Vermont Cheddar and Leek Soup. Photo: Heather Platt
“Isn’t it funny how we all remember Vermont?” Said Nana into the land line phone in her nursing home apartment.
I’d called her to tell her that her famous Limpa Bread recipe and the guidance she’d given me over the phone the day before had lead to the most perfect batch yet. So perfect that two entire loaves of the crusty, soft, brown goodness seemed to have already disappeared from our countertop. Mysterious, I know.
Nana was pleased. “Mmmm.” She said, imagining she could taste it too. “It’s the best warm, with butter…” she specified trailing off in thought into the fantasy of Limpa deliciousness. And then it occurred to me. That’s where this came from. This utter obsession with achieving maximum deliciousness, the utmost joy from watching someone happily devour the food you made. I got that from Nana.
“Oh no, I never bothered with any recipes at the restrunt.” She answered after I inquired about the menu items at her and my late-grandfather’s Vermont eatery.
“How did you make everything?” I was blown away. The woman owned, managed and cooked, from scratch with apparently no guidance, everything on the menu at “Bischoff’s Restaurant.” In the 1940s and 50s, hungry skiers and locals alike piled into cozy wooden benches to enjoy her cooking.
“I just made it and tasted as I went along.” She said matter-of-factly. “Have you ever made my split pea soup? I wrote it down for you somewhere.” I will get that recipe as soon as possible. But until then, this Vermont Cheddar soup will have to do. And it does.
Steamed Lobster. Photo Credit: Heather Platt
Despite growing up in a land-locked state, I have had the great fortune of having extended family who dwell along the seacoast in southern Maine. Every childhood visit there involved a trip to the lobster pound to buy a dozen of the live little crustaceans followed by a casual family feast of the delicious delicacies. We sat around a table, excited with white plastic bibs tied around our necks and claw-crackers in hand. The Vermonters at the table would always ask the Mainers to show them how to efficiently extract the meat from the tail, claws, legs and torso. My cousin Ty would explain that her Aunt Wendy always ate the “green stuff” and as kids we would squeal with disgust and fascination. Now, like the legendary Aunt Wendy, I too eat the “green stuff.” This internal part of the lobster, called Tomalley, is actually the liver and pancreas of the animal. So that explains why I find it so flavorful, which it is, FYI. Aunt Wendy is a smart woman. A big bucket in the center of the table served as a sort of basket ball hoop for shells to be tossed after the precious meat had been consumed.
These lobster dinners, which were served with a 1/4 cup of drawn butter for dipping, toasted English muffins, corn on the cob and a fresh garden salad were all I ever knew of eating lobster. For many years I rolled my eyes at over-priced lobster on restaurant menus. In truth because I just couldn’t bear to eat it outside of this nostalgic familial context. And thanks to a recent tutorial from one of my favorite Mainers, I finally learned how to make it.
Live Lobsters. Photo Credit: Heather Platt
Classic Steamed Maine Lobster Dinner
Cooking is easy. I believe that anyone can make a delicious meal. Like anything in life, it’s a matter of desire. Clearly, I have no problem committing an entire day to ingredient sourcing, chopping, mincing, searing and slicing. It’s fun for me. I understand that it’s not for everyone. And even I have days when I really wish that a home cooked meal would magically appear on my plate. But even though we all differ in our cooking desires and abilities, one common thread remains; we all need to eat. And as far as I know, we would all prefer what we eat to be delicious.
But why does cooking have to be so polarizing? It seems that people are defined as those who cook and those who don’t. There must be some happy medium, some comfortable place halfway in between slaving over David Chang’s braised pork butt and simply running to the neighborhood ramen restaurant for takeout. My column Perfect Pantry was created to tackle this problem. How to cook when you don’t feel like going to the store. But along with ingredients, we need recipes.
The most challenging of these I-don’t-feel-like-cooking times are the nights alone. We’ve all been there. You are in your kitchen, hungry glancing back and forth from your phone to your fridge. The only thing in your freezer is gin. Because if you’re like me, you’re not a frozen-dinner kind-of-person. Is it worth making a mess if it’s just for me? Is there anything here to make? A steamed pork bun just sounds so good right now…Okay, maybe that’s just me. But recently I was in this position. My husband, a musician, has been on tour for most of the summer. So when my favorite person to cook for is away, I can’t help but feel uninspired.
But then I got to thinking about how this whole cooking obsession began in the first place. And I see a single twenty-something girl in her East Village apartment, blasting Belle and Sebastian songs on her stereo and cracking open a bottle of Pinot Noir while she comes up with a purpose for the treasures she rounded up at the Union Square Farmer’s market that day. A girl who cured her own loneliness by regularly throwing herself a one-woman dinner party and in the process, learned how to cook. So eight years later, I decided to channel that inner single girl. And on a hot summer night in Los Angeles, made myself a Bee’s Knees cocktail with the aforementioned gin and started cooking.
Lonely Girl Chicken with Quick Almond-Cherry Couscous and Parsley Garlic Sauce
Filed under Dinner, Fall, Heather Platt, In Season, Lunch, Main Course, Meat, Poultry, Spring, Summer, Winter
Suzanne Goin’s Alaskan Black Cod with Kabocha, Golden Raisins and Pedro Ximenez. Photo Credit: Heather Platt
After reading through the final draft of Suzanne Goin’s soon-to-be-published AOC cookbook, I felt a) starving and b) inspired to cook EVERY delicious recipe in it. I would scroll through it over and over again reading through the recipes obsessing and thinking, “That one sounds good….oh that sounds so good too. Wait, actually I think I have to make that one first.”
Like Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Suzanne’s AOC cookbook is conveniently divided up into seasons which helped me narrow down my culinary indecision to fall and winter recipes, recipes for which I knew I could find ingredients at the weekly farmer’s market. And as much as I wanted to make EVERYTHING all at once and eat it immediately, I couldn’t stop thinking about this one black cod recipe that involved Suzanne’s favorite of squashes, kabocha, golden raisins, and something called Pedro Ximenez, which she describes as “one of the worlds greatest uses of grapes.” Given that description and my weakness for any recipe involving golden raisins (I love snacking on them while I cook. It’s the same with Marcona almonds, which aren’t in this, but thankfully Suzanne loves Marconas too.) I had to make it. I love recipes that introduce me to new ingredients! Or in this case, a pantry staple. Everyone should have a bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry in their kitchen. And after an easy trip to my local wine store and a pleasant trip to the farmer’s market, I found myself eating one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever tasted. Now the only question is, what to cook next?….
Santa Monica Farmer’s Market Kabocha Squash. Photo Credit: Heather Platt
Pedro Ximenez Sherry.
Photo Credit: Heather Platt
Alaskan Black Cod with Kabocha, Golden Raisins and Pedro Ximenez. Photo Credit: Heather Platt
Grilled Duck Breast with Preserved Citrus Peel and Sweet Potato Purée
A few weeks ago during a busy Sunday Supper at Lucques, I found myself standing in the middle of a conversation between (my boss/idol/friend) chef/owner of Lucques Suzanne Goin and a dinner guest named Shelley who happened to be an old high school friend of Suzanne. Shelley was reporting back to Suzanne that many of their friends from Marlborough High School have told her that Suzanne’s James Beard Award winning cookbook “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” “is amazing and will change your life!” Shelley admitted that she felt intimidated by it. I proceeded to jump in on the conversation and carry on about how I felt the same way at first “But once you start using it, it’s true! It really will change your life!” Eventually, I extracted myself from the meeting of old friends and got back to my duties at the hostess stand. But at the end of the night, after all of our guests had been seated, Suppers enjoyed, and desserts devoured, I was gathering my belongings in the office to leave for the night. With my purse slung over my shoulder and scarf around my neck, I started to leave and then stopped in my tracks and turned around to Suzanne who was seated at a desk, typing on her laptop. “Suzanne it’s true.” I said. ” Your cookbook really has changed my life.” She looked up at me. “All of my friends think I’m a really good cook. But it just occurred to me that it’s only because I have your cookbook.” She smiled at me and then said casually, “Here, I’ll email you the latest draft of my AOC cookbook. You can test recipes. ”
Once in awhile, we are told things that leave us speechless. This was one of those things. And by the time I got home (still smiling and giddy), there was an email in my in box with the subject “Here you go!” a note that said “Merry Christmas..please let me know your results and if anything is confusing.” and an extremely large attachment titled “AOC BOOK DRAFT 1 W WINE FINAL.” I spent my entire Christmas break devouring it….literally and figuratively. And you can trust me when I say; it’s delicious.
The only way I can truly show Suzanne how flattered and grateful I am to have early access to such classified information is to make (and eat) my way through as many recipes as possible. I couldn’t help but start with duck!
Suzanne Goin’s Grilled Duck Breast with Preserved Citrus Peel and Sweet Potato Purée
It’s that time of year again. That runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, I-never -want-to-get-out-of-bed time of year. It’s as if December was one fabulous month-long holiday party and January is the painful hangover day after. Except, worse than a hangover, its contagious. In an attempt to combat this cold season, I’ve been stocking my kitchen with citrus fruits. Blood oranges, cara caras, navel oranges, and the large and succulent oro blancos are spilling out across my counter top like a still-life painting from the Italian Renaissance. I take pride in my artillery of vitamin C. I admire these seasonal treats for their vibrant beauty and expected health-benefits. I’ll often just pick one up, give it a sniff, a little squeeze and toss it into the air and catch it.
But truth be told, my oranges and grapefruits did not save me from catching the worst cold I’ve had in years this winter. This is not to say that I’ve given up on them. In fact, this morning upon arriving at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market to tag along with the Lucques chefs, I told Chef de Cuisine Javier, “Ben (my boyfriend) has the cold now, I need to get him more citrus fruits and some orange juice from farmer Peter Shaner….” I was on a mission. Now Javier is probably the nicest chef you or I will ever meet. But when he needs to get a point across, he has the most sobering, deadpan, serious look on his face. “No. Dude. It’s chips and salsa man. You gotta make him chips and salsa.” I looked at him like he was joking. He wasn’t. Did I also mention that Javier makes the best salsa you’ll ever have in your life? Well, he does. And here’s his secret recipe for the alleged cold-buster.
Nothing gets me more excited about cooking than fall. Maybe it’s the fact that my birthday passes in October, and I inevitably end up with a pretty new apron, cookbook, or dutch oven that I just can’t wait to break in. Maybe it’s the fact that the holidays are around the corner and I’m feeling festive. Or that the temperature has cooled down so much that turning the oven on or standing over a simmering pot of something aromatic sounds like a brilliant idea. Or that a trip to the farmer’s market ends with an almost-back-breakingly heavy bag full of fall’s greatest bounties. Brussels sprouts, yams, carrots, cauliflower, parsnips, squash and potatoes vie for my attention. This hearty yet healthy week night dinner was the result of one of those farmer’s market trips. I couldn’t choose between them, so I just came home with everything and this was the result.