Sunday, February 12, 2012

home cookin' with lara--lesson 1

my friend asked if she could come learn to cook in my kitchen.  that's very flattering, but i'm far from chefdom, rather i'm a home cook on a budget who loves to eat as deliciously as possible.  so she's coming over this afternoon, and we're making dinner for sixteen, and it's gonna go down like this:

1) artisinal mac n' cheese
2) bammy's garlic bread
3) arugala, blood orange, and avacado salad with dijon vinaigrette
4) garlic seared cauliflower
5) hot fudge sundaes with grandma eva's hot fudge sauce and toasted almonds
6) giant chocolate chip cookies

it's all very simple comfort food, but it incorporates some of my favorite and most often used cooking techniques, mostly from martha and alice, goddesses of the hearth and simple foods.

here are the basic tools that you can spin off in a bunch of different ways:

1) bechamel sauce--this is the sauce you can do a hundred things with:  a vegetable gratin, a lasagne, macaroni and cheese, a tomato cream sauce, and so on.  change up the cheese, the pasta, the vegetable, and you have a new twist on this old favorite.  and, for girls in tight places *, you can always substitute, for example, a sharp cheddar for the gruyere in the artisinal mac n' cheese.  it's a different flavor, but still good and about a third the price.

in regards to gratins, one year at thanksgiving, emily made a bok choy gratin that changed my world forever.

2) pan-seared vegetables--this technique comes from alice waters' the art of simple food.  i don' t know why everyone doesn't use it all the time.  you heat some olive oil to just before its smoking point, throw in cauliflower broken into fairly small bite-sized pieces, grate some garlic or throw in some minced garlic, season with s&p, and cook until the cauliflower is a little caramelized and brown on one side (don't stir it around much), give it one or two stirs until the vegetable is tender but still has a little bite to it, and you're done.  in the winter, i do this technique with either cauliflower, frozen green beans (the skinny ones, and i add some red chile flakes if my kids are okay with it), or frozen corn (add some canned green chiles).  in the summer, zucchini, fresh corn with fresh chiles, swiss chard, or any other summer squash all work great.  i haven't found even a resistant vegetable eater who doesn't like this.  and of course you can mix it up with some lemon juice, vinegars, shallots, capers, anchovies, whatever you like to change the flavors from time to time.  i generally like it as simple as possible, and stick to olive oil, garlic, and s & p.

3) an orange supreme--i'm insanely crazy about this technique, and use it constantly during citrus season.  in case you haven't noticed, this is a banner year for citrus.

4) vinaigrette--i had a hard time always getting my acid levels right in my vinaigrettes (i don't buy bottled dressings.  first, they're disgusting, and second, they're expensive.  take note, girls in tight places.) until i learned from martha that you first season your vinegar with salt to get the right acidity, then you add in the oil, garlic, herbs, mustards, etc.  i use a basic vinaigrette and add mayonaise for a creamy dressing, or avacado, different herbs, shallots, chiles, mustards, vinegars, etc. to customize for the particular salad.  but again, you can't go wrong with oil, vinegar, and salt.

5) toasted nuts--i've botched countless batches of toasted nuts until i learned alice w's foolproof technique: toast nuts on a baking sheet at 375 for six minutes.  i used to use smell, or taste test, or whatever, and almost always got it wrong.  this one always works.

6) cookies--i hate baking.  but now i have lula to make batches of cookie dough for us (she likes the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the ghiradelli's bag--other cooks i trust swear by the new york times recipe if you wanna get all fancy).  emily taught me that cookies turn out really well after the dough has been in the fridge for three days.  i like my chocolate chip cookies a little salty, so i add an extra 1/8th t. of salt.  oh, and always buy unsalted butter.  salted butter is lower quality because you can hide rancidity with salt.

7) hot fudge sauce--this comes from my outrageous grandma eva, who's been gone for almost 20 years now.  use her sauce as a base, and you can add chocolate or liquers to fancy it up.  of course in times of hardship, the basic recipe is fantastic.  oh, and again, i add a pinch of salt.  oh, yeah, and an extra quarter cup of cocoa and a chopped up lindt bar of 70% or higher cocoa content.  but that's only when i'm flush or can't leave well enough alone.

grandma eva's hot fudge sauce:

1 c. sugar
2 T. cocoa
2 T. butter
7/8 can of canned milk
1 T. vanilla
pinch of salt

boil for 7 or 8 minutes at a low boil until the sauce reaches the requisite thickness.

tights:  charcoal

inspiration:  alice and martha

looking forward to:  cooking with friends

* girls in tight places:  this is anyone who wants to feel like a girl, but is, shall we say, past the age of girlhood, or perhaps has a "y" chromosome, but thinks that girls get cooler tights and clothes, or whatever.  or, if, like julie said about whitney houston yesterday, you're really beautiful and talented and rich, but that's not enough to keep you out of a tight place. 

1 comment:

  1. A.'s great vinegarette has soy sauce in it. I'd like to know how you found your way into cooking. I remember way back in NYC in '89 the way you impressed me with your pasta salads, which I found incredibly sophisticated.