CONFESSIONS OF A HOME COOK

andrew-his-guitar-and-billys-beer

Andrew, his guitar, and Billy’s beer at Andrew and Julia’s rental in Connecticut

Monday:                             Greens Frittata with herbs, pan con tomate

greens-frittata

Tuesday:                              Philadelphia – business

linguini-with-fresh-tomatoes

Wednesday:                      Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil

Thursday:                          Pizza and Green Salad

andrew-julia-and-billy

Friday – Sun:                    New York and Connecticut with Julia, Andrew and Billy

 ALMOST-GOOD PASTA WITH FRESH TOMATOES AND BASIL

 I was driving in from Philadelphia, last Wednesday, and we decided that we did not want to go out for dinner (we were headed for a long weekend and good restaurants in NYC and Connecticut), nor did we feel like take-out.  So Beez picked up some tomatoes, basil and pasta at Giant Eagle and, after some crackers and cheese (and a martini and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and some decompression from my 300 mile drive and Beez’s busy week), we whipped up what could have been a great, quick dinner.

The recipe is below.  But, first, let me tell you what went wrong.  The primary issue is that we did not have good tomatoes.  That is inexcusable, you will say, this being the time of year when local tomatoes are at their peak.  Well hey Bub, who the hell are you to question our cooking?  And let me remind you, you jackanapes, that Beez works until 6:00 and I was driving across the Pennsylvania Turnpike simply trying to stay alive.  Thus we were left with what Giant Eagle had to offer (the local markets and stands having closed) and they, in true globalization mode, import their tomatoes from Uzbekistan, Tierra del Fuego and the South Pole.  So, if you’ve got an argument it’s with them.  Trust me, it won’t do any good.  Having said which, you are, I have to admit, correct.  We should have focused on the tomatoes.

In addition, (back to the mistakes now), I did not season the pasta adequately.  We were able to correct this somewhat at the table, but there is a difference between seasoning that has been cooked into a meal and top dressing which you sprinkle on later.  Nonetheless, this is a dish we’ll have again, and next time we’ll get killer tomatoes and season it as we go.

You will find the recipe at the bottom of this post.  But first, let me explain what prompted this ‘confession,’ and share with you a great weekend we spent with Billy, Andrew and Julia in NYC and Connecticut.

Larry Mayfield posted a very gracious comment on the blog last week.*  He added that he was considering sending along a recipe, but was a bit intimidated, being in the land of Chef giants.  I want to remind Larry what any of our family and friends could tell them – we are not great chefs – we are okay writers who can make our home cooking seem awfully good, which it sometimes is.  As I said to Larry – it’s just us chickens here.  So please send along your recipes and advice and help us.

 *You, too, can comment.  Don’t be shy – we have set up a separate server in the basement and are prepared, at a moment’s notice, to destroy all e-mail records, should any of you decide to run for President.

A Great Weekend:  I spent most of last week on the road – in Philadelphia for business and in NYC and Connecticut with Beez, Billy, Andrew and Julia.  We didn’t cook much, as a result.

billy-in-chelsea

(Billy in Chelsea)

Andrew and Julia rent an apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan – a prime people-watching, fashion, food and high energy location.  We stayed at a hotel in the area where the staff were as gracious as the rooms were strange.  The Gem Hotel has been designed, apparently, for a race of bipeds much smaller than the hominid branch.  To move about the bedroom, Barbara and I had to send detailed maps to each other.  It brought us closer together.  And the stay in NYC was spectacular, mostly because of Andrew, Julia and Billy, but partly because of a nice hobble along the High Line (I am wearing a boot to calm down a very angry Achilles tendon – perhaps this is what Homer was referring to when he chanted “I sing of the wrath of Achilles”), a perfect and perfectly simple tomato salad at Cookshop, superb chicken hearts and a good dinner at the trendy Le Coq Rico (they have imported and are raising French chickens – the arrogance of the French knows no bounds or coops), a spectacular brunch at Foragers Table in Chelsea, and a never-ending and fascinating parade of people – beautiful, ugly strange, French, Japanese, Mexican, etc..  If you’re interested in what we ate – please hit the restaurants tab above to see quick notes on the restaurants we visited this weekend.  (I’ll be putting them in tomorrow, so if you just got this post you won’t see them yet.)  And if you find yourself in Norwalk, CT, go immediately to MeCHA Noodle Bar and learn some new flavors from Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.  We had one of the best meals of the year there.

gang-on-the-beach

 (The Stewarts on the beach – Long Island Sound in the background)

Almost-Good Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

Time:  The time it takes to get a large pot of water to a fierce boil plus 15 minutes

Supplies:         (Feeds 4, as a main dish)

Linguini -1 package  (Look for ‘Slow-dried’ on the box – it will cost more, but the starch will come out more slowly and allow you to cook it with and incorporate the sauce).

Tomatoes – the equivalent of 2 medium tomatoes.  (Note:  Quantity is not vital here, you might like a little more or a little less and you can always use the tomatoes in something else.)

Shallots – 1 large, diced

Basil – a good quarter cup, chopped (use Parsley, if you don’t have Basil)

Kosher Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Prep:   Core and seed the tomatoes (I like the seeds, so I just core them), then chop into large dice – about ½” pieces – and put into a serving dish or deep platter.  Season with sea salt or kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  I pour whatever juice ends up on the cutting board into the bowl.  Pull the basil leaves off the stem, but don’t chop them yet.

Get a large pot of heavily salted water on the boil.

Sweat the shallots, in a little olive oil and butter and season with a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes.   Add to the tomatoes.

Cook:  Boil the pasta for the time recommended on the package (usually 11 minutes or so).  When the pasta is done, put three ladles of the hot pasta water in a bowl – Don’t drain the pasta before you do this!  Now drain the pasta and put it into the bowl with the tomatoes.  Chop the basil and add.  Add one ladle of the pasta water and toss until the sauce comes together.  Add more pasta water if needed.

Now taste the result and add more salt and pepper until it tastes good to you.  Serve.

We served with a green salad and some grilled bread.

andrew-and-julia

(Andrew and Julia at Le Coq Rico)

Extra                          Nostra Culpa (both minima and maxima)

 Here are some common cooking mistakes we have made, continue to make and probably will make until the end of time.*

*Which, as it turns out, is not eternal.  The big bang theory, accepted by most scientists and confirmed by background radiation from the distant edges of the galaxy, says that both space and time had a beginning.  You can’t really talk about a time before time, but you can think it.  In fact, you can’t think outside the category of time.  The point is that one day our cooking mistakes will end – I am not looking forward to that day.  If you find this confusing, I would avoid a career in astrophysics.

Seasoning – It is impossible to reach a point where your seasoning is perfect.  Humidity, personal taste, different types of salt, hand-eye coordination, mistaking the whole peppercorns for coarse-ground and myriad other factors affect seasoning.  But here are the best rules for avoiding disaster:

  • Season as you go along. Each element of a dish needs to taste good.
  • Taste the food. That way, you’ll discover what can handle lots of salt – tomatoes, potatoes – and what calls for a light touch – and you’ll be able to add a little seasoning here and there, as the dish is cooked.
  • With composed dishes (pasta with sauce, tossed salads, etc.)-, keep seasoning until it tastes good to you.
  • Use kosher salt or sea salt, not table salt which is very finely ground and more salty and easy to over-use.
  • Freshly ground pepper, cracked-pepper, and coarse-grind in a bottle are three very different animals, roughly equivalent to lions, tigers, and foxes. That sorry excuse for pepper that comes out of those Morton tins should be banned (call Bloomberg).

pepper

Note:   All cooks make mistakes with seasoning.  The superb tomato salad at Cookshop in New York was preceded by a ceviche that was monumentally over-salted and had to be sent back.  (It tasted like the North Atlanic)

Searing – This took 2 decades to understand.  There is a reason that people refer to something as “searingly hot.”  Searing takes lots of heat – it means heating up pans or grills (sometimes in a very hot oven before putting them on the stove.  If you sear at the right heat, meat and even fish will release from the metal surface when it is seared.  (Please – if you do heat a skillet in the oven, put an oven mitt on the handle before picking it up.   I have made the painful mistake of not doing so on more than one occasion.)  Note:  You will smoke up your kitchen, fairly regularly, and you will need to spend some time cleaning spatters from the stove and even grease from the ceiling.

Mismatching your cooking to the season or the temperature

This is a simple rule – everyone knows when they violate it.  But people don’t always pay attention to it when they write out a menu for dinner.  Basically, don’t try to make a tomato salad in Pittsburgh in Winter.  And don’t smoke a brisket for dinner when you’re going to eat outdoors and the temperature is in the high 80’s.  Right now both eggplants and tomatoes are plentiful and good.  Cook with them.  In another month we’ll be in high apple season – make a pie.

Take-out is always a mistake

We’re all busy and for many years we looked forward to Chinese or pizza on Fridays and all sorts of take-out for a night-off from cooking.  But we noticed that food does not do well in transit from where it is meant to be eaten.  General Tso’s Chicken congeals, Pizza crust gets soggy, don’t even think about French Fries.  If you keep a can of tomatoes and a box of pasta in the pantry, you can always whip up something better than the luke-warm take-out dreck that will make you fat and cause you no end of fretting over what to tip the delivery person.

andrew-rusty-billy-and-beez

(Andrew, Rusty the wonder dog, Billy, and Beez)

3 thoughts on “CONFESSIONS OF A HOME COOK

  1. Don’t know why I am surprised, given the excellent prematurely gray stock they come from, but WOW at the gray hair on B&A!!! This is going to be fun reading each week – glad to join the group!

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  2. You may have noticed that I finally updated Twitter to reference your last 3 posts and that Gosling’s Rum (@TheBlackSeal) both liked and retweeted the tweet linking to your Bermuda post. The @cookedlastweek social media takeover continues apace.

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