Monday, November 10, 2008

Eggs poached in truffle oil - arestaurant that doesn't know its limits

I really don't want to grumble. I like being positive. However, spending good money for fancy food that misses its mark is irritating. This weekend we attended a symposium for Neiman Fellows at Harvard, of which my husband is one. After a cocktail party that had some lovely food -- including a mushroom duxelles bite size pastry -- we went out to get a starter and, you guessed it, a dessert.

We went to a well-known, respected restaurant. (Name withheld because I don't want to be sued.) There, I ordered something on the menu I'd heard about, but never tasted. The dish, an egg poached in truffle oil, surrounded with a ragout of wild mushrooms, fingerling potatoes and black truffles, seemed very reasonable at $15.00 or so. An egg would hit the spot, and after all, I'd be tasting something new.

There is some debate about storing eggs in with truffles, which this egg alledgedly was, and along with the detractors, I'm not sure it works in permeating the porus shell to the egg. But I was eager to taste something poached in truffle oil. I'm not a fan of truffle oil. The only time I've loved it is at Charleston's Charleston Grill, atop pop corn. To me, truffle oil is an affectation that dominates without bringing the essense of truffles. But maybe cooking "poaching" something in it would work.

What came to the table was a peeled egg, standing upright, surrounded by wild mushrooms, with a puree type mixture of truffles and wild mushrooms underneath, and a few scattered slices of one fingerling potato. I had imagined the yellow of the egg,flowing along with the flavor of truffles, mixing with the chopped truffles alluded to, and some delicate wild mushrooms. What I got was a hard cooked egg (logical if one is standing it up for presentation), with no delicious runny yellow, and mushrooms that dominated the entire dish. The truffles were pureed with the mushrooms, which were overwhelmed, if there at all. And the fingerling slices were soggy little discs.

My gripe is, why would a big, busy restaurant attempt such a dish at all? Is it part of some food fad that demands, no, insists that it include something that mimics excellence but is not, but will fool their clientele into thinking it is?

It made me wish for escargot with parsley and garlic, and french bread to dunk in it, or the lovely celeric and apple soup my husband ate. Granted, I should have known better than to order such an extravagant item in a non-three star restaurant. But the chef should have known better, too.

The dessert didn't fare much better in my mind. It was billed as a caramelized fig tart, with fig ice cream, and granite. My mouth watered thinking about it. Out came a tiny flat tart of puff pastry, with two (two!) slivers of a fig, atop the ice cream,, which caused the pastry to be soggy. In the "three variations and three textures on one plate fad" there was a whole, cold fig standing alone on the plate, and a granite. Of course the tart, which was what I longed for, had no flavor and no texture. Two slivers of figs cannot enhance puff pastry. The ice cream neither tasted like fig nor slid down the throat. It was too cold to taste or slide. The granite was also tasteless, although its color appeared figgy. And, alas, a cold fig (who would serve a refrigerated fig, anyway. And why not cut it in flowers or something pretty if one is going to all that work?) is tasteless as well.

I longed for a whole piece of pastry topped abundantly with figs that had been caramelized in the oven. In fact, I longed for the good old days, when dessert was dessert, one thing, that made you remember it just before your eyes closed at night.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

parmiagiano reggiano rounds

Hooray! I have found a wonderful use for parmiagiano reggiano (parmesean) rinds -- I usually put them in vegetable soups, until they get soft, and then smear the soft part on toast or bread and eat the rest. But today I baked them on a silpat on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, turning them once when the bottom browned. When I removed them I cut into little crisp croutons and will add them to my soup! Best, Nathalie

Parmiagiano Reggiano Rinds

For years I have saved my rinds from Parmiagiano Reggiano -- adding them to soups, particularly minestrone-like ones -- removing them when they were soft and either smearing them on toast or eating them as a "cook's treat". Today, however, I baked them at 400 degrees while I was baking something else, so it was maybe twenty minutes. (They were on silpat.) I turned them once, because the bottom was browning. I removed them, and cut them into crouton size squares. Absolutely delicious! Now I'm going to try to add them to soups. Or I might just eat them.

Monday, September 10, 2007

September 10, 2007

The Charleston Food and Wine Festival is gearing up, and we are all eagerly anticipating the chefs and celebrities that are coming. The best thing, however, is the celebration of food we have.

From the opening night party, where everyone puts out their best, to the Sunday night barbecue, it is an exciting weekend. Go to and sign up now!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

democratic presidential candidates wives with Don Fowler of SC Democratic Party

presidential wives

This past Monday Charleston hosted the Democratic Presidential candidates in a debate. Debate is rather a loose word for what transpired -- it was unique in questions being asked by "new media" submissions to CNN that were aired on a screen for the candidates to answer.
Earlier that day, there was a luncheon hosted for the spouses of the candidates. From now on, I'll say wives, as Bill Clinton wasn't expected. (I think he's the kind of man who wouldn't come to a spouses program when I was doing a cooking demonstration, either.)
I was impressed. I had wheedled my way into the luncheon by getting an assignment from the Charleston Post and Courier. Although I was early the room was already hopping when I arrived. I circulated a bit, meeting Mrs. Biden and Mrs. Richardson and asking to see them after the program, then sat at a near-empty table with Mrs. Dodd.
My first husband's last name was Dodd, therefore so was mine for a year, and I always liked the name. She was a lovely woman, trim, highly intelligent, very interested in being a good mother. They two children, both under five. She's a mormon, he's a catholic (although married years before, once.) Children are a main force in their lives. She says their religions are no problem. I didn't ask how the children were being raised, as they are so young. It'll be interesting to see, however, how they are -- which religion they ultimately expouse.
They live in a converted school house. It was the second school house in the
town, Nathan Hale being the teacher at the first. For a large part of the luncheon I felt she was giving us the kind of answers one has given over and over again, and invariably use as conversation with new people. Children's names, how old, the house, her job before she married him, her interests (she worked on the Hill but met him on a vacation elsewhere.), etc. But she did talk about her marriage being delayed, perhaps, by his involvement with Senator Biden when they were on a Foreign Affairs Subcommittee. She said he traveled constantly with that job, and commented on how little he was there. They have "been together" twenty years, married just over eleven.
It was interesting to be at one table with her, looking at her friend, Mrs. Biden, at the next. Both were attractive, blond women. Mrs. Dodd was in a pale blue Carlyle suit and I marveled that she could eat in it and not drop a thing on it. Mrs. Biden was in a black lacy-like dress that could take a few drops if need be. Mrs. Dodd said she wouldn't mind if her children messed up her suit -- that they were in the hotel with them and when she left and they gave her a hug she wondered if they had.
As the luncheon went on I thought about a time during the l959 election when I was canvassing my neighborhood for voter registration or Kennedy. Can't remember which. Many of the women who came to the door told me they were voting for Nixon because they felt Pat Nixon was the kind of woman they wanted to live next to.
Mrs. Richardson and Mrs.Edwards both had wonderful senses of humor. In fact they all seemed to be able to laugh at their husbands, and themselves.
When they were taking the group photograph and I was trying to get a picture, too, for my blog, Mrs. Edwards worried that I didn't have a flash. I hadn't spoken to her yet. She walked up to me afterwards and introduced herself to me and involuntarily I reached out and hugged her. It struck me how far I was from being able to do that with, say, Jackie Kennedy, or Hillary Clinton (when she was the president's wife and I met her). Lady Bird Johnson had some of that quality. The few times I met her I felt like I knew her. But why I hugged Mrs. Edwards is beyond me. Was it her cancer? Her kindness? Her personality? Who knows. I just did.
As I have been thinking about these women all week I have realized -- I would love living next door to any of them.

Here's the article I submitted to the Post and Courier. You can see their edited version on line at Charleston net.

"Leave it to South Carolina to host the Democratic candidates’ spouses in a way that other cities haven’t. For the first time, they were entertained together. They were in high cotton at High Cotton on East Bay Street in Charleston, eating an unbelievably good lunch.

Grace was the order of the day. It happens to be Chris and Jackie Clegg Dodd’s daughter’s name, but it was also the way these women operated. The six spouses (who I will call wives from now on, since Bill Clinton wasn’t able to attend, nor was Mrs. Obama) who were present at the lunch spoke only good things about each other and Charleston.

Jackie Clegg Dodd, a slender a lady, said “Charleston is a dangerous place to visit, as I know from times past visiting Peatsy and Fritz Hollings. You can put on 25 pounds in a few days if you don’t watch out, the food is so good.” She was nearly as funny a lunch companion as she claims her husband is. She wouldn’t choose who was funnier, Chris Dodd or Fritz Hollings, saying Fritz is the raconteur of the two, but that her husband has kept her laughing for the twenty years they have been together. Her pale pink suit remained immaculate through a She-crab soup laden with crab and a touch of cream and sherry, succulent grouper and a lemon dessert that she, like most of the wives, ignored.

In all unfairness, the dessert arrived as the wives were introduced to speak in alphabetical order by Don Fowler, husband of South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Carol Fowler. (They didn’t have a chance to touch it, even if they were willing to spend the calories.)

English teacher Jill Biden was wittier – and prettier – than my English teachers ever were. She quoted Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire: I have to depend on the kindness of strangers” to elect my Joe. Her beautiful hands were a pale contrast to her black eyelet dress as she spoke passionately of her husband’s battle against adversity many times in his life. Those who tease about him speaking too much at times have probably forgotten he stuttered as a child and overcame it.

Elizabeth Edwards, quoted her daughter about seeing her in a smashing black outfit as well as black tights, “Are you becoming a Goth?” Her three piece black outfit was smashing. She loves her food (and perhaps was most politically astute) enough to congratulate the chef and staff of High Cotton before saying anything about her husband. After speaking about his crusade on poverty, she spoke about the group of wives gathered there today – “They are,” she said, “A splendid group of women. It is a pleasure to be here with them all, and if my husband can’t win, I hope one of the other Democratic candidates will.”

Whitney Stewart Gravel, in pale blue that emphasized her eyes and stunning gray hair, said it was the first time she had ever spoken at a campaign event. If that was true, she is a natural speaker, holding us rapt as she spoke of her husband’s ardor about public health.

Elizabeth Kucinich, with vibrant long red hair and four inch high heels, was adorned only with a small pin saying “Peace.” She decided on her second date with Dennis she was going to marry him, and they were married three months later. A very moving speaker, she said when she was growing up in London, England. “America was the hope of the world..” She concluded her speech with, “Where is America?” Privately, she said she was eagerly awaiting her American citizenship.

Barbara Richardson, whose first trip to Charleston was on a vacation thirty years ago, gave some of the best laugh lines, expressing gratitude for all the wives being together at the luncheon. “Usually, when the candidates’ wives enter the room, we are separated as if we will be in a cat fight.” She spoke about what it means to all of the women be a spouse of a candidate. “We have traveled together, campaigned together, laughed and cried together, private women in public lives. People come up to us and say, ‘Your husband is SO wonderful.’ When ‘Mr. Wonderful’ is out there campaigning, WE are STILL schlepping at home.” “The women in this room,” she said, will unite behind whoever is the candidate to bring back the White House, no matter who wins.” Later, she told me, “All these women come from diverse backgrounds, juggling their private lives. All bring something valuable to the table.”

It seemed to me it was a lot of grace."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Food for life

This evening I found out a third person I knew well passed on this week. I'm home with one of those nasty summer colds, and all I can really do is write. Perhaps it is dangerous to write on a blog when sad...but then, what are blogs for, anyway? The last news was of the death of Wendy Burrell, a publicist in New York who was also a member of Les Dames d' Escoffier, of which I am a member as well.

One year Wendy convinced the people that own Lucini Olive oil to donate a trip to Tuscany to be auctioned off. I bid the most, and won. Later that year, Wendy called and asked if I would rather take a trip with some other media people, and I agreed. What food we ate! I was already a fan of Lucini -- which means light in Italian -- a name the owners come up with, and which describes it so well. One of the days that comes to mind is when we visited a small olive grower -- a family of women. The sisters, elderly, were retired wives of diplomats. One had been married to an American diplomat, the other to an Italian. The daughter of one of them was there, and worked on the estate, as well. It was a perfect day, not too hot, not too cold, and my friend Marilyn Harris of Cincinnati and I sat and talked to the women the whole day, learning about their lives, learning how to tell a good olive oil, and just enjoying ourselves. Wendy wasn't a big eater -- she was as thin as a pencil -- but she did love her olive oil and her balsamic.

Another person that died was Doug Marlette, a brilliant Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist. He, like Wendy, was younger than I am. He died in an accident, which was as untimely as David Halberstam's. What a waste of talent. He had much yet to contribute. His character, Kudzu, was a favorite of mine, bringing home to me my own foibles. He wrote a musical of Kudzu, and was on his way to working with a group that was putting it on in Missippi, where we saw it years ago.

And, finally, Lady Bird Johnson. I only met her a few times, but the time I remember the most was a fund raiser for Chuck Robb the last time he ran for office, when ever that was, in Virginia. My husband and I were there for the weekend, and were tucked into the party at the last minute. Lady Bird was already afflicted with the macular degeneration that she had for the last years of her radiant life. You would not have known, she was so gracious, so poised, so kind, interested in everything around her, it took me aback. Jack Valenti was there that night as well. He never missed a trick, knew everything. His wife had whispered to him that she watched me on television, so he dashed over and pulled me over to meet her. He, like Lady Bird, was charismatic. His charisma was vibrant, hers serene and sure.

She was such a profound influence on my life. To learn that choosing just one thing -- in her case wild flowers, although, of course, she did so much more than one thing --but to dedicate oneself to one thing and to work at it all of one's life and to see that it is not a small thing, but that in fact, one changed a country by bringing flowers into every ones' life, what a gift. I admired Jackie Kennedy, but over the years, I realized the real person that influenced America was Lady Bird. How wonderful God gave her to us!

My throat is sore, and you must be wondering what I've been eating to comfort me. Peach bread pudding, actually. The soft bread and custard slide right down. Who needs soup when there is bread pudding? If I were to go to any of their funerals -- which I won't -- I would bring bread pudding for those who were alive to comfort them.

Thanks for your notes to my posts. Sorry for any mis-spellings.

Happy days tomorrow. Nathalie