Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Like Granny Used to, But With More Booze...

It's funny -- SND has a huge email list. Some people come all of the time, some come occasionally, some come just a few times a year, and some have never been to dinner, but just like reading our emails. Then there are those who come for specific dishes.

Like Banana Pudding.

The mention of Banana Pudding in a Sunday Night Dinner invitation sends some of our invitees (who shall remain nameless) hurtling towards Astoria on the N train and sprinting to our door. I wonder why that is? Were we all separated from our birth families and their respective Sunday Dinners too soon?

And frankly, what could improve the super-comfort food that is banana pudding better than... bourbon?

Here's the invite:

Hello again Hungry Kiddies! Is it cold enough for you yet?

I never really had a Sunday Dinner tradition until I started dating a preacher's son. My family had special family dinner (read: my absolute favorite family member of all time, Great Grandma Joy came over with Papa Howard) on Monday nights because my dad was a chef and that was the night he had off. Sundays were reserved for time with dad-- he would do inventory at the restaurant and I would tag along, propped up at the bar with endless salted Peanuts and Shirley Temples. When you are 5 or 6 that is some sophisticated entertainment, let me tell ya.

Monday nights were dinner at our house, mom cooked and dad stood over her shoulder, not cooking but telling her what to do until she got so infuriated that she had to leave the kitchen, all burners on full bore, and my dad would finish it. (I hope I learned something from that) As she got older (she lived to 96!) Grandma Joy started insisting on peeling the canned green beans she brought, so that tended to keep her occupied. After dinner there were cups of hot tea with Grandma Joy, in china cups with little sugar lumps. I shudder to remember how many I used to put in. (five, anyone???) When I met Brad his family did the full on Sunday After Church Meal. Dona would toss the beef or pork roast and scalloped potatoes into the oven right before they left for church, and how burned it was when you got home depended on how many people insisted they had to talk to you at coffee hour.

Ahhhhh..... Sundays. Well this Sunday, we will have an old school Sunday Dinner, with foods you most likely grew up eating on Sundays. (or if you were me, Mondays). Please note that it is an early one-- that is easiest for you kids who have real jobs to get up the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed.


Brandied Chicken Liver Crostini (Ok, so we didn't have this growing up, but it is gooood...)
Artichokes and Greens Stew
Commando Style Roast Chickens Rubbed with Salt and Garlic
Potatoes Fried in the Dripping Chicken Fat
Escarole Salad with Garlic-Ass Lemon Dressing (I had this at John Dory last week and am a woman obsessed)
Green Peas With Mint and Butter
Stewed Spicy Chick Peas (ok, we never had this either, but it reminds me of something GH used to make at Prune and it sounds really good right now)
Karl's Banana Pudding... with Bourbon!

The initial plan was to cook the chickens "Commando Style," an ingenious method that Peter introduced to me years ago. It involves cooking a chicken (or duck) directly on the oven rack with potatoes slowly roasting into crispy goodness in a pan below, as the chicken fat (or duck fat, good gawd) drips over them. Of course, Karl had been telling me all along that there was "no fucking way" I was going to get four chickens to fit on my oven rack.

I kept blithely putting him off, saying, "Oh, of course they'll fit!" and truly believing it. Visionary or crazy? Uh... this may have been the watershed moment when I gave up all hope of being called visionary... Indeed, Karl's prophecy was fulfilled, and my plan for Commando-style Chicken for twenty went into the quagmire, with no exit strategy in sight...

But wait! Duck fat to the rescue!

I tossed the potatoes in duck fat, sliced lemons, garlic and rosemary leaves, and roasted them until crispy brown.

The chickens went into roasting pans, and the last straggler who couldn't fit was poached on the stovetop. Hooray for improvisation!

Even the lonely little poached chicken got as much love as the crispy skinned ones.

There was Brandied Chicken Liver Paté.

(Hint -- LOTS of butter, and more brandy than I thought there would be.) I was trying to recreate the insanely delicious stuff at Convivio. I came close, (it was great!) but it wasn't as good. I think they must finish it with a sweet dessert wine? Chef White? Want to weigh in?

The dressing for the escarole was tossed in the blender like an aioli. Start with one egg and 1 additional yolk, a handful of garlic cloves and a pinch of salt. Blend. Squeeze in a little lemon, a few anchovies, pour in olive oil and blend until it makes the mayonnaise sound. (See: Fergus Henderson listening to the mayo.)

The Artichokes and Greens Stew was straight from Gourmet magazine. Fucking Excellent idea and super springy tasting. Baby artichokes, trimmed slightly and braised with bitter greens in stock with lemon and garlic.

Chickpeas stewed with spices and tomatoes was also out of a magazine... Food and Wine? Gourmet? Saveur? Hmmm... why can't I remember? Anyway, it ROCKED.

Heat olive oil, add ground coriander, cumin, ginger and cinnamon stick and cook until fragrant. Add chili flake, can of tomatoes, and stew for 20 minutes, then add a can of chickpeas. Finish with chopped mint and parsley.

The bowls went out to the slavering masses and returned empty again less than 3 minutes later! Talk about a hit! I ended up making it twice more the following week.

And, finally, Karl's Banana Bourbon pudding, replete with off-brand, ghetto Nilla Wafers. Somehow, even better than the "real" ones... Enjoyed by all.

Apparently, they're a Southern Baking Tradition...

Just like your granny used to do it.... but with more booze. And, on a Sunday.

The Big VD At The SND, Or: Fuck It -- Whether Or Not I Get Laid Has No Bearing On Eating My Cake First...

Here's the invite:
Yes, Hungry kiddies, It is the dreaded and terrible Valentine's Day. The day that (and I don't care who you are) holds the power to make you feel in the deepest darkest corners of your soul….inadequate, and ALONE, and perhaps… like No One Will Ever Love You Again. Many years ago I decided that my way out of the day of self loathing would be to always spend it with friends. In Washington DC, that culminated in all of the ladies from my group house where I lived plus Mary Ann going to some Cincinnati Chili House in Arlington, VA, where we proceeded to eat every kind of chili they made, onion rings, fries (with ranch dressing, of course), beers and Chocolate Mudd Pie, only to find ourselves completely incapacitated with intestinal distress the next day. Whoops. When I moved to NYC I was low man on the totem pole so I had to work for a few years on the big VD. Union Pacific and Babbo sucked, Prune was awesome. The prix fixe was $69 (how can you not love that???) and we made people eat grilled veal hearts and crabs. Of course, there were always the breakups… who fucking breaks up on the big VD???? Selfish assholes, that is who! I mean, when you think about it, can't you just suck it up for another 12 hours???? After Prune I went back to the "spend it with friends" model. Like marauding visigoths (without the torches) we made reservations for 5 and 7 people, foisting our merriment, bitterness and drunkenness on poor unsuspecting amateurs who were just trying to get their romance on. One year we managed to offend/drive out the entire clientele of The Queen's Hideaway. I believe the low point was when I was telling some completely inappropriate story to Dapper Dan and I had to be physically shushed. For at least 2 years afterward whenever I was speaking about inappropriate things too loudly, the code would be "Valentine's Day"! Loving couples around us cowered. The next year we tried to tell Liza that we didn't want to do that to her again, but she INSISTED that we come! She said she couldn't get through it without us! That is how black her heart is.
Well, now that the QH is officially a memory, we faced the "what the fuck will we do THIS year??? And, unfortunately, Karl and I will be on a plane hurtling towards Phoenix so I can get some much needed sun and pool time, but there is still the night before.
You know you can't go out that weekend. You know it is the most tragic day to dine out save New Year's Eve. But you *do* want to do something festive.
So: Come to my joint, where we will be eating CAKE FIRST. Yeah, that's right. Double chocolate Bundt Cake. First. With a glass of Cava. Then Dinner. Come be hopeful, loving, alone, bitter…. However you feel… feel it with us, at SND. Because we understand you, kids. Even though I found love, I still force my husband to spend VD like I think it should be spent, with friends.

Double Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake with a glass of Cava
Crackling and Walnut Rolls
Celery and Parsley Salad with Poached Egg
Poached Chicken with Bacon Dumplings and Wild Mushrooms
Cider Baked Onions
itter Salad (so you can hold on to your ideals)
Mashed Potatoes with Chard
Pears with some beautiful cheese (pray for Vacherin!)
Prunes soaked in Armagnac

Usual Rules Apply. First 20 to RSVP get the seats. Address with Confirmation. Come anytime after 6:30 pm, dinner a little after 7. In Love and Garlic, Tamara

I own a cookbook by Madeline Kamman called, "When French Women Cook". It is a delightful sort-of memoir with chapters named for the women who taught Kamman how to cook and their stories about feeding their families in the French countryside. Not like a "picking-wildflowers-in-a-cute-dress" French countryside, but more of a "hey-the-war-is-on-and-we-have-3-francs,-2 chickens,-some-cream-that-we-can-churn-into-butter,-some-dandelions/weeds-growing-out-by-the-back-door,-and-a-pig-we-can-slaughter-and-turn-into-bacon" French countryside.

Who doesn't want to cook like that?

There was Cake first. Yes, you read it in the invite. Cake first. Specifically, Double Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake.

This cake is the fucking bomb. It is Suzanne Goin's recipe from Sunday Suppers At Luques, a book I respect A LOT. What could make this cake better?

Serving it first, of course. With a glass of cava.

After this Epic VD Dinner, (my relationship with Valentine's Day is, shall we say... not rosy) I can only say that book ought to be called "When French Women Cook -- With Servants."

I own dozens of pots and pans. I mean dozens.

By the time it was over, Every. Single. One. was dirty. Every lid. Every pan. I was a wild eyed sweaty mess-- poaching chickens in veal stock and making bacon dumplings, for Christ sake!

It looked so reasonable printed on the page! I had even made the veal stock the Night Before!

Talk about prepared... If only I had approached my SAT's with this much planning...
Someone asked me a week ago -- nearly 2 months after this dinner-- why I still had the recipe taped to my cabinet above the stove. I told them I wanted it in plain sight so I was not romanced into cooking out of that book again until I had a cavalry of help!

I love to travel -- and often I get to see some eye-popping Wonder of the World-- The Taj Mahal, The Pyramids -- structures that clearly were built with the power of, uh... under-salaried manual labor, and I will say something witty like, "Ah yes. Just look at what you can accomplish with the help of servants." Who knew that extended to a cookbook?

I love to think of myself as an intrepid enough cook to just jump in and get the job done. I am rarely intimidated by lengthy directions -- I usually just find a shortcut.

What is maddening though, is when a recipe looks deceptively easy, and the next thing you know you are muttering to yourself, throwing dirty pans in the general direction of your sink, frantically looking for yet another lid and wondering how to tell when a bacon dumpling is DONE?

How to tell? Such a small window between 'not done' (gummy) and 'overdone' (gummy and disintegrating). But when they're 'done', they're soooo delicious.

We served them with Chicken Poached In Veal Stock and delicious Wild Mushroom Sauce...

Then, there was one of the best salads I know of: Celery, parsley, lemon, salt, olive oil, and poached or fried eggs.

Oh, man.

Cider braised onions-- cider, cider vinegar, butter, thyme, a little chicken stock, salt and pepper, and onions. Pop them in the oven, slow and low, 300 degrees for a couple of hours. They will melt in your mouth.

One of my guests, Brian-- newly arrived from Hot-Lanta, I believe, pronounced these the best onions he had EVER eaten. I concur.

Motor city busted out Mashed Potatoes and chard...

Motor City Heather and the expert mashing technique...

Finally, there were pears and a good, aged parmiggiano. Sadly, Vacherin was done for the season, (lazy cows!) so we settled for this. It was delicious.

Unfortunately, not everyone really believed they were supposed to eat the cake first, and I fear that some may have missed it altogether. I hope they weren't disappointed when the end of meal dessert was prunes soaked in Armagnac!

A fitting finish to this very French, very complicated, very classic homage to the holiday of Amour! Bon Appetit!