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Cooking Something Up Together
Women of all generations and ages have shared one very special and constant lover—food. This sweet-talking seducer lures women out of bed for many a late-night rendezvous, causing us to bask in the unforgiving light of the refrigerator as we eagerly devour leftovers. This tempter offers itself in ever-changing and enthusiastic forms—the sensuousness of a chocolate torte, the boldness of a ripe strawberry, or the inventiveness of a white corn soufflé—and, through its metamorphosis, succeeds in keeping us faithful, our affections unwavering, even sometimes bordering on obsession.
My obsession began very early. My mother Jeanne-Berenice is French, and though she was orphaned in World War II and never had anyone to teach her how to cook, one could say she was genetically predisposed to being a great chef. The scent of Boeuf Bourguignonne would waft through our house on a regular basis. When other children were bringing bologna sandwiches to school, my mother supplied me with a Tupperware container of Coq au Vin and a slice of Quatre Quart (a French pound cake, the recipe for which you will find later in the book).
I suppose the cooking gene was passed on, and in my early twenties, I temporarily left school to pursue my interest in cooking. I went to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, where I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Lynette Rohrer, now the Executive Pastry Chef of Star's, in Palo Alto. Though Lynette never finished the Academy, she went on to work in the most distinguished restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area: Postrio, Chez Panisse, Bisou, Masa's, and now Star's. We lived together during cooking school, and my fondest memory of Lynette displaying her skills was when she, during a fairly wild party, approached me and several friends in the hot tub to offer up a fine display of caramelized Spam triangles, elegantly nestled in a silver serving dish.
That is undoubtedly a charming quality in a chef: though one's skills in the kitchen may be extraordinary, there is no reason to be a food snob. In fact, one evening she and I were dining at Masa's (her employee discount made the meal only exorbitantly, not unconscionably, expensive), and after a meal that could only be described as a religious experience, dessert arrived. The chef, knowing Lynette's predilection for junk food, put together a phenomenal array of twinkies sliced on the bias, ho-ho's swimming in crème anglaise, red zingers resting on a pool of red raspberry puree, all beautifully garnished with a brunoise of red and black licorice, gracefully scattered on the plate. She eagerly gobbled it up.
Until all too recently women's love affair with food was considered illicit if it dared to cross the boundary into the professional kitchen. Thanks to many dedicated wild women, our gender now openly displays and profits from this liaison. From being head chefs in some of the finest restaurants, to hosting and producing gourmet cooking shows, to even the tyrannical homemaking of Martha Stewart, women have dared to take what we were once expected to do at home, and turn these daily tasks of food preparation into an extraordinary and often lucrative art form.
Wild Women in the Kitchen looks at some of these pioneers, as well as at women who were trendsetters in food fads and food production, and those who were famous gourmands. It takes you on a journey, an unpredictable exploration, of famous women and their relationships to food. Some have made a life of cooking; others (of different notoriety) simply have an unexpected favorite recipe. What they all have in common is a fervent love of food.
Wild Women in the Kitchen offers recipes that can service the gourmet and the scavenger; elegant foods that require preparation and thought, and others that can satisfy an instant hunger. You can host a romantic dinner for two with a Passion Fruit Lobster Appetizer, Artichoke Heart Timbale, and Chocolate Fondue, or you can gather a group of friends for a night of Penne Pesto Pasta Salad and homebrewed beer.
Lynette and I have enjoyed testing and contributing recipes for this one-of-a kind cookbook and hope you will find it enjoyable too. And in the words of a very well-known wild gourmet who really liked her sherry, "Bon Appetit!"
A Taste of Things to Come
There are strong women who can be moved to tears by the burnished purple beauty of an eggplant, the subtle upward arc of a banana, as promising as a new moon or a smile. There are plain-living women who believe that there is poetry in mashed potatoes, yet would sooner eat their old-fashioned argyles than a forkful of arugula. There are iron-willed women who revel in secret fantasies about that proverbial pie in the sky, the kind that exerts no gravitational pull on the hips. There are sunny-side-up women who make tequila sunrises when life gives them lemons. There are down-to-earth women who never forget to count their blessings—or to ask for second helpings. Tastes vary; what is universal is the primal pleasure we take in feeding our faces—and in the process, our souls.
For most of us, our introduction to inspirational dining was also our introduction to dining, period. A heady mixture of Mom—our own private Omnipotent Goddess/Feeding Machine—and warm milk, that punchy post-natal nosh sparked not only our passion for consuming, but our consuming passion for the most fascinating woman in our lives.
Eventually, of course, our interests expanded to include activities (earning a living, for example) other than chowing down and gazing adoringly at our parental unit. Yet according to a rather robust, apple-cheeked painter I once knew, we hedonistic human beings actually dreamed up the adult diversions of art, literature, and music only because we couldn't spend every waking moment eating or making love. (Between meals of one sort or another, Ms. Freud liked to dabble in watercolors.)
I suspect, however, that something both more and less substantial than either the mechanics of the human body (which, contrary to the impression one might pick up from the current crop of fashion magazines, really does require the regular consumption of food) or the infantile whims of the id, that hollowlegged, bottomless pit of the psyche, drives us to eat and drink. True, the ascetic Joan of Arc, as we learn later in these pages, liked to get a little bombed before doing battle: under duress, France's famous virgin warrior would dunk a chunk of broth-soaked bread in a cup of wine and call it dinner. (Today, we call it French onion soup.) And even the decorous afternoon tea—that most restrained and ritualized of meals—was the brainchild of a lady with an appetite too lusty to tolerate the wait for a fashionably late dinner.
Yet as savvy take-out queens, mavens of fine cuisine, and the chef at your neighborhood bistro all know, the contemplation and consumption of certain foods often transcends purely physiological ends, becoming an aesthetic experience in its own right, the gustatory equivalent of ogling a luscious Renoir, or sighing over a sonnet by Shakespeare, or slow-dancing with an old beau, in some deliciously world-weary boîte, to a torch singer's bittersweet song.
For our favorite feminist fatales throughout history—women whose lives were as quirky and quixotic as their tastes in food—an intriguing variety of comestibles helped induce a sublime mood. The divine dancer Josephine Baker, as you are about to read, found that a bit of bubbly rocked her socks (at least on those occasions when she was clad in something more than a G-string). Her own hors d'oeuvres turned the trick for the scandalous salon-keeper Natalie Barney, known, in the early 1900s, for making a mean cucumber sandwich, and also a famous French courtesan. Avant-garde art-lover Alice B. Toklas turned on with her psychotropic fudge; in the mind of Catherine the Great, large quantities of caviar were the key to successful copulation. And in twentieth-century America, a whole host of modern-day Mary Poppinses—among them Frieda Caplan, who transformed her fondness for fruit into a multimillion dollar industry—still find nothing so festive as a tea party on the glass ceiling.
In life as in the kitchen, of course, there are no surefire formulas for wild success (although Frida Kahlo's Chicken Escabeche looks like a winner to me). For connoisseurs of good food and great women, however, this eclectic volume offers a soul-satisfying smorgasbord of recipes, remembrances, and truly obscure trivia (including, incidentally, the biologically sound reason why women actually need their chocolate). Follow the recipes, if you will, with pleasure; consume with passion.
–Autumn Stephens, author of Wild Women and Wild Words from Wild Women
The Liberated Danseuse
Isadora Duncan, who revolutionized the dance world in the late 1800s with her spontaneous, flowing style that released the art form vSr from the constraints of classical ballet—was equally free-form in her personal life. She wore loose, flowing gowns while she danced, baring her legs and breasts, shocking stuffy Victorians in Europe and the United States, and setting a trend that would eventually liberate women from corsets and stays. A firm disbeliever in marriage—although she did eventually tie the knot, at age forty-one, with a Russian poet seventeen years her junior—she had two children out of wedlock and many lovers. She also had one of the most dramatic deaths in history. In 1927, at the age of forty-nine, she was strangled to death by her own scarf when it became entangled in the rear wheel of a Bugatti sports car. She was not driving, she was being chauffeured by a car salesman with whom she had become illicitly involved.
As might be expected in one who lived and died so flamboyantly, Isadora had an extravagant palate, often craving the most rare and expensive of foods— asparagus, strawberries, champagne, and caviar. Since she was not able to afford such fare, friends often prepared her favorite delicacies for her, rescuing Isadora from the fate of conventional cuisine.
1 pound asparagus
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon chopped capers
2 teaspoons minced shallots
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the woody ends wherever they naturally break when you apply pressure, and place in a steamer basket. Place in a pan large enough for the asparagus to lie flat, cover, and steam on high for 5 to 10 minutes depending on thickness of spears. Asparagus is done when a sharp knife easily pierces the root end. Submerge the asparagus in an ice bath to stop the cooking and place on to a towel to drain. Refrigerate until cold.
Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a small mixing bowl with a fork or wire whisk. Arrange cold asparagus on serving dish and drizzle the vinaigrette on top. Serves 4.
"Asparagus should be sexy and almost fluid ..."
That's Not Potatoes in Your Basket
The Biblical Judith was a very beautiful and stubborn widow who lived in the town of Bethulia and saved her city in the face of total destruction. Enemy troops, led by General Holofernes, rapidly approached the tranquil town and managed to cut off its water supply. The elders, wracked with fear and a sense of hopelessness, had the audacity to give God an ultimatum: let it rain for five days, or they will surrender.
Judith, being the cunning woman she was, set out with a basket of rich cheeses and a jug of wine to meet the general. Already intoxicated by her beauty, and driven to consume the wine because of the cheese, Holofernes was soon snoozing like a new-born babe. Upon which Judith grabbed his sword from its sheath, adeptly sliced off the great leader's head, and carefully tucked it into her basket. When his troops approached the following day, they found their leader's head mounted on a stake outside the city gate, and ran in horror. In honor of Judith, Jewish people incorporate cheese into the menu on the holy day of Chanukah.
Potato latkes, eaten in countless Jewish American households, are actually an adaptation of Sephardic cheese latkes. Because not many European Jews had ready access to cheese, they substituted something they had plenty of—potatoes. We have suggested a fruit compote to accompany the pancakes. It, too, is a traditional Chanukah food.
Potato Latkes with Apple and Pear Compote
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup Calvados
1 large pear (peeled, cored, and sliced)
2 large apples (peeled, cored, and sliced)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
3 large potatoes
1 small onion
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for frying
Make the compote: Melt the butter in a sauté pan. Sprinkle the fruit with the cinnamon and sugar and sauté in the butter for one minute at a moderately low heat. Deglaze with the Calvados and add the vanilla. Bring to a low simmer and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a bit while you make the latkes.
Peel and grate potatoes into a mixing bowl. Squeeze out remaining liquid or drain in a colander for a few minutes. Peel and grate the onions into the potatoes. Mix in the eggs and then the flour. Add salt and stir into a smooth batter. Heat oil in frying pan (enough to cover the latkes). Drop a tablespoon of batter (approximately 3? wide) into the hot oil. When brown, turn and brown on other side. Be careful not to let the oil smoke. When golden on both sides, drain on paper towels.
For a healthier variation: Use the same batter, but pour it into a well-greased muffin pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until done and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Serves 6 to 8.
Oprah's Favorite Pick-Me-Up—Then and Now
In Nellie Bly's biography of Oprah Winfrey, Bly describes the following incident from the Queen of Daytime TV's heftier days. "Oprah halted taping and shouted to a crewman: 'Get me my Lay's™ potato chips! I don't care what you have to do to get them—just get them now or I won't finish the show!' The man ran out and bought five, fifteen-ounce bags. Oprah ate her fill and then continued taping, proving that you could always count on her when the chips were down."
In recent years, Oprah has cut down on such greasy goodies with the assistance of Rosie Daley, formerly a chef for the Cal-a-Vie spa, whom Oprah calls her "diet cop." With Rosie's help, she dropped fifty-five pounds, and Rosie made the Women's Food Hall of Fame with the bestselling low-fat cookbook, In the Kitchen with Rosie. Here we offer some tasty tidbits to honor both the old and new incarnations of Oprah. The homemade potato chips and Tasty Tuna Dip are rich treats, so for those days when you are looking for something lighter, we include a lowfat dip and substitute raw vegetables.
2 large russet potatoes
Enough vegetable oil to half fill a deep fryer
Salt to taste
Peel and slice the potatoes very thinly with a vegetable peeler, or light pressure on a Cuisinart using the sheer blade. Soak the potato slices in cold water for at least an hour and change the water two or three times: this is the secret to crispy, tasty potato chips. Dry thoroughly by patting with paper towels.
Heat the oil up to 375 degrees (the oil must be extremely hot). If you are using a deep fryer, put only enough potato slices in the basket so that they are not clumped together. Drop the basket into the oil—it will start bubbling. Shake and stir frequently so the chips don't stick together. Cook until golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove onto paper towels to drain and salt. Serves 4.
(You can also make these in a wok if you have a wire mesh ladle, which in some ways is better because you can toss the slices in one at a time and remove individually when done.)
1 cup nonfat sour cream
1 cup nonfat mayonnaise
2 teaspoons dried dill weed or 2 tablespoons very finely minced fresh dill weed
2 teaspoons dried parsley or 2 tablespoons very finely minced fresh parsley
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir well. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour. Serve with chips or raw vegetables. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. Serves 10.
Tasty Tuna Dip
1 6½ ounce can of tuna packed in water, drained
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (about one lemon)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic, pressed
Pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until creamy. Transfer to a bowl and serve at room temperature. Serve with breadsticks or raw vegetables. Makes about 1 cup.
Excerpted from Wild Women IN THE KITCHEN by Nicole Alper, Lynette Rohrer. Copyright © 1996 The Wild Women Association. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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