Archive for the ‘various’ Category

All Spread Out


A friend was boasting about what a splendid cook her son is.  She bent toward me and said, in a hushed voice, “He plates.” 

Plating is something family cooks seldom do, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a winning technique for composed salads.

“Composed” salad just means a salad with other stuff than green leaves in it.  It may have other stuff plus greens, or it may have other stuff instead of greens.  (You will sometimes see a composed salad defined as the antonym of a tossed salad, which sounds logical but does not happen to be the case.  You can toss a composed salad, and you can lay a green salad out neatly.  If enough people stay confused long enough, a composed salad may come to mean one that’s laid out neatly, and then what will we call a salad with other stuff than greens?  A piebald salad, perhaps.)

But back to plating.  Last night I made a composed salad from Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington’s Heirloom Beans (Chronicle, 2008).  Cooked white beans, red bell pepper, onion, parsley, escarole, salt, pepper.  All good.  Then I whizzed the dressing up in the blender: hard-boiled egg, garlic, anchovies, wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper.  Then I mixed everything up and plopped it in a serving dish.

Hmm.  I believe the expression is “dog’s dinner.”  Tasty as all get-out, but not inviting to look at.

Tonight, learning from my mistakes, I made a composed salad from Peter Gordon’s Salads (Clarkson Potter, 2006).  Here are the layers I plated, top to bottom:

1) caramelized onions and wilted spinach dressed with balsamic vinegar
2) green beans dressed with lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil
3) potatoes and onions dressed with the same lemon dressing as the green beans
4) raw, undressed baby spinach

If I had mixed that all up in a serving bowl, it would have been even less appealing than last night’s mixture.  The dark caramelized onions would have stained everything else, and the nice crisp texture of the raw spinach would have disappeared.

Plating.  It’s not just for smart alecks.


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[You might have noticed that I’ve been reneging on my birthday promise to Mark to cook Chinese once a week.  My plan is to make up for my deficit for the next week or so.]

I repeat, perhaps too often, my three rules for success in the kitchen:

#1 Use good ingredients.
#2 Don’t burn anything.
#3 Don’t cling to preconceptions about what you’re making.

Sometimes I have a hard time with rule #3.

Last night I set out to make steamed stuffed dumplings from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty (W. W. Norton, no date, originally Michael Joseph, 2001).

I made the stuffing.  Pumpkin (actually a kabocha, a tastier winter squash), pork, ginger, soy sauce, salt, pepper, scallions.  Yum.

The dough I made at first with regular all-purpose flour, always an error when my technique is not secure; Wondra, which doesn’t clump, is the better choice (rule #1 in action).  I dumped the first batch in the compost.

Ah, but now the shaping and stuffing.  I shaped and stuffed a dozen little dumplings and served them as an hors d’oeuvre.  Enough with the shaping and stuffing already.  I rolled the rest of the dough into little unstuffed dumplings, boiled them, and served them with the stuffing as a sauce.

What are they called? asked Mark.

Glueballs, I said.

Is that the literal translation?

Had it been anyone but Mark asking, I would have said yes.  Chinese food is notoriously besotted with textures.  Glueballs in sauce is persuasive as a Chinese name.  But Mark is Mark, so I told him the dish was just a deconstruction of the hors d’oeuvres he had already eaten.

Good save, he said.

Will glueballs in sauce become an item in our regular repertoire?  Probably not.  But if I make them again I’d better come up with a better name.

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A Savory Breakfast


If there aren’t any leftovers for breakfast, my second favorite is hot cereal.  Sometimes I like it sweet, with milk and brown sugar, for instance, or with dried cherries and crunchy sugar and chopped almonds.  But sometimes I like it savory, and that’s an idea that doesn’t occur to most people.  If you have some broth sitting around, as I almost always do, cooking hot breakfast cereal in broth is no harder than cooking it in milk or plain water.  Give it a try some time.  Add a pat of butter when the cereal has cooked through.  You might like it.

I love classic English novels, particularly Trollope.  He shows up in my vocabulary.  I’m comfortable referring to a churchyard as a “close” or calling someone who mouths pieties “canting” (a “canting hypocrite,” in Trollope’s phrase) or using “condescension” in its 19th-century sense, with approval, not in its 20th or 21st, as an insult.  Locutions like those give my speech an oddness, a pleasing oddness, I hope.

All children, for better or worse, must learn how to rank their parents.  As the children grow up and learn more about the world, they come to see that the mansions they inhabited with their parents were really only shacks, that their parents’ shining genius was really only a little knack, and that their parents’ bull’s-eye centrality was in reality a weird little bypath.

One day when Margaret was in kindergarten, her teacher asked to speak to me in some distress.  That morning, she said, she had the children say what they had eaten for breakfast.  Breakfast at our house that morning had been savory hot cereal, hot cereal cooked in broth.  So when Margaret’s turn came, the teacher said, she told the class that for breakfast at her house they had eaten gruel.  Where on earth would a child get an idea like that, the teacher wanted to know.

(I hope Margaret sometimes makes gruel for Darwin.)

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too funny

This tickled my funnybone, so I thought I’d put it up here to give you all a good laugh too.


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1.  Cook fish at least once/week.  I’m petrified of cooking fish (mostly because I’ve done it so badly so many times), but I really want that to change.  Practice, practice, practice.

2.  Make my freezer full enough with delicious foods that it becomes the fall-back option instead of ordering out.

3.  Clean the oven so that it stops setting off all the fire alarms whenever I turn it above 400°.

4.  Only cook desserts that are special.  No more cake mixes or random cookies.

5.  Learn to cook pizza and get really good at it.


1. Learn how to cook whole fish.

2. Learn how to cook big hunks of meat.

3. Clean the stove (including the oven) every Friday — Friday, because we eat out Friday evenings.  No excuses about being unable to clean the stove because I’m cooking something.

4. Once/month make one dessert from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert (Artisan, 2007).

5. Write a complete draft of Domestic Intelligence Chapter 2: How To Make a Recipe Bigger or Smaller.

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