Friday, April 24, 2009

A Birthday

I have never been one of those people who just loves her birthday. And this birthday, being a milestone, is quite frightening. Nevertheless, J and L wanted to take J and me out to dinner to celebrate.

I don't like surprises either. But J insisted on not telling me where we were going. Great! The evening arrives, I put on my happy face, and we're off.

Cafe Matisse is a jewelbox of a restaurant in Rutherford, New Jersey with a slightly off beat but posh atmosphere. There are no courses listed on the two-page menu. The diner chooses whether he would like to have three, four, or five courses. The diner chooses the dishes, and then they are brought out one at a time in the order the chef deems. J and L brought wines that they carried back with them from a recent trip to California. All the wines were from the Carneros region. We started with a sparkling white; continued with a smooth and elegant chardonnay; then onto a cabarnet. All were perfect with our variety of dishes.

What could be better than a birthday dinner in an enchanting restaurant with great food shared with the people I love? Not much.

Tomorrow, my birthday, we leave for a week on the beach in St. Thomas with our friends S and A.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Dinner

Because Easter and Passover are almost back to back this year, just about everyone I know is preparing for a celebration. Some will have the pleasure of being guests at the table, while others will have the pleasure of hosting.

J and I have been hosting our families for Easter dinner for almost as long as we've been married. They all came when we lived in a one bedroom apartment; when we had a rambling, century-old house; and still now in our not-so-downsized condominium. This year we will be fifteen--ranging in age from 6 months to 92!

I love Easter. Maybe because it comes at the beginning of Spring and brings with it promises of starting anew. Maybe it's the gathering of family. Maybe it's the food. As a child I remember lasagna and roasted leg of lamb. But mostly I remember stealing jelly beans from my Easter basket on Easter morning and eating them on the way to church. You see, we children always gave up sweets for Lent, so by the time Easter Sunday came, we just could not restrain ourselves.

I usually start with a Mixed Antipasto that I have been making since it appeared in Gourmet in 1991--perfect for a large crowd. This year I am cooking a smoked ham with a peach-honey glaze; rigatoni with prosciutto and fontina cheese baked in a bechamel sauce; roasted asparagus; and whipped sweet potatoes.

There will be jelly beans, chocolate eggs, biscotti, lemon bars and always Aunt Louise's cheesecake--the best.

Whether you are celebrating Easter or Passover, I hope it is joyous.

Aunt Louise's Cheesecake

2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1 lb. cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 eggs
3 T. flour
3 T. cornstarch
1 pint sour cream
3 T. white creme de cacao
1 T. vanilla
1 T. orange extract

Cream together ricotta and cream cheese. Gradually add sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and cornstarch. Mix. Add sour cream, vanilla, creme de cacao and orange extract. Mix well, and pour into a buttered 10" springform pan. Set pan in large pan of water.

Bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off oven and let cake remain in oven for 2 hours or longer. Do not open oven door. Chill.

Although the original recipe calls for a 10" pan, I find there is too much batter. I have not had luck finding a larger pan, so I usually bake the remaining batter in an 8" springform pan.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Dinner With Wine

"Wine makes a symphony of good food." Fernande Garvin, chef

The six of us lived in the same suburban town when we were raising our children. Our friendship was forged over summer swim meets at the local swim club and convivial dinners.

We've known each other a long time so we always have a lot to talk about. During dinner at T & G's the other night our talk turned to wine. One wine in particular--a 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild!

When P's father died, he and his wife, K, purchased his family home. With that home came not only P's mother, but his father's wine cellar as well.

P has always been generous in sharing his wines with friends. This particular evening there were eight of us around their table--our "Gourmet Group" to be exact--but more about that later. There was butterflied leg of lamb on the menu, so when P perused the cellar, he thought that a Bordeaux would complement the lamb perfectly. And perfect it was.

As soon as he opened the bottle of 1982 Lafite and poured the deep ruby-red wine into our glasses, we knew that this wine was special. There are no wine experts among us, but we knew.

We were privileged to drink two bottles that night, and enjoyed every drop. We laugh now to think that then the wine was worth almost 100 times what P's father had paid for it. And I'm not sure if P knows that the wine is worth four times that now.

He had one bottle left that he and K shared with his mother. They toasted his father without whom our memorable tasting would never have been possible.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Eating With Friends 2

"I must get out of these wet clothes and into a dry Martini." Robert Benchley

It's Friday, and it is pouring. But T & G will be here for dinner like clockwork. You see, there is a Martini calling our names, and there is pizza.

I can't say exactly when our Friday night Martinis and pizza became a ritual; but we've been enjoying both together on Friday nights for quite some time.

When my husband gets home from work, he puts the vodka in the freezer. He thoughtfully selects four glass from our large collection of unusual Martini glasses; he chills the glasses and skewers the olives.

All the while, I am patting out the pizza dough; assembling the toppings for the pies; and heating the pizza stone.

T & G arrive, J shakes the Martinis until his hand freezes, he pours and we toast to the end of another week before we sip the perfect Martini. And then we talk and talk about everything. Mostly now we talk about politics. I'm not sure if we rant because we are drinking Martinis or we drink Martinis because of what we rant about.

Then comes the pizza and we talk some more. At the end of most of these evenings T suggests we change our gathering from Friday night because we are all so tired at the end of the week. We all nod and know that next Friday night we'll be around the same table again.

Here is the perfect bite to go with your Martini whether it is made with vodka or gin.


30 large Italian-style green olives
1 cup all-purpose flour spread on waxed paper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup plain breadcrumbs mixed with 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
spread on waxed paper
Vegetable oil for frying

Roll the olives in the flour, dip them in the eggs, then coat them with the breadcrumb mixture.
Heat one inch of oil in medium-size skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, fry a handful of olives at a time until they are lightly golden. Remove the olives with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and serve warm. Serves 6

Check out this link for june's write away contest.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Eating Alone

My husband is away at a conference overnight, so tonight I'll be eating alone.

I look forward to these occasional sojourns because I get to eat my favorite solo dining food--grilled cheese.

I like nothing better than biting into a sizzling, hot-off-the-griddle sandwhich oozing with melted cheese. I think tonight it will be some beautiful fontina, perhaps layered with thin slices of perfectly ripe Bartlett pear, between two slices of crusty multigrain bread. I might toss a handful of baby greens with some extra virgin olive and a drizzle of red wine vinegar--I might not.

Accompany that with a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc and a French movie with subtitles and I'm in heaven.

Eating alone never felt better.