An Experiment with Oven Fries
So, the only thing to do was try the recipe without parboiling the potatoes first. I thought I would beat the system by cutting the potatoes very small (think McDonald's). Because I knew this was a risky experiment and really did want the fries, I also followed the recipe for the majority of the sliced potatoes, but cut them all smaller than the recipe called for.
I observed the following:
- the "experiment fries" browned about twice as fast as the regular ones (which seemed like a bonus), didn't absorb the olive oil so tasted really bland and were somewhere between crispy and cardboard-y. Even with a lot of ketchup, they were only tolerable.
- it is a very bad idea to cut the fries very small because they fall apart when you parboil them and you have to flip each one of them individually! Ideally the fries would be on the wider side, but not very thick (you are only going to flip once, so only two sides will brown well).
In conclusion, my experiment failed. And the parboiling wasn't so bad. And the (real) fries were incredible. And my mother is always right.
Katniss' Carrot Soup
With this in mind, I began searching for a delectable carrot soup and found one in William Sonoma's Carrot Soup with Bacon and Chestnut Cream. It is absolutely delicious and would be more than worthy of gracing any Capitol table. This is a lovely choice for a book club meeting, viewing party, or brunch. It can be made twenty-four hours in advance of an event, and is sure to please any crowd.
Equipping a Kitchen from Scratch
I should start by saying that I am not one of those people who can make anything with just a frying pan, a wooden spoon, and a spatula. In fact, I am Williams-Sonoma’s dream customer—if they tell me I need a specialty pan to make something, I buy it. (And let me tell you that you can live without an asparagus pot.) But I decided to be frugal in starting my California kitchen, and just buy the essentials.
The first meal I cooked, within 24 hours of walking into the house for the first time (Bob bought the house without me—long story), was Thanksgiving dinner. Since, due to popular demand, the Thanksgiving menu never changes at my house, this was not as daunting a task as it might have been. And it gave me my starting point: a large roasting pan with a rack. Ideally, you would have both a large and a small roasting pan, but if you can have only one, go with the large. Next, a small (1.5 quart) and a medium (3 quart) saucepan; 8- and 10-inch frying pans, both regular and nonstick; a Dutch oven (5.5 quart is a good size); a 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan; and a large multi-pot, which you can use as a stockpot, a pasta pot, or a steamer. Add two jellyroll pans, and even I could make almost anything.
My last point is that you should buy the best cookware that you can afford—good pots and pans will last you a lifetime. My cookware of choice is a subject for another day.
Serbian Spirits for The Tiger's Wife
Obreht's beautifully written first novel is steeped in magical realism and set in an unnamed Balkan province similar to the one that Obreht herself lived in as a young child in the former Yugoslavia. Obreht tells the tale of Natalia, a young doctor who has grown up in a country ravaged by war, as she begins to come to terms with the death of her grandfather.
I loved the complexity of The Tiger's Wife and certainly recommend it to anyone prepared to be immersed in heavy themes. I recommend the Vruca Rakija to anyone who enjoys sugary hot toddies, or plans to spend an evening alone at a crossroads waiting for the deathless man.
Finding My Passion
Once I got the idea, I talked about it to my sister-in-law, Pam, my step-daughter, Lauren, and my daughter, Lindsay, for two reasons. First, I enjoy them all tremendously, and thought it would be fun to work with them. Second, they all have strong skill sets in different areas, and we all complement one another. And we are all passionate about All Toasty, as it has evolved, and will continue to evolve.
Try using mirepoix to create our favorite chicken stock recipe [add link once recipe is entered]. For this recipe, we suggest roughly chopping the ingredients. Peel the onion and cut into large pieces; leave the leaves on the celery and cut into chunks; wash but do not peel the carrot and cut into chunks. A rough guideline is 50% onion, 25% celery and 25% carrot (try 1 1/2 onions, 1 celery stalk and 1 large carrot).
Choosing a Whole Fish
1. The most important thing to watch out for when picking out a fish is the smell. Does it smell like the sea? Good - that's what we want fish to smell like. Does it smell fishy or rotten? You can guess this is not what we are looking for.
2. Avoid fish with cloudy eyes, particularly if the eyes are sunken and cloudy white.
3. The flesh of the fish should be fairly firm to the touch (not soft). Your finger should not leave an imprint.
4. The gills should be clean and bright red.
5. Ideally, the fish is "gutted" or "dressed", e.g., its entrails have been removed. Fish spoil much faster with their entrails intact. If you buy a fish that has not been gutted, remove the entrails yourself before putting the fish in the refrigerator.
6. Don't be shy. Ask the person behind the seafood counter which fish is the most fresh.
Calling All Chicken Kiev Recipes
We also coined a family favorite during these first days in Paris. Bob had ordered French onion soup and was raving about it. I knew of French onion soup from Ruby Tuesdays or somewhere else embarrassing, so I had to have a taste. I asked Bob if I could try it. He said no, because I didn’t have a spoon. My carefree eleven-year old self suggested that I just use his spoon – we were family, after all. Bob was disgusted and informed us that sharing spoons is “barbaric”. We still make fun of him for it. He’s obviously classier than the rest of us.
After our week in France, we boarded a ferry to take us to England (this was pre-Chunnel, obviously). On this ferry, I had what I called the “best meal of the trip” and I think about it to this day. I went to the counter at the ferry cafeteria and ordered chicken kiev. It arrived hot and in a plastic wrapper that it had been heated up in (probably in the microwave). Mom, chime in if I am making up the wrapper, but this is how I remember it. I cut the chicken open and a wonderful, herb-filled butter sauce filled my plate. I ate the entire thing and wished for another.
I have not eaten Chicken Kiev since that magical ferry. I am hoping someone out there can make my (chicken kiev) dreams come true and give me a great recipe for chicken kiev. Does it really have an herb butter sauce?
Every Hand Counts
One of my party staples is requiring guests to pitch in. You know how people say “need any help?” as a courtesy on their way to grab a drink? I pretend they are serious and hand them a knife and a task. In some cases, it’s a whole list of tasks, like creating meatball sliders and the accompanying marinara sauce (I’ll never be forgiven for that one). If someone is rude enough to not ask to help, they will still get a utensil and a task. It’s part of the fun. I’m not above asking someone I just met, or a guy with a cast on one wrist (I’ve done both).
As if putting my guests to work is not already obnoxious enough, I am also very strict about how they execute the tasks. This is my mom’s fault. If you are tasked with chopping tomatoes for a salad, the tomato must be deseeded (I’m not as crazy as my mom and don’t peel my tomatoes). If you get the cucumber, it must not only be peeled and seeded, but it must be diced into the same size chunks as the tomato. My salads do not include half moon shaped cucumbers. Don’t ask.
I understand that people are not coming to a party hoping to ruin their outfit when the oil spatters on it or cut their finger while chopping, but to me, it’s a fun activity we can all do together. It certainly helps avoid the awkward moments when the first guests arrive and they are people I hardly know and have little to say to.
I am not advocating this for the rest of the world. All toasty is teaching me to choose items that can be made or prepped ahead of time and follow the timelines we have put together.
Everything Is Better With Melted Cheese
When I became old enough to make my own melts (aka law school when there were not great melt choices), I still concentrated on turkey and American, and threw in some grilled cheeses, tuna melts and egg sandwiches. My melt tips and instructions are below.
Generic Melt Tips:
1. I am always trying to be healthy (at least when cooking for myself), so I use Pam on the outside of each piece of bread instead of butter. Of course, butter tastes better but Pam is a pretty good substitute and it is not greasy.
2. If you are desperate and only have hamburger buns to use for bread (yes, this happened to me last week), flip the bun “inside out” so the inside of the bun faces the pan. Of course, spray it with Pam (or use butter if you are skinny).
3. My favorite cheese for melts is white American (try Land-o-Lakes from the deli counter or Applegate organic, in a package). To make a healthier version, I use Kraft 2% (yellow) American. It’s low in fat and calories but still melts nicely. 4. The first side will take about 5 minutes to cook, but after you flip the sandwich, the second side will only take 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to burn!
I’ll be writing about my favorite melts in the future.