Tuesday, February 26, 2008


"The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it..." but "... as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me... immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents."

Marcel Proust, "Remembrance of Things Past"

I just love it when one little thing -- a smell, a taste, a dish... even a photograph can expand your mind to an entire meal you hadn't considered. In this case, it was the sweet little article and recipe in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago by Melissa Clark.

The idea of little meringues scented with rose water and finished with rose petals, whipped cream with jam, cassis and pomegranate seeds set my imagination aflame. I owe Melissa Clark a 'thank you' e-mail!

Working backwards from dessert can be inspiring, in a very specific way. It sort of reminds me of eating dessert before dinner. When the end is preplanned, you can think... "now what do I want to have to eat before that?"

Something about the way Melissa Clark described her Parisian hostess struck a sympathetic chord; It was the exact way in which Zora and I recently described the respective hosts whose entertaining styles we grew up admiring, who started us down the road on which we find ourselves today… and now we work to be that sort of host to others. But I digress.

At any rate, It was ultimately very easy to decide on Rustic French as the way to go. The cuisine lends itself to “family style" dining, presentation is forgiving, and flavor is key.

That, and it allows you maximum freedom with the cream and butter aspect.

Rustic French also allowed me to make a dish that I have both desired and feared in equal measure.

Sacré Bleu!

Pissaladière is basically a rustic French pizza loaded
with anchovies,

caramelized onions,

and Nicoise olives.

Yeah, baby.

Big ups to Millicent, Karl and Peter for defiantly insisting that we pit the olives before putting them on the pizza, as I was freaking out about time and wanted to skip that step...

My fear doesn't stem so much from caramelizing the onions or pitting the olives, the problem lies in the dough.

Delicious yeast! Yes, my pretties...eat!

Doh! (Dough...)

The truth of the matter is, I am very attracted to the idea of making dough, but I have never actually done it. It's kind of like my feelings about spending the week in a monastery in silent meditation, but that's a different subject. Thank Christ I married Karl, who loves to make dough, and who greeted my plaintive “will you make it?" with “Sure!”

Karl's Pissaladiere dough, in the easy-to carry Zippy Bag® Dough Carrier (Patent Pending)

Pissaladière it was – in all its savory goodness, lying in wait for our approaching guests. I love the idea of getting everyone on equal footing right off by plying their palates (and breath!) with anchovies and onions. The social messiness of it intrigues me.

Mmmm... Social messiness...

The main factor that made this meal a leader in the Sunday Night Dinner Hall of Fame was the presence of our guest star, Millicent.


She used to cook at one of my favorite joints of all time, The Queen’s Hideaway, and is a badass with a heart of gold and knife skills that make me embarrassed to chop anything in her presence.

She offered to help cook and showed up with 1) Her own knife, 2) Her own “Prep Beer” with matching cozy and 3) a pint of freshly rendered goose fat.

I am sorry to admit this, but anyone who shows up with goose fat IMMEDIATELY jumps to the front of the line. It's like fixing the karmic lottery, as far as I am concerned.

She initially asked about a “prep list” which, naturally, I didn't have.

Ahem. Fortunately, she was content to take orders, which my close friends tell me I am somehow good at giving.

She chopped and sliced and washed and chopped some more. It was her idea to poach eggs and put them on the Celery and Watercress Salad, transforming it from something just fresh and lively into something fucking crazy delicious.

Deploying the poached eggs...

Mmmm... Poachy.

Peter, who doesn’t even like celery, loved it!!

In my mind, the Leeks Vinaigrette was
just going to be leeks, cleaned and halved and then topped with a vinaigrette.

Delicious leeks, still covered in their garden dirt...

But no.

Millicent tackled them and turned them into beautiful little pale green, julienned matchsticks. Karl was particularly edified by her technique of first halving the leeks, lengthwise...

and then flattening each half for slicing...

They were so gorgeous that I believed for a moment that spring was just around the corner.

One of the greatest challenges in this meal was that we had planned essentially three vinaigrettes, and I wanted all of them to be different.

Fifty Million Frenchmen and One Vinaigrette-addled Oregonian can't be wrong...

The Gribiche on the asparagus was made with lemon juice, a touch of sherry vinegar, olive oil, capers, loads of parsley, and in the end, a touch of strained Greek yogurt.

The Joy Of Asparagus!

I can't tell you why I did it, but I kept tasting and tasting and looking in the fridge and suddenly the yogurt seemed like a good idea. And it was.

The tang and creaminess of the yogurt played right over the hard cooked crumbled eggs that garnished the dish and the whole vinaigrette coated the asparagus beautifully.


Oh, sweet Jeebus...

Millicent busted out the
vinaigrette for the Celery Salad with lemon, red wine vinegar, loads of shallots and olive oil. Tough and tangy. Perfect with the poached eggs.

The one that ended up topping the leeks was Dijon mustard-based.

MIllicent using a very precise Dijon mustard measuring instrument...

I also think that these vinaigrettes led to the perfect balance between something ridiculously rich (Roasted Chicken with Calvados Cream Sauce) and bitter citrus flavors and lots of vegetables.

We also had some De Puy lentils...

thanks Kalustyans!

...that were the base to a delicious salad with big shallot chunks,

more mustard vinaigrette and, because I can’t help myself, lardons.

Bacon makes everything better, doesn’t it?

Again, vinegar, onions and citrus balancing out the presence of bacon, perfect to soak up the creamy sauce.

The chicken was elevated to superstardom with the addition of goose fat.

We put pats of
butter under the skin, salted it liberally and then rubbed the little babies all over with goose fat.

Then we filled the bottom of the pans with pearl onions and garlic cloves (all unpeeled!!!) and stood the chickens upright to save room.

We parked them in a 500 degree oven for a little over an hour, turning the birds twice.

High-level Poultry Consultation...

Crispy and poultridocious!

When they came out the chickens were carved into pieces,

the onions and garlic were spooned out of the pan and reserved,

and the pan was reheated on the top of the range with the remaining juices.

Then, we poured in some Calvados and set it on fire!


When the flames began to lick out, heavy cream, salt and pepper were added and the sauce was reduced and whisked for about 6 minutes...

...et, voila!

Next, our Potato and Fennel Gratin was Frenchy simplicity at its best.

Sliced fennel, potatoes, salt, pepper, chicken stock and heavy cream,

finished with butter and bread crumbs, of course.

Perhaps an over the top choice, considering the Calvados Cream Sauce with the chicken, but hey... isn’t that why people get on the train and haul ass to Astoria?

There was lots of drinking in the kitchen.

Karl likes to make sure I'm drinking enough water...

And at the finish, Melissa Clark's dessert.

Sometimes it's a game of millimeters in our oven...


I had prepared the meringues that morning, so we just whipped some cream with
Crème de Cassis and Mixed Fruit Jam. A dollop of that, a few fresh raspberries (no pomegranates to be found! So I broke my own seasonal rule, and I am glad I did), and serve with a spoon. Big hit.

There was dancing in the kitchen (which, frankly, should always be the case)

and as the evening wound down I found myself getting misty.

I am thankful for people who love to eat, thankful for the culinary brilliance of others that help me learn every time I cook, thankful for all of the help that comes from so many corners - my husband Karl, Peter, Zora, Millicent and so many others.

Peter arranging the Front Of House...

Thankful for the people who have been coming to these dinners for 4 years, and for those of you who get on the train for Sunday Night Dinner in Astoria and enter our dining hall
knowing nobody, clutching their bottles of wine and printed directions.

I ended the evening sitting beside one of our all time favorites, Christopher, singing along with Peter's vinyl copy of the Original Cast Recording of A Chorus Line (!!!) Turns out, we both remembered all of the words, even after drinking all night!

Tamara & Karl - Christopher C, 2008 (Sharpie®, wine and chicken grease on butcher paper)

Fucking Delicious - Christopher C. 2008 (Sharpie®, wine and chicken grease on butcher paper)