For many of the years that I found myself either preparing meals or working in a professional kitchen, I was unaware that my boys, Mickey and Chris, were absorbing much of what was going on in my life. Burgers and dogs, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and Campbell’s tomato soup, and those most beloved (and only allowed when mom was not at home and the sitter had to prepare dinner) frozen TV dinners (Salisbury steak for Mickey and turkey for Chris) could always be found on the menu of their early years. Pizza and “Mom, do we have to sit at the table until everyone else is finished?” echoed throughout their teens. Yet, when the signs of adulthood appeared and serious dating began, fancy meals in fancy restaurants and vintage champagne slipped right off the tongue and into the hearts of impressed young ladies. My pocketbook noted that not much had passed their notice!
It has been an astonishing experience to find the shoe on the other foot as I observe my two now-grown men in the kitchen. Over the years, I have shared with them as much as I could of our American culinary heritage as well as tried to introduce them to as many types of food their palates would accept. Mickey, with his royalist leanings, spends his days with books as a literary agent. He is a culinary Francophile, a superb cook, and an in-demand recipe tester. He favors all rich foods, mushrooms, anything French, fruit desserts, Burgundies and Bordeaux, and 4-star restaurants. He thinks margarine is an old-fashioned girl’s name and granola a Yiddish term for grandmother. When not sending e-mails to his brother dealing with Premier Crus and the latest wine listings or tallying up his wine cellar, he can be found at one of the extortionate fancy food stores or kitchenware galleries scattered throughout New York City or touring the aisles of the large discount grocery stores looking for bargains in prime products.
Chris, ever the surprise, has made a career of wine and food. He began as a runner in a hot New York City restaurant/bar in his teens and went on to run a three-star Italian restaurant in San Francisco and was then lured on to the wine business. He has an extraordinary palate and tries anything that he finds on his – or anyone else’s – plate. As a child, he was particularly taken with any food that could be eaten out of hand between innings, quarters, or at half-time with an ice cold Coke or, later, a beer. Fine wine and food are now his life. This is from a guy who dunked his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in orange juice.
Our family is now fairly representative of other scattered American families. On those occasions when we can all sit down to dinner, our family numbers eight. Mickey and his wife, Laurel, and their children, Alexander and Clara Grace, live in a New York City suburb. Mickey has his office at home and Laurel works in finance in a nearby town. Their children are not as adventuresome at the table as I would like but they do know good food from bad and appreciate their dad’s cooking and mom’s baking. Mickey and Laurel give wonderful, fun-filled parties for the children; their Halloween celebration (complete with Mickey, dressed in some scary outfit, hidden in the basement in a make-believe coffin) is a much-anticipated annual event complete with traditional snacks for the kids and a full-out buffet for the adults.
Chris is divorced and lives in San Francisco. He has joint custody of his daughter, Canada, who spends every other week and every other holiday with him. Canada also spends one part of her summer vacation with us in New York City and the other part with her maternal grandmother in North Carolina. Although tied to San Francisco, Chris and Canada spend as many weekends as possible exploring the beautiful landscape that surrounds the city – hiking, camping, weekends in winery guest houses in Napa and Sonoma, and beach walks are very much a part of their urban lives. And, of course, testing every new restaurant that opens along the way.
Steve and I divide our time between an apartment in New York City and a farmhouse in central New York State where I have a test kitchen and Steve has room to work with his photography. We are known as Grammy and Ackies to Alexander and Clara Grace and MooMoo and PopPop to Canada. We are now the standard bearers for our culinary heritage. One of our greatest joys is the time we spend in the kitchen with the little ones who all love to help, particularly in the summer when canning and processing garden-fresh foods are the focus. They all love a party but no one more so than Clara Grace who I am counting on to be the hostess with the mostest in the next generation of Choate cooks.
The new American home cooking that we practice has evolved in a manner much like the traditional French culinary apprentice learns. The main difference is, of course, that we did not begin in a restaurant setting but in a home kitchen. The fundamentals of traditional home cooking – stocks, stews, soups, pastries and cakes, canning and preserving – were passed on to me and I have passed them on to my sons who, in turn, are passing them along to their children. Because cooking has interested us, we have been able to learn from every cook with whom we have come in contact. In the process, we have been able to grasp the classical French techniques upon which much of western cuisine is based as well as the procedures and techniques necessary to produce all varieties of “ethnic” meals. And, I think, because we all enjoy cooking so much, we are able to do so with ease.
As we begin to share our recipes and thoughts on cooking with you, you will find that each one of us cooks in a very defined way. Mickey is disciplined and rigorously follows French tradition. As he has gotten older, he experiments and trusts his own instincts more but, no matter how relaxed, that veal chop will be sauced with the richest reduction you can imagine. Chris, on the other hand (and, perhaps because he lives in California where pristine products are always available), is more straight-on in his approach with the grill and simply cooked vegetables playing a great role in his meals. As I get older, I value nature’s bounty more than ever. I buy only organically-grown products and purchase my raw ingredients from local farmers as much as possible. I cook simply with an eye to good health. But, I still like to finish the meal with a luscious dessert.
Let’s Make Hummus (in All Its Variations)
Of all the recipes in my world, why do I want to talk about hummus? Mainly because it has been a constant in my food chain. I first tasted it at about 10 years old when a friend invited me to dinner. Everything on her Syrian family’s menu was new to me but hummus and kibbeh were the two dishes that struck a chord, probably because, in 1950, the flavors were so different from anything I had ever tasted. Kibbeh fell by the wayside but, beginning with my foray into vegetarianism in the ‘60s, I have continually made some version of hummus and even now I almost always have at least one version in the fridge. I use it for sandwich fillings, as a dip, thinned down as a sauce for grilled veggies or as a salad dressing, and Steve dips it straight from the container as an afternoon filler-upper. My various mixtures differ tremendously with some of them not really having the right to be called hummus but we still call them so. This version (which makes a substantial amount intended for gift-giving or sharing) appeared in my first cookbook (The Gift Giver’s Cookbook with my great friend, Jane Green) in 1970 and it remains our standard. The variations have been developed along the way, sometimes with a view to reducing calories or fat and sometimes just to excite our taste buds with a jolt of heat or spice.
Hummus has been a mainstay on the menu of most vegetarian restaurants. However, I have also noted that some variation is now frequently used as a spread (in place of butter or olive oil) in many bistro-style restaurants and more and more I have seen it served in starred restaurants as a component of a complex presentation.
Mickey: At large gatherings I always serve a bowl of the traditional style along with freshly made crisp pita chips (cut pita into small triangles, brush with olive oil, season with sea or garlic salt, and bake at 350ºF until lightly browned and crisp.) Being a traditionalist, some of mom’s versions seem a little iffy to me but her friends seem to egg her on to make even more exotic mixes.
Chris: I don’t make hummus at all – I think it was all those Dead shows I attended with girls in long skirts selling hummus wraps in the parking lot!
Makes about 6 cups
Three 1 pound cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), well-drained with juice reserved (See Variations)
1 pound tahini (sesame seed paste)
8 cloves garlic
Juice of 6 lemons or to taste – we like ours lemony
Coarse salt to taste
Combine the drained garbanzos, tahini, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Begin processing and, with the motor running, add the lemon juice along with just enough of the reserved garbanzo juice to make a smooth, thick purée. Season with salt to taste and process to incorporate.
Scrape into a nonreactive container, cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Serve at room temperature with crisp chips or raw vegetables.
If you want to add an elegant touch, drizzle the top with extra virgin olive oil and a few herbs or sprinkle the top with fresh pomegranate seeds or with a mix of black and toasted sesame seeds when serving.
Variations: Because I always have them on hand, I now most often use dried beans that I cook myself – whatever beans are in the front of the cupboard are the ones I begin with.
To the gold standard, add the zest of 1 orange, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley or cilantro, hot chile pepper (Serrano, jalapeño, bird, etc.) or hot sauce to taste.
In the basic recipe, replace the garbanzos with any other type of cooked, canned bean that appeals to you. I use cannellini and black most frequently.
To reduce the fat substantially, eliminate the tahini from the basic recipe and add about ¾ cup nonfat yogurt, preferably thick, Greek yogurt, add the juice of only 3 lemons (or if you want a sweeter version, replace some or all of the lemon juice with fresh orange juice and zest) and then season with sesame oil to taste. With this lower fat version, I like to add 3 tablespoons or so of chopped fresh cilantro, flat leaf parsley, or watercress.
For an Italian take on the original, use three 1 pound cans of cannellini beans, well-drained, ¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, 3 tablespoons roasted garlic purée, and the juice and zest of 2 lemons (preferably Meyer lemons). Process as above, adding about ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil to make a smooth, thick purée. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
For a strongly-flavored Middle Eastern version, use the basic recipe, replacing the garbanzos with cooked dried fava beans or lentils. Add toasted ground cumin, cinnamon, and Aleppo pepper to taste and then fold in about ¼ cup of chopped fresh mint.
For a particularly unusual but quite delicious flavor, replace the beans with a head of cooked cauliflower. Eliminate the lemon juice and add orange juice and a hint of cumin to balance the cauliflower flavor.
To thin the hummus down for use as a sauce or salad dressing, use the reserved bean juice, water, olive oil, orange or lemon juice, or vinegar. Thin slowly, tasting as you go, until you reach the desired consistency and flavor. If the desired flavor is reached before the consistency is thin enough, use cool water, a teaspoon at a time, to thin.
While I continue to cook with “a little of this” and “a little of that”, my sons keep asking me “Why?”, “How much?”, and “What for?” I have written many, many cookbooks that answer some of these questions but nowhere have I been able to share the joy of cooking that we feel when working together in the kitchen. It seemed to me that the web now offers the perfect opportunity to combine our familial love of cooking and eating with my ability to write it all down. I hope that the irreverence and sense of adventure we find at the table will lure you in to join us in breaking bread together.
Nana’s Chicken Pot Pie
Serves 6 to 8
Chris: Longing for home on a chilly, foggy San Francisco afternoon, I decided to make a chicken pie. I was feeling a bit challenged as I wasn’t sure that I could live up to my pot pie heritage. My grandmother made the flakiest pie crust you have ever tasted and I had spent my teenage years living off of the acclaimed chicken pies that mom made at her bakery. I called mom and got the basic recipe, did my shopping, and announced to Canada that we were going to have a MooMoo dinner. I was worried that I had overestimated my skill but forged ahead. I was aiming for Nana’s flaky crust and a pie that could be cut into nice even pieces with just a calm oozing of gravy. But although the finished pie looked terrific, the crust wasn’t as flaky as I had hoped and the filling ran all over the place once I cut into it. Didn’t matter—Canada loved it and so did I. Determined to master the craft, we added chicken pie to our favorite menu list. After a few tries, I like to think that mine is now equal to Nanas. I always use organic vegetables, but conventional can easily be substituted.
Canada: I love making chicken pie with my dad—it’s a family affair. My favorite job is peeling the potatoes. Then when it goes in the oven the clock goes slower and slower and slower. But it is worth the wait ‘cause when we sit down I feel warm and cozy and I get filled up real fast. Eating the leftovers in my lunch the next day is great, too.
One 4 pound chicken, rinsed and cut into pieces (or 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cooked in about 3 cups canned, fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Nana’s Flaky Pie Crust (recipe follows)
4 organic carrots, well-washed, trimmed,
3 medium organic potatoes, well-washed
1 organic onion, peeled and diced
1 cup frozen petit peas, thawed
2½ tablespoons chicken fat or butter
2½ tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
1. Place the chicken in a heavy saucepan, cover with cold water, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 1 hour or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve, separately reserving the chicken and cooking liquid. Set aside to cool.
2. While the chicken is cooking, make and roll out the pastry. Fit one piece into a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.
3. When cool, remove and discard the chicken skin. Pull the meat from the bones and, if necessary, cut it into bite-sized pieces. Place the meat in a heatproof bowl and discard the bones. Set the meat aside.
4. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
5. Pour 3 cups of the reserved cooking liquid into a large saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, potatoes, and onion and again bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes or just until the vegetables are barely cooked. Remove from the heat and stir in the peas. Strain the vegetables, separately reserving the vegetables and the liquid.
6. Place the chicken fat or butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When melted, stir in the flour. When blended, whisk in 2 cups of the hot broth, cooking for about 5 minutes or until the broth has thickened. Pour the thickened gravy over the chicken meat. Add the vegetables, gently folding the mixture together. If the mixture seems too thick, fold in some of the remaining unthickened cooking liquid.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie plate. Fold the top crust in half over the rolling pin, lift, and place over the filling. Unfold to cover the filling and attach to the bottom crust by pressing the excess dough from the edge of the top and bottom crust together with your fingertips. Fold the pressed dough edge up and inward, making a rim around the edge of the pie. Starting at the edge opposite you, pinch the dough between your thumb and index finder around the edge of the pie at about 1inch intervals, forming a fluted design. (The pie may be made up to this point and stored, well-wrapped and frozen, for up to 3 months).
8. Place the pie on a baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350°F for an additional 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is almost bubbling out.
Judie: My mother made extraordinary pastry as did my father’s sister, Mary Frances. Their skill intimidated me and, until I decided to make pot pies commercially, I never made pastry, I would always ask mom to make it for me. So, when business called I had to spend many, many hours carefully watching her make her famous pastry. She worked with me and my dear friend, Hu Pope who would be making the pastry daily in the bakery, torturing us with her skill and our ineptitude. Of course, the fact that she never measured anything and kept telling us that it was all in the feel didn’t help either. We eventually got it, but I still believe that it was mainly the use of a big Hobart mixer and a commercial pie shell press which kept our hot hands from touching the dough that gave our acclaimed pastry the same flaky texture of her homemade dough. However, the years in the bakery eliminated all intimidation and I fearlessly tackle pastry making. I usually do a fine job but I still miss my mom’s touch. Since I made chicken pies every day for 10 years, I now generally leave their preparation to the kids, except for those chilly days when I miss my mom.
Nana’s Flaky Pie Crust
Enough for two 9-inch pie shells or pastry for one 9-inch double crust pie
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup lard, non trans fat vegetable shortening,
or a mixture of shortening and lard, chilled and
cut into pieces
Approximately ¾ cup ice water
Wondra flour for dusting
1. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process to lighten. Add the lard and process to just incorporate. With the motor running, slowly begin adding the water. You want to add just enough water for the dough to hold together and pull into a ball. (Too much water will make the dough sticky and tough and too little will make the dough impossible to roll out).
2. Scrape the dough from the bowl and divide into two equal pieces. Working as quickly as possible with cool, clean hands and handling the dough as little as possible, form each piece into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for about 20 minutes to chill slightly.
3. Using Wondra flour, lightly flour a clean work surface.
4. Working with one piece at a time, place the dough on the floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough from the center outward to 1⁄8 inch thickness and about 2 inches larger than your pie plate.
Judie: My mother never used a food processor to make her dough but I think it makes great pastry, particularly because the processor allows you to make quick and easy work of the job without handling the dough too much. However, if you over-process, the heat created from the speed of the machine will toughen the dough.
The approximate measurement is one that always scares me. How do you tell when enough is enough if you’re not a seasoned cook? Most approximates are based on flavor so it really becomes a matter of taste, but with pastry making it is all up to the kitchen witch and the weather—all of these play in how much water will be enough water to create a dough that just holds together and does not toughen. Add the water slowly and watch carefully. This moves much quicker with the food processor than it does when making dough by hand.
If you have never made pastry before, the rolling out is usually the most frightening task. I have found that Wondra flour is terrific for flouring the work surface and the rolling pin as it only adds a light coating of flour to the dough. Then, don’t panic; use a light hand, pushing the dough out from the center, lightly coating it and the rolling pin with Wondra if it seems to hang onto the rolling pin. Lift the pin gently as you near the edge of the pastry to prevent breakage. When the desired size is reached, lift the pastry by gently folding it in half over the rolling pin and slip it, still folded, into the pie plate. Carefully unfold it to cover the bottom of the plate. Do not stretch the dough or it will shrink when baked. If the pastry tears, not to worry, just gently pinch it back together. Smooth the pastry down into the plate with pressing movements.
Zucchini for Canada
Although my granddaughter Canada says that zucchini is one of her most favorite vegetables, I think that she is in the minority. I, personally, have never said, “boy, am I longing for a big plate of zucchini” nor have I, in years of cooking, had anyone request zucchini as their vegetable of choice. However, since Canada puts zucchini on the menu all summer, here are some recipes that will satisfy any zucchini lover or will use up the bounty when neighbors leave baskets of zucchini on your doorstep or the farmers market offers bushels for pennies. They also offer some interest when you just want to make something a bit different. Zucchini lends itself to so many preparations simply because it is so bland. You can doctor it up with herbs and spices, aromatics, or even with cheeses. When grating it for almost any recipe, it is very important to drain it well or the end result will be watery as the squash exudes its liquid during cooking.
Makes About 18
3 cups grated zucchini, well-drained
¼ cup grated onion
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons Wondra Flour
Salt and white pepper to taste
Olive or canola oil for frying
Combine the zucchini and onion with the eggs in a mixing bowl, stirring to blend well. Stir in the flour and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for 30 minutes.
When ready to cook, spoon off and discard any excess liquid in the bowl.
Heat about a ½-inch of olive or canola oil in a heavy frying pan over medium-high heat.
Using a large metal spoon, drop spoonfuls the zucchini mixture into the pan, spreading out to make a thin pancakes about ¼-inch thick and 2½- to 3-inches in diameter. Do not crowd the pan.
Fry, turning once, for about 4 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Drain well on paper towel before serving hot, sprinkled with coarse salt.
NOTE: You can add almost any fresh herb – basil and marjoram are particularly good – or spice – curry or chile powder work well – you like.
The addition of crumbled feta or ricotta salata can turn the pancakes into a light main course.
It’s hard for me to give a recipe for this as I usually take whatever zucchini I have, grate it along with whatever bell peppers and chili peppers I have on hand, add some grated (sweet is preferable) onion and garlic and cook it up with white vinegar, turmeric, mustard and celery seeds. You can add a little brown or maple sugar if you like. You can do the same – mix it all up – go easy on the vinegar until it cooks down a bit. Taste and then add more vinegar and some sugar, if you want a sweet-sour taste.
When it has cooked down until thick and the flavors are well-blended, pack into clean, hot canning jars, cover with hot, sterile lids, and store to use all year round as a terrific condiment for grilled meat, poultry, or fish or on sandwiches.
Makes two 9-inch loaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
2 cups grated zucchini, well-drained
3 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or to taste)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1½ cups walnuts or pecans, optional
1 cup golden raisins, optional
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Lightly coat the interior of two 9-inch loaf pans with Baker’s Joy or with nonstick vegetable spray. If the latter, lightly coat with Wondra flour. Set aside.
Combine the sugar and oil in a large mixing bowl. When blended, beat in the eggs, followed by the zucchini.
Sift the flour with the cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and baking powder. Beat the sifted dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. When well blended, stir in the nuts and raisins, if using.
Pour an equal portion of batter into each of the prepared pans.
Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before inverted the pans and removing the breads.
Serve warm or at room temperature, with or without butter.