A Weekend of Cooking and Editing
Memorial Day weekend, when many of you were probably attending barbecues (or as we called them when I was growing up, "cook-outs"), riding your bikes, drinking cold beer, or maybe making your first beach visits for this summer, I was working. All weekend.
As I wrote here a few weeks ago, I've had the enormous good luck to turn The City Cook into a book. But at the moment I'm staring into the abyss of deadline hell (the book is being published in November). My publisher is splendid to work with and reasonable with its deadlines. But I'm new at this book business and everything is taking me longer than I think it should. The three-day Memorial Day weekend was a rescue, giving me a long expanse of uninterrupted time. No emails. No phone calls. No other obligations. Just me and a huge stack of hand-edited pages decorated with little yellow post-its containing hundreds of queries from my copyeditor.
Heading into the weekend I knew I needed some compensation for the hours of work that lay ahead. Not for me, but for my patient husband. A long walk in the park on Sunday afternoon would be the perfect break, but I wanted to do more to let him know how much I appreciated his holiday sacrifice. I decide to make three special dinners, each featuring early summer flavors and a few ingredient splurges.
On Friday morning I scanned a few favorite cookbooks and then headed to my neighborhood Greenmarket. Our local farmers are just beginning to bring us the first of summer crops but I found spring onions, spring garlic, fat scallions, hot house grape tomatoes, purple-tinged asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, and a piece of top round grass fed beef, all from local farmers and producers.
I then went to Whole Foods to fill in most of the rest of my menu, plus some favorite snacks. This was a holiday, after all. Later in the day I'd go to a neighborhood wine store and also make a detour to Fairway for slices of smoked tuna. More on that in a moment.
I spent $127 at Whole Foods, although in full disclosure, it included $10 for a bunch of peonies and $16.40 for a very large piece of Humboldt Fog, a favorite California goat cheese that was on sale. So 21% of the bill was for flowers and cheese. I also bought various items for breakfasts and lunches in the days ahead. Between the wine store, Fairway and the Greenmarket, I spent another $55 for a total of $182 for ingredients that would result in breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, flowers and splurges for two persons for 4 days (plus added breakfasts and lunches).
Here was the holiday weekend dinner menu:
- To start, I wrapped individual stalks of local spring onions and garlic in thin slices of La Quercia pancetta, broiled for 5 minutes on one side and 2 minutes on the other. Not as salty as bacon, the pancetta added satisfying pork flavor and crispy texture to the mild onions and garlic that became sweeter as they cooked. This was based on a recipe in Arthur Schwartz's truly wonderful The Southern Italian Table. La Quercia is a top quality producer of salami, pancetta and other Italian charcuterie but it's all made in Iowa. It's sold at markets nationwide but I bought mine at Whole Foods.
- Thick fresh tuna steaks crusted with sesame seeds and pan seared for two minutes a side until the seeds turned golden brown but the fish stayed rare. I served it with a simple uncooked sauce made with puréed piquillo peppers, and a side of steamed rice. I've made this often as my husband loves it. It's from José Andrés' Made in Spain, one of my favorite cookbooks.
- A bottle of Freixenet, a Spanish sparkling wine; it costs $11.99 at my local wine store.
- Dessert was a piece of Humboldt Fog and raspberries (not yet local but on sale at Whole Foods).
- To start, a chunky salad made with English cucumbers, red bell peppers, grape tomatoes, and scallions dressed with sherry vinaigrette and served with slices of smoked tuna and a fresh Tom Cat baguette.
- Chicken legs (thigh and drumsticks) sprinkled with salt and hot paprika and roasted with fresh rosemary. On the side, rhubarb compote replacing the chutney my husband usually likes with his roasted chicken, plus rice leftover from the night before, shaped into patties and sautéed in olive oil to make the surfaces crispy.
- Chilled Sancerre, a bottle purchased several months ago. I think it cost about $14.
- No dessert.
- Two types of potato salads (I'm recipe testing for next week's newsletter), one with mustard vinaigrette and raw vegetables, the other with a dressing made with sour cream, mayonnaise, cornichons (small and very tangy little French pickles), and dashes of hot sauce.
- London broil -- in this case a piece of top round -- from Maple Avenue Farms in Earlville, New York, bought at my local Greenmarket. This particular piece was grass fed and grain finished. $9.00 a pound. I overcooked it but it still tasted wonderful even if it were medium and not medium rare.
- Roasted New Jersey asparagus served at room temperature.
- Chianti, a $10 favorite from Tomaiolo that I often buy by the case, which makes it $9 a bottle.
- More Humboldt Fog to finish the wine.
- Leftovers. One piece of chicken remained, as did three slices of London broil and some of both potato salads. I added a large green salad of Boston lettuce, sliced red onion and red wine vinaigrette.
- Alongside we had pieces of toasted leftover bread, what remained of the Humboldt Fog (I said it was a big piece!), and salted butter from Ronnybrook Farm that I had bought at the Greenmarket.
- No wine.
- Dessert was grapefruit sorbet topped with Greenmarket strawberries.
Since it was a holiday weekend we probably could have gotten into nearly any New York restaurant without a reservation. But being desk-bound, it was a relief to stay at home, not to mention getting my Humboldt Fog fix for the year. I also think in terms of value, we ate well -- including tuna steaks, top quality chicken and beef, Greenmarket produce, and smoked fish (and remember that the $182 total grocery bill included breakfasts and lunches for the coming week -- plus flowers and wine).
It's another way to think about home cooking. And the book? It's another step closer to being finished.