My Dinner with Dinah
At her House!
Full disclosure: I don’t own one of these gorgeous Yaki Yaki San Japanese ceramic grills — but I wish I did. I’ve watched friends cook on them, and I yearn for one of my own.
I’m obviously not alone; these pretty little grills are in such demand that they’re on back order at most places that carry them. As we go to press Hitachiya still has some in stock, but I’m not convinced that will last.
What’s so great about these little grills? Made of heat-resistant Japanese clay from Iga, they work much the way charcoal does, cooking food from the inside out. They have reservoirs that you fill with water — which prevents flare-ups. I can’t think of a better way to turn your gas range into a grill.
I found this menu — and the accompanying article — in a box in the basement. The piece was never published; my editors thought it sounded “too exclusive.” But looking back I’m astonished by how much it says about the changes that have taken place in Hollywood. Can you imagine one of today’s biggest stars inviting a young, unknown food writer to her house for an intimate dinner with a few of her even more famous friends?
The woman who opened the door was obviously Angie Dickinson. She smiled and held out her hand. She was smaller and cuter than she appears on the screen, and as we shook I felt like a clumsy school kid trying out for the cheerleading squad. “Dinah’s in the kitchen,” she said, pointing the way to Ms. Shore.
Following her finger I bumped into Gregory Peck. It was rather a shock. He looked amused. “Have some Champagne,” murmured a street-smart voice, launching into an erudite speech about wine making. The voice turned out to belong to Wayne Rogers.
I found Dinah in the kitchen. Someone was with her. It was “my good friend Christian Millau,” celebrating the publication of his first guides to American cities by whipping up this intimate little soiree.
As we munched bits of b’stilla and tiny new potatoes filled with caviar, Dinah raised her glass to toast Christian. But the instant she set her glass down he ran nervously back to the kitchen to check on his lamb. Meanwhile his wife urged us all to sit down.
The Trefethen Chardonnay was served very cold; Angie, it turns out, prefers her wine with ice cubes. As I sipped the chilled libation I eavesdropped on Madame Millau discussing Parisian restaurants with Billy Wilder (he speaks excellent French). At the other end of the table Veronique Peck was trying to discuss Parisian restaurants with Monsieur Millau, but it was a losing battle. He spent most of the evening scooting in and out of the kitchen. (Sadly, the lamb chops he was fussing over turned out a pallid shade of gray.)
We went on to a sprightly pepper and celery root salad while Mrs. Wilder lamented the paucity of celery root in her life. The problem, she said, is that her Cuisinart shreds it and chopping it by hand is too much trouble. “Try a Kitchenaid,” someone suggested and she made a note, diamonds flashing in the candlelight as she wrote.
“This,” said Monsieur Millau as his wife served her lovely chocolate mousse, “is the real chef in the family.” She smiled. Billy Wilder leaned over to whisper in my ear. “Isn’t that obvious?” Then he offered me his favorite recipe. “You spread Leiderkranz on Saltines and top it off with Smuckers Red Currant Jelly. Delicious!”
At that moment Willie Nelson arrived with his wife. As they were being introduced I had the comforting thought that the famous may be rich, but they’re not so different than you and me.
How to Make Better Deviled Eggs
One of life’s most affordable luxuries, a good deviled egg leaps joyfully into your mouth to dazzle you with its tender texture and generous flavor. Known as “stuffed eggs” or “mimosa eggs,” they did not become “deviled” until the eighteenth century, when the culinary use of the term was appropriated for everything containing hot spices or condiments.
But while deviled eggs may be delicious, they are not always easy. The availability of new-laid organic farm eggs turns out to be something of a mixed blessing. Farm eggs may be tasty, but fresh eggs are almost impossible to peel.
When eggs are new the membrane just beneath the shell sticks tightly. As eggs age, the protective coating on the shell becomes porous and begins to absorb air, loosening the membrane and making the whites less acetic. (This is why the whites of freshly laid eggs are cloudy; as they absorb air they lose some of the carbon dioxide in the albumen, the ph rises, and the whites become clearer.) The trick is to begin with fresh eggs that have spent at least a week in the refrigerator.
But while the egg whites are losing their acidity, they are also growing thinner, meaning that the yolk is moving farther from the center. So if you’re intent on perfect deviled eggs, store them on their sides instead of upright.
There are two questions you must ask yourself before you start. The first is whether you prefer your filling to be thick or creamy. The second is what you plan to put on top. Everything else is elementary.
12 eggs, not too fresh, at room temperature (this will keep them from cracking)
½ to ¾ cups mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard
a splash of vinegar
optional toppings: cayenne, caviar, dill, capers, potato chips, beets, za’atar….
Put your eggs in a pot that will hold them in a single layer. Cover them with cold water and raise the heat quickly until the water boils. As soon as it does, cover the pot, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 12 minutes.
Chill the eggs, immediately, in a bowl of ice water. This will prevent the green circle that forms around the outside of the yolk. (When the temperature of the egg reaches 158 degrees the iron in the yolk reacts with the sulfur in the white.) It’s perfectly harmless, but it does lend your deviled eggs a slightly ghoulish air.
Shell your eggs, then put them in the refrigerator for half an hour. This will make them cut more cleanly. Cut each one in half and then cut a small slice off the bottom of each half so it sits flat on a plate.
Remove the egg yolks to a food processor, and whip to make them smooth. Add a half cup of mayonnaise, the mustard and vinegar, and process until airy. If you like a looser filling, add the rest of the mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and spoon the filling into a pastry bag.
Pipe the yolk mixture into the egg whites. For the world’s best deviled eggs, top with caviar or salmon roe. You can also sprinkle some cayenne on top, add a jaunty little bit of beet, a small triangle of pickle, a bit of crumbled potato chip, some chives, caperberries or.... the possibilities are almost endless.
Click HERE for a printable recipe
In my first cookbook, Mmmmm, I called this Pumpkin Soup. Subsequent versions of this now beloved recipe have been labeled “Swiss Pumpkin,” or “Cheese-Stuffed Pumpkin.” Whatever you call it, it’s incredibly delicious. And there is something extremely appealing about a dish that is also its own terrine.
I should probably add that I was 21 when I invented this recipe; these days I temper the richness by using some chicken stock in place of all that cream. On the other hand, I’ve seen a few people add a couple of eggs to the cream. And why not?