Last year, I suffered the greatest humiliation of my life–well, except for that time I got pantsed while roller skating on a Jewish teen tour–when my Glenn Cous Cous Salad with Albert Knobs of Feta lost the Best Oscar Dish contest to Tinker Tailor Shepherd’s Pie. This was at a party hosted by my friends John and Michael; and once again, this year, they threw the same party. I had to bring another dish. THIS TIME I WOULD NOT BE DEFEATED.
After my New York Public Library event with Deb Perelman (there were 230 people there!), I’m rethinking my whole blog.
Somehow, through my aggressive questioning, I forced Deb to give up her blogging secrets. And the one that’s really staying with me the most is the fact that she cooks during the day to have daylight for her photos. That’s why her blog pictures always look so good. It doesn’t happen at night. My blog happens at night. Again, I have to rethink everything.
This summer, if I were the sort of person who named their summers, might be called “The Summer of Stone Fruit.” That’s because, for a good part of it, I’d bring home lots of stone fruit (mostly peaches, but also nectarines and plums) from the West Hollywood Farmer’s Market. I’d put these stone fruits into a bowl on our kitchen counter and, inevitably, the stone fruit would get eaten. It was only last week that I decided that I could do more with stone fruit besides just eat it. Which is when I had the idea to use stone fruit in a salad.
You may not believe me when I tell you this, but I made a quinoa dish two weeks ago that had us smacking our lips in delight. It started, as most great dishes do, with leftovers. Just a leftover roast chicken wrapped in aluminum foil. I had Craig do the ceremonial shredding, because he’s an expert at getting every morsel of meat off the carcass. Lolita stands by and yowls her demands for scraps. Occasionally Craig will toss her one.
The farmer’s market can be an intimidating place, especially in summer when there’s just so much to choose from. Sometimes I get overwhelmed, buy a few peaches and tomatoes and leave quickly. Other times, I just buy everything in sight, a strategy that seems wasteful at first but which almost always pays off. When I come home with armfuls of bags and mountains of vegetables, I put them immediately to use and whatever I don’t use I pickle. It’s a win-win.
Last week something unprecedented happened. I was having a new friend over for dinner and, after shopping at 3 o’clock and starting to cook at 4 o’clock, I found myself at 8 o’clock holding my cellphone and a text message from this new friend saying that he had a work emergency and wouldn’t be able to make it. I was left with a giant bowl of couscous, a whole roasted chicken, vanilla bean pudding (which I’ll blog about later this week) and, lucky for me, two undressed heads of radicchio that I’d sliced and refrigerated in anticipation of making a salad. Now that it was just Craig and me, we wouldn’t need the salad and that undressed radicchio would survive the night in the fridge and become next day’s lunch. As it turned out that lunch–a purple salad that I concocted with leftover chicken, red onion, raisins and toasted walnuts–was almost better than the dinner.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about sponges. Well: not actual sponges, but sponge-like behavior. Specifically the sponge-like behavior that occurs when you cook something–pasta, beans, vegetables–and then add them to an incredibly flavorful, incredibly potent mixture (a sauce, a dressing) allowing all that flavor to get sucked up inside.
This is why it’s always best to take your pasta out of the water a minute before its done and finish it in the sauce; it’s also why it’s best to toss boiled potatoes in a dressing for potato salad right out of the water–you went those pores to be open, to sponge up all that fatty goodness. And sucking up fatty goodness is precisely what I wanted the cauliflower to do when I set about making a marinated cauliflower salad.
You may have thought Oscar’s biggest upset last night was Meryl Streep stealing Viola Davis’s Oscar, but then clearly you weren’t at the Oscar party I attended. Our friends John and Michael invited us a week earlier and asked us to bring a dish that was a pun or play on words based on title or actor (last year, John made “Stanley Two-Cheese Dip”) and I treated the whole thing light-heartedly, polling my followers on Twitter (some good suggestions: “My Week With Maryland Crabs,” “Macarooney Mara”) before settling on the dish you see above, Glenn Cous Cous Salad with Albert Knobs of Feta.