Looking for a dessert recipe for Valentine's Day? How about this incredibly delicious one we offered a few years ago: Chocolate Log With Strawberries.
Happy Valentine's Day to all of you from the gang at Mad Housewife!
Looking for a dessert recipe for Valentine's Day? How about this incredibly delicious one we offered a few years ago: Chocolate Log With Strawberries.
Happy Valentine's Day to all of you from the gang at Mad Housewife!
When it is cold and rainy outside, nothing warms the spirit as much as stepping into a cozy kitchen, assailed by the smells of roasting meats, stewing soups, and simmering sauces. Yet for all these wonderful odors, it is the onion who is the hooker at the door, seducing us with her pungent perfume. Whether roasted, caramelized, or steeped in meat juices, the onion awakens our senses, tickles our nostrils, and excites our pallet, promising us comfort after a long hard day. Come inside, love, we’ll take care of you.
Red onions, Spanish onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, shallots—nearly every dish calls for their magic. No substitute will do. Onions cut a fatty meat sauce, enliven chicken and potato, put tang into beans. They wake up a sleepy salad or bland omelet, and sweeten a fiery tomato sauce.
But the onion is a subversive food. Like the egg, it is a perfectly contained package until you break it open; then all hell breaks loose. As onions are sliced, cells are broken, allowing enzymes to break down amino acid sulphoxides and generate sulphenic acids, creating a gas that diffuses through the air and irritates your eyes. Then the tears. Each concentric layer begs to be pealed, one after the other, and, like a lifetime of secrets, once exposed to air, brings another round of waterworks.
Like the tears of Tita de la Garza in Like Water for Chocolate, onion tears are essential, building character and resolve in any chef. Only something that causes such suffering could produce such culinary magic.
Onions have a long history. One of the earliest cultivars, the onion was worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians, who believed that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternal life. Pyramid builders were paid in onions, and onions were placed on the eye sockets of dead pharos, bribes for entry into paradise. Ancient Greek athletes ate large quantities of onions to balance the blood, and Roman gladiators rubbed down with onions to firm up their muscles (or perhaps to knock down their opponents with the smell of their sweat). Throughout the Middle Ages, doctors prescribed onions to facilitate bowel movements and erections, for infertility, and to relieve headaches, coughs, and hair loss.
As with many food myths, modern scientists have discovered that, yes, indeed, onions are healthful.
Onions contain phenols and flavonoids, serious antioxidant and anti-cancer agents. With their rich content of thiosulfinates, sulfides, sulfoxides, and other odoriferous sulfur compounds, onions are effective against everything from the common cold to heart disease, and diabetes. The onion's sulfur compounds work in anti-clotting, preventing the unwanted clumping of blood platelet cells. They lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and improve cell membrane function in red blood cells. Onions may be especially beneficial in fighting osteoporosis by destroying osteoclasts so that they do not break down bone. Onion also protects against stomach and other cancers, and can improve lung function, especially in asthmatics.
But perhaps the real secret of the onion’s healthful qualities is that it causes people to stand back just little, keeping their germs to themselves.
Or maybe it is the crying itself that is healthful. Doesn’t every Mad Housewife need a good cry every now and then? Pour yourself a glass of Mad Housewife wine, and make an onion tart. If anyone asks, you have the perfect excuse.
Onion tarts are delicious as an appetizer or as a side dish with soup. If you are in a hurry, substitute puff pastry for the crust and microwave the onions. Serve with Mad Housewife Chardonnay.
1-1/2 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon lemon zest
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow or white onions
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 red onion
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup Mad Housewife Chardonnay
1 tablespoon thyme
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Yet, before I tie on my apron, I anxiously await the results of my boyfriend’s annual cholesterol test. Just how much fun will I be allowed to have?
It was about a year ago that I decided that life was too short to live without butter. I started cooking when I was twelve. My father had had a heart attack, and my mother went to work fulltime, so I did much of the cooking. I diligently followed the cardiologist’s dietary instructions. Fish and chicken, fruits and vegetables, whole grains. No butter, skim milk only, no cheese, no red meat, no sugar. For twenty years, not a stick of butter entered my kitchen. I was proudly discriminatory against anything white—white rice, white flour, white bread, sugar, potatoes, milk, and cream.
But a year ago, I decided to cast aside my prejudices: I wanted to see what I was missing. Oh, Brave New World! Soufflés, crepes, cream sauces, chocolate, cheese cakes, and above all else, cream puffs, those marvelous fluffy creations made of eggs and butter and not much else. Julia would be proud.
I didn’t go completely crazy. I’ve been judicious, using a sliver of butter on top of a steak rather than sautéing it in butter. Using only lean cuts of meat. Cutting in half the amount of sugar and butter in most recipes. Neither of us has gained weight. So maybe I got away with it?
The moment of truth arrives in the mail. Are my sins going to show up on paper? How humiliating. In truth, I really don’t want to go back to brown rice and steamed vegetables. To pancakes cooked in canola oil. To yogurt instead of sour cream. I no longer have the heart to throw those lovely yellow egg yolks down the drain. I want my butter.
I pour each of us a glass of Mad Housewife Cabernet Sauvignon—at least that is good for our hearts. I take a paring knife and slit open the envelope.
Yippee! The cholesterol reading is 168, which is fabulous! It must be all of the Mad Housewife Wine we’ve consumed. Pour me another glass, will you? How about macaroni and cheese for dinner. And maybe some cream puffs for dessert!
An updated version of an all-time American favorite. Serve with Mad Housewife White Zinfandel and a bitter salad of arugula or watercress.
12 ounces hollow pasta
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
8 ounces mixed Italian cheeses (Parmigiano Reggiano, Provolone, Romano, Fontina, Asiago, Mozzarella)
½ cup Mad Housewife Chardonnay (or brandy)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
8 ounces Alaskan snow crab or lobster meat, sliced
4 scallions, chopped
½ cup bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a 4-quart saucepan of water to boil. Add pasta and cook until half done. Leave in water and turn off heat.
2. Melt butter in saucepan. With a wooden spoon, stir in flour and cook about one minute. Whisk in milk, and cook until sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Add wine.
3. Remove pan from heat and stir in cheese, cayenne, nutmeg, thyme, and pepper. Drain pasta and add to sauce. Mix well.
4. Stir in two-thirds of the crab meat and scallions. Transfer mixture to a baking dish and sprinkle mixture of breadcrumbs and Parmigiano Reggiano.
5. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Garnish with remaining crab (tossed in melted butter), scallions, thyme, and black pepper.
What is the zaniest, craziest, maddest thing a mad housewife can do? How about she divorces her husband, has a crazy love affair, then puts everything in storage, and takes off on a year-long vacation—Italy, India, Bali—where she does nothing but try to find herself. Of course, I’m talking about Elizabeth Gilbert, as she recounts her escapades in her book Eat, Pray, Love, now a movie with Julia Roberts.
This is a dangerous and subversive movie. There should be a warning before the title sequence: “Not suitable for Women over Thirty.” Who among us has not wanted to indulge in such madness? To toss our aprons into a sink of dirty dishes and race to the airport, breaking every speed limit along the way, howling at the wind with our best girlfriend, our lips corked round a bottle of Mad Housewife? Maybe we’ll keep on driving. Forever.
I read a review of the movie—by a man, I must add—who called the main character “self-absorbed, spoiled, and emotionally reckless.” Oops! The heroine of a billion daydreams? Instead of discovering herself through self-sacrifice, dedication, discipline, and commitment (like a good girl), Gilbert romps around the world eating and flirting. And then she finds true love.
Well, yes, I guess it is a fairytale—but what a lovely one.
As in all fairytales, there is a secret potion—basil—a seductive four-leaf sprig on top of a soft chewy margherita pizza, covered with bubbling tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella. Like Proust’s madeline, this magic ingredient bewitches Gilbert, awakening her senses, opening her spirit to love and spirituality.
Whoever has sprinkled fresh basil over tomatoes with olive oil and garlic needs no convincing that basil leads to revelation. Its pungent aroma is like none other; it elevates a common dish to a gourmet meal: eggs with basil, chicken with basil, burgers with basil. It’s even great with vanilla ice cream!
As with all magic potions, it appears when all hope is lost. When the late summer heat has scorched your garden into a wasteland, basil thrives.
But once picked, basil turns brown and ghastly in a day. So what do you do?
The answer is basil pesto. Pesto, which means ‘paste’ in Italian, is a thick sauce made up of oil, cheese, garlic, pine nuts, and a vegetable. You can make it with parsley, cilantro, arugula, mint, or even sun-dried tomatoes. But the most common is basil pesto.
A tablespoon of pesto performs miracles: on top of pasta, as a pizza sauce, in soup or stews, spread on toasted bread, added to peas or mashed potatoes, in omelets, in sandwiches, on fish or scallops, as a rub on steaks. Freeze pesto in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop out the cubes and store in a bag for fabulous pesto all year round.
After Gilbert’s jaunt around Europe, she comes home, and decides (after much trepidation) to get married and settle down, no doubt with an herb garden in her backyard, with plenty of basil. Yet one can’t help wondering when our heroine will once again feel the mad itch to leave. What keeps the rest of us from taking off? Responsibility?
Humph! I think I’ll untie my running shoes, have another glass of Mad Housewife wine, and think about it.
The classic basil pesto recipe calls for basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and Parmigiano Reggiano. That’s it. Here I add a radish for bite, and walnuts, because you can’t always find pine nuts. Serve on pasta or anything at all. On crostini, with a salad and Mad Housewife Cabernet Savignon, dinner is served.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 large bunches of basil (almost filling up the blender)
1 radish, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, crushed
1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Place the first five ingredients in a blender or food processor, oil first. Once blended, pour into a bowl and add cheese until it is very thick. Add black pepper to taste.
When autumn rains come, white capped mushrooms spring up out of the saturated earth overnight. I look out the window and the lawn is polka-dotted. How they tempt me with visions of succulent sauces and aromatic stews. But are they edible? We have all heard stories about deadly mushrooms, and the greedy gluttons who paid dearly for their culinary enthusiasm. I don’t dare, not really. But still, I can hardly resist running out with a basket and picking them all.
What is the allure of the mushroom? Raw they smell a little funky—like dirty socks or an old book. Cooked the texture is meaty, slimy, springy to bite into; they taste of the earth. But something about mushrooms brings out the flavor of almost all savory foods, giving depth and complexity. Mushrooms on steak, mushrooms steamed with green beans and zucchini, mushrooms in tomato sauces, in omelets, stuffings, and stir fry—everything tastes better.
Mushrooms have a melancholy magic, making you yearn for fall dishes—roasted poultry, soups, stews, stuffed turkey, and goose. Their hearty flavor entreats you to warm your toes by the fire; they heat your insides with the promise you’ll be safe and well-fed all winter long.
In northern Italy this time of year, people go a little nutty over mushrooms. Whole families spend their weekends traipsing through the forests; they pretend they’re out exercising, but they’re really picking mushrooms, eyeing other families as they secretly forage their jealously guarded finds. The vegetable markets smell of freshly picked porcinis, huge, gorgeous, meaty mushrooms that taste of mossy bark and chestnuts. And fettuccine con funghi, pasta with mushrooms, is served everywhere.
Many supermarkets now sell an array of mushrooms, from the cheap button mushrooms (cremini) to shiitake, porcini, chanterelles, morel, portobello, to the ridiculously expensive truffle (not a mushroom exactly, but an underground fungus). They all taste of the earth, and perhaps it is the very earthiness of the mushroom that appeals to us, inviting us—like a gnarl-fingered witch—back to our origins deep in the forest primeval.
Mushrooms love wine. Cooked with red wine, mushrooms become almost like stewed meat. Sautéed in white wine, they make a creamy sauce, splendid on poultry or pasta. Mushrooms go with almost any spice or herb. Parsley, thyme, sage—fabulous. Pepper, cloves, cumin, nutmeg—amazing. One trick: When a recipe calls for a costly mushroom, use a few for flavor and fill in with a cheaper mushroom like cremini.
Almost nothing in the world is as satisfying as a portobello mushroom, brushed with olive oil and red wine, sprinkled with a little fresh thyme, salt, and pepper, and grilled over a fire. I eat them with crusty French bread, a sliver of Parmigiano Reggiano, and a glass of Mad Housewife Cabernet Sauvignon.
It doesn’t get any better than that!
I once lived with an Italian film director on Lago Maggiore close to the Swiss border. It is a melancholy place, the still lakes hidden between mountains. A place where it always feels like autumn. I never saw my film director pick up a camera, but there almost always was a wooden spoon or whisk in his hand. This is his recipe. Serve with Cornish game hen, chicken, or pork, and Mad Housewife Chardonnay.
½ pound dried fettuccine or 12 ounces fresh
1-1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms (Portobello, shiitake, porcini, cremini, chanterelles)
¼ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
½ cup chicken broth
1 cup Mad Housewife Chardonnay
½ cup Italian parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh thyme
salt and black pepper
¼ cup freshly shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Enjoy the fall!
You’ve spent the last hour in the kitchen making the most glorious feast. It’s a special night. You toss your apron by the sink, and dash to the bathroom to run a comb through your hair and check your mascara. The doorbell rings. You scramble around the house, looking for embarrassing evidence that anyone actually lives there, quickly kicking your bunny slippers under the bed. You’re about to open the door, and you freeze—a pit forms in your stomach. You forgot to choose the wine!
Yikes! Oh, how you dread the raised eyebrows, the puckered lips, the scornful looks across the candlelit table—Doesn’t that girl know anything!
Take a deep breath. No need to be intimidated and unsure. Mad Housewife has come to the rescue.
We all know the adage—red wine with meat, white wine with poultry and fish. But that isn’t necessarily so. Some fish—cod, haddock, mackerel, shellfish—are high in iodine, which reacts with the tannins in red wine and leaves a metallic flavor in your mouth. Other fish, like tuna and salmon, are great with a medium bodied red wine. If the fish is highly seasoned, as with blackened redfish, you might go with White Zinfandel. On the other hand, with a highly spiced lamb chop with a fruit sauce, you might want the acidity of a Chardonnay.
In truth, the best wine for a meal is the wine you like best with a meal. But there are some guidelines that can help.
A general rule of thumb is to pair the wine with the sauce, or the overall taste of the main course: rich red meats, and meaty tomato sauces need tannins and a full-bodied wine (such as Cabernet Sauvignon); creamy, earthy, nutty, herby flavors want a lighter taste, a little fruit, a little acidity (Chardonnay); hot and spicy needs fruity sweetness (White Zinfandel); lean meats need light tannins, and a lighter body (Merlot); desserts need a moderately sweet wine (White Zinfandel or Merlot).
When you start experimenting, you’ll discover there is a reason for selecting the right wine with food. Sometimes you find a pairing that explodes your taste buds: like Mad Housewife White Zinfandel with Jamaican jerk shrimp, or Mad Housewife Merlot with Gorgonzola cheese and pears. Write your discoveries down. This is now your secret, which you can show off to impress.
Mad Housewife wines are blended to go with food. They are versatile, and all can be served with both sweet and savory dishes.
Mad Housewife Chardonnay: A full bodied, full flavor wine. This is less oaky and less dry than many Chardonnays, which makes it an excellent food wine. Flavors of pear, melon, and apple, with a touch of cinnamon go terrifically well with broiled or barbequed poultry—the tang mixes with the crusty charred flavor—but also does well with sautéed foods, bringing out butter and garlic. Superb with mild, buttery fish, and egg dishes.
Fish: lobster, crab, shrimp, trout, sole, Chilean sea bass, catfish
Meat: white meats, chicken, turkey, pork
Sauces: basil, garlic, butter, cream, nut, mushroom
Pasta: Non-tomato based pasta—pesto, alfredo, mushroom, and shellfish
Egg dishes: soufflés, omelets, crepes
Vegetables: avocado, spinach, zucchini
Spice/herb affinity: nutmeg, garlic, pepper, thyme, basil, tarragon, capers
Cheeses: milder cheeses such as Spanish manchego and brie
Not great with stronger tasting fish (tuna, sardines, or anchovies), rich red meats, and citrus-based salsas.
Mad Housewife Cabernet Sauvignon: Because of the medium tannins and light fruitiness, this medium bodied wine is incredibly versatile, and goes with grilled, roasted, and braised meats. Flavors of cherry, mint, and mocha enhance beef and strong-flavored fish.
Fish: Tuna, mahi-mahi, swordfish
Meat: Beef, duck, lamb, roasted chicken, wild game
Sauces: Meat, wine, mustard, mushroom
Vegetables: broccoli, squash, eggplant
Spice/herb affinity: allspice, pepper, mustard, rosemary
Cheese: English Stilton, goat cheeses
Not great with most fish, cream desserts, or citrus salsas.
Mad Housewife Merlot: Softer than Cabernet Sauvignon, this merlot has black cherry and plum flavors, with vanilla and spice. Merlot has fewer tannins than Cabernet (that tea-like aftertaste), so it pairs with milder flavors. The fruitiness is great with game.
Meat: beef, venison, duck, quail
Sauces: mushroom, red wine, berry, fig, pomegranate
Vegetables: mushrooms, wild rice
Spice/herb affinity: cumin, pepper, thyme, rosemary
Cheese: mild cow, goat cheese, blue cheese
Dessert: chocolate, berries, pears
Not great with fish or poultry, or with pork, which needs more tannins to handle the grease factor. Also avoid with cream based desserts.
Mad Housewife White Zinfandel: A sweeter white, with watermelon and strawberry flavors, but not too sweet to pair with food. In fact, I’ve become a great fan of this zinfandel as a food wine, especially with hot spicy dishes. The acidity makes it a great pairing with fatty pork and lamb. Excellent for spicy Middle Eastern dishes, such as couscous. If you want a wine for Asian or Indian food, this is your best bet. Also, this wine will go with artichokes and asparagus (two vegetables that are notoriously hard to pair). I’ve also become fond of this as a dessert wine with fruit and cheese.
Fish: spicy shrimp, blackened redfish
Meat: beef, peppery meat dishes, like pepper-crusted pork roast, ham
Pasta: fresh tomato, garlic based vegetable pasta dishes
Spice/herb affinity: cayenne, Jamaican jerk spice, pepper, cilantro, sesame oil
Cheese: smoky cheeses like Gouda, hard, salty cheeses like Parmigiano Romano
Dessert: cheesecake, fruit desserts
Not great with chicken (unless very spicy) or turkey, or with any cream sauce.
So there you have it. If you keep some of each the Mad Housewife varietals on hand, you’ll always have the right wine for dinner. But sometimes the best choice of wine is the one you are sipping right now.
Pour me another glass of Mad Housewife, please!
I experienced my first food festival in
Apparently the festival was sponsored by the Communist party—a few lone souls handed out fliers—but, like most gatherings in Italy, it was really about food: roasted pork, wine, cheeses, pastries covered in powdered sugar, and—being Sienna—huge wheels of panetone, a local fruitcake. Someone thrust a plate of the most succulent pork in my hands—Mangia! Mangia! I didn’t need a translation for that.
For the first time in my young life I felt the thrill of appetites—food, sex, wine, politics, dancing, danger—swirling together in a narcotic firestorm.
It made me a fan of food festivals for life; I hunt them down wherever I go.
Here in Florida we have The Mullet Festival, The Blue Crab Festival, The Stone Crab Festival, The Oyster Spat Festival, a Strawberry Festival, a Watermelon Festival, to name a few. My favorite is the Stone Crab Festival.
Stone crabs, which thrive in the gulf waters of
These claws send shellfish lovers into raptures for their delicate, sweet, buttery, lobster-like taste. Yet no crabs are killed for this gormandizing. Fishermen break off the claws, which grow back in a year or so, and toss them back in the water. I feel sorry for the crabs, crawling around without their magnificent pinchers, but supposedly it is good for the environment—they eat marsh grass and debris, and the females, defenseless, are more inclined to amatory advances. Back at the docks, the fishermen boil up the claws, then bring them to market.
I head out early to the Stone Crab Festival. Everyone is there. I saunter by the cheesy arts and craft tables, the “jewelers” who make crab claw earrings, the booths for various environmental causes, and find the food tents. It’s hard to imagine there are so many crabs in the sea, but there they are, gigantic piles of orange claws. We stand in line like penitents at communion, get our plates of stone crab claws, almost too beautiful to eat, and our foot-long scraps of lumber, and muscle our way to long waist-high tables. There are no chairs—everyone stands. No time for sipping wine, or for loquacious reminiscing—this is serious business: Take a claw, slam it with your 2x4—just hard enough to break the shell—peel off the shell, dunk the flesh in sauce, and eat.
The crowd chews quietly, staring off into space with euphoric faces. For most, this is the only time they will eat stone crab all year long. Some drive for hours to get here, an annual pilgrimage. After they finish, they toss their plates into a trash can, some pocketing the claw tips as souvenirs. They go on with their day—maybe to do some fishing or boating.
It makes me happy—everyone celebrating nature’s bounty. The soil is rich, the growing season long, the waters bountiful. Why eat bananas, which are imported over thousands of miles by diesel-consuming ships, when we have oranges, figs, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, and melons? At any time during the year, something is ready for harvesting.
As I sip a glass of Mad Housewife wine and prepare tonight’s dinner—redfish, caught off the dock, wild grapes, picked by the side of the road, a salad from the garden—slicing up tomatoes still warm from the afternoon sun, I wonder about the metaphor of it all. That despite our ever expanding global community, connected by Twitter and the Internet, and concerns of global warming, terrorism, and economic woes that know no borders, all we need to sustain us, to nourish us, is close at hand.
Any crabmeat can be used for this recipe, but Alaskan snow crab is probably the most available. A wonderful light summer dinner, especially with a chilled glass of Mad Housewife Chardonnay.
1/2 pound cold cooked crabmeat
2 limes, juiced
3 green onions, chopped
½ red bell pepper, minced fine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon mayonnaise or plain yogurt
4 flour tortillas
Lying in a beach chair, a glass of Mad Housewife Chardonnay in hand, I opened Dinner with a Cannibal by Carole A. Travis-Henikoff, a gripping and surprisingly witty account of cannibalism through the ages. I love a light summer beach read.
No, I haven’t gone on one of those diets that makes everyone I meet look like a cheeseburger, nor are the relatives expected for a visit—both perfectly valid reasons for contemplating cannibalism. But I must tell you about this book because it made me think about food, wine, and meal preparation in a whole new way. A little epiphany for this mad housewife.
For most of us, the idea of cannibalism may seem proprietary to horror movies and the minds of sick novelists. But the truth is far closer to home—deep in our DNA lies evidence that every one of us has ancestors who feasted on other humans.
Apparently cannibalism, habitual to many species from praying mantis to grizzly bears, was, for our Neanderthal brethren, as common as Sunday dinner. It was practiced in Europe during periods of starvation (“survival” cannibalism). Aztecs ate the hearts of human sacrificial victims (“religious” cannibalism). American Indians gleefully stewed up their enemies (“exocannibalism”). Pacific Islanders—out of deep respect, one assumes—munched on their dead relatives (“funerary” cannibalism). Fuji chiefs delighted in the delicate taste of our pork-like flesh (“gastronomic” cannibalism). And Oriental doctors used human parts for their special healing powers (“medicinal cannibalism”). Everybody did it.
If that bit of history doesn’t turn you into a vegetarian, nothing will. Sometimes—when I debone a chicken, or gaze into the display case at the butcher shop—the idea of eating any meat, human or otherwise, seems ghastly and primitive. But there is also something about it that’s profound and moving. In our culture we avoid thinking about death—our own as well as the animals we eat—yet our cannibal ancestors keenly understood that our lives are sustained by death. We live because some plant or animal died. There is no way around it.
Perhaps our cannibal ancestors have something to teach us—that eating meat is a ceremony that demands thoughtfulness, respect, and gratitude. Meat preparation requires certain rituals—the careful cleaning, seasoning, removal of excess fat, soaking in marinade. In these calming rhythms, we feel gratitude for the animals who gave their lives to feed us. In buying organic grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, we can show compassion for their sacrifice. In taking time to understand the various cuts of meat—where a sirloin or rib eye comes from—we respect the animal, and appreciate the texture and fattiness of its body.
As a child, I squirmed like crazy when my mother insisted we say grace at the dinner table, but now I understand. By preparing and eating food in a spirit of gratitude, we acknowledge—like the cannibals—that we are part of the cycle of life and death.
Healthful food, beautifully prepared is a ritual not only for the nourishment of the body, but of the spirit. Who has not had a lovely meal with friends, and not felt uplifted? We set aside a time every day to nourish ourselves and our family, to share a glass of Mad Housewife wine, to observe the faces of those we love. A moment to enjoy the fruits of creativity, when the madness of our lives comes to a stop. We see each other. We break bread together. We have communion.
I’ve always been intimidated by cooking a roast, but it really is the easiest thing in the world to prepare. It is lean, healthful, quick, inexpensive, and the leftovers make the best summer salads. A Mad Housewife Cabernet Sauvignon makes it perfect.
2 or 3 pound boneless top or bottom round roast
1 teaspoon fennel seed
Jamaican Jerk spice
black pepper and salt (or steak seasoning)
½ pound Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup Mad Housewife Cabernet Sauvignon
1. Preheat oven to 450. Rub roast with olive oil, then sprinkle all sides with Jamaican Jerk spice, fennel seed, steak seasoning, and thyme. Place in a deep ceramic baking dish with the fat side up. Insert thermometer.
2. Bake uncovered at 450 for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 250, and bake until temperature reads 120-125 degrees (another thirty to forty minutes). (This cut of meat must be eaten rare to medium rare because it is so lean. Otherwise it will be tough.)
3. Take out of the oven and cover for ten minutes. The roast will continue cooking, and the temperature will rise another 10 degrees. Let it sit uncovered for another five to ten minutes before slicing (to keep the juices in the meat).
4. In a shallow bowl, douse the Portobello mushrooms in olive oil, wine, garlic, and juices from the roast. Cover and cook in a microwave for three minutes. Season with salt, black pepper, and thyme.
5. Slice roast thin. Serve on plates, then spoon on mushrooms. Serve with a fresh salad.
I thought to myself, Why not host a Mad Housewife Party to celebrate the premier of Mad Men's third season? It starts on July 25th, so I have a couple of weeks to plan it. I’ll invite guests to dress up in 60s fashions, sip Mad Housewife wine, and watch—through our tortoise-shell cat glasses, of course—the opening show. My favorite wine, my favorite show, my favorite gals—what could be more fun?
But what shall I serve? The 60s were a regrettable decade for food, with two clashing and equally odious trends. The first trend was prepackaged products. Pitched as convenient, easy, and reliable, prepackage food was sold to the housewife as traditional home cooking with no effort: Simply thaw the frozen pie crust, open a can of cherry filling, bake, and serve with Cool Whip. Yum! Just like grandma used to make! Or you could simply heat up a TV Dinner.
Many of our best-selling junk foods come from the 60s: 1964—Pop-Tarts, Ruffles potato chips, Lucky Charms; 1965—Shake ‘n’ Bake, Cool Whip, Tang, Apple Jacks, Gatorade, Diet Pepsi; 1966—Bac*Os, Doritos; 1969—Pringles. No wonder teenagers were so eager to leave home to eat brown rice and hash brownies in
Which brings me to the second regrettable trend of the 60s: Hippie food. Sticky brown rice mixed with overcooked vegetables, whole wheat bread as heavy as a rock, and granola that tasted and smelled like cow feed. Thankfully, the health food trend evolved into something wonderful: a renewed appreciation for fresh, local produce, and well-prepared meals that combine healthful food with gourmet cooking. But in the 60s . . .
I have nightmares of 60s food—pineapple slices coming at me like flying saucers; maraschino cherries bombing me; Velveeta cheese oozing up from the ground; mudslides of Spry; a giant, quivering Jell-O slowly consuming the earth.
Allow me to remind you of some of these horrors:
For hors d’oeuvre we have: Pigs in blankets (Vienna sausages wrapped in pastry); Ritz crackers and Velveeta Cheese; Ambrosia—dates rolled in coconut; Deviled eggs; Chex Mix; Celery stuffed with cream cheese; Cheez Whiz; Cranberry juice with orange sherbet; Lipton’s Onion Soup dip. These delectables were followed by: Spam baked with pineapple slices; Ham basted with Seven-Up; Swedish meatballs; Tuna casserole with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, topped with potato chips; Fishsticks; Sloppy Joes; Macaroni and cheese, made with Velveeta cheese; Green bean casserole; Rice a Roni; Pumpkin casserole with marshmallows. And for dessert: Jell-O with marshmallows and fruit cocktail; Baked grapefruit with a maraschino cherry; and Jell-O cake topped with Cool Whip.
Are any of these recipes worth redeeming? I have my doubts, yet some of these dishes are making a comeback, such as macaroni and cheese, only now made with lobster and fancy cheeses: Gruyère, fontina, or Comté. These dishes bear little resemblance to the gooey mounds of glutinous glop Mother served (with a bit of curly parsley, of course, for nutrition).
I remember one 60s food with fondness. The coffee cake. At least once a week, my mother would invite women over for some meeting. I remember hiding on the stairs, watching these women—perfumed, with gloves, hats, and starched dresses at eleven in the morning—sitting down to coffee, with little plates of Mother’s freshly baked coffee cake primly balanced on their laps. The smell of cinnamon brings me back to that moment—a little girl, peeking out from behind a balustrade, amazed at how glamorous and self-assured these women appeared, knowing even then, I would never grow up to be like them. They were of a different era.
So what could be more suitable for a Mad Men party than coffee cake, served with Mad Housewife wine? As we gaze—voyeurs once more—mesmerized by Betty Draper’s petulant beauty and Don Draper’s magnetic masculinity, seduced by fashion and style, we wonder, Why aren’t we more like that?
The signature dish of the mad housewife has to be the coffee cake. Here’s my mother’s recipe, modified to be slightly more healthful. Serve with coffee in the morning, or as a dessert with whipped cream and a glass of Mad Housewife wine. You deserve it.
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 cups pitted cherries, frozen and thawed, or fresh
For Streusel topping:
3/4 cup oatmeal
½ cup sliced almonds or walnuts
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a glass pie dish. Mix streusel topping, except for nuts, and set aside.
2. Cut together butter, flour, baking power, soda, and salt.
3. In another bowl, cream together 2 eggs, and sugar. Add sour cream. Add flour and mix until blended.
4. Pour half the batter into the baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the cherries and half of the topping. Drop remaining batter in small mounds over the cherries, and spread over filling. Sprinkle with remaining cherries and topping mixed with nuts.
5. Bake for 55 minutes.
If you don’t live in
A fresh fig has nothing in common with those dried-up disks of leather strung together like a cannibal necklace of body parts. No. A fresh fig is so delicate your teeth slip through the sweet flesh as if through honey. It quenches your thirst and sates your hunger; yet so light, as if it were merely the thought of food, rather than actual substance.
I first encountered a fresh fig twenty years ago in a produce shop in Arona, a small medieval town on
I paused at a fruit display. It was in September, when some of the most glorious foods ripen—persimmons, pomegranates, Portobello mushrooms. I pointed out a wrinkly, purple pear-shaped globe, and asked the shopkeeper what it was. “Il fico,” she said. She wiped a knife on her apron, then sliced one open for me.
Inside was a halo of white fibrous fruit with a satiny pink center—it looked like a beautiful sea anemone. I was amazed. Then shocked.
A fig looks like a testicle, there’s no other way to describe it, and when you slice it open, the areola of pink—glossy, slippery, tipped with red—you know where I’m going with this. How could anyone eat such a thing?
Feeling sure I had discovered why Hannibal Lecture had decided on settling in
My teeth slipped through the buttery skin into a strawberry-honey flavored confection—like spun sugar, but slippery with a lemony aftertaste. Then my teeth crunched on the tiny almond flavored seeds. Amazing—like an exotic aperitif.
No wonder the fig has been around for so long, first cultivated by the Mesopotamians in the
Here on the
Come July, figs start ripening all over the South. Everyone here has a front yard fig tree, shading the road, so as I bike around, I merely have to reach up and grab a snack as I whiz past. Our own tree is ancient, twenty-feet tall, covered in green lichen, guarded by ferocious fire ants and hungry mocking birds. All of the figs seem to ripen at one time—I have to pick fast, then figure out what to do with them all.
Figs have a natural affinity for cheese, wine, ham, berries, balsamic vinegar, lemon, and herbs. They make glorious desserts and jams, as well as savory sauces for meats. You can freeze them, but I’ve found that, like strawberries, once thawed, they’re good only for sauces.
My favorite dessert of all time is a fresh fig, sliced lengthwise, wrapped in prosciutto, with a little piece of gorgonzola cheese. Take a bite, then a sip of Mad Housewife Merlot. Pure heaven.
This dish is elegant enough for a dinner party, yet so very simple. The sweetness of the figs, the savory herbs, the rich gamey flavor of the lamb, are a flavor revelation. Serve with Mad Housewife Merlot.
4 lamb chops, trimmed of fat
1/2 cup fresh thyme
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
4 garlic cloves, grated
Jamaican Jerk spice
1 lime, zested and juiced
2 cups fresh figs
¼ cup Mad Housewife Merlot
1. Rub both sides of the lamb chops with grated garlic and herbs. Sprinkle with Jamaican Jerk Spice. Lay in a shallow dish and cover with lime juice. Let marinade for several hours.
2. Slice figs lengthwise and place skin-side down on a cookie sheet covered in tinfoil. Sprinkle with wine, lime zest, some of the thyme, and black pepper. Roast in 425 degree oven for ten minutes.
3. Either barbeque lamb chops, or roast at 425 degrees in your already heated oven for fifteen minutes.
4. Serve with figs, and garnish with fresh thyme.