A couple of months ago, I was seated across the dinner table from Sam Kass. The former White House chef and general stud of the foodie world and his wife, MSNBC host Alex Wagner, were guests of Bon Appetit at an Edible Schoolyard benefit. I was the token unbold-faced name at the table, but my Bon App friends agreed to let me squeeze in to a corner of the table at the last minute (note to self: pay back Bon App’s Editor Christine Muhlke with Tata Harper products…)
I had no idea who Sam or Alex were until after they left. Not that I would have acted differently had I known. They exuded this laid back confidence that, while inciting an immediate crush, simultaneously reduced me to an intimidated mute, utterly void of anything interesting to contribute to the conversation. It happens.
I didn’t think much about them after that evening until last Friday night, when Bertrand turned on a podcast of the Tim Ferris show in our car, and Tim’s guest was Sam Kass. Sam was thoughtful, articulate, down to earth, humble. So much of what he talked about resonated with how Bertrand and I feel about food and the way we cook. When Tim asked what a good kitchen staple would be for a starter chef, Sam replied, “Vinegar. If you have a nice vinegar, the world is yours.” Bertrand patted my knee. We’ve gone so far as to break the law for a good vinegar. On a trip to Italy years ago with our daughter, we discovered an aged balsamic vinegar called Tondo at a restaurant in Tuscany. Astrid had never tasted anything quite like it, so Daddy came to the rescue and surreptitiously swiped it from the table after we paid the bill (Hey, we paid for dinner). We soon located a Tondo distributor in the Bronx and, yes, the world did become ours.
When Tim asked Sam which ingredient he’d be accused of over-using, his answer was the same as Bertrand’s: Garlic.
Favorite herb? Tarragon, which, sadly, is one we under use, and I’m on a mission to change that (and not just because Sam said so).
So, off to our favorite grocery store we went (Guido’s in Great Barrington), our Kass-tomized list at the ready: garlic, grains, chicken. When we got home, I snipped some tarragon from the garden, while Bertrand grabbed a few heads of lettuce.
I cracked open a bottle of dry white wine, crushed a bunch of garlic and whipped together Tarragon Chicken (recipe below), while Bertrand whipped up his Tondo-based dressing for the salad.
When we woke up Sunday morning to a cold and windy rain, two words came to mind: Garlic Soup. Sam can’t take all the credit for this one. A lot of it goes to Mark Firth, whose Great Barrington restaurant, the Prairie Whale, makes Green Garlic Soup, which we devour and always say, “We’ve got to try this at home.”
Alas, we waited too long. Green garlic are like ramps. Their season is pretty short, and it ended in May, so I took the green out of the garlic, found this recipe (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/roasted-garlic-soup-with-parmesan-cheese-100669), and added green in via green onions, (Brit for “scallions”). A few minutes before serving, I finely chopped a bunch, then stirred them into the soup.
The soup was okay, maybe a bit too thin. If I make it again, I might substitute the whipped cream for Greek yogurt, and I might add a cup of wild rice, or a few homemade croutons. And if I may recommend an ideal pre-soup starter? Beano. Yes, that Beano. When you’re talking 50 garlic cloves, a half dozen scallions and two onions, this is not the time to trust your gut–or anybody else’s at the table. No matter how famous they are.
Jane’s Tarragon Chicken
- 2 in-bone chicken breasts
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1 lemon
- zest of aforementioned lemon
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Peel and crush one of the garlic cloves, then rub it into both breasts. Brush breasts with olive oil , then sprinkle with sea salt. After zesting the lemon, slice it in half and squeeze its juice into a bowl. Press second garlic clove through garlic press, then add to bowl, stirring in wine, lemon zest and all of the tarragon except for one one teaspoon, set aside for later. Lay breasts flat in a Pyrex dish and pour marinade mixture over them. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least four hours (overnight, ideally).
Preheat oven to 450. Pour marinade into bowl and set aside, then place Pyrex dish with breasts into oven, cover with aluminum foil and broil for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, pour marinade into medium size frying pan and bring to boil for about 5-8 minutes until wine cooks off, then let simmer. When breasts are done, place each on a bed of brown rice or quinoa, pour wine sauce over and sprinkle with the remaining tarragon.