on for just a minute! Just a minute! Sorry! Almost done!" That's what I do at home, and it kind of sucks.

Anyhow. On to the second part of the round-up I started so long ago.

  • Salade Lyonnaise — I had such a craving for this and besides, it was a good excuse to try my hand at poaching eggs without clunky training wheels. It's far easier than anyone lets on; the only tricky thing is timing everything so that your eggs are hot when you need them to be, but you can make them in advance and reheat them for about a minute in simmering water. (Dab off the water with paper towels, of course).

    salad Lyonnaise

    There is a salade Lyonnaise how-to video here and it's dull but oddly mesmerizing. The recipe being demonstrated is the only one I've seen that uses just endive and no frisée, but it might be helpful to watch if you tend to forget things while getting your mis en place together.

    I basically followed this recipe from Gourmet, although I used thick slices of bacon rather than slab bacon/lardons. I also left out the shallot and simply deglazed the pan with the vinegar to make a dressing because the only shallot I had in the house was a ginormous one and I didn't want to use only part of it.

    I have a feeling I am going to be making this salad again at least a few more times this winter; I love eggs for dinner but was getting almost tired of omelets and coddled, and the combination of bacon, a fresh, runny egg and slightly-bitter greens is superb.

  • Chicken with shallot, sage and white wine pan sauce with roasted potatoes — This was so easy that my description of it below can hardly be called a recipe. I was surprised by how satisfying it was; the fact that I used Dines Farms chicken undoubtedly had something to do with it, but I also had low expectations. I tend to either roast a whole chicken, or I make cut-up pieces of chicken on the bone in some sort of sauce, something like this; I almost never buy boneless, skinless breasts, the Mom-jeans of the food world.

    chicken with shallot, sage and white wine sauce roasted potatoes

    This dinner was sort of Mom-jeans too but it was a very satisfying I-have-to-use-up-that-chicken-tonight dinner and it was very, very easy. I roasted some potatoes with olive oil and rosemary to go with it.

    I didn't make any notes as I was cooking so this is from memory: Season two boneless skinless breasts generously with salt and pepper and brown them in olive oil in a good, heavy pan. (Cast iron is ideal; you don't want to use non-stick because you'll need to deglaze the pan). Remove the chicken from the pan when it's nice and brown and set it aside, or, if the pieces are exceptionally thick, put them in a medium-hot oven to finish cooking while you make the sauce. Add sliced shallots (2 or 3 small ones or 1 very large one) to the pan you cooked the chicken in and sautée them until they soften and begin to brown. Then add 1/2 cup of white wine or good dry vermouth (Noilly Prat) to the pan and scrape up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add 2-3 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs (I used sage) and simmer until the sauce reduces a bit; spoon over chicken and voila, a boring but very tasty dinner.

  • Simple salad of bitter greens — I think I like autumn and winter salads of spicy or bitter greens even more than wispy, delicate spring and summer ones.

    simple cold-weather salad

    I wasn't going to bother mentioning dressing, particularly since it was in the Times not long ago, but I am constantly surprised by how many people I see buying salad dressing. I hate bottled salad dressing with a passion that I just don't have for other icky processed foods. It never, ever tastes good, and almost all of them, even the upscale ones, seem to have some form of sugar in them. The sugar is what jumps out at me, and I hate it. Blech. Here is my usual vinaigrette:

    Whisk together 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon walnut oil, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 1 tablespoon white or red wine vinegar, and 1 generous teaspoon of good-quality Dijon mustard. (I am partial to Maille "extra hot"). Stir in 1 small shallot, minced, and season with salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste.
    If you are not going to be using the mustard, a more flavorful vinegar is nice - I like sherry vinegar. The reason for using a mixture of oils is that canola emulsifies better than olive oil but olive oil adds flavor, and walnut oil is overpowering if it's the only oil used. You will have leftover dressing if you're making salad for one or two people; put it in the refrigerator in a tiny container and use it later in the week.

    roasted parsnips and potatoes I liked this salad of chicory and toasted pine nuts so much I ate it two nights in a row &mdash the first night with a cup of soup, and the second night with roasted parsnips and potatoes and some of the rosemary foccacia that was hanging around in my "Coming Attractions" section for a while but is just too damn boring to bother with.

  • Curried cauliflower soup

    pretty little golden cauliflowers

    curried cauliflower soup
  • Like the chicken above this is so simple it can hardly be called a recipe, but it is a very satisfying dinner on a cold night: Wash your cauliflower and cut it up into bite-sized florets. (I used 4 little golden ones from Norwich Meadows Farm; one head of regular white cauliflower works too). In a 4-quart soup pot, sautée one medium-sized onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter until softed but not browned. Then add two teaspoons of good, fresh curry powder, stir, and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower and 4 1/2 cups of water, bring to a simmer, and cook for 25-30 minutes. Puree with a hand blender until smooth, then stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream, season to taste with salt and pepper, and reheat if necessary. You can skip the cream, but only 1 tablespoon ends up in each of the 4 servings you'll get and I think it really improves the flavor and texture.

  • Cabbage soup — Am I the only person in the history of the world who had a moment of nostalgia for hospital food? I had to spend a few days in the hospital over the summer for surgery and the food was, as expected, almost criminal in its lack of flavor and consistently spongy texture. Except for the cabbage soup, which was the first thing that tasted appealing enough for me to have more than a teeny, tiny taste of. It actually tasted good, and its power to revive was compounded by the fact that I'd hardly eaten anything for about two days. It was a very, very simple soup of thinly-sliced cabbage and chunks of grilled chicken, in a chicken broth that shockingly did *not* seem to come from a can, and I began to feel more and more like a human being again as I ate it. My mostly-homemade rendition below (I didn't make the broth) did not have quite the same effect but it was still pretty good.

    a vaguely Eastern-European cabbage soup

    3 slices thick-cut bacon (I used this one &mdash insanely good, very hammy-tasting but cooks up nice & crisp)
    1 small onion, thinly sliced
    2 small shallots, thinly sliced
    2 small heads of cabbage, each about 4" to 5" diameter, washed and sliced
    1 large carrot, sliced
    1 potato, chopped into 1" cubes (I used a small Yukon Gold potato; a handful of thickly-sliced fingerling potatoes would be nice too)
    2 fresh bay leaves
    8 cups chicken broth

    Cook the bacon over low heat until crisp in a 4-quart soup pot. When it's done, drain it on paper towels and set it aside. (You might as well cook four slices because it is *really* hard not to eat one). Sautée the shallots and the onion in the bacon fat remaining in the pot until they're soft, then add the carrots, potato and cabbage and give everything a good stir. Add the broth and the bay leaves and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. Cut the bacon into small pieces and garnish each bowl with a handful. Good for eating in bed if you're not feeling well.