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Color Theory


When considering a balanced meal, Mrs. Henry thinks of complementary colors.

Composing a menu she employs a palate fully as pleasing to the eye as to the tongue. This is not a casual belief.  She maintains firmly as an article of nutritional science that color and taste are linked. Good color matches make for good flavor matches and even for good digestion.

During the last snowstorm, when forced to prepare dinner from whatever happened to be in the fridge, Mr. Henry served his family chicken, mashed potatoes, and cauliflower, an all-white menu for which he still suffers recriminations.

When the Duchess and her family came to dinner last week, the meal became a feast not only because peers of the realm were seated at high table, but also because duck breast, potatoes au gratin, and green beans were enlivened by the vivid scarlet of red cabbage. (The astringent sweetness of the cabbage prepared with red wine vinegar and a touch of sugar cleansed the mouth, as well.)

For taste and for color Mr. Henry likes the marriage of duck and orange, but he didn’t think a classic duck à l’orange would pair well with red cabbage. Instead, for dessert he elected to serve sliced navel oranges (Moroccan style – topped with a touch of ground cinnamon) along with two ice creams from Grom – dark chocolate and stracciatella with candied orange, grapefruit, and pistachios.

Impaling your bird

Mr. Henry is wary of gadgetry in the kitchen. He likes his old waiter’s corkscrew and his old hand-crank can-opener. If he needs to slice and dice, he takes a knife out of the drawer.

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To this bastion of conservative family values one fine day Mrs. Henry, normally a woman to abjure gimcrackery, brings home a cone-shaped ceramic vessel with narrowed neck and announces the advent of the “chicken sitter,” an invention that would have delighted Vlad the Impaler.

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Resembling the Mercury orbiter capsule, the chicken sitter (and try saying that three times fast) is more fun than Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang. It beats the old beer can technique all to hell. Stuff the chicken sitter with herbs, wine, garlic, lemon or what-have-you. Then impale your trussed bird on the cone.

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Skin cooks crisply and evenly all around while liquid inside the cone bastes and steams the flesh. Indeed, the chicken sitter yields a perfect roast chicken with absolutely no fuss. Afterwards you can salvage the juice inside the cone to help make stock with the bones.

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Odd couples

“What do you want to eat for dinner tonight?” Mrs. Henry asked for the umpteenth time.

“Whatever looks good is OK by me,” responded Mr. Henry in the mistaken belief that eagerness to please his immortal beloved would win the day.

“Why must the menu decision always be up to me?” cried Mrs. Henry, straining to remain calm. “Why can’t you come up with an idea? You’re the famous Mr. Henry. Think of something!”

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And thus does Mr. Henry receive his comeuppance for selflessly spreading enlightenment and joie d’esprit to his many faithful readers.

As luck would have it, and luck favors the prepared foodblogger, tucked away at the back of Notes on Cooking is a singular list of classic combinations:

duck & orange
orange & fennel
fennel & arugula
arugula & balsamic vinegar
balsamic vinegar & strawberries
strawberries & cream
cream & garlic

…and so on for two more pages.

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It’s a list ready made for the beleaguered husband and willing helpmeet wandering the grocery store, all the voyage of his shopping trip bound in shallows and in miseries.

artichokes & mozzarella
mozzarella & tomatoes
tomatoes & cucumbers
cucmbers & lingonberries
lingonberries & wild goose

Sometimes a combination works even though it seems to be completely at odds, as unlikely as pumpkin & prawns, for instance.

Mr. & Mrs. Henry seem to have absolutely nothing in common, either, except a fondness for the same foods, the same vacation destinations, and the same movies. Sometimes the odd coupling is the tastiest.

yogurt & meyer lemon
meyer lemon & green olives
green olives & manchego
manchego & quince
quince & vanilla bean

Mrs. Henry goes bionic

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This week Mrs. Henry had surgery. She no longer walks with original factory-installed parts. Chromium now replaces mother nature’s original joint.hip-parts.jpg

In the adjacent room Mrs. Scharf sceamed, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I’ve just come out of soy-gery! Noyce! Noyce!”

The nurse told her to stop yelling and noted that here in the Hospital for Special Surgery all the patients have just come out of surgery. This argument cut no ice whatsoever with Mrs. Scharf, however, who kept it up the whole day long.
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At dawn on the second day after surgery they gave Mrs. Henry two Vicodin (codeine) followed by a can of “creamy milk chocolate Ensure, complete, balanced nutrition.” To the medical profession it may be complete, but Ensure did not offer much nourishment. Its foul taste and texture ensured instant regurgitation.

Poor Mrs. Henry had a bumpy ride that day, but after she refused both the medication and the hospital diet, she began to improve. Throwing himself into the breach, Mr. Henry prepared a dinner that she could find palatable and easy to digest.

What is your go-to comfort food after a bad day in the operating theater?

For Mrs. Henry it is miso soup, soft tofu, white rice (with umeboshi) and broiled Arctic char. She felt better within minutes. For breakfast he made her a compote of white nectarines eaten with cottage cheese and crackers. They released her the next afternoon.
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The list of ingredients for Ensure defies exaggeration:

Water, corn maltodextrin, sugar (sucrose), milk protein concentrate, canola oil, soy protein concentrate, corn oil, cocoa powder (processed with alkali), short-chain fructooligosaccharides, potassium citrate, whey protein concentrate, magnesium phosphate, natural and artificial flavors, sodium citrate, soy lecithin, calcium phosphate, potassium chloride…

That is only half the list. The remaining ingredients have really complicated names.

Ensure may well be parody-proof, but its use in hospitals is positive proof of the commercial might of America’s corn and soy agro-industrial complex. To Mrs. Henry, and to anyone who eats a sensible diet, Ensure tastes like poison. Why can’t hospitals figure this out?

Friends brought baskets of goodies. Stinky baked delicious too-many blueberry muffins. Kim sent a gift basket from E.A.T. including a silver bell shaped like a Southern belle (get it?) which Mrs. Henry now rings every eight to nine minutes. The physical therapist is on his way over to treat her bell-ringer’s elbow.

Green breakfast

It is the year of change, indeed. Among Mr. Henry’s friends and relations long-established eating habits are giving way to new ones.

No meal is more culture-specific than breakfast. On your first trip to Japan, you won’t have trouble finding an acceptable lunch or dinner for anyone in the party. Breakfast is another story. Pickles, sashimi, raw quail egg on rice, tofu, miso soup, nori, daikon – none of these ever graced Mr. Henry’s grandmother’s table.japanesebreakfast.jpg

Mr. Henry’s German grandmother, who graduated from Iowa State University in 1912, rose early and started her day with a tablespoon of corn oil and a glass of hot water. She swore it prevented asthma, but Mr. Henry believes it contributed to regular evacuation, as well. She never missed her morning dose and she lived to be 97.

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Mr. Henry’s Irish grandmother, the most beautiful girl in 1920’s New York, rose late and started with a strong cup of tea (and occasionally with a little hair of the dog, too). She departed this life at age 57.

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Mother Henry is approaching her 77th birthday and charges around town like Hillary Clinton on energy drink. Recently she shared an unusual dietary secret. She starts her day with spinach. (Was that Popeye’s secret, too?)

While Father Henry squeezes the orange juice, Mother downs a few spoonfuls of cold spinach in between bites of hard-boiled egg. Later comes coffee and toast. She claims she needs to eat leafy greens every single day, and sometimes she gets so busy running around town that she doesn’t get an opportunity to sit down to a proper lunch. Dinner selections are variable and don’t always include leafy greens.

Over spring vacation Little Henry and posse shocked the grown-ups by starting their vacation morning with avocado on toast. (Mr. Henry blames the Food Network for these departures from normalcy.) Mr. Henry tried it too, but needed to add goat cheese and honey before it assumed the appearance of a morning repast.avocado.jpg

Mrs. Henry has been making fruit smoothies with seaweed powder – morning green goop. She claims it will change your life. Consider yourself warned.

California mulching

Lately Mr. Henry has been thinking a lot about dirt.

Riverside Park has exploded with flowering plants that must have been stirring in the dirt for some time, unseen and unheard, because last week all at once they burst forth in a simultaneous crescendo, intoxicating each stroller, jogger, and rollerblader. Walking along the Hudson this morning Mr. Henry was nearly overcome by the cherry and crab apple blossoms. The air was thick and its perfume was rapturous.cherryblossoms.jpg

Last week, as well, the wet earth began to exude a loamy aroma, a black bouquet captured in truffles, red wine, roquefort, and root vegetables.

There is nourishment in dirt, and not just nourishment for the body. Working a garden, aerating the soil, planting, trimming, mulching, bending over for hours, these are activities that soothe the soul. (Your back may remember them differently, however.)

As she does every year at springtime, Mrs. Henry once again announced her resolve to move back to California. When asked just why she feels this compulsion, she responds opaquely, “Wouldn’t you prefer to live in California?” as if such sentiment were self-evident to anyone with half a wit.manzanita_bark_lg.jpg

Televised images of redwood forests stir her vitals. At the merest mention of avocados, manzanita, or heirloom tomatoes she whirls dervish-ly around the kitchen issuing grim promises to cabinets and countertops that pretty soon she’s moving back west to start a garden.

Little Henry greets these seasonal pronouncements with an eye rolled heavenward and a deep sigh identical to the sigh Mrs. Henry has perfected through years of practice.

There is nothing much to eat in the market this month that is fresh, but no matter. Morning and evening, together with his noble hound Pepper, Mr. Henry bathes in the smell of cherry blossoms in the park. The vapors of spring substitute for the fruits of summer.

For dinner he buys a simple chop and opens a simple bottle of wine. He roasts baby Yukon gold potatoes and tosses french beans in parsley. The evening walk is so gentle and kind that he does not seek complications at the table.
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Offbeat spring salads have begun to appear – mâche and baby arugula – welcome treats after winter’s steady diet of romaine. If Mrs. Henry had a garden right now, she might dig out greens that had “wintered over.”

Earthworms are wriggling. Hibernating amphibians are exhuming themselves. Migrating songbirds are arriving and building nests. Mrs. Henry is muttering and baking banana bread. Mr. Henry hides quietly in his study.

Appliance science

Kitchenaid stand mixer

Can there be a more beautiful object anywhere in the home than the aristocratic KitchenAid stand mixer? Countertop-challenged New Yorkers gaze longingly at such a status vehicle the way other Americans gaze at a Jaguar.

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The KitchenAid bar blender is equally sleek, but there is dissent about its practical application. Mrs. Henry maintains that it is too noisy and, worse, that its beaker is too wide at the bottom. As a consequence her modern morning smoothie of banana, berries, juices, and Dr. Schulze’s SuperFood (a sinister green concoction of algae, seaweed, grasses, and yeast) gets stuck inside.

Each and every morning brings a fresh episode of the same drama. Chasing Little Henry round the table she cries, “Drink! It will change your life!” By the time she coaxes the last dollop out of the blender, however, Little Henry, who has never tasted the stuff, has made a clean escape out the door to catch the bus.

Color choices for kitchen appliances are style decisions that tellingly reflect family values. Though never one to foist his opinion upon others, Mr. Henry maintains that appliances which reside on countertops should be (like underwear) either white or black. Blaring colors like pistachio and pink deflect the eye from the machine’s (or the torso’s) principal attraction, namely, its sublimely engineered shape.

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With regard to the KitchenAid bar blender, however, since Mr. Henry never uses the thing, he really doesn’t care.

The Waring or the Osterizer have narrower bases and might be better. He simply admires their shape – pure modern aerodynamic heaven, like the 20th-Century Limited, New York to Chicago, a voyage into the future.

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The gadget he reaches for time and again, however, is the Cuisinart hand blender. For apple sauce, cream soups, mashed root vegetables, and the like, it’s perfect. Immersible in hot liquids, it comes apart for easy cleaning.

Cuisinart hand blender

Microwave ovens perpetually annoy. The door closing with a sharp clack succeeds in awakening both the noble hound sleeping deeply on her bed and the worthy father napping earnestly on his couch. When foods are suitably nuked, infernal micro-beeps pierce every corner of the household. Microwave ovens are NOT on Mr. Henry’s Christmas list. He longs to construct a kitchen without one, but they are too darned useful.

Battleship for braising

Mr. Henry’s notion of holiday cheer comprises eating, drinking, bah and humbug in equal parts. He resists participating in national frenzies like Christmas bargain-hunting, college football rivalries, or presidential primaries. He admits to being a complete devotee, however, of religious music, and in pursuit of it will spend long hours seated on cold cathedral pews.

For the benefit of his faithful readers and in collegial competition with Twistie’s suggestions last week, Mr. Henry here reveals the first installment of items personally used by and personally endorsed by Mrs. Henry herself – high arbiter of practical good sense. You may present these at Christmas fully confident of escaping the whispered ridicule of loved ones.

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Twistie’s endorsement of the Le Creuset 5.5 quart enameled iron Dutch oven is not overstated. The Dutch oven Mrs. Henry recommends, however, is the 6.75 quart oval Le Creuset (in flame), a veritable battleship for braising, the superior combat weapon for pulled pork or pot roast, big enough to ensure plenty of leftovers and commandingly beautiful on the table.

 

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Although the round oven yields marvelous roasts and stews and works fine enough for risotto, for his own risotto Mr. Henry prefers something with a shallower lip and a non-stick surface. His uses the Swiss Diamond 4.3 quart sauté pan with transparent ovenproof lid and steam escape valve. Although lightweight, the Swiss Diamond conducts heat reliably. The risotto will cook to crunchy perfection yet not stick. (The trick for risotto, no matter which pan you choose, is to make sure the broth you add is piping hot.)

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For sauté pans, there is no finer instrument than the All-Clad non-stick. If you are ambitious enough to attempt a béchamel or other eggy French sauce, however, you may want to spend the vacation money on an All-Clad copper core sauce pan. It holds heat so well that as you add cool ingredients to your sauce its temperature doesn’t drop very far. With this pan you become a magician of the wooden spoon.

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