When I first started writing Weeknight Dinner, I mentioned that the raison d'etre for this collection of recipes and dinner plans was finding myself, as we all do at some point, faced with the need to feed myself on a nightly basis. At the time, that meant the usual mishaps and, increasingly successes. For the successes, I thank a handful of kitchen influences: my grandmother, about whom I often reminisce; my dear friend Ellen, about whom reminiscences are forthcoming; and some great food and home teachers and writers. With Julie and Julia currently playing in theatres and Saint Julia's birthday recently passed, I have been thinking about Julia Child.
Like Julie in that movie and not alone among home cooks, I have cooked my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking came to me when I was still in high school. I don't know why, other than providence, it caught my attention at the bookstore in the mall, but it did. I asked for it for my birthday and so I received it with my grandmother's compliments. I can still remember the first dish I assayed: Cake Saint-Andre (Volume Two, page 490 in my copy), for the French Club dejeuner. Other kids and, unfortunately, some teachers thought it odd for me to not just read Julia's kitchen wisdom but put it into effect. I knew at the time was that I was good at cooking, and (again: thanks, Grandma) knowing that, and pursuing it, trumped any of the considerable bigotry in that time and place against boys learning to cook.
Moving from high school through college to graduate school took me and takes us to that first apartment, and my first kitchen on my own. It was a long, narrow afterthought of a room on the top floor of a half-derelict brownstone. When we moved in, the kitchen had an old-world enamel sink, a brown relic of a stove circa 1971, a clack-handled refrigerator, a garlic press from the 99 cent store that the previous tenant left behind, and a white tile floor that no amount of scrubbing could clean.
At that time, how comforting it was to unpack that copy of Mastering, open it up, and resume learning by doing. In that crummy kitchen, I learned how to frisee dough. Make vinaigrette. Sear chicken. Mash potatoes. Whip cream. Salt a roast. Make a quiche. Cook with fennel and leeks and garlic and herbs. Cook with wine. And, starting with egg dishes in the tradition of French cooking, I learned how to make an omelette.
Omelettes are an ideal simple supper, as elegant and relaxing as a stop by the cafe, where they are always on the late-supper menu. Like the signature dishes of most cuisines, making an omelette is a matter of mastering a technique and then making it your own. Chez nous, l'omelette de la maison is a graceful fold of frothy eggs, subtle with sea salt and roughened with black pepper, enfolding a snappy jolt of sundried tomato, a rich pillow of goat cheese just begun to melt, and a fragrant sprinkle of herbs. I serve it with buttered toast made from crusty bread and, since we're having a quiet French supper, a martini rouge or a glass of wine. It is the perfect end to a hectic over-scheduled weeknight; beckoning you tableside, to savor that supreme gift of French culture: the aesthetic of living.
OMELETTE WITH GOAT CHEESE, SUN-DRIED TOMATO AND HERBES DES PROVENCE
This recipe makes two omelettes; with practice, you will be able to make both in a few minutes. A non-stick pan and a silicone spatula are useful for making omelettes, but if you don't have them, use the pan and spatula you normally use for eggs.
6 large eggs
6 ounces sun-dried tomatoes
4 ounces goat cheese
3 teaspoons herbes des Provences
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Lay tomatoes on a cutting board and cut lengthwise into strips. Stack the strips and cut crosswise to form dice. Break the goat cheese into a bowl. Set the tomatoes, goat cheese and herbes des Provences on a cutting board and set the cutting board safely within reach of the stovetop.
2. Place a non-stick skillet on the burner and heat on low.
3. Break 3 eggs into a bowl. Add a sprinkle of salt and several grindings of black pepper. Use a whisk or handheld mixer to beat the eggs until frothy.
4. Turn the heat to high. Place a pat of butter onto the pan's surface; swirl to coat the pan as the butter melts.
5. Pour the eggs into the pan, using a spatula to get every bit of egg into the pan.
6. Swirl the eggs in the pan so that they reach up the sides. Settle the pan onto the burner.
7. Once eggs have begun to cook on the sides, swirl the spatula under the sides and push the cooked eggs to the middle of the pan. Let the uncooked eggs settle onto the outer edge of the omelet, swirling the pan if necessary.
8. As eggs begin to settle, scatter half of the tomatoes and half of the cheese across the surface. Sprinkle with half of the herbes.
9. As cheese begins to melt, use the spatula to fold one third of the omelet's edge onto the middle, and then fold the remaining third over that.
10. Use the spatula to quickly flip the omelet so that it is seam side down in the pan.
11. Slide the omelet onto a dinner plate and serve.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The original table was one of the first pieces of furniture we purchased together: it came from Conran's on Astor Place (New Yorkers who remember Astor Place In The Day raise your hands). It has been with us for eighteen years in four apartments. Perhaps dining tables like to work but they also speak of respite: what is more comforting than slowing down to share a meal together? This table is a wonder of design: it folds into thirds and can be stored in a space no more than six inches wide -- necessary in a first apartment where the cooking, eating and living areas combined were smaller than most hallways. Neither of us could bear to part with the table, and who knows what ways we may find to press it into service in the future! But for now it is allowed to rest, out of the way but within access.
The dominant feature in the room is wall cabinets in stained oak, so we took that tone into account when deciding upon new furniture. The pieces we eventually decided upon were available in three finishes: unstained birch, honey and espresso. The honey finish we decided upon showcases the warmth of the wood, while the modern design keeps the pieces from looking precious. The finish harmonizes with the kitchen cabinets that are an arm's length away, as well as the occasional shelves and a storage table that were already in the dining area, which we knew we were going to continue using.
The table seats four; with the extensions, eight. We decided not to buy the matching chairs because we both like the black vinyl diner chairs we already had, and in color and style they anchor the area. Black provides visual relief from the wood tones while carrying through to the color scheme in the kitchen area. Black, honey and orange are the colors for both areas; a subtle line of demarcation between the two is achieved by the introduction of cream and autumn gold in the kitchen area.
Though it is sizable enough to navigate comfortably, the dining area is compact, so displays have to be judiciously edited. We chose a china hutch with frosted glass doors, so that the items inside would only be part of the visual dialogue when in service. The generously-sized upper shelves house water- and wine glasses, carafes, and coffee and tea service. Eight formal china settings are separated by felt rounds and stacked on helper shelves; there is still room to store holiday dinnerware and a set of dessert plates.
On the lower shelves are a collection of Russell Wright serveware in my favorite glazes of nutmeg and black chutney, as well as additional serving pieces. I love to collect these pieces during weekend scrounges at tag sales, church sales, flea markets and internet auctions. The bottom shelf is the right size to house two wine racks: one for red and one for white. As it frequently is in city home bars, liquor is organized on butler trays -- straight liquor on one, cordials and liqueurs on the other.