I grew up in a family where virtually nothing was wasted. My mother would save the tiniest sliver of Breyers ice cream that used to come in a square container, and sometimes, oh my God, we’d even take leftovers to amusement parks. I of course wanted those horrible hot dogs rolling around on those metal tubes all day. I often think how almost criminal it is that we have three refrigerators in our house that are so stuffed with food we can’t even see what’s growing in the back of each of them. Yes, I teach cooking classes so there’s always a lot of ingredients needed for classes and testing recipes, but it’s still no excuse for wasting precious food.
I decided that instead of dreading the monthly clean-out of moldy bits and pieces and the slimy gook from spilled jars, I should stage our own version of Chopped, where contestants are given a handful of secret ingredients and they have to come up with some brilliant dish. The difference of course is that I won’t try to make a four star dinner out of cheese doodles, octopus, gelatin and some sort of spiky fruit. I’m challenging myself to search the freezers and fridges each week for several ingredients and to figure out a dish in one hour. This kind of self imposed contest forces you to use a variety of skills – it could be searing, braising, frying or roasting, or whatever – in new ways and to really work the spices you have on hand.
Okay I admit, this first week I had a head start. I just finished doing a week of cooking demos on back to school healthy snacks and lunch options on Fox News (link to avocado video) and had great lime jalapeno guacamole left over. I had also had a huge package of 12 inch tortillas from making low fat baked tortilla chips on air. Quesadillas anyone? So I searched the fridge and found perfectly ripe yellow heirloom tomatoes, Iberico cheese and smoked prosciutto (similar enough to Iberico ham). Perfect ingredients to make a Spanish-ish Quesadilla. Here’s the recipe:
Before Thanksgiving, we were all so geared for that first taste of the turkey, gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes. The second and third bites were pretty fabulous too and I for one was really looking forward to The Sandwich the next day. But by day three leftover turkey is a challenge and most of us just want to see it disappear. When my producer asked me to come up with a leftover cooking demo for the last day of the Thanksgiving TV extravaganza, I thought turkey puff pastry turnovers. It took a lot of trial and error (do you add stuffing or not, I wondered) to come up with the perfect combination. These turnovers are both beautiful, easy, and practical because you can also freeze them and pop them in the oven when whenever you want. And they include bacon too so how could you go wrong? They were a huge hit with Mark and the girls, and the staff at WTIC went crazy over them too. We hope you like them as well!
Question of the Day: What did you do with your leftovers from Thanksgiving?
Turkey Cranberry Puff Pastry Turnovers
From: Heide Lang
1 sheet puff pastry sheets defrosted
All purpose flour for rolling out the dough
1 egg, whisked
1 pound or more leftover turkey cut into 2 inch pieces
8 or more tablespoons leftover gravy
8 tablespoons homemade or canned whole berry cranberry sauce
6 strips cooked crispy bacon, crumbled
2 teaspoons finely chopped sage or rosemary (optional)
1/3 cup or more crispy shallots* (see our recipe for butternut squash soup for recipe)
Roll out one sheet of puff pastry out on a floured surface to 14X14 inches. Square off the edges of the dough using a pizza cutter or sharp knife.
Cut both the length and width of the dough in half so there are 4 equal parts. You will have four 7 X 7 squares.
Whisk 1 teaspoon water and 1 whole egg in a small bowl or ramekin and set aside.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Carefully move the puff pastry squares on to a separate piece of parchment paper.
Place two to three ounces of turkey and two tablespoons each of both gravy and cranberry sauce on each diagonal half of the square. Sprinkle evenly with bacon, shallots and ¼ teaspoon of herbs (optional) on each half of diagonal halves as well, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the square.
Brush the entire border of each square with egg wash and fold over
Use a fork to seal the edges and to assure the filling won’t leak out while the turnovers bake.
Cut the parchment paper around each turnover leaving a 2-inch border. Carefully pick up each by the edges of the parchment paper and place them on the cookie sheet (they will be very fragile, and tend to lose their shape if you lift them with your hands on to the cookie sheet.)
Carefully brush each turnover with egg wash.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Serve immediately with a green salad and roasted vegetables.
This Pumpkin Fondue is one of our absolute favorite recipes of all time. We’ve posted this one before, but in light of the demo it on TV the other day, I decided to bring it back from the archives. It’s too important to miss! If your Thanksgiving menu is still flexible, we highly encourage you to check this one out! Scroll down for the recipe and a video of the TV segment!
Pumpkins Stuffed with Everything Good – Our Way
From: Heide Lang, Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
8 strips bacon (¼ cup shallots may be substituted for vegetarian version
¼ pound stale bread cut into cubes
¼ pound cheese, such as gruyere, emmental, cheddar, smoked gouda, asiago, parmesan, or any combination, cut into ½ inch cubes
3 cloves of garlic pressed or minced
1/8-1/4 cup fresh chives or scallions
2 teaspoons or more fresh herbs (i.e., parsley, rosemary, thyme)
½ cup dried cranberries (optional)
1 sugar or Cinderella pumpkin weighing about 3 pounds
1 cup or more heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sautee shallots until they are crispy (about 15 minutes), or fry bacon until crispy. Set aside.
Combine chunks of bread and cheese, along with dried cranberries (this is optional, but will add beautiful color to the fondue). Season with salt and pepper.
Add bacon or shallots to the bread and cheese mixture. Combine well.
Add any herbs you choose, along with the chives or scallions, and garlic. Toss well.
Using a very sturdy knife, cut off the cap of the pumpkin, just as you would a jack-o-lantern.
Scoop out the stringy pumpkin and the seeds and generously salt the inside of the pumpkin.
Pack the filling tightly into the pumpkin (there shouldn’t be any air pockets).
Pour in cream until the bread mixture is saturated and there is a bit of liquid on top (but be careful not to have the bread “swimming” in heavy cream).
Put the cap back on and bake until the pumpkin is soft, about 60-90 minutes. Check the pumpkin after 45 minutes to see how soft it is. Continue baking until the ingredients are bubbling and the meat of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced with a fork. Do not let it burn, or the pumpkin will turn black and collapse as it cools. You don’t want all your good work ruined!
Place a large spatula under your creation and move it gently to a beautiful platter.
Serve as a side dish or an appetizer on small plates.
Few will admit this, but preparing Thanksgiving dinner stresses people out. We are living with non-stop information overload and everywhere online, on television, and on billboards we see pictures of that annoying perfect turkey with all the flawless trimming and a relaxed happy host just waiting for their guests to arrive. Nope! We tell ourselves it doesn’t matter, but it’s hard not to feel a little judged because, well, you probably are being judged kind of a little, or maybe even a lot depending who is coming. It’s like going to the hairdresser. Why we care what people think of our hair I’ll never know, but we often do!
So when WTIC Fox News Connecticut asked me to do a Thanksgiving cooking extravaganza for the next eight weekdays in a row starting today, I jumped at the chance to show viewers and our blog friends just how satisfying and easy it can be to host Thanksgiving (Ironically, I’m not hosting this year, but that’s okay because after this series my family will have had about a dozen trial turkey day dinners!). Each day, I will share the recipes and the videos with you, and give you clever ideas meant take the stress out of the day (don’t carve the turkey where people can see you).
We’ll start with appetizers, starters, side dishes and dessert, and work our way up to taking the fear out of carving and what to do with all that turkey meat come day three of leftovers when major boredom sets in.
Yesterday, we made Butternut Squash Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Shallots and Fig Goat Cheese Caramelized Shallot Squares made with puff pastry. These recipes are both huge crowd pleasers and don’t require a ton of time or skill. Watch today’s video to learn how to make these winner recipes as well (http://foxct.com/2013/11/18/try-a-new-thanksgiving-side-dish/)
Also, we’d also love to hear about your Thanksgiving success and disasters (especially if they’re funny. What are your favorite and worst Thanksgiving memories?
Fig Goat, Cheese, and Caramelized Shallot Squares
From: Heide Lang
1 ready-made defrosted puff pastry sheet
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
2 ½ cups of thinly sliced shallots (4 large shallots, or 6 small ones)
½ teaspoon salt
12-14 whole dried figs (3 ounces)
3 teaspoons honey
5-6 ounces crumbled goat cheese
¼ cup coarsely ground walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Roll out the puff pastry to a 10 X 13 rectangle. Poke a few holes in pastry with a fork (so it doesn’t puff up while baking.)
Pre-bake the puff pastry until it is just slightly browned, about 5-7 minutes.
In the meantime, melt the butter with oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the shallots.
Cook the shallots on medium heat until they are soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently, especially if you are not using a non-stick pan.
Add the salt, and season to taste with pepper. Set aside.
Place dried figs in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and dry figs.
Slice figs 1/8 inch thick, and then coarsely chop them (you should have ½ cup of sliced figs). Mix with honey and set aside
Spread the shallot mixture evenly over the pre-baked pastry.
Sprinkle the goat cheese, followed by the figs and the walnuts.
Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese starts to bubble, about 15-20 minutes.
Let cool and cut into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.
From: Heide Lang
3/4 cup olive or canola oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ½ cups sliced shallots (6-12 shallots, depending on size)
Heat oil and butter in a 12-inch saucepan over medium heat until it starts to bubble.
Reduce the heat to low and add the shallots.
Cook until golden brown, about 30 minutes (add more oil if the shallots start to burn) stirring frequently.
Remove the shallots with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels. Pat down to remove excess oil. Once the excess oil is absorbed, place the shallots in an airtight container and use to garnish soups, vegetables, potatoes, and sandwiches.
Butternut Squash Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Shallots
From: Heide Lang
4 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups leeks, chopped
1/3 cup shallots, chopped
2 1/2 cups fresh butternut squash cut in 1-inch cubes
1 can pure organic pumpkin puree (no sugar added)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon cane sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons fresh ginger finely minced
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 Bartlett pear, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
5-6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/3 cup sour cream or crème fraiche
4-5 tablespoons crispy shallots (see recipe below)
1/3 pound pancetta, sliced thin (optional)
Heat canola oil in a 6-8 quart pot. Sautee shallots and leeks over medium heat until they are soft and glassy, but not yet brown, about 5 minutes.
Add the butternut squash and sauté for 5 minutes.
Add the pumpkin puree and stir well.
Add salt, pepper, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cayenne pepper. Stir and cook over medium heat for one minute.
Add the pear and broth and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is hot, turn down the heat to a steady simmer on a low-medium flame. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the pears and squash are soft.
Puree in a food processor, or with an immersion blender (you may also use a blender, but be sure to let the soup cool to lukewarm first).
Add sour cream and mix well.
Fry pancetta (optional) in a small frying pan over medium-high heat, until crisp, and pat between two towels to absorb grease.
Serve with crispy shallots and/or crumbled pancetta on top.
Most people think I’m a little bit strange when I tell people that Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s really simple. I adore the foods of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter, not to mention all the glorious casual picnic foods from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but I just love the theatre and whimsy of Halloween.
This great holiday, after all, is not about gifts or how perfect the table looks for relatives. It’s about fun, and magic, and theatre. It transcends age. We will have 8-year-olds and 16-year-olds side by side at our house all enjoying the same silly food and wearing goofy costumes. What could be better? I get to take my apron off and think solely about what would make kids of all ages happy. The pressure is off to be perfect. All anyone cares about is that the offerings are funny, maybe a little “scary” and of course colorful.
So here’s part of our line-up for All Hallow’s Eve at our house. We’ll offer our friends and fellow trick-or-treaters Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew, followed by cauliflower brain dip, and darling little “pumpkins” made of clementines and celery. There will be other things, but these are my favorites. I hope this sampling of our Halloween inspires you to think like a child even for just one day. Happy Halloween everyone!
Have you got any special halloween foods you make at your house? We’d love to hear about them! Comment below to let us know!
From: Heide Lang
One dozen or more Clementines
Several stalks celery
Peel Clementines and place on a fun Halloween platter.
Cut a stalk of celery into small pieces for the pumpkin stem. Stick a celery piece into the top of each peeled Clementine and serve!
Creepy Cauliflower Brain Dip with Guacamole
From: Heide Lang
4 ripe avocados peeled and pitted
½ cup chopped onions
1/8 cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup cilantro (optional)
1 4 ounce can finely chopped seeded jalapeno chilies**
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
1 cup of tomatoes, diced and seeded (or canned diced tomatoes in the winter)
1 large cauliflower
1 package of red licorice string
Place all guacamole ingredients but tomatoes in a food processor or in a medium sized bowl. Puree in the food processor or puree in bowl using an immersion blender until very smooth.
Drain tomatoes thoroughly through a sieve and gently blend into the avocado mixture using a spatula.
Remove all of the leaves from the cauliflower and remove the stem so that there is a hollow area, but most of the florets are intact. (Use toothpicks to hold the sides together if it starts to fall apart).
Put the hollowed out cauliflower into a snug fitting bowl. (For a really scary presentation, wrap the bowl in cheesecloth stained with red food coloring.)
Fill in with the guacamole and decorate the florets by weaving the licorice between the florets to make the veins and arteries. You may also sprinkle a bit of red food coloring on the “arteries” as well but be careful not to overdo it.
Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew
From: Heide Lang
Clear glass container or punch bowl
Artificial green or red drink, such as Gatorade or Hawaiian Punch (You may also use a clear liquid like seltzer or Sprite, died with food coloring, if you want)
Gummy worms, plastic spiders or any other creepy creatures you wish
Fill container or punch bowl with a green or red beverage.
Place gummy worms, spiders, etc, on the edge of the bowl.
Add a few small pieces or pellets of dry ice, just enough to get the brew bubbling and smoky. If it comes in a big brick, you will need to chip pieces off of it. (Do NOT pick up dry ice with your bare hands. Use tongs to handle it or protective rubber gloves if you must pick it up with your hands.)
Serve immediately, adding additional pieces of dry ice every 10 minutes, or as needed.
I should note before I go on, that this is recipe is not just for lazy students – it’s a festive and delicious grownup lunch, too. I just feel like I have to explain where this recipe comes from, and the truth is that it comes from necessity. As every student knows, Sunday is perhaps the furthest thing possible from a day of rest. It’s actually the day you recover from the fact that you put off your homework all week and have to get it all done before class begins tomorrow. And of course when you’re doing all that cramming, you just get hungrier and hungrier and so you’re put in a difficult position: extreme hunger, and no time to cook.
I’ve weighed the benefits of many snacks, but few things cut it just right. Ice cream is cold, creamy and delicious but takes too much self control not eat the whole pint. Seaweed has almost no calories, but there’s only so much seaweed a person can eat. Ramen is quick and filling but… ew. I needed to find something delicious, something quick, something filling and most importantly something that would wake me up. And I found that in the Baked Potato Nacho. It takes no more than 30 seconds to melt Cheddar on a half a spud, top it with Crema Mexicana (I know, classy, right?) and sliced Jalapeños, which are spicy enough to remind you not to fall asleep.* Best of all there is no whole pack to eat, because you’d have to consciously go make another one, and you’d be too smart to go do that! And the sky is the limit in terms of what you can put on them – tomatoes, olives, salsa, tabasco sauce, chipotle mayo or ground beef if you have time on your hands. Next time you’re desperate for a quick lunch check these out – they’re ever so… wait for it… appeeling! (Sorry).
*30 seconds if you already have a baked potato. If you don’t, you will have to wait for one.
How about you – what are (or were) your favorite study snacks? Let me know in the comments below!
Baked Potato Nachos
1 baked potato*/**
2-3 oz Cheddar cheese, grated or broken into small pieces
2 dollops of crema Mexicana*** or sour cream
8-10 slices hot pickled jalapeños
Cut your potato in half, and sprinkle cheddar evenly over the top.
Microwave for about 30 seconds.
Top with crema/sour cream, and evenly distribute the jalapeños
You’re done. If that felt too easy, that’s because it was.
Cooking for a living has begun to take over all of my thoughts. Isabella’s newly sewn pink dress isn’t an article of clothing, but a piece of watermelon. Everywhere I go I think about new dishes and ingredients, and there is no off button to press. Just dials on the stove to let me make more food. I feel like a composer sometimes, only instead of notes, I hear shallots, pancetta and fried chicken. It’s driving me crazy, really it is. I love love love teaching people to cook… but seriously. Enough is enough.
This recipe was born out of one of these fits of inspiration. We often teach a cream of asparagus soup in our spring classes, but I was making a Thai dish one day and the idea to infuse it with coconut, lemongrass and ginger just jumped into my head. It has quickly become a family favorite and it worked out so well that I used it for my latest appearance on Connecticut Style. Although a video exists on WTNH, it was very fast, and we thought you’d appreciate seeing how to make this lively Asian inspired soup step-by-step, so here it is:
We start with the freshest ingredients, which includes, lemon juice, lemongrass, ginger, asparagus and coconut milk, but there are others as well, including yellow onions and chicken or vegetable broth.
First, we need to peel the lemongrass, an ingredient commonly found in Asian food stores and in some supermarkets, especially Whole Foods.
Then you have to cut most of the stalk away. We only want the part of the lemongrass that has purple rings.
Then – and really pay attention to this or the lemongrass with be tough and stringy – you have to smash it hard several times with a knife. Until it looks like this
Then put the lemongrass in a mini food processor with a teaspoon or two of oil until finely minced and looks like this:
Then you need to peel the ginger. You can peel it in many different ways by using a melon baller, sturdy spoon or vegetable peeler. Afterwards, finely mince the ginger in a mini chopper as well. You can, obviously, do that by hand, it will just take much longer.
After sautéeing the onions until they are glassy, add the lemongrass and ginger and continue sautéeing until the ginger and lemongrass start to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add the asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for another five minutes.
Add the broth (chicken or vegetable – we like to use vegetable when we’re cooking for a crowd, since then we can make this vegan and everyone can eat it!) and give the mixture a good stir in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven. Cook for 15 minutes and then puree the soup either in a blender (after letting the mixture cool) or an immersion blender right inside the pot, our preferred choice.
Add a bit of lemon, give it a good stir, and serve. The great thing about this soup, next to the amazing flavor, is that it tastes great for several days and can certainly be made the day before company. And there you have it! Serve with a garnish of mint, or chives.
Click here to get the complete recipe written up on Food52!
We elite, educated, vastly superior Manhattan types are allowed to feel one of two ways about Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We are first and foremost allowed to really really hate it. If you fall into that category you get to say things like “I don’t do Brooklyn” and roll your eyes and dismiss it as hipster hell, and that makes you look nice and discerning, and that means you just can’t lose. But we are also allowed to like it ironically, which means that we can peruse the sandwich shops and Moleskine vendors to our hearts’ content… as long as we remind ourselves constantly that we are ridiculous and that no matter what we may think, we do not want to move there after college. This method is super risky. Liking something ironically teeters ever so precariously on the edge of liking something for real, and to my knowledge there is no New York crime more heinous than liking Williamsburg for real, except for maybe not liking the color black.. or actually being a Hipster.
But I’m going to make the sweeping generalization now, that 99% of us educated, elite, vastly superior Manhattan-types are bluffing. Because, like it or not, unironically, through all its superficiality, Williamsburg is kind of the best.
If you’ve ever enjoyed food in your life, I’m going to make you agree with me. Because Brooklyn is a culinary paradise. Just because I’m the last person to say this doesn’t make it less true. When Isabella came to visit me for a much needed sister weekend, we had an eating adventure that would pretty much blow your mind. For that day, she liked food as much as I did. And I almost felt normal.
We began our adventure somewhere around lunchtime, and we used a very scholarly method to choose a restaurant. By which I mean we picked the prettiest. At Fabiane’s on Bedford Avenue, Isabella (who is actually kind of a hipster but don’t tell her I said that) sketched while I obsessively took pictures. I think it’s safe to say we were so happy with the atmosphere that we didn’t really care how the food was. That is, until the food came. I could go on for a bit about the Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Pesto Sandwich that came out first, but I’m not going to because the second sandwich was Smoked Duck with Brie and Fig Jam and I bet that will impress you a whole lot more. And well it should. I can’t even remember the last time I had a sandwich that good. Even if you can’t get smoked duck (and I don’t even know where you would) make your next grilled cheese with brie and then put fig jam on it. It will probably change your life.
With no agenda whatsoever in mind, we set off to wander the streets of Brooklyn. After a brief stint hipster-watching at bookstore Spoonbill and Sugartown (see stalker pic, above), we headed up the street to Whisk, the most kick-a** kitchen supply store you will ever come across. I know you’re really not supposed to use the word “unique” in Brooklyn, but have you ever seen a ball made of cupcake wrappers hanging from a ceiling? No you haven’t.
We bought mom a pie dish, and then raced out before we could do any more damage. Luckily for me, Isabella’s nose was stuffed up, so we headed next to the Bedford Cheese Shop, where we looked at spectacular packaging and beautiful window displays. We did not buy anything because we couldn’t afford anything. But that was alright.
Next we went to a clothing store. Did you know that in Brooklyn it’s illegal to sell gloves with fingers?
While we were in the Bedford Cheese Shop, we had seen this beautiful display of Mast Brothers Chocolate, and I realized that I had read something about their factory being in Williamsburg. And since everyone knows that factory means free chocolate, we decided to head there next.
Lo and behold there were about 10 different kinds of chocolate to try, in their beautiful open factory. And Isabella and I received our masters degrees in chocolate tasting from Hershey University over winter break, so we were ridiculously qualified to taste test every single one of them. The chocolates were varying degrees of good and not that good, but for the first time in my experience, the chocolate actually tasted like the things it was supposed to have notes of. According to the folks at Hershey, that means the cocoa plants were grown near, say, hibiscus trees, vanilla flowers or cherry trees. (Things you didn’t know!) And while I have no idea what that means in the context of Special Dark, it was ridiculously apparent in the Mast Brothers selection. It was like they weren’t even making it up.
Note – When you go to the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory, Isabella and I command you to go next door and look at the Brooklyn Art Library, an international sketchbook collection for the public to peruse. It’s totally irrelevant to this blog, but it’s my civil duty to let you know. This was our favorite sketchbook.
With very little time left, very little appetite (so much sandwich) and a contra dance in Chinatown to get to (not a joke), it was time to grab a light dinner before heading back to Manhattan. And since mom has been on a meatball making kick lately, we felt it was only appropriate to make her jealous by visiting The Meatball Shop. Also, $3 meatball sliders. And you get to check off what you want on the menu with dry erase markers, and then they get your order right! And there was exactly one racy-joke-item on the menu, which is the requisite amount for a place that only serves meatballs. And it’s pretty, and the food was great. The following recipe is from their cookbook, but they give it out on little promo cards, so I don’t think they’ll mind us sharing. Make them, and buy the book. These people are very talented.
And while I’m pretty sure I’m the last person in the New York area to visit Williamsburg, take a visit if you haven’t and decide for yourself what you think. Don’t worry if you like it. Your secret’s safe with me.
It would be very pretentious for me to call myself a film buff, since that would imply I actually know something, but at the very least I’m a bit of a film junkie. I was blessed to grow up minutes from the most amazing video store in the whole world (seriously) so my childhood summers were full of movies. Before I realized how bad I am at acting (which took frighteningly long), I dreamed of being in one. I know every little girl dreams of putting on sparkly costumes, being on a red carpet and feigning surprise when she wins an Oscar, but I always thought being behind the scenes looked like more fun than all those things. When I was eight or so, my parents got me The Santa Clause on VHS, and a featurette at the end described how tough it is to make movies because, just like Santa’s Elves, filmmakers do so much work behind the scenes. It looked wonderful. And it is.
In this featurette, Bernard the Elf says filmmaking is full of waiting around. To a degree he’s right, but that’s a bit misleading. There may be a lot of time when the camera’s not rolling, but from what I can tell, it’s never dull. So much happens between takes:
Alex B. and Sofia (Camera) tinker with the 5D
Cyrus (Actor) stretches and warms up
Isabel (2nd Assistant Director) plays Jenga, so the actors have a perfect half-completed game every time
Alex L. (Director) takes a break…
… and I get to do my dishes! Ok, I know it sounds like I’m starstruck and trying to make this sound like more fun than it is, but from mistakes and mishaps – broken microphones and rogue ringtones – to last minute requests (I was the only person on set in possession of nail polish remover), to the quiet, exhausted thrill of finding the best takes at the end of the day, the process is full of awesome, exciting extremes.
But you didn’t come here to learn about film, you came to learn about food, and I’ve hijacked your time (sorry) (it’s for your own good, you know), so on to more important things. Cooking for the Cast and Crew was the most rewarding adventure I’ve had had since beginning college. Cooking for 15 people, no matter who they are, teaches the arts of efficiency and flexibility like nothing else, except perhaps making a movie. One actor turned out to be lactose intolerant, so I coordinated Banana Pancakes against dairy-free scrambled eggs, Cream of Broccoli Soup against dairy-free scrambled eggs, Bread and Butter against dairy-free scrambled eggs… you get the picture. Then, I needed to have dinner ready an hour early, and my puff pastry was still frozen, so I rearranged the recipe for Caramelized Onion Squares with Blue Cheese so that the onions would be ready just as the puff pastry finished defrosting. Then, when I didn’t make nearly enough Caramelized Onion Squares I tossed an emergency salad to stretch dinner farther. As I cooked, I realized that these challenges weren’t unique to this job, or even to catering. Cooking nearly always comes with setbacks. This was just like throwing a dinner party.
I remember a party where mom and I planned shrimp for dinner, only to find out, upon their arrival, that our guests kept kosher. Another time, on Thanksgiving no less, somebody (certainly nobody writing this post) pureed the mashed potatoes beyond recognition. But we found Salmon for our friends, and the mashed potatoes still tasted fine. And luckily, behind-the-scenes mishaps make great stories. Most importantly, they make the end – meal, party or film – so much more satisfying. A lot goes into a finished product, just like Bernard the Elf said. But now I know, as I always suspected, that’s part of the fun.
Of course, it never hurts when people thank you profusely and ask you for your recipes afterwards. Below is the recipe for Caramelized Onion Squares with Blue Cheese, my favorite of the day. It can be used as an appetizer, or as a main course aside a nice tossed salad (plan on 5-6 squares per person). Either way they’re addictive.
Below that you’ll find some final pictures of the shoot. And here is a link to the film itself [Rated PG for brief tobacco references], appropriately titled The End.
Also, a big Thank You to Alex for inviting me on set, and to the entire cast and crew of The End for letting me join you on this project! You were all so much fun to work and talk with, and such a joy to cook for.
The holidays are a busy time for everyone. So, since I was off in the city taking finals and everyone else was so caught up with, well, Christmas preparations, it’s easy to see how an eight-day holiday might be celebrated on the 31st rather than the 1st. To be honest, we did light the candles. And we said a prayer over them. And Francesca explained the importance of the Shammash (it’s a big helper, just like her) as Isabella blasted Candlelight. But I had an English final to write, and so we were forced to neglect the most important part of the Hanukkah celebrations. The potatoes sat lonely and unpeeled, the oil remained in its container, and there was no mess on the stove or the microplane. Yes, our grand Potato Pancake Plans had been foiled by the cruel march of time. It was a real snub to half my heritage.
That night as I nestled all snug in my bed, visions of latkes danced in my head. And over the following weeks I couldn’t shake the sad feeling that something was missing from my December. The potatoes were calling to me. Honestly.
I need therapy.
But when New Years Eve finally rolled around and mommy was planning a menu for our quiet New Years evening of Munchies and Mad Men, I seized my opportunity. “Yes, of course I’ll grate the potatoes, Mommy!” I promised. “I’ll do the whole thing myself!” And so she agreed. Because I said I’d do it.
In my head I was a bit terrified. Grating is so labor intensive, and I have a slight fear of deep frying. But with the strength of the Maccabees behind me (they certainly didn’t have microplanes…) I charged on. And to my surprise and delight, it wasn’t that hard!
You do have to grate the potatoes on this setting.
And you’re *supposed* to grate the onions on this setting…
But you could also just put them in one of these…
And go until they look like this…
And so once you’re done with that, all you have to do is mix them with the potatoes, flour, egg and salt to get this beautiful batter.
And you get these heavenly Hanukkah (or rather New Years) miracles!
Obviously, you don’t have to be any part Jewish to fall in love with these. Pancakes this style are ubiquitous throughout Europe, and I like to think there’s nobody in this world who doesn’t love fried potatoes. They’re the finest form of simplicity, and they’re great all year round, particularly for celebrations. And yes they make a bit of a mess… but they’re entirely worth it.
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Joyous New Year! We are so happy to have you all as readers, and we can’t wait to share even more with you in 2011.
New Year Latkes (Potato Pancakes)
From: Gabrielle Siegel, Adapted from Leah H. Leonard’s Jewish Cookery (1949)
6 Medium Potatoes
1 Medium Onion
1/2 Cup Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
Peel potatoes and grate into a large bowl.
Squeeze out the liquid. This is very important. I speak from experience. Recent experience.
Peel and finely grate the onion. Or just puree in an immersion blender.
Add onion to potatoes, and mix in eggs, flour and salt, and stir to blend.
Add enough oil to a wide, heavy frying pan to fully cover pancakes, and heat on high. Drop in a tiny bit of batter as the oil is heating. When the batter begins to sizzle, you know it’s hot enough.
When oil is hot, lower stove temperature to medium-high, and drop in batter with a spoon to make pancakes approximately 1/2 inch thick, and 4 inches wide (give or take, it’s all a matter of personal preference)
Fry, flipping every few minutes, until both sides are golden brown
Lift out with spatula onto plate with paper towels on it. Pat dry and serve immediately.