I have a distinct memory of a spring day in New York, back when I lived in Park Slope, at Brooklyn Fish Camp. Craig and I were sitting outside at a picnic table with benches and under that warm blue sky, the first of its kind after a harsh winter, a waitress presented us with the basket of hush puppies that we ordered. I didn’t know much about hush puppies; they just sounded good to me. And seeing them there in that basket–fluffy orbs of corn meal that had been deep-fried in oil–I suddenly felt the winter drop out from beneath me, and felt the heat of summer rising up at full blast.
It’s time for chopped liver to make a comeback. I mean think about it: chefs flaunt their charcuterie and pâtés at places like Bar Boulud in New York and Salt’s Cure here in L.A. And what is chopped liver if not liver pâté’s chunky Jewish cousin? I grew up eating the stuff–my grandmother used to warn (as I mentioned in this old post), “Don’t eat that, it’s an organ meat!”–and to this day I’m not quite sure what she meant by that. But you’ll be surprised–if you put this on your coffee table with some crackers and a few whisky drinks (Craig made Manhattans) it’ll get quickly gobbled up.
On Saturday night, with 45 minutes left to go before our friend Dara was due to drop by for drinks, I made a drastic decision. I decided to make gougères.
This seemed like a drastic decision because: (a) I didn’t have the right cheese in my refrigerator and (b) I’d have to dirty the kitchen and a bunch of dishes just before the arrival of a guest. Things would be messy, things might burn. This was dangerous drink-hosting and I was living right on the edge. That’s what made it all so exciting.
My first experience with guacamole was the one in The Barefoot Contessa book, a flavorful guacamole that has the requisite avocados, red onion and lemon juice, but departs from the norm with fresh garlic and a few hits of Tabasco. Up until last weekend, if I were sent to the store to shop for guacamole ingredients, I probably would’ve stuck to The Barefoot Contessa formula. But then my friend Mark entered the picture.
There was the lobster salad, a big bag of potato chips and some cookies I’d received in the mail. Was that enough to feed four people? I’d need some kind of appetizer. I didn’t have time to go to the store. What did I have in my refrigerator? Pesto, a jar of cornichons, and Sriracha. And eggs. A plan began to form in my head, a plan involving eggs and THE DEVIL.
Everyone has a favorite dinner party moment. Me? I have to confess that my favorite moment comes at the end: when the food’s been served, the wine bottles are empty and I collapse on the couch with an extraordinary sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and relief.
For Craig, it’s the opposite: he loves the moment at the beginning, when people arrive, the wine gets poured and we sit around chatting until the first course begins. I can’t wait to serve the first course but Craig often tut-tuts me for rushing the pre-dinner portion. Which is why, last week, I put out a big bowl of radishes.
We ate a wonderful dish at Franny’s a few weeks ago of sugar snap peas (my favorite springtime vegetable) served on a cloud of whipped ricotta resting in a sea of olive oil. It was such a beautiful dish–the bright greenness of the snap peas, the cooling creaminess of the ricotta–that not only did I serve it as an appetizer at the dinner I cooked for Lizzie and Tyla, but I also served it again two days later when I cooked a dinner for Diana’s birthday. And both times it was a big hit.
It all happened very quickly. My friend Jimmy IMed me and asked what we were up to, we said nada, decided to all go to a movie but first, I invited him over for dinner. “It won’t be fancy,” I warned. “Probably just some pasta.” (I had penne in the cabinet and cauliflower in the refrigerator, so I knew I could make this recipe, minus the broccoli.) But after the plan was set, my hosting gene kicked in and I felt the need to also make a dessert and an appetizer. The dessert? I’ll tell you about that later. But the appetizer came together in no time, and it had everything to do with having three ingredients on hand: spicy mustard, a box of Triscuits and a can of sardines.