Tastes of the Week

November 14  through 21, 2011 Had one of the loveliest brunches -- at Maialino -- in the cool, plush Gramercy Hotel overlooking New York's park of the same name. Sitting at the bar (in the quiet sunlight of November) a friend and I shared an $8 glass of a red wine from Tuscany served in a very expensive wine glass. I love when that happens. It is a very Danny Meyer touch to do that. Maialino is Danny's "Roman" restaurant (one of many in his empire) and is a divine place to dine. We ate the welcome basket of focaccia with gusto and then moved on to a "budino" -- an orange-scented olive oil "cake-lette."  Not quite muffin nor tea bread, it satisfied the morning urge for something sweet but not-too-sweet. It was hard not to notice the extra-thick pepper-crusted bacon sitting in front of our bar neighbor so we ordered that, too. It was hard to resist the autumnal offering of poached eggs on roasted brussels sprouts and squash puree -- heavenly morning food. And I LOVED my bowl of tripe with an olive-oil fried egg on top. I enjoyed the tripe at Maialino the first time I went and thought the idea for breakfast was inspiring. It begged for a few sips of red wine. Then something funny happened:  I was spotted entering the restaurant by the owner from his apartment across the street and so out came a few more dishes to try:  amazing paper-thin slices of ham made from suckling pig (!) -- soft and tender, it simply melted upon your tongue; and a helping of squash-filled agnolotti with fried sage, butter and a sunny hint of lemon. That was another bit of Meyer Hospitality: He is the master. Brunching at the bar is so special at Maialino that a lovely woman next to us told us we could find her there every Sunday -- with newspapers in hand and a whiff of Rome in the air.

As guest lecturer at a luncheon for the Junior League of New York last week, I was treated to a menu of my own food! It's always interesting when that happens and sometimes the results can be alarming. But Chef Patrick did a special job of interpolating my recipes for 4 into recipes for 75. Not always easy to do. So the next time you have a crowd for lunch you might want to try:  a salad of Pea Shoots & Greens with Goat Cheese & Cumin Vinaigrette; Crisped Chicken with Chimichurri & Avocado, Walnut-Onion Muffins (which are perfect for Thanksgiving so look for the recipe below), and "The Little Black Dress Chocolate Cake" topped with raspberries and a one-ingredient creme anglaise (made from a reduction of egg nog.) The topic of the lecture was "mindful" cooking, including the concept of radical simplicity, and the recipes can all be found in Radically Simple.

And one of the most special lunches in New York, now going on for 25 years, is the Power Lunch hosted by the "insatiable" food critic, Gael Greene. It is an extraordinary event of extraordinary women (and a smattering of men who pay $10,000 to attend!) to raise money for Citymeals-on-Wheels. Gael started it decades ago with legendary food guru James Beard and it has grown into a NY institution -- both the lunch and the organization for which multi-million dollars have been raised over the years. The most meaningful moments occur when we are treated to the voices of actors reading the words of the older people, many who are shut-ins, who count on Meals on Wheels for their very sustenance. Not only is the meal important but also the companionship and care that accompany each delivery.  For many elderly there is no one else who knocks on their door any more. For many years, Joe Baum and Michael Whiteman used to host the event at the Rainbow Room (which we owned and operated for 13 years). Now it is held at the glorious Taj Pierre Hotel. I thought lunch was delicious:  It's not easy to prepare 300 portions of perfectly cooked bass, brussels sprouts the size of your fingernail, roasted beets, and the best assemblage of miniature pastries -- macaroons, tiny lemon meringue tarts, genoise cupcakes -- ever.

A nice tuna sandwich with a fried egg and hollandaise at April Bloomfield's restaurant John Dory...at the hip Ace Hotel -- accompanied by a Finger Lakes wine, a dry riesling, called the Gotham Project. Now who wouldn't love that!

Walnut-Onion Muffins (yum!) In the 1980's, I helped create a three-star restaurant in New York called the Hudson River Club, whose menu was based on the region's local bounty. My friend Wendy Dubit, who had a farm in the Hudson Valley, found this recipe in an old cookbook. I just made it radically simple. Its yummy moisture and flavor comes from pureed onion.

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped 2 extra-large eggs 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 6 tablespoons sugar 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour 1 cup shelled walnuts, about 4 ounces, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat 16 muffin cups with cooking spray. Process the onion in a food processor until finely ground. Measure out 1 cup. Beat together the onion, eggs, butter, and sugar. Blend in the flour and chopped walnuts to make a smooth batter. Fill the muffin tins and bake 18 minutes until just firm and golden. Serve warm.  Makes 16

Make these muffins on Thanksgiving morning and enjoy. Today the muffins, tomorrow a pumpkin cheesecake...