Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Cooking Motto

Twenty years ago I indulged my cooking passion by taking cooking lessons through Dorothy Lane Market School of Cooking. Each class had a theme and was taught by a guest chef or staff at DLM. The teachers were great, classes were small and eating at the end was delightful. I often attended class with a dear colleague, Rose Dwight. We would sit up in the front in rapture. We would comment to each other and ask questions, being so present to the experience. After sampling deliciousness I would turn to Rose and say "Would it be ill mannered for me to just lay my face on this plate?" I just wanted to merge with the food and the experience. The dishes were wonderful. Sometimes, presented with a history or anecdote - you know I love anecdotes - and if a foreign teacher some story about the culture and tradition of the food. It was heaven for me.

One of the consistent messages was the motto of the head of the school and consumer affairs at DLM, Kitty Owen Sachs. It was 4 words - Best ingredients, simply prepared. Seeing it live in the classes and experiencing how right it was for me was inspiring. It was a listening that made so much so clear about cooking and the experiences I wanted to create. So for the most part I prepare simple food. (Birthday desserts can be a little over the top.) Of course, because I am first born, anal retentive, obsessive compulsive and Type A I can make quite a process out of this. But the steps I take assure the outcome. It's the attention to balance and flavor in planning the menu, careful shopping for the best ingredients I can afford, reading the recipes a couple of times and mise en place. Then it's following the steps in the recipe and being present in the process. It is consuming and relaxing for the most part and fun. It is meditative in its steps and repetition.

Reading cookbooks and studying the philosophies of the authors I do have my faves. Invariably they make basic things that are designed to bring out the flavor, balance textures and techniques and reflect that same motto - best ingredients simply prepared.

Onion Dip adapted from Ina Garten

2 large sweet onions halved, and thinly sliced
3 T. olive oil
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
3/4 C. real mayonnaise (I do not want to hear about salad dressing or miraculous others)
1/2 C. sour cream
2 dashes of Tabasco

Heat a frying pan. Add olive oil and heat the oil to medium high heat. Separate the rings of the onions and strew them in the pan. Salt them lightly. After two minutes reduce the heat to medium. Slowly cook the onions until carmelized. This will take a while. Meditate on onion transformation and stir gently but often enough to assure carmelization and not scorching during cooking.

When onions are cooked drain them on a paper towel to remove any excess oil. Let them cool until they are warm.

In a bowl combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream and Tabasco. Stir thoroughly to combine. Add the onions and stir again.. Add 4 grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Taste. If it needs it add a little salt. Let it rest for an hour. Before serving dust with paprika.

I serve this dip with the best potato chips I can buy. Kettle-cooked chips are a good place to start.

Open a lovely bottle of wine, play a little blues, sip and chat to connect with someone who might deserve your sincere amends or just your complete attention.


  1. you weave such wonderful prose into your passion for cooking. i loved the 'put my face in the plate' comment.

    BUT i must insist... do not put down miracle whip. is is sooo my favorite.

    so continue your beautiful 'odes to culinary delights' but please... let us not be snooty about our mayo...


  2. Dear Stephen,

    I too love Miracle Whip. I did not taste real or home made mayonnaise until I was in my 20's. I love the vinegary sweetness of Miracle Whip. A fresh jar, newly opened, room temp, fresh white "bunny" bread and a slice of roast turky breast with a few bread and butter pickles - ecstasy.

    There are some dishes for MW and some for the ultimate. So not snooty, just specific and picky.

  3. whatever...............