Food Friday: Home for the Holidays Baking


I don’t know if it is the great New England guilt instilled in me during my childhood, but it seems as if it is cheating and self-indulgent to buy Christmas cookies. It is fine fifty weeks out of the year to pick up a crackly package of Oreos, or Pepperidge Farm Milanos to have around as the little bit of a sweet after dinner. And it is good for your soul and the spirit of Juliette Gordon Low to buy from those cute, yet oh, so extortionist Girl Scouts peddling Thin Mints from wobbly card tables in front of the grocery store. (Although soon you are going to be able to stock up on Girl Scout cookies online. Waistbands will be let out and Fitbits will find themselves stashed in drawers!)

At the holidays we can exude all the confidence and patience of leisurely home bakers, who know their way around pastry bags and macarons, who can bake with cool expertise, with a keen eye for decorations and original flavor combinations. Cardamon anyone? But we don’t have to have Martha’s skills, or her penchant for perfection. We are welcoming the children home, with open arms. Home-baked cookies smell like home. At the end of a long day of work, after dinner and between loads of laundry and Scandal, we can start to lay in a temporary supply of the childhoods that shot out the door, faster than any of us expected. All these memories distilled into a few batches of slightly irregularly-shaped and sketchily decorated cookies, to show everyone how much we love them.

And then you must consider your gluten-free guests and newly significant others, and those who are swearing off chocolate, and those allergic to nuts, the sugar-free vegans and the merely sensible. I bought two pounds of butter yesterday in anticipation of baking, when there are just two human beings living in this house right now. Somehow the ratio just doesn’t seem right. We must bake for the approaching locust swarm.

We will be entertaining a houseful of young folk, thank goodness, who have been surviving on their own marginal cooking skills, with a generous side of cheap take out. I am hoping most of the fattening baking will be Hoovered up, if not appreciated and savored, with glancing thoughts of the second grade, and rolling cookie dough on the kitchen counter, learning to sift, learning to use cookie cutters. And the fine art of sprinkles!

Perhaps we will even be asked for recipes! I am definitely going to try those Bacon Fat Ginger Cookies I mentioned last week, as well as some old favorites. There is something very satisfying about a sheet of warm, crumbly shortbread. We might dandy it up this year by dipping some in melted chocolate, and indulging in a smackeral of dragées and aforementioned sprinkles.

I am also going to try some of Nigella’s Intense Chocolate cookies. They sound divine, and look divinely simple to prepare, too. Simple is key, especially when you suddenly veer from comfortably cooking for two, to preparing fuel for the endless maw that defines several recent college graduates and a couple of sleep-deprived new parents.

I have been watching some episodes of The Great British Bakeoff which I cannot recommend too highly – it will start here on PBS under an Americanized name on Sunday, December 28, so do look for it. I have never been a reality show fan, but this has seized my attention and grabbed me by the lapels. It has gotten me thinking about balance. So instead of just sweet, over-the-top cookies, I will also be baking some savoury biscuits, to use the proper toffee-nosed parlance. Cocktails will be served, and crisp cheese biscuits are never amiss in my drawing room.

Simon Hopkinson’s Easy Cheesy Biscuits

Shortbread cookies

Here are all sorts of Christmas cookie possibilities for your own Christmas bakeoff:

Bacon Fat Ginger Cookies

“They were almond cookies, although they could have been made of spinach and shoes for all I cared. I ate eleven of them, right in a row. It is rude to take the last cookie.”
― Lemony Snicket, Who Could That Be at This Hour?

Food Friday: Chicken Schnitzel


I’m not quite ready to get into all the fussy details of holiday baking just yet. Though I am reading the many, many stories that abound about cookies and other holiday bakes. I will probably fall back on the usual suspects: my grandmother’s gingersnaps, some butter cookies (I bought a new cookie press – and we know it is all about the toys!) and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, because years ago our children eschewed the somewhat healthier oatmeal raisin cookies. We have very strong opinions about food in our house. Here is a recipe I intend to try out – it sounds too outrageous to ignore: Bacon Fat Gingersnaps!

But back in the kitchen, I was searching for the solution to a non-holiday cooking dilemma. We gave up veal years ago. I suppose it is possible to overthink everything, but our views about how animals are raised have been validated by the newer proponents of humane treatment of animals. That being said, sometimes we missed the crispy goodness of weiner-snitzel and the richness of veal marsala, and made up our own recipes substituting chicken cutlets for the veal.

Last weekend I had half of a pound of thin chicken cutlets that I bought from the butcher’s shop, which was a pricey food investment. Otherwise you can buy thin boneless chicken breasts at the grocery store, and pound them thin, using up your pent-up holiday aggressions and a sturdy rolling pin. Sometimes we managed to meet our schnitzel-ly ideals, and sometimes we miss. We had dubbed our feeble and ever-evolving concoctions “Chicken Schnitzel”, thinking we were oh, so clever. And with the expensive butcher cutlets I did not want to chalk up another miss, so I rooted around the Internet looking for a recipe that would save the day. I typed “chicken schnitzel” into my browser, and imagine my surprise when Thomas Keller’s recipe for “Panko-Coated Chicken Schnitzel” was the first that bounded into sight! More validation!

Sometimes I am a lackadaisical cook. I can go overboard and over-bread the chicken, so reflexively, among the misses there has been a long-running series of chicken misadventures. I have tried preparing schnitzel-ly chicken that I soaked in milk and then dredged in salt and pepper seasoned flour before frying. It was light, but it wasn’t a crispy schnitzel. Sometimes I have used plain breadcrumbs, or seasoned breadcrumbs. Sometimes I dipped the chicken in mayonnaise and then coated it with smashed up canned fried onion rings. Sometimes I read the backs of too many packages.

Thomas Keller’s recipe for Chicken Schnitzel was everything I hoped for. The brown butter and lemon caper sauce was perfect for adding a sweet nuttiness, without wilting the snappy panko crunch. We also had a side of creamy risotto and a small green salad along with candlelight and cheap white wine. And it was fast and easy to prepare – the cooking time for the chicken was only about 15 minutes. The risotto, which I can never gauge correctly, took about half an hour. Luckily, for once I had factored that in, and actually prepared it ahead of the chicken. It sat warming on the stove while I flipped the cutlets with skill, aplomb and many splatters. Add this to your easy peasy file:

Next week we will get to holiday baking, really.

“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.”
― M.F.K. Fisher

Food Friday: Love the Leftovers


And here we are, the day after Thanksgiving. Post-parade, post-football, post-feast. Also post-washing up. Heavens to Betsy, what a lot of cleaning up there was. And the fridge is packed with mysterious little bundles of leftovers. We continue to give thanks that our visiting college student is an incessant omnivore. He will plow systematically through Baggies of baked goods, tin foiled-turkey bits, Saran wrapped-celery, Tupperwared tomatoes and wax papered-walnuts.

It was not until the Tall One was in high school that these abilities were honed and developed with ambitious ardor. His healthy personal philosophy is “Waste not, want not.” A sentiment I hope comes from generations of hardy New Englanders as they plowed their rocky fields, dreaming of candlelit feasts and the iPhones of the future.

I have watched towering constructions of food rise from the plate as he constructs interesting arrangements of sweet, sour, crunchy and umami items with the same deliberation and concentration once directed toward Lego projects. And I am thankful that few of these will fall to the floor and get walked over in the dark. Of course, now there is the dog, Luke, so nothing much makes it to the floor.

I have read that there may have been swan at the first Thanksgiving. How very sad. I have no emotional commitment to turkeys, and I firmly belief that as beautiful as they are, swans are mean and would probably peck my eyes out if I didn’t feed them every scrap of bread in the house. Which means The Tall One would go hungry. A veritable conundrum.

The Pilgrim Sandwich is the Tall One’s magnum opus. It is his turducken without the histrionics. It is a smörgåsbordwithout the Swedish chef. It is truly why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Please keep in mind that the dark ooze in the illustration of the sandwich above this story is not my rich, homemade gravy, made after many hours of precise turkey basting. It is barbecue sauce, from a bottle, without which, no decent, self-respecting Pilgrim Sandwich (in our house) is devoured. And pray note the unique side dishes: corn bread and a spare pig-in-blanket. Round One of Leftovers vs. The Tall One.

This is way too fancy and cloying with fussy elements – olive oil for a turkey sandwich? Hardly. You have to use what is on hand from the most recent Thanksgiving meal – to go out to buy extra rolls is to break the unwritten rules of the universe. There are plenty of Parker House rolls in your bread box right this minute – go use them up!

This is a recipe for simpletons. Honestly. And was there Muenster cheese on the dining room table yesterday? I think not.

And if you are grown up and sophisticated, here is the answer for you. Fancy Thanksgiving leftovers for a grown up brunch:

Here are The Tall One’s ingredients for his signature Pilgrim Sandwich:
Toast (2 slices)
Turkey (2 slices)
Cranberry Sauce (2 teaspoons)
Gravy (2 tablespoons)
Mashed Potatoes (2 tablespoons)
Stuffing (2 tablespoons)
Barbecue Sauce (you can never have too much)
Bacon (if there is some hanging around)
Mayonnaise (if you must)
Lettuce (iceberg, for the crunch)
Celery stalk (more crunch)
Salt, pepper

And now I am taking the dog for a run before I consider making my own sandwich.

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. “
-Calvin Trillin

Food Friday: Thanksgiving Countdown!


You have a lot to do in the next week – so we are trying keeping things simple. Use this streamlined checklist of prep work to ensure you have a great (and uneventful) Thanksgiving dinner. (We are not cooking our Thanksgiving this year, so I am going to coast. I will volunteer to hold the baby. Or to wash dishes.)

Have you ordered a turkey? If you get a frozen turkey, don’t forget to allow for time for it to thaw! It can take 4 or 5 days for a turkey to defrost in your refrigerator. Amazing! Not thawing the turkey ahead of time would be almost as bad as cooking the turkey with the giblets still in the bag, still inside the bird! I have a friend who really did that. It was her first Thanksgiving cooking on her own, but we never let her forget it. Do not replicate her experience, please! Do not become the stuff of legend.


Make your cranberry relish and stash it in the fridge. The general wisdom is that homemade tastes best, and it is even better for having been prepared a couple of days in advance: it macerates. That is, of course, unless yours is a family that values the grooves left in the cranberry jelly from the Ocean Spray tin can.


Clean out spaces in the fridge and the freezer for the food that is coming in for prep, and for the inevitable leftovers. It is a good time to sort through those sell by dates and recoil with horror! Full disclosure: I just looked in our fridge and threw out two yogurts that expired on September 28 and a sour cream from October 7.

What are you using for a centerpiece? Flowers? Pumpkins? The turkey? Do you have someone to craft beauteous place cards? Many delightful quiet hours can be whiled away with some three by five cards, felt, Elmer’s glue and pinking shears. And do you have enough chairs? Will you need to improvise a children’s table?

Check your linens. One of the best hints I ever garnered from Martha Stewart (or one of her many minions) is to take the tablecloth out of the washing machine and let it air dry for just a little while before putting it, damp, on the table. Now enlist one of your reluctant underlings to help you stretch the wrinkles out, and then let gravity do its work. Wrinkle free and kind for the environment! This week I read an ode to Downey Wrinkle Releaser Plus on Slate. I am going to give it a whirl the next time I get all of the laundry off the dining room table and actually sit down to a meal.
You’ll still have to iron the napkins, though.

Are you starting stuffing from scratch or are you using store bought Pepperidge Farm stuffing? If you are doing scratch, don’t forget to cut up some bread (dare I suggest Pepperidge Farm Original White bread?) a day or two before Thursday, so it has time to get good and stale.


Check your platters, dinner plates, wine glasses, water glasses, serving pieces and silver. Assign silver polishing duties to the young and the restless. Set the table on Wednesday night. And mark it off your To Do List.

Bake pies. Or cakes. Or fancy trifle or ambrosial artisan pear tarts.

If you are brining your turkey, get cracking. It needs to be in the brine overnight.

Make the mashed potatoes. It is much better to know all the peeling and smashing is done. Stash them in the newly spacious and clean fridge, but don’t forget to reheat them tomorrow! I had a dream about mashed potatoes the other night. Honest. I woke up chattering that I needed half a potato per person. Luckily I did not wake up the dog.


Be sure to chill plenty of white wine. Or apple cider for the young ‘uns.

Prepare the stuffing. We like sausage, onion and celery added to the bread, doused liberally with chicken broth, and sprinkled with celery seed and black pepper.

Stuff the bird.

Roast the turkey. We assign the basting duties, which occur every half hour, to the Tall One. He is our favorite Master Baster.

Side dishes: beans, squash, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, Brussels sprouts, kale, salad, corn, creamed spinach, pearl onions, cranberry jelly (or relish), rutabagas, rolls. Don’t forget the rolls!

Relish tray: gherkins, carrots, celery, olives, radishes. You have the dish, so why not revisit the 1950s?

Make gravy.

Light the candles.

Get your young IT department to make a playlist of songs for your iPhone and your Jambox that everyone will enjoy – this is a multigenerational event, so play fair. Or find a Pandora station that has an eclectic mix of old and new – just as long as no one starts playing Christmas carols yet!

If you are serving coffee after the meal get your coffee pot ready to go before you sit down. You might get all comfy and chatty after all the delish food and wine and pie piled with soporific whipped cream, and you wouldn’t want to forget to brew coffee.

And don’t forget that the New York Times says it is fine and dandy to cut corners. So try to enjoy yourself. Put down the wooden spoon and join your guests. Enjoy the candle light, the company and the moment.

Gobble, gobble.

Happy Thanksgiving.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy

For your vegetarians:

Food Friday: Thanksgiving Smackdown; Crescent Rolls or Parker House?


Which do you prefer, crescent rolls or Parker House rolls? Or are you a cornbread kind of family? It is fascinating how holiday rituals vary from family to family. Do you fancy white meat or dark? Do you cook stuffing inside the turkey, or are you like me and err on caution’s side, and also prepare a sanitary, dry-as-sawdust pan of stuffing that goes in the oven for an hour after the cooked bird has emerged? Do you wait, ghoulishly, for the signs of salmonella to appear after everyone has gorged themselves on bowls of in-the-bird stuffing? I always picture elderly relatives gasping for breath and falling to the floor in agonizing, writhing, intestinal pain. I might have to research the symptoms a little more assiduously.

So far, no one has succumbed to food poisoning, or salmonella, at one of our Thanksgivings. There have been the occasional awkward and/or tipsy comments, but if the candlelight is dim enough you can roll you eyes, have another piece of pie and ignore the gaff until the guests have gone home. And then you can relive the moments that become family legend while washing up the good china. We mostly manage to side-step political commentary, and keep up a steady patter of latest genius baby stories, or harken back to the good old days when Dad was six, and he smacked Uncle Bob on the head with a toy gun, and discovered that it takes a lot of Hollywood magic to knock someone out cold…

Do you cook a turkey for Thanksgiving? Or did you spring from the loins of an iconoclast family that cooks ham, or goose, or Spaghetti Carbonara? Do you sneer at green beans and embrace roasted Brussels sprouts? Russets or sweet potatoes for you? Do you serve Champagne or a slighter cooler than room temperature Beaujolais Nouveau? Do you baste or do you brine? Do you have Thanksgiving dinner at noon? Have you ever had to cater to a vegetarian at this carnivore delight of a meal? Sit-down or buffet? Football or X-Files marathon? Do you plan weeks ahead, or do you buy the ingredients on Wednesday and hope for the best? And do you cook all day, and finally sit down at six, exhausted?

According to Wednesday’s New York Times we should have gotten cracking weeks ago. We should have assessed our platter collection, counted heads, calculated pounds of turkey according to the number of guests, and planned the menu and started collecting meat drippings from which to make the gravy. But they also endorse the notion that you should not be a martyr to the Thanksgiving process; “cut corners” says the venerable New York Times. So if you pick up some Pepperidge Farm dinner rolls or pop open a couple of cans of Pillsbury crescent rolls, no one will be the wiser.

Here is a handy dandy checklist for your Thanksgiving countdown:

Crescent Rolls|/274695/thanksgiving-bread-and-roll-recipes/@center/276949/everything-thanksgiving|333830

Parker House Rolls

Pull-Apart Butter Rolls



“My mom makes something called green pie, which I thought was a delicacy that many people only had at Thanksgiving, but it turns out it was just Jell-O with whipped cream on it. And it’s delicious.”
Bobby Moynihan

Note: Since we are traveling, we will be bringing a tray of pre-fab Pepperidge Farm Parker House rolls with us. But on a very nice, new platter, which will be a hostess gift. And a flock of Beaujolais Nouveau. ‘Tis the season!

Food Friday: Thanksgiving Mini Pies

FF_Mini Pies

Don’t you even think about relaxing this weekend! What are your Thanksgiving plans? Have you checked the china? Have you counted the silver? Do you have enough napkins? Where are the platters? Have you thought about ordering your turkey? You have only got three weeks to get your ducks and turkeys in a row, so get cracking!

For only the second time in twenty years we are not having Thanksgiving at home. What a peculiar feeling! I’ll still order a turkey (or a turkey breast) so we have the requisite leftovers for sandwiches, but for once I will not be coordinating dishes, arranging flowers and standing in the kitchen directing potato peeling or turkey basting.

This year we are traveling to our daughter’s house for the first away-game Thanksgiving for all of us. There is a new baby to coo over, so we want to make every thing easy peasy. This will not be a Martha event, although we are hoping to have some nice touches. There will be the aroma of the roasting turkey, the glow of candles (and football on the television) and affectionate warmth as we gather around the table and give thanks, as we share a meal and a flock of Prosecco.

Some families have reliable traditions like NPR’s Susan Stamberg with her grandmother’s Thanksgiving relish: Truman Capote baked fruitcakes with his aunts. We do not have any public broadcasting or American literary pretensions here. In this house, invariably, with almost clockwork precision, I forget to cook the green beans. Luckily, over the years, we have found that we like our beans lightly steamed; heated just enough that they appear bright green and lustrous. Forgetting them annually is not a huge glitch in the Thanksgiving schedule. Though neither is it a rollicking yearly joke. What if we were one of those families whose holiday depends on a Campbell’s mushroom soup green bean casserole? Crickey! I would probably also forget the canned crunchy onion rings! These are among the blessing we count.

I will be contributing is a dessert. Which is always fun and show-off-y. I am baking a variety of wee, small, diminutive pies. We have always have chocolate-y desserts at Thanksgiving. Or rather, when we hosted Thanksgiving, we erred on the side of chocolate. Now with new family members, we have to consider that pumpkin and apple pies might be in order, too.

I will make the usual chocolate pudding pie, topped with clouds of homemade whipped cream, only in miniature. Also some itsy bitsy pumpkin, cherry and apple pies. This way everyone can sample a variety, no one needs fine china or sterling because they will be practically bite-sized, and I’ll still get a chance to fuss with minutia when assembling them.

As always, I advocate buying pre-made pie crust, rolling it out and cutting out small circles of dough to fit into cupcake pans. A nice scalloped edge cookie cutter will give you the illusion of piecrust fluting, or you can press the edges of the piecrust down with a fork to create a pattern. You can make tiny latticework for the doll-sized cherry and apple pies, but be sure to chill the dough before you start weaving your magic.

Also remember– don’t try to bake all the pies at the same time. The fruit fillings cook faster than the pumpkin, and you will need to do the chocolate pudding pie separately anyway, because the shell needs to be baked before it is filled. And if you attempt an exotic lemon meringue pie there is the delicate browning of the meringue. Maybe you should think about Key Lime pie instead. Traditionally it calls for a whipped cream topping, too. Heavens!

A nice variety of petite pies, borne into a warm house on Thanksgiving, will be festive. And maybe there won’t be any leftovers to bring home, back over the river.

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”
― Oscar Wilde

Food Friday: Apple and Sultana Crumble for Downrigging Weekend


This weekend is Downrigging Weekend in Chestertown, a busy time for everyone. And we have gone to the Way Back Machine for this week’s recipe because it will be fast and easy to prepare so we won’t miss out on any of the festivities. Plus it will use local, seasonal fruit (which helps to assuage our oh, so many guilts) and it will celebrate the Sultana. And look, the sultanas are almost the same color as the schooner! Who would have guessed?

We ran downtown to the Farmers’ Market last week to procure the ingredients for the crumble, and are laying in a good supply of craft beers and Prosecco, because Saturday night is Prosecco Night whether there are tall ships in the harbor or not!

Here is a link to all that is happening this weekend on Downrigging Weekend:

There is so much going on! Tall Ships, Halloween, Marc Castelli has an opening at the Massoni Gallery and there is music and the RiverArts studio tour and the Halloween Parade! Get cooking now so you can join in all the fun!
The National Weather Service warns that it will be cool and breezy, with a 40% chance of rain. Don your sou’wester, toss on a sweater, and don’t forget your Trick or Treat bags!

Apple and Sultana Crumble

6 cups peeled and cored apples, chopped
½ cup Sultanas
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons lemon juice

¾ cup flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ pound chilled butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large mixing bowl, add the apple pieces and then scatter the sultanas like rosebuds. Mix the cinnamon and the sugar together, and sprinkle over the apples. Now sprinkle the lemon juice over everything. Toss briskly. Put the apple mixture into a deep pie pan, spreading it evenly.

Combine the dry topping ingredients in another bowl, adding the butter, and mixing it coarsely with a spoon or an electric mixer. Now spread the crumbling crumble mixture over the apple filling.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until the topping is golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream, or homemade Devon cream if you’ve a mind to. Personally, I can’t wait.

“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.”
-Jane Austen

Food Friday: It’s Better with Butter


Some foods are just better with butter; better dipped in butter, or served with lashings of melted butter. Those steamed organic French green beans? Add some butter. Have a tough little steak? Get out the beurre de maitre d’hotel.

And honestly, is there is nothing more satisfying than eating home made popcorn with oodles of melted butter? When you are still only halfway through the movie, and you have polished off the fluffy popped whole kernels, and you are reduced to pushing the hard nubbins and old maids around the bottom of the bowl, through the clots of salt and the limpid pools of melted butter. Divine! And look! Mr. D’Arcy and Lizzie are coming around, again! Pride and Prejudice can never get more romantic than that!

Melted butter is the principal excuse for eating so many of our favorite foods: popcorn, lobster, and artichokes. Add to those basics corn on the cob, conch, potatoes Anna, steamed stone crabs; feel free to fill in the blanks with a few of your own! _____________________________, ______________________________ and don’t forget___________________________. These foods are merely vehicles for conveying melted butter down our gullets and chins.

Here is a cheat sheet:

First: You have to know how to make clarified butter. In a 1-quart saucepan melt 1/2 cup butter over low heat without stirring. Remove from the heat and let the butter cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Use a spoon to skim off the milky top layer, if present, and discard. Pour off the clear top layer and save. This is the clarified butter.


Steamed lobster:

Steamed artichokes:

How to eat an artichoke:

Stone crabs:

Corn on the cob:


Potatoes Anna:
This was the recipe I used for years, and I thought quite deelish, but now my college graduate children say they disliked intensely. They said it was too greasy. Perhaps I erred on the heavy-handed side with the butter. But to my children, ungrateful wretches, to whom I say, “It’s a good thing you don’t live here anymore!”

Butter-Dipped Radishes: for when you need to impress!

The science of melted butter in baked goods:

My brother is the mashed potato guru in our family. He is called upon to ritualistically prepare the tubers for major feast days. He mashes the steaming potatoes with a hand-held electric mixer before adding cream and then melted butter. He insists that using melted butter is the swiftest path to lump-free potatoes. And with the holidays sneaking up on us once again, that is probably a fun fact to file away.

You will be pleased to know that I draw the line at cinnamon fried butter from the Iowa State Fair– something I found during my research. It was almost as off-putting at the Fried Pig Ears (from the Minnesota State Fair) in a photo just below the fried butter story. Blech. ( I am sure that someday my heart will thank me for finally drawing a line in the butter!

Once, long ago and far, far away, I ordered Chicken Kiev at the old Russian Tea Room restaurant in New York City. It was a glorious, intimidating place, and I was fairly certain in my college-sophisticate fashion, that it was very expensive. I had read about it in New York Magazine, after all. I think I was given one of those menus often passed out to women diners in those days – no prices were printed on it. I had a reputation in college for being a cheap date, and invariably I would order chicken. Dutifully, I sipped thimbles of cold vodka, and fumbled with some unfamiliar caviar and blinis. When my default chicken dish arrived I was surprised, first when the waiter cut into it for me, and then when a small wave of tarragon-infused molten butter gushed out onto my plate. The chandelier and mirror-glittery, red velvet flocked restaurant was full of surprises. And the melted butter made it all so delicious.

“I shouldn’t think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.”
― Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

Food Friday: The Julia Child Effect


Twice a day, Luke and I eye each other for a few moments after he sits, on command, before he falls on his bowl of kibble. He is waiting for me to give him the okay to start eating. What trills out of my mouth is my bad imitation of Julia Child shrieking in falsetto, “Bon appétit!” We have been doing this for two years. The poor dog. He lives in a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, sans a Bass-o-matic.

Although I should report that I just stalked back into the studio from the laundry room where I stood, and looked accusingly at Luke, as he retreated from attempting to inhale the stinky cat food. Wouldn’t Julia Child have shouted out, “Bad dog!” in French? “Luc, tu es un vilain chien!” (That was my best Kevin Kline French accent, by the way.) These are the daily trials that challenge people who work from home. If I had been in a proper office exchanging bon mots with my talented and creative colleagues, Luke could have carried out his mission in triumph, and no one would have been the wiser. The cat would suffer in her usual silent, moribund fashion. Bon appétit, indeed…

I hear Julia’s voice like Handel’s fanfare announcing the arrival of the Queen of Sheba when I think of certain foods, like quiche Lorraine, cheese soufflé and babas au rhum, and of course, coq au vin. Julie Powell wrote cleverly about her fascination with Julia Child, but I think we all have a little bit of Julia Child’s spirit when we return to the kitchen after our summer hiatus, and take up the challenge of cooking warm, nurturing meals for our dinner companions and loved ones. Julia is whispering inside our pointy little heads that we can be French chefs, if only for the weekend. Walk away from the grill, put down the pizza dough and file the take away menus. Light the stove. Open the wine. Let’s cook!

Coq Au Vin [Chicken in Red Wine with Onions, Mushrooms and Bacon]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Feeds 4 to 6 people
A 3- to 4-ounce chunk of bacon
A heavy, 10-inch, fireproof casserole
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 to 3 pounds cut-up frying chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Chianti
1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
12 to 24 brown-braised onions (recipe follows)
1/2 pound sautéed mushrooms (recipe follows)
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons softened butter
Sprigs of fresh parsley

1. Remove the rind of and cut the bacon into lardons (rectangles 1/4-inch across and 1 inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry. [Deb note: As noted, I’d totally skip this step next time.]
2. Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.
3. Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole.
4. Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.
5. Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.
6. Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.
7. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (recipe follows).
8. Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off the fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf.
9. Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (buerre manie). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
10. Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. If this dish is not to be served immediately, film the top of the sauce with stock or dot with small pieces of butter. Set aside uncovered. It can now wait indefinitely.
11. Shortly before serving, bring to the simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is hot enough.
12. Sever from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with spring for parsley.

Oignons Glacés a Brun [Brown-braised Onions]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

For 18 to 24 peeled white onions about 1 inch in diameter:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
A 9- to 10-inch enameled skillet
1/2 cup of brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine or water
Salt and pepper to taste
A medium herb bouquet: 3 parsley springs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth
When the butter and oil are bubbling the skillet, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.
Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the herb bouquet. Serve them as they are.

Champignons Sautés Au Buerre [Sautéed Mushrooms]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

A 10-inch enameled skillet
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large
1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions (optional)
Salt and pepper
Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating that it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.
Toss the shallots or green onions with the mushrooms. Sauté over moderate heat for 2 minutes.
Sautéed mushrooms may be cooked in advance, set aside, then reheated when needed. Season to taste just before serving.

(Thanks to

Here are one hundred of Julia Child’s favorite dishes: Mmmmm. #37, braised calf brains…

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
― Julia Child

Food Friday: Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow


We have quite a few friends who are real beer enthusiasts. They have traveled to Belgium and Holland for the beer. They make sudden detours when spinning around Irish roundabouts to find remote specialty pubs. They visit microbreweries. They make knowing and considered remarks about the subtle and alluring flavor of a wheat beer. They nod seriously as they quaff. So perhaps they should read no further, because this week, in honor of National American Beer Month, we will be using beer as an ingredient, not as a beverage.

When I started drinking beer back in the Dark Ages, the event we remember most fondly about Freshman Orientation at Washington College was that there was a beer truck, dispensing pale, watery tepid refreshment. (It was legal back then for eighteen year olds to drink beer.) We progressed to highly sophisticated and stylish Dollar Drunks in East Hall, and on Thursday nights we ordered the cheapest, lightest beers at the Tavern. Flash ahead a few years when I was living in London, and learning to drink bitter, never lager. Perhaps it was the Orientation experience that set my palate for warmish, watery brews…

In Washington State while on vacation this summer we visited some local establishments that had many an artisanal beer on tap, and my recent college graduate would delight in pontificating on the pros and cons of each beer he taste-tested. I will drink a good local beer to be polite when traveling, but mostly I order Bass Pale Ale. With Fall arriving, we need to consider some comfort foods, and freshly baked breads and cakes should fit the bill.

Easy, Peasy Beer Bread

3 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces beer (I used Heineken)
2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
2. Butter an 8×4 inch loaf pan and set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, salt and beer in a large bowl and mix well. The mixture will be sticky. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for about 55 minutes.
3. During the last few minutes of baking, remove the loaf from oven, and brush the top with the melted butter and return to oven for the final three minutes of baking.

Add chili, chips and more beer.

Here is a Guinness Cake from the kitchen goddess herself, Nigella Lawson:

I just love her opening line: “This cake is magnificent in its damp blackness.”

We have started talking about Thanksgiving – which is a huge development in our normal planning process (which is to procrastinate until the last possible moment) and perhaps we will be brining and then deep frying the turkey this year. Here is a baby step for anyone else contemplating such a radical change to a holiday tradition! And here we give thanks to our friends at Food52 for cooking a chicken:

Needless to say, one must always be sure to use high quality, well-tested ingredients when cooking at home. Bottoms up!

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”
― Abraham Lincoln