Food Friday: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Our family has a weak spot like the back of a bad knee for chocolate desserts. When it is your birthday, we will bake a Boston cream pie. Christmas dinner? A flourless chocolate cake is the only answer. You came home for spring break? Let’s have some chocolate éclairs. And while other families are preparing corned beef and cabbage (which I think stinks to high heaven) this St. Patrick’s Day, we will be digging into some chocolate stout cup cakes. We will honor the blessed saint, the foe of snakes, in our own sweet way.

A couple of weeks ago I chatted briefly with one of our neighbors when I was out walking Luke the wonder dog. This fellow always carries a mug and I have assumed he was taking his coffee for his early morning strolls. (I cannot walk the dog, listen to Slate Magazine podcasts AND carry a Diet Coke in the mornings. I have a limited skill set, I’m afraid.)

Luke wanted to get acquainted. While going through all of the usual dog rituals of sniffing and leash dancing, I found out that the neighbor’s dog is named “Guinness.” I asked if there was a good story about the dog’s name. Maybe he had a secret Lulu Guinness handbag collection, or was noted in the Book of World Records for some perilous feat? Sadly, no. Our neighbor gazed blankly at me. His dog was named after the Irish stout. He is a very dark, very tiny little dog. I hope that the dog Guinness is extra strong. Perhaps he has his own fantasies of a more picturesque neighborhood, one where he is strolled along the cobbles down to the pub late on a golden summer afternoon, to lift a pint with his walker. A nice little daydream that Guinness entertains, instead of resigning himself the prosaic suburban reality of the early morning trot down our street, only to have the indignity of Luke getting overly familiar and sniffy. And now I wonder if our neighbor is really drinking coffee…

It is about time to download The Quiet Man for our annual John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara love fest. Where we gaze at the gauzy golden Hollywood Innisfree, and admire John Wayne in a rain-soaked shirt and laugh at Barry Fitzgerald’s tippling matchmaker. That calls for another Guinness.

In the meantime, we must surely celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in an authentic fashion. No stinky corned beef and cabbage for us! Here is a Guinness Cake from the kitchen goddess herself, Nigella Lawson:

I love a good cup cake – and with these you will eat both the cake and the icing.

I haven’t tried this recipe yet – but Julia Turner endorsed it on the Slate Culture Gabfest this week, and that’s good enough for me. She used it to great success when she baked two birthday cakes for her six-year-old boys’ birthday:

If your St. Patrick’s Day is not complete without corned beef, then accept the Bon Appétit challenge, and see how many ways you can prepare it: breakfast, lunch and egg rolls. Really.

Luke is looking forward to another sidewalk encounter with our neighbor’s dog. We can stage our own St. Patrick’s Day parade through the neighborhood. We’ll bring our own mugs of Guinness.

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
-Benjamin Franklin

Food Friday: Pork Chops

March is proving to be a little chillier than I had anticipated. I am not running around sweater-less. At least we seem to have left the snow behind. And now is the time when I remember my father’s mutterings about the great April blizzard of 1888. Not that he had been born yet, but he loved to inject a little niggling doubt in our minds, that maybe spring wasn’t really on its way. No one ever writes about the day of great sunshine and warm zephyrs gently tossing the new bright green leaves on the oak trees. I come from a long line of gloomy New Englanders.

I do not see snow in the forecast, though there is rain. It seems to be warming up enough to take a walk in the garden, and look for snowdrops and crocus shoots. And while I stack a few fallen branches and peer anxiously in the leaf piles under the yet-to-bloom flowering quince, I must return to thinking about dinner.

We have used up the vat o’spaghetti sauce that Mr. Friday had prepared long ago in January. It served us well, through the original meal of spaghetti, through the homemade pasta experiments, through baked ziti, chicken parm and an interesting rigatoni R and D. My dinner insurance policy has expired, and now I have to pony up a meal that would charm, delight and fill. But I wanted one that would not involve a trip to the grocery store.

Luckily, Mr. Friday was in an Asian food mood this past weekend. In addition to his version of General Tso’s chicken, he wanted to prepare stir-fried rice. His recipe called for a handful of diced pork. And so he bought a package of three pork chops, instead of sidling up to the fellow behind the meat counter, and asking for a singleton pork chop. Lucky me! There were two plump pork chops sitting in the freezer, just begging to be cooked for our mid-week-not-spaghetti dinner.

I’m pretty sure all my mother ever did with pork chops was toss them into a Pyrex baking dish and let the oven take over. (She did not believe in exotic convenience foods like Shake N’Bake.) She included a side dish of homemade coleslaw and a bowl of apple sauce, adding a simple flourish of cinnamon. And now you see the stodgy New England side: no fuss, no muss, and a lot of banausic, colorless food. Surely we have advanced a little here in the twenty-first century?

Food52 has a spicy, colorful paprika inspired pork chop recipe:

Mark Bittman, never one to fuss, has a sautéed pork chop recipe:

Of course, Martha has a complicated variation on my mother’s applesauce:

Bon Appétit has the answer for everyone:

Possible side dishes:
Green beans
Grilled vegetables
Butternut squash
Scalloped potatoes
Baked potatoes
Baked sweet potato fries:
Green salad
Cranberry Apple Salad
Tomato salad

I opted to bake the pork chops, after browning them lightly in a pan. We also had scalloped potatoes, applesauce, a green salad and some delicious cheap white wine. And candles. It wasn’t spaghetti, and it wasn’t bland. We are ready to greet spring.

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”

― Laurie Colwin

Food Friday: Spuds!

Here we are at the beginning of March, thinking we have managed to hoodwink winter, but it is going to come sneaking back into our lives next week. As much as I love wool sweaters, enough is enough. It’s time for some springtime. As the weather gods are not heeding my silent pleas, is it too much to ask, if I can’t be rid of wool just yet, could I at least have a little summertime cooking?

Mr. Friday sashayed out to the back porch last Sunday, being gallant as always, and rustled up a couple of backyard-grilled-burgers. We haven’t grilled outside all winter, in part I think to yielding to the distractions of a couple of new cookbooks.

We have been staging monthly pasta-making clinics, refining our flours, and improving upon our kneading techniques. Mr. Friday rolls the dough ball around on the counter for a moment or two, and declares it done; I attack it as if it were a hefty chuck of gritty raku clay, and punch out all the air bubbles. We were going nowhere fast. But now that we have learned to plug in the KitchenAid mixer, and set the dough hook in action, the pasta dough is actually viable, and, ultimately, edible.

It is amazing to think how much money we have spent on store-bought pasta all these years. Forget the convenience of having a box of spaghetti or macaroni sitting on the pantry shelf – which is like money in the bank; knowing dinner is just a well-salted pot of boiling water away. But a pound of Ronzoni costs about $2. A pound of lovingly fashioned home-made pasta, once you subtract the emotional distress, the hefty costs of tamping down the sous chef’s insubordinate soul, and cleaning up the powdery mess which clouds across kitchen counters, wafts to the floor, and lodges in dark wool sweaters, barely costs 35¢. It takes a couple of hours, too. And there goes a Sunday. A floury poof!

Luckily for us, last Sunday was spent organizing tax documents. That is always a humbling and distressful ritual. Eventually I flounced off to read, and nap. Mr. Friday and Luke the wonder dog went for a walk. As the sun set on the horizon we gathered together for a glass of cheap white wine, a handful of peanuts, and then he tossed a couple of burgers onto the grill.

I boiled up a couple of new red potatoes, because if a meal is served in this house without some good starchy carbs, it is not worth eating. A friend recently introduced me to smashed, roasted potatoes: all of the crispy joy of French fries, without the mess of splattered oil. And because we are grown ups now, we added a nice little tossed green salad to the hamburger meal. And changed over to cheap red wine. And finished off with brownies, made from a box. (Doing the taxes was my excuse.)

Smashed Red Potatoes for Two Weary, Touchy, Pasta Makers

4 medium red potatoes (or whatever is in the pantry – be realistic) – boiled until fork tender (do the math if you are serving more than 2 people)
Splashes of extra virgin olive oil
Good butter to dot each potato
A handful of Maldon salt
A scattering of black pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and drizzle some oil over the surface. Carefully cut the boiled potatoes in half, and salvage as many fingerprints as you can. Place potatoes cut side down. SMASH. With a heavy pancake turner, with a heavy glass, with a rolling pin. Use something hefty and satisfying. Admire the irregular shapes, press down some more, so everything gets pretty evenly squished. Neatness counts against your final score. Drizzle more oil over the potatoes. Add a small butter pat to each large land mass of potato. Scatter salt and pepper with abandon. Put the cookie sheet in the oven for about 20 minutes. Check every 5 or 10 minutes to admire the brown crispiness and listen for the sizzle. You will know when they are done. Serve immediately. Yumsters.

I have seen the crazy robins in our back yard. Spring is on its way.

“Yes, I deserve a spring–I owe nobody nothing.”
― Virginia Woolf

Food Friday: The Common Cold

There is nothing like a mid-week snow day to make a heart leap with childish glee. Oh, dear. I’ve gone and offended the winter weather gods, and now we will have blizzards all through March. My apologies.

But that’s OK. I can just rack up some more quality time spent in bed, with my box of tissues, my dry up pills, and my Kindle. It is thoroughly demoralizing to be felled by a cold. Are there special colds, or just the common denominator kind? I have lived through car accidents, broken bones and childbirth, and nothing makes me feel more puny, or vulnerable, than a cold.

There is none of the middle-of-the-night drama of a Madeline-appendicitis attack, or the heaving violence of intestinal flu, thank goodness. I just lie against the pillows, hoping that I look vaguely like Camille, and coughcoughcough. So attractive. And even more so now that my nose has gone a positively incandescent rose-madder-red from all the blowing. Who needs hair product? My hair stands up in spikes, all by itself.

Sadly, Luke the wonder dog speaks coughcoughcough. He scuttles over from his comfy cushion in the corner of the bedroom, to sitting worriedly by my side of the bed, staring sadly at me. I wonder what doggy expletive I am shouting out to him whenever I cough. He does not react well to swearing as it is.

I let out a stream of oaths the other day when I dropped a bottle of wine, and it smashed to smithereens on the kitchen floor. Luke was so worried about that blue streak of swear words that spewed unbidden from my otherwise lady-like lips, that he scuttled over as if he had been to blame. (I might yell at myself for stupidly dropping a bottle of cheap white wine, but I would’t yell at him. The poor dog has a misplaced sense of guilt and responsibility.) That is the sad, sincere, guilt-ridden face I see staring up at me whenever I finish a coughing jag.

Luke does not let his responsibility for my coughcoughcoughing interfere when his internal clock announces that it is time for a walk. He might just be mutt of a dog, but he has a great facility for telling time. He is secretly Swiss, because at 8:00 AM, 12:01 PM and 4:59 PM he makes a dramatic show of wagging and wriggling himself about with anticipatory pleasure, insinuating himself between me and the computer, or me and the drawing table. That is very charming behavior normally, but when I have to drag the sneezy snotty coughcoughcoughing self out from the warm embrace of my Pendleton blanket nest, and take someone out for a walk, I am aware of the injustice in the universe. I can hardly wait for the weekend to come, when I will either feel better, or Mr. Friday can walk Luke the wonder dog.

In the meantime, when I am not whingeing about poor, poor pitiful me, here are some things you can use to tempt your patients along the road to recovery (assuming that you will not succumb yourself); things that will improve their outlook and their poor raw noses.

Tissues – be sure to stock up on boxes and boxes of the kind suffused with lotion.
Fluids – ginger ale, orange juice, Gatorade, tea
Bendy straws
Beef broth – you too, can pretend to be on the Queen Mary, wrapped in a thick wooly cruise ship rug, reclining on a spindly teak deck chair, watching for icebergs while sipping the warm broth as supplied by the nameless (yet attentive) deck hand.
Chicken noodle soup – when Mr. Friday had the cold he went through a couple of gallons of this.
Kindle, Netflix enabled, or with any recent bio of Queen Victoria; the book will outlive the cold. It took me a week of steadily plowing through one biography, and King George VI had just died, and Victoria had just turned 18. If my cold worsens and I come down with pneumonia, maybe I’ll get to the wedding to poor, dear, doomed Albert.
Snacks – forbidden childhood favorites. Utz cheese balls. Yumsters.
Ice cream – for your sore throat
Drugs – you name an OTC cold remedy that we haven’t tried. Our go-to drug seems to be NyQuil, for its reliable powers to knock you out. Thank heavens. Otherwise Luke wouldn’t get a wink of sleep at night.

Here is a recipe from our clever friends at Food52. But I think you can cheat and use a can of Campbell’s. Shhh. You didn’t hear it from me!

“The only way to treat the common cold is with contempt.”
William Osler

Food Friday: Presidential Foods

President’s Day is giving some of us a nice three-day weekend. Another day to linger over the papers, to make breakfast and enjoy ruminating about having a little unusual leisure time. And if you have young ‘uns at home, you can have an educational moment and make some of George Washington’s favorite Hoe Cakes for breakfast. Isn’t it nice to know that he didn’t subsist on that mythical cherry pie?

Hoe Cakes were cooked like pancakes on the back of a garden hoe, or on a griddle. Use whatever you have at hand.

1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups white cornmeal, divided
3 to 4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Melted butter for drizzling and serving
Honey or maple syrup for serving

Mix the yeast and 1 1/4 cups of the cornmeal in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the lukewarm water, stirring to combine thoroughly. Mix in 1/2 cup more of the water, if needed, to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200°F.

When ready to finish the hoecakes, begin by adding 1/2 to 1 cup of the remaining water to the batter. Stir in the salt and the egg, blending thoroughly.

Gradually add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of cornmeal, alternating with enough additional lukewarm water to make a mixture that is the consistency of waffle batter. Cover with a towel, and set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat a griddle on medium-high heat, and lightly grease it with lard or vegetable shortening. Preparing 1 hoecake at a time, drop a scant 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle and cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. With a spatula, turn the hoecake over and continue cooking another 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.
Place the hoecake on a platter, and set it in the oven to keep warm while making the rest of the batch. Drizzle each batch with melted butter.

Serve the hoecakes warm, drizzled with melted butter and honey or maple syrup.

As long as you are entertaining President Washington for breakfast, you should invite President Lincoln to come along, too, since one of his favorite foods was bacon. I can’t imagine a tastier companion to hoe cakes than a few sizzling rashers of bacon.

We’ll ask President Jefferson to bring a covered dish of mac and cheese to the cookout we are going to have later this afternoon. He made macaroni and cheese a popular dish, but he also championed Champagne.

Also coming with his own Crock Pot is President Obama, who is bringing his world famous chili.

President Franklin Roosevelt, who once served hot dogs to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they toured the United States, has offered to be grill master.

President Theodore Roosevelt is ready to shuck a couple of bushels of oysters.President Van Buren is getting ready to help; he’s making a pile of ice chips.

President Lyndon Johnson is going to flip the steaks, since he had the first White House cookout and knows the ropes.They are a presidential favorite; also eager for a steak are Presidents Grant, Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan:

Dessert is going to be easy. Ice cream for everyone. Thank you, President Washington who spent an extraordinary $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790 (

President Jefferson built an ice house on the White House grounds to be sure he had easy access to ice cream all year long. We should also thank Dolley Madison, who was married to the fourth president.She had festive White House parties that featured elaborate ice creams. I don’t think TR is going to donate any oysters to her favorite Oyster Ice Cream, but he’ll be happy for a dish of vanilla.

Many of the livelier American presidents have enjoyed their cocktails. Jefferson, Madison, Tyler, and Grant were all very fond of Champagne. Which seems like a suitable way to toast President’s Day.

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
– Harry S. Truman

Food Friday: Seeds

Seed packets are so beautiful. On the front there is a romanticized illustration of a freakishly perfect tomato; it is round and looks sun-warmed. So unlike the cardboard tomatoes we have been buying all winter. On the back there are instructions about sowing the seeds after all danger of frost has passed. Hmmm. It’s not even mid-February and I am ready to hang up the snow shovel and start planting summer salads.

I wandered past the seed section of the garden department at the hardware store last weekend. Mr. Friday thought we were going in to buy windshield wiper fluid and light bulbs. Such admirable naiveté! Instead, we walked out with three seed starting kits, and a handful of flower seed packets. I might talk a good tomato game, but I am longing to have hollyhocks and zinnias and armfuls of coreopsis. I am going to run through a Technicolor meadow of cutting flowers this year. Oh, and have a nice little vegetable garden, too.

I have been waiting all winter for this – I admit it. I have been thumbing through seed catalogues and imagining my new and improved raised garden bed, spilling over with cukes, beans, and tomatoes. I have been thinking about all those tender herbs that I will manage to coax along this year. I have pictured the extra little flourish and the modest bow I will take when I humbly present our salad greens at the Fourth of July picnic. Envisioning how I will please, delight, and amaze Mr. Friday when I whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the homemade salad dressing.

Last year we over-estimated the number of tomato plants that two people actually need. We started with a dozen small plants, but were completely clueless about how big they would get. It got Tokyo-subway-crowded in that tiny little garden. There is science to be applied, and a lot of math, too, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac:
Resolve: fewer tomato plants in 2019.

We also planted the basil farm, which is our favorite ingredient, except for garlic. We had half a dozen basil plants, which were well-tended and yielded a hefty amount of basil through the spring and summer. The plants were all pretty leggy by September, but I managed to fill a gallon-sized Baggie with fragrant basil leaves to tide us over the long winter months. You can never have too much basil.
Resolve: more basil in 2019.

The row of nasturtiums was shiny and bright with color for a few weeks. The plants did not self-sow, which was a disappointment to my lazy soul, because I never remembered to plant any more nasturtium seeds. And my neighbor had mentioned once that she just loved nasturtiums.
Resolve: be a better neighbor, and plant more nasturtiums.

I like to have slicer tomatoes sunning on the windowsill. I can always make a happy lunch of a tomato sandwich, Pepperidge Farm white bread and a thick schmear of mayonnaise. With some potato chips, please. There is nothing better than a home-grown sun-warmed tomato. But Mr. Friday is fond of some cherry tomatoes, which he likes to sear under the broiler, and serve with burrata, basil and good olive oil. He might prefer growing some Sungold or Sweet Million cherry tomatoes.

If you do not feel not up to the responsibilities of growing your own vegetable garden from seed this season, now that the snow has paused (Thank you, Punxsutawney Phil!), and the snow drops are popping up every where, please think about supporting your local farmers at farmers’ markets and farm stands and CSAs. They were cool long before Brooklyn with all of its mustachioed, plaid-sporting, artisan, organic, heirloom, microcosmically hip farmers, butchers, chicken farmers, bakers and baristas. We like locally grown and all the virtues associated with it.

I was appalled to see that the cheater’s way of buying lettuce at the grocery store has gotten so expensive – $4.49 today for a single puny bag of pre-washed mixed spring greens! I have had enough! Enough of the madness! I am fighting back. I have just spent $5.95 for 500 lettuce seeds. Let’s see what my actual return on the dollar is, at roughly 1.2¢ a seed…
Here is Burpee’s perky and un-intimidating video for growing lettuce. If I only get two heads of lettuce I will be slightly ahead.

While I was earnestly researching lettuce seeds I was diverted by the fantasy that I am able to grow hydrangeas, which are my favorite flowers (after violets, daffodils and lily of the valley) but which I can never seem to grow well. Maybe this year I’ll be lucky. I have finally determined where the wet areas are in the back yard, perfect for hydrangeas. I have ordered a Nikko Blue Hydrangea, as well as the lettuce seeds. And pole bean seeds and morning glory seeds. I am crossing my soon-to-be-muddy fingers, and am hoping for an early jump on our summer salads.

“From December to March,
there are for many of us three gardens:
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind’s eye.”
– Katharine S. White

Food Friday: Game Day!

Perhaps you will be entertaining this weekend. There is a nationally televised sporting event on Sunday, but like invoking Harry Potter’s nemesis, Voldemort, mere mortals (or non NFL commentators) are not allowed to call it by its name. But you know what I mean. Football. Big guys. With lots of commercials.

I am not very interested in sports, but a couple of times a year Mr. Friday enjoys watching the odd baseball game or horserace, and considering how many hours of The Crown and Escape to the Country he has endured because of my Anglophilia, I think I can make time for one football game.

When we had our friend over a couple of weeks ago for the Puff Pastry Beef Wellington versus Choux Pastry Cream Puff Smackdown, we served a smallish bowl of WASPy carrots, celery and radishes, along with a big wooden bowl of popcorn for nibbles before dinner. Were we being spare and creative, or had we run out of time to prepare more elaborate fare? Were we balancing the Puritan aesthetics of simple popped-on-the-stovetop popcorn, dressed merely in Irish butter and table salt, with the more elaborate and baroque Beef Wellington, wrapped in a blanket of delicately browned, multi-layered casing, already enveloped in a mushroom and olive tapenade?

The truth is that we ran out of time, and I was out of ideas. Making créme pat can be so exhausting! Doritos did not seem appropriate. And homemade popcorn is so good. And cheap! Heavens. It probably cost about $1.39 to fill that bowl with popped corn. And it was a big, huge, over-the-top, wooden, wedding present-worthy, salad bowl. (Think of a Caesar salad prepared tableside at the Four Seasons back in your mythical Madison Avenue three-martini-lunch past.) And our friend ate practically every kernel. Triumph does not come often to our kitchen, but that was a night of ringing successes.

I have often proclaimed (to those who would listen) that there are a couple of food that exist just so we can indulge our deep insatiable desire for melted butter. Lobsters and popcorn. But we cannot keep a bag or jar of lobster in the pantry for everyday butter cravings. Luckily, there is popcorn.

And there are myriad ways to season popcorn. I think good butter and salt are just perfect. But our Tall One, who is all about smoked meats and real Southern Barbecue, is a fan of this variation: Bacon Drizzled with Creole-Spiced Butter, from, wait for it, Garden & Gun. If you are not worried about heart health, give it a try.

Here is a good Eastern Shore-flavored popcorn recipe:

This one might be a little fancy. I am all for store-brand corn oil and Diamond Crystal salt, which could explain my relatively low number of Instagram followers…

And where would we be without Martha? Pecorino and rosemary? Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to iron the linen cocktail napkins.

And of course, our friends at Food52 have an interesting variation on the theme, without being over the top. I like their paper bag idea, too. We can hand out bags of popcorn at this Major Sporting Event on Sunday, and not worry about ironing the cocktail napkins, or letting Luke the wonder dog practice his Hoovering techniques among our guests feet. I like tidy. I like sweet and salty, too.

Have a great weekend!

“Don’t you go to the movies?”
“Mostly just to eat popcorn in the dark.”
― Charles Bukowski

“The problem with winter sports is that — follow me closely here — they generally take place in winter.”
― Dave Barry

Food Friday: A Deft Hand

While Rudy Giuliani is publicly speculating about what inflammatory phrase should be the lasting embarrassment on his grave stone, I have decided upon more humble legacy. I do not wield any governmental influence, which considering my art major background, is a good thing. I do not advise the powerful. I try my best not to lie. I am earnest and true blue. And for one night, I was a deft hand at cream puffs.

Mr. Friday threw down the culinary gauntlet last weekend. He had invited a work colleague to dinner on Saturday. And this business associate is the amiable sort of person who can be trusted to bring along the right bottle of wine for the occasion. The occasion being Beef Wellington. This fancy puff pastry-wrapped entrée was something new (and mid-twentieth century) for Mr. Friday, so how was I to counter it? Baked Alaska? Cherries Jubilee? Floating Island? Nope. Cream puffs.

Cream puffs are light and whimsical, sweet and gooey. I’m sure at 110 Eaton Place they would be eaten with a knife and fork, but at our dining table, after the plating of the Beef Wellington, and the clouds of piped Duchess potatoes, and the spears of asparagus, we would eat the cream puffs with our fingers. I have never tasted anything more delightful, I typed modestly.

Mr. Friday followed Gordon Ramsay’s recipe. It involved multiple trips to the grocery store, and a lot of mushroom chopping. I made a Duchess potato mixture before I got to the fancy bits of dessert.

I researched cream puffs with dogged art major determination. My initial go-to was Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook. Oh, my goodness! If I ever manage to successfully complete a recipe from this book, I will be a bone fide rocket scientist. Outwardly, the ingredient list for the choux dough seems simple enough. Then come the super sneaky precise measurements:
water – 250 grams or 1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons
unsalted butter – 125 grams or 4.4 ounces
salt – 2.5 grams or 3/4 + 1/8 teaspoon
all-purpose flour – 138 grams or 1 cup
eggs – 250 to 275 grams or 1 cup to 1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons

We do have an electronic scale, and we have an eighth of a teaspoon measuring spoon, so why am I shying away from this recipe? I guess so much precision is intimidating. Ideally, someday, I would like to be the person who can remember the ingredients and their measurements and the time and temperature for baking a dish. I really don’t want to be figuring out the science fair project every damn time. (This is the Cream Puffs recipe from Bouchon Bakery, page 160.)

Instead, while not exactly improvising, I turned from Thomas Keller to Julia Child, another cook and baker who was handy with desserts. She could wing it.

Julia Child’s Cream Puff Paste Recipe:

(Pâte à Choux)

1 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon sugar
optional: pinch of nutmeg
1 cup all purpose flour
4 extra large eggs

Preheat oven to 425° F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Fit a large pastry bag with the largest tip or you skip the bag and use 2 spoons to form puffs.

Heat water, butter, sugar, nutmeg, and salt over medium heat. Once the butter is melted add flour all at once, and beat with a wooden spoon until it comes together and forms a dough.

Now cook stir constantly over low heat for 2 minutes. The dough will start to coat the bottom of pan. Dump this hot dough into a food processor (I used the KitchenAid) with a dough hook and add eggs, one by one, and mix until eggs are incorporated and mixture is thick and shiny.

Forming Puffs

Spoon the mixture into the pastry bag. On the sheet pan pipe out 1 1/2 inch high mounds, makes about 30. Bake 20 minutes, or until lightly brown and doubled in size, and hollow when tapped, turn off oven.

Immediately poke a paring knife in the side of each puff to allow steam to escape; this will help them to not collapse.

Return to tuned off oven and leave the door ajar for 10 minutes.
Cool on rack.

Then I deviated from Julia Child, and decided to follow one of her colleagues, Jacques Pépin for his Crème Pâtissière recipe, from which I wandered afield, yet again.

2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk

Step 1
I used the KitchenAid – a;; that whisking can be exhausting! Whisk together sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl until mixture is pale yellow and “makes ribbons,” 3 to 4 minutes. Add flour; whisk until smooth.

Step 2
Bring milk to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk to egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium, whisking constantly, about 3 minutes. Boil mixture, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl; press plastic wrap directly onto surface. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Mixture can be chilled, covered, for up to 3 days.

This is my addition – I was worried that the crème was a little too thick. After cooling it in the fridge for a couple of hours, I whipped up 1 cup of heavy cream with 1 teaspoon of sugar to make a delightfully light bowl of fluffy whipped cream. I folded the cream into the Crème Pâtissière, and combined them until they were one big bowl of deliciousness.

I sliced the cream puffs open, and piped the crème mixture onto the bottom half, and masterfully topped it with the crisp little pastry caps.

After the Beef Wellington feast, we all scarfed down two cream puffs each, finished the wine, and then packed our friend off into the night with a paper bag with four more cream puffs for his healthy breakfast, and then we stashed the rest of the cream puffs in the freezer. Periodically I have been testing them this week. The pastry has stayed crisp and crunchy. The crème delightful and oh, so French.

Cream puffs will become the third of my signature desserts: flourless chocolate cake, Boston cream pie and cream puffs. I am going to switch out the custard filling we have used for centuries in the Boston cream pie for this new (for me) crème pat. I can’t wait until our next birthday celebration! And now that I have tackled the choux, can eclairs and profiteroles be far behind?

“Fancy cream puffs so soon after breakfast. The very idea made one shudder. All the same, two minutes later Jose and Laura were licking their fingers with that absorbed inward look that comes only from whipped cream.”
Katherine Mansfield

Take that, Rudy!

Food Friday: Winter Salads

It might be a new year, but that doesn’t mean that I am any less inclined to take the easiest way out in preparing dinner. There is nothing like enjoying a lighter-than-air salad for a summer dinner, though in the winter it needs to be much heartier than our summertime frolics with cool cucumbers, airy vinaigrettes, and artful splashes of lemon juice. We need calories and heft now, so we can go outside and do battle with snowy sidewalks, and scrape the windshield while the wind blows and the snow is still falling.

I also like to use up leftovers when I make salad, no matter what time of year it is. This is our new budget in action – less waste! In the summer I will shred leftover chicken and fling it across a bed of crisp iceberg lettuce, with a handful of sunflower seeds and some chunky homegrown tomatoes. This week I warmed up a leftover chicken breast, and sliced it, and nestled it on a bed of spinach leaves. I cooked the last three slices of bacon, and then used the resulting bacon fat for frying the best, and crunchiest, croutons (made from day-old-ish French bread from the weekend). I nestled a couple of still-warm soft-boiled eggs within some of the spinach curls and scattered the bacon over everything. A heavy, homemade vinaigrette, redolent with garlic, was drizzled over the plates. Add candles. Yumsters. A warm, nutritious salad, and an efficient use of leftovers. You could even add a side dish of (canned) soup, if the shoveling has gone into overtime, and you are feeling generous.

Ingredients to keep on hand, in no particular order:
Brussel sprouts
Garlic (always!)
Roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes
Oranges, tangerines, nectarines
Romaine lettuce (wash it first!)
Cheeses: Goat cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan, bleu cheese, Cheddar
Leftovers: rice, couscous, quinoa, French bread, chicken, roast beef, steak, shrimp, lobster

Homemade Vinaigrette
6 tablespoons vinegar (use your fancy stuff – the ones you got for Christmas)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1 crushed garlic clove
Pinch of ground black pepper
Pinch of nice sea salt

Bacon-fried Croutons
Bacon makes everything better – and you know it!
Cook 3 or 4 bacon slices in a frying pan. Save the grease. (Sometimes I add a little olive oil to make a deeper puddle of cooking grease – use your judgment.) Add a handful of cubed French bread to the frying pan, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Lightly sprinkle garlic powder, onion powder and Lawry’s Seasoning Salt over the crotons. (This is going to be my million dollar retirement invention: the tastiest croutons in the whole wide world.) Using Lawry’s is crucial – make no substitute – not even for “Slap Ya Mama”.

More ideas

“I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter’s evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream… I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people’s tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting.”
― Mark Twain

Food Friday: Comfort Foods

We have taken down all of the holiday trappings: stripped the tree, packed away all the fragile paper Christmas decorations the children made in grade school. Strings of lights have been rolled up. Colorful baubles are nestled all snug in their attic boxes. The mistletoe has been scattered into the back yard for the birds to snack on while gliding on their flight paths to and from the dangling bits of suet and peanut butter–slathered pine cones. And the tree has been stashed in a back corner of the garden, turning to mulch and making a little habitat for our visiting critters.

Happy New Year, indeed. It doesn’t feel festive anymore. The fun is over and the Puritans have moved in. Permanently. We are finally (almost) finished with our holiday head colds, but that new-found healthy feeling is most likely enhanced by our adoption of the very smug and annoying Dry January resolution.

For the month of January we plan to eschew alcohol. Which means no cheap white wine during the week. It also means no Prosecco Saturdays. We have turned into the worst kind of boring people. What’s next? Jogging? Journaling? Can kale be far behind?

If this is as good as it gets, it seems like the perfect time to light the stove, and get cooking some warm comfort foods. For his personal railing against the darkness, Mr. Friday made a vat o’spaghetti sauce. He forgot that there are just the two of us now. It was a such a huge, lobster-pot-sized vat, that we had to take a shelf out of the fridge, and re-distribute bottles of milk, pickles, capers, and salad dressing in order to wedge the thing in after dinner. And then we had to get imaginative with that huge amount of red sauce.

Our initial foray into the vat o’sauce was a candlelit dinner of spaghetti with sausage and meatballs (replete with a well-tossed green salad, crusty, butter-dripping garlic toasts, and goblets brimming with conceited domestic tap water). Then we enjoyed a satisfying lunch of leftover spaghetti. Later, a coquette of bubbling baked ziti, and finally a city block of lasagne. Additionally, there are two Tupperware containers of lasagne now residing in the freezer, along with another gallon of sauce and meatballs. This is like money in the bank – emergency meals that are easily re-heated. Bring on the uninvited guests! When Mr. Friday cooks, he wields a force that alters our small universe.

You don’t need to take over the kitchen and cover all the countertops with cooking gear, or use every piece of Tupperware, or grate mounds of mozzarella, or rearrange the entire freezer compartment to make some comfort food. You can roast a chicken, shape a football of meatloaf, make a melt-y croque monsieur. Kraft mac and cheese might fit your bill nicely. Any sort of warm, aromatic or nostalgic food that makes you happy, because winter can be bleak without tinsel and paper chains.

Roast chicken


Croque Monsieur

Mac and cheese


“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell

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