Monday, November 23, 2009

The Best Guest

I love being the hostess. But what I love even more is being hostess to a great guest, you know the kind everyone loves to have in their home. The gal who tells good jokes. The guy who makes everyone smile. The couple who gently takes your screaming 3 month child in their arms and kindly offers its parents a chair and a drink. Good guests are hard to come by, and once found are treasured like nothing else I know.

While I am an excellent hostess, I have had to study to become a good guest and in doing so have found that I have ultimately attracted better company to my own table. Maybe it is just a coincidence but I like to think it is good karma that as my guest skills have improved, so have my own hostessing fortunes.

The best guest never:
  • Argues with the host or the other guests.
  • Smokes in the house.
  • Drinks red wine when there is white furniture nearby.
  • Brings their pet.
The best guest always:
  • Arrives on time. Never 15 minutes early, when I am mental with last minute details and still in my bathrobe. Never more than 30 minutes late, after things have started and then complains that there are no more appetizers.
  • Puts everyone at ease. A great guest comes right in and makes you feel at home in your own home. They can put others at ease, diffuse difficult situations, and fill pregnant pauses with comfortable conversation.
  • Offers to help. I love it when someone comes over and offers to help put things out or even better clean up. They always get my love and respect, and lots of extra dessert.
  • Brings a small gift for the host/hostess. It is just common courtesy, and does not have to be a painful exercise.
Regarding that last point, the key to a good gift is being thoughtful. Don't bring a great bottle of wine to an alcoholic's home. No flowers for asthmatics or the highly allergic. Rethink that ham for the vegetarian. You get the gist.

Once you know the no-no's, think small, homemade, and fun. Here are some of my favorite recipes for the successful guest - enjoy and have a great holiday.

Spiced, Candied Pecans
1/2 cup of light corn syrup
1 tsp of cayenne, chipotle, or ancho chili powder
1 lb shelled pecans
Sea salt
Turbino sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place parchment paper or foil on a large, rimmed pan.
  2. Place corn syrup and chili powder in a large bowl and mix. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. Add pecans to the bowl and mix.
  4. Spread the pecans evenly on the parchment paper or foil. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and turbino sugar.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool and serve or place them in a decorative jar with ribbon.

Note: Please note that this recipe needs to be refrigerated for 3 days before serving.

2 1 lb fillets of salmon
1 tbsp black pepper
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 bunch of dill

  1. Place the salmon fillets side by side. One each fillet, place 1/2 the pepper, salt, and sugar.
  2. Place the dill on one fillet and top with the other.
  3. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place in a rimmed pan and weight the salmon with a heavy object (I like to use a Le Creuset pot top). Place in the refrigerator.
  4. Chill for 3 days, turning the salmon over nightly.
  5. Slice thinly and serve the salmon. For parties, place on a nice platter with small boiled potatoes and Greek yogurt.
1 lb of dried chick peas or 2 cans of chickpeas
1/2 cup of tahini (you can find it in the supermarket, usually near the peanut butter)
1 lemon, juiced
2 cloves of garlic
Sea salt
Black pepper

  1. If using dried beans, soak them overnight. Rinse beans and place in food processor.
  2. Add tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Pulse food processor 20 times, or until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. If you like, try any or all of following additions to the food processor: 1/4 cup of roasted red peppers, 1 tsp ancho chili powder or 1 tbsp lemon zest.
  4. Serve on a platter with pita bread and fresh vegetables.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Meat and Poultry Matrix

When did meat become so complicated?

Trying to figure out what to buy and why has become a full time occupation for me.  I spend hours at the supermarkets and online reading labels, researching ingredients, and making the best decisions I can.  Some of them are pricey and some are dicey, but they are the choices that my family lives and eats by, so I try to get it right.  

That being said, I am most stumped by meat and poultry.  So much misleading and conflicting information, coupled by the fact that all research leads me to conclude we should be eating less and less of both.  What I have learned can be summed up as follows:
  • Most supermarket meat is not from a farm, it is from a factory.  The animals are treated badly; they live horrible lives in confinement and are killed in a cruel manner.  And most importantly, the factory lifestyle generates unhealthy meat and poultry.  The animals are chocked full of antibiotics and other medications, they are mixed and matched Frankenstein style, so it is impossible to trace where they came from, and they tend to be filthy.  
  • Unless grass fed and pasture raised, organic and/or free range meat does not provide much relief from the above.  They are fed a slightly better diet (although organic cows still are fed corn and not grass, which is really unnatural), but generally live in the same crappy conditions and have very similar problems to non organic factory meat and poultry.  
  • Grass fed and pasture raised meat and poultry is the best way to go, but it is very expensive and difficult to come by.  Often it needs to be shipped and therefore has some environmental limitations.  But this is outweighed by the other environmental, humane, and gastronomic benefits it provides.  
To manage this, I only cook meat twice a week.  I try to only use grass fed, pasture raised, and organic products.  And I try not to purchase any of this at the supermarkets.  I have decided to try and track the products that I have tried, in an effort to keep my research straight. Here is my high level meat and poultry  matrix that documents what I have found.  

Do you have any additional information for me on this topic?  Comment below and let me know - I will be updating this post and the matrix on a regular basis.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sour Grapes

For those of you who follow NJ politics, our fair city of Hoboken has a new Mayor.  Dawn Zimmer will hold office for the next four years, and hopefully restore credibility to our local government.  I have great faith in her and her team, and for one am very excited and proud of Hoboken for electing such a smart, honest, and capable woman to the office.  It feels like we have cleaned out our cabinets, rid ourselves of the stale and pale, and started fresh.  Congratulations Mayor Zimmer and best of luck in everything you do.

That being said, a word about the losers who have run less than appetizing campaigns.  In particular, I would like to cite Beth Mason for the most consistently expensive, divisive, and bizarre campaign I have ever witnessed, TWICE.  As you my loyal readers know, this site is normally reserved for tales in and out of the kitchen.  Beth honey, this one's for you.

Recipe for Disaster

1 lb horse steaks, butterflied (technique where meat - otherwise too thick to cook properly - is sliced into dual, conjoined sections)

  1. Using a mallet or other blunt instrument, beat horse until tender.  Beat it some more.  Beat it one more time, attempting to sever the link between the two pieces. 
  2. Place meat on a broiler plate.  The meat will cook in its own fat. 
  3. Heat the broiler on high.  Cook for 4 months or until charred. 
  4. Plate on a silver platter. Serves less than 25%.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Three C's

It seems like everyone out there is DIY - it's time we take on step back in the alphabet and CIY - Choose, Cut, and Chop It Yourself.  In the land of the kitchen, convenience reigns for many of us, myself very much included.  I will do anything to save time and to undermine the schizofrenia of trying to cook while preventing my kids from destroying the house/killing each other.  But lately, I have been reconsidering some of my more sloppy practices, and trading up for healthier living. 

Now I am not a big red meat eater - I generally save it for the big holidays, and then maybe every other week we have kind of ball/loaf/chopped meat kind of dinner that hangs on as leftovers and lunches for several days.  Meatballs and spaghetti is a classic example.  I have taken various shortcuts; sometimes I use jarred sauce, sometimes I buy angel hair pasta so it will cook faster.  Very rarely will I purchase chopped meat, because of all the e-coli scares (did you SEE this NYT article - a girl became paralyzed from eating a HAMBURGER).  When I have bought ground beef, I have purchased it at highly reputable places like Trader Joe's, telling myself that I can trust them.  And I do, but not so much so after today's news.  It turns out they are buying from massive factory farms like everyone else, and that their ground beef is sourced from the same place, and as risky as the merchandise on sale at Price Chopper.  Not a warm and fuzzy.

So that is it - I am writing my way toward healthier living, and sharing with you my resolve to do better.  I am going to fully and consistently implement the following CIY practices, all of which can be illustrated with minimal pain.  I have been doing this most of the time anyway, but from now on, no more shortcuts. If you come to my house for dinner, feel free to audit me on any of the below:
  1. Choose it yourself: I don't buy pre-chopped fruits vegetables anymore for the simple reason that I don't believe they are the brightest or the finest.  Rather, I am fairly certain that the stores and suppliers are chopping second rate produce and we cannot tell the difference because, well, it all gets mixed up together.  Buy a bag of onions, carrots, and celery each week.  Chop them up when you get home and use them as you need them. Another example:  Don't buy canned, chopped tomatoes - g-d only knows what is in there.  If you can't buy them fresh, at least buy them whole.  
  2. Cut it yourself: Don't buy parts.  If you want to eat chicken, buy a whole chicken and cut it yourself.  It takes a little practice, but honestly it is a) cheaper, b) the best way to ensure that you are getting the entire original bird and not some frankenstein mix of chicks, and c)  key to sleeping better at night knowing that the bird was less handled than its counterparts, and therefore a less likely to have been passed food bourne bacteria. 
  3. Chop it yourself:  Don't buy ground anything.  Just don't.  If you are a meat eater, try to buy grass fed, pasture raised meat and poultry, cut it into 1 inch squares, put it in the Cuisnart, and pulse 10 - 20 times, until them meat is loose but not pureed.  Chuck and sirloin works for ground beef.  I prefer dark meat for my ground turkey.  

Do you have any other suggestions for better living?  Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.