Sunday, October 25, 2009


Blogging is like cooking. There is no help desk.

This week I lost an entire post, learned about blogger forums, felt grateful for the blogging community's support, and most importantly learned who is visiting the blog outside of my own little neighborhood (people in Zagreb, Perth, Duluth, Dallas, Sydney, Staten Island, Holsbeek, Mechelen, Medford, Atlanta, Van Nuys, North Hollywood, and Pirae to name a few).

Looking forward, here are few changes I've been playing with.

1. I'm going to alternate between longer and shorter posts. Mostly with kids, a few without. All about cooking. The lengthy posts I've been doing take two weeks from beginning to end to cook, photograph, edit, write, edit, write, edit, write.  I won't bore you with any more details. But just know that different kinds of posts might start popping up over the next few weeks to bring some balance to my life.

2. I'm going to add the recipes I make with Dash and Bella at the end of each post.

3. I've installed an email subscription option. If you sign up, every time I put up a new post you will receive an email with the latest post. I'm not sure it will include the photos so make sure you click through to the blog. Check it out on the right below the blog archive. Just remember to activate it in your email inbox.
4. And finally, I cannot maintain the "Lessons Learned From Cooking the Masters with 2 Kids" structure. I will get bored. You will get bored. Lessons feels limiting. And I'm running out of them. Instead of only lessons I'm going to start throwing out a combination of ideas, lessons, techniques, and observations. They will still be bold and capped and easy to see if that's all you really want to read. On that note...


I'm amazed by the amount of swearing, sweating, and yelling that is required in order to avoid burns, broken dishes, cut fingers, oversalted food, and epic messes. "Don't touch that. That's hot. Oh my god. Shit. Back away. No. No. Please. Okay. Thank you for listening. No. No. No. Shit. Are you kidding me? Please listen. You're going to hurt yourself. Great job. You did it. Thank you for listening. Now please sit down."

Cooking with my children keeps me firmly grounded in the present. Reading Elizabeth David makes me want to run away from my life and travel.

"The Best of Elizabeth David: South Wind Through the Kitchen," is a compilation of David's recipes and articles chosen by friends, chefs and writers. Her life seems oh so far from mine. She was born in England in 1913 and from ages 16-32 she lived in France, Germany, Greece, Egypt, and India. She got to know many of the regional cooking styles in these countries and then wrote numerous cookbooks about her experiences.

And she liked sampling local pates and sausages from European cafes connected to gas stations. AND she liked to drink wine at 11am.

Eventually David made her way back to England and said of the food at one establishment (perhaps speaking of all English food) that it was "produced with a kind of bleak triumph which amounted almost to a hatred of humanity and humanity's needs." Through her cookbooks she hoped - and many say she succeeded - to bring her intimate experiences with Mediterranean food into English kitchens. After trashing English cuisine for so long she ended up giving it another chance and wrote several well-loved cookbooks about English spices and breads.

I look at a tomato and wonder if I should slice it or cut it into wedges. She probably looked at a tomato and thought, "Shall I make pumpkin chutney, moussaka, ratatouille, salsa, gazpacho, menerboise or minestra?"

I pick the kids up from school and tell them we're going to make Elizabeth David's Orange and Almond cake and Tomatoes a la Grecque (tomatoes stuffed with lamb and rice).

"I hate orange and almond cake," says Bella
"I've never had one. Have you?" I ask.
"I just hate them."

Dash decides he will not be cooking today at all. "Tomatoes are caca. That's bathroom word. I draw."
Both kids are occupied. Today it looks like I'm going to cook on my own. Calm meditative cooking. For a change.

I start setting out the ingredients for the cake. It's all in ounces and my scale is out of batteries. A stick of butter is 4 ounces or 8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup, right? I think so. So 4 ounces of sugar must equal 1/2 cup. WRONG. (See recipe at the bottom of the post for the actual conversions.)

Now that the sugar is visible I have two little creatures eager to help.


Bella measures out the sugar. Dash juices the oranges.

They mix together the bread crumbs, orange juice and zest, sugar, ground almonds, and orange flower water. Bella wants to know why we're adding jasmine perfume to our cake.

Whisk egg yolks and sugar to the ribbon stage and see the transformation in color, texture, and flavor.
Whisk egg whites by hand to really see the changes. Bella whisks the whites to the firm peak stage all by herself. You can see she is working hard but she tells me she DOES NOT WANT MY HELP.
Bella adds the yolk mixture to nut mixture and gently folds (can you believe she is folding now?) in the whites.
Ukulele  break.

I sit down to read the Tomatoes a la Grecque recipe. Three-quarters of it is all about what you see and smell when you walk into into a Greek taverna. She describes going into restaurants kitchens to "peer into every stewpan" before deciding what she is going to eat.

How much of the tomato flesh should we scoop out? How long should we cook the covered tomatoes? What does she mean by leftover lamb? A few tablespoons of lamb or two cups? Should I cook the rice partway so that it finishes cooking in the oven inside the tomatoes? Funny how a recipe can bring about so many questions.

I get some white rice and ground lamb cooking and then I start thinking it's just way too late in the day to do this recipe.  Dash did not nap. He is now frantically grabbing everything in sight. He gets a time out. And another time out.


Dash really wants to be a part of things so badly. I tell him to put his hands in his lap and not to touch ANYTHING. So he watches Bella's cooking show.

Strain. Press. Zest.
Bella adds currants. chopped onion, garlic,  salt, and pepper to the tomatoes and lamb. They start shoveling it into their mouths.
"Awesome. I'm putting the green tomato scoops back inside the green tomato."
We throw on some foil and bake it for forty-five minutes.

We take it out of the oven, remove the foil and see that the tomatoes are swimming in what looks to be tons of tomato water. Bella does her usual thing of trying to make me feel better: "Don't worry, momma. It will still be delicious."

Then I realize we forgot to mix the rice in with the meat mixture before stuffing the tomatoes. The rice would have sopped up so much of the juice. Bella suggests we add the tomato water to the rice. I like this idea. We strain about 3 cups of tomato water from the tomato dish, dump it onto the rice, and cook the rice down a bit. Luckily I had chosen to undercook the rice.

We still need to fix the tomatoes.  I decide to grate an entire chunk of gruyere, mix it with bread crumbs and sprinkle it over the top of the tomatoes. And then I broil it.

Modified menu:
Tomato Water rice with Pine Nuts.
Tomato Gratin with Lamb and Currants.

"What one is required to know about recipes is not so much do they work as what do they produce if they do work?" Elizabeth David.

Did it taste good? Yes. Did the recipe work? No and then yes. What did we produce? Two modified recipes that I would make again.

And the yucky cake? "Momma, can I have another piece?"
P.S.: For leftovers the next night I chop up some of the tomato and lamb gratin, mix it with whole wheat pasta and then top it with a bit of yogurt, mint and parsley.  And then we eat more cake.

Next week: Jamie Oliver AND Halloween cookies.


Cookbook: Elizabeth David's "South Wind Through The Kitchen: The best of Elizabeth David."

Tomatoes a la Grecque: 
(Even if you remember to add the rice, consider scattering the top with bread crumbs and gruyere for the final 20 minutes.) 

 "Displayed in enormous round shallow pans, these tomatoes, together with pimentos and small marrows cooked in the same way, are a feature of every Athenian taverna, where one goes into the kitchen and chooses one's meal from the pans arrayed on the stove. It is impossible to describe the effect of the marvellous smells which assail one's nose, and the sight of all those bright-coloured concoctions is overwhelming. Peering into every stewpan, trying a spoonful of this, a morsel of that, it is easy to lose one's head and order a dish of everything on the menu.

Cut off the tops of a dozen large tomatoes, scoop out the flesh and mix it with 2 cups of cooked rice. To this mixture add 2 tablespoons of chopped onion, 2 tablespoons of currants, some chopped garlic, pepper, salt, and, if you have it, some left-over lamb or beef. Stuff the tomatoes with this mixture and bake them in a covered dish in the oven (180C/350F/Gas Mark 4) with olive oil."

Orange and Almond Cake:
(For those of you not used to working with grams/ounces here are the approximate conversions: 4 oz  ground almonds = 1 1/3 cup ground almonds, 2 oz of breadcrumbs = 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, 4 oz sugar = generous 1/2 cup sugar. Butter the cake tin really well. Our cake stuck badly. I would agree with David that it is a very light cake. It tastes great with fruit. Only warning is that I found the cake to be a bit sweet. But serving it with unsweetened whipped cream might balance things out. Or just add a little less sugar.)

The juice of 2 large or 3 small oranges, grated rind of 1 orange, 4 oz (120 g) ground almond, 2 0z (60 g) fine dry breadcrumbs, 4 oz (120 g) sugar, 4 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cream and, if available, 1 tablespoon orange-flower water. Mix together the breadcrumbs, orange juice and grated orange rind, add the ground almonds, and the orange-flower water.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and salt until almost white. Add to the first mixture. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into a cake tin (2 1/2 inches/5.5 cm deep, 1 3/4 pt/I-I capacity) buttered and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. Bake in a moderate oven (180C/350F/Gas Mark 4) for about 40 minutes. When cold turn the cake out and cover the top with whipped cream (about 1/4 pint [150 ml]. Very good and light, and excellent for a sweet at luncheon or dinner.


  1. Hi Phyllis,

    I read your blog, and I love it. I look forward to cooking with my daughter Pearl. Now, though, she is happy to sit in her high chair and eat while I cook. I hope you are well. And I hear you are to be an auntie soon, no? Congratulations to you, and to Ben.


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