Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ali Al-Sayed on WNYC's The Leonard Lopate Show!

Astoria's King (and when we say 'king,' we naturally mean 'pharaoh') of Egyptian Hocus Pocus, Ali Al-Sayed and legendary author and food archivist Claudia Roden discuss Egyptian cuisine on WNYC's The Leonard Lopate Show.

Listen Here:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Celebrating James Beard's American Cookery, SND Style!

J.B. - The Godfather Of American Gourmet Cooking!

"I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism,
I might manage if there were enough tarragon around."
- James Beard

When my friend Amanda told me that Little, Brown and Company was planning to reissue the landmark cookbook American Cookery by James Beard, I was afraid they would “update” it and take away the historical charm in deference to our current streamlined cultural tastes and ideals. She sent me the introduction and a few pages of the new design - Whew! A relief that the recipes are exactly the same, just the pictures were updated.

She asked if I would choose and cook one recipe and then blog about it, as part of the book's roll out. I immediately said 'I would LOVE to!' But then, I thought: "Come on... any pussy can cook one recipe! Where's the challenge in that? I'm doing an entire dinner!”

So off I went, to consult my own tattered, food stained, paperback edition of American Cookery, given to me by Millicent Souris when we were both working at The Queens Hideaway. Millicent was the one who had introduced me to Beard’s everyday, practical side, so it was only fair that I should co-opt/convince/involve her in the potential debacle I had planned. Plus, twenty people would be eating this meal, and I LOVE to cook with Millicent, so this was the perfect opportunity all the way around.

I was flipping through the book, hoping something would jump off the page and into my imagination, when I came upon the pages devoted to Roast Suckling Pig. The way he talks about the women cooks from whom he got many of the recipes is so matter of fact: “Mrs. Harland recommended roasting suckling pigs on their knees.”

The further description of the baby pig, stuffed and roasted, and on its knees ("Kneeling, As An Innocent”) sent me over the edge. How could I NOT cook that? The last time I roasted a baby pig in the oven was in 2001, so this meal was definitely overdue, and that time I wasn’t even armed with a recipe - just my wits - (barely). This adve
nture was already feeling like a success!

Now what does one serve with kneeling, stuffed, baby pig? Hmmm… How about Braised Onions with Bourbon and Butter? I feel like the good people at Jack Daniels® and Makers Mark® surely must not be aware of this recipe or else it would be printed on the side of every bottle sold on either side of the Mississippi.

Braised Red Cabbage with Red Wine would be a fun foil to the rich pork and the onions. Wilted Greens Salad (any Southern cook worth his/her salt has a recipe for that) and it's the perfect use for the remnant bacon fat from cooking the bacon in Katherine Smith’s Small Potatoes appetizer. I loved the idea of the Celery Salad... just celery stalks, chilled and put in a tall glass or vase with mustard vinaigrette in the bottom. Very 1950’s ladies lunch...

All of that rich, fatty food begs for some Mustard Greens (simply wilted in olive oil with a squeeze of lemon and salt.) and, just to gild the lily… who could resist Creamed Shrimp on Toast? (Add petite pois and you've got a Smith undergrad meal á la Sylvia Plath... Think: hot, sexually repressed dinner for two in a dorm room, not suicide.) And last, but in no way least (particularly since three of these were required to feed twenty people...) Chess Pie.

Here's The Invite:

Happy Monday!

Have you found yourself eating dinner somewhere new and thought..."you know, they sure don't cook like they USED to!"

I know I have. I mean, foam is fine and squiggles on the plate can be... pretty, but occasionally, it is nice to visit classic Americana. This Sunday, in honor of Little, Brown and Co.'s new edition of the James Beard classic, American Cookery, (with a new forward by Tom Colicchio and a new design!) we will do an all Beard menu for dinner. And just to make it that much more fun, my old friends Millicent Souris formerly of The Queens Hideaway, Egg, and now at Roebling Tea Room, and Cristina Topham, private chef/yacht chef and adventurer extraordinaire will be joining me in the One Ass Kitchen! To top it off, it will be on...a SUNDAY. Almost like the olde times!

Can't wait to cook this menu with the ladies.

Katherine Smith's Small Potatoes
Celery Salad
Creamed Shrimp with Toast Points
Wilted Lettuce Salad
Stuffed Roast Suckling Pig (Kneeling, in "the Innocent" Position)
Braised Onion Slices with Bourbon
Braised Red Cabbage and Red Wine
Mustard Greens

Apple Cream Pie/Molasses Pie?

As soon as I posted the menu, the RSVPs came pouring in. The menu was so tempting and exhilarating, and so clearly assembled by a mentally unbalanced person, that my dear friend and very accomplished chef Cristina Topham offered to come in from St Louis to help.

How could I turn down an offer like that? So now we were three chefs strong, and thank Christ for that, because the meal would prove a huge undertaking, particularly since the plan was to cook these recipes exactly as written...

I shopped out the menu (mostly) the day before, and then bought produce the morning of... I spent the first part of Sunday morning preparing the rice for the stuffing while drinking my coffee. Karl put on the original Broadway recording of A Chorus Line for me. I don't know if J.B. would have recommended this as the ideal kitchen soundtrack, but it was the PERFECT thing for my hyped up/stressed out psyche.

I retrieved the baby pig from our favorite neighborhood restaurant... He got to have a slumber party in their walk-in, since my fridge wasn’t big enough to hold him, and it wasn’t yet cold enough outside to use the balcony as a fridge. We let him warm up on our kitchen table, which was fine, until our upstairs neighbor came down for morning coffee. She is a vegetarian and seeing a dead baby pig first thing in the morning is a little… intense.

Note the cool hipster tattoo...

The lady chefs arrived at the crack of noon armed with knives and can-do attitudes.

We set to work trying to figure out how to truss the stuffed pig closed. Anticipating the difficulty, I had purchased a turkey trussing needle set the day before. What I hadn’t considered is how to get the needle all the way through the tough pigskin when the eye of the needle is a large, closed steel ring.

Cristina came up with the method we wound up using: Skewering the needles down each side, and lacing the twine back and forth through them.

We gave him an olive oil, salt and pepper rubdown and placed him in the hotel pan.

My dream of roasting him “kneeling” was thwarted by rigor mortis. Oh well...

That'll do, Pig.

Instead, Millicent spied some spare baking apples, so we tossed those under him with onions. Talk about a good decision!

We made the Bourbon Butter Braised Onions. Simple and totally genius. They almost tasted like butterscotch when we were done with them.

Definitely a keeper.

We boiled the little potatoes for Katherine Smith’s Small Potatoes. They're boiled, cooled, cut in half, in our case, and topped with bits of bacon, chives and sour cream. So simple and the PERFECT cocktail party Scooby Snack!

Since Millicent is our resident Pie Whisperer, I delegated this task to her. She makes Chocolate Chess Pie and Lemon Chess Pie on the regular, but had never made JUST “Chess” Pie! True to form, when it came time to decide which kind of pie she wanted to make, we just went to my cupboard and took handfuls of raisins, pecans, walnuts, dates, and hazelnuts and she… created. Divine.

Okay, so we had to bake it in my upstairs neighbor’s oven, and okay, because something had spilled in the bottom of her oven that began burning, the smoke alarm went off and the apartment filled with smoke and I had to run up there, open the sliding glass door and turn on the box fan to exhaust for about an hour… and the pies were not as beautiful as they could have been but still tasted... divine.

I got some gorgeous celery at the farmer’s market.

When Millicent finished the Pie Extravaganza she made the vinaigrette for them, but then I caught her going off the reservation, recipe-wise and adding pomegranate molasses.

I hate to admit it but this was the beginning of the end of my rule from the beginning of the day: That we stay Absolutely True to the recipes. We all started to cook the way we knew best: We read the recipe, and then went with instincts, palate and imagination. I don't think J.B. would have been unhappy with either our methods or our results.

One of these happy accidents came about with the Red Cabbage Braised in Red Wine. After all of the chopping and wondering how much the cabbage would shrink, I completely forgot to add the, um, RED WINE.

You know, half of the recipe's title.

I braised it for an hour before I realized my mistake.

I added the missing ingredient for the last hour of braising, and it turned out so incredibly beautiful that I am not entirely sure I wouldn’t do it again the same way. It was gone in seconds. Who knew twenty people could eat that much cabbage?

The Mustard Greens were washed, and then wilted in some cava with garlic, lemon and salt. Room temp greens are excellent, so that freed up another burner...

Our hero was done almost an hour earlier than we thought he would be. Caramel colored and crispy,with the apples and onions soaking in pig juices and fat.

Complete with Lady Gaga headwear...

Cristina thought crushing the apples and onions with the juices to make a sauce was in order. TOTALLY off the reservation. And the best decision of the day.

Ridiculously good—savory, and a little sweet, the fruity apple offsetting the gamey flavor of the pig juice. The fat gave the sauce a gorgeous, velvety texture. This is home cooking, people!

True to form, just as people began to arrive, I realized we hadn’t yet made the creamed shrimp.

I was (frankly) done by then, but Cristina and Millicent insisted that we do it. So glad they made it happen—it tasted like rich sherried shrimp bisque.

I can see why all of those 1950’s Smith co-eds thought it would net them husbands! I’ll bet it worked more often than not. It was the perfect foil to the celery salad and little potato appetizers. At this point it felt just like a cocktail party, without the bouffants. When are they going to bring bouffants back?...

A 22.5 pound pig yields about eight pounds of meat.

Astounding, I know.

After we got it all carved, we put all of it out on four serving plates and I let everyone know to be a little conservative.

Alas, poor Wilbur, I knew him well, Horatio...

We saved the snout for Charles...

The sauce definitely saw us through, as well as the seventy five pounds of mustard greens, cabbage, bourbon onions, wilted salad and stuffing.

And oh, the stuffing!

The stuffing was insanely silky and bright and somehow…light, even though it had been roasting inside of a pig for four hours.

So… we not only made it, we thrived. Three cooks, well... two chefs and a cook, actually. Four burners, two ovens. Twenty four hungry mouths.

My old copy of American Cookery is smeared with food stains for good reason. I hope your new copy ends up that way too.

"I’m going to break one of the rules of the trade. I’m going to tell you one of the secrets of improvisation. Just remember—it’s always a good idea to follow the directions exactly the first time you try a recipe. But from then on, you’re on your own."
- James Beard