Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Too Much Fun

I am a dead person. I was supposed to be in bed by 9 pm. However, my pal Steve, one of the great cooks of all time, came over, and we got talking about mustard, garlic and rosemary on a leg of lamb, and what with one recipe and another, things got out of hand. (Oh, the lamb. One leg of lamb. Make sure that fell is off it, then make slits all over it and stick a slice of garlic and a couple of rosemary leaves in each slit. Then slather it with Dijon mustard and cook the sucker.)

But I truly must sleep, because last night the gang took me out to dinner for my birthday (from which, I may add, Tiger Lily and the Boss were conspicuously absent and owe me a meal when they get back from London - you guys listening?), and we had a lovely meal at Le Deux Gamins on 10th Street and then came back to the house and had birthday cake and ice cream...isn't that cool?

And I got a cookbook I'm been DYING for...Roast Chicken and Other Stories which I've been reading assiduously and I can't wait until payday so I can try some of this truly great, great stuff. It's all plain, ordinary recipes like sweetbreads and a marvelous recipe for crisp fried brains and a neat chocolate mousse recipe, and a vindication of what I do with a roasting chicken (Simon Hopkinson's recipe is slightly different, but not very)...my roast chicken goes like this:

Take a nice big roasting chicken - 6 pounds or so. Remove chicken guts and do whatever you do with them. (I know perfectly well that I'm supposed to save the livers in milk in the freezer to make chopped chicken livers when I gather enough of them, but I never do - if I want to make chopped chicken livers, I buy some chicken livers - I know, I know...me, the great saver and conserver...yeah, well, who's perfect?) (oh, the milk? It removes any bitterness that might be in the livers.) ANYHOW. Then you take a cut up lemon, a whole bunch of cut in half garlic cloves (say, six or eight), and an entire bunch of parsley and shove all this up the chicken's ass. Then melt say, half a stick of butter and slosh some white wine into it (oh, don't ask me how much - quarter cup? half a cup? Well, shit - a slosh. Say quarter cup, if you're that into precise damn measurements.) Pour this over the chicken. Then throw the thing into your preheated 350 degree oven and cook until it's done. (About 15 minutes a pound or so.) Take it out, let it sit for fifteen minutes while whatever else you want with it gets finished up. Then carve it, spoon out the juices and pour them over the servings, and eat the shit out of it. There you are. One never fail recipe.

And about (since I mentioned it) precise measurements. If you want to bake a cake, cookies, make puff pastry and like that, you MUST measure precisely. Otherwise, you've just got to learn what you like to eat and what you want it to taste like. I undersalt everything, because I'm a mad salt freak, and if I put in what I think is the right amount of salt, lips get puckered all around the table. And I usually halve the amount of tarragon called for in a recipe, because even when I know it belongs there (i.e., a decent bearnaise sauce), I am unfond of tarragon (I hate licorice...no, I don't like fennel for the same reason).

But to cook, you need to know your own taste. And if you have peculiar tastes (when I was a little girl, I used to make the best sandwich in the world...sardines and peach jam on buttered rye toast), remember that there are things you make for yourself alone, and learn to make food that pleases other people too.

However, there are pitfalls here. When I make a Boeuf Bourgignon, I slavishly follow Julia's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, because it's simply superb. It is also one HELL of a lot of work. Brown the meat, brown braise the onions and mushrooms seperately...etc., etc. It's a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon in the winter (and your house smells DIVINE). But what happens is that people scarf it up and go, "Hey, great beef stew!" They have no idea that you just spent seven hours on the damn thing.

But there's another thing I make that I threw together once because the ingredients were in the house. Take a pan. Minor digression here. I learned to cook at the feet of my mother and grandmother, both unbelievable cooks. We had a wok in the 1950's on the South Side of Chicago, because my grandmother loved the Cantonese food at our one lonely Chinese restaurant (Jane's Cantonese) and wanted to learn how. So she went and asked for Chinese cooking lessons in their kitchens. Other families had meatloaf on Wednesdays...we had homemade sweet and sour pork. From our very own wok. In 1957.

Well. What I threw together was I took a pan, I slicked up the bottom with some olive oil, I threw in some chicken thighs (the BEST part of the chicken) and a bunch of little creamer potatoes cut in quarters and a whole head of garlic separated into cloves (don't bother to peel), then I tossed another slick of olive oil over the top and threw on some herbs de Provence and tossed the whole thing in a 350 oven for an hour. This entire operation took a fast fifteen minutes to put together. Sling together a salad with a nice mustardy vinaigrette, put a loaf of bread and some butter on the table, and voila!

And this fifteen minute wonder is the one where people say, "Oh, my God! You're such a gourmet cook!" Well, damn...seven goddamn hours for the Boeuf Bourgignon and all I get is "Great beef stew!"

Oh, and Saturday night's gathering of the theatre clan got me an offer of a one woman show and a movie. And a pal of mine even bought all my drinks. I would call that a damned successful evening. (Yes, yes, of course I will yap further about the job offers when - and if - they come to fruition. One never knows in the acting business.)

Okay. One aging body on its way to bed. I cannot even begin to tell you how utterly peculiar it seems to be 63. Intellectually, I know perfectly damn well how old I am (and if I lose track I can always check my passport), but being a lady who grew up with "Never trust anybody over 30", I find it very difficult to get my mind around any of this aging shit...very weird.

Love, Wendy


SaintTigerlily said...

Aw - you are right though, sometimes the best meals are the ones you just throw together, and, I have to be fair here, your roast chicken DOES in fact sound like it's better than mine (the addition of wine will always impress me, because, if I have to put in a quarter cup, or so, what, oh WHAT will I do with the rest of the bottle!?!) The Boss and I would be honored to take you out to dinner, or alternatively, have you up for our gardening party on May 3, weather, and party, permitting.

Seth said...

speaking of great food- chocolate race cars!