When I moved back to New York from Cambridge in 1982, I found an apartment on Columbus Avenue down the block from the Dakota and across the street from a take-home gourmet shop called the Silver Palate. Their window was always filled with delicious fare, most of which I couldn’t afford but nonetheless aspired to recreate.
Back in graduate school, when my friends and I began to set up our new apartments and started to entertain and have one another over to dinner, one friend in particular stood out from the rest. She had a certain sense of style. I used to describe her as being “VSFA,” or as the store’s advertising campaign would add “Very Saks Fifth Avenue.”
As a graduate student in the mid-seventies, I was living in a fifth-floor walk-up studio on New York City’s, not-yet-gentrified, Upper West Side. The apartment was on the top floor of a converted brownstone and consequently had a tiny kitchen, my very first, maybe 6-feet long by 3-feet wide. Yet it was here that I began to take a serious interest in cooking.
Occasionally, the New York Times “Cooking” newsletter has an attention-grabbing, hyperbolic headline that makes me stop reading my emails and go directly to their website. Such was the case earlier this week when the subject line read: “The Most Incredible Cauliflower.”
Summer’s finally here and, at least in California, we already have some delicious tomatoes, specifically those of the cherry variety. Thanks to the kindness of our neighbors brave enough to venture out to our local farmers market, we were able to obtain a nice supply. More often than not, we enjoy these tomatoes raw, perhaps sprinkled with a little salt, drizzled with olive oil, and served along side slices of fresh mozzarella. Last night, however, I decided to so something a little different.
Sometimes what’s in our refrigerator dictates what’s for dinner—especially when it’s produce a little past its prime. This was the case last week when I found two red bell peppers on the decline as well as a large onion in a similar state. Not surprisingly, the first thing that came to mind was pasta.
During these days of sheltering in place, avoiding crowds, and making the most out of what’s available at the supermarket, I’ve grown more flexible in the kitchen. This short post is one example of an old dog learning new tricks.
More often than not, when it comes to lamb chops, I opt for baby lamb chops cooked scottadito (Italian for burnt finger). Thin, lightly marinated chops are placed on hot grill pan, cooked on high for two minutes a side, and then served with a dollop of green sauce or pesto. I’ve written about them here.
Lately, however, I’ve been unable to procure these baby chops and have had to settle for thicker loin chops, which until recently weren’t turning out quite right for me. Because of their size, they were coming out either dry and over cooked or too rare and chewy.
“Not with a Bang but a Whimper” might well be an apt title for this post on Jamie Oliver’s “Bangin’ Beef Stew,” from his 5 Ingredients cookbook, which promised much bang but delivered little. Don’t get me wrong, the stew was not a disaster, but rather a rough disappointment.
Whenever my skeptical aunt was underwhelmed by somebody’s claim of having made an earth-shattering discovery, she’d make the sardonic aside “Beh! Ha fatto la scoperta di Cristoforo Colombo.” (“Eh! He made the discovery of Christopher Columbus.”) Well yesterday, which just happened to be Columbus Day, I was similarly underwhelmed by my discovery in the fridge of a pork roast that had reached its use-by date. First off, it meant that I would have to abandon the pasta recipe I had planned on for today’s post. Moreover, I had already done my shopping for the day and wasn’t up for a return trip to the market to look for any special ingredients that might be required by a pork-roast recipe.
One problem led to another this weekend, which eventually led to cancelling a dinner party and leaving me with a bunch of potatoes and a plethora of chicken thighs. The problematic weekend also took its toll on writing a post for this blog, which I wasn’t able to get to until today.
After all the drama, I really wasn’t up to cooking last night but needed to put those spuds and thighs to good use. It’s at times like these that I turn to reliable favorites among my cookbooks for a no-brainer recipe requiring minimal prep and cleanup. It didn’t take me long to find one that met these requirements: Baked Chicken with Potatoes and Lemon. It’s from Michele Scicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes, one of the most comprehensive and dependable collection of Italian dishes there is.