Drumroll, Curtain: Adam Cooks A Big Family Dinner (with a little help)

Last week I had to have a meeting with one of my drama teachers before the semester ended. He gave me an evaluation–told me how I was doing as a student and as a person in the program. As I left, he said: “Enjoy your vacation–have your mom cook you a home cooked meal.”

“Ha,” I responded, “My mom doesn’t cook.”

He gave me a look of deep concern and said, “How do you feel about that, Adam?”

The frame wobbles. A flashback.

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A young boy runs through a field–his blonde hair waving in the wind like a retarded sailor at a picnic. Off in the distance he sees his mother beckoning him.

“Come!” sings her voice. “Come, my child! Come to your mother, through the field, and let us sup together!”

The boy runs faster. His hair grows more eager, more retarded. Finally, he’s face to face with the force that gave him life.

“Mother!” says the boy in an affected British accent. “I am ever so excited for supper! Whatever did you cook?”

The mother regards the boy cooly and then says with a stern tone, “I didn’t cook anything, my son. I am an emancipated woman–freed from the confines of the kitchen. I am a woman who orders in, who dines out, who never lifts a pot or a pan. I,” she says triumphantly, “am your non-cooking mother. Deal with it.”

The little boy’s face wells up with tears. “But mama!” he screams. “I’m hungry.”

She smacks him roughly. He topples over killing a squirrel. He sobs until the crows begin to peck at his coccyx.

That little boy was me.

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This morning mom woke me up and said, “Rise and shine–time to start your day.”

Our day began with a quick lunch at Alexander’s–near Whole Foods and Bed, Bath and Beyond. My brother joined us and while they were paying the check, I made my way to BBB and bought some last minute necessary kitchen equipment: baking sheets, measuring spoons (my mom thought a teaspoon was an actual metal spoon you used to stir tea), a microplane grater. Then I went over to Whole Foods (I know, I know–it’s crazy expensive, why do you shop there? But it’s convenient and I know it and I think their produce is worth the extra few dollars for a special occassion) and bought onions, fennel, and all the other stuff I would need for dinner.

Then I tried to buy a 10-lb whole salmon but they only had 14-lb salmon. That would not do.

So mom suggested we go to King’s—a Gourmet farmer’s market type place with a good fish department. We went there. We asked for a 10-lb salmon. They had a 12-lb salmon. The Barefoot Contessa wants a 10-lb salmon, head and tail cut off, butterflied, and deboned leaving 7lbs of fish. We decided to go with the 12-pounder and the man cut its head off, cut its tail off, shaved off the scales, butterflied it and deboned it. (It was really a treat to watch him.) When he finished, the salmon weighed 9 lbs.

“Oh no!” I shrieked. “9 lbs! But the Barefoot Contessa says it has to be 7 lbs at this point! And it has to cook for 30 minutes in a 500 degree over EXACTLY–and if it weighs 2 more lbs, it will throw off the whole cooking time!”

My mother smacked me roughly. (Just kidding. My mom doesn’t hit me. Her assistant does.)

“Adam,” she said, “Why don’t I have the man cut off 2 lbs and put it in a separate container and I’ll freeze it and use it next week.”

“You mean you’ll cook the leftovers?”

“Yes,” she said tenderly. “I will.”

A stroke of genius. The man cut off the 2 lbs and we were left with the requisite 7. Here’s what it looks like on the platter before the preparations:

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That is a lot of salmon. That salmon could feed a village in Alaska. Instead, it would feed 6 Jews in Boca Raton, Florida.

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Here’s how it went down. I started with the soup. Butternut Squash soup. I got the recipe at Epicurious, and it wasn’t the one I linked to in a previous post: I went with something simpler. I cut up the squash, cut up an onion, cooked the onion with butter and nutmeg, added the squash, and an apple cut up and apple juice and vegetable broth and simmered for 30 minutes until tender, and then blended it so it looked like this:

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It tasted great.

When it came time to serve it, I ladeled 2 ladelfulls into every bowl, added a dollup of sour cream and some chives and isn’t this picture pretty?

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Here’s the recipe, for those that are interested.

Next, then, we had the salmon.

How do you deal with a salmon that big?

Well the Barefoot Contessa has you chop up 3 lbs of onions and 3 lbs of fennel and saute it with olive oil until tender; then you add thyme, orange zest, orange juice and fennel fronds. Here’s me saute-ing while my brother cuts potatoes for the side dish:

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Actually, I had a bit of a sauteing crisis. I tried to use my mom’s Le Crueset pot (yes, my mom has a Le Crueset she was given 25 years ago at her wedding) but it couldn’t hold all the onions. So I grabbed some wide-rimmed cooking vessel that was hidden away in a drawer and that worked fine. Mom said–upon entering the room–“That’s not for cooking, that’s for serving.” But I think she was wrong. It really did cook everything.

So then, you lay the fish skin side down and sprinkle with salt and pepper. You fill it with the filling and then tie it up and bake it at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.

“That will never cook through in 30 minutes, no way,” said my mom.

She proved wrong but later explained her strong assertion.

“Well if it wasn’t butterflied,” she explained, “it would never cook that fast. I think it’s because it’s butterflied that it cooks faster.”

Here’s what it looks like when it comes out:

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It’s surrounded by leftover onions and fennel. It came out smelling and tasting great.

Oh, I forgot to mention, my mom made her usual salad of iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes with our family favorite Red Seas red wine vinaigrette:

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Michael, my brother, helped me with the carrots and potatoes–the standard Barefoot Contessa recipes I used for Passover last year. They came out great too. Thus, our entree plate looked like this:

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“Delicious!” said everyone. Everyone really liked it. There was no faking about it. Plates were scraped clean. There was SO much salmon for everyone. 7 lbs of salmon i way too much even for the hungriest of families. (Thus, I will not recommend that you make this dish unless you are inviting an army over for salmon and hopscotch.)

Here’s the happy family enjoying the food:

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Oh, I forgot to mention that we kept the potatoes warm in my mom’s high-tech warming drawer:

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(For someone who doesn’t cook, my mom has a way too advanced awesome easy to use kitchen. Oh well. I’m still not moving home!)

Now then we did the soup. We did the salad. We did the entree and the sidedishes.

What’s left?

The best part.

Last night, when everyone went to bed, I got to work on Wolfgang Puck’s Cookies and Cream Cheesecake. When I took it out of the oven at 12:30 am, they top was overinflated, pieces were falling off, the smell of burning cookie crums emanated from the oven. Trouble seemed to be brewing. I waited until late into the night for it to cool, then I covered with aluminum foil and put it into the fridge–hoping for the best.

When I took it out and uncovered it, it looked like this:

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Which is to say it looked pretty good.

Then I cut around the outside with a warmed wettened knife and lifted off the outer ring. It looked splendid.

Grandma helped me slice the pieces up:

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They were quickly served. Everyone ooed and aahed.

“Oh my God, Adam,” said my mother from the other room as I kept cutting more cake, “this is too good. It’s SICK, she said. It’s SICK, it’s so good.”

This picture came out terrible, but perhaps it will suggest to you this cake’s heavenly glow:

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I’m too tired to do it now, but if you beg me I’ll type out the recipe for it in the comments.

Meanwhile, the phone rang and mom’s friend Jaimie called and asked how the dinner was going. “Jaimie,” said my mom, “come over and try this cake.”

So she did and brought her husband and son. They oohed and ahhed and posed for another group photo:

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Then we lounged around the table drinking decaf coffee contemplating the meal we’d just enjoyed. Well that most of us had just enjoyed. Some of us–us being them–were last minute arrivals who only ate cheesecake. Yet, there was no arguing that the meal was a huge success.

A huge success except for the salmon which was pretty wasteful. But, fear not: there is no waste when grandma’s around.

The tupperware drawer flew open and grandma stuffed at least 3 lbs of salmon into one large piece of tupperware.

“I’ll freeze this,” she said, “and well eat for a year!”

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Two women are running through a field. Two women, their husbands, and a young man who goes by the name of “brother.”

They all run freely and gaily. They are running like geese from a hunter; like mimes from a mine; like Porgy from Bess. (Ok, I’m making no sense–this is post-feasting delirium.)

Anyway, the point is they’re running. And off on a hill they see an Amateur Gourmet in glasses, with a laptop and a dream and they are saying, “We’re hungry” and he beckons them and feeds them. He is gratified and glorified and fond of alliteration.

That Amateur Gourmet is me. (Dramatic music. Curtain. Wild applause.)

18 comments

  1. I’m not the biggest salmon fan, but I loved the writing… and I’m sure I’d love the desert. My brother is currently reading this piece and has been laughing audibly already. Thanks for sharing this great event with us! I’m so proud of you!!

  2. HUZZAH for the family-feeding AG! What a triumph — and a delicious one, by the looks of it. Watch out, before you can say “toque” your mom will be asking you to cater every meal! That is one heck of a kitchen, BTW — what’s with the Louis XIV-meets-SubZero theme? :P Enjoy the leftovers…

  3. I dunno if it’s the writing school, but this was a masterpiece.

    “His hair grows more eager, more retarded.” You’ve done it again.

  4. Creative and beautiful.

    And best of all, fattening dessert. Isn’t that what the season is ALL ABOUT?

    Well done, good and faithful AG.

  5. Clap clap clap clap clap!

    This is especially gratifying as we all know Boca Raton Jews are not so easy to please. Congratulations, master of the kitchenry.

  6. And once again, AG snatches triumph from the jaws of lurking disaster — battling not only over-large salmon, but skeptical family members as well — and culminates in a blaze of glory (as usual). Okay, so now can we have the cheesecake recipe? Pretty pretty please?

  7. Recipe: Wolfgang Puck’s Cookies and Cream Cheesecake.

    (NOTE: It’s a lengthy, intimidating-looking recipe, but it’s really not that hard. I skipped the waterbath and it worked fine.)

    Ingredients:

    Chocolate Crumble:

    1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

    1 cup sweetened cocoa powder

    1 cup granulated sugar

    1/4 tsp salt

    1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 4 equal pieces

    3 egg yolks

    3 Tbs heavy cream

    Cheesecake:

    1 1/2 lbs cream cheese, room temp, cut into small pieces

    1 cup granulated sugar

    1/4 tsp salt

    3/4 cup sour cream

    3 eggs

    2 tsps vanilla extract

    4 oz white chocolate, broken into small pieces

    1. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Butter or coat w/non-stick spray the bottom of springform pan. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

    2. To make the crumble: sift together the flour, cocoa, sugar and salt and transfer to bowl of food processor with metal blade. Process on and off until blended. Arrange chunks of butter around the flour mixture and process until mixture resembles coarse meal. [NOTE: Mom doesn’t have a food processor, so I just put it all into a bowl and used two sharp knives to cut the butter into the flour/cocoa–like you do with a crumble. It worked fine.)

    3. In a small cup or bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. With the processor running, pour the mixture through the feed tube making certain you scrape all the liquid from the cup. Let the machine run until the ingredients come together to form a dough, about 1 minute. You should have about 4 cups of this crumble mixture.

    4. To make the cheesecake’s crust: spoon 2 cups of the crumble mixture into the prepared pan and press evenly over the bottom. Use the bottom of a dry measuring cup to help you level the crust and give it smooth edges.

    5. Spread the remaining crumble on the prepared baking sheet. Place the springform pan and baking tray in the oven and bake until crumble is lightly toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off the oven. Transfer both sheet and pan to wire rack to cool completely. When the springform pan is cool, wrap heavy-duty aluminum foil or 2 layers of regular foil around its bottom and halfway up the outside, pleating the foil to tighten it securely. Set aside. Using your hands or a fork, break up the crumble on the baking sheet into small chunks and set aside.

    6. To make the filling: put the cream cheese, sugar and salt in the large bowl of an electric stand mixer or a large mixing bowl. Beat ingredients on medium speed until smooth, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula. Turn the speed to high and continue to beat until the mixture is creamy. Stop the mixer and add sour cream, eggs, and vanilla; beat 3 minutes longer, again stopping as necessary to scrape down sides of bowl under the blade.

    7. Put pieces of white chocolate in microwave-proof cup or bowl. Put container in microwave, cover with paper towel, and heat for 30 seconds. Stop and stir the chocolate. Repeat process once or twice more just until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.

    8. Stir the melted chocolate into the cream cheese mixture and continue to beat until well combined and smooth. You should have 6 cups of the mixture.

    9. Preheat the oven again to 350 F. Bring kettle of water to boil. Pour half cream cheese mixture into springform pan. Sprinkle half the chocolate crumble over the mixture. Pour in remaining cream cheese mixture, smooth its top with a rubber spatula and then scatter the remaining chocolate crumble evenly over its surface.

    10. Place the springform pan into a slightly larger baking pan. Using an oven glove, pull out the oven shelf and place the baking pan on it. Pour enough hot water into baking pan to reach halfway up the sides of hte springform pan but not above the foil. Carefully slide the shelf into the oven and bake the cheesecake for 1 hour, checking the water level after about 30 mins and topping it up if necessary. Cover the cake loosely with foil and conitnue to bake until its center is slightly firm, about 20 mins longer.

    11. Carefully remove baking pan from the oven. Lift out the springform pan and place on a wire rack to cool, carefully folding down the foil or its sides to promote quicker cooling. When the pan is cool enough to touch, completely remove foil and continue cooling. When the cheesecake is completely cool, cover pan loosely with clean sheet of foil and refrigerate overnight.

    12. When ready to serve, remove the cheesecake from the fridge. Dip a long sharp knigfe in warm water and run knife around inside of springform pan–remove outer ring. Continue to dip knife in warm water to cut neat wedges.

    Bon apetit!

  8. WOW…to think real cooking smells came from that awesome kitchen…it is more then a person can stand. I’m very very impressed with your talents. The offer still stands for you to come out to the Island for a cook together. I’ll even trade you some of my secret recipes…

  9. Congrats on your accomplishments in your mom’s fabulous kitchen. The meal looked so sumptuous and lots of fun. Next time you decide to have such fun I would love to be on the guest list too!!

  10. Quick question about the cheesecake, which I hope to make in the near future…your recipe says “sweetened cocoa powder”…is this supposed to be “unsweetened cocoa powder”? The only kind of sweetened cocoa powder I know of is like Nesquik or Swiss Miss — and I can’t quite imagine that being what the recipe calls for. Thanks!

  11. Julie, nope it is sweetened cocoa powder. I found sweetened Scherfen Bergen (sp?) at Whole Foods and that worked perfectly. With the leftovers you can make hot cocoa. Enjoy!

  12. Thanks so much for the cheesecake recipe, which I made for New Year’s Eve dinner. Your mother’s right. This cheesecake is SICK, I tell you, it’s soooooo good it’s SICK. It was definitely worth the effort, and I don’t even like cheesecake all that much…except for this one, which has now entered the all-time pantheon of fabulous cheesecakes.

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