In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ballers: How To Core Apples

Apple pie is so wonderful, french apple tarts sublime, baked apples filled with brown sugar, bourbon, and vanilla the perfect thing to eat on a cold night in front of the fire. But coring those little effers is a pain in the ass, and you end up with  apple juice running all down your arm and missing apple cartilage and terrible pips and it's just too much sometimes.

I have your answer. First, to peel an apple I feel very strongly about this old fashioned kinda peeler. The head swivels easily around the apple, it works a charm and costs nothing (I won't use those stiff newer ones, and I don't like the U ones because they don't give you the same kind of control and dexterity).

Now to core. Git yourself one of these:

 It's a melon baller. A melon baller played a very important role in my nursery school years (there were 2 of them. I started when i was 3, finished when I was five, and split half the day in kindergarten. This was not because I was particularly smart but because I am and always have been tall.) Anyway, I was forever forgetting what day I needed to bring something in for show and tell (once I plucked a daffodil at the last second from the garden, and once I brought my sister and everyone fought over who got to play with her). On the way out the door one morning I said to my mom: show and tell. She handed me a melon baller. I won show and tell that day.

But here's the beauty of this thing: it is strong and sharp and is the perfect size for cutting out the hearts of firm apples.  For slices for pie or tarts, just peel your apple, cut it in half from stem to stern (not across the equator) then dig out a circle of core on each half. You'll get almost all of  it in the first pass. Next, dig out the little core veins that remained. The whole process will take you about 15 seconds, and there will be no juice on your arm. Then just slice and go.
If you need to leave your apple whole, say for some gorgeous pastry-covered baked apple, then just dig down from the stem end, cleaning out little circles as you go. You can hold the baller perpendicular to the apple and just drill in, like they did the Chunnel.  Repeat the process from the bottom up. It should take no more than 2 balls on each end to make that thing as clean as a whistle.

I made some baked half apples using this method last night -- glorious. Peel, halve, and core the apples. granny Smith are good whenever you are going to be baking because they are tart and hold their shape. Honey Crisp are good too. Lay them cut side down in a cake or lasagne pan. Sprinkle them all over with sugar -- I used a large (actual) tablespoon (as in one you would serve at the table) and gave them a nice coat. Dotted them with a fair amount of butter. Then I grabbed a very expensive bottle of bourbon and gave them a little shower -- not too much -- there shouldn't be any depth. Just enough to give the sugar something to do when it falls off the apple. Then a shake of vanilla extract, and a wee sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Put them in a hot oven -- about 375 -- till your house smells delicious.
 (this apple image lifted from
There will be shallow puddles of thick, clear caramel around them when you take them out of the oven. Tilt the pan and with same tablespoon, scoop up what gathers and pour it into the apple cavities (oh, right. Flip them over halfway through so the round side gets  a caramel kiss, too. ).

Eat with ice cream or cookies, or if you feel fancy make a deconstructed apple  pie by baking up circles or scraps of pie dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and serve in shards along side. It's very gastronomique.

(Had a fabulous deconstructed white peach cobbler in Paris at Spring restaurant a few years ago. A white peach was I think roasted with a littel vanilla till it was just tender. He made an oat cookie of sorts and broke that up on the side. Served it all in a pool of reduced fresh peach juices with a daub of thick whipped real cream. heaven. I've tried to make it myself with only middling success. His white peach was just perfect.)

Anyway, deconstruct desserts and wow your friends. The end.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dinner this week, in 15 minutes flat

Picture Lifted from The Food Network
Linguini with clams sauce is a family favorite and comes together in absolutely no time if you don't bother with fresh clams. You can, you probably should, but when your boyfriend is hungry and cranky, you can whip this up in about 15 minutes -- which includes pasta cooking time.

Gather your ingredients:
Linguini -- up to a pound if you and the bfriend are famished, but I usually do 1/2 a package. (that's half a pound).
A garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced.
One anchovy fillet : THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL! DO IT!
1 or 2 pieces of bacon, sliced crosswise into lardons, or some diced pancetta, which you'll find at Trader Joes. very convenient little package
Olive Oil
One or two jars or cans clams. TJs has nice big Maine clams, with ruffly edges. But Chicken of the Sea works just as well.
A splash of whatever white wine you're drinking.
A bit of chopped, fresh flat leaf parsely, which hopefully you are growing in the garden. Mine has been green throughout the winter in DC!
Dried red chili flakes: ALSO NOT OPTIONAL!
It's anathema to Italians but I love freshly grated Parmesan cheese on this. 

-- Set your water to boil. Salt it well.
Meanwhile: fry up your bacon. I like a cast iron pan for this and just about everything else. When it's rendered and beginning to get crisp, add the anchovy and mash it into the pan so it melts into the sauce, add the sliced garlic, and a shake of chili flakes. Stir the garlic so it gets golden brown but not burned.

Add the pasta to the water when it's ready.

When the bacon is cooked and the garlic is golden, open up the can or cans of clams and dump them in with their juices. Splash in a bit of wine. Simmer that  all together till the sauce thickens a bit. Taste it, add salt if necessary.

When the pasta is cooked, dump it into a sieve or pull it out of the water with tongs and add it to the clam sauce. Toss or stir so it is well-covered with sauce.  Sprinkle with parsley and grate cheese over the top (unless you are Italian or a purist, in which case, clutch your pearls and tell me that seafood pastas don't get cheese in Italy. I will grunt back "whatbever" because I will be eating already.)

Seriously: my boyfriend begs for this, and I never have to run to the store at the last minute because the clams live in my pantry, who doesnt have garlic and parmesan?