Dinner Diary May 15, 1985
Dinner with Bonnie’s family. This menu is not clean and simple; it is heavy handed. I mean really, pasta with mushrooms AND bacon AND bluefish en papilotte nicoise AND ice cream AND pie for desert? I do remember the avocado soup – for whatever reason it was pretty tasteless. I’m embarrassed; this menu really doesn’t work well as a ‘whole’. The Holistic Approach to the Culinary Arts – it’s a course at the CIA in Hyde Park. However, I distinctly remember that the ‘Bluefish en Papilotte Nicoise’ was one fine dish.
Yes, the pasta alone could have been the main course. Always that ‘drawn to excess thing’ for me. May be like a dog licking his It’s because I can. The bluefish en papilotte nicoise and pasta with broccoli rabe and a little garlic would have been the way to go.
I do love making fresh ice cream – tough to do and get it RIGHT. RIGHT being smooth, rich, not grainy, good firmness. I’ve got one of the old Green Mountain wood barreled, hand cranked makers that I use in the summer when friends are over ( of course I make them do the cranking) and a small freezer crank thing that I use in the winter.
I don’t think that the in-laws have ever understood why I love to cook (they have been, at times in their lives, Spam and paper plate people) – why not something from a package – it’s so much easier! I do have to say this for Bonnie’s family, they having always been willing to take at least a bite of what I’ve made and for that I’m thankful. And as with all of our friends, all of the folks that have shared my cooking I try, to greater or lesser degrees to cook for them. That is; to make dishes that they’re going to want to eat. Otherwise, what kind of host or friend would I be? I enjoy sea urchin roe, a lot of people don’t. So why serve it to them? Serve them a dish that might stretch their culinary boundaries or show them how good fresh, local food can be rather than something from a package that’s been sitting on a shelf for four months, that’s great, but to feed a friend something that they want to run from – there’s no point. In retrospect with this menu I’m a little surprised that I served the blue fish en papilotte nicoise. I hope that all enjoyed it.
The men of my, and Bonnie’s, father’s generation very, very, seldom, if ever cooked. That simply wasn’t one of their responsibilities. As I’ve written, supposedly my Dad grilled hamburgers and hot dogs and chicken. Come to recall though – memory break through – dad did have a big old Weber grill and, probably the reason that he grilled very little, was that after every use he would wait for the grill to cool, scoop out and save the briquettes that weren’t fully burned (something that I still do with the hardwood charcoal) and scrub the entire assembly until it looked like new. This only took about 2 to 3 hours to do. From my perspective it takes away the fun, kinda puts a damper on your grilling. Cook it till it’s done – clean it when ya need to.
Dinner Diary March 3, 1986
Of course I make entries into the Dinner Diaries for just Bonnie and myself. This is a nice simple meal, maybe a little early for zucchini. The RAPTURE of braised veal shanks! Wonderful! Wonderful! Braised veal shanks is one of the great recipes of all time. Though the diary entry doesn’t say, I suspect that the dish was Osso Bucco (B/A = Bon Appetit). Maybe not; sliced shank or whole shank? Melt in your mouth meat, incredibly huge flavor. My favorite recipe for Osso Bucco Milanese is from Craig Claiborne’s The New New York Times Cookbook, Craig Claibourne with Pierre Franey. Absolutely one of THE best cookbooks going. Craig and Pierre knew cooking and food like few others and I cherish these recipes – even if I found their Avocado Soup bland.
I’ve got my own recipe for shanks that’s very similar to a million other recipes for veal shanks: a tomato and red wine sauce seasoned with herbs, garlic and a mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots and herbs). The shanks are dredged in seasoned flour and sauteed in a dutch oven with olive oil and butter until they’ve got some color to them. Remove the shanks from the pot and deglaze with some red wine, add the tomatoes (can be a chopped whole, sauce or crushed), more red wine, the seasoning and the mirepoix and bring to a boil. Add the shanks and bake low and slow. When the luscious meat is just about to fall from the bone remove the shanks and keep them warm. Strain the sauce and reduce it. Put the reduced sauce and the shanks back in the pot to heat a little and serve with the sauce over the shanks – heaven. Double heaven with creamy polenta and broccoli rabe. As I’m writing this I realize that I like the shanks even better than the Osso Bucco. Well…… maybe equally.
I’ve sometimes used the recipes in Bon Appetit magazine. I’ve been subscribing to this magazine since the 1960’s, while I lived in Providence, but I do have issues with it. I find some of the recipes incredibly boring, I swear that some use a condensed cream of mushroom soup (maybe I read that wrong, maybe I read it correctly), and, as evidenced in the Diaries, I consider some of them are very good, verging on greatness, included in my best meals. Many recipes are good enough that I at least want to try them. Of course, I’m finally at that point where I don’t use recipes as much as I used to – been cooking long enough to remember what to do or how to improvise. My advice to Bon Appétit is( knowing what my advice is worth) dump the healthy cooking, dump the “cook a meal in 30 second’s and for God’s sake dump the “Celebrity” interview that you’ve added to the last page. Most of these bimbas and bimbos DON”T COOK. What the hell do these interviews have to do with cooking?
DG: Well Celeb, where are your favorite places to eat?
Celeb: You know, places where there’s food, room for my publicist and the paparazzi. Sometimes I have the one of my lackeys go to the vending machine for me.
DG: Did your mother cook for you growing up?
Celeb: Look, my attorney laid it out in the ground rules – no questions about my mother. You got that!
DG: Yea, got that, sorry, I forgot. So………… What do you like to eat?
Celeb: You know, real earth friendly stuff. Whatever doesn’t hurt the planet earth and is green. And it’s gotta be expensive.
DG: We understand that you have a new movie coming out. Do you eat in it?
Celeb: Yes, I eat an organic peach.
DG: Do you cook for yourself and family when you get the chance?
Celeb: You’re funny, ya know. I mean with all my money do you really think that you’re going to find me in front of a hot stove?
DG: What do you have in your refrigerator right now?
Celeb: Evian, yogurt and A grape.
DG: A grape?
Celeb: You got a problem with that? I thought that this was supposed to be a ‘puff piece’ and now you’re prying into my personal life. I gotta lose a few for the next movie, so let’s just leave it at that.
DG: Last question. If you could invite any three people to dinner who would they be? What would you serve?
Celeb: Well I wouldn’t invite anyone that’s a felon because that would be a parole violation for me. So, I guess that I’d invite the head of the studio, the head of the Grammy Committee and Peter Griffin. I’d have my chef cook them up some good food – earth friendly and green. Oh, and expensive.
DG: I’m sorry but I have to comment. Peter Griffin is a cartoon character on ‘Family Guy’. He’s not a real person.
Celeb: Shows what you know about Hollywood.
Dessert: The Remains of the Day – Part Deux
Poor Mr. Ishiguro. With The Remains of the Day – Part Deux I may have him writhing as if being stuck by unseen needles. My apologizes to him, but the title is so appropriate; again.
Bonnie and I both grew up eating fried smelts during the Holiday Season – we love to eat them. Hers were cooked by her father’s mother, mine by my mother. The taste is wonderfully fishy and the fragrance of their being fried will linger in your home for quite a while. Smelts are a tiny fish, four inches long or so, and are a species of the salmon family. In the winter they school at the river mouths of New England and Canada, waiting for warmer weather to head up river and spawn. My favorite way to cook them is to simply gut them and remove the heads (if your local fishmonger hasn’t already done this), dredge them in flour with salt and black pepper and pan fry them in butter until golden brown (just a few minutes each side). Ah, wonderful childhood memories.
This year Bonnie and I enjoyed the smelts with an oyster and chopped clam chowder. Chowders are a cinch to make, just make sure that you’ve got the best ingredients. Render some bacon (or salt pork) until it’s crispy, remove and reserve the meat. Sautee chopped onions, diced potatoes and chopped celery in the reserved fat. Turn the heat low, add the oyster/clam liquor and a little milk and cook covered low until the potatoes are just about done. Don’t you dare let this boil – it should be barely simmering. Add milk and or cream, the oysters/chopped clams, enough velouté sauce (made with fish stock or more shellfish liquor) to get the thickness that you like, season (bay leaf, or tarragon, or plain old salt and black pepper) and add the crumbled bacon. Let it sit on low heat for a few minutes until the flavors marry – enjoy.
Fried Smelts and Oyster and Clam Chowder
The Remains of the Day – Part Deux
Next Week: The Dinner Diaries of 1986 Continue