Thursday, April 29, 2010

A moveable feast

This past sunday my good friend Kristin and I made our first full french meal from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. The book is truly a plethora of culinary knowledge and has each dish explained down to the minute detail (except for some minorly confusing verbiage in the souffle recipe...which when it comes to making souffle, its probably not so minor) but all in all our bellies were well rewarded for our efforts.

We started our feast with cream of watercress soup, which had a lightness to it, but filled every ounce of the body with a creamy warmth. The trick it seems is whipping cream with egg yokes and then wisking it into the hot soup to acheive maximum thickness without feeling greasy or heavy.

Next was our heart attack in a fluted tart pan. The Quiche Lorraine. To add insult to injury we decided to add some swiss cheese to our quiche, which already contained bacon, cream and eggs and dots of butter on the top (and this is before we factor in the crust.) But the filling was light and airy and the top formed a thin almost creme brulee-like crust.

For our main course, we indulged in potatoes au gratin, coq au vin, and roasted asparagus. Potatoes au gratin may be the only dish that really makes me nervous across the board. Any time I've ever had them at a dinner they've been undercooked and inedible, but Julia, ever the brilliant culinary problem solve had this one down. You arrange your first lay of potatoes then cheese, salt pepper, butter (of course), then your second layer, then more cheese salt, pepper, butter, then you pour boiling milk into the terrine, place it on a hot stove and wait until the whole dish is simmering before you put it into the oven. Voila'! Perfectly tender potatoes au gratin, no slices of nearly raw potatoes mucking up your cheesy goodness.

Next was our main event, our coq au vin, which is basically rooster (or in our case chicken) stewed in wine. The coq au vin was more than I could have even imagined, the meat was tender and the sauce rich, earthy and complex. We used nearly a bottle of my father's home-made wine to drown our little chicken in along with a splash of bourbon and butter (there's always butter). It filled the kitchen with an almost sweet aroma, the kind of scent that welcomes you home and eases you in your chair after a hard day. It was a peasant dish, french style, sacrificing nothing for taste with the simplest of ingredients, some ingenuity, and little extra effort.

And when all this was consumed and we were happy with wine, we decided to take on one more task. The chocolate souffle. Not only is the souffle one of the more difficult French masterpieces to tackle, chocolate only makes things more difficult structurally for the souffle. In the process of combining the egg whites and the chocolate was where Kristin and had to overcome our first hurdle. Doubts and disappointment started to set in as we sadly poured our lumpy brown goop into the souffle pan. But 45 minutes later, like a miracle a perfect little souffle puffed up in our oven.

And after filling our bellies to the brim and releasing several well earned contented sighs, we decided on our next venture. Duck and cheese souffle.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


My father has the hands of a butcher. Strong and broad, his palm calloused from the grip of the knife, the rest of the skin softened from animal fat. Hands that are strategic and adept, like a surgeon with a sword, disassembling the pieces of meat that would fill the bellies of his customers. His hands sliced and broke bones, but also carefully and lovingly wrapped up each steak in brown butcher paper and placed it in the hands of each of his customers. He understood butchery as an art form, his carvings being sold off piece by piece bringing celebration and happiness to the table. When I think of my father's hands, strong and gentle, eager to do, to create as well as to cradle and comfort, it is clear to me how alike we are. I understand where that restlessness comes from that lingers inside of me, to do more, to be more passionate, to create more, to give more. My father's vast palms are abundantly giving and overflowing and I only hope to have half the pride for what I create that he does.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Words to the (counter clock)wise.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. I twirl my spaghetti the wrong way. Whenever my fork digs in to that heaping pile of pasta and tomato sauce, I can feel my mother's wandering eye gazing down at my counter clockwise twirling utensil. "Why don't you use a spoon," she suggests.

A spoon? A spoon just means one more obstacle between my lips and the linguine. I have no time for spoons, nor do I have time to relearn how to twirl in a clockwise fashion. At the very least, a spoon just means one more dish to wash, and there is no need.

My mother is the kind of person who always knows the "right" way of doing things. Perhaps it's because her father was a head chef, and thusly had to have a rigorous attitude towards the kitchen. She insisted on the proper way to cut an onion, mince garlic, slice tomatoes, stir a pot of polenta, and twirl spaghetti. I, on the other hand, had no such hang ups. I'm the type of person who takes an intuitive approach to the kitchen. I like feeling, tasting, smelling, experimenting. Not everything I try is a success, but I feel that sometimes if you draw outside of the lines a little, you might find a completely different picture.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Life happens.

The food writing class I had enrolled in has officially come to an end, and yet it oddly feels like the beginning. I feel like I've finally released the breath I've been holding for too long. Its interesting, to be a part of something with people that have such diverse backgrounds united by a common passion for food. For us foodies, food is not sustenance. Food is pleasure and heartache, indecision and endless opportunity. In food we trust. For me, I understood that food mattered from the very first moments I can remember. The kitchen was where life happened, sitting at the table watching the world swirl busily around me. I would sometimes get scraps of pasta dough to fold into little bow ties or rounds of cookie dough to make little thumbprints in. The kitchen was where we opened the first gifts on Christmas Eve after clearing off the seven fish dishes from the table, oohing and ahhing over the new toys and clothes, hugging and kissing in gratitude. It was where I practiced for spelling bees and twirled around until the cabinets kept spinning even when I stopped. In the kitchen my father and I practiced dancing for my sweet sixteen, both trying to hide our tears from the other. It was where I read my college acceptance letter aloud, my parents holding their breaths as I slit open the envelope. The kitchen was where my Nonno, brother, my little cousin Raffaella and I bridged generations, dusting each other with flour as we made gnocchi from scratch. It was where we all congregated during family the holidays, wanting to be close to the stove, to mince the garlic, zest the lemon, chop the herbs, longing to be a part of the meal.

The kitchen is where life happens, and for right now, looking forward at the kitchen I'll someday have, and the life that will fill it, helps me to know I'm just at the beginning.