Two Men's Eggs

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The only thing my husband likes to eat, said my Japanese friend Hiroko, one of the most dedicated and talented cooks I have ever met, is steak or a soft boiled egg. What a pity with your great cooking skills, I replied, but at least that makes him easy to please.Not at all, was her response. In our many years of marriage, I have never achieved an egg that he has deemed perfect. I looked at her carefully to see if she was kidding. No. She was quite serious. The yolk must be entirely fluid while the white must be entirely set. The yolk must be precisely in the center, and when the egg is cut the short way, none of the yolk must run onto the white. Each time he tells me I have failed. she ended sadly.

This was beginning to sound like some sort of Midieval punishment. It is a truism that the seemingly easiest tasks are often the most difficult to accomplish. This Zen like challenge made me vow someday to go for the impossible and with the help of instructions from Hiroko, make that egg. (Actually, Hiroko who is now back in Japan, writes me that this egg, called "half-cooked egg" is a famous recipe from a restaurant called Kyo-tei in Kyoto, a city renowned for its refinement in crafts and the quality of ingredients.)

Several years passed since first hearing about this special egg and I found myself repeating the story to another couple. The wife's response: That's funny, Heinz cooks only one thing and it is also an egg which he has perfected. This struck me as much more equitable an arrangement. The egg is "coddled" in a microwave-safe ramekin so that it exactly fits an English muffin. Heinz cautioned me that it would probably be necessary to experiment a bit for exact timing because microwaves vary but I must say it worked perfectly on the first try.

The recipe couldn't be more simple: Place a little piece of butter into a ramekin that is about the same diameter as an English muffin. Break 1 large cold egg into the ramekin. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Slide the egg onto the toasted English muffin. That's it. Except for a little refinement, I prefer: if desired, carefully separate the egg to remove the chalaza (the little ropey bit attaching the yolk to the white that never really sets on cooking). Then add both the white and unbroken yolk to the ramekin.

Now for Takao's egg, essentially as given by Hiroko: Use fresh egg, put in room temperature for more than 1 hour. Put it in quietly boiling water, using a slotted spoon. Turn egg in boiling water for the first minute to make yolk centered. Boil quietly 5 minutes from the beginning. Put egg in cold water. Peel off shell and skin in the cold water. Cut off a very thin slice from each pointed end so egg will sit evenly. Holding egg in palm of hand, use a wide bladed knife to cut egg in half the short way, being careful not to cut hand. Quickly separate the two halves onto your palm, using knife blade to smooth yolk into place. To quote Hiroko: It is quite simple but difficult. Size of the eggs or room's temperature change the condition. So try once or twice.

A Celebration of Pesto and Spring Garlic

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Jana Norstrand came for dinner last night. Little did either of us realize that we'd be celebrating more than the spring garlic pesto: Jana had just been awarded for her work as publicist at our publisher Wiley!This was probably the best pesto I've ever made as all the ingredients were so special. The frozen pesto was from Woody's sister Kim made from basil from her garden in MN. The olive oil was from the just released harvest from Ragusa, Sicily; the Parmesan Reggiano was over 15 years old, and of course the newly harvested crisp fresh garlic and the garlic serpentine-like scapes were terrific decor and great flavor and texture. And in Jana's hand is a glass of Man O'War sauvignon blanc from NZ. I love sb with the grassiness of pesto.

All Those Egg Whites

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What do do with them?! Friend and esteemed colleague Nick Malgieri told a class that he saved them in a huge container and when it was full...he threw them out! i've filled my freezer with them, occasionally making an angel food cake. Recently I decided to discard the 2007 and 2008 containers. Too late, my husband Elllott reminded me he likes egg white omelets. I still had the 09 batch so he was not deprived. I set out to perfect his omelet.

As Elliott was aspiring to eliminate as much cholesterol as possible, i heated a small non stick frying pan over medium heat. When it reached 350˚F (hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle) I sprayed the pan with baking spray (Pam) and poured in 2 lightly beaten egg whites. I sprinkled them with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.

The first time I rolled it up and served it plain but the second time Elliott organized 3 slices of cooked sausage and a few pieces of cheese. When I lifted an edge to assure that the bottom was nicely browned, I turned the heat off and set the cheese and sausages in the middle of the set egg white. Then I flipped over each side of the egg white to cover it and let it cook for about a minute to melt the cheese. (The plate was heated first in a low oven so it worked perfectly but it would also work to zap it in the microwave for 7 seconds on high.

Now I'm looking forward to collecting more egg white (no problem), and while waiting to be transformed into Elliott Omelets they serve to keep the freezer more filled. Freezers work most efficiently when filled even if it means filling milk cartons with water and freezing them so why not egg whites instead?!

Cacio E Pepe (Pasta Perfecto)

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There are as many recipes for pasta as stars in the firmament but it still surprises me that it took me all these years to encounter one of the top classics. If you like cheese, black pepper, and pasta (and who doesn't') you will love this simple dish. The only part that's not simple is finding the best cheese, which is the main determinant of flavor in this recipe. I mentioned on the posting of Maialiono and the suckling pig that I was planning to return for lunch. My intention was to have a sandwich of the suckling pig but when I learned there was no crackling in it I decided to try a pasta dish instead. My dear friend/colleague Nancy Weber noticed cacio e pepe on the menu and said, This is my test of an Italian restaurant. My eyes had skimmed right over the unfamiliar words but on so strong a recommendation of course I had to try it. Wow! Firm pasta cloaked with creamy cheesy sauce and a most pleasant bite of intense slightly smoky black pepper. Nancy explained that cacio is--a great Roman cheese with excellent melting, properties with "the right suppleness and coefficient of blah to offset the tang of the pecorino. Did I mention that Nancy is a food writer and novelist? (Need I have?!) Maialino's version passed the test for Nancy and as for me, I enjoyed it so much I can't even remember the other pasta dish I had ordered though I do remember enjoying it--just not as much as the new experience of something I would never have thought to order. We both enjoyed a glass of bold red wine with the pasta--actually a half a glass so that we could try to go back to work after lunch--it didn't work.

A few days later, I checked the web and cacio was defined as "an Italian word for cheese," but on further research (Murray's Cheese, arguably the top cheese store in NYC, that used to carry the true cacio from Rome, referred me to Di Palo) I learned that cacio da Roma is a young sheep's cheese. After a quick phone call to ensure that they had the cacio in stock, I lost no time in speed walking over to the store on Grand Street in the heart of Little Italy. (As an aside, the last time I visited Di Palo, a mere 20 minute walk from my house, was when I was a student at NYU.

When I walked into the store, after a deep and satisfying inhale, I came to the immediate conclusion that I have wasted a good part of my life not visiting it on a regular basis: Di Paolo is an old country store--the kind of place where no matter how crowded, the sales people take the time to have you taste several samples of the cheese and to carry on a real conversation. In my case, as I was eyeing the juicy porchetta with mahogany crackling skin, they gave me a tiny taste and I immediately purchased a slice. It was going to be for lunch the next day but the more I thought about it the more I realized I was going to need to eat it much sooner. So I made a half portion of cacio e pepe and served the porchetta on the side. As you can see in the photo, the cacio e pepe is not at all creamy. But this was my first try. I learned that the cheese must not be heated at all over direct heat if it is to stay truly creamy. Here's the recipe as I have perfected it to my taste. It was Nancy's idea to add the butter, mine to add the crème fraîche for extra creaminess and slight tang (neither is traditional and both are optional)

Cacio E Pepe for Two

8 ounces of spaghetti or bucatinni
2 ounces cacio da Roma 2 ounces pecarino Romano (or a total of 4 ounces pecarino Romano)
1 teaspoon olive oil freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon butter (optional)
2 tablespoons crème fraîche (optional)

Grate the cheese into a large bowl.

Cook the pasta in boiling water with about 1 tablespoon of coarse salt. Shortly before the pasta is ready, heat a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Ladle and stir two or more tablespoons of the pasta cooking water into the cheese--just enough to make it creamy.

When the pasta is almost al dente (barely a bit of white in the center), add the oil to the frying pan and drain the pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the frying pan and sprinkle it evenly with the pepper. Fry for 2-3 minutes to toast the pepper and coat the pasta. Then empty it into the bowl with the cheese. Add the optional butter and crème fraîche. Toss to coat well. If necessary add a bit of the reserved cooking water for a nicely creamy texture. Add salt to taste.

Candied Kumquats

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I am indebted to my friend, the cookbook author Elizabeth Andoh, for pointing me in the direction of these homemade treats which are a world apart from the commercial ones sold in jars. The kumquats are luminous, orange/amber, bright in appearance and flavor--very moist. I love them as an accompaniment to duck. The kumquats look like little lanterns, because the slashes made to release the pits open up during poaching. Cutting them in half to remove the seeds would be easier, but leaving them whole offers a burst of succulence. We just received a small shipment of kumquats from our friends George and Elisette Dirusso who live in Florida. They were from their own kumquat tree and are the sweetest I've ever tasted. Note the round as opposed to the usual oblong shape. I lost no time in candying them!

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Makes: 4 quarter pint (1/2 cup) jars
fresh kumquats (about 82 1-inch) about 4 cups/1 pound/454 grams
sugar: 2 cups/14 ounces/400 grams
water: 2/3 cup/12.4/352 grams

With a small, sharp knife, make 4 small slashes in each kumquat and press them gently, inserting a toothpick to help remove the tiny seeds. Most of those that remain will come out during cooking.

In a large saucepan, place the kumquats and cover them with cold water. Bring them to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes or until a skewer pierces the skin easily.

Drain the kumquats and rinse and dry the saucepan. In the same saucepan, stir together the sugar and water until all of the sugar is moistened and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Stop stirring and continue cooking for 1 or 2 minutes until the syrup thickens slightly (228°F).

Add the kumquats and allow them to simmer for 10 minutes (the temperature still will be 228˚F). Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the kumquats to canning jars or a container. Pour in syrup to cover them.

Any leftover syrup can be used to glaze the duck.

Store: Room temperature 1 day, refrigerated up to 5 days, or can them according to manufacturer's directions.

Pointers for Success:
♥ Use a large saucepan because the syrup boils up a lot after the kumquats are added.

Candied Kumquats

DSC02189.JPG I am indebted to my friend, the cookbook author Elizabeth Andoh, for pointing me in the direction of these homemade treats which are a world apart from the commercial ones sold in jars. The kumquats are luminous, orange/amber, bright in appearance and flavor--very moist. I love them as an accompaniment to duck. The kumquats look like little lanterns, because the slashes made to release the pits open up during poaching. Cutting them in half to remove the seeds would be easier, but leaving them whole offers a burst of succulence. We just received a small shipment of kumquats from our friends George and Elisette Dirusso who live in Florida. They were from their own kumquat tree and are the sweetest I've ever tasted. Note the round as opposed to the usual oblong shape. I lost no time in candying them!

Makes: 4 quarter pint (1/2 cup) jars fresh kumquats (about 82 1-inch) about 4 cups/1 pound/454 grams sugar: 2 cups/14 ounces/400 grams water: 2/3 cup/12.4/352 grams With a small, sharp knife, make 4 small slashes in each kumquat and press them gently, inserting a toothpick to help remove the tiny seeds. Most of those that remain will come out during cooking. In a large saucepan, place the kumquats and cover them with cold water. DSC02183.JPG Bring them to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes or until a skewer pierces the skin easily. DSC02184.JPG Drain the kumquats and rinse and dry the saucepan. DSC02185.JPG In the same saucepan, stir together the sugar and water until all of the sugar is moistened and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Stop stirring and continue cooking for 1 or 2 minutes until the syrup thickens slightly (228°F). Add the kumquats and allow them to simmer for 10 minutes (the temperature still will be 228˚F). DSC02186.JPG DSC02187.JPG DSC02188.JPG Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the kumquats to canning jars or a container. Pour in syrup to cover them. Any leftover syrup can be used to glaze the duck. DSC02189.JPG DSC02191.JPG Store: Room temperature 1 day, refrigerated up to 5 days, or can them according to manufacturer's directions. Pointers for Success: ♥ Use a large saucepan because the syrup boils up a lot after the kumquats are added.

Meatballs & Spaghetti

DSC02134.JPG Did you know that not all plastic bags can be boiled? Only the ones designed for that purpose such as these bags from FoodSaver vacuumer. It took me years to figure out that when I vacuum pack my meatballs in tomato sauce I can reheat them along with the spaghetti right in the bag! A good quality vacuum machine is an indispensable piece of equipment in my kitchens. You wouldn't believe how much it increases the life-span of ingredients in the freezer.

Meatballs & Spaghetti

DSC02134.JPG Did you know that not all plastic bags can be boiled? Only the ones designed for that purpose such as these bags from FoodSaver vacuumer. It took me years to figure out that when I vacuum pack my meatballs in tomato sauce I can reheat them along with the spaghetti right in the bag! A good quality vacuum machine is an indispensable piece of equipment in my kitchens. You wouldn't believe how much it increases the life-span of ingredients in the freezer.

GRANDMA'S BURN'T STRINGBEANS

In honor of the Chinese 10/10 Day I am retelling one of my favorite stories based on an ancient Chinese 'legend."

My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up and did all of the cooking. As a child, I disliked most food and considered eating to be a chore I did to please my anxious mother and grandmother, who, it seemed, would go to any lengths to entice my reluctant appetite. A typical pre-dinner dialogue would go something like this: Grandma (with a hopeful expression shining on her face): "Rosie; I made string beans tonight!" Me (mildly threatening tone): "Did you burn them?" Grandma (plaintively): "It's so hard to wash the fendle (Yiddish for pot) when they're burned." Me: (unimpressed and openly threatening): "You know I won't eat them if they're not burned."

How this all got started was, of course, by Grandma's having accidentally burned the string beans one night. It reminds me of Charles Lamb's "Dissertation on Roast Pig." (The story of how roast--read burnt--pig was discovered in ancient China.) It wasn't until many years later that I discovered Chinese "dry fried string beans," a recipe in which the string beans are intentionally browned (lightly burned). But I will always miss my grandmother's version. You see, the string beans burn to just the right degree only when the cooking water is allowed to evaporate (inadvertently) and the beans start to burn just to the point when suddenly you smell them.

I was always reassured that the string beans would be perfect when I heard my grandmother cry out: "Oy! The string beans are burn't again." God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.

Updated Burnt String Beans on the Grill

My dear friend Elizabeth Karmel, who has written several excellent grilling cookbooks, made string beans on the grill for me that put all thoughts of other past ones almost entirely out of my mind. Her method is simply to toss the washed and trimmed string beans with salt and olive oil and then to toss them on a hot grill rack and continue tossing them with tongs until they are deliciously browned, partially blackened, and beginning to shrivel. My method, based on hers is to bar boil them in salted water for 3 minutes, drain them, and toss them in the olive oil and salt though sometimes I use melted bacon fat. Being a baker more than a griller I like to toss them in a grill pan with holes (preferably a disposable foil one) before placing them on the grill to ensure that I won’t lose a single of the more skinny beans to the flames below the grill rack. Either way, season with lots of freshly ground pepper.