Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Of Mince and Men, 2010




Dear Mouse,


I write to you on the Eve of the Eve of the New Year, from Washington DC! I'm on the top floor of a creaky old house where I'm living with a few other actors and designers all working on a show at this venerated institution, which is directly across the street. From my window I can see the dome of the Capitol Building, lit up against the cold December night. I am looking forward to an exciting and challenging few months here. If the first two days are any indication I believe this project will considerably expand my vocal range, my physical endurance, and my respect for the House of Atreus. Those crazy Greeks...

Since I've only been in DC two days working 9AM to 530PM (and, ok, basically in bed by, kind of, now) I havent yet even begun to explore this town, culinarily or otherwise. I'm told there's a lot to write home about, but those "in the field" posts will come later.

It's been a while since I posted, for all sorts of happy reasons involving a) an actual food journalism assignment that had to be completed (!more on that later) and b) of course, The Holidays.

So, let me just cut to the chase, which in this case looks like this:






Oh yes.
When I say "Mincemeat" you say "Pie"!
"Mincemeat" -
?
I'm waiting.
(I made this.)








I missed you ! (And the Boyfriend) over Xmas. It was both weird and wonderful to do this Big Holiday in such a new way this year. At first I was afraid. How will this work? You'll be in Florida, I'll be at Helena's place in Irvington... we won't be in NJ sharing the time-honored rituals of lost cognac balls, forgotten Buches, and enormous hams. It was new. And though tinged with nostalgia and some sadness, it was also ... kind of awesome.

I will not even attempt the full story of the delights that were packed into this beautiful little Yuletide-on-Hudson celebration. Helena and I had a 'production meeting' a full two weeks in advance to confirm the small guest list, plan the menus, and schedule activities. (The Date, by phone on Christmas Night: "It's like you bought an all-inclusive Irvington Christmas Package". Wearing my newly acquired Wolf Hat and sipping a hot toddy while preparing to watch Its A Wonderful Life, I solemnly nodded in agreement.)

All-inclusive indeed! It was a great hodge podge of everyone's nostalgic Must-Haves (Helena's grandmother's Divinity recipe, HBF's traditional viewing of "Home Alone"), plus bold steps all our own. To be sure, I made everyone listen to Dylan Thomas reading A Child's Christmas In Wales (a la Hart), but I also seized the opportunity to make a dessert I knew no one in our family would ever go for: the mince pie, which as you know I discovered in Ireland over Xmas 2007.

Going to bed on the Eve covered in flour and butter, I heard HBF on the phone downstairs to his family, expressing exactly the emotions I was feeling. On the one hand, he missed them, and was reminiscing about Christmas Past. On the other, he was suffused with joy and excitement at 'Christmas of the Future'. There's a significant moment in a person's life when a holiday turns from something that you Get to something that you are able to Give. And fact that The Mother was able to come up to Irvington!! to eat our food, open presents under our cracked-out tree, and sing "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" with us was ... well, I think I've said it all.


personalized, bedazzled stockings and songbooks

And you know what? The Mother ate a whole piece of mince pie after all. God Bless Us, Every One. And Happy New Year!!!


Love,

The Boo

PS I also made these cookies which were a big hit and you can eat the leftover lemon curd on your Christmas Morning gingerbread pancakes (we suggest one egg and a lot more milk)



Friday, December 18, 2009

Name that Object.

Dear Boo,

WHAT IS THIS?

Top view. The text reads: La Cotta-Made in Italy. -LA SALUTE E NELLA COTTA-MARCHIO DEPOSITATO-

Inside is a hollow bowl of sorts, about an inch deep

side view, a little more than a foot from end to end.

I found this...this...er--item... some years ago when I lived in the old building on 17th street. There was a wicker table in the lobby that people used as sort of a trade post of sorts, leaving things they couldn't bear to throw out but didn't want any longer. A paperback, a small lamp, the vase that came with that flower delivery, and on one occasion when I was returning home from work, this...um....contrap--object. I snagged it, thinking it looked quaint and imagining it lending a certain rustic-y, shabby chic flair to the kitchen I fantasized about having one day--the kind of kitchen where there's room for hanging copper pots, a collection of colorful teapots, and enough counter space for something like this...thing.

Realizing quickly that I had no idea what to do with it, I put it away, and shortly thereafter, forgot about it. Then when I moved, I rediscovered it, decided I'd take it with me and figure out its purpose once I got settled. Of course it shortly got relegated to a cupboard over the fridge that I can't reach and I went back to forgetting all about it. Until fairly recently, when a certain tall person in my apartment discovered the underused cabinet and pulled out this...thing. He agreed it was way too cool to get rid of, and it must do SOMETHING, right?

We did some online research, and asked our Italian-speaking cousin if he had any clues. So far I've come up with:

~ a terra cotta steak cooker (I find this very doubtful, but you'd be surprized how many people claim this) ~ an omlette pan of sorts ~ a grilled cheese sandwich press ~ a device by which one makes some sort of Italian flat bread
~ some sort of fireplace tool ~ a bed warmer, sort of hard stone hot water bottle.

Mostly, no one has any idea what it's for. Maybe it's not even a kitchen item. There's no brand or company name anywhere on it, and the only text on it says something about it not being patented...or something.

Right now it's sort of an objet d'art, displayed with the hopes that some day, some how, someone will walk into our apartment, spot it and cry, "Oh my god! You have a _________ !!" And then we'll know.

Maybe I'll have to take it on antiques roadshow.

Any ideas???

Love,
(A bewildered) Mouse

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fu Me? FuYu!! (Persimmons)


Dear Mouse,

Happy Winter! I give you... The Persimmon.

It's easy to think cold weather means saying goodbye to fresh fruit entirely. Oh sure there's the early-fall love affair with apples, and the Cranberry, the Gem of Thanksgiving, but in December one often finds oneself sighing, "Well, see you in July. Bring me some roots and tubers." And in a sense I support this.. no enormous, tasteless, genetically engineered, flown-from-far-away carbon footprint style berries for me. And don't get me started on bananas. I WILL get all Barbara Kingsolver on your A**.

But did you know... that there are fruits that dont find their footing (I just saw a pear with socks) UNTIL it's winter? IN SEASON NOW: beautiful, winey options like pomegranate or quince, tart citrus like clementine and grapefruit, chewy-candy dates and kumquats, and these lovely sunset-colored freaks that are the focus of this post.

Important to note: Fuyu Persimmons (squat and round) are more user-friendly - edible and sweet right when you buy them. Hachiya Persimmons (pictured above) are more quirky and apparently taste like sandpaper dipped in sherry unless they are perfectly ripe.

Saturday morning, I arose bleary-eyed and hungry after Joe's Pub to meet Mr. and Mrs. Poet for brunch at the Brooklyn Star, which I duly adored despite the lack of Bloody Marys on the menu. (Mm, warm apple griddle cakes). We then spent a cold, rainy afternoon in the kitchen, where we often find ourselves. Mrs. Poet, who is going to kill me for giving her that name, is a Fierce Foodie (AND backup singer, as it turns out). We sorted through Hanukkah and Solstice recipes for upcoming feasts while Mr. Poet hovered over his manuscript in the next room. Umbrellas dripped in the stairway, the sky turned white, and the first snow of the season came hurtling down outside.

This was not a setting in which I expected to make a new Fruit Friend-- a sunny, vibrant, orange one, at that. But somewhere between "What kind of cupcake goes with whipped brandy butter?" and "Do you want me to bring the bacon-wrapped dates?", she laid it on me. On a white plate between us and our coffee cups were a few clementine slices, and this:


"It's like a tomato and a mango had a baby. You'll like it."
I told you she was a poet.

Pushing aside the thought of eating something's baby (which, for real, we do all the time), I bit into it. And I have to say that description is pretty spot-on, except it's more harmonious than it sounds. It's not the bursting lushness of berry or the sunshine sweetness of mango or even the tart/bitterness you expect from winter fruit. (Here's where I wrote a whole "Up in the Air"-inspired analysis comparing a persimmon to Vera Farmiga's character and then deleted it - you're welcome.) The texture really is tomato - soft but sturdy - but with a subtle, barely-sweet flavor and a wistful, modest perfume. ("Wistful"?) By the last piece on the plate, I was all, "I'm gonna make me some salsa out of these things."

Or this chutney, which will be dressing our Winter Solstice Pork Chops. You can thank me later.

Love,


The Boo


Friday, December 4, 2009

With Thanks to Squanto, Who Taught Us How to Cut and Peel Fish*

That's me, in the metal hat.

Dear Boo,

I know Thanksgiving is at this point old news, and we're full swing into the Christmas/Solstice/Winter wonderland season (though the weather doesn't quite seem to have gotten the memo), but I have to take a moment to revisit since you and I (for the first time ever?? Is that possible?) didn't partake in the same feast this year and I feel I must catch you up.

It is at this point that I have to hang my head and cower in the corner for a moment to confess that I have no pictures to share. I know, I know! Quel horreur! Let me tell you, in a small attempt at defense, that a) the fact that the Boyfriend and I managed to get out of our apartment, with at least one pair of underwear and an acceptable shirt, on time, without missing our plane or getting into a taxi accident on the FDR (remember that?), after handing in midterms and closing my show and tying up loose work ends and and and, is a minor miracle. Thus, the fact that I realized on our pre-dawn walk to the subway that I had forgotten my camera is a tragedy, but not entirely unexpected. And b) when you're spending the holiday with your Boyfriend's family and meeting some of said family for the first time, constantly aiming your camera at your plate each time a meal is set out, or following your host around snapping pictures whenever the fridge is opened might not be the first impression you want to make. That said, for you, I would have done it gladly had my brain not turned to mush in the packing process.

So, I will be brief and say that my first Thanksgiving away from our family, at the Boyfriend's oldest sister's home in Virginia, was fun, relaxing, and fattening beyond belief. The whole family had warned me multiple times to bring loose waisted pants and resign myself to gaining about 5 lbs over the weekend. Added to the fact that the Oldest Sister and her Husband both love to cook, is the inherent nurturing role that goes with being the oldest and usually translates to comforting, welcoming, and caring behaviors including constantly feeding ones guests and relatives, as well as the Southern influence of the Husband whose cooking often involved a tremendous amount of butter, and let's not forget meat. The Oldest Sister put the kibosh on allowing us to count the pounds of butter consumed over the course of the weekend (about 50% of which was used on Thanksgiving day). A wise move.

(Food) Highlights would have to include:

1) The look of horror on the faces of the Boyfriend's three nephews when told I had never had a breakfast of biscuits and gravy before.

2) Of course, the actual eating of this dish, which, for the uninitiated, consists of a fresh baked buttery biscuit split open and smothered--absolutely annihilated, by a rich white gravy studded with crumbled sausage and chopped bacon. A side of home fries is a given, of course. My stomach literally didn't know what hit it, while my mouth slapped me upside the head for waiting 29 years to indulge.

3) Cocktail/appetizer hour around the island in the gorgeous and enormous kitchen that the Boyfriend warned me I would covet, and which included such tastiness as warm crab and artichoke dip, enormous shrimp grilled with old bay, and pita chips with tzaziki (we snuck in a few carrot sticks under the radar, possibly the lone raw vegetable I had all weekend. why bother, really?)

4) The iron chefesque cookoff replete with silent voting procedures judged impartially by Papa in which the Boyfriend and Oldest Sister represented Team Leftover Turkey Potpie and the Oldest Sister's Husband and I represented Team Leftover Steak Potpie, the latter of which I can proudly say was victorious (there were au gratin potatoes under the top crust. I mean, come ON.).

5) On the morning of our departure at 6am for the airport, we tiptoed downstairs to find individual egg and cheese on biscuits warming in the oven for our homemade breakfast on the road. FYI, If you're planning a trip to Richmond, I've got the perfect little bed and breakfast for you....

6) The O.S.H.'s Thanksgiving teriyaki green beans. In a banquet of the traditional stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with pecan topping, turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce, the green beans stuck out like a sore, asian-flavored thumb. Or so I thought. In reality they were the perfect addition, their salty/sweetness complementing a forkful of mellow mashed spuds and moist turkey. It perked up the triptophan-laden meat, went surprisingly well with the sourness of the cranberry, matched the garlic in the potatoes and balanced the sweetness of the yams. When I went back for seconds, I surprised even myself by going straight for the beans. And don't worry, there was still plenty of butter in them, so it wasn't just out of virtue.

I asked the O.S.H. for the recipe on I think three different occasions, in three different ways, and emerged each time with a list of ingredients but still really no concept of how to make it. I could attribute this to the plague of the home cook making their traditional holiday dishes which can now only be described as "some of this and some of that and you sort of taste it til it tastes right and then you add some more if it needs it." Or it could have been the gravy-addled fog I am only just emerging from.

Here's what I gathered: Maybe a cup of soy sauce and a cup of teriyaki (or was it less soy?), some sugar, maybe it was also a cup though that doesn't seem possible, boiled and reduced down. At some point corn starch gets added to thicken the sauce, and a couple of cloves of roasted garlic mashed and added in. I THINK softened butter gets added to create a thick sort of paste at some point. The beans are blanched--this I know for sure--and then tossed in a baking dish with the sauce and reheated through. Sorry, I know this isn't very helpful. Sometime soon, when I'm done with finals (will that ever happen??) I will experiment and come up with something more quantifiable for you. Or if you're drooling already (as I am as I write this), try it and let me know what you come up with.

Do YOU have pictures?? I want a recipe for the pomegranate martinis I heard rumor of....

On to figgy pudding!

Love,
The Mouse

*"I am thankful for Squanto, who taught us how to cut and peel fish" --The Youngest Cousin, circa age 8? in a book of thanksgiving made by his school, in which most youngsters mentioned their siblings, parents, puppies, homes, and favorite toys.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Failed Kale (What a Difference a Minute Makes)

photo courtesy of worldcommunitycookbook.com

Dear Mouse,


I learned something. I couldn't decide how to sum it up, so here's 5 versions:

It's the little things. In cooking just as much if not more as anything else.

It is possible to ruin kale.

It is possible to ruin a tested, well-received, simple!! recipe by missing one tiny important step.

God is in the details.

The harder you try to be impressive with your dinner the more likely it is you will fall on your face.

But now wait a minute, actually, in my defense: This was NOT a trying-hard dinner. I know better than that! I wasn't going to bone a duck or make tapenade. The Date was coming over, and I was going for graceful, effortless, 'so-what-if-my-kitchen-must-be-viewed-through-a-microscope' sexiness. No stress. I chose a very very easy and tasty menu: Pasta Puttanesca (as endorsed in your Valentines post), and the Kale with Bacon and Vinegar that everybody loved at Fall Equinox. (Duh - it has BACON and VINEGAR). Fast, simple, AND impressive, right? FYI I based my version of 'Whore's Pasta' on the Amateur Gourmet's version ... though I just couldn't do the 8 cloves of garlic!!! (Sorry Adam!) and stopped at 5, as The Date's eyes were already bugging out at the pile on the cutting board.

The Kale is a breeze - into the boiling water for 5, into the pan with the fried-up bacon for 10, into a bowl, splash with vinegar, serve. I was way more focused on the Pasta of Ill Repute, having never made it before. And while flitting around trying to appear gorgeous and not sweaty, I blithely splashed the vinegar into the saute pan during phase 2. As in, I cooked with it, instead of finishing with it. But so what, big deal.

The Puttanesca - salty, savory, garlicky, sour - was a big hit. "This is great", the Date (who had claimed to hate anchovies) enthused, piling on the grated parmesan White American Man-style.

The kale, however, got this response:

"Tastes kinda weird."

And, Mouse, it did. Oh, my bruised FoodBlogger Ego. It was, like, musty, or kind of fruit-gone-bad. No denying it. And I was all, "but it has BACON and VINEGAR..." I couldn't figure it out. I'd made it before!

There was but one thing to do. Go upstairs, visit The Neighbors, and eat most of their cake. And, while there, learn a few things. Firstly, that Puttanesca was the first thing that Mrs. Neighbor had ever cooked for Mr. Neighbor, and secondly, that she had also screwed up a perfectly good vegetable recipe by doing guess what: putting the vinegar into the pan while cooking instead of using it to finish the dish. She likened the taste to a bottle of wine that had turned. Yep.

I tested out this theory a couple of days later with a whole new bunch of kale and I have to say it holds up. Delicious once again, bacon and all. photo courtesy myrecipes.com and Boo's laziness

So, while most of my posts are of the "Just get in there! Make it up!" variety, the moral of this one is: Attention Must Be Paid. Stick to the G-D recipe and stop worrying about your waterproof mascara.

Love,

The Boo

Friday, November 20, 2009

On Paper Delivery and Pork Chop Braising

Dear Boo,
yum.

Recently, the Mother did a lovely thing for the Boyfriend and me, by ordering the NY Times to be delivered to our door. Daily. I think she's got this idea that we can help save the printed word, one hard copy at a time. I don't want to burst her bubble, and frankly I do enjoy sitting down with the paper instead of my laptop on a Sunday afternoon. Not to mention what daily consumption of the Times has done for my moral superiority. However, one can only imagine what it's done to my organizational inferiority. I mean, this thing arrives at our doorstep. EVERY DAY. I'm sure you can picture what that much accumulated paper does to a one bedroom apartment, inhabited by one (and maybe a half) die-hard packrat.

The other day, the Boyfriend and I were totally fed up and decided to dig ourselves out from under the piles and toss things with ruthless abandon. Of course, because he's The Boyfriend and by his very title must be kind, sweet, and endlessly in touch with my needs, amidst the purge, he pulled out a dining section and cried, "Wait! Did you see this? Don't you want it? It's got all kinds of recipes..." What a sweetheart. Of course I kept it.

And lucky for him that I did. In it was a recipe by Melissa Clark for a quick braise of pork chops that has all the flavor of a day-long event. It's a simple sauce of tomatoes, garlic, onion and rosemary, with anchovies added for that hard to identify briny/funkiness. After our massive newspaper toss of 09, the Boyfriend and I took a stroll through Chelsea Market where we were lucky to get a grand tour of the newly opened Dickson's Farmstand Meats, the glorious creation by my high school friend, and now go to meat-expert, Jake Dickson. (You may remember him from the days of Hamlet the pig.) The store is amazing, and once the kitchen is fully up and running, I'm sure will be totally overrun with customers. He's already had a visit (and tweet) from Ruth Reichl, and a ton of press, and will soon have an even greater honor bestowed upon him (if accepted), that of A Mouse Bouche's Baker's Dozen interviewee! Lo and behold, Jake had some gorgeous thick pork chops, perfect for my trash-bin rescued recipe. We grabbed the rest of the ingredients (what I could remember of them after a quick glance at the paper) and headed home to cook.

Apologies for the messy plate and the fact that you can't get a good look at Jake's beautiful chops. Trust me, they were beauties.

The result? Quick, simple, comforting, and delicious. I served them with roasted fingerlings from the farmer's market, and a salad of arugula with leftover roast acorn squash, gorgonzola, and caramelized onions. The leftover sauce from the chops turned into a great pasta the next day with wilted arugula, this delicious olive oil, and generous amounts of cheese.

The salad was delicious. I roasted the squash with maple syrup, chili powder, olive oil s&p.

The next day's dinner. Delicious.

If you're planning on cooking for someone (just anyone, no one in particular, not that I have anyone in mind :)), may I recommend this meal. It's very autumnal (love that word), very tasty, manly enough if your guest happens to be of the male persuasion, still elegant, and when you get down to it, you can do like the Boyfriend and eat the last bits with your hands. tres sexy. Well, maybe not, but tres tres tasty.

Melissa Clark's Braised Pork Chops (adapted only slightly by the Mouse)

2 1 1/2-inch-thick bone-in pork loin chops (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more for seasoning pork

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more for seasoning pork

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced (the Mouse used 2 large shallots and some leftover caramelized yellow onions)

3 large rosemary sprigs

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 large can of plum tomatoes, reserving some of the juice so the sauce doesn't get too soupy (Clark calls for a mix of yellow and red fresh tomatoes)

6 anchovy fillets

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse pork chops and pat dry with a paper towel. Season generously with salt and pepper. In a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, place 1 tablespoon oil. Sear chops until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes a side. Transfer to a plate.

2. Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and sauté onion and rosemary until onions are golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute.

3. Add tomatoes, anchovies and remaining salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to break down, about 8 minutes.

4. Add pork chops to skillet, spooning sauce over chops. Cover skillet and transfer to oven to bake until a thermometer inserted into center of meat reads 145 degrees, about 15 minutes. For me it took much longer but that may be because I was raised by our mother and am terrified of undercooking pork. Allow chops to rest for 5 minutes in pan. Serve with some sort of starch. Polenta would be good, or crusty bread. The potatoes were also delicious.

Yield: 2 servings.


Love,
The Mouse

Friday, November 13, 2009

Baker's Dozen #1: Danielle diVecchio






Dear Mouse,

I did it! Our first interview! I feel soo journalistic. Two nights ago at this Union Squarea bistro, I got to take down 1) a bowl of (excellent, minimalist) french onion soup and 2) a series of scholarly notes on a yellow pad while wearing my Sexy Librarian glasses and sitting across the table from one Danielle diVecchio, NYC-based actress AND owner of "Biscotti diVecchio".

First I'll just say that I know Danielle from our work together on the play LILA CANTE, in which she played the hardass-who-just-wants-to-be-loved record exec and during which she fed me and our castmates bags of the hard-but-still-can-be-chewed-best biscotti I've ever had. Fact. And THEN she was all, "Oh, I made these." Danielle is a prime example of a MouseBouche personality -- a working artist who knows her way around a kitchen -- which is why I was excited to make her our first Baker's Dozen interview.

Here's the thing: I don't like biscotti. Let's start there. As anyone who's been to a Starbucks knows, biscotti are oblong, bland, vaguely anise cookies roughly the texture of a brick and impossible to eat without breaking your molars. Right? Well, often. And now I know why. As Danielle informed me, biscotti ("twice baked") are traditionally made with flour, sugar, eggs, and anise/almond flavor (liqueur or extract, never real almonds). That's it. No butter. No wonder no teeth. Apparently the original audience were Italian sailors, heading to sea for months and thinking only of the longevity of their snacks.



Well, like many of our favorite artists, Danielle has found success through a combination of adherence to tradition and respectful tweakage thereof. Her cookies are a sly blend of traditional biscotti and a simple "soft butter cookie" recipe she remembers learning at her (2nd-generation Italian) grandmother's side.

As I heard this story, Mouse, I smiled as it brought back memories of our own grandma's famous cooking and equally famous recipe caginess ("oh, you know... a little of this, a little of that...") Danielle recalled herself at 13 or 14, standing in the kitchen as her grandmother spread flour on the counter ("everything was on a counter, no bowls") and made a well for the eggs. There was no recipe ( "I don't know, did you see, Danielle? Did you see?") and the lessons were all hands-on ("Do it til it feels like this"). The rogue ingredient, communicated in a conspiratorial whisper, was a good dose of whiskey... which of course burned off in the cooking, leaving only the flavor.

Fast forward to 2001 where Danielle is living and acting in a shell-shocked NYC. A friend is organizing a 9/11 benefit at a local church and wants to give party favor bags to those attending. Danielle offers to bake, specifically pistachio chocolate chunk biscotti. Why biscotti? She shakes her head now - "I don't know!" - and points out that no one seemed to think of them as biscotti, just as good cookies. By now, Danielle had already put her own stamp on the family recipe; she laughs, thinking how her grandmother would be "horrified" by the inclusion of chocolate. Or cayenne pepper (but I get ahead of myself).

Business began in earnest in winter 2003, when an upcoming 'sure thing' acting job had fallen through (that never happens) and Danielle was, in a word, broke. A friend said "You'll think of something", and she did. The cookies! She drew up an order form on a Word document, got a free fax number, send 300 emails letting people know she'd be selling biscotti for the holidays, and left the house to calm down. An hour later she had her first 25 orders, and the rest is crunchy, unorthodox history.
Between Janis and Carmela!

As I slurped my soup and scratched down notes we of course got to talking about Our Life in Art. Reminiscing about her time on The Sopranos, Danielle was talking about the show's quality, a word that came up a lot in this conversation. The show was a huge success for a reason: much time, effort and thought went into making it. One episode would take three weeks. The writers had full creative control. Actors were hired more for talent than name. "And then, imitations {ie, with none of these practices} fail - and they wonder why!" We clinked our glasses and nodded in agreement on this, I think, fundamental point in the artistic life -- that creative AND business decisions made from the HEART are wise, that time and effort and attention result in quality, and that mass production and the bottom line can (CAN) be a project's downfall. Danielle has often been encouraged to market her biscotti, for example, to big box stores, lowering the price point to reach as many people as possible. She has resisted, holding out for "quality, integrity, and the passing on of tradition". It's just sensible, she says; it makes better cookies.

I had a vision of a bag of Biscotti diVecchio looking at me from the warehouse bins at CostCo and shuddered, picking up my soup spoon and applying it to my note pad.

Danielle is currently working in theatre/TV/film and the business is no longer a matter of survival but a labor of love (and secondary income). She still does most of the hands-on work, though she has hired one baker (found through the Artisan Baking Center). Her first and most pressing question: "Do you LIKE baking?" (He said yes.)

Ok, now the Important Stuff:

* Where can I get me some Biscotti diVecchio?
Note the THANKSGIVING SPECIAL if you order before 11/18/09!!
Also @ the specialty store DOMUS in Hell's Kitchen and on the Rum & Blackbird NYC Tasting Tours

* What kinda Biscotti di Vecchio?
Sweet flavors: Pistachio Chocolate Chunk, Cranberry Orange Zest, Toasted Almond, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, and the very popular Cayenne Cherry Chocolate Chunk.
Savories: Sun Dried Tomato, Basil & Cheddar, Black Pepper Asiago Parmesan, Rosemary Thyme Walnut.
Upcoming: bags of finely ground crumbs ('which make a great alternative cheesecake crust') and bags of the leftover 'ends' ('which are great crumbled over ice cream').

* The Mouse Asks - Where should we eat in your neighborhood?
In Hell's Kitchen, Danielle likes Cara Mia for Italian; Pam Real for Thai and El Centro for Mexican.

* The Mouse Asks - What flavor biscotti is best for stress eating?
Cayenne Cherry Chocolate Chunk. (Duh.)

After her most recent Biscotti diVecchio email blast, Danielle received a call from a well-known casting agent who she happened to know personally. "Well hello", she said, "So you're calling to order some biscotti?" A small pause on the other end, then: "Well, yes ... But also, there's this play..."

That's what we're talking about.

Love,
The Boo

I'll leave you with this truly creative recipe for panzanelle (italian bread salad) which uses savory Biscotti diVecchio as the base. !!! Buon Appetito.






Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My New Favorite Thing

Dear Boo,

I think I first fell in love with beets back at Charlie Browns, when we'd go for dinner during a busy week of teaching, school, rehearsals, lacrosse practice, chorus or whatever else. My favorite, as long as I can remember, was the salad bar. An endless array of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, macaroni salad, black olives, sunflower seeds, cauliflower, croutons, breadsticks, jardinieira, spread out before me like a magic carpet, glittering with crushed ice and neon buckets of glossy dressing. I'm not sure what made me try the beets. Maybe it was mom's intense hatred of them. "They taste like DIRT! UCH!" I always had weird ways of rebelling. But it didn't take long for me to incorporate them into the salad rotation, smooth wet purple orbs atop a bed of iceberg, slathered in some kind of creamy italian. Boo: 'Creamy Italian' = Jersey. Even processed, canned, and sitting out for hours under a sneeze-guard, I could taste the earthiness, the sweetness. And in the days before makeup, they dyed my lips a beautiful bloody red, which no complimentary wet-nap could dull.

Now, beets are old news. How many countless goat cheese-walnut pairings have I had at how many countless neighborhood restaurants? But love them, I do. And while they've taken on the familiar and pleasant comfort of an old lover, like any long love affair, there are phases of renewed excitement where you see your love with new eyes. Right now is one of those times. It's a second honeymoon.


PICKLED BEETS. Not a new concept. But my passion for anything that sits in vinegar and sugar and salt for long enough to give that lovely salivating kick in the back of your throat, is powerful. Recently, I had some pickled beets made by our friend Chef Josh, who served them with....cottage cheese. Frankly I wasn't all that psyched about the pairing, but I trust Josh, and when a Chef is feeding you, you do what you're told. How glad am I that I did? The cream of the cheese cuts the sharpness of the beets and lends another layer of texture. Josh douses the pickled beets and onion (or shallots) with olive oil, salt and pepper, then spreads generous dollops of the cheese over the top, sprinkling it with more oil and fresh thyme. It's unbelievably good. I can eat bowl after bowl of the stuff.

I pickled some of my own the other day when I just HAD to have some. Three days later I'm already through half of each jar. It's lunch, dinner side dish, after-school snack, addictive. Trust me on this one.

Of course you can eat them straight or on salad, or with falafel or sausage, or a pork chop. But these days, for me, it's cottage cheese all the way.

Here's a link to Josh's recipe. I made mine slightly differently, influenced by Alton Brown's recipe, part as experiment, and part because I was out of a few ingredients. Both versions are delicious.

Pickled Beets with Cottage Cheese

8 medium beets, roasted (I used half golden and white beets, and half red)
1 small red onion (1 small yellow onion, if you're doing golden too)
2 Cups rice vinegar
1 Cup water (or a little more if you don't like it super vinegary)
1.5 tblespoons kosher salt
3/4 Cup of sugar

To roast beets: drizzle generously with vegetable oil, salt and pepper, wrap in tin foil and roast in oven at 400 for about 50 minutes depending on the size of the beets. While still warm, using a paper towel, rub skins off. They should come off easily.

Slice onion very thinly. Slice beets to about 1/4 in thick. Pack two jars with beets and onions, alternating. If you're using gold beets, keep them separate from the red ones or everything will just turn out red. Heat the rest of the ingredients until boiling and dissolved. Pour into jars over beets, leaving a small amount of space at the top, but letting bubbles escape. Wait 24 hours before tasting.

Drizzle beets and onions with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pile cottage cheese on top, and add more oil and s&p to taste. Scatter fresh thyme over the top.

Love,
The Mouse

Friday, November 6, 2009

HartWarming Moment

Dear Mouse,

It was only a matter of time.




Here we are together on the desk in the Public Theatre Lobby. Your play, my show. Makes me feel like I actually got to see you this week.

Oh, and the truffled chicken salad on cranberry nut bread in the lobby is pretty good ... if someone else is buying.

Love,

The Boo

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Still kicking.

Dear Boo,

Consider me a matzoh ball, momentarily bobbing to the surface to say hello and remind you I'm here. Never fear, I am indeed, alive. Questionably so, but no matter.

Forgive the metaphor. My brain is fried. And frankly, I'm lacking in proper nutrition these days, which I suspect is beginning to affect my sanity.

I am currently making chicken soup as a preemptive strike against whatever cold or flu is lurking in the corner, waiting for my immune system to fall asleep on the job. Also, to remind myself that I can actually cook, though the amount of time I just spent debating how many parsnips to put in and whether they should go in NOW or after the chicken is cooked, was laughable. I'm moving slowly these days. It's like I'm learning to walk again.

Let me give you a peek into a day in the (eating) life of Mouse:

7am: Wake up. Weep silently into the pillow. Shower, dress in whatever is closest, and leave the house. BIG coffee. Cliff bar on subway.

8am: Get to school (as in, the middle school I'm working at as part of my field placement for grad school). Wonder at the energy and sheer volume pre-teens have at 8 in the morning. How do they do it? Can I bottle it? Do they think I'm deaf? Am I going deaf? Am I already done with that cup of coffee?

10am: Snacktime. Our school has transformed school breakfast into snack time so as to get rid of the stigma of partaking in a free meal program and to stave off that teenage brand of midmorning hunger-induced spaciness/temper tantrum. Usually consists of a variety of cereal and milk, a cheese stick, sliced apples, a muffin, or some weird cardboardy bagel-ball stuffed with cream cheese. And juice. I steal the cheese stick and leave the rest for my cohorts.

12pm: When I first started working at this school, I didn't venture further than the local Subway. Everything was unfamiliar and alien--the neighborhood, the building, the job, the people, and Subway provided consistency and predictability, if lacking in taste. But now, slightly more comfortable, I've discovered the corner bodega where I can get a delicious turkey and cheese sandwich (on whole wheat, with lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayonnaise, please) for $2.50. TWO FIFTY. Spanish Harlem, I love you.
Come back to school. Dispense counseling in between bites and killer Connect-4 moves. Give my chips to a kid who refuses to eat the school lunch. How can I blame him.
Caffeine in the form of diet coke.

4pm: Run from school to rehearsal. On the way, if there's any possibility, grab a water and a snack. Soy chips. Lunch leftovers. an apple. Coffee....

7pm: Dinner break. 45 minutes and limited options. Our cast has been bouncing between Chipotle, Chickpea, and NY Burger Company. But we usually come back to Chipotle. Why? Because, I'll be honest, it's delicious. I know, I know, it's owned by McDonalds. But it's not expensive. It's super fast. And their chicken tastes pleasantly like bacon. But mostly we go because they serve beer. And after hours of tech and a hundred thousand costume changes, and constant script revisions, and climbing on furniture in heels, BOY OH BOY do we need a beer. Oh, and more coffee.

12am: Leave theater. Crawl home. Munch on some of the real food I have in my fridge. Thanks to our saintly mother, I have two turkey meatloafs, a brisket, potatoes, and some other fixins. This has been my saving grace. A moment of sanity and nurturing at the end of the day (or, beginning of the next). And while the deli on the corner is great for a cheap lunch, nothing beats a homemade meatloaf sandwich in the middle of a chaotic, exhausting day. Thank you, Mom.

As of this very day, the last of my midterms will be turned in, and as of Thursday, the show will be officially up and running. Which means things will be ever so slightly calmer. I am sprinting to the finish line, visions of a quiet Sunday afternoon, a chicken braising in the kitchen, my feet resting in the Boyfriend's lap, and NPR on the radio, dancing in my head.

I don't mean to complain. Life is very full. In a lot of wonderful ways. I'd just love one good night's sleep, after a dinner. Made in my kitchen. Eaten at my table. At a reasonable hour. With a glass of wine.

Some day. I have faith. In the meantime, soup will do.

Me, at snacktime.

Love,
The Mouse

P.S. Soup turned out bland. Moral of the story? Sometimes it's better to let someone else cook. And while they do that, grab yourself a nap.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Soup Season: Come and Peel It Tonight

Dear Mouse,


I have fought a formidable enemy, and won.
 

                                                                                   You should see the other guy.



There's something about this season. Pots, pans, simmering, bowls of savory goodness. I'm fixating.

It's not just me. The Date has informed me twice in one week of exploits with carrots and ginger. I have a Stew dinner plan with a playwright friend. And I recently logged on to a social networking site that shall remain nameless and irritating, to find my friend Helena's status update:

And She said, "Let there be sexy vegetarian pumpkin chili"; and there was sexy vegetarian pumpkin chili. And She saw that the sexy vegetarian pumpkin chili was good; and then she roasted the sexy pumpkin seeds.

Mmmmmm. It is Fall, the Season of Soup. (/Stew/Chili).

On Saturday I found myself at home in Sunnyside, a whole rainy afternoon spread out before me, all signs pointing towards my recently-neglected kitchen.

The night before, lured by the status update, I'd gone up to Heavenly Small Town to visit Helena and her Roomies. As I've mentioned, our friendship began in the kitchen and we always cook/eat together. This time, the Household was preparing a Pumpkin Party Extraordinaire for Saturday night, and because I couldn't attend, I came to participate in Pumpkin Eve cooking. My task: mixing a batch of corn muffins with maple butter which H planned to serve with the Chili (recipe, I hope, forthcoming).

Roomie #1 was busy creating a tomato vinegar he found in an all-Vinegar Cookbook ("I got this for a dollar!"), and Roomie #2 was bravely attempting her first pie - double crust!! You would have been proud of me. I had already climbed into bed (foolish, foolish Boo) when R2 asked, "Do you think I should make the crust tonight? Any tips? Oh - No, I dont have a rolling pin. Why?" Bang - I'm in the kitchen in my PJs, up to my elbows in butter & flour, providing what I hope was sage advice such as "remain calm", and "yes, always READ the whole recipe to begin with, but I think we'll be fine without the shortening" (we were).

You know your friend has forgiven you for missing her party when she ends the evening of manual labor by drawing you a bath and handing you a glass of maker's mark.

So it was with these festive thoughts in my head that I came back to Sunnyside in the morning, looked in my fridge and realized I had the following, nearly all from the farmers market:

* 1 voluptuous butternut squash
* 2 yellow onions
* bag of cortland apples
* curry powder
* apple juice
* Recipe for "Butternut Squash and Apple soup" from Her Majesty Ina Garten

Now if I didn't know better I'd say there was a small conspiracy in the food world around this sunny root vegetable. WHY does no recipe EVER cop to the difficulty of peeling butternut squash? They all innocently begin "Peel and seed a butternut squash", without so much as an asterisked acknowledgement that the skin of this thing is so tightly welded to the fruit that it might as well be a coat of paint. I imagine home cooks everywhere, like myself, putting their peeler to this task and giving up.

Yes, I cut myself. But you don't have to. (Remain Calm). There IS a way to do this, and it's worth it. Because like a cheap date, once you get the outer layers off this baby, the rest is easy. (And warm and delicious.)

Take your skinny vegetable peeler in one hand. Look at it, shake your head, and throw it over your left shoulder.
Pick up your squash, and with a Big knife, cut it crosswise in half (or 3, if it's really big). Just plunge it on in and wrestle it through.
Then, holding a piece cut side down, just make slices down the sides with SMALLER knife, slicing off skin in big strips. It's ok if some flesh comes off with it. Better its than yours. Don't get crazy trying to skin it flawlessly.
Then, chop up squash into chunks, retrieve your skinny peeler and use it on the apples.


On a related note, the Peeling Issue came up at Helena's while R1 was struggling with his bag of tomatoes. The vegetable peeler was doing more harm than good and each tomato was a project unto itself (1 min or more). The solution: Boil a pot of water. Drop each tomato in, count to ten. Remove with a slotted spoon and, under cold running water, slide the skin off easily with your hands. Trust me on this.

Oh and the Pumpkin Party? From Helena:

missed you last night! corn muffins were devoured
Jesse put the maple butter into the gravy
around 11pm i was finishing the turkey with men 3 deep around the oven
turkey came out at 11:30 and disappeared completely-- people sucking on bones-- by midnight. this morning i made pumpkin pancakes and drenched them in maple butter. goodness. your food was put to good use.
mwah!

Love,

The Boo

PS I just found this picture online. Talk about seasonal!


Monday, October 19, 2009

We Be Jammin

Dear Boo,

You know what they say: When life gives you a graduate program with impossible amounts of reading, an emotionally and physically exhausting internship, three midterms, a role in a play that opens in a few weeks, a tutoring job, and that pesky need for sleep....make jam.

Specifically, Concord Grape and Habanero Jam.

Last Sunday, the Boyfriend and I packed up our Sunday Times, a few bell jars, a large pot, picked up some bagels and fixings from Murrays, and headed over to our friend Chef Josh and his lovely Lady Kate's apartment for some jam-making. It was a gorgeous day and the sun splashed cheerfully across the enormous mound of concord grapes that greeted us, nestled in a plastic tub that will soon be employed for a much cuter task, that of bathing Chefbabygirl, coming soon.

When the four of us plopped down on the floor to begin the job of separating the grape skins from the fleshy innards, I must say I felt a bit like Sisyphus facing the mountain. But, get a spicy glass of Bloody Mary, a bite of bagel with whitefish, and some great company, and the pinching and squeezing of a billion brilliant purple grapes takes on the feel of a group meditation. Or commune living. The sun was warm, the grapes smelled divine, and I couldn't have thought of a more pleasurable form of manual labor. Also, if a nine-month pregnant Lady Kate could sit on the floor for an hour of grape separating, I could do it.

There she is. Fastest skinner this side of the Mississippi.

Grape: two ways. Incidentally, dunk your hand in the peeled grapes. Unlike any sensation you've had.

pureeing the skins with a bit of sugar

From start to finish, the process really is a day-long event, but well worth it. You know of my recently-discovered fondness for jam-making, and this could not be simpler or more delicious. It really tastes nothing like what you'd buy off the supermarket shelves, and because you're doing it by hand, you can adjust the sweetness, the heat, the texture and viscosity to your liking. And like it you will.
simmering the skins and insides separately

The final mix before the last simmer

Bring brunch. You'll need the sustenance.

But more than anything, I can't begin to describe how after weeks of feeling like my only social contact has been in brief looks up at the Boyfriend's sweet face as I turn yet another page of my textbook, how lovely it was to sit quietly, working at a slow pace with great friends just for the pleasure of it. And the eight jars of royal purple gold are a beautiful addition to the apartment.

Yep, we filled em all.

Play your cards right and I'll set aside a jar for you. Boo: I'll be right over. A little crusty bread and butter and you'll be smacking your lips with delight. It's sweet but not too sweet, hot but not spicy. The habanero comes at you more like an afterthought to keep you on your toes. It's grape jam dressed up in its best pair of sassypants.

Love,

The Mouse

Concord Grape & Habanero Jam

Recipe courtesy Joshua Stokes of Grill-A-Chef - “Advice from Scratch”. You can find Joshua giving free cooking advice every Wednesday afternoon at the Union Square Greenmarket.

* 2 Qts Concord grapes, stemmed

3 Cups Sugar

* 1 Habanero Chili Pepper, lightly crushed

* Ingredients seasonally available at your neighborhood Greenmarket

Separate the pulp/seeds from the skins.

In a food processor, chop the skins with one cup of sugar. In a large pot simmer this mixture over low heat.

In a separate pot, simmer the pulp with the remaining sugar until completely broken down. About 20 minutes.

Strain out the seeds, pushing the pulp through with a ladle. Add the strained pulp to the skins.

Boil this mixture, stirring often, and carefully, until thick and jelly like.

Kill the heat and toss in the habanero to steep, it will quickly give off it’s great aroma and some of it’s heat. Lightly stir, monitoring the heat by tasting, remove the chili when the spice level is to your liking.

Tip: You can test the jam on a cold plate in the refrigerator. It gives you an idea of what the final product will be.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Malatesta-ing The Waters


Dear Mouse,

Dating. The final frontier. I'm giving it a shot. If I don't come back, you can have my ill-advised long sleeved romper from Free People. (Actually, it's been getting inexplicably rave reviews, but I digress.)

A friend of mine said recently that Google has killed the first date.. in other words, since two people interested in each other usually scramble for all basic stats on the internet prior to the actual ritual, gone is the 'So where did you grow up?' conversation of yesteryear. Or, if it happens, its kind of a flirtatious sham, since the research has already been done.

However, one early Fall evening recently, it so came to pass that The Date and I had each independently made a decision to forego the web when it came to each other. (A little sad, no? That this is revelatory?) "Right! I'll just ask you what I want to know", we practically said at exactly the same time over dinner at Malatesta. Which is what brings me to the focus of this post: Malatesta. Oh, and getting-to-know-you rituals, in-person, hands-on (hee hee), and, of course, via the magic of shared food.

Instructions for An Early Fall Date:

* 630PM - meet @18th St and 10th Ave, at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the Highline.
* Climb stairs. Ooh, the Highline looks awesome in the twilight. Oh look it just got dark and the lights came on. And the cityscape is all bright across the water. I guess we should just take a walk down to the end.
* Walk down to the end. Disembark @Gansevoort.
* Walk to Washington & Christopher. Oh look anItalian joint with outdoor and indoor seating, menus handwritten on cardboard (ok that always is a little too hipster for me), and reasonable prices. Note: Cash Only

*Order a bottle of Nero d'Avola. I chose it as a result of my patented, painstaking wine selection method --it was not the most or the least expensive, it was red, I recognized the word 'Nero' from somewhere in my past - and it is now my favorite. Mmmmm. Medium dry (I'm gonna say 'taut'), dark cherry and plum, medium body (someone said), dark and mysterious. Delicious. In order to save you from being the person drunkenly trying to surreptitiously take a picture of the bottle towards the end of the meal, I've transcribed the blurry image from my phone for you (not that I did that)

Pietragivana Monrrale Nero d'Avola
You're welcome.

I believe this is Italian for "one bottle of me and you will find yourself explaining the history of American Method Acting in what is probably a much too loud tone of voice". Charming.

* I think you will agree with me that, especially if it is your first time at Malatesta, there is no excuse at all for ordering anything other than The Steak Thing.
I found a picture of it on flickr. I was too busy eating to take one.

Honestly, I have eaten this every time I've been there, and I never remember the actual name - I can't read the menu scrawl. For your convenience, I have googled it (!) and it is Tagliata Al Casale.

It comes on what looks like a wooden cutting board with legs. Sliced, delicious steak in mouthful-size pieces, on a bed of wilted arugula, with thin, wide shavings of really good parmesan all over the top. I ordered it medium and it came medium rare, kinda red in places which turned out to be perfection. Salt crystals in the meat? I dont know; something is crunchy and delicate. Get meat and cheese and green on your fork, bite into soft charredness, make bedroom eyes.

Because it is kind of all too much for one person, allow me to suggest that you order both this and one pasta dish (gnocchi or rigatoni) and just reach into each others' plates. Hot. Trust me.

Dessert = Meh. I've never been into Italian desserts, honestly. But we got the creme caramel and it was creme-y and caramel-y. And it does allow some extra time for non-Google research; ie, conversation. Whatever you get, share it.

Love,

The Boo

Monday, October 5, 2009

RIP Gourmet!!



Dear Mouse,


It's the end of an era.

Oh, Ruth. Whither thou goest, I will go.


Remember this cake?
From the September 2007 issue. Coconut Rum Cake. You baked it for my birthday upon request.

Conde Nast, how could you? No More Gourmet Magazine????? Sure, to be truthful, I stopped subscribing a while ago. But I was a loyalist for YEARS and I still always read the issues lying around at the Mouse House. And while our food-obsessed family may have paved the way for my culinary enthusiasm, I have to say it was Gourmet that really started the ball rolling for me personally. Cast your mind back to a time (college and just after) when I did not cook. At. All. When I had roommates, I was always the one doing dishes or accidentally making butter when someone asked me to whip a bowl of cream (true story). In Los Angeles, in the late 90s, I was at the end of my tether. I was living alone in an awful apartment, my first band (and the rest of my personal life) had fallen apart, I hadn't been involved in theatre in 3 years!! and I was completely disillusioned with music and with Hollyweird. Somehow, an issue of Gourmet fell into my lap. In between bouts of angst and flip-flopping about leaving LALA behind, I somehow decided that cooking something might keep me calm and provide some reminder of my creative abilities.

The first thing I made on my own from Gourmet: Harira, a Moroccan soup:



It was a step forward. Flavorful, interesting, and risky, yet simple and inviting to the home cook just starting to get her hands dirty. While stirring, I entertained myself reading the more complex and tricky recipes I would never try, the articles about faraway hotels, and the moving, close-to-home cooking/life epiphanies. I still remember this great article about a woman traveling through Appalachia with her husband's clothes after his death, on her way to have them made into a quilt. Along the way, she ate tomato soup in a diner which the waitress freely admitted was Campbell's with some butter and cream, and fruit cobbler with ice cream for breakfast (apparently common in that part of the country). Her quip, "The cuisine of grief: High in fat, low in pretension", has stayed with me. It wasn't "about" the food, but the food painted a picture of her life at that moment. It was the first time I realized that writing about food was a way to write about life, a shortcut to the heart of experience. I went on from that to Peter Mayle's novel "A Year in Provence". I also went on from interesting soup to interesting cakes and breads, and the rest is history.

Well, thanks to you Mouse, I'll always have the big yellow cookbook with so many of the great recipes. I JUST made the turkey meatloaf YESTERDAY. And Ruth Reichl's autobiographical books
, which are truly precious. And I have my Bon Appetit subscription. But I couldn't let this bit of news go by without raising a metaphorical glass.

I'll leave you with this, which was really my very first tiny tentative food experiment in that same California kitchen, also from Gourmet: Vanilla Sugar. I remember the sense of wonder and fun at this simple trick. Try it - it involves NO effort and it's magic. Just last week, in an Indian grocery on the lower east side, I impulsively picked up one long fragrant vanilla bean, in a small plastic bag. I must, somehow, have known.

Love,

The Boo



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

True Crime


Dear Boo,

I'm going to make this quick, because let's face it, I'm already behind in my reading for school, and I give myself another three hours before I start nodding out from my day of chasing 6th and 7th graders through the halls, trying to quell the urge to scream like a banshee and drag them by their hair back to class.

BUT in the name of justice, I couldn't possibly let another day go by without writing to you about what the Boyfriend says might be the best thing I've ever made (frankly I'm a little hurt being that it's like the simplest thing ever and I can't take any credit for the recipe). These slow roasted tomatoes are quite simply the essence of all that is lovely about a tomato and I am totally enamored by them. They've made their way through the blogosphere (kill me if I ever use that word again), originating with an article in Bon Appetit by Molly, the author of Orangette, so I'm sure you've come across them at some point, but it is a CRIME that I haven't yet shared it here. I'm doubly guilty because I'm passing it on now, when the season of plum tomatoes is but days longer, and while the recipe claims you can use good quality canned tomatoes (which I will inevitably stoop to, since I can't possibly wait another whole YEAR before I make these again) it's really best with fresh, ripe, warm from the sun, tomatoes.
And so, I urge you, not just to absolve me somewhat of my guilt, to get thee to the farmers market, find some plum tomatoes, grab a baguette and some soft aged goat cheese, and slow roast like you've never slow roasted before. You will SO not be sorry.

Come to think of it, while you're at it you might as well do a whole farewell to summer vegetables feast (and invite me over). For the Boyfriend's recent birthday, before going to see ARETHA freakin FRANKLIN at radio city, we had a little tapas-style early dinner featuring some of the queens of summer. It made for a gorgeous celebration and lined our stomachs for the late night tacos and beer that followed.
There was: corn with feta and mint butter (I think I ate half that bowl), guacamole and chips, shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce, 'pimentos de padron' blistered in a pan with salt and lemon juice (one in ten is hot, so it's a fun game of russian roulette), a nice piece of gouda, and the onion jam I canned earlier in the summer. Oh, and a peach and blackberry cobbler. The birthday boy's gotta have something to wish on...

But, as always, it all came down to the tomatoes. So go. Now. Make these. And just try to tell me life isn't a leeeettle bit better for it. I rest my case.

Cafe Lago's/Orangette/Bon Appetit's
Pomodori Al Forno...

1 cup olive oil
2 lbs plum tomatoes halved lengthwise and seeded
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh Italian parsley (I like a little more)
1 Baguette
Aged goat cheese

Preheat oven to 250. Pour 1/2 cup oil into a 13x9x2 inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange tomatoes in dish, cut side up. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup oil. Sprinkle with oregano, sugar, and salt. Bake 1 hour. Using tongs, turn tomatoes over. Bake 1 hour longer. Turn tomatoes over again. Bake until deep red and very tender, transferring tomatoes to plate when soft (time will vary, depending on ripeness of tomatoes), about 15 to 45 minutes longer.

Layer tomatoes in medium bowl, sprinkling garlic and parsley over each layer; reserve oil in baking dish. Drizzle tomatoes with reserved oil, adding more if necessary to cover. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Cover, chill up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Would also be delicious over pasta, or pizza, or chicken, or an old shoe.

Love,

The Mouse