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Monday, September 28, 2009

The prescient cook

Sometimes you start cooking with the idea of using up random stuff that you have on hand and you can just tell, before it's even halfway done, that it's going to be good.

Here's what I did: Sauteed a lot of sliced fresh mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil in big deep cast iron pan. Tossed in a couple of blobs of frozen caramelized sliced onions (I prepare batches of these - just cook onions slowly til they have a rich, brown color - and freeze in "blobs" on foil, then wrap the blobs individually in plastic and put in a ziploc bag). Stirred in what was left of my big bag of frozen chopped spinach (quite a lot) and a well-drained large can of wild salmon. Stirred it around a bit and seasoned (being careful with the salt as the salmon I used was quite salty).

Meanwhile I am cooking a big batch of brown basmati rice. When it's done I'll stir in as much of it as seems right, then I'll mix it all together and put it in a pan and grate some swiss cheese over the top. A few minutes in the oven or under the broiler should be enough to finish it off.

Almost sounds like something Betty Draper might cook, doesn't it? Except, come to think of it, she'd have used Minute Rice, and I think that frozen vegetables only came in those little rock-hard rectangular packages then. Oh, and I suppose canned cream of mushroom soup might have been involved. Well, progress!

Where were you in 62?

Like quite a few others I am mad about Mad Men, though (also like quite a few others) I came late to the scene. I saw seasons 1 and 2 on DVD from the library, and am going to have to catch up on Season 3 as time permits at the kids' house (they have one of those fancy TV's that let you save stuff).

I graduated from college in 62, and then worked in Manhattan that summer and fall in magazine publishing and advertising. Revisiting this time through the eyes of those who weren't even born (to them it might as well be a 1776 costume drama, I keep thinking!) is pretty heady. Yes, people DID drink and smoke like that! Yes, women WERE treated that way. Worse, we accepted it. assumed that it was OK!

Last night I watched American Graffiti for the first time. Don't ask me why (OK I'll tell you - I had recently seen Francis Coppola's wonderful film, The Conversation, and had been curious about his other early work. ) Coppola produced American Graffiti because George Lucas (himself still an unknown, before Star Wars) needed a "name" attached to the project. Coppola had just made The Godfather. Harrison Ford has such a small part in this film that he doesn't even get a mention in the star credits. Richard Dreyfus was unknown. Suzanne Somers is on screen for about ten seconds. Ron Howard had to audition for his part.

I loved this movie. Though it took place in 1962, it is really about the end of the fifties - just as Mad Men (so far) is. This is the high school perspective. But it's just as real to me. Almost as in the Peanuts cartoon, adults barely appear.

It's about cruising, which is what teenagers did in the fifties and very early sixties. Oh how I remember that! Driving with a carful of friends through the Steak-n-Shake lot just to see who was there! Then deciding to go check out the OTHER Steak'n'Shake. This involved driving back down Main Street, another chance to see who was there, and with whom. How important it all seemed!

Another world.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Looking for Josephine

Saw this charming musical revue at Montclair State College over the weekend. Loved it!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hoppel Poppel

In the September Gourmet (page 20, if it's handy) there's a photo of something called "Hoppel Poppel", apparently a Wisconsin breakfast specialty. I figured it was another of those strange Wisconsin food things that the rest of us know little or nothing about - things like brats, Kopps, supper clubs, fish fries, cheese curds ....

Benji's, the Milwaukee deli where it was photographed for the magazine, sounded as if it might be pretty close to Supermom's house, so I asked her about it She knew the deli, but not the dish.

Anyhow, it was on my mind, and it got to be dinnertime. Benji's provides a recipe, both for the regular and deluxe versions, so I didn't really have to improvise. Really, it's just a skillet of fried onions and potatoes and salami chunks with some eggs scrambled in at the end. But the salami wasn't going to happen. Would bacon work? I always have cooked bacon in the freezer (but that's another post).

Here's my adaptation:

Cut a red potato in big chunks and nuke, covered, in a little water for 5 minutes, or til cooked. Meanwhile, fry half a roughly chopped or sliced onion in a little olive oil. When soft, add half a yellow pepper, sliced, and 3 or 4 mushrooms, sliced. By now the potatoes should be done, so drain them and add to the pan, continuing to cook a few minute more til everything seems done and the potatoes have browned nicely. Now stir in a couple of cooked bacon slices cut in biggish pieces and a big handful of frozen chopped spinach (straight out of the big bag in the freezer). As the spinach cooks, season with salt and pepper to taste. Now whisk together 2 eggs with a little salt and add them to the pan to scramble among all the rest of the stuff. That's it! Have a slice of whole wheat toast on the side to provide a little texture contrast. Serves one hungry person or two regular ones.

I'm adding this to the "see again" list.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


I suppose I'll remember this summer (to distinguish it from others) as the summer of the woodchuck. I think I brought on the troubles myself, by thinking I could plant a few vegetables near the front door where they'd be safe. We've had woodchucks for as long as I can remember, but they have always, until now, stayed out back. That's where their holes are - far from the house, near the glen.
The broccoli shoots were growing nicely, along with the chard and tomatoes, interspersed prettily with the herbs and flowers. Until one day they weren't. They were gone. Eaten to a stubble. And that was when I spotted, from my bedroom window, a woodchuck peering out from the hole he'd made by removing a few loose bricks in my front steps.
It was hard to explain the problem to the masons I called for estimates. Was there a danger of sealing the animals IN, in the course of repairs? Should I try to get rid of the woodchuck FIRST? But then how do I know another won't appear? And how many are there anyhow? I had a few nightmares about woodchucks destroying the foundation, getting into the house....
Ultimately the woodchuck was dispatched, and the steps repaired. Plenty of his brethren remain. And they're getting bolder. I saw one just today outside this window, in the neighbors' driveway. I'm told it would be hopeless to think of getting rid of them permanently, living, as I do, adjacent to woodland.
But it's safe to say that my broccoli-growing days are over.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Notes from the kitchen: crepes redux

I didn't do much cooking this summer. (Summer? What summer?) Anyhow, maybe it's the Julia thing, but I've made a few things worth noting. I started to describe them in one long post, but it began to look a little daunting, so I've decided to break it up. Blog readers are said to have short attention spans.

This morning, crepes. I've written about those before, but A NYT article opened my eyes to an entirely new technique. Before: scrounge around for the recipe, then put the stuff in the blender. Then wait the requisite half hour for the flour to "rest". Now: no recipe, no blender, no resting. Just whisk an egg or two (one egg is fine for one person) in a small bowl, then whisk in flour to make a smooth paste - about 1/2 cup is about right per egg. Half can be whole wheat for a nice nutty version. But no need to measure. Now the flavorings: a pinch of salt, and, for a sweet versioin, a teaspoon or so of sugar and a little vanilla. Now thin it out with milk til it's a perfectly smooth thin batter. I didn't even have any milk so I used a little cream to get it started, then finished with water (!!!).

Now, to cook:. Get your crepe pan (I used my official French iron one) hot, and add a knob of butter. Swirl it around for a second, then dump the blob INTO THE BATTER, and stir it in. You have now buttered your pan AND added melted butter to the batter in one fell swoop. Make crepes as usual, using the additional hint (apparently from Jacques Pepin) of putting the blob of batter in the pan at 4 o'clock rather than in the middle. A commenter also brought up Julia's 2-pan technique: when you are ready to turn the first one, turn it over into a second DIFFERENT pan on an adjacent burner (I used my omelet pan), so that you can immediately start another one in the crepe pan. Fast fast fast!

I've been making crepes for nearly 50 years, but this is the best technique yet.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

This Old House

There have been no visits to the kids in Newton for a while. The house is in an uproar, undergoing major renovations. But thanks to the miracle of the webcams, I can check up on things whenever I want.
Webcams? What's with that? It seems they and their house have been chosen as the subjects for the Fall 2009 series of the long-running PBS "This Old House" TV program.

I'm looking forward to checking out the "stairway" webcam on Thursday. That's the day they'll be filming the removal of the existing bookshelf wall on the landing, breaking through to what will be the new "library".
Click here for more information about the project, and daughter G's wonderful blog about the experience. The actual show will air in early October.