How To Eat Fried Figs

There are two ways to go about cooking:

1) You find a recipe. You go out and buy the ingredients. You cook them.

2) You go out and buy ingredients. You find a recipe. You cook it.

I have almost always been a #1 person, but tonight I journeyed into the land of #2. (Shut up, I know what you’re thinking). (Sidebar: I once had a teacher write on my paper “scatological” next to a paragraph I wrote about a narrator’s constipated efforts to get what they wanted. I was like “scatological” what does that mean? I looked it up and now I’m proud to have it in my repertoire. We must jump at any and every opportunity to use it.)

Figs. That’s what I bought this evening without a recipe in hand.

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I bought them tonight at Whole Foods when two plans blew up in my face.

Plan 1) Make fish stew from Tom Valenti’s “One Pot Meals.” Needed to buy 2.5 pounds of cod. Cod, I learned, costs $10.50/lb. Scratch that plan.

Plan 2) Make pesto with the last of the summer basil on sale for $1.95 per large container. Good, good. Needed to buy 1/4 cup of walnuts. Walnuts only come in containers for $4. Then pignolis which ran $5. Parmesan cheese ran $5. Spaghettini also $3-4. Garlic, $1.50. This pesto would cost over $20. It didn’t seem fair to spend over $20 on pesto por solo mio. I scratched that plan too.

So I bought sushi, potato chips and figs. Black mission figs. I’d never bought them before. I thought they looked pretty cool.

I got home and ate one. Tastyish. Not as fully accomplished as the Date, but subtler, mellower, with a slightly bitterish undertaste. Ish.

I was not impressed.

So while procrastinating from tonight’s work (had to watch “Chungking Express” and “Some Like It Hot”) (I love “Some Like It Hot”) (Do you think it would be cruel to name my daughter, should I have one, Sugar? I think this would be a good idea for two reasons:

1) I love sugar. I love cooking with sugar. I love things that are sweet. And most probably I’ll love my daughter.

2) I love Billy Wilder.

I searched for black mission fig recipes on the internet. Most of them were for savory dishes like VEAL and DUCK and meaty things that I didn’t have handy. Then I came across these fig recipes and decided to do the only one with ingredients I had handy: fried figs.

Well one small substitution: the recipe called for milk and I didn’t have milk. I typed in “substitute milk” on Google and found some random recipe that suggested subbing sour cream for milk. I had sour cream in my fridge so this seemed like a good idea.

I whisked it with an egg:

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Then added flour, baking powder and salt. Dropped my figs in and coated them:

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Poured two cups of vegetable oil into a pot with a thermometer and cranked up the heat to high. Soon we were at 360 degrees and I added three batter-coated figs:

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They fried pretty quick, and I drained them on paper towels:

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Repeated this with the rest of the figs (16 in all) and then put them on a cooling rack and dusted them with powdered sugar:

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How’d they taste? Mighty good, I’d say. The powdered sugar helped a lot. These figs weren’t particularly sweet. If it were possible, I would have stuffed some of the figs with brown sugar or something to make the insides sweeter. But as they were, they were mature tasting. More “Mean Girls” than “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.”

There was still batter leftover and not to be wasteful I added a handful of sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon and then spooned some into the pot of hot oil:

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Let them drain on paper towels too:

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How could these taste bad? They didn’t. I sure like me some fried dough. Frying stuff is fun. Maybe french fries and donuts are in our future…

How To Make The Ice Cream Good

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I’ve been disappointed with the chocolate ice cream I made the other night. Ever since it’s been in the freezer, it’s become this giant, solid, chocolate mass that one can only scrape brittle pieces off of with a spoon.

Then tonight it hit me: “Eureka! The microwave!”

I microwaved the ice cream for 45 seconds and voila! It was soft, smooth and delicious. Creamy and perfect. A little technology goes a long way.

How To Throw A Last Minute Passover Seder

My father jokes that our synagogue is “so reformed it closes on Jewish holidays.” That isn’t too far from the truth. And to be even more truthful, it’s been a long while since we’ve been in a synagogue. We’re Jews in spirit, we’re Jews in appearance (check out my nose!) but not always Jews in observance. To put it another way: we’re not Jews who build sukkas on Sukkot.

Many scholars have studied the baffling fact of Jewish survival in the face of such adversity. We have seen oppression in Egypt, in Spain, in Europe, in Russia and basically anywhere you put us. I’m convinced that the key ingredient, the key evolutionary advantage that lets our people endure is a weapon wielded lovingly by our women: that famous, infamous commodity known as Jewish guilt.

“Fine, Moses, don’t lead us out of Egypt,” said his mother at some point. (Ok, his mother put him in a basket and never saw him again, but you get the idea).

Or here: “Fine, my son the Spanish Jew, convert to Christianity for King Ferdinand and Queen Whats-Her-Name! See if I care! Why shouldn’t my heart break into a million little pieces?”

Or tonight: “What are you doing for Passover, Adam? Fine, don’t have a seder!”

Well, to be fair, my mother didn’t guilt me tonight. She just conspicuously broadcast the fact that SHE was having a seder; slightly probing my plans. What were my plans? It was 5:15, I was leaving my Sexuality and Parenthood class. Would I grab a salad from Whole Foods?

But then I saw a burning bush in my brain. “MOSES!” said a voice.

“Umm, God, this is Adam,” I replied.

“OH SORRY,” He apologized, “THE CARDS STICK TOGETHER IN MY ROLODEX. ANYWAY, YOU SHALL HAVE A SEDER! YOU SHALL INVITE JOSH AND KATY! YOU SHALL MAKE A CHICKEN!”

“Yes God!” I responded.

“OH, AND KILL YOUR SON ISAAC,” he added.

“Umm, I’m childless, God,” I reminded him.

“OH, RIGHT, RIGHT, SILLY ME. OK, I’M OUTTIE!”

I quickly called Josh and Katy on my phone and invited them to a seder. They quickly accepted.

I got home and whipped out Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America.” I also whipped out my Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks and pulled out recipes for roast chicken, roasted garlic potatoes and roasted carrots. We would be doing a lot of roasting tonight.

I ran out to Whole Foods, bought my ingredients, and returned with t-minus 2 hours to prepare. This would be a very last-minute seder, indeed.

I began with the chicken.

The Barefood Contessa’s roast chicken recipe is brilliant. It’s so easy and comes out so delicious. Basically, you take a lemon cut it in half; a head of garlic, cut it in half; and a bunch of Thyme (the store was out of Thyme, so I used Poultry Herbs, prepackaged) and stuff them in the chicken:

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Here I have trussed my chicken for the first time. Before, I had trussed issues. (Haha, get it? Trussed issues? Like trust issues? Ok, sorry).

I painted the outside with butter and sprinkled with kosher salt and pepper and popped it into the oven at 425 degrees for 90 minutes.

Next, I prepared the carrots.

Here, things couldn’t be easier. You just cut up 12 carrots on the diagonal, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on a cookie sheet. Pop it into the oven for 20 minutes and you’re done!

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[One caveat: The BC advises you to cut the large ends of the carrots in half; and now I wish I’d followed that advice. The smaller pieces were tender and delicious; the big pieces were a bit too crunchy.]

Next, I prepared the garlic roasted potatoes.

This is really easy too. You just take 3 lbs of small red potatoes and cut them in half. Toss them on a cookie sheet with 6 chopped cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil.

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This goes in the oven with the chicken and cooks for an hour; you have to stir them around twice.

Now, I got on with the Haroset.

For the non-Jews among you, Haroset [like many other things at the Passover seder] is a symbolic mixture of apples, nuts and wine. Here’s what Joan Nathan has to say:

“To my mind, haroset, the last symbolic food, represents not only the mortar with which the Israelites, as slaves, used in building Raamses and Pithom in Egypt, it also shows the diversity of the Jewish people. With the dispersion of Jews throughout the world there must be seventy variations of harosets with new ones being created every year in America by our Jewish superstar chefs.”

Is she talking about me? Because I just followed her recipe for American Haroset.

I cut up 6 apples (3 red, 3 green; though they wouldn’t all fit); 2 Tbs sugar; 1 tsp cinnamon; 1/2 cup pecans; and since Katy and Josh hadn’t arrived with the wine (Manishevitz) yet, I added honey instead. Plus I used Mandy Patinkin’s mother’s trick (it’s in the cookbook) of adding ground cloves and ginger.

Here it is pre-blitzing:

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And after blitzing:

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It tasted great.

Now, with most of the food prepared, I hid the afikomen.

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What this means is you take a piece of matzah, wrap it in paper towel and hide it. As you can see, I hid it (rather badly) in my CD rack. Why do you do this?

Well, the Hagadah (seder guide) that I downloaded doesn’t offer much help:

“Toward the end of the meal, the children look for the afikoman, which the leader has hidden. Since neither the meal nor the Seder can be concluded before some of the group has eaten a piece of it, whoever finds the afikoman may demand a reward. nothing is eaten after the afikoman, so that the matzah may be the last food tasted.”

In any case, with the afikoman hid, I returned to the kitchen.

Ah, the chicken is done!

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Ah, the potatoes are done!

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Ah, the carrots are done!

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I quickly set the table:

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Just as our guests arrive.

“Mmmm, smells delicious!” say the guests.

“Where’s the food?” says Lauren coming from her room.

“Ah, ah, ah!” I say, “First the seder!”

I sit everyone down, and begin my charming reading of the Haggadah.

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There are prayers over wine, prayers over matzah, and prayers over the cancellation of Sex and the City. My audience is completely captive:

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Here is Passover in a nutshell:

The Jews were in bondage in Egypt. God led us out of bondage. Moses, as played by Chartlon Heston, was his vehicle for doing that. The Jews are very grateful. We sing a song called Dayenu. This has got to be the greatest Jewish holiday song ever. It translates as: “It would have been enough.”

So the translation goes:

“Had Adonai [God] brought us out of Egypt and not divided the sea for us…”

“DAYENU!” which equals: “It would have been enough!”

“Divided the sea and not permitted us to cross on dry land…”

“DAYENU!”

“Permitted us to cross on dry land and not sustained us for forty years in the desert…”

“DAYENU!”

Except there’s this really great chorus that’s hard to recreate. It goes like this: “Dy dy enu! Dy dy enu! Dy dy enu! Dy enu Dy enu Dy enu!

It was my favorite part of Passover growing up. We would go to my Aunt Rhoda’s house and sing out joyously. I’d sing it in the car on the way home. My parents would throw matzah at me.

In any case, Josh, Katy and Lauren began throwing Matzah they were so hungry. So we quickly skipped to the part where you put horseradish and haroset on the Matzah to symbolize…

Well the horseradish is maror, and to quote the Haggadah: “We eat maror, or bitter herbs, to remind ourselves that the Egyptians embittered the lives of our people.”

And I already told you about the haroset.

After that, it was a free-for-all for the food.

Josh carved up the chicken:

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And did an excellent job:

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Our plates runneth over:

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We ate and kibbitzed. Josh and Katy, who aren’t Jewish, found our seder to be most accomodating.

“We once went to a seder that was five hours long!” said Katy.

After scarfing down our food—[I think everything went over really well; the haroset was a big hit, as were the potatoes. And the chicken. The carrots were a little too crunchy.]—Josh and Katy found the afikoman:

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We immediately kicked them out, so they wouldn’t figure out the whole “Find the Afikoman win a prize thing!”

I spent half an hour cleaning up, and with 8000 dishes in the dishwasher, my first self-made Passover seder was over.

How To Throw An Elegant Party in Less Than 8 Hours

by Amateur Gourmet Staff Reporter Tallulah Backwash

Tallulah Backwash here with an instructive primer on party-throwing and deep deep reveling. For those of you who have read my other essays—“Therapeutic Bathing: How To Fight Loneliness With Suds” and “No, You Don’t Have To Love Your Baby”—you are probably already familiar with my sassy, irreverent style. So call out the sass police, Tallulah’s here and she’s ready to spread her legs. I mean information! ‘Scuse me while I shed my Freudian slip.

Parties aren’t parties without cleanliness. Which is why your first step should always be to drink half a pint of vodka and to call up your favorite male escort to come scrub away. And by “scrub away” I mean: do the nasty! Tallulah, you’re bad! Put those demons away! Quiet, witch, I’m writing here.

Here’s my favorite boy toy working up some elbow grease, de-furring the couch with a cat-hair-catching sponge:

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Grrowwwwwwwl! He can defur my couch any time! Tallulah, bite your tongue. Oh hush you gorilla.

Next step: have your boy go out grocery shopping. Tell him to grab one of everything, it’s easier that way. And tell him not to worry about paying. Our capitalistic society is framed on the illusion that paper bills have significance beyond their societally imposed meaning. Nonsense! I never pay for anything!

Here’s what our boy brought back:

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Then I set him to work. “Make some dip!” I said, cracking a whip.

He quickly set out to make the Barefoot Contessa’s “Sundried Tomato Dip.” Look, I’ll confess: the Contessa and I go way back. There were some food experiments in college, and I’ll never shake the memory of that giant tentacle and the Bechamel sauce. But her dips are fabulous, and I quickly instructed my boy to double the quantities because our guests would go mad for it.

Here are the tomatoes being sliced:

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Here’s everything in the food processor, pre-blending:

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And here’s the finished product:

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Scrumptious! The thing was more tasty than a night at the beach with Alec Baldwin. And I don’t even like Alec Baldwin!

Next I instructed the boy to conjure up some guacamole.

“And do it like a Mexican!” I told him. “Wear this sombrero!”

He obliged but wouldn’t let me take a picture.

“Come on now boy,” I urged.

“Not unless you let me wear it on my head,” he responded.

The help can be so difficult these days.

He also used a Contessa recipe for the guac and it turned out splendid. First he chopped the onions and a clove of garlic:

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Then he sliced open the Haas avacados:

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And then he mushed everything up in the bowl:

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Gorgeous! I asked him to slather it all over my body, but he refused, saying that it wasn’t in his contract. Who did he think he was, a lawyer?

Finally, he set about making nuts. And I know what you’re thinking: Tallulah, you’re choc full of sexual jokes today, will you make one about nuts too? No, dear reader, I won’t. There is a certain thing called tact, and I’ve got in spades. Besides: I prefer the word scrotum.

These nuts are a recipe from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook, and they are world famous. First our boy chopped some Rosemary:

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Then he added it to a bowl with cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and brown sugar:

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He added some melted butter, added the warm nuts straight from the oven and presto! I asked him to pour the nuts on the floor, so I could roll around on them, and again he refused. These boys can be so prude nowadays.

Then we set about arranging the food. Here’s a buffet with everything and a little something the boy brought involving a cupcake and a breast. I didn’t ask any questions, but naturally I was impressed:

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Here’s a closer look at the dip and chips:

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Here’s the guac on the table: (notice how we sliced the top of the bags off, to save on serving dishes):

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And last, of course, the drinks. Plenty of alcohol for everyone! That’s my motto. This is my own private table, the guests table was located elsewhere:

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At last, the guests began to arrive. Here are two strapping youngsters beholding our mighty counter of foodstuffs:

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Here are some guests enjoying the guacamole:

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(Although some nervy specimen of existence bothered to say: “This guacamole has no cilantro!” I immediately booted him from the party, ignoring his cries of “But mommy! Mommy! I’m only 3 and i’ts cold outside!”)

Here are party guests striking up a conversation:

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And here’s one party guest showing off his Janet Jackson Breast Cupcake pin (sent to us by a loyal reader):

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For entertainment, our guests watched Channel 21: the guard gate channel. It allows us to spy on who’s coming in at the callbox. How funny to laugh as others foible at the gate! I love mocking the powerless.

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Some more arrivals:

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A deep conversation about the moral implications of breast cupcakes:

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The dip is gone!

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Lauren shows off her bridesmaid dress bra stickies:

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Pancetta serves up some ice:

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Finally, the guests begin to leave. At this point, it is crucial that you get the names and numbers of all the attractive ones. The ugly ones you should hug firmly but then whisper: “A sexual encounter with you is most unlikely.”

At last, the party’s over. How was it? Splendid, naturally. Did I fix myself a nightcap? Honey, I fixed myself a nightbucket.

This is Tallulah Backwash wishing you and your family a blessed holiday season.