Category Archives: Philosophizing

All I want for Christmas.

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IMG_2332Jason is upstairs wrapping Christmas presents for our exchange tomorrow. I am online shopping for his.

My husband is amazing – for so many reasons – but he has a particularly amazing ability to select perfect kitchen gifts. Our first year together I received 13 pieces of All-Clad (he’s a keeper). Two years later he bought me the set of caramel-colered, Revol, lion head bowls I had been lusting after (and I put a ring on it!). This year he asked, “do you want a gel mat?” (I would bear him children if I could).

Five rules to successful gifts for cooks

1. We’re not THAT creative: Snooping through our cupboards, you’d discover the bottle of pink Himalayan salt  you bought us two years ago. Cooks have each developed their own palette of ingredients and it takes inspiration to get us to stray. Next time you pick up a boxed set of infused vinegars, ask your local retailer for some suggestions. If they don’t have any, you may want to move on (to another store).

2. We don’t want to cook – right now: Cooks love cooking, but we’ve spent the last 75 days making everything from candied apples and Thanksgiving turkey to Christmas dinner and New Year’s brunch. A bottle of wine, artisanal cheeses or locally-cured charcuterie is just what we need right now.We’ll even open it up and let you taste some.

3. We’re hoarders: If you want to avoid that pained “thank you” delivered through clenched teeth, then please, no clever one-off contraptions or seasonal utensils. What am I going to do with that snowman spatula during the other eleven months of the year? Do I need really the amazing peeler, juicer or meat pounder you’ve discovered? Possibly. How do you know? Just ask!

4. The big stuff is big stuff: Screw wedding dresses and engagement rings, cooks have had their pans, knives and appliances picked out for years – and none of it is cheap! Before supporting the Food Network’s cookware branding efforts, make sure it will match our set. (Again, All-Clad Copper Core would be perfectly appropriate. Any piece, really. For any reason.  Ever.)

5. We cook with love: Every time I lift a pot with my lobster pot holder, I remember Sandy. Her mom gave me Sarah-Leah Chase’s Cold Weather Cooking book, one of my staples. I have a tea towel from Jess, a skillet from my Godmother Alex, and a single plate from my Mom’s wedding set. Every gift we receive from you will add another story and another memory to the daily act of preparing food. For that, we will be truly grateful.

What’s on my list?

I need a new salad spinner, I broke mine. I’m ready to learn more about cutting meat and need a couple more knives. I would like grapefruit spoons and a self-freezing ice cream maker. I want a Windsor pan for sauces, and I will always take a new cookbook.

What I need most of all, though, is time. I want to master Crème Pâtissièri and Pâte à Choux. I have stacks of cookbooks that deserve thorough reading. We’ve put out more dinner invites than there are days in the year, and sincerely meant each and every one of them. So set a date, bring a bottle, and let’s toast the new year together.

 

Stock is magic.

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Thanksgiving dinner is a pause. I somehow put everything down for three days and focus on bringing one meal to the table. In a life filled with multi-tasking and the constant feeling that I lost a week somewhere in 2003 that I desperately need to get back, it’s a moment of peace.

That peace begins with a deep breath and a pot of stock. Even before I’ve finished the menu, the house fills with the scent of roasting meat and rough-chopped aromatics. Stock is effortless and rote, a handful of ingredients with no complex techniques, simply roasting and simmering with a little deglazing in between.

But, for its simplicity, stock adds great complexity and depth to the meal that lades the table Thanksgiving day. It brings satisfying richness. It elevates pan drippings into gravy, layers the simple sugars that glaze sweet potatoes and parsnips, transforms day-old bread into moist, herbed stuffing. Let’s hit the kitchen.

Rich Turkey Stock

Ingredients:

  • 6 pounds turkey parts like necks, legs or wings, cut in 3-4″ pieces*
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 large carrot, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1.5 cups dry white wine or dry Vermouth
  • 4 ribs celery, roughly chopped
  • 6-8 parsley stems, about 2″ each
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns

*You’re looking for cheap meat, less than $3 a pound, with some bone in it. Have your butcher chop it down for you.

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Place turkey pieces in a single layer in a heavy bottomed roasting pan (you’re going to put the pan on the stovetop later). Do not crowd the turkey. Roast in two batches if needed.
  • Roast the turkey until rich brown, about 1 hour. Remove turkey to a large stockpot.
  • Add carrots and onion to the same roasting pan. Toss them in the rendered fat from the turkey and place in the oven. Reduce heat to 375.
  • After 30 minutes, toss the roasting vegetables in the tomato paste and return to the oven. Turn the oven back to 400 and roast for 10-15 minutes until golden brown, watching carefully not to burn. Remove vegetables to stock pot with roast turkey.
  • Place the roasting pan over two burners on medium high and add white wine. When wine comes to a simmer, scrape up all the brown goodness. When wine reduces to 1/4 cup, add additional water if needed to finish scraping the brown bits from the roasting pan.
  • Pour deglazed pan juices into stock pot and add remaining ingredients.
  • Fill pot with cold water to cover turkey and vegetables by 2 inches.
  • Bring the pot to a simmer over medium low heat, partially covered. It will take about 45 minutes. Skim off any foam that collects on the surface.
  • Continue to simmer stock, partially covered, just a bubble or two every few seconds, for three more hours. Be careful not to let it come to a boil. Add more cold water if needed to keep meat covered. Skim any additional foam that collects on the surface.
  • After three hours, strain the stock and remove the solids, discarding them. Strain the stock through a fine sieve and then one more time through a sieve lined with a  layer of paper towels or double layer of cheese cloth. You will have to change out the towels or cheese cloth several times, as they become clogged.
  • Place strained stock in the fridge overnight. In the morning, skim the coagulated fat from the surface.
  • Taste a little stock with a pinch of salt. If needed, reduce stock by up to 25% to concentrate flavor. It should make about 3-3.5 quarts.
  • Refrigerate for three days, or freeze up to 6 months.

How this all began.

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I spent the spring of 1996 living at home with my parents. Those four months were the most influential out of the past 18 years I’ve spent cooking and entertaining.

I grew up cooking with Mom. Her meals were fresh, simple and healthy, and I cook many of those same dishes today. That spring, however, was different. I was 21, had just graduated from Colby College at the end of January, and was bored and lonely. A few months earlier I had gone to dinner at the home of some older friends, arriving early enough to enjoy a glass of wine with them in the kitchen. Leaving, I realized I had memorized the recipe for the pasta sauce they had served – rich, and trendy, with artichoke hearts, capers, portobello mushrooms and fresh basil. I went home and began cooking it for anyone who would eat it.

Now it’s March, I’m home, the spring season is beginning at my family’s garden center and I have Tuesday’s off. I think, “I’ll cook dinner  and give Mom and Dad a break.” Week one is the pasta sauce. Week two is tacos. By week three I’m sitting down at 10AM with a cup of coffee and a stack of cookbooks. I head out around 1PM with the shopping list for a 5-6 dish menu. I visit 3-4 grocers and farm stands, buying strange new ingredients. Back home I  cook through these overly ambitious menus, serving my exhausted parents around 9PM.

We would choose dishes depending on the menu, and gather flowers and greens from the yard to decorate the table. I discovered Billy Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. I learned that wines had names and could be magically paired with food.

I’ve learned a lot since then. I still love (almost) every moment I spend in the kitchen. but that spring I jumped off the cliff, and I’ve never looked back.

Credit where credit is due.

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I’m insecure about ideas. I blame it on education.

Remember in school how it was drilled into our heads to credit ideas? Footnotes, bibliographies and quotes ensured that original ideas were separated from those you learned. This was not friendly acknowledgement of those who had travelled an intellectual path before you, no, this was punitive. Signed ethics statements made it clear this was about fear and cheating.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in offering credit where it is due, but learning is supposed to be about becoming our own thinkers. We should take joy in watching our ideas grow up, move out of the house and go on to live new, exciting lives of their own.

For a long time I struggled with claiming recipes as my own or writing them down. After all, I thought, I knew the inspirations that had created each of them: a flavor combination from Alice Waters, technique from Christopher Kimball. It’s what I’ve learned from Julia Child, Deborah Madison, Rosso and Lukins, Mollie Katzen and my Mom that inspire my cooking. Every pat of butter I add reminds me of Joanne Creelman’s shirred eggs. Every vinaigrette is a testament to Sean Holland.

Crediting inspiration for me has become less about transparency and more about surrounding myself with the company of dear friends: those I know and those I keep close on the book shelf. Every recipe is a team effort, and the joy comes in watching those techniques and discoveries come together right in front of me, then sending them home to be practiced and enjoyed by someone new.

Better together.

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My parents own a business, Tarnòw Nursery. For most of my life it has dominated their schedules, as a small business often does. They worked most weekends, right up to each holiday, and called in frequently when away on family vacations.

Nine years ago, the summer I moved to DC, I started getting these calls. “Good morning. We’re taking a day (or two) off. We’re sitting at the end of the driveway and trying to decide whether to turn left or right.”

I realized after a few of these calls that the direction truly didn’t matter. Where they were going wasn’t the point. They were off to spend the day together and nothing was more important than that.

Mom and Dad are the model for my relationship with my husband. I have come to realize that what I was witnessing was their feeling that the worst day spent together was better than the best day spent apart. Every moment, good and bad, was improved by each other’s presence in their lives.

Happy Father’s Day Dad. I know you and Mom will enjoy spending today together.

Really good, farm-fresh butter.

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If you’ve watched me cook at Eastern Market, or ventured into my home for a meal, you’ve probably heard “the butter story.” It goes like this:

Four years ago I started using farm-fresh butter in an effort to cook with the best ingredients I could find. My husband, upon discovering that  fabulous, farm-fresh butter can cost twice as much as grocery store butter, started giving me a good ribbing. “Local, farm-fresh butter can’t possibly taste twice as good as grocery store, stick butter.”

At the time I was reading Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook, Fat. Extolling the virtues of good butter, she recommended doing a tasting. So off we marched, Jason and I, into the kitchen, with a block of local, farm-fresh butter in one hand and a stick of grocery store butter in the other. One at a time, we cut a small sliver of each and let them melt on our tongues.

The first thing you notice about farm-fresh butter is the rich taste of cream. Then you notice the season and diet of the cows. In spring the butter is herbal and floral, light and perfect against grassy spring vegetables – asparagus, spring onions, fiddleheads and radishes. In summer the butter turns grassy, pairing perfectly with zucchini and tomatoes. In fall and winter when the cows switch to a feed diet, the flavor is rich and mellow, perfect for pumpkin, beets and holiday baking.

The grocery store butter was nearly flavorless. Softening on your tongue it gave the feel of greasy fat with the taste of cardboard.

When cooking from scratch you’ve got six, maybe ten, ingredients in a dish (that’s if you count salt and pepper). You can’t afford to have one of those tasting like cardboard, and not pulling its weight.

That’s the butter story. Every word of it is real and true. Every week I bring home a block of butter from Dan at Agora Farms from his stand at Eastern Market. I finish soups with a tablespoon or two for added richness. I’ll whisk a tablespoon into the deglazed pan juices of a sautéed chicken breast or bone-in pork chop to make a quick sauce.

This coming weekend, as part of my weekly cooking demo, I’m making Hollandaise. It has four ingredients – water, egg yolks, clarified butter and lemon juice (plus salt and white pepper). Strawberries and rhubarb are in season and I’ll make a pie next weekend as well. The dough contains flour, water, a pinch each of salt and sugar, and butter. In each case the butter is on stage, exposed, and it had better be good.

Good butter – good ingredients – matter. And they matter greatly. They also cost more.

A friend of mine passed around a blog entry listing five lessons learned from an evening with farmer, Joel Salatin. In one of those lessons, he challenges, “Do you have a cell phone? Do you have cable? Drink beer on the weekends? I bet you do. If you can afford those things, you can afford to eat good food, real food. And if you tell me you still can’t afford it, I will tell you the issue isn’t with money. It’s with priorities.”

Prioritize good food. Cut out something small this week and treat yourself to a pound of incredible, farm-fresh, Amish butter this weekend. Or local asparagus, really exceptional olive oil, or strawberries that will travel less than 50 miles from the field to your shortcakes. Good food is worth it. And so are you, your friends and your family.