Iron Chef Maurice!

The Husband's dad (my cooking mentor), Maurice, is here for a visit from California, and this presents an opportunity for both learning and anxiety. After a lunch out at Nick and Toni’s in Manhattan, we drove up to Fairway on 125th street to plan the night’s meal. “What should we do for dinner?” I asked.

Smiling, Maurice offered: “Hey, you decide. It’s up to you. Cook anything you want.” It all seemed so inconsequential to him. So easy.

When in doubt, fix chicken. So I got an organic broiler and had the butcher butterfly it for me. I thought of rice and then an endive salad. Maurice was being completely nonjudgmental, pushing the cart along and oohing and aahing at the shelves of oils and sauces and the tubs of olives and capers. He couldn’t resist though when we came along the little Italian cippolini onions. I had never noticed these before. They’re right next to the shallots and the ginger, across from the cornhusks for tamales. He noted that the price was about a third of that in Sacramento and started stuffing about eight or so into a bag.

We came across a heap of pears (Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Anjou) and Maurice bagged 4 of those, along with some heavy cream from the cold room.

Then we came by some “heirloom” tomatoes. One of the highlights of our annual trip to Sacramento is when Maurice takes me to the Farmer’s Market and we pick out wild and gruesome looking tomatoes to slice and drizzle with olive oil. I was hoping that these New York tomatoes might qualify as worthy. Maurice looked at the $5 a pound price and edged over the cheaper beefsteak variety. “You have breadcrumbs? Parmesan cheese?” We picked up some oregano and then headed over to the check out line.

When we got home I threw together a marinade for the chicken (lime, garlic, crushed cilantro, olive oil, s&p) and Maurice started in on the onions (peeling and trimming).

As I grilled the chicken and cooked the rice (sautéing in butter first, adding a sprig of the oregano, and covering the lid in a linen towel (I don’t know, that’s what a French woman taught me), Maurice was simmering the onions in some butter and olive oil and a bit of water. He was also halving and cleaning the tomatoes, crushing garlic, stuffing breadcrumbs, Parmesan olive oil and oregano into the nooks and crannies of the tomatoes—ready to be roasted in the oven.

Then I washed the escarole and made a 3:1 olive oil/ balsamic vinegar salad dressing. As the onions were perfuming the whole house with their heavy, sweet fragrance, he let the sauce cook down among the tender little buds and then caramelized them with some balsamic vinegar.

So there on the table was a nicely grilled chicken, some white rice, a nice green salad along with the most delectable little onion buttons you have probably ever seen and some squishy bright red tomatoes oozing with garlic and cheesy bits.

If you were lucky you got an onion small enough to pop in your mouth all at once, that way you had that little explosion happening as you bit into it. As for the tomatoes, I’m glad The Girl didn’t like them because that left more for me. I choose to cut them into pieces and plopped it on a piece of baguette. The only thing that would have made it better is if we were sitting in a café in Italy.

I got up to give The Girl a bath, and when we came back down Maurice was sautéing the pears, building up a caramel sauce, to which he added some of the heavy cream. He cooked it down and cooked it down, shaking the pan to keep the pears from burning or sticking. When the sauce started to turn a light brown, they were close to being done, and he carefully waited for that moment when they were just right. I was in charge of scooping up the vanilla ice cream that went on the side. He said he saw this recipe on the America’s Test Kitchen show and that they had said to serve it with blue cheese. We all agreed that cheesing up the caramel pears was just plain wrong.

As I scooped my final bite of pear, scraping whatever bits of caramel sauce I could onto my spoon, I considered not that I had been beat, for this wasn’t a competition. It was more like cooking with Master Kan, and I was trying to snatch the pebble.


SF Mom of One said...

Even sick in bed, I crave those onions. Maybe because I am sick in bed. No, I would want them any way. My onions always turn out like they came off the back grill at Al's Cafe on Mission St. (Al is not related to Nick or Toni.)

Deb St-Claire said...

SF mom: So sorry you're sick in bed. I think Maurice's secret was to watch them closely so they wouldn't burn or cook too slowly. I wish I could fedex a batch to you.

Ken Sternberg said...

Wrap some up in a Ziplock bag, freeze them, then overnight them with some of those plastic ice packs.

I love making caramalized onions with portabella or other interesting mushrooms. One thing I like doing is sweating the onions over low heat, covered, for a good 45 minutes (stirring occasionally).

Anonymous said...

The ugly tomatoes are always the best. There are a number of grocery stores in NJ that sell "Ugly Tomatoes". Do you think it is possible to grow your own tomatoes in a NYC apartment?

Deb St-Claire said...

Anonymous: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Those mangled, purple tomatoes are exquisite to behold! In terms of growing your own...do you have a super sunny fire escape? Maybe you could grow some little grape tomatoes?

Vera's sister said...

Hi Deb,
didn't know Maurice was in town, how wonderful. I always remember his Sacramento kitchen.
Is he completely done with the green house?
I have pictures that I love of his orchid air roots!

Deb St-Claire said...

To Vera's Sister:
We had a great time during his visit. Yes, the greenhouse is gone, but it's been replaced by a wonderful shady deck. I already have fond memories of falling asleep on the double-wide chaise. Send the pics of the roots!