Engaging stories of love, joy, comfort and friendship with proven scrumptious, healthy recipes, we celebrate LOVE as the secret ingredient for wonderful food!

How do you say good-bye?

Her name is Harriet and I met her at our Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ. She became my piano teacher and really, my second mother. Think of a mother you could choose, and who chose you. Very different. She taught me how to play piano at a very late age, but sometimes our piano lessons involved nothing more about the piano than sitting close to one another in front of it. She would point out life lessons I was learning, listen to my troubles or my triumphs, and give me courage and encouragement to keep on doing what I was doing. At the time we met, our boys were seven and ten. She knew intimately our life, our help, our trials and tribulations. We went through her husband’s passing early on. Her first husband invented Play Dough, her second husband invented the Air Cast. She never lacked money, drove a stick shift 700 series BMW in those days and had two grand pianos, back to back in her living room. She raised seven kids, four of her own and three of her second husband’s.

When you choose someone to be in your life as a second parent, it is so very different. She saw me for what I am – not for what my mother wanted me to be (to stay in St. Louis nearby and have lunch and go shopping with her on Saturdays. Yuck.)

She had a huge home in Summit overlooking NYC, one in Vermont and one in Nantucket. We spent time in all of them – she was so generous. When I told her I was thinking of moving back to the city, she understood ALL that that entailed. In the middle of our move, she came over and insisted that all of our furniture for the yet to be found country house, would not go to storage at Westy’s but would go to her house until we found a place. She kept it for a year and still has a few items, five and a half years later.

She taught me to never throw away a roast duck carcass but to make duck soup (yummy), the benefits of hanging your wash out to dry (her favorite thing to do) and pointed out when I was doing things right by my kids and when I needed to do something different (not pointing out something wrong, as my own mother might do). There was a time when we were in our little temporary apartment, before moving in to NYC, that she was over for dinner every Sunday night. Such fun we had in this little dinky kitchen. She had her chair, watching me cook, and all was well. She loved my food. She once said that she would bet that my boys would always live close to us, partly because of my cooking. I sure hope she’s right.

A mutual friend once remarked that Harriet could party like a high schooler, and she could. She loved Grey Goose on the rocks, several small drinks throughout the evening, and never liked wine. She was a true party girl and full of life wisdom.

We just saw each other in early May, partied like old times, cooked her a big dinner, spent the night, and she was fine. She was 82. In late June she was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer, Waldenström Macroglobulinemia, plus leukemia. This was zapping her strength and also affecting her cognitive abilities due to her blood thickening. Her natural children moved her up to a hospice house in Vermont. I had been in touch by phone and we planned to go up there this Sunday. I learned yesterday evening that she passed on Monday morning. I am so very sad. As soon as I heard, I could do nothing but go to the piano and try to play through tears. I’m so very disappointed we did not get to see her one last time.

stairway-to-heaven-cropped

Yesterday morning, while walking to catch a bus on upper Fifth Avenue, I saw this brownstone stoop. I thought it looked like a stairway to heaven for Harriet. I did not know then that she was gone.

 

 

Another great beef tenderloin dinner

Beef tenderloin is actually the perfect weeknight entertaining choice. For a special dinner, it’s big, it’s fancy and it’s quick and easy. My Mother used to always say, “Make a roast, Mary. It’s easy!” And you know, she was right.

So, remember, it’s always about the ingredients and their quality. So as long as you’re spending money on a tenderloin, get the best that you can. My butcher, Bob, at Esposito’s, has the best! His man, Solomon, did a spectacular job trimming and tying this piece of meat. See how even it is all the way through. These butchers take enormous pride in their job and it certainly shows. (They’re located at 38th Street and 9th Avenue.)

Now I don’t think I’ve told you, but we’re moving our offices (I do have another day job running a brand design and marketing communications firm) down to TriBeCa so I’ve been a little off this week and I will be until the end of the month. We’ve been in our current space for 10 years and accumulated way too much stuff. I promise I’ll get back on track when this is all over. But we’re very excited about our new space!

Back to the dinner party I had this past Thursday night. I made up this recipe as a combination of what I made on Christmas day and what I used to make years and years ago from, believe it or not, Joy of Cooking! I received this cookbook from my sewing teacher, the wonderful Mrs. Mellor, at a bridal shower 30 years ago!! (OMG) My Mom was so afraid that I would be a tomboy and useless wife, and because I went to Catholic school, we were not taught home economics, so she coerced the woman who taught sewing at the public high school to give me private lessons one summer, in order for me to learn how to sew. Mrs. Mellor was a wonderful woman with an infectious laugh, twinkling eyes and everything was always okay with her, even if you really screwed up – she would fix it. She ended up making all of my bridesmaids dresses from this beautiful silk I had bought – 4 of them – all as a gift!! Sweet, sweet woman! Her son, Jimmy, was a good friend of my two brothers and we recently reconnected through Facebook! Good ol’ Facebook. He’s an airline pilot for American Airlines flying the St. Louis to LaGuardia route. I always look for him when I fly back home. He said I should just knock on the cockpit door next time, that they get lonely in there. Well, these days I think I’d get shot!

Here’s what I made.

Bacon wrapped beef tenderloin on a metal platter.

So good!!

BACON-WRAPPED BEEF TENDERLOIN
- serves 10 – 12

1 (5.5 lbs.) beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
1 rounded tbs. kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
15 slices of bacon
1/2 cup creme fraiche
2 tbs.white horseradish
Several dashes of Tabasco

Season the tenderloin all over with the salt, pepper, and garlic. Cover the meat and refrigerate overnight. Let it come to room temperature for 2 hours before roasting.

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Wipe off as much garlic and seasonings as possible with a paper towel. The flavors have penetrated the meat overnight. Place the meat on a rack in a large roasting pan and wrap the bacon around it.

Place the roasting pan on the middle rack of the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 400 degrees and roast for 30 – 40 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer reaches 120 degrees (for rare). Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before carving.

In a small bowl, whisk the crème fraîche and horseradish plus a few dashes of Tabasco. Serve alongside the tenderloin.

For a snowy football weekend!

Spicy chicken chili in a spoon.

Spicy chicken chili

Tomorrow, we are entertaining for the big Giants game. I thought this chili would be perfect to serve with all the garnishes and hot cornbread, plus a big tossed salad.

What can be better than to make a big pot of chili on a beautiful snowy Saturday with a fire going in the fireplace? NOTHING!

This is a favorite recipe of mine, adapted from a very old Food and Wine Magazine. It gives you the big chili flavor and isn’t nearly as heavy as it’s made with chicken. It has a melody of spices and heat from the jalapeños. If you don’t like so much heat, remove the seeds, but I like to keep them in. I also like to use Greek oregano which is much more potent and grind cumin seeds for the cumin powder. Again, more powerful flavor.

Joko – I hope you like this!!

SPICY CHICKEN CHILI
-serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs (about 4), cut into thin strips, all fat removed
4 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped fine with seeds
1 28 oz. can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed, with their juice
2 1/2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
1 15.5 oz can of drained and rinsed pinto beans
1 15.5 oz.can of drained and rinsed black beans
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

For garnish:

Minced sweet onion
Grated sharp cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Cilantro leaves
Sliced pickled jalapeños

Serve on top of a few tortilla chips or steamed rice

Serve with warm cornbread

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook, covered, until they soften, about 20 minutes.

Increase the heat to moderate and stir in the chicken strips. Cook until they are no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt. Add the jalapeños, the tomatoes with their juice, and the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Uncover the saucepan and stir in the beans and black pepper. Simmer until the chili is thickened, about 15 minutes or even longer. Serve topped with the onions, sour cream, cheddar cheese or more jalapeños. It is nice to give your guests a choice. Top all with cilantro leaves.

Wedges of corn bread are always a good complement to chili. Or serve the chili over steamed rice or a few tortilla chips.

Delicious crab cakes

A traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner is comprised of numerous courses of fish. It was a sin, way back, to eat meat on Christmas Eve and many folks fasted all day too.

However, my brother David was born on Christmas Eve so things got all catawampus at our house. David is the second oldest, was born with no name in mind. The story goes that after attending midnight mass, my father went back to the hospital and said he had to be named David, as that was the most mentioned name in the entire service.

Then I moved to New York and every Jewish person I met was totally surprised that our Catholic family had a son named David! Oy vey!

Well David and his brood (7 kids and 10 grandchildren with 2 more on the way) still live in St. Louis. So all of us on the East coast could go back to a more traditional meal, rather than his birthday request.

Here is what I served for this year.

Appetizers:
Taramusalata with red pepper and celery sticks
Greek cheese & aged Gouda with Breton crackers
Beautiful bunch of grapes

Dinner:
Crab cakes on a bed of Boston lettuce with chipotle mayonnaise and 1/2 slice of warm homemade Polish bread just out of the oven.
Steamed whole striped bass with ginger and lemon
Fennel salad
Coarse bulgar with olive oil and parsley
Oven roasted plum tomatoes with oregano

Dessert:
Christmas cookies, of course!

David’s wife, Pat, requested the crab cake recipe. This is from Preston Clark at Food and Wine magazine and it is the best crab cake recipe I have found so far. Now my husband is from Baltimore, so this is a big deal. Baltimoreans know their crab and they serve up the BEST jumbo lump crab cakes. A fine restaurant there will never use a lot or maybe any breading, but then I could never figure out how they got them to hold together because every time I would try to replicate their recipes, they would taste good, but look terrible as they always fell apart.

This recipe uses another fish as a binding – it’s genius! Fresh and full of flavor with the jalapeños and scallions, and crispy on the outside, you will love these. And they hold together nicely.

Crab cake on a Boston lettuce leaf with organic watercress and chipotle mayo

Crab cake on a Boston lettuce leaf with organic watercress and chipotle mayo

Here you go!

CRISP CRAB CAKES WITH CHIPOTLE MAYONNAISE – ADAPTED FROM PRESTON CLARK
-serves 8 as a first course or 4 as a main

Crab Cakes
1/4 – 1/2 lb. skinless flounder fillet, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 scallions, thinly sliced
3 jalapeños, seeded and minced
3 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tbs. chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 lb. lump or jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over for shells, lay out on a paper towel and pat dry on top
1 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs
Pure olive oil, for frying (I think I might try canola or peanut next time to get it at a higher temperature.)

Chipotle Mayonnaise
This makes a lot and all is not necessary for the crab cakes, but you can use leftovers for other meat sandwiches, especially turkey would be good
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 chipotle chile in adobo, seeded and minced (or leave the seeds in if you like it spicey – I did)
1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper

To make the cakes:
In a mini food processor, puree the fish. A small fillet is about 8 oz and my fishmonger wouldn’t sell any less so I used the whole 1/2 lb. and pureed it in two batches. Transfer the pureed fish to a large bowl and add the scallions, jalapeños, lemon juice, parsley, cayenne, salt, pepper and mayonnaise and mix thoroughly. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the crabmeat. Form the mixture into 8 cakes. Place the panko in a pie plate and gently coat the cakes with the panko and refrigerate for 30 minutes. It is important to refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes, so you can handle them and they hold their shape when frying.

To make the mayonnaise:
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, chipotle, lemon juice, Old Bay and mustard and season with salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate.

To fry the cakes:
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering. Add the crab cakes and cook over moderate heat until browned and heated through, about 3 minutes per side. Use 2 skillets or do 2 batches as 4 at a time is enough.

To serve:
I served the crab cakes on a bed of one Boston lettuce leaf topped with watercress with a dab of the chipotle mayonnaise. Squeeze a tiny bit of fresh lemon juice on the outside rim of the lettuce, before placing on the crab cake, then put on your dab of mayonnaise.

So pretty. So fresh. So good!!

Covered bread.

Covered bread

Homemade Polish bread on a white napkin.

Homemade Polish bread – the slight sweetness of this bread offset the spiciness of the crab cake with chipotle mayo – yummy!

The cut-outs!

Colorful holiday sugar cookies.

Finished cookies – notice the dreidels and Jewish stars to keep everyone happy

I know that Christmas is over but you still have New Year’s coming and many parties probably await you this weekend. My mom would often make a batch or two during this week. Why not? She ran out of time before Christmas Day, so what’s the big deal, make them in the week in between! Just don’t tell anyone.

I did make these on Christmas Eve, along with another requested batch of Hello Dolly squares (they always go quick) and the 4 loaves of traditional Polish Bread that is my Grandmother’s recipe. Sorry I’m a little late in getting this to you.

Before this recipe, I was never a fan of cut-out sugar cookies. Any recipe I encountered came out too thick or too sweet or both.

Many of you know I went to Parsons School of Design, majoring in Communication Design. For many years, including my 4 years, the Chairman of the department was this wonderful, little (he was short) man named John Russo. He made sure he knew every student in his department. He loved to draw and produced these crazy drawings (I’ll have to show you later) and often converted each student into some type of bird. He made me a peacock. I could never quite figure out if that was good or bad. I have still kept in touch with him until just a few years ago. I should check in with him again. Now he lives in PA and is in his late eighties or early nineties.

So at Christmastime, he would have his wife make these cookies and instead of using cutters, he would spend time hand cutting each one of us as birds and then he made a huge display of them right by the elevators on the department floor. He would put a hole in the top of each one and hang them with a ribbon on push pins. Besides the amazing fact that he would take the time to do this, they were also delicious!!

Light and crisp – I guarantee you – this is the BEST sugar cookie you will ever eat!

ROLLED CHRISTMAS COOKIES
makes 3 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Cream butter thoroughly. Add sugar gradually and then add vanilla and egg. Beat until light. Sift together all dry ingredients and blend into batter. Remove batter from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for several hours. On a lightly floured pastry cloth, roll out 1/8” thin, cut, place on a greased or Siltpat lined cookie sheet. Decorate with colored sugars and bake at 325 degrees for 12 – 15 minutes. Or bake them plain and decorate them afterwards with colored icings. That is what Russo would do.

Store in a wax paper lined tin at room temperature.

The original sugar cookie recipe.

The original recipe – signed with love – from Russo

You never know.

My father used to say, you never know when your time is up.

You never know.A dear, dear friend of mine collapsed while taking a shower Tuesday morning and died. Just like that. What started as a normal morning, waking her kids for school and getting herself ready for work, has turned the whole world upside down for so many people she knew. I had a meeting and lunch scheduled with her that very day. Our friendship spans the past 35 years, way before husbands and any kids. This has been shocking and unreal.

So tragic, so young and she leaves a wonderful husband, eleven-year old twins (boy and girl) and another son who’s 15.

But as everyone said this morning at her funeral, she lived life to the fullest. Engaging and full of energy, she also loved to cook and entertain. Throwing a dinner party for 35 and more, every holiday was the norm for her.

Together, in the 80’s, with our wide shoulder pads at work, we both cooked our way through the Silver Palate Cookbooks at home, comparing and discussing recipes.

We were both good little Midwest Christian girls who married East Coast Jewish boys. Early in our marriages, we talked about writing a cookbook together – titled: “So you married a nice Jewish boy, now what?” with tips like, don’t even think of serving ham to the in-laws at any time. And green beans with meat at Passover won’t do either, although that one I never understood.

The only lesson I can get out of this tragedy is to tell everyone you love that you love them and do it often. See your friends and family more often. Make the time. I found myself making lunch dates for next week with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. After all, your friends are your family that you choose. Be together, cook for them, gather around the table and celebrate life to the fullest, each and every day.