Cooking for a Crowd: The Jim Haynes Sunday Night Dinners

 

Jim’s atelier, photo by Annabelle Adie

I have been asked how exactly I go about cooking a meal for 100 people.

First, the back-story. About 10 years ago, my husband and I had moved to Paris for what we thought was one year. Within a few weeks of our arrival, our friend, Philippe Gérardin, told us about an American who for over thirty years has given dinners at his atelier in Montparnasse on Sunday nights. Guests make a reservation and pay a donation toward expenses. Oh, and the cooks are volunteers.

Go to one of Jim’s dinners. You’ll meet all kinds of interesting people,” he promised and gave us Jim’s phone number. We were intrigued.

Jim Haynes here.” A brisk voice answered my call. “Do you want to come to next Sunday’s dinner? Where are you coming from?” He rattled off his address, metro stop, and the door code. He asked for our names and said, “You’re on the list. Show up at 8:00.” That was it.

Every Sunday night in Paris, except during the month of August, Jim Haynes opens his doors to a throng of folks some of whom he has met and many he has never laid eyes on.

How many guests? Rarely less than 70 and in good weather, topping 100.

Behind the facade of many Paris apartment buildings, there exist rows of ateliers where artists and craftsmen have lived and worked for generations. Jim’s atelier, overlooking a garden path, is one of these. The party was in full swing when we arrived with guests standing in the garden and pouring out the doors. We made our way inside to find a tall, genial American seated on a stool with clipboard in hand. “Mary, Paul! Welcome! Meet Stephan and Natalie and Lisa!” We were checked off the list, pointed to the bar (outside in the garden) and introduced to at least ten other guests of various nationalities. One of Jim’s best-known characteristics is his ability to remember names. If he’s met you, he remembers you.

Jim at his party, photo by Paul Allman

We were handed a bowl of soup and instructed to line up for the next course when we were ready. Some guests were already digging into plates of stew with rice and salad.

That first dinner was a blur of faces, names, and a three-course meal eaten standing up. We came away slightly dazed but feeling we had participated in an international happening that was purely positive. Throughout, Jim’s voice introducing people and exhorting them to Talk!” was funny and contagious. We met several people that very evening who became friends.

We also got to know Jim. The short version of his incredible life is that he arrived in Europe from Louisiana with the Air Force in the late 1950s and never went back. Between then and now, he has done remarkable things, including founding the Traverse Theater in Edinburgh, writing a lot of books, and a thirty year stint as a university professor in Paris. He hasn’t missed a Frankfurt Book Fair for 50 years and is a beloved fixture at various film and book festivals worldwide. However, he has become best known for having the longest running dinner party ever.

How the dinners started is essentially a tale of a good party that kept getting bigger. Back in 1978, Catherine Monnet, a young ballet dancer from Los Angeles, needed a place to stay and through a friend, found her way to Jim Haynes. To repay his hospitality, Catherine offered to cook dinners for his friends. At first, the dinners were small but over time, they grew so large that guests began to contribute toward the food costs. Catherine eventually found a place of her own but continued to cook at Jim’s from time to time and does so to this day.

News of the dinners travels by word of mouth and they are famous for the start of friendships, love affairs, and marriages. People have found places to stay, new jobs, and opportunities for travel by participating in a Sunday dinner. Today, Americans and Parisians represent about half the crowd and an international mix make up the rest. Sometimes, you can hear six languages spoken at once.

What I’ve noticed over the past ten years is that the makeup of dinners goes through periods of change. If there has been a recent article or a You Tube video about Jim, there is often an influx of travelers and students, particularly Americans. People book by e-mail rather than the telephone. For the ‘regulars’, Parisians for whom Sunday night means going to Jim’s, this can be disconcerting. But most are philosophical and are glad that the dinners continue to grow and remain vibrant.

After our dining experience, I was curious about the cooking. I found out that the volunteer cooks at Jim’s are visitors, houseguests, and occasionally, chefs and cooking students. Jim was enthusiastic when I offered to cook and I was delighted to find no shortage of helpers when I took on the task.

Shopping in such quantity is a challenge especially without a car. Jim, who has never owned a car, thinks nothing of taking the metro to Frères Tang, a giant Chinese grocery, and returning with 35 pounds of chicken in his shopping cart. Grateful to their loyal customer, Eric and Alice, who run the neighborhood vegetable stand, make sure the thirty avocados or fifty melons are perfectly ripe come Sunday evening. Shopping with Jim, I became familiar with the local merchants who offered discounts and deliveries. Through Catherine Monnet, I discovered the North African and Indian markets of Paris where bargains such as whole trays of baked pastries and 20-pound bags of rice can be bought for a song.

Different parts of Paris were opened up for me. I loved finding out about the markets, the butchers, and the neighborhoods. I was hooked.

I now cook at Jim’s about 8 or 10 times a year.

So, here’s my approach:

The Menu

On Wednesday or Thursday, I write up a menu and a shopping list and e-mail it to Jim. I plan for either 80 servings or 100 servings depending on the weather. If it’s dry and not too cold, the guest list is long because guests congregate outside in the garden area. On a rainy February evening with everyone squeezed inside, Jim keeps the list to about 65 or 70 people although he has a terrible time saying no.

For a crowd mostly standing up, the food has to be eaten easily with only a fork and/or a spoon. For the first course, soups (hot or cold), composed salads, a slice of quiche, a turnover, an empanada, or bruscetta works well. For the main course during winter months, we serve stews of all varieties and baked pasta dishes. Indian foods, which can be served room temperature, are excellent in any season. Thai curries and salads are also much appreciated and especially good in warm months. For dessert, it can be as simple as ice cream with chocolate or caramel sauce and a cookie. We make a lot of crumbles and crisps with fall fruits. Cakes and pies are more ambitious and time-consuming but definitely a crowd pleaser.

For vegetarians, there is always an alternative to meat.

Examples of menus:

A spring menu

Indian Ginger Pea Soup
Blanquette De Veau (Veal Stew)
New Potatoes
Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar
Pine Nut Cookies

A summer menu

Green Mango Salad
Chicken in Thai Green Curry with Rice
Pineapple Ice Cream Sundae with Caramel Sauce

A fall menu

Tomato and Fennel Soup
Le Puy Lentils and Sausages
With Onions and Peppers
Apple Brown Betty

A winter menu

Blue Cheese, Endive, and Walnut Salad
Beef Bourguignon with noodles
Spinach
Cherry Chocolate Brownies

Chile dinners with cornbread and guacamole are very popular. Also, cozy foods like potato salad, meat loaf, macaroni and cheese, lasagna, and mashed potatoes. These things make the old ex-pats nostalgic and the newcomers a little homesick. And it all adds to the conversation.

I’ve had some fun surprises. One weekend, I mentioned to my friend Trish Nickell that I was planning a Tex-Mex meal and wondered what to have for dessert. “In Dallas, if we go out to eat, we always finish up with a praline.” Oh really, I thought.

Seeking to be authentic, I decided I’d just ask one of those Dallas restaurants for their recipe. I called El Fenix, explaining I needed to make about 200 pralines for next week’s Sunday dinner in Paris. “We can’t give you the recipe,” the manager explained, “But we’ll send them to you.”

And that’s exactly what happened. A couple of days later, a big box of wrapped pralines arrived. At no charge. The crowd went wild.

Quantities

Figuring out how much to buy takes a little practice and having done some catering helped me. My method is both micro and macro. First, I think about an individual serving. Meat and fish will probably be the costliest part of the menu. A 5-ounce portion is not lavish and I usually add a few pounds for good measure. I like to picture what the plate will look like with the vegetables and potatoes (or rice or pasta).This helps me to balance the meal and control the costs by not over ordering.

Here’s a little table:

                                    25 servings               100 servings
Soup:
(1 cup/serving)   7 qts                           25 qts
Main course
(5 oz/serving)     8 lbs                           32 lbs
Vegetables:
3 oz/serving)      6 lbs                           22 lbs
Salad greens
(2 oz/serving)     3 lbs                           13 lbs

(This may not seems like much but remember lettuce is light in weight but long in volume.)

When you have a party for less than ten people, you need to cook more than enough in order to make the platter or the salad bowl look plentiful and appetizing. If your guests are sitting around the dinner table, eating leisurely, having seconds or even thirds should be expected. For a huge crowd, you can be a bit more calculating. Put another way, a handful of guests may only eat a small plate of salad but counting out the exact number of cupfuls might make for a miserable and stingy looking bowl of salad. Having leftovers from a small party is great. But enormous quantities of leftover food are not only wasteful and expensive but a lot more work to prepare and store.

Another way I figure out quantities is by a simple head count. For example, if I’m serving fresh cantaloupe, I calculate the serving size. A quarter each? I’ll order 25 melons for 100 servings, usually adding a couple of extras to be safe. For Puffy Baked Potatoes (see recipe below), I count on ½ baking potato/person. From experience, I know that there are about 4 servings of asparagus in a pound, that a 4-pound cabbage makes a hell of a lot of slaw (at least 4 quarts.)

Oh, and don’t try to make freshly cooked spinach for 100 people unless you have a convenient warehouse next door. Use frozen, please.

Ordering

For Jim’s dinner, I telephone or visit Eric and Alice with the vegetable order on Wednesday or Thursday. We talk about what is in season and if I’ve chosen something that’s too hard to get, too expensive or out of season, Eric always lets me know and makes suggestions. At the local Boucherie Chevy, a small chain butcher shop, Monsieur Dominique is as meticulous as Eric is. After touching elbows (M. Dominique doesn’t shake hands on the job), we usually talk about the menu and he suggests how best to prepare the meat. Twelve kilos (about 25 pounds) is the usual quantity. For some stews, he will cut the meat in cubes. Beef to be ground is not prepared more than an hour before purchasing. Roasts are beautifully tied, chickens are boned and often, he throws in bones andles abats’ for making stock.

On Friday, Jim or one of his houseguests picks up the items from Franprix, the local grocery store: cheese, milk, butter, and eggs as well as rice or pasta, canned goods and so on. Eric delivers the vegetables on Saturday morning. He will also deliver on Sunday morning as well which is a huge convenience when it comes to storage.

We also use Picard: a store entirely devoted to frozen foods of excellent quality. For fish, Picard is a good economical choice, given the large quantity purchased.

How can this translate to a large party at your house? Buying a lot of food means you have to store it somehow. Any approach you can take to delay the arrival of food helps. You might do exactly as I’ve described above: go to your local supermarket, small grocer, farmer’s market or wherever you shop and ‘order’. Tell them what you need and when you need it. You may not have delivery service but you can arrange to pick it up close to when you need to deal with it. If you’ve ever tried navigating your way through a kitchen full of pineapples or a refrigerator bursting with lettuce, you’ll see the wisdom of letting others stash your produce.

There is a case to be made for shopping, storing, and cooking in advance. And if you have lots of refrigerator and freezer space and like to string out a project over time, I can see the benefits. But personally? I like the freshness of produce and also, the immediacy – well, let’s call it the pressure – of cooking it all and serving it all in the same weekend. It’s like a sporting event: you’re on and then it’s over.

Cooking

I start the cooking on Saturday around 1:00. I make a list of all the jobs or prep work and then divvy up the tasks. Often my friend Leslie Diamond comes over to help and usually, any houseguests staying at Jim’s will volunteer as well. More often than not, Madame Paupert, Jim’s upstairs neighbor stops by, and makes short work of any peeling job.

Madame Fauvette Paupert, photo by Philippe Gerardin

We bake on Saturday, prep for the main course or salad, and often make soup which is cooled down and refrigerated overnight. We’re generally through by about 5:00.

On Sunday, same hours: I make the vegetables and main course and then leave a list of last minute chores before going home to get cleaned up and relax a bit before the dinner.

Most of the menu can be cooked at least a few hours before serving but I’ve learned some tricks. Fresh vegetables like broccoli suffer if overheated; green beans and fresh herbs will turn a horrible olive color if allowed to sit in vinaigrette for too long. Soups, cooked beans, lentils, and grains can scorch and stick to the bottom of large heavy pans when the heat is on for a long time. So what to do?

Keep food hot using a bain marie or water bath. Be sure to heat the food first and then set the pot into a larger pot with simmering water. Keep the heat low and check the water level from time to time.

Mashed potatoes stay nice and hot in a water bath but do not cover them. They will develop an off taste. Potatoes continue to absorb liquid over time so mash the potatoes with plenty of liquid so they don’t become too stiff.

To avoid mass of wilted greens, don’t dress a salad until serving time. With a large quantity of lettuce, divide it among 2 or 3 large bowls and keep chilled.  Dress each bowl as needed.

Serving

Seamus McSwiney is a long time friend of Jim’s and a master of serving a hot meal to a hungry crowd. Over the years, he has perfected a system that is really efficient. Working on his own, he serves the three-course meal in overlapping stages. He puts out about 10 to 15 servings of the first course (usually a salad or soup), replenishing as diners line up to help themselves. For the main course, Seamus serves directly from the pots, setting out the plates whilst catering to those who want smaller portions, a vegetarian meal, or have other considerations. He arrives at Jim’s about an hour before the party to set up, makes rice if necessary, reheats the main course, and directs helpers to slice bread or toss the salad. Jim and his houseguests generally set up the bar outside in the garden and put out chairs.

Seamus slinging hash, photo by Paul Allman

How do the plates look when they’re served? Not like in a restaurant, that’s for sure. The food can be delicious but it won’t be ‘presented’. And as a cautionary note, I would add that the aim is provide a good meal that’s plentiful, tasty and the right temperature. Sprinkling garnishes, drizzling sauces, or supplying any other such niceties can really slow down the serving process. Simple is better.

I repeat dishes that work well, taste good, and seem to be popular. So I’ve got the timing down pretty well. However, there are times when I’ve found myself in the weeds and have to cook down to the wire.

New cooks to Jim’s discover quickly some pitfalls of an overly ambitious menu – but even then, it can be fun and a learning experience as you scramble around trying to finish up by 8 pm! My young cousin (and now Cordon Bleu student) Kate Atkinson once cooked a Mexican dinner with Michael Boone. We even made sopapillas from scratch! It was crazy!” Michael, who is pursuing a career as symphony conductor, is an enthusiastic Sunday night dinner cook, channeling favorite recipes from his Indiana grandmother.

I have certainly been overly ambitious. A fall menu with a beet salad, cabbage rolls with ground veal in Riesling, and an apple and quince crumble was hugely time-consuming. Thank heavens Madame Paupert was there, stuffing 200 cabbage leaves without a complaint. On another occasion, the ‘Croustillant aux Asperges’ was a nightmare for serving: involving as it did Hollandaise, puff pastry, and all that asparagus. Jim loves apple desserts and bought a gizmo that peels, cores and slices apples. But as our friend and frequent Sunday night cook Antonia points out, if you have 150 apples, it still takes time.

I tend to use raw materials, peeling and chopping just about everything. Jim thinks this is ridiculous and points out the benefits of large bags of frozen chopped onions, garlic, and peppers. He’s right, of course: for a large crowd, using these products certainly makes sense. But, what the hell. I do it because I enjoy it. And it’s more than just the cooking. I’ve met more interesting and unusual people around his kitchen table than I ever would have imagined. Swapping stories while peeling apples is a great way to spend an afternoon. My circle of friends in Paris has widened and grown younger and I am very grateful.

It’s been a lot of fun meeting other cooks. About two years ago in Portland, Oregon, I was at a cooking class and met Jackie Thau, an enthusiastic cook (and also charge nurse in an OR). We got to talking about Jim’s dinners and she decided to sign on to cook. She ended up coming to Paris with friends and family and cooking a fabulous meal. Professional pastry chef David Gauchat of Cleveland cooks for Jim on his visits to Paris (and taught me how to make Goop.) Galena Prokhor, an émigré to Paris from Russia, is nearly a genius with her soups, stews, and cakes and somehow, makes it all look so easy. Jodi Poretto, from New Orleans, always makes red beans and rice on her trips to Paris. Two new friends of mine: Amanda Morrow and Miranda Crispin got their feet wet, so to speak, cooking chez Jim and have started an underground Paris touring company with a dinner club. One Sunday, my friend, Jorge Pagliarini, an extraordinary cook, thought nothing of making over 200 macarons for dessert. Guests nearly fainted with pleasure.

Are you game? I’ll include some recipes.

RECIPES

The following recipes are for 25 servings. Keep in mind ‘servings’ are not ‘guests’. If you are planning a party for 12 good eaters, you should make the entire recipe. Ditto for 5 teenage boys.

TOMATO AND FENNEL SOUP 

This is a tomato soup that I really love and always gets raves. The fennel flavor is boosted with the tarragon and Pernod. An immersion blender is useful for this soup. 

  • ½ cup (4 ounces) butter or olive oil
  • 1 pound onions, chopped
  • ½ pound carrots, chopped
  • 1 ½ pounds fennel, chopped
  • ¾ cup Pernod or Herbsaint or other anise liquor
  • 3 (29-ounce) cans of tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
  • 5 sprigs fresh tarragon
  • 5 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 2 cups heavy cream (substituting milk is okay)
  • Salt and pepper

Melt the butter or olive oil in a large pot and slowly sauté the chopped onions, carrots, and fennel about 10 minutes or until soft (but not browned.) Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer a few minutes. Add 3 cups of stock and the tarragon and parsley. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Remove the herb sprigs and add Pernod.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender. Or working in batches, use a blender or food processor. Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the cream. If the soup is too thick, thin it with more stock. Season with salt and pepper.

GREEN MANGO SALAD

This salad makes a delightful appetizer or side dish with a spicy curry or with grilled fish or chicken. The job of grating the mangoes can be speeded up if you have a food processor. The ingredients can be prepared in the morning and put together at serving time.

For 25 servings

  • 4 large firm mangoes
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 2 ½ pounds bean sprouts
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 2 bunches scallions
  • ½ cup fish sauce
  • ½ cup lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1–2 tablespoons chile garlic sauce

Toast the coconut in a dry frying pan, taking care as it burns easily. Let cool and set aside.

Peel the mangos and grate or julienne finely. Refrigerate covered. Rinse the bean sprouts quickly in water, drain, and refrigerate.

Mix the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili sauce for the dressing and set aside.

To serve, combine the mango with the basil, scallions, bean sprouts, coconut, and the dressing, mixing gently.

JACKIE THAU’S ROASTED GRAPES

This is a great appetizer for large scale cooking: it involves very little preparation and can be eaten with the fingers. In Jackie’s words, “Hot, cold, next day – all good. I like mixing the colors and using black sea salt when they are done.”

For 25 servings

  • About 9 pounds or 5 bunches of grapes, different types (and colors)
  • Olive oil
  • 3 or 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • Salt
  • Black sea salt (optional)

Snip the grapes into small clusters and arrange on a sheet tray. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle a little salt, and strew the rosemary sprigs along with the garlic over the grapes. Roast at 350 for about 5-8 minutes until they are hot. Pull from the oven and give them a little dusting of salt and serve.

SABZ GHOST (LAMB IN COCONUT MILK)

Antonia Hoogewerf’s Indian dinners are among the most popular at Jim’s Sunday night soirées. Sabz ghost, a famous and deceptively simple Indian dish, is exotically spiced yet mild and creamy. Check the seasoning during the cooking time. Peppers will continue to get hotter the longer they cook.

For 25 servings

  • 8 pounds lamb, cubed
  • ½ cup garlic, finely minced
  • 1 (5-inch) piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • ½ cup cooking oil
  • 1 ½ cups whole blanched almonds
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 6 whole cloves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 green chile pepper
  • 1 dried red pepper
  • 2 cans coconut milk, unsweetened (more may be needed)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Marinate the lamb in a large bowl with the garlic and ginger for 2 hours. In a large pot, heat the oil and fry the almonds and raisins for a few minutes or until they are lightly browned. Set aside. Using the same oil, add the cardamom, cloves, and the lamb and brown, stirring, over high heat

Mix in salt, pepper, and yogurt. Lower the heat and cook until the yogurt is completely absorbed (about 30 minutes). Stir in the red and green chili peppers and half of the chopped cilantro. Add coconut milk and cook over low heat, stirring regularly, for about 40 minutes to an hour. When the lamb is tender, add the almonds and raisins. Cover the pan and simmer until the sauce is reduced.

Taste for seasoning, adding additional coconut milk if too spicy. Garnish with the remaining chopped cilantro and serve hot, with chutney, Naan bread, and rice.

PUFFY POTATOES

They don’t always puff but mostly, they do. This is a baked potato for one person or a horde: incredibly easy to prepare and tasty as is, although you can certainly pass the butter. Potatoes are best eaten once cooked so they cannot be baked too far in advance. Be sure to select baking potatoes that are not too large, keep the heat high, and do not skimp on the coarse salt.

For 25 servings

  • 14 baking potatoes, medium-sized
  • Coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Scrub the potatoes and cut in halves lengthwise. Arrange the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet. One baking sheet will fit about 25 halves.

Sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Bake for 40 minutes or until the tops are browned and puffed.

Test by plunging a knife through the center of one to determine doneness. Serve within the hour.

They may stay in a turned-off warm oven but do not cover them.

PINEAPPLE SUNDAE WITH CARAMEL SAUCE AND ICE CREAM

The caramel sauce can be the starting point for all kinds of ice cream desserts or served with cake or bread puddings. It can be made days in advance and even frozen for longer storage. Making caramel can be tricky: if one sugar crystal bounces out on the side of the pan, the whole thing can seize up and crystallize. To avoid this unhappy situation, my friend and former chef Susan Lindeborg proposes the method described below.

For 25 servings

  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 pound butter
  • 1 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt*
  • 4 ripe pineapples
  • 3 quarts vanilla ice cream

Mix the sugar and water together and pour carefully into the middle of a large pot. Melt the sugar without stirring until it bubbles around the edges. Cover the pot with a tight lid as the mixture approaches a boil. When the caramel is a dark golden brown, add the butter, cut in pieces, but do not stir. When the butter starts to melt, stir gently until the mixture is a homogenous mass. Cool a few minutes and add the cream and salt. Serve warm or cold.

Peel the pineapples, remove the tough inner core, and cut into cubes. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

To serve, top a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a spoonful of pineapple and some of the caramel sauce.

*Kosher salt, sea salt or fleur de sel are recommended.

PINE NUT COOKIES

These are elegant little cookies: crisp, buttery, and not too sweet. This recipe serves at least three average size cookies per person. Using parchment or baking paper is highly recommended, as the cookies are fragile when hot. Quickly lifting the entire sheet off the baking tray eliminates using a spatula to transfer each cookie.

For 25 servings   (7 dozen)

  • ½ pound butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon (scant) baking powder
  • 6 ounces pine nuts

Beat together the butter and sugars. Add vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry frying pan either over medium heat or in the microwave. Watch carefully as they burn easily. Let cool. Grind half the pine nuts in a food processor or blender.

Add flour mixture and all the nuts to the butter and sugar mixture. Drop by rounded teaspoons, 2 inches apart (these cookies spread) onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake in a moderately hot oven (325 F) 8 to 10 minutes or until set and brown on the edges. Carefully transfer to racks to cool completely.

This cookie dough may be made in advance and refrigerated a few days or frozen. Once baked, the cookies will keep very well in tightly sealed bags or boxes for 2 weeks.

GOOP

Nothing sticks when Cleveland pastry chef David Gauchat’s mixture is brushed on a pan.Use it for cakes, fruit desserts, baked pasta and meat dishes.  And it lasts forever.

The non-stick formula (which David lovingly calls “Goop”) is simple: one part vegetable oil, one part flour and one part Crisco all whipped up together, put in a container, and left in the cupboard. Voila!

SOME FINAL NOTES:

Jim’s party, photo by Annabelle Adie

If you find yourself in Paris and want to join in the cooking or come to a Sunday dinner, it couldn’t be easier. Jim Haynes lives at 83 rue de la Tombe Issoire, atelier A-2, in Paris’ 14th arrondissement. The best way to reserve for a Sunday night dinner is through his website www.jim-haynes.com. 

There are many You Tube videos about Jim and the dinners. Here’s the After Eight mint ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjGAJDO666g

In 2007, with friends and co-authors Catherine Monnet and Antonia Hoogewerf, I published Throw A Great Party – Inspired by Evenings in Paris with Jim Haynes. At first we envisioned the project as being purely about Jim but as we got into it, we realized that the focus should be on the reader and how to give a party. Any recipes I’ve alluded to are in the book along with more specifics on quantities and serving. And other useful info: such as how to set up a bar.

If you want to learn more about Amanda and Miranda’s Paris Underbelly (discovery tours and supper club), go to:

http://www.parisunderbelly.com/Discovery-Tours-and-Supper-Club/ParisUNDERbelly-DiscoveryTours-SupperClub.html

 

Vietnamese Market Day and the Beauty of Margins

Photograph by Hien Lam Duc, from the exhibition Mékong, histoires d’Hommes

 

 

 When fully ripe, the unopened jackfruit emits a strong disagreeable odor, resembling that of decayed onions, while the pulp of the opened fruit smells of pineapple and banana.

The Jackfruit

I am like a jackfruit on the tree.
To taste you must plug me quick, while fresh:
the skin rough, the pulp thick, yes,
but oh, I warn you against touching —
the rich juice will gush and stain your hands

Ho Xuan Huong, 1772 – 1822,
 translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich 

 Two acts of generosity led to a delightful day.

 The St. Francis dining hall in Portland, Oregon serves dinners daily to “those in need in dignity and peace.” That turns out to be 300 meals per day. At their annual auction, it’s hard to say who is more big hearted: the donors or the recipients. As her auction contribution, Ho Mai Huong, a young accounting student, offered her services as tour guide and chef for a day of Vietnamese cooking. Margo Foeller was the winner and treated me and my friend Trish to a wonderful day.

Visiting the markets

Our first stop: the market Hong Phat where Mai identified and introduced us to a world of fantastic fruits, vegetables, herbs, fish and meats.

Fruits came first. The jackfruit (which can grow to over 80 pounds), banana flower (peel back the outer leaves and slice), four different kinds of mango, litchis, and ‘fragrant fruit’ were just a few. “In Vietnam, there are many more varieties,” explained Mai.

We moved on to a huge assortment of herbs, greens, and vegetables. Many herbs have medicinal applications such as dấp cá or fish mint, used to cure stomachaches, indigestion or, in paste form, for insect bites. The flavor and aroma are strongly fishy. Rau Dắng or bitter herb is used both cooked and fresh. When burned, the vapors are a very effective mosquito repellant.**

Spinach, mustard, and collard? Now these were familiar greens. But hold on! They are not what they seem. Mồng tơi, as an example, sometimes referred to as Ceylon or Malabar spinach, has spinach-like leaves but is a vine and cultivated on a trellis. And might lower your body temperature.

Bitter melon which looks a bit like a cucumber with a ridged dark green skin is used in soups, sautéed or stuffed. Its medicinal qualities are many, including a blood sugar lowering effect for type II diabetics. With each fruit, pod, green, root and fungus, an important therapeutic reason for its purchase was cited. 

                  Will this help my baby grow? Will this cure his cough? Can this ease my pain?

Eat your Gac (gấc)! It is the greatest source of beta-carotene (vitamin A) of any fruit or vegetable. Gac (gấc) has ten times more of the stuff than carrots or sweet potatoes. Did you know that green papaya enhances breast milk production? And, it would appear, that if you have anything wrong at all, just eat a persimmon.

 Gac  (gấc)      
Photograph by Jennifer J Maiser

Moving from vegetables to the grocery aisles, Mai discussed the cross over in cooking techniques and recipes between Asian countries and cultures and their subtle differences. Fish sauce, for dipping, is a good example. In Vietnam, chopped garlic and chilies are added to the sauce which is diluted not with water, but coconut juice, as coconuts are very plentiful in southern Vietnam. 

On that same topic, Mai explained that Vietnam is divided culturally and economically into the North, Central, and Southern parts. The North has less fruit and vegetables and the food tends to be salty. The Central part of Vietnam is the poorest. It is subject to severe weather (especially flooding) and the soil is poor. The cuisine in this area is very salty and spicy which adds flavor to the food and warms the body. The abundance of fruits and vegetables are the hallmark of the southern Vietnamese cuisine. Fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits are used in nearly every preparation in the South.

 Pho, the hugely popular beef noodle soup is believed to have originated in the North, where it is made with fresh rice stick noodles (banh pho tuoi) and flavored with star anise in an oxtail broth. Typically, it is not served with garnishes. In the South, however, the soup is served with herb and bean sprout garnishes. Suffice it say, there are many regional varieties of this soup.

 A package wrapped with a green leaf and tied with red string turned out to be cha lua or Vietnamese ham wrapped in a banana leaf.

“It’s just like spam. That’s what my mother says” a young customer offered.

Among the huge selection of meats (every possible cut of pork and beef) and fishes (including whole frozen fish and about 30 types of frozen shrimp), I was struck by the two types of chicken:

  • Walking chicken (not always tender but very flavorful) and
  • Black chicken (quite a small variety and good for fatigue, back pain and expectant mothers)

 Beautiful and mysterious dishes that Mai alluded to:

  • Coconuts stuffed with Quail
  • Baby clam meat with Jackfruit

 Slightly stomach churning:

  • Duck eggs with embryos
  • Pigs’ udders
  • Silkworm pupae (eaten fried with lime leaves)

 Our market visit ended in the household products aisle. Mai showed us two types of brooms. One of coarser fiber for the yard; the other very fine and soft for the house. The market sold all types of cooking pots, pans, including a special crepe pan that looked very like a Swedish pancake skillet. I bought a coffee drip pot for making one serving of Vietnamese coffee which is brewed with sweetened condensed milk.

Our next stop was Bui Natural Tofu. Originally, fresh tofu was the only product of this family business which was conducted from their home. Now, the busy shop makes not only a great deal of fresh tofu but also fried tofu, tofu pudding, red sticky rice (its color comes from the aforementioned gac fruit), fermented rice (a digestive after a meal), sticky rice balls with a mulberry in the center, and much more.

 Mai had ordered in advance so as we waited as all sorts of containers and packages appeared at the counter. We staggered out to the car.

Lunch at Mai’s Home

 Now came the really fun part: Mai made us lunch at her home.

Step one: she quickly put together some snacks for us to sample.

  •  Using her homemade fish sauce, we sampled the fresh tofu and the fried tofu which contained pieces of fried onion
  • The Red Sticky Rice with pieces of Vietnamese ham
  • The Tofu Pudding, served in small bowls over which she poured a sugar syrup with slivers of ginger and coconut milk
  • A spoonful each of Fermented Rice (the digestion aid)

We were happy to sit and munch but Mai was all business. The fresh spring (or salad) rolls had to be made.

She quickly gathered the ingredients together: lettuce, Thai basil, and mint from her garden, Chinese chives, and slices of the ham. She boiled the dry rice noodles and we helped peel the shrimp. Moistening the rice paper briefly, she showed us her technique for tightly rolling the cylinders with the shrimp with green Chinese chive visible through the wrapper. We each practiced the technique.

 The dipping sauce, (which Mai believes is the whole point of eating the rolls) was a fragrant and delectable mixture of flavors: hoisin, peanut butter, and coconut soda. As a final flourish, Mai added fried shallots and a bit of pickled shredded carrot to the dipping sauce. Wow! Completely different from restaurant salad rolls.

As with any unforgettable meal, the food was only a part of the pleasure. As if each morsel stirred up  an association, Mai spoke of her family, geography, gardens and poetry. In 1954, Mai’s Catholic family moved from the North to South Vietnam to avoid communism. While she has never been in North Vietnam, her parents and grandparents passed on their northern customs and habits.

“I was named for the 18th century poet Ho Xuan Huong but my parents replaced Xuan with Mai so as not to shock my grandparents…”

Known for her independence, intellect, and subtle and sexy wit, this famous poet from Hanoi was also was very irreverent. Rather than classical Chinese, she wrote in Nôm, the Vietnamese language that has nearly disappeared. While more than a thousand years of Vietnamese cultural history was written in this language, less than 100 people  can read Nôm today. The Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation*** hopes to save the language.

Homegardens and Margins

Now, this got me to ruminating about the importance of the margins in culture. Home cooking, home gardens, minor languages, poetry..are these not elements of the margin not the mainstream? I don’t want to offend home cooks, gardeners, translators, and poets by using the word ‘margin’. But I’m not marginalizing anyone, simply acknowledging that certain highly important activities exist and thrive on society’s margins.  

The reason I write about home cooking is that there’s a dearth.

There are two ways to look at marginal activity.

  1. There’s strength in numbers: A custom or habit dies out when it’s not longer necessary. When an activity is marginal, it’s on its way out. (example: the shirt collar button) 
  2. We’re only as strong as our weakest link: When a custom or habit is replaced by a new behavior, the old habit might slip into the margin but will still persist. Sometimes people will attempt a rescue! (example: Nôm)

The second way of looking at this is, to my mind, the optimistic and true approach. Whenever I worry about the ‘branding’ of humanity or fear a dreary sameness leading to decline,   I inevitably come across small, disorganized, whimsical powerhouses of marginality.  

 In Dr. Virginia Nazarea’s book Heirloom Seeds and Their Keepers,**** she speaks movingly about marginality and memory with regards to heirloom  gardeners.

“If modernity is ‘forced amnesia’, then there is a need to reinforce the range of dreams and choices that triggers countermemory…Seedsavers pose a subdued but persistent challenge to what those around them take as given and help break the spell of ‘organized forgetting.’…From the margins, seedsavers deploy a message of worth rather than protest wherein the currency is joy instead of anger, the motivation hope instead of frustration.”

In her Germplasm project at the University of Georgia, Nazarea and her associates studied how Vietnamese immigrants arriving in the 1970s reproduced their native gardens with great success. Nhan Couch was a participant in the study and her homegarden below is a delightful example.  I love the entire design of the garden, especially the “BBQ pit with pokeweed growing out of it.”

Outside her kitchen door, Mai has a small but robust garden filled with herbs and greens. I asked Mai about the diagram of Nhan’s garden. “This model of garden is very common in rural areas of Vietnam” she said, adding, “I think they do a very good job of organizing their gardens.”

 
  
  
  Copyright © 2002 Introduced Germplasm From Vietnam: Documentation, Acquisition, and Propagation.  All rights reserved.
 

Trying this at home

Back at home, I was all fired up to make a Vietnamese dinner.

 With Mai’s instructions, I attempted the black chicken, so called because the skin is a deep purplish black. This fierce-looking little bird was to my surprise, very meaty. The other surprise was the flesh with its dark and light striations. Once cooked, the chicken looked a bit like bluefish and I believe, is an acquired taste.

To make this dish, I had purchased a packet of herbs, lotus nuts (which look something like dried hominy) and red dates. At Hong Mai, there was an entire shelf devoted to special herb packets each for different preparations. “Very practical!”

Black Chicken

I attempted to write down the recipe as I remembered it. Fortunately, Mai made some adjustments. Here goes:

  • Soak the lotus nuts overnight.
  • Wash the chicken, removing the head, feet, and innards.
  • Dip the chicken in a pan of boiling water and then rinse in cold water.
  • To cook the chicken:

Method #1: Put the chicken into the bowl. Put all of the herbs and lotus nuts around the chicken or stuff the chicken with the herbs, dates and lotus nuts. Personally, I prefer to put herbs and lotus nuts around the chicken. Pour 1 teaspoon of fish sauce into the chicken. And then put the bowl into a steam pot. Cook about 1 hour.

Method #2: You can use slow cooker to cook instead of steam pot. Put chicken into the cooker and spread out all of herbs and lotus nut around chicken. Pour 1 can of coconut soda and 1 teaspoon of fish sauce into the chicken. Cook slowly about 2 hours.)

  • Cut up and serve with steamed rice.

 Mai Huong’s Salad Rolls

It takes a little practice to make these rolls but once you’ve got the hang of it, it goes quickly. If you do this a few times, you will begin to arrange and offset the ingredients so that the rolls will looks very pretty with the shrimp and some greenery showing through the wrapper.

 I. For spring rolls: (about 8 to 10 rolls)

Ingredients:

  1. Round rice paper wrappers (banh trang or ‘spring rolls skin’ – Mai used a package with a large red rose on it)
  2. Rice noodle (Mai used a vacuum-packed fresh rice stick noodle -banh pho tuoi in a pink package from the Sincere Orient Food Co.) 
  3. Chinese chives 
  4. Lettuce, several leaves
  5. Mint, basil, cilantro –  small bunch of each
  6. 1/2 pound pork belly ( or thinly sliced roast pork)
  7. 12 – 15 shrimp (double if the shrimp are very small)

Boil rice noodle until it becomes al dente, drain and rinse with cold water. Boil pork belly until well done and slice thinly. Cook shrimp with salt in a dry pan until red and cooked through. Peel  the shrimp and if large, slice into halves. Wash the lettuce and herbs.

 How to wrap the spring roll:

 Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the water just to moisten. (Do not soak)

Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place 3 shrimp, 2 pieces of pork, a handful of rice noodle, the lettuce and herbs, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, and then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Set aside.

Continue with remaining ingredients until all the rolls are made.

 

II. Dipping Sauce:

  1. Shallot, 2 cloves, sliced thinly
  2. 1 tablespoon cooking oil 
  3. Hoisin sauce (1/2 cup)
  4. Peanut butter (1/2 cup)
  5. Coconut milk (1/2 cup)
  6. Chicken stock or coconut soda (1/2 cup)
  7. Sugar (1 teaspoon)
  8. Chili sauce (optional if you like spicy)

Stir fry the shallots with oil about 2-3 minutes in the pan.  Set aside. Mix hoisin, peanut butter, milk and coconut soda (or any broth such as chicken soup or pork broth that we have from boiling pork) in a bowl. Pour this mixture into the pan. Stir well until everything is a caramel colored blend. Pour some sugar into the sauce. Taste. Add some chili sauce if desired. Stir in the shallots.

A promising start to the year.

My experience with Mai led me down some new paths from jackfruit to poetry to heirloom gardens to a photograph on the Luxembourg garden gates to extraordinary humans. Ho Xuan Huong, Hiên Lam Duc and Virginia Nazarea.

Thank you Mai and Margo.

Almost a year ago exactly, I saw an extraordinary exhibit of photographs of the people of Mekong river. The beautiful photograph at the beginning of this piece is from that exhibit and the photographer, Hiên Lam Duc generously permitted me to display it. (Doubleclick to enlarge the image.) To see more of his work, go to http://www.lamduchien.com/

*This description of jackfruit (word for word) is repeated on at least 50 websites. So everyone agrees.

**For information on Vietnamese culinary and medicinal herbs, go to this website: http://vietherbs.com/

*** For more information on saving the Nôm language, go to http://nomfoundation.org/vnpf_new/index.php

****Dr. Virginia Nazarea’s Heirloom seeds and Their Keepers, Marginality and Memory in the Conservation of Biological Diversity , 2005, University of Arizona Press is available through Amazon and other sources.

Paris Market

Jean Jacques, Josiane and me

   

By 9:30 on any Tuesday or Friday morning, the outdoor market in my neighborhood is abuzz with customers. At the produce stands, all the fruits and vegetables have been carefully and artfully displayed, each with a small handwritten card marked with its price and place of origin.  Jean Jacques, the cheese monger, is having a cup of espresso at the café across the street leaving his wife, Josette, to tend to the early customers. The butcher has such devoted customers that the line forms early.  Some of these clients were buying meat in the same place when his father ran the business.   

Where is this market?   

On the Square Jacques Demy in Paris, specifically in Montparnasse, the 14th arrondissement.  Until a few years ago, it was simply called “Place du Marché” but as often happens, a place name is changed to honor a distinguished neighbor. Neighbor Jacques Demy, who died in 1990, was a famous film director whose work included The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  His wife, Agnes Varda, herself a very important film maker, still lives in the neighborhood and was on hand for the dedication of the little square.  In his speech, Mayor Castagnou of the 14th suggested that given its beauty and simplicity, the little square could easily have been the setting for one of Demy’s movies.   

Surrounded by the soft yellow stone of Parisian buildings, the marketplace in this Left Bank neighborhood is a plain stretch of asphalt with a few trees. On Monday and Thursday afternoons, city workers arrive to set up all the metal supports and canopy covers necessary for each stall.  The following day at the close of the market, the workers reappear, remove all the equipment and with their hoses and trucks, set to cleaning every inch of the square.   

This market is but one of dozens of neighborhood fruit and vegetable markets all over Paris.  There are covered markets such as Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais, the oldest market in Paris started in 1615.  The Marché Beauvau, also called the Marché d’Aligre, in the 12th arrondissement is one of the cheapest and liveliest covered markets in the city.  On the left Bank, the ‘Bio’ market on Boulevard Raspail which only sells organically grown produce, is the chic and expensive place to shop.  For two weeks in September, Parisians are treated to a floating market from the southwest of  France with barges lined up at the Quai de Montebello loaded with all sort of regional delicacies such as foie gras, cassoulet, magret de canard, stuffed prunes and floc de Gascogne, an aperitif.   

While workday schedules prevent many from shopping regularly at their local markets, Parisians are nonetheless passionate about preserving the custom. They believe the food is fresher, they enjoy seeing their neighbors and they have a personal rapport with the vendors.   

Are things cheaper at the neighborhood markets? Non! Quality over quantity is the driving force for frugal French shoppers.   

Food in France is expensive compared to American prices but a typical French family does not spend a lot more than its American counterpart.  The reason is simple: the French buy and consume less food. While they pay more per item, their spending overall is within reason.  It is completely acceptable to buy small amounts at the markets and even in large grocery stores.  For example, if you only need one or two stalks of celery to make a broth, that is all you need buy.  The vendors at the produce stands have their knives ready to slice off a few ribs of celery.  In the early fall, pumpkin or melon is sold by the slice and herbs are sold by small handfuls.   

Shopping for one is quite common. An enormous number of Parisians live alone, many of them elderly and many in buildings without an elevator. It goes without saying that most of these solitary city dwellers do not own a car, do carry their purchases, and depend on nearby shops. My neighbor, a lady on a very slim income, enjoys a slice of ‘jambon à l’os’ for her dinner which she purchases from the market’s charcuterie.  This slice of ham costs her about $3.00 but it is her main meal of the day, augmented by a small salad and a few slices of baguette.   

Larousse Gastronomique 1967

   

At the butcher, the purchase of a thin sliver of ‘onglet’ (hangar steak) is treated as seriously as any other purchase.  “Pour combien de personnes?”  (How many are you serving?) is the first question the butcher asks and the appropriate (i.e. modest) portion is cut.   I was at first astonished to see small pieces cut from whole beautifully tied roasts but now I appreciate the lack of waste and respect for the customer. You will be told exactly how to cook your purchase. With a tiny oven in my apartment and little experience with its temperature gauge, this advice proved to be a godsend. I was surprised at how often the French eat meat. Daily. Not a lot, mind you, but quite regularly. Ordering a ‘bifteck’ or ‘filet’ was easy enough but I was astounded by all the other cuts and each has its own special preparation. Notice the two diagrams of French cuts of beef.  The difference between American and French cuts of beef (which Julia Childs explained so well*) is that French butchers separate the meat along the muscle and do not cut across the grain. The result is a large number of smaller nuggets of meat each with their own flavor and cooking method.   

French Shoulder Cuts

   

To make beef Bourguignon, for example, a French cook might use a mix of cuts such as from the shoulder(macreuse or paleron), the cheef (joue) or thigh (gite). This mixture, of texture and flavor, gives the stew it deserved reputation. (And the wine it’s cooked in!)   

As a part-time Paris resident for the past several years, I have begun to understand the workings of the local markets a bit better.  Some of the farmers go to only one public market a week; others, such as the butchers, travel to several a week.  The stands vary a lot in quality, price and variety. The most cherished vendors are the small producers from nearby farms.  Some work seasonally such as the lady who drives from Normandy twice a week with her oysters, bulots (sea snails), and small clams.  One farmer, Monsieur Guy, sells year ‘round but in January, his stand has mainly potatoes, onions, walnuts, a few winter fruits, and a limited number of chickens. These individual farmers have less to sell and at higher prices but customers value the quality.   

For bargains, there are large vegetable stands that have every possible fruit or vegetable from all over the world. This produce comes directly from Rungis, the big wholesale market outside of Paris.  As mandated by law, every item must identified by its country of origin.  It is up to the customer to decide whether to buy locally or pay less for an imported product.  Most do a bit of both.   

I can not go to the market without a visit to Jean Jacques, the cheese man earlier mentioned taking his morning break. His business is artisanal as he only sells cheese, butter, cream, and yogurt from very small selected producers. The man loves cheese and I have been thoroughly educated about cheese by this cultivated and voluble expert.   

He offers a typically French approach to the customer.  One Friday, my husband consulted Jean Jacques about what cheeses to serve for a dinner party we were planning. Even though there were several customers waiting, Jean Jacques immediately had a barrage of questions.  “What is the menu?”  “Are your guests French?”  How many are coming?” and so on.  None of the waiting clients were the least disturbed by the lengthy conversation carried on in both broken English and French and in fact, some left with a wave and a smile to return later.  Having guests to dine is a serious matter in which civility, hospitality, and even amour propre (self respect) are at stake.  Later that evening, when our friends exclaimed over the extraordinary selection of cheeses, we were grateful indeed.   

In the next stall, the charcuterie, which is akin to a delicatessen, is also artisanal and a traveling operation, going to various Parisian markets during the week. The selection of patés, sausages, hams, prepared salads and cooked dishes is nearly bewildering not to mention the great many items that are hard to identify. However, unlike shopping with the cheese monger, one must be ready to order.  The lines are long and the charcutier will gladly answer questions but does not feel obliged to provide an education.  I quickly discovered that the only way to figure out what all those mysterious charcuterie items were was to ask other customers.  Waiting in the line, there was time to chat with the person next to me.  This is where speaking French (or as reasonably as one can manage) has come in handy.  I used this approach:   

“Ma’am, I’m a stranger in these parts.  What do you usually buy here?” Or “What’s that long white thing next to the ears?”   

In this way, I ended up with a kind of cone of de-boned ham hock covered with crumbs. The lady explained,   

“I’m 86 and I’m buying this for my neighbor who’s 92 as a treat but I don’t need it all. Tell you what, I’ll buy half and you’ll buy the other half.”   

It was done and it was delicious.   

Buying fish was a challenge until I went shopping with my friend and culinary professional Francoise Meunier. As with the butchers, the fishmongers know their product and are prepared to do much more than weigh and wrap. Francoise advised buying whole fish (fresher!), having it filleted, and saving the bones for a broth. She recommended mackerel, especially the very small ones called lisettes. For special occasions, Parisians go to the market with their platters, have the fishmonger open oysters on the spot, and then dash home to celebrate.   

photo by Jeanne Gouvert

   

Other artisanal stands offer breads and cakes, ‘Bio’ or organic produce and a real rarity: the horse butcher.  As I scurry by, I notice her offerings of horse steaks, roasts, sausages and ground meat are not in great quantity but everything is sold. There are two flower sellers and both do a good business, creating wonderful hand-tied bouquets to order.  Plants sell well too as most city dwellers with even a small window will fill it with a box of geraniums.  Nearby, the Lebanese stand is like a heavenly take-out shop: flat breads cooked to order on a hot grill, unctuous hummus and baba ganouj, stuffed grape leaves and more.   As my market basket comes heavier, I make a final stop at the épicier.  Dried fruits, nuts, spices and various condiments are the purlieu of the épicier.   Looking for pesto? Preserved lemons? Ten kinds of olives? Orange flower water?  It’s all here waiting to be weighed out into little plastic bags and cartons.   

Some of the old stands are disappearing: the gentle honey seller retired last year as did the lively milk, chicken and egg man who always claimed his cream had resided in the mammary of his cow but six hours earlier.  In their places, there are now a few nondescript clothing stands and a mattress seller but the focus is still the food and the experience of buying it.   

By early afternoon, the vendors are packing up, folding up their cases and tables and filling up their small trucks with the remaining wares.  The two butchers still in their coveralls are enjoying an aperitif at La Comedia, a small restaurant on the square which locals call ‘the Portuguese’ in deference to the proprietor.  Soon, the square will be washed down and clean ready for the afternoon schoolchildren running, skating, and chasing the ball.  Another market day is done at the Square Jacques Demy.   

MARKET RECIPES   

Jean Jacques’s Baked Vacherin with white wine   

  • 1 whole Vacherin cheese, fairly firm
  • 1/3 Cup white wine
  • 1 shallot, peeled

Preheat the oven to 425.  In a small baking dish just large enough to hold the cheese, place the Vacherin and poke 5 or 6 holes in its surface.  Pour the white wine over the top and push the shallot into the surface.  Cover with foil and bake about 15 minutes.   

Serve with spoons and baguette.   

Francoise Meunier’s Maquereau a la Moutarde   

Serves 4   

photo by Jeanne Gouvert

   

4 small mackerel, cleaned but left whole
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (Francoise uses the Maille brand)
Several sprigs of parsley
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
Pepper   

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.   

Arrange the mackerel on a lightly oiled baking sheet (or use a piece of baking paper on the pan).   

Cut three slits along the body of each fish and daub with mustard. Stuff a sprig of parsley and thyme and a bay leaf inside the cavity of each fish. Sprinkle with pepper.   

Bake the fish for 10 to 15 minutes.   

Sautéed Onglet (Hangar Steak)   

French beef is mostly grass-fed and tends to be a bit tougher than American beef but very tasty. Typically, steaks are quickly cooked over high heat and served rare.   

Serves 2 people   

1 hangar steak, about 14 oz, cut into 2 portions
4 shallots, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 Tablespoon vinegar: wine or cider
Salt and pepper   

Heat one tablespoon of butter and the oil in a frying pan over high heat.  When the mixture is very hot, add the steaks and sauté for about 2 minutes.  Turn and sauté until the top of the meat glistens (about 2 more minutes).  Immediately, remove the steaks to a warm plate.  Wipe out the pan; add 1 tablespoon butter and the shallots and sauté about 5 minutes on a low flame.  Season with salt and pepper, add the vinegar and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Stir and pour over the steaks.   

Serve promptly.   

Monsieur Guy’s Beet and Walnut Salad   

Serves 4 people   

In Paris market, beets are sold cooked which makes the following salad a snap to make.  The vinaigrette is a fairly sharp one to offset the sweetness of the beets.   

4 beets, (about 1½ lbs), cooked*
3 Tablespoons walnuts
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ Cup olive oil
Salt and pepper   

Slice the beets into rounds and arrange on plates.
Make vinaigrette by adding olive oil slowly to the vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle over the beets.
Garnish with the walnuts and parsley.   

*To cook beets, wash them well and trim the stems.  Simmer in water to cover until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain.  When cool, the skins will peel off easily.  Wear gloves to avoid red fingers.   

Hachis Parmentier    

Serves 6 people   

The market charcuterie sells hachis Parmentier ready-made but this classic dish is easy to prepare from scratch.  ‘Parmentier’ refers to Lord Parmentier who introduced the potato to France.    Like its English cousin, Shepherd’s Pie, hachis Parmentier is a budget dish, often made with leftover roast or stew.   

2 lbs baking potatoes, peeled
2 onions, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
¾ lb ground beef or leftover roast beef chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 Cups milk, heated
¼ lb shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese
Salt and pepper   

Peel the potatoes, boil them until tender, about 30 minutes and drain.  Cook the onions slowly in a skillet for 10 minutes with one tablespoon of butter.    Add the ground beef and garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 5 minutes.
Heat the oven to 450.
Mash the potatoes and add the butter and milk.  Season with salt and pepper.
Butter a baking dish and put in one half of the mashed potatoes, covered by the meat mixture and finally, the rest of the potatoes.  Sprinkle with the shredded cheese.
Heat for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling.  

 

IF YOU GO TO PARIS, here are some public market locations:   

Marché Enfants Rouges – Oldest public market and as my friend Francoise tells me, it is so named because an orphanage was located next to it and the children all wore red clothing.
39 rue de Bretagne, Paris 3
Métro: Temple
Tuesday – Saturday, 8:30 am to 1pm; 4 pm to 7:30 pm (8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
Sunday, 8:30 am to 2:00 pm.   

Marché Mouton-Duvernet
Place Jacques Demy, Paris 14
Métro: Mouton-Duvernet
Tuesday and Friday from 7:00 am to 2:30 pm   

Marché Raspail – This is a ‘bio’ or organic food market
Boulevard Raspail between rue du Cherche-Midi and rue de Rennes, Paris 6Métro: Rennes
Tuesday and Friday, 7:00 am to 2:30 pm   

March d’Aligre and Marché Beauvau –  A covered market.  Very bustling on the weekends. Also, while you’re there, check out the wine bar Le Baron Rouge.
Place d’Aligre, Paris 12
Métro: Ledru Rollin
Tuesday through Saturday, 8:30 am to 1:00 and 4:00pm to 7:30 pm;
Sunday 8:30am to 1:30 pm   

For a complete list, look up ‘Les marchés parisiens’ on the website:  http://www.paris.fr   

* see Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Chapter 7 ‘Meat’ for a discussion on American vs. French cuts of beef and how to select cuts that approximate the French ones.   

Enjoy the markets in your town!! xoxo, Mary   



Word of Mouth or How Recipes Find their Way

 

“What would our lives be like without tradition? What terrible fatigue would overwhelm humanity if it only had to concern itself with the future?

Edouard de Pomiane

“Her last conversation in Sinhala … ended with her crying about missing egg rulang and curd with jaggery.”

from Anil’s Ghostby Michael Ondaatje

At Chronicle Books, Bill Le Blond publishes cookbooks known for their splendid photography. For those hoping to publish however, he has bad news: cookbooks are not the sellers they once were. While there are more writers than ever, readership has dwindled.  These days, finding a recipe is just a click away.

For a while, everyone was reading cookbooks for fun. Salsas! Chocolate! Slow Cooking! The I-Can’t-Chew Cookbook!  You name it, there’s a book all about it.  But this hobby may have run its course. True collectors of cookbooks  are a special and passionate group. A bit like stamp collectors.  My friend Vikki says, “For me, going to eight or nine sources to answer a cooking question is pure pleasure. That these sources are on my bookshelf is icing on the cake.” For the majority of home cooks, however, one or two all-purpose cookbooks, newspaper clippings,  and a couple of local compilations sufficed until recently.

I risk sounding disingenuous. After all, I myself have written a nifty little cookbook  and am always thrilled when someone buys it. Nevertheless, just as Wikipedia and Google are today’s  reference tools, Internet cooking sites are where you find recipes. And from TV chefs.  Cooking shows have  filled the gap for the entertainment minded cook just as Epicurious is there at day’s end when you’re standing in the kitchen wondering what to do with one onion and a package of chicken.

But is that the whole story? Have we simply abandoned the crusty old tomes for (equally) sticky keyboards and remotes? What about word of mouth?

Word of mouth is stronger than ever; its voice perpetuates  food culture, memories, and practical know-how. Thinking over the past few weeks, I come up with at least six situations which could have been resolved through a book or other source but in fact, were imparted word of mouth. These include:

  • explaining why sometimes eggshells stick (a heartbreak when you’ve signed on to bring devilled eggs to a picnic)*
  • asking a friend for her really good soup recipe
  • passing on two simple things to do with fresh figs
  • learning that putting a mound of stiffish herbs, such as thyme and rosemary, under a piece on fish helps avoid sticking to the pan or grill

“How did you make that?” Dedicated cooks love that question and most will go out of the way to share. Even the pros. When I had doubts about a fish recipe from  Happy in the Kitchen by Michel Richard, I called his restaurant, got the sous-chef and explained my concern. He reassured me the recipe would work. “10 minutes! Not more! Call anytime!” he said and I believed him. The fish turned out perfectly. A word of caution: if you are an adventurous cook and want to call a chef, remember the hours of service are frantic. Call only in the morning or late afternoon if you want to get some attention. 

Asking how a dish is made is perfectly acceptable in a restaurant and, if your waiter is not run off his feet, the information is gladly given. You may not be able to replicate the dish but you will know the ingredients. Skill and imagination, not a recipe, make for glorious food. Which explains why recipes ( that is, the ingredients and measures) can not be copyrighted because you can’t claim ownership of a fact. Apple Pie and Beef Stew are public property. However, the language of recipes is considered original so you can not simply copy and publish someone else’s take on a recipe.

Those How do you make that? conversations are not just about cooking. My father would call regularly asking for the same two recipes: fried chicken and Hollandaise sauce.  I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t he write it down?” but I came to love those requests. It reminded us both of my grandmother (a Hollandaise maker extraordinaire) and of the days when fried chicken was a once-a-week meal. Now, when my grown children request a recipe, I am equally touched.

During World War II, my friend Monna remembers the meager meals at her school outside Paris. “Once a week we’d have a treat of fresh bread from the local baker. With each bite, we’d pretend it was something we really loved. Roast chicken! Chocolate cake!” Longing for full stomachs, the girls dined on their food memories. Her experience brought to mind the poignant  In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin, an extraordinary collective memoir by starving prisoners at a Czechoslovakian ghetto/concentration camp. Written by a number of different hands, the original manuscript (now in the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC) contained remembered recipes from their former lives. Attempting to resurrect those lives, these women nourished and somehow sustained themselves through memory. The writing of this collection was no quiet activity either: arguments flared over the correct way to make a certain dish. “We never used eggs! There was much more sugar!” And thus time passed.

My folklorist friend Miriam first told me about interleavings. These are scraps of paper, ticket stubs, old envelopes, receipts, and all manner of jottings found in cookbooks. A treasure trove of information for anyone curious about a family, a community or an area. I knew immediately what she was talking about having gone through many old family cookbooks. In one old book belonging to my mother-in-law, there were letters between friends containing recipes but also plenty of news and gossip. Putting some pieces together, I realized these folks lived no farther than 30 miles apart but rarely used a telephone. Word of mouth via the pen.

Cookbook Interleaving: A French hotel bill with dried flowers Cookbook Interleaving: A French hotel bill with dried flowers

I found the interleaving pictured above in Leslie Forbes’ beautiful book  A Table in Provence.  I might not have remembered that my friend Rolf gave me the book if I hadn’t seen his hotel bill (and the dried flowers). A social scientist might find it interesting that in 1987, an American couple spent the night at the Hotel Beaurivage in Cros-de-Cagnes, had breakfast, and it cost less that $25.00.

Asking questions (Where do you shop? What about farmers’ markets? Where are the bargains?)  eases you into a new neighborhood.  If you’ve just moved, word of mouth information  gives you a jump start in the process of feeling at home. For new parents, the world of baby food is much more compelling to talk about than to read about. Dieters, folks cooking for one, heart patients, party givers, in short, everyone benefits from direct talk about food.

So, don’t forget to ask your Aunt Tilly for that chocolate cake recipe before she gets any older.

Here are a few recipes I pass around frequently.

And happy cooking! xoxo, Mary

* Eggs shells will stick to very fresh eggs. After about a week, the interior of the egg and its membranes will shrink slightly, creating an air space. After hard boiling, the egg is plunged into ice water which slightly contracts the contents and when cracked, it’s shell slips off.

Zucchini salad

I really like zucchini raw and came up with this salad and it’s gotten a lot of raves. I do not add the dressing until just before serving – the salad should remain cool and crisp!

  • 8 small zucchinis cut into a small dice
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped without the stems
  • ½ cup cashew nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Pepper
  • Optional: 1 clove garlic minced

In a bowl, toss the zucchini, cilantro, nuts, and shallot.

Combine the remaining ingredients, whisk thoroughly, and mix into the salad.

Variation: Zucchini and Chard Salad

  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 4 small zucchinis cut into a fine dice
  • ¼ cup cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons canola or other oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Strip the stalks from the Swiss chard leaves and cut them fairly finely. Put in a saucepan with a small amount of water. Cover and bring to a boil. In the meantime, cut the leaves into fine shreds and then crosswise (so that the shreds are not too long). Add these to the pot with the stems and cook a few minutes or until just tender. Drain and cool.

Toss the chard with the zucchini and nuts. Combine the remaining ingredients to make a vinaigrette and pour over the salad. Toss well.

Spicy Peanut Dip

I have been asked for this recipe more than any other.  I got the recipe from my sister-in-law Debbie and changed it a little, using peanuts rather than peanut butter. That’s the secret!

  •  1/4 cup tea, cooled
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 cups salted peanuts
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste (or more, to taste)

 In a food processor, grind nuts until fine.  Add everything else. The dip will become quite thick and can be thinned with water or tea.

Serving suggestions  or Are you ready for this?

Snacks: spread it on celery sticks, apple slices, crackers and flatbreads

Appetizers:to accompany a raw vegetable platter

Wraps: spread on lettuce or rice paper wrappers with various fillings such as rice, chicken, shrimp, fish and bean sprouts

Sandwiches: the PB and J using a jam such as rhubarb, guava, or lime marmalade ; the PBB and J which is the same plus a little crispy bacon

Main dish: as a sauce with cold soba, udon, or rice noodles. Thin the spread with a little water or cold tea just to a pouring consistency. Garnish with chopped peanuts and mint. Also, as a dressing. Thin the spread with tea or water and add diced cooked chicken or turkey, chopped red peppers, carrots, and green onions. Serve on a bed of shredded napa cabbage.

Dessert: use a dollop on top of vanilla or coconut ice cream. Garnish with mint. Or spread a thin layer on ginger cookies and fill with ice cream for ice cream sandwiches.

My Fried Chicken

What I can tell you about fried chicken is that if you make it often, it becomes very easy. The problem is that virtually no one eats fried chicken every week so it’s a bit harder to get practice. I learned this method of frying chicken from Margaret Miles, now in her nineties.  She has lived most of her life in Kentucky and her recipe is, I believe, as genuine as it gets for southern fried chicken.  She always drained her chicken on newspaper and I still do that but you may prefer paper towels.

Serves 4 – (8 pieces)

Ingredients:

  • 1 fryer
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or oregano and basil mixed
  • 2 cups, approximately, oil for frying or Crisco (see note below)

Method:

  1. Cut up the fryer into 8 pieces (2 breast halves, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings), reserving the wing tips, the back, and the giblets for another use.  (Such as chicken stock)
  2. In a paper bag, combine the flour and seasonings. Margaret only used salt, pepper and paprika but I like a bit of dried herb which I rub between my fingers as I add it.
  3. In a large heavy skillet (cast iron is best), heat oil to a depth of about ½ inch.  Heat up to nearly smoking.
  4. As the oil heats, shake several pieces of chicken in the flour mixture.  Carefully, slide a piece into the oil.  If it immediately starts sizzling, the oil is hot enough and you can add the rest.
  5. Cook about one or two minutes just to ‘seize up’ the chicken pieces and then turn them.  Again, cook one to two minutes.
  6. Turn again, lower the heat to very low, cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes.
  7. In the middle of the cooking time, carefully turn the chicken (the coating will be soft and fragile).
  8. After the cooking period, turn up the heat all the way, remove the cover and cook on each side until it is as browned and crispy as you like.  This will take about a minute per side. Don’t walk away during this step.
  9. Remove and drain on paper towels.  Salt each piece and serve immediately.  Also good cold.

Just a few caveats:

  • A fresh good quality chicken does make a difference in taste and is worth spending a little extra on.
  • In the US, the thinking now is don’t wash chicken – it just spreads bacteria around the sink.  If you do wash it, it should be lightly patted dry (not bone dry!) before shaking with the flour.
  • Frying: Never drop food into hot oil – always slide it and take care turning it to avoid splashing.  I use metal tongs so that the meat isn’t pierced when I turn it.
  • The oil: it must have a high smoke point such as peanut or canola. Margaret used Crisco and that’s what I use. Crisco is now trans-fat free.
  • Covering the chicken: leave the lid a bit askew so the steam can escape. Otherwise when you remove the lid and turn up the heat, you risk a lot of painful grease popping.
  • Cooking time: 15 minutes covered time is an approximation.  Don’t overcook it or it will be dry. If I’m cooking a lot of chicken, I use two pans and cook the thighs and drumsticks separately from the breast as dark meat takes longer to cook.

Added bonus…..Cream Gravy

Also called milk gravy, this stuff puts you over the top in every way imaginable… it’s good on biscuits, mashed potatoes, or rice. You can also make this gravy using chicken stock (it just won’t be cream gravy).

Ingredients:

  • Crunch and dripping from the frying pan
  • ¼ cup of the seasoned flour from frying the chicken
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and pepper

 Drain the oil out of the fried chicken pan reserving all the crunchy bits.  Add the flour and stir over low heat for a few minutes to cook the flour. 

Add the milk, stirring until thick with a whisk or wooden spoon, adding a little more if the gravy is too thick.  Taste and season with salt and pepper

Ouch! That hurts. And Ways to Help.

Last night, when I managed to set my own hair on fire, I was reminded that the laws of nature must be obeyed. I had added a small amount of wine to a pot and covered it. A minute or so later, I raised the lid, bent over the pot, and whoomph! The vapors ignited. Happily, I was wearing my glasses or I would be minus eyelashes.

An unpleasant truth: cooking hurts sometimes.

And a lesson: don’t be cavalier. Even if you’re an experienced cook, being mindful of  the basics when it comes to fire and knives will save your skin (and hair).

Here are four tips:

  • Have a plan.

The other day, my grandaughter, Zane, grabbed a hot cookie sheet out of the oven only to realize there was no place to set it down. Even an oven mitt won’t keep the heat out forever. When you move any hot item, know where you’re going and clear a space in advance.

With a gas stove, a pan that’s boiling over is easy to fix: cut off the gas. With an electric stove, be careful and move that pan slowly to avoid getting splashed. 

  • Don’t skid.

To avoid cuts, anchor your chopping board. If the board is moving around, your chances of cutting yourself are high. I put a damp paper towel or a dishtowel under mine and it won’t budge. Thin plastic cutting sheets are a menace in my estimation. Get a heavy duty chopping board, anchor it, and chop away.

  • Focus (or keep your eye on the knife)

If you’ve got a knife in your hand, keep your eyes on it. Don’t look around the room whilst chopping. Don’t point with your knife. If you’re talking, put your knife down.  It seems so obvious but it’s amazing how often we cut ourselves just by not looking where that blade is headed.

  • Respect fire

Fires are scary but generally can be quickly brought under control. First turn off the heat. Know where your large pot lids or cookie sheets are so that you can immediately cover a flaming pot (thereby cutting off the oxygen). In the oven, turn the heat off and keep the door closed. Add water or liquids to hot fat slowly and carefully in avoid a flare up.  Oh, and alcohol is highly flammable…

blog_for_food

Now about Ways to Help…

A cut finger was a small price to pay for the chance to teach some cooking classes as part of Share Our Strength’s Operation Frontline in Washington, DC a number of years ago.

(It happened because I was (A) looking around with a knife in my hand and (B) using a plastic sheet instead for a chopping board.)

Share our Strength tackles child hunger in the United States through a myriad of programs and volunteering opportunities. But our smallest citizens are not the only ones affected. Here in Oregon,

“… requests for emergency food are skyrocketing to record levels throughout Oregon and Clark County, Washington. With need up as much as 43 percent in some areas, Rachel Bristol, executive director and CEO of Oregon Food Bank, said, “Layoffs, foreclosures and other economic disruptions are taking a terrible toll on our neighbors.” 

Tami Parr of the Pacific Cheese Project and Kathleen Bauer with the blog GoodStuffNW  have spread the word about this mounting problem and ask that we help out the Oregon Food Bank or a program in your state and community.  Clicking the above logo will whisk you to the food bank site. Contributions are gratefully accepted.

Note: Write “Blog for Food” in the “Tribute In Honor Of” blank on the donation form.  That way Tami and Kathleen can keep track of donations as they come in and let readers know how it’s going.

To close on a sweet and simple note:

Lemon Cake

I lost the original recipe for ‘Claudette’s Lemon Cake’ (Gourmet 1979) but this is pretty close. It’s a snap to make even for the non- baker. I’d say it keeps well but I’ve never put it to the test.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons milk

Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 350.

In a bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, and eggs until just combined. Add the flour sifted with the salt and baking powder. Add the sour cream and milk. Don’t overbeat.

Place the batter in a buttered loaf pan and bake until golden brown about 55 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a rack.

Combine the juice and pulp of the lemon and the sugar. Spoon this glaze over the hot cake and let cool in the pan.

Run a metal spatula around the inside of the pan and turn out the cake onto a plate.

To store:  wrap up tightly in plastic and foil. Freezes well.

 XOXO, Mary

p.s To read about good stuff in the NorthWest, Kathleen’s blog is:

http://goodstuffnw.blogspot.com/

Cheeselovers! Go to Tami’s blog:

http://pnwcheese.typepad.com/

 

 

Thank you, Mr. Turkey

Thanksgiving is the same and different every year. For consistency, I thank the turkey and the trimmings. After that, it’s a free-for-all. Rarely solemn, sometimes hilarious (relatives), combative (politics), aggravating (relatives), or poignant (the past), Thanksgiving gets to me year after year.

Has there ever been a more comforting meal? I think of it as a solace (We’re here in this moment. With this turkey. We’ll eat and talk and shore ourselves up a bit.) The clink and clatter, the munch and crunch, the chuckle and the sigh make us content.

Hope and optimism, like turkey and stuffing, are things to count on, and this year, they are particularly honored guests. Grimmer times are hard to ignore but we can take pleasure in our hopes for the future. Pass the gravy!

Mary and Mr. Turkey

Photo by Kelly Miller

And let’s not forget that mischievous guest, Chaos, who always shows up, like it or not, wearing his usual disguises. Sometimes, he’s the burned pie, the thoughtless remark, or the broken heirloom. But, welcome Chaos.* Our world is not perfect and we can be thankful there too.

I don’t think a warehouse would be big enough for all the recipes, methods, and pointers involving the turkey itself. Tips on using Thanksgiving leftovers could fill a silo. Still, it makes for fun reading and adds a little freshness to the grand old meal. I never thought of making an Asian salad with leftover sweet potatoes and red cabbage. Or dumplings out of dressing.

Holiday leftovers present a great opportunity to make some tasty little meals that don’t cost a dime and make use of some great food. My favorite pointer is this:

Don’t eat leftovers right away. And definitely, don’t have warmed-up turkey four days running.

On the other hand, don’t rush your leftovers to the freezer either. You’ll have a mutiny on you hands when the first sandwich seeker can’t locate the turkey. But a careful division of the vegetables, meat, carcass, gravy and any other trimmings is a sound idea. Package, freeze, and store with labels so that when (in a week or so) you feel like making turkey soup for a Sunday night dinner, you will know where to look. And be reasonable. You’ll use up small portions whereas a football-sized lump of mashed potatoes or a pail of gravy could linger in the freezer until the 4th of July.

Cooks in mid-20th century America were advised to conceal leftovers by putting a new face (literally) on yesterday’s meal. Sliced meatloaf, for example, with olive eyes and a ketchup smile. Another visual ploy: the architectural main course. Sausage Stockade leaps to mind. In this dish, mashed potatoes are surrounded by breakfast sausages to form a large rectangle. Heated up with a parsley ‘flag’ stuck in the center and it’s, ‘Hello Fort Dodge!’ But, don’t get me wrong: as funny as some of these concoctions sound, the idea of making up something new from something old is terrific.

Maybe we’re just not as funny now: we don’t want to eat foods that contain words like Surprise, Heavenly, or Chuckwagon. But we also don’t cook as much so we don’t have the same need to doll up last night’s dinner. Nevertheless, from my reading of the news, folks are spending less time and money in restaurants which means that cooking leftovers may be an art in recovery. Seasonal, Warm, or Charred might describe our twice-cooked offerings.

So have a wonderful Thanksgiving and save those bones!

Bon appetit,

Mary

*A tip of the hat to Margaret Wheatley whose book Leadership and the New Science explores the idea of chaos as ‘order without predictablity’. A fascinating book.

Here are a few suggestions for Thanksgiving revisited.

Asian Sweet Potato Slaw

Mix the following ingredients in a large bowl:

  • 2 cups (leftover) cooked sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 small red cabbage, shredded
  • 4 tablespoons peanuts, chopped
  • 2 -4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2-3 scallions, chopped (optional)

Prepare the dressing with the ingredients below and toss.

  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

Turkey Soup with Dumplings

A turkey carcass will yield a good strong broth but don’t over cook it.

  • 1 leftover turkey carcass
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional)
  • 2 or 3 sprigs thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

Break up the turkey carcass into pieces. Put these into a large pot and just cover the bones with cold water. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, skim any froth from the top, lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about two hours. Taste. It should be well flavored but will need salt. If it’s too thin in taste, cook a bit longer. Strain and season with salt. Let the broth cool and skim off the fat.

For a richer soup, you may want to add some vegetables and herbs (peas, green beans, finely cubed fresh zucchini, chopped parsley or chives for example).

For the Dumplings

  • 2 cups leftover stuffing
  • 2 eggs

Beat the eggs lightly and mix into the stuffing. Add another egg if the mixture is too dry. Form into medium-sized balls and add to simmering broth. Gently heat and serve.

The Whole Shebang Flat Enchiladas

Here we’re trying to get the most out of leftovers using some concealment practices.

  • gravy, about 1 cup or more
  • 1 teaspoon each: cumin and oregano
  • cooked sliced turkey, 2 cups approximately
  • corn tortillas – 9 or 10
  • 1 can tomatillos, chopped
  • 1 can poblano chiles or other mild chile
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • peas, sweet potatoes and possibly Brussels sprouts, about 1- 2 cups altogether
  • 1 1/2 cups jack cheese, shredded
  • Salt and pepper

Grease a 9 x 12 inch baking dish. If you have the time, fry the tortillas briefly in a small amount of hot oil. Drain and salt lightly.

First, we’ll heat the leftover gravy and season it with some cumin and oregano. If your gravy has a lot of sage in it, you may want to omit the oregano. Adding a lot of different seasonings – or fresh garlic, say- will not make a better sauce. Keep it simple.

Spread about 2 tablespoon of this sauce in the baking dish. Cover the dish with 3 or 4 tortillas (plain or sauteed as described above). Add a layer of turkey. Mix the tomatillos, chiles and cilantro together and spread a few spoonfuls of this mixture to the turkey.

Cut the sweet potatoes and/or the sprouts into small slices or cubes. Mix together with the peas. Add a thin layer of these vegetables and top with another layer of tortillas. Repeat the layering ending with the vegetables. Sprinkle the top with shredded cheese and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbling.

Serve with a green salad.


Home Cooking IV: Fire up the Stove!

“Lack of time is not the issue. It’s a question of priorities. Look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I worth 30 minutes? Is my family worth 30 minutes?” That’s what it takes to make a good meal.”

Joyce Goldstein, author, teacher, chef, restauranteur, and home cook

“When I was raising my kids, cooking dinner was the worst part. The question, “What’s for dinner?” still makes me shudder.”

Becky Howe, weight lifter, teacher, and personal trainer

On those occasions when she’s home alone, Joyce Goldstein not only makes herself a tasty dinner, she’s written a book about it (Solo Suppers: Simple Delicious Meals to Cook for Yourself.)

Becky Howe’s idea of a fine solo dinner is a protein bar, a banana, and a good book.

Well, friends, there’s a middle road.

Jessica Glenn, who happens to be my daughter, cooks for a growing family on a daily basis and has this to say:

“With a tight budget, cooking at home is the only choice and I’ve found it gets easier with practice. I can come up with 30 minute meals and also, 15 and 20 minute ones. Everything in my refrigerator is spoken for because I buy only what I need. I think we eat well and lots of times, I get cheers from the crowd, which feels good. But many of my friends don’t cook and for them, the whole process seems horrible.”

Cooking does get easier with practice and easier still once it becomes a routine. If you’re ready to rattle the pots and pans, summer is a great time to get started. There’s a lot less cooking and more salad making. The fruits and vegetables available now make for quick suppers without a lot of kitchen time.

When the first dog days of summer rolled around in Washington, D.C. (often in May), my sister-in-law Debbie Giese would announce, “That’s it! No more cooking for the summer.” Twenty years ago, what this meant was “I’m not going to use the oven.” Dinner still made it to the table on a nightly basis but there were salads rather than stews and we used the charcoal grill rather than the stove.

Even as recently as fifteen years ago, most people I knew made dinner every night and worked full-time. We used processed convenience foods but more often than not, they constituted a small part of the meal, such as bottled salad dressing or a can of soup. Slowly but surely, what was an insignificant part of a home-cooked meal began to take over and from there, it was a quick road to take-out or going out.

I mention all this not to wag my finger at the current state of dining culture but simply to point out that home cooking didn’t go into decline all that long ago and for thousands, it never went away at all.

In other words, the system is not broken or antiquated; it just needs a little dusting off.

So even though we all know that day’s end can be especially chaotic, let’s creep into the kitchen and cook dinner.

Consider the evening meal a set part of every day. Put another way, identify the after-work routine as the reverse of the morning routine. Does it take an hour to dress, have breakfast, and leave the house? Morning activity in most households is focused. In the same way, allow for focused time when you get home. Perhaps you need 15 to 20 minutes when you come in the door to do some or all of the following: check the mail, change clothes, listen to messages, supervise homework and baths, walk the dog, or water the garden.

After that, head for the kitchen. Here are 6 steps, 7 tips and A Week of Menus to ease your way. Bonus section: Equipment and 4 How-Tos.

A Weekly Menu circa 1980 with Shopping List and 5 year old daughter's additions

A Weekly Menu circa 1980 with Shopping List and 5 year old daughter’s additions

Step 1: The Preliminaries. Write up a Week’s Menus and do your Shopping in advance.

When you get home after a long day, dinner can be quickly put together if you have your ingredients and know what you’re making. Son-in-law JB says:

“On Sundays, I write down menus and Rachael helps with the list. Since I’m the cook, I do the shopping. We usually have one take-out meal and one with leftovers and end up making a stop at the store once during the week.”

Not so different from my 1980 menu (see photo above) which is a little hard to read but Sunday is “Out” and Thursday is called “Potluck” (i.e. leftovers.) Hmm, that week we had roast chicken, steak, and hold on! Is that Ranch Dressing on my shopping list?

For inspiration, there are websites to help with the menu planning: At Epicurious.com, go to Articles and Guides and under that Everyday Food. Select ‘Weekly Dinner Planners.’ There’s a different seasonal menu every week plus a shopping list. At This Week For Dinner (www.thisweekfordinner.com) , the author of this blog posts a menu every Sunday and invites anyone to comment or post their own menus. The New York Times now has a cooking newsletter than shoots rapid encouraging recipes to your inbox a few times a week. They are usually quick to make and very tasty.

If you know in advance what’s for dinner, that question doesn’t seem so bad.

Step 2: In the Morning, check the Menu and locate the Ingredients. Defrost any food you will use later.

Run the dishwasher at night and empty it in the morning. That way, everything will be clean for the evening rush. If you have a delay button on your dishwasher, program it for after midnight (you’ll save $$ on energy bills.)

If you have even 5 minutes to spare in the morning, do one small job to make the dinner preparation go faster. This might be peeling some potatoes (leave them in a bowl of cold water), or hard-boiling a couple of eggs. Some advance preparation can be done days in advance such as washing and spin-drying the lettuce.

Step 3: When You Come in the Door, put a large pot of water onto boil and/or light the grill.

In other words, don’t waste time waiting for the grill to heat or water to boil. Start in right away and you’ll save time. If speed is your goal, the week-night meal is not the time to try a new recipe. In fact, don’t use a recipe at all. Use techniques such as grilling, boiling, steaming, chopping, sauteeing, and tossing. Season well, add a little butter or a dash of olive oil, and your food, while perhaps a bit plain, will taste very good.

Step 4: Set the Table (or enlist a member of your household to do this task every night.)

Put out everything you need including salt and pepper, water, plates, glasses, drinks, and condiments. This means that when dinner is ready, the table will be ready too, and the food won’t get cold.

Step 5: Triage or Who gets attention first?

If you have a screaming toddler, this question doesn’t need asking. But don’t be sidetracked. Throw your offspring a piece of fruit, a cracker, or a carrot, and carry on. Believe me, children are impressed by a show of fierce concentration. Likewise, once you begin the cooking, don’t answer the phone, do the laundry, or check your e-mail. We’re only talking about a half hour of concentration.

Step 6: Multi-tasking or How to Cook Everything at Once

It takes practice, but several operations can be done nearly simultaneously in the kitchen. If you’re having something grilled and a salad, get the cooking started first. For example, slap the chicken on the grill, dash back into the kitchen and put the lettuce in the salad bowl. Drizzle with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, find the salad servers, and put it on the table. Turn the chicken. Slice some tomatoes, arrange on a plate and onto the table. Yell at everyone to come to dinner. (Time: 15 minutes, give or take a few.)

For a cold dinner of salads and cold meat or fish, do all the prep work first. Arrange everything on a platter or in bowls, putting the dressing on last. Vinaigrettes and dressings keep very well refrigerated. Make double portions and save the extra for the next meal.

Now to fine tune the process, here are 7 tips.

Tip 1

Don’t get discouraged. If nightly cooking seems like a terrible chore, keep in mind that repetition and practice will reward you.

Tip 2

Don’t get bogged down by recipes. Start with some dishes that you can cook without running back and forth to check what to do next. “if I use a cookbook, dinner takes 5 times as long.” again from Jessica.

Memorize how to cook rice, how to bake and boil potatoes and how to hardboil eggs. See below *.

Tip 3

Don’t buy too much food. You’ll use what you buy, your refrigerator won’t be bursting, and you’ll save money.

Tip 4

Clear the decks. Try to get some room on the counter to work. Get rid of the mail, your backpack, and anything else that is cluttering up that space.

Tip 5

Trust your own common sense. Don’t be a slave to timing instructions. Pasta is a good example: the box may instruct you to cook the pasta 9 minutes but don’t stand around waiting for it. At about that time, taste a strand. If it’s done, drain it. Otherwise, hold off a minute or two and taste again.

Tip 6

Learn to use high heat when you cook. It is one of the hardest things to convince newer cooks to do but turning up the heat on the stovetop will improve your cooking. Without a hot pan, you can’t sear, stir-fry, saute, or brown foods successfully. Foods will absorb less fat if sauteed in very hot oil.

Tip 7

Use salt and pepper. Plenty of it. Butter, olive oil, and herbs as well. Season your food and taste it before serving.

A Week’s Menus

Monday

Jessica says this dinner take 20 minutes tops! And no complaining from the young ‘uns either.

  • Pork Chops with Rosemary
  • Corn on the Cob
  • Tomato and Cucumber Salad
  • Cookies

Preheat oven to 400. Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Salt and pepper thin sliced pork chops (1 per person, maybe 2 for Dad), sprinkle with rosemary, and put in a baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes turning once.

Chop up a couple of tomatoes and a cucumber, season, and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.

Meanwhile, shuck corn (1/person, maybe 2 for really hungry folks.) Cook in boiling water 2 minutes only. Have butter and salt on the table.

Tuesday

Salade Nicoise is a composed salad which means lettuce is the bed, the other ingredients are arranged on top in clumps, and the dressing goes on last.

  • Salade Nicoise for 4 or 5 people
  • French bread
  • Cherries

Ingredients: 1 head romaine lettuce, a can of tuna, 2 hardboiled eggs, a big handful of fresh string beans, 4-6 small potatoes, some cherry tomatoes, a can of anchovies, if you like them.

In the morning, boil the eggs and peel the potatoes.

As a first step, boil or steam the potatoes for about 6 minutes. Add the beans to the same pot and cook 5 more minutes. Check the potatoes for doneness. Drain, cool down, and cut the potatoes into halves or wedges. Quarter the eggs. Put the lettuce in a big bowl and strew all the ingredients over the top.

Make a vinaigrette with garlic, olive oil, and vinegar or lemon and drizzle over the salad.

Wednesday

  • Pasta with Pesto
  • Zucchini salad
  • Watermelon

For the salad, use raw zucchini, very thinly sliced or in little cubes. Drizzle with basalmic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Fast pesto: Can be made in advance! 2 packed cup of basil leaves, 3 tablespoons of pine nuts (or walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds – whatever you have on hand), 1/2 cup olive oil, pinch salt, a garlic clove, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 3 tablespoons butter. Puree all these ingredients in a blender or food processor. At serving time, stir in a few spoonfuls of the hot pasta cooking water.

This can also be frozen in small containers for super quick suppers!

Thursday

Use the grill or a hot oven to roast chicken. I like skin-on chicken with bones; it’s so tasty! It should take about 20 minutes. Mash a few tablespoons of butter with a minced garlic clove. Slice partway through a baguette and drop in some of the butter mixture. Wrap in foil and put to the side of the hot grill (or in the oven) until hot (about 10 minutes or so.)

  • Grilled Chicken
  • Green Salad
  • Garlic Bread
  • Blueberries with ice cream

Friday

You made it through the week! Don’t cook – just put this on a big plate and enjoy your dinner!

  • Hummus, olives, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, pita bread
  • Green yogurt with honey and walnuts

Fast hummus that’s cheap too: 1 can chickpeas, 2 tablespoons (or more if you like it) sesame tahini, 1 small garlic clove, salt, pepper, juice of 1 lemon, 2 – 4 tablespoons of water. In the food processor or blender, add all the ingredients and puree. Taste for seasoning. Put in a bowl and drizzle olive oil over the top.

Saturday

I’ll write the recipe below but this takes only a few minutes of concentration and the rest is nearly automatic. Relax! It’s the weekend.

  • Fish tacos
  • Mango floats

To make quick fish tacos: Make the slaw and dressing first. Cook fish right before serving.

Slaw: 1 small green cabbage, shredded finely; bunch of cilantro, chopped; a shredded carrot, and a bunch of radishes (optional), chopped. Mix this together, add salt and some squeezes of lime juice.

Sauce: Mix together juice of 1 lime, a couple of tablespoons each of yogurt (or sour cream) and mayonnaise. Pinch salt. Pinch sugar. Garlic clove minced. Hot sauce or a minced chipotle chile.

Fish: Cut 1 pound of white fish filets (I use frozen) in strips. Toss in a bowl containing 2 tablespoons flour and 4 tablespoons cornmeal, several big pinches of cumin, pepper, and salt. Heat a thin layer of vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook until light brown on both sides (about 5 minutes.)

Corn tortillas (flour is ok): Spread with dressing, top with slaw and fish. Put on plates or a big platter. Serve hot sauce on the side. 4 – 5 servings.

Mango (or peach) Floats: slice up the fruit, put in tall glasses with ice cream and club soda. Eat with a spoon.

Sunday

I knew a surgeon who used to save leftover salad, add some tomatoes and presto! he had gazpacho. I don’t often have leftover salad but I still think it’s an original idea.

Soup (from leftovers) – Gazpacho!

  • Crackers and cheese
  • Peaches

Fast gazpacho: use any leftover salad vegetables for this soup or gather up the ingredients in the recipe below.

  • 6 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 cucumber, peeled
  • 1 green or red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • salt, pepper
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups water or tomato juice or V-8, approximately

In a blender or food processor, blend the vegetables until they are in small chunks. Add enough water or juice to thin slightly. Season with salt, pepper, cumin and vinegar. Add a few spoonfuls of olive oil. Let the soup sit a while to develop more flavor. Taste for seasoning before serving.

Knives and Chopping Board

Knives and Chopping Board

Equipment:

Knives: Equip yourself with 3 good knives. In the photo above are the knives I use nearly exclusively. They are (from top to bottom) a small paring knife (serrated, in this case), an all-purpose chef’s knife, a bread knife (used for slicing meat and tomatoes too) and my new favorite a santoku knife. This last replaces my chef’s knife for most purposes and is a reasonable purchase (between $30 and $60). The serrated bread knife and paring knife are dirt cheap but when they get dull (and they will!), you must replace them. The key here is sharp. If you know how to sharpen knives, you are way ahead of the game. It’s easy to chop when you have a sharp knife. I can’t emphasize this enough.

Cutting Board: The knives in the photo are sitting on my cutting board which measures 15 by 20 inches and is made of rubber that is pleasant to chop on and easy to keep clean. No, I can’t fit it in my dishwasher but it is indispensable. Not easy to find in stores but restaurant supply stores have them. These stores are open to the public) and you can find sources on line.

When using a cutting board, anchor it to the counter by setting it on a damp towel or wet paper towel. Small boards that slip around as you chop are an invitation to the First Aid station.

The Everyday Useful Tools

The Everyday Useful Tools

Salad spinner, sieve, metal bowls, tongs, and box grater: I use these all the time. The bowls are very thin and light. I get them in several sizes at my local restaurant supplier for next to nothing. They are so much easier to use than heavy glass bowls and if one drops, so what?

A big pasta pot, a big heavy stew pot, a big frying pan and a medium-sized frying pan: I have assorted other pots and pans but the four mentioned are the ones I use all the time. I’m not too crazy about non-stick or otherwise coated pans but I do have a big one that comes in handy now and then. I like heavy duty stainless steel frying pans because you can really heat them up without damaging them.

2 baking sheets with rims, a roasting pan and a couple of baking dishes:Baking sheets (cookie sheets) can be used for all sorts of baking and lined with non-stick paper, they are a snap to clean. An 8 inch square and a 9 x 13 inch glass pan is a kitchen standard. A heavy duty ceramic or enamelled cast iron baking dish is very useful for roast chicken, potatoes au gratin, and all kinds of baked dishes from leftovers.

Food Processor: In the world of small electronic gadgets, a heavy duty food processor is my favorite. Small one or two cup processors are a waste of money, in my opinion, because they are usually not sturdy and don’t chop well. If you hate chopping onions, this will be a godsend. Likewise, if you have a lots of chopping, slicing, or grating to do (coleslaw, as an example), it will take seconds using a food processor. It’s great for soups sauces; fantastic for pie crusts and currently, I use it to make ground beef. I’ve used a Cusinart model with a lot of success. Ask for one for Christmas. It is so much better than a blender.

*HOW TO….

Bake potatoes: Scrub a russet or other baking potato (yes, there’s a difference! Ask your vegetable person at the store). Bake at 425 (you don’t need to preheat the oven) for an hour. For extra crispy skin, take out the potatoes after about 50 minutes of baking and let them sit a few minutes until the skins are soft and wrinkly). Put them back in the oven for an additional 5- 10 minutes.

Boil potatoes:Scrub boiling potatoes. Peel if desired and cut in halves, quarters, or leave whole. Put in a pan with cold water to cover and a spoonful of salt. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until done – which will take about 15 minutes or so depending on how many potatoes you have. Test for doneness by plunging a knife into the side. Drain.

Make rice: Here it depends on the rice. Again, don’t be a slave to the timing – check your rice and taste a grain or two; when the water is absorbed, it’s done.

For long grain: 1 cup rice, 2 cups water, 1 tsp. salt. Bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the rice, stir once, cover and cook at low heat for 20 minutes.

For basmati, jasmine or Thai: 1 cup rice, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tsp. salt. Rinse off the rice thoroughly in a strainer. Cook as for long grain but only about 10 minutes.

Hardboil eggs: Put eggs in a pan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook for about 8 minutes. Drain and cover with cold water (I use ice cubes too sometimes). If an egg cracks during the boiling process, add salt – it will seal the crack.

Have fun in the kitchen!!

xoxo, Mary