The Godfather

Jamie's Mozzarella with Pesto

Jamie's Mozzarella with Pesto

Whenever there is something new in my life, I suddenly lose my appetite. I’ve always fed myself well, and been suspicious of those frail girls who claim “Oh, I forgot to eat!” How can one forget to eat? Or not have time to eat? But at the end of the day, when there is a new boy in my life, or I move to a new place, or I start a new job—there I am, too nervous and busy and strung out to do the most simplest human task of hunting food down on a supermarket shelf, gathering it onto my plate, and, after all is said and done, eating it.

Jamie's Salad Balsamic

Jamie's Salad Balsamic

There’s no new boy, just dear old Mr. English. And no new place. It has, after all, has been standing for a thousand years. But an MBA, that terrifying blazing bull’s eye I’d always hope my arrow might somehow meander into, that was, and continues to be, bright, shining, and new. And according to tradition, I was accidentally starving.

I have been lucky and have found myself three friends in an unlikely place. Carolina, an Argentine-American I can spot like a flare from across the room for her long, nymph-platinum hair and megawatt smile. Ola, a Nigerian-Londoner beauty, who shares my birthday. And Angie, a Roman firecracker, who seems like nothing would ever intimidate her, where I have never felt more intimidated in all my life.

Jamie's Pasta with Truffles

Jamie's Pasta with Truffles

Carolina, Ola, and I were standing around the front hall of the school, holding jelly beans. Also known as lunch in our new world. It was family done, and none of us had any family for miles and miles. Angie came trotting over with her parents. They were exactly as I expected Italians to be: he, graying and distinguished in a gray suit, and you just knew he slept in suits, woke in suits, played in suits, and worked in suits. And the she, elegant in all black, big hair worked in Roman curls, and lips stained and pouting. The little American inside me screamed: ITALIAN!

Before long, they were embracing us, and I was beginning to realize there wasn’t much difference between Brooklyn Italian and Roman Italian. Everyone was talking a mile a minute, and the next thing we new, we were invited to the family lunch.

Jamie's Spaghetti Bolognese

Jamie's Spaghetti Bolognese

We went to Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant cheap and cheerful corner restaurant, and before I knew what was happening, antipasti had been ordered for the table. Along with loaves of bread, hunks of focaccia and swords of bread sticks. Glugs of olive oil seemed to be spilling down from heaven. The waiter came and took our order, and Caro, Ola, and I all ordered some pasta. “Penne Arrabiata,” I requested, thinking that after something so dry as accounting, I’d need something hot and devilishly spicy. And my new godfather leaned over and whispered, “And what will you have after your pasta?”

Of course, I felt like an absolute ignoramus when I realized that to him, pasta was an appetizer, and I should have thought twice before ordering the wrong course. I think he seemed slightly alarmed at what he thought would turn out to be such an enormous order for a generally small person. “Oh, just the pasta for me, please,” I flushed. But then I bit my lip, and had to hold something in. I was homesick. I missed, pathetic as this sounds at my age, my Maman. And though this man, my new friend’s father, spoke with an urbane Italian accent and ordered his pasta as an appetizer, I recognized something in his voice—concern, care, generosity. As he asked us about boyfriends and classes, he declared, “Because your fathers are not here, I am your father! And they would want to know, so I want to know!”

I have never felt so welcome, or so revived. At the end of the meal, after the olive oil was wiped off the table and the macchiato foam had been licked off lips, the godfather turned to me and said in simple English, “I like you.” I grinned and said back, “I like you too. Thank you for lunch.”

Jamie's Italian

Jamie's Italian

But I was thankful for more than penne, and I hope he knew that. I think when I forget to eat, I also forget what eating is about: sitting at a table with people who can say at the end of the meal, “I like you.” And you can say, “I like you too.” When someone pays for your lunch, they are not buying you something you cannot buy yourself. Hopefully, even in these difficult years, pasta is not out of reach. He buys you pasta, but he gives you hospitality, and humanity, and in some very basic form, love. I hope that the busier I get, I will not let myself go hungry for any of those things again.

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Categories: Oxford, Restaurants, Voyages
 

The Secret Ingredient (Liquid Smoke) Part I: Black Bean Soup with Smoked Sour Cream

RECIPE: Black Bean Soup with Smoked Sour Cream
Black Bean Soup with Smoked Sour Cream

Black Bean Soup with Smoked Sour Cream

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

Liquid smoke has long held my fascination, but I was a novice before experimenting with it for this column. My first impressions? It costs only a couple of dollars, can be found near the barbecue sauce, and looks like diluted soy sauce. I found it in hickory and mesquite varieties, and though I used hickory for these recipes, just go wherever your heart takes you.

Kind of like rose water, liquid smoke is more of an essence that hits your nose than a taste that hits your tongue.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Series, Soup, Soup & Salad, The Secret Ingredient
 

The Power of One: Pinky Lilani

 

Pinky Lilani

Pinky Lilani. Photograph from talkingstars.co.uk

Two days ago, I did a most unusual thing: I started my MBA. I still don’t feel right saying it. Not because millions of people don’t do MBAs each year. They do; it’s quite usual, in fact. But me. A food writer. A cook. Well, that’s usual.

Over the summer, we were sent instructions on how to prepare our resumés. My usual resumé is a flurry of publications and recordings (perhaps flurry is an overcompensation, but it does creep over the one page limit) in a lovely font, using all sorts of little formatting tricks that I grin over like a satisfied Cheshire Cat who just swallowed the Dormouse. And yet, here was this form from the business school, tell me in no wavering manner that Times New Roman 10 point was my only option.

I compared my CV, my curriculum vitae, or, loosely translated, the story of my life, next to this model they’d provided, what I supposed to be the average life story of my soon-to-be classmates. Work experience at the top, please: Analyst, Goldman Sachs, Consultant, McKinsey. Soon, I began to realize that the font wasn’t the only way I was supposed to conform. Okay, I breathed deeply, trying to fill out this worksheet with things like Food Columnist. I began to prioritize the wrong things, placing Penguin Intern above my BBC recordings, simply because it was done in an office, and I thought they’d find it more legitimate. By the time I had finished “Education” and “Employment,” my camel’s back was nearly broken. But instead of throwing on a straw, they threw on a ton of bricks:

“Do NOT say you’re interested in cooking!” a little colored blurb on the instruction sheet shouted up at me. “Nobody cares. It will not get you a job.”

And that was the end of this camel. I crumpled up onto the floor, and I sobbed my whole life story, my whole CV, away. What would have been an acceptable activity, one that they claimed would have gotten me the job? Tennis. In my anger I thought finishing first in my class at Le Cordon Bleu would have been just as heavy a qualification as sitting down and watching Wimbledon. “I’m not going!” I called out to no one. Why would they admit a cook if “cooking” will never get me anywhere?!

Cordon Bleu Class

My class and chefs at Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris

But still I found myself, three days ago, lying in bed waiting to begin my first day at school. At twenty-six I felt no different than kindergarten six. I had bought new pencils (light blue and lovely), and couldn’t sleep, and wished I still had a little green uniform hung up in my closet instead of having to pick something in the morning. I stared at the ceiling in the darkness. When Mr. English called, I snapped down the phone at him and hung up before he’d finished talking. I crawled out of bed with black bags under my eyes and a chip on my shoulder. I sat through 10 hours of induction. And then, with a handful of new friends, I attended the Women in Business event, without much expectation, still not really knowing what I was doing with this latest addition to the Education section of my CV.

“Kerry,” one of my friends shook me out of my daze, “the keynote speaker is in food!”

I grabbed the paper from her hand, and I looked. Pinky Lilani OBE, a self-taught Indian home cook, who had changed the landscape of English cuisine with her books and her consulting at mega supermarkets. She got up, and as she spoke, she reminded me of something that I often forget. After all, success is success, whether it’s on the trading floor or the kitchen floor, and as much as I spurned and judged the names like Goldman Sachs and McKenzie, I too can feel like a rat in a race.

But she reminded me of the most basic thing that I’ve always loved about food: it stops people. I remember racing down the High Street in Oxford once, and Pizza Hut started giving out free slices of pizza. Everyone simply stopped, stopped whatever it was they were doing, and started eating, and chatting, and above all else, they started smiling. When Pinky walked up to her podium, you could see she was just like her food: wholesome, but spicy. She had sass, and poise; an unassuming manner, but an Everest of accomplishments. For the first time since I’d really pondered this whole MBA affair, I felt inspired.

Spicy Bombay Potatoes

Spicy Bombay Potatoes. Photograph from spicemagic.com.

Soon, Pinky pulled out an enormous platter of her famous spicy Bombay potatoes, and all the strung out, exhausted girls in the room gasped. And Pinky made the brave announcement, “If any of you here at school ever need a home-cooked meal, you’re always welcome at my table.” And looking around the room, at women who had come from America and India, South Africa and Scandinavia, I realized that there are ways to feed people even without food. The color had come back in the room. And though none of us had yet tasted those Spicy Bombay Potatoes, we were all somehow much fuller.

And there, in that fluorescent-lit lecture theater, among all the power brokers, I sat looking at this lovely, happy, woman who had found her way to personal success and who had helped to change the world simply because she did what she loved, and because she didn’t take no for an answer. And even among the power-brokers, seeing how they fell weak at the knees at the sight of those Spicy Bombay Potatoes, I felt for the first time like maybe I too was a force to be reckoned with. And that maybe, after all was said and done, I held the most power after all.

Pommes frites, anyone?

Pinky’s new book Coriander Makes the Difference will be released shortly…

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Categories: People
 

The Secret Ingredient (Harissa) Part I: Salade Cuite

RECIPE: Harissa Salade Cuite
Salade Cuite

Salade Cuite

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

Salade cuite, or cooked salad, has one of those funny names that doesn’t quite translate well in any language. Sounds kind of gross, right?

But salade cuite is one of my family’s most traditional, guarded, and beloved recipes. And I assure you, it is not gross. Usually a stew of roasted Cubanelle peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil, it’s served hot, cold, or anywhere in between. Something of a pepper-filled ratatouille, salade cuite is best a day or two later from a jar in the fridge.

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Categories: Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Eat, For a Crowd, Recipes, Series, Sides, The Secret Ingredient, Vegetables, Vegetarian
 

The Secret Ingredient (Harissa) Part II: Harissa-Fried Scallops

RECIPE: Harissa-Fried Scallops
Harissa Scallops

Harissa Scallops

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

North African food is known for its fragrant floral waters and uniquely sweet spices in savory dishes, like meats stuffed with dried fruits. But what I love most about the cuisine is its argumentative nature. For example, ras el-hanout, an iconic Moroccan spice mix, can have over 100 ingredients, and yet, there is no one recipe. Every spice vendor swears to have “the best ras el-hanout.”

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Eat, Fish, Individual, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient
 

French in a Flash: Tarragon Chicken and Carrot Muffins with Sweet Chèvre Icing (Part I)

RECIPE: Tarragon Chicken
Tarragon Chicken

Tarragon Chicken

Good morning, Revolutionnaires! I have been behind in keeping you up to date on French in a Flash, so I want to tell you about the last two week’s recipes on Serious Eats.

Tarragon Chicken is this unfortunate dish that we tried to throw together at the Cordon Bleu. I say tried, because it was the one dish that I don’t think one of us finished. It sounds so simple: chicken stewed in a summer-sweet broth of tomatoes and tarragon. And yet, all I remember was being in the kitchen at 9:30 at night deboning both the chicken’s thigh and my own thumb. As they say in France, “catastrophe!”

Tomatoes and Tarragon

Tomatoes and Tarragon

It was a shame, too, because it seemed like such a good idea–so rustic, and filling, but at the same time a bit exotic. We are so used to having our tomatoes with basil, but in France, tomatoes are all about tarragon, and there is that kind of fresh anise sweetness that counters the tomatoes so well. It seemed to me like the perfect summer stew, hearty and steaming, but still fresh as a daisy. So, I decided to never look at my Cordon Bleu recipe for the dish again, and make it my own way. I made it for my aunt and uncle, and along with a devoured mountain of baguette, it was a hit.

Click here for the Tarragon Chicken recipe.

Carrot Muffin with Sweet Chèvre Icing

Carrot Muffin with Sweet Chèvre Icing

Last week’s French in a Flash caused a bit of controversy. September always gets me thinking about back to school, especially since I myself am going back to school. And for me, back to school is all about breakfast and snacks, the two meals I never bother with in the summertime. I wanted these muffins to truly be “in a flash,” so they start with boxed cinnamon muffin mix, which is then doctored up with golden raisins, grated carrot, and chopped walnuts. The icing is made from powdered sugar, cream cheese, and, the piece de resistance, goat cheese. It’s like licking a finger scraped down the side of a red velvet cake–that cream cheese tang in the sweet frosting–but multiplied and deepened. I think these are a great way to make something which I still consider homemade in just minutes, but I understand some of my readers were fairly disappointed at my use of a boxed mix. I would be happy to hear your opinions, Revolutionnaires! Click here for the Carrot Muffins with Sweet Chevre Icing recipe.

Again, my apologies at having been so remiss. Tons of travel and a new computer have stymied my best intentions.

Tarragon Chicken
serves 4 to 6

Tarragon ChickenIngredients

  • 8 vine ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
  • 8 chicken legs
  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 4 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/3 cup dry vermouth
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 6 stems tarragon

Procedure

  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a braising pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken, in batches as necessary, until golden-brown all over. Set the chicken aside, and discard the oil.
  2. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sweat just a minute. Add the vermouth and the wine, and simmer to reduce and burn off the alcohol. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and half the tarragon. Add the chicken back into the pan, and bring the liquid to a boil.
  3. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, until the meat is falling off the bone. Boil uncovered for a few minutes at the end if you want to evaporate off some of the liquid (I like it saucy). Scatter the leaves from the remaining 3 stems of fresh tarragon over the chicken, and serve piping hot.
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Categories: Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Poultry, Recipes, Series
 

French in a Flash: Tarragon Chicken and Carrot Muffins with Sweet Chèvre Icing (Part II)

RECIPE: Carrot Muffins with Sweet Chèvre Icing

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

Carrot Muffins with Sweet Chèvre Icing
Ingredients
  • 1 box cinnamon muffin mix
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 batch Chèvre-Cream Cheese Icing
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 ounces chèvre, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Procedure

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with 10 paper muffin liners.



Mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon in a big bowl. Use an ice cream scoop to spoon out nine or ten muffins into the tins. They will be filled nearly to the top.

Bake for 19 to 22 minutes, until the muffins are puffed and golden.

Allow muffins to cool in the tins for 5 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. Once cool, spread the tops with some Chèvre-Cream Cheese icing, and embellish with a few pieces of chopped walnut, golden raisins, and a shower of cinnamon.

Chèvre-Cream Cheese Icing

Use a hand blender to combine all ingredients until smooth.

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Categories: Breakfast & Brunch, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Pastries, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian