Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Goodies

Easter may be my wife's favorite holiday, mostly because of all of the candy. The kids seem to enjoy that aspect as well. By 7 :30 this morning, chocolate was dribbling out of my 18 month old Rye's mouth as well as my three year old Raine's face.

For me Easter is about rebirth and the start of spring- it's interesting how some of the iconography from ancient pagan rituals became part of Christian traditions and then further incorporated into Easter Bunny lore as well. The most obvious is the egg, symbol of fertility and rebirth and now the prime symbol of Easter. That's why I love to make a Torta Pasqualina at Easter to showcase the eggs in all their glory.

We had an early Easter supper tonight with the Breeders ( I should explain- there are two or three couples that we gather with almost every Sunday afternoon for a happy hour- we were dubbed the Breeders by some childless friends who jokingly said that entry to our group was contingent upon having a small child or one on the way) at the Riley's house. We jazzed up our normal fare for the holiday and had a nice meal:

deviled eggs

ham biscuits

frenched rack of lamb

Torta Pasqualina ( more on that later)

roasted potatoes

broccoli salad

and a whole lot of wine.......

Torta Pasqualina

This is a traditional Italian dish, I belive from Ligurian roots. I made some modifications to make it my own.

Dough or Phyllo( I used phyllo- much less fuss)

2 lbs fresh spinach

3 T bread crumbs ( soaked in 1/2 c milk)

1 onion, chopped

handful of pine nuts

1 c fresh parmesan

16 0z ricotta

6 eggs ( 2 mixed in, 4 for later)


Preheat oven to ~400

1) cook down spinach, drain and saute with onion in olive oil; let cool

2) Once spinach and onion have cooled, mix in other ingredients.

3) Layer 10 sheets phyllo dough in greased spring form pan, buttering between layers.

4) Place spinach mixture on top.- I had about 1/2 c of pesto that I had thawed from the freezer that added a nice kick.

5) This is the tricky part- make 4 indentations in the mixture and gently place one egg in the hole, making sure not to break the yolk.

6) Layer phyllo on top, buttering between layers, maybe 10 to 15 more sheets

7) Bake for 1 hour

When you slice the torta, the eggs look lovely in cross-section

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Teach Your Children Well

Ruth Reichl, Editor of Gourmet Magazine, sheds light on the question of what we should feed our children. I agree with her that we should aspire to a family dinner where we all eat the same meal - and no special foods for the kids. They need to learn by example and as she eloquently states :
"Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is endlessly delicious."

Here is her entire letter:
"Be warned: This is a rant. If you don't want to listen, turn the page. But I recently read a laudatory article about the opening of a new shop in New York City dedicated to children's food, and the very notion drives me so crazy that I simply can't keep quiet.On the surface it seemed a rather charming idea: a shop dedicated to food that children will eat. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to feel that this epitomizes everything that's wrong with the way we eat today.For starters, the notion that children are a separate species who require a different diet from the rest of us pretty much does away with the concept of the family meal. The point of eating together, it seems to me, is not just that we all sit down around the same table but also that we share the food. The same food.Children study their parents--that is their primary job in life--and one of the things they absorb is the way the grown-ups eat. "Oh look, Mommy loves salad and Daddy thinks spaghetti alla bolognese is swell" is one lesson learned at the family table. The message is that these are delicious and desirable foods, and the obvious conclusion is "I'll probably like them, too." But if little Suzy and Sam get applesauce instead of salad and naked pasta in place of meat sauce, the lesson is quite different. What we are really telling our children is "You won't like what we are eating."And yet we know that what children like is mostly learned. Japanese children are not born thinking that rice, fish, and seaweed are breakfast foods any more than American children are born with an innate preference for cereal. We tell them what they like, even if we don't say it in words.No thinking person would force a child to eat food he didn't want. That turns the dinner table into a battleground and ultimately makes everyone miserable. It's just plain stupid. But by the same token, no conscious parent would really want to tell his children, night after night, that they are going to dislike the food that the grown-ups are eating.The great anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss did groundbreaking work when he observed that in turning the raw into the cooked we transform nature into culture; in other words, cooking is one of the ways in which we define ourselves as civilized creatures. Through our cooking, and our eating habits, we tell ourselves who we are. When we offer our children a different menu, we are telling them that they are different from us. And being different, that we also have different expectations of them. Why, then, should we be surprised that many modern children have such poor table manners? In giving them children's food, we are essentially telling them that they are not expected to behave like adults when they are at the table.We're supposed to be the grown-ups, and when we ask children to choose their own food, we're offering them choices they would probably rather not make. And if we are incapable of making the easy decisions about what's for dinner, why should they trust us to make the harder ones? Offering children a special menu may make life momentarily more comfortable, but in the long run it's a cop-out, a way of walking away from one of the responsibilities of being a parent.But there's an even more important reason for us to be dismayed by special menus aimed at pleasing your young palates. When we feed children the old familiar grilled cheese sandwiches and vanilla ice cream, we are teaching them to stick with the tried-and-true instead of encouraging them to dare to taste the new.Sitting down to dinner, at any age, should be an invitation to the fabulous banquet that is life. The most important lesson we learn at the table is that great rewards await those who take chances. Do we really want to be telling our children, "Just eat your nice chicken nuggets"? It would make so much more sense to say, "Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is endlessly delicious."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sweet Home Chicago

In early May, I will be spending a week in Chicago- several nights on my own and then three with my wife Susannah. Our birthdays fall within a week of each other in late April and early May. Our big splurge will be a night at Charlie Trotters- I really admire his philosophy on food that he expounds upon on his website:

On Local Food
"The taste of free-range and organic products is so much better than the alternative. It is also good to know that you are eating unadulterated food and supporting farmers and growers who are directly connected with the land."
On Sauces
Chef Trotter prefers saucing with vegetable juice-based vinaigrettes, light emulsified stocks, and purees as well as delicate broths and herb-infused meat and fish essences.

"Unlike sauces that incorporate a lot of butter or cream, our approach does not mute or block the basic flavors of the ingredients they are meant to support."

On Balance
It is important to Trotter that diners enjoy a perfectly balanced meal that continues to satisfy afterwards.

"I do not want guests walking out of the restaurant feeling as if they over-indulged because of excessive cream, butter, and alcohol. I want them to feel stimulated and alert, knowing that they will be able to look forward to breakfast the following morning. Food doesn't have to be rich to taste good."

Other restaurants under consideration are Frontera Grill, Blackbird, Avec, Schwa. I welcome any other suggestions.