Sunday, March 18, 2007

Spring is ... there

Here we are, Big Mary and the Handsome Venezuelan, happily trapped in La Casa Amarilla. Up to our cheeks in snow. I'll let you picture just which cheeks...
Meanwhile, I'm stressed out about the Marketing Event next Wednesday for the "day job" where we are going to celebrate the first day of Spring.

As I've ranted before, there are so few oppotunities to cook seasonally; that, cooking within the confines of what is (and used to be) purely seasonal does add a lift into my already light tread. There are the usual suspects: asparagus, peas, strawberries; but of course these are the same suspects that have now become year round harbingers of Spring. I wanted to also focus on morel mushrooms, rhubarb, fresh goat cheese, Spring lamb, baby greens and fava beans.

Given that the choice of theme was, how shall I say... Less than original? Yeah, that says it. I wanted the evidence of Spring in the menu to be somewhat subliminal. First priority - delicious. Next - innovative, and Finally - Spring. The truth of the matter is, Spring flavors speak for themselves. If not obscured, they bring that bright green, herbaceous, subtle, fresh element into whatever dish you place them into.

Hors D'oeuvres are my absolute, hands down favorite kitchen medium. It's just more bang for the buck, with less risk. For me, that's just a slice of heaven.
We'll be serving:

Smoked Trout Rillettes with Horseradish Cream on Potato Crisps
I make a smoked trout salad with no mayo or cream. Just fine chopped fennel, radish, chive and dill; mixed into broken up smoked trout with thyme oil and lemon juice. Crisp fried potato squares, a dab of horseradish cream and topped with smoked trout rillettes.

Buttermilk Minted Pea Soup with Mint Granita
Served in a demitasse cup, this is a cold pea soup. I use frozen peas, they're just more reliable. Saute some shallots, add the thawed peas, chopped scallion and vegetable stock. Puree with fresh mint leaves and chill quickly. Add buttermilk and seasoning to taste.
Make a strong flavored mint tea, with a small amount of sugar. Turn this into a grantita which garnishes the soup.

Zucchini Corn Cakes with Goat Cheese and Tomato Basil Salsa
Really more summer, but needed some veg options. I just make a cormeal pancake batter and add it to shredded (squeezed dry ) zucchini to make bite sized pancakes. Top with whipped montrachet chevre and a salsa of red & yelow tomatoes with basil. I developed this recipe for Martha Stewart Everyday, so if anyone want's it, post a comment. Work's full size too.

Moroccan Lamb in Kataifi Nests
Make kataifi nests by buttering mini muffin pans and sprinkling lightly with sugar. Pull off a small amount of kataifi (shredded phyllo) and swirl into a bird's nest. Place in prepared mini muffin tin, sprinkle with melted butter, cinnamon and sugar. Bake until crisp.
Seperatly, saute ground lamb with diced onions, Moroccan spices, harissa and currants. Finish with a tiny splash of orange flower water. Fill the nests with the warm lamb mix. Pipe a small amount of lebne(or drained yogurt)on top and add a tiny sliver of preserved lemon peel.

Bresaola with Favas
Toast mini crostini of semolina baguette with garlic oil. Set aside. Peel and blanch fava beans. Chill in ice water. Peel again and set aside half. Puree one half with olive oil , salt & pepper. Rough chop remaining half. Slice bresaola into slivers and combine with rough chopped favas and extra virgin olive oil; about a 50/50 mix of beans and beef. Using a vegetable peeler, create chards of peppercorn romano cheese. Schmear a bit of fava puree on each crostini. Top with a portion of the fava bresaola mix. Garnish with a pepper romano chard.

Thai Crab with Minted Cucumber Relish
Make a Thai green curry sauce with green curry paste, galangal, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, sugar and mayonnaise. Clean some jumbo lump crab and combine with chopped scallion and fine diced red pepper. Add green curry sauce to taste. Fine dice cucumber and heavily season with salt. Press and drain for 20 minutes or so. Rinse well and combine with Indian mint chutney, rice wine vinegar and sugar. Set aside. Fry mini popadum from Indian market. Combine hors d'oeuvres by placing a small amount of crab salad on popadum and garnish with minted cucumber salsa.

Parmesan Beignets of Italian Greens
Saute swiss chard, spinach, escarole and sweet dandelion greens (each variety seperately) with a touch of garlic. When cool, squeeze dry. Combine with fresh ricotta cheese (if store bought, drain over night), fresh ground nutmeg, a touch of Parmesan cheese and salt & pepper. Roll into balls, dredge in flour, then eggs, then a 50/50 mix of parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Freeze and fry to order.

Confit of Duck with Fresh Morels in Mini Corn Cups
You got me. I'm gonna have to pull this one out of my nether regions! And that's IF I find fresh morels.

In a few days, I'll post the rest of the menu and a killer/easy recipe for truffles. Just didn't want to leave my kids alone for too long....

Contented eating,
Big Mary

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The best wines found in Pennsylvania... Who'da thought?

As much as the Handsome Venezuelan and I enjoy, cherish and thrive at La Casa Amarilla in the Poconos, the fact that wine and liquor sales are goverened by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has usually prompted us to shuttle our wines from our local wine vendor here in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Before I proceed, let me tip the turban to these lovely folk at Slope Cellars on 7th and 15th here in Brooklyn. Their entire back section of Slope Cellars is filled with "Cheap & Tasty" wines, that have rarely failed to please. All wines boxed here (as opposed to shelved) are 10 bucks or less, and we've found quite a few memorable quaffs here.

In a similar vein, I have been tickled fuschia with the new development at my "State Store" in Pennsylvania. They have instigated a new program called Chairman's Selection, using the entire state's buying power to get some great prices on some outstanding wines.

Not sure who this "Chairman" is, but I'd love to bend my elbow with him/her over a few weekends, cause this muthafuka knows wine. We've not had one bottle that disappointed us. And then there were a few that just slapped us in the face and made us sit in a corner till we felt humbled.

Here's two that deserve a long drive to find...
Australian Grant Burge Barossa Shiraz 2004
Exceptional balance with a perfect tannin presence. Just dries the palate enough to let the flavor of the wine sit there until the next sip, even if it's 5 minutes later. Full fruit, but all plum, prune and bing cherry, nothing bright and berry here. The wood flavor is so integrated you don't experience it as the oakey barrel flavor you get used to. More chocolate and earth.

This Shiraz reminded us both of a French Bordeaux 1998 St Estephe we brought back from Paris. That wine was about $28 in Paris in 2003. This beauty was $10 this weekend. I can only hope there's a case left when we return Friday night. They suggest it could handle up to 10 years of cellaring. For me, that's the greatest challenge this wine presents. Purchasing enough to have some left in 2014.

Chilean Montes Sauvignon Blanc 2006
This wine makes me want to have a restaurant just so I can make this my house white.
I've already given a bottle of this to Uptown/Downtown Eastside Lady C as well as Isla Sue. Haven't heard their opnions, but every time I open another bottle, I am infatuated all over again. It's so bright and crisp it reminds me of a Portuguese Vihno Verde. Neither the HandVen or I can decide if the slight effervensence is in our minds or our glasses. (Some have opined that the effervesence is in our heels. We decline comment.) Lots of citrus, especially grapefruit in a glass of this Sauvingnon Blanc, also fields of green grassiness. Exceptionally bright and acidic, probably too much for some, but I just find it an exceptionally gifted teenager of a wine. We bought the last two bottles on Saturday. Please order more Mr. Chairman.

I know I promised input of Chile. I'll try to get back on that track soon.

For now my pretties, Contented Eating (and Drinking)
Big Mary

Monday, February 12, 2007

Building a Better Meatloaf ...

As a catering chef clients often ask me to put together an American menu for them. Over the years I've learned there are damn few items that can honestly claim the title. "Meat loaf" a client argues, but really, isn't it just poor man’s pate? "Beef stew" they challenge, but we all know there are several versions whose recipes were in the knapsacks of the early settlers. "Hot dogs".... it's called a frankfurter Helen. "Apple pie".... don't get me started.

By now, you must be waving your hand as high as the smart kid in the back of Sister Imelda's 4th grade classroom. Yes we know ... there are a few truly American dishes, at least in my opinion. Southern Fried Chicken comes to mind, and Chicken Fried Steak. Barbecue in general. Clam, fish and corn chowders, though I seem to recall the word chowder comes from a French word. Several mythic stewpots, Brunswick for example, Gumbo or Burgoo. All I'm saying is, there's not as much truly American food as you might think, once you rule out Velveeta, Condensed Soups and Tuna Melts.

What we clever Americans can claim, is an inspired ability for improvisation and adaptation to what's on hand. So it may have been with that immigrant mother from Bordeaux who was faced with a pound of meat, a few eggs and a loaf of stale bread to feed her new American family of 10. Drawing on her own tradition, she forged a new one. An inspired one, to my Midwestern palate. Pate's all well and good and perfect on a crouton with dijon, cornichons and a flacon of Cote du Rhone, but it's not what's called for on a plate with mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, string beans and horseradish. And true to my colors, Big Mary would easily sacrifice a life time of pate over the possibility of a lifetime without meat loaf.

Meat Loaf is also one of those dishes whose quality we most often determine by how close to our mama's recipe it is. Indeed Mama Gladys set my standard, but I have researched a few innovations that I offer to the next generation. Inspired by the Handsome Venezuelan's recent diet success I've done some research to make meat loaf, if not diet food, at least more waist watcher friendly.

The classic meatloaf mix is 1/3 each ground beef, veal and pork. If you are open to it, go for it. It truly makes the penultimate meatloaf. But if looking for a less caloric version, feel free to go with ground turkey breast or the leanest ground beef offered, the mushrooms in this recipe guarantee a tender moist loaf. I've also called for fresh whole wheat bread crumbs. The fresh bread crumbs provide a lighter product and the whole wheat adds some fiber which reduces the carbohydrate effect. This feeds 3 - 4 people. I believe it should multiply easily.

Big Mary's Meatloaf
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/2 cup carrot, shredded
1/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine
1 cup (approximately 1/3#) white mushrooms, very finely chopped (use a food processor)
1 pound ground meat
1 large egg (or equivalent egg substitute)
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1 cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs

1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup hoisin sauce

Preheat oven to 350*
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil, and then onion and garlic. Sauté a few minutes until onion begins to wilt. Add chopped thyme and carrot. Sauté 2 more minutes. Add white wine, cook 1 more minute and remove from heat. Set aside to cool.
Combine ground meat, egg, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, salt, pepper, bread crumbs and cooled onion mix. Mix thoroughly, and form into a loaf approximately 5 " X 10". Place on a foil lined baking sheet.
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 145* when inserted into the center of the meatloaf.
Make the glaze by mixing the ketchup and hoisin in a bowl. Brush liberally over the meat loaf and return to the oven for 10 minutes or so until temperature reads 155*. Remove from oven and let meatloaf rest for 5 - 10 minutes before slicing.

There you have it my pretties. And I predict if you have any leftovers, you'll be fighting over meatloaf sandwiches on toasted white bread. Next time we're going to be talking chili, another American food improvisation.

Contented Eating,
Big Mary

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Time and Space Travel in Little Italy

Lately I'm finding myself reminded of how much time I am not spending in New York City. True, I'm on the road at 6:30am every Monday through Friday; my Honda's tires entrenched in the ruts of my daily commute from Park Slope to the Lower East Side. And I faithfully retrace the route after my 10 hours of managing the food fuel for hundreds of corporate drones like myself. That's all metrocentric enough. Then comes Friday night and I pick up the HV (Handsome Venezuelan) at his corporate hive and we're off to the rural bliss of La Casa Amarilla in the Poconos.

Now this decompression time with our forest, fireplace, birds, deer and tree house like deck are as vital to me as oxygen, good living and reasonably priced wine. But, I am sad that I've paid the harsh price of urban disconnect to achieve it. The reality of NYC is this... it takes time, energy and commitment to reap the rewards this town offers, especially given the long work week its economy imposes.

My old job was situated in Long Island City, Queens; so I was hip to all the Pan Asian-Latino doings of Jackson Heights and Woodside as well as the Italo-Greco treasures of Astoria. My current gig allows for up to date info of Chinatown, but that's about it, or so I thought.

Last Friday found Big Mary with time to kill about 4pm, while waiting for the HV to finish up at 7 or so. Despite the significant chill, I set out from work to explore local stores and perhaps pick up some treats for our late night dinner when we arrived in Pennsylvania. I knew I could pick up some great Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwiches for the car ride(incredibly delicious pork, pate, pickled carrot, daikon and cilantro on warm baguette), but I had hopes of one of those great NYC moments of discovering a store that only exists in the time and place of where you are, NYC. I buttoned up my coat and headed west until I saw neon signs advertising Clam Bars, Caffe and Fresh Mozzarella.

Now, what many of you from west of the Hudson may not realize is that Little Italy doesn't much exist anymore. There is Mulberry Street, loaded with touristic restaurants that send out (for the most part) mediocre Italo-American fare. But the neighborhood has been swallowed by the swelling populace of Chinatown, and one is hard pressed to find many Italian-Americans living there anymore. And with that exodus comes the unavoidable waning of authenticity of experience.

None of this is a concern however, once you pass through the door at DiPalo's of Little Italy. This first thing that confronts you is a red number dispenser urging you to "Take a number, please." Accept this as encouragement that you are in the right place for the real thing. Take your number, and enjoy the down time to peruse the shelves of Italian (and a few vicarious Mediterranean) pleasures. You'll find pasta shapes you've never experienced before, Sandinian Carta di Musica, Italian butters, homemade raviolis, tortellonis, mostardis, Italian crackers and breadsticks, forest honey and more formaggi and salumi than you knew existed.

However, it's the service that sends you directly to Italy, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. It's not exactly timely, and that's the point. Time needs to be allowed for local gossip, news from Italy, suggestions on proper neo-natal care and the relative differences of Proscuitto San Danielle and Proscuitto di Parma. But once your number is called, they are going to spend as much time with you as if you were a true Medici. A request for a cheese's description will not only inform you of the type of milk used and the region where it is made, but a hearty sample proffered on the end of a cheese knife.

That happy Friday I was selecting between five cheeses. A perfectly ripe goat doble crema whose name escapes me, but whose happy goat label I know I'll remember. This was an immediate purchase. Next I tasted a sublime Piave Vechio, cow's milk from the Veneto; often dry and lackluster, but DiPalo's offered a perfect specimen, rich, yielding and slightly nutty. Next a Fontina style Stelvio form Alto Adige, softer and mouth filling. Also a cow's milk cheese I'd never seen before, Crucolo from the Trentino, Morbier like but richer, rounder and fuller in flavor. Finally Pecorino D'Oro from Sardinia which reminded me of Dutch aged Gouda, but uniquely sharp and without the caramel flavors of aged Gouda. Instead it retained its grassy earthy flavors. I limited myself to the Crucolo and the creamy goat disc.

I rounded out our late night picnic with a quarter pound of Proscuitto di Parma, some plump olives and crusty Italian bread. As a real treat I purchased a half pound canister of wood roasted coffee from Sant Eustachio on good faith. Di Palo is the only US store to import this from the renowned caffe near the Pantheon in Rome. My faith turned out to be well placed on Saturday morning.

And so my precious ones, my soul feels a bit renewed, and I am once again reminded of why I work so hard to live where I live. Now I want all of you to find what's special and unique in your market and spend some money there. People like the DiPalo's and their compatriots deserve to reap some rewards for what they do, whether they are at your farmer's market or ethnic enclave, be it Italian, Polish, Portuguese or Filipino.

Contented eating,
Big Mary

Monday, January 22, 2007

Smooth, Smooth Soups

As food groups go, soups rank somewhere between 10 and 11 on a scale of 10 for me. And I must admit, that ranking is based on the joy of making them, even more than consuming them. I'm infatuated with the enormous range available for culinary play. The trek from Chicken Noodle to Vietnamese Chicken Pho just tickles Big Mary's fancy in a way that should probably fall under the censorship of some culinary Big Brother.

So, I was secretly pleased when the stars aligned to create the "perfect storm" of soup demand at my corporate kitchen this week. The fact that it co-aligned with a slow week of business blessing me with the time to play was, well... inspired. Not only were we bestowed with the first snowfall of the season here in NYC, which just makes any soup taste better; but a favored co-worker was caught between the blender and a hard place as well.

The Uptown/Downtown but always Eastside Lady C is a co-worker who's lately been so knocked about by Life that even the cynical hard edged heart of Big Mary has softened. In the past two weeks, our former party girl has had to quit smoking, undergo major dental surgery and consequently has been forced on the wagon and off solid foods for 3 weeks. Always a Sister of Charity under my apron, Big Mary has rushed in to fill the void by both making daily smooth soups and upping my alcohol consumption to keep the cosmos in balance.

Much as I "qvell" at the potential of making vast quantities of soup, my taste runs more to the chunky, chock full concept of soup kettle than the Parisian, restrained, elegant smooth puree. So I was giddy at the challenge thrown down by my dentally challenged compatriot. The week had many treasures, one of which I actually wrote down as I created. The others are included as cooking thoughts.

Puree of Cauliflower Soup
1 medium head of cauliflower (about 1 1/2 # after cleaning)
1 cup sliced leeks (pale green and white parts)
1 parsnip
Clean one medium sized cauliflower, break it down into small pieces and set aside. (Mine was about 1 1/2# after cleaning.) Slice pale green and white parts of leeks, wash very well and set aside. Peel 1 medium parsnip, cut out any woody core, rough chop and set aside. In a medium saucepan, warm some oil and a bit of butter. Add leeks and sauté gently until limp, avoiding any browning. When soft add a generous splash of white wine, 1 bay leaf, the cauliflower and parsnips. Next add enough well flavored chicken stock (homemade preferred, but in a pinch Swanson's Low Sodium isn't too bad) to just cover the vegetables. When the broth comes to a boil, add about a teaspoon of fresh chopped thyme and reduce heat to a slow simmer. A bit of salt and pepper should go in as well. Continue to cook the soup until the cauliflower and parsnip are soft. Cool slightly and strain, reserving liquid. Put vegetables into a blender with some of the liquid and puree until smooth. Add the rest of the liquid slowly until everything is smooth. When ready to serve, rewarm the soup and add half & half (about 1/2 cup) to taste. Add a fresh ground nutmeg to taste and adjust salt and pepper. Serve in warm bowls garnished with chives.

In addition, the Lady C (and the Handsome Venezuelan, by default and overflow) enjoyed the following:

Sweet Potato, Apple and Bacon Soup
Dice up peeled sweet potato, peeled Granny Smith apple, chopped fresh thyme leaves, sliced proscuitto and cooked bacon and simmer with chicken stock until soft. Next, puree until smooth. Personally I add a healthy spoonful of Garum Masala to this mix, while cooking. Serve in warmed soup bowls.

Lentil Soup
Sauté a sofrito of celery, onion, carrots, red pepper and garlic. When translucent add chicken or vegetable stock and simmer until soft. Feel free to add a generous handful of cooked bacon if desired. Add lentils (about 50% of the veg mix), chicken or vegetable stock, a generous spoon of tomato paste and simmer until soft. Puree thoroughly and add more stock to taste.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup
Drop two medium eggplants on a grill and char them over low heat. Transfer them to a baking sheet and continue to roast them until collapsing soft. Strain about 8 canned tomatoes, (or peeled Roma tomatoes in season) and roast in a 450* oven until charred. Combine roasted tomato flesh with eggplant flesh avoiding the seeds and skin of both. Sauté 1/2 cup leeks in olive oil and 1 small chopped fennel bulb (or half a large one) until softened, add 1 tablespoon minced garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Deglaze with about a cup of dry white vermouth. Add 1 cup tomato puree, 1 red pepper (roasted & peeled, seeds removed) and 1/4 teaspoon saffron. Cover with strong chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until fennel is cooked soft. Puree in a blender and return to saucepan to rewarm. Right before serving, toss in a handful of fresh chopped basil. Serve in warm bowls with shredded Parmesan Reggiano as garnish.

Contented Eating,
Big Mary

Monday, January 15, 2007

Blame it on Swanson's

How could it have taken me so long to fall for the charms of Pot Pies? I can only figure it is the sour memory of those early Swanson pot pies from the early 1960's. Back in those days, my Dad did a fair share of traveling, so Mama Gladys saw this as a welcome break from cooking. I was an eager enthusiast of the TV Dinner, but balked at the less exotic Pot Pies that were another option Mama Gladys opened. The weirdly thick gravy, the ubiquitous peas and carrots, and most especially the tough and partially uncooked bottom dough.... I just never really found a connection.

Lately though, I've had a few moments of pot pie enlightenment. Maybe it's my personal attempt to seduce the winter to show up here in the Northeast. Enough of these 60 degree days, already! Mind you Diva Nature I'm not looking for eight foot drifts and electrical outages, but a little frost on the windowpane could be a prefect garnish for some soups and stews.

And that's really what's at the base of a good pot pie. Make any savory stew or chunky soup, thicken the broth with a little roux or cornstarch slurry (go easy on the thickening agent kids, better loose than gluey), turn it out into a gratin dish, pie plate or individual ovenproof casseroles, top it with some pastry and bake it off. Pour a glass of wine, if you haven't already, toss a salad and in about half an hour you get to serve a dinner that's at least an 8 on show appeal and a 4 on stress.

So, how to put it together? Fly loose and let your inspiration flow unchecked. This post is really about hints, suggestions and support, so no recipe my pretties; as if what I normally post could be confused as a recipe by anyone in the know. But let me throw some inspiration at you in any case....

Personally, I could eat some form of soup or stew at least 4 nights a week, so Big Mary has no lack of inspiration or motivation for what lies beneath the crust. If you are stew challenged, go to any cookbook, especially ethnic inspired ones and look for any braised meat or vegetable recipes. Keep in mind the scale of the food, all ingredients should be about 1/2" - 3/4" in size. Classic American flavors work great, but so do Mexican, Thai, French, Spanish, I could go on and on... For me, I get excited about the crust options; because I never thought about anything beyond the pie crust or puff pastry options. How little did I imagine.... I always suggest a crust on the top only. There's just no way of successfully enclosing the pot pie with a top and bottom crust. More importantly, there's no need.

I offer for your consideration ....

Beef Pot Pie with Carrots, Parsnips, Mushroom and Peas with Classic Pate Brise Pastry Crust (Pie crust for the french challenged)

Chicken Pot Pie with Shallots, Carrots, Wild Mushrooms, Fines Herbes and Vermouth with Puff Pastry Crust

Chicken Pie Gran Mere with Mushrooms, Leeks, Pancetta and Chestnuts with Tarragon Chive Drop Dumpling Crust

Turkey Pot Pie with Roasted Vegetables, Dried Cranberries, Sage and Bread Cube Stuffing Crust

Pork Pot Pie with Chilies, Posole and Poblano Peppers in Cornbread Cheddar Crust

Thai Green Chile and Coconut Chicken Pot Pie with Straw Mushrooms, Peppers, Thai Basil and Phyllo Crust

Greek Lamb Pot Pie with Swiss Chard, Tomato and Feta with Kataifi Crust (a shredded phyllo product available in Mid East Stores

Indian Vegetable Pot Pie with Cauliflower, Peas, Spinach and Mushrooms with Curried Potato Cashew Crust

Contented Eating My Pretties,

Big Mary

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Happy New Year's ????

First let me pray that the Goddess might bless the brow of every single one of you who reads my humble blog, and provide more success, happiness and wealth than you can possibly deal with in 2007. My fervent wish is that each and every one of you might be able to someday say, "I was reading Big Mary when he was just a humble blog, before the radio show, before the Madonna connection, before the movie..."

But moving on ... let's vent a little steam. What's going on in the world of food writing? Here I was, hoping to position myself to morph from the heinous world of corporate catering to the sophisticated world of food writing; only to discover that my new fantasy career has been hijacked by the lightweight thinkers at the Food Network.

While I confess, I don't spend many hours watching cooking shows on any network, the few times I do find myself surfing by the Food Network I'm typically left with jaw dropped and ire rising over both the subtle and blatent misinformation that is sent over these airwaves. The more cooking professionals I speak to about this, the deeper the dilemma appeaars to be. In addition, I've learned the problem is a lot more widespread than I thought.

My best buddy, owner of DM Cuisine Catering in NYC, reports that one of his cater waiters (a breed of server reknowned for lack of knowledge about what they are serving), was recruited by the Food Network to develop a cooking show after her TV commercial for vegetable shortening was so well received by test audiences. When she freely admitted she new NOTHING about cooking, they replied "Not to worry, we can take care of that part."

Several prominent food writers I spoke to at the home of my Jersey food pro pals report the same realities. Unless you're a celebrity chef, or young and pretty enough to fill out jeans more attractively than Big Mary, or better yet a blend of both, there's little chance of your cookbook getting published these days.

Another dilemma facing the modern foodwriter is the Internet, and busybody bloggers like yours truly. As we all know, it is crazy easy to google any recipe you need at the click of a mouse. Unless there's a specific point of view or opinionated palate that you're after, why buy the book?

So, what's to be done? As in most frustrating situations, taking a deep breath is a good place to start. While the books getting the most attention seem to have more in common with People magazine than Escoffier, there still are more cookbooks being published in 2007 than 10 years ago, and 2006 gave us some damn fine ones. Currently I'm devouring "The Improvisational Cook", another excellent cookbook by Sally Schneider. She takes on the daunting challenge of convincing her readers to cook with their noses out of the cookbook. It's an interesting attempt to reawaken home cooks food instincts, and ironically lessen their dependence on cookbooks. Now that has to make you laugh in the context of this rant of mine!

But it also shines the light on where cookbooks need to look toward. I know part of my idea in "taking Big Mary public" was to encourage people to just cook; however simply or complicated their instincts inspire them. In my work kitchen, the cook that I connect to quickest is the cook who can taste food in his or her head. By this I mean someone who can taste something and tell me what are the main ingredients, can tell me what's missing (salt, sugar, acid, herb, fat, etc) and can imagine what it will taste like before adding the needing ingredient. In the most talented of chefs, I think it equates with "perfect pitch" in a musician.

What I find exciting is how random this talent is distributed. I've found it in an illegal Mexican dishwasher who became my sous chef, in a sandwich guy who is now able to handle any station in the kitchen, in a college chum who could practically talk to bread dough, and in the ultimate Goy Guy who can develop a recipe for chocolate mousse with 15 calories per serving.

So, moving forward into 2007, I'll probably continue to frustrate those readers looking for exact measurements and proceedures. But to those of you I say, relax, breath deep andjump. What's the worse than could happen? OK, now what's the best that could happen??? Yeah ......
Contented Eating
Big Mary