On Not Reinventing the Wheel


Avocado toast

Monday:              Celery Root Soup / Avocado Toast


Tuesday:              Fusilli with Ricotta and Spinach

Root Vegetable Soup

Root Vegetable Soup with Bacon

Wednesday:      Leftovers


Thursday:            Father Drew’s Overview of the Old Testament

Guacamole and Chips
Tortiglioni with Trapanese Pesto
Green Salad
Homemade Bread
John and Linda’s Macaroons

chicken liver

Chicken Liver Mousse from the Thin Man Sandwich Shop

Friday:                  Leftovers


Saturday:             Seared Tuna Niçoise

chili bowl 2

Sunday:                Man-Made Meals Chili / App of Chicken Liver Mousse with Crostini

We were watching a news program airing an interview with a woman who made her own soaps and cosmetics.  About cosmetics I have no opinion.  I don’t use them, because they wouldn’t help.  But about soap we (Beez and I) have a dogmatic opinion – why on earth would you make your own, when there are dozens of good brands available everywhere but in the middle of the Kalahari Desert?

Perhaps it’s time to confess that we feel that way about certain foodstuffs – making our own butter or beer is just not our thing.  This confession of a sin seriously less than venial was triggered by my brother John bringing macaroons from Prantl’s Bakery to a dinner we hosted on Thursday.  (If you’re visiting Pittsburgh, you can find Prantl’s on Walnut Street in the neighborhood known as Shadyside).  Prantl’s macaroons are pillowy, with just enough chew and with a golden crust and a little caramelized top-knot (think of soft-peaks in meringue) in the center of the cookie.  (Equally good, but different, are the macaroons from the Duquesne Club.) Why would you ever make your own, when this unbelievably good product can be had, ready-made?  I feel the same way about the cranberry-tuna salad from Whole Foods, the Chicken Liver Mousse from the Thin Man Sandwich Shop (closing forever this week, alas), the Cocktail Sauce from Wholey’s, Labriola’s Italian Sausage, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s croissants and dozens of other local cured meats, chicken salads, etc.

All this is by way of correcting any impression we may have given that we are devotees of home-made to the exclusion of store-bought, or fanatic farm-to-table foodies, or ancient grain acolytes, or followers of any of the fashionable, expensive and time-consuming fads that sweep through culinary culture like the rakes of Japanese gardeners through those tidy little sand gardens, constantly changing and re-arranging the furniture, to mix metaphors as thoroughly as possible.

Our goal in cooking is simple – to put tasty, healthy food on the table for family and friends, and to do so consistently, without too many knife-fights or excessive pot-throwing in the kitchen.

If you feel the same way, I invite you to send along your own suggestions of prepared foods, breads, condiments, etc. that have made it onto your all-time list.  Things you rely on, not to make life easier, but to make it more enjoyable.

Note:  Prantl’s also makes a burnt-almond torte that, single-handedly, is responsible for 2% of the deviation above ideal weight among the residents of Pittsburgh.  This cake is so irresistible that when SWMBO and I have it in the house for any reason, we send it home with guests.

By the way, do you remember the time when you could take left-over pastries to the office to share with co-workers?  This was before the great carb scapegoating, in spite of which, Americans continue to grow heavier.  I need a moment with Mayor Bloomberg to explain that until he can mandate that every New Yorker adopt his famous personal discipline and self-restraint, legislating food consumption will be a useless exercise.

Disclaimer:      We’re not against home-made stuff that is fresher or a family tradition or just different.  We bake bread, in spite of spectacular local products.  We butcher chickens, for the exercise of it.  And we make ricotta and, some day, we hope, mozzarella just to prove to ourselves that we can.

Oh, yes, almost forgot where I was headed with this:  There are things that you ought not to buy from the market.  And one of the all-time great foodstuffs which you should make for yourself is the take on guacamole we’ve been using for the last half-year.  The variety in the recipe below is more Central American than Mexican, according to the NYT Magazine – but we add some citrus juice (which they eschew).  If you buy unripe avocados every three or 4 days, you’ll always have something on hand to make a snack for unexpected guests or a good avocado toast to accompany dinner or serve as breakfast.  (Don’t forget to buy some chips as well – and do not eat those chips until you make the guacamole.  I’m with Bloomberg on this one – they’re not good for you in mass quantities)


Central American Guacamole

(adapted from a recipe in the NYT)

 Timing:                                                10 minutes


3 Ripe Avocados, halved and pitted  (this will work with slightly unripe avocados – but if you have over-ripe avocados, don’t use any discolored flesh, as it will be bitter)
1-2 Serrano chilies (you can use jalapeño) -do not discard seeds, they impart the heat to the guacamole – you can discard some, if the heat is too much for you, but you will lose major street-cred in Guatemala.
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion (white is best, but go with what you’ve got)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
4 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped (we usually use parsley)
Tortilla Chips to serve

In a bowl, or a large molcajete mash the chilies, onions, ½ the cilantro and ½ teaspoon of salt.  You can use a large bowl and a measuring cup or small glass to do the mashing.  This is important – the resulting liquid and paste is what makes the dis.

Scoop avocado flesh into the bowl and mash coarsely with a fork.

Stir in half of the tomatoes

Taste and season with salt.  (Here, we add lime or lemon juice – the NYT says this is frowned upon in Central America but, hey, we’re in Pittsburgh.)

Stir again, taste and correct the seasoning.

Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining cilantro (we like parsley) and tomatoes

2 thoughts on “On Not Reinventing the Wheel

  1. My go to ‘buy it not make it’ is Formaggio’s Fresh Mozzarella Balls in their “Famous Marinade” – I drain away the extra oil (keeping the spices), add some of our fresh-picked home-grown cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, pepper, and Parmesan to taste and you have the best Tomato-Mozzarella salad – we have it for lunch or as a side at dinner! [Hint: take the mozzarella out of the fridge enough ahead that it is room temp by time to eat, and never refrigerate your tomatoes!]

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