Saturday, October 02, 2004

A Kitchen of One's Own

The sky was gray, the sidewalk damp with drizzle and a chill permeated the house. San Francisco had been blessed with so many 70-degree days in September that even the most dedicated home cooks would have found it difficult to stay indoors. But this was the kind of Saturday that warm kitchens are made for.

I had been stockpiling partial turkey carcasses in the freezer, remnants of turkey breasts I had roasted for our sandwiches. I browned them with garlic, carrots and celery, deglazed the pot with half a bottle of dry (unoaked, please!) Chardonnay, added a bouquet garni, and let everything simmer while I pondered what to make next.

I believe that if you have a pot of tomato sauce in your refrigerator, you won't go hungry. Left plain, it can be the base for a pizza; spiced up with basil, a straightforward sauce for spaghetti. Roasted tomatoes have a smoky sweetness that stove-top simmering can't produce. It's also a great way to use the heat from a pre-heating oven.

I poured olive oil into my favorite weathered frying pan. While diced onion and garlic sizzled away, I sliced five over-the-hill tomatoes in half and nestled them into the hot aromatics. After sprinkling with sea salt and black pepper, I slid the pan into the oven.

I was on a roll. I had some pastry dough left over from Tuesday's chocolate tart and some Gala apples I had intended to eat had it not been for a quart of juicy end-of-the-season strawberries. I rolled out the dough and arranged peeled slices of apple into a circle. After sprinkling sugar over the fruit, I folded the edges over for a free form crostata. The pastry replaced the roasted tomatoes in the oven.

I then turned my attention to cupcakes. John and I were having dinner with his sister tonight and I offered to bring dessert. His nephews Tommy and Ryan could frost and decorate the cupcakes. I decided to make a classic yellow cupcake inspired by one from Noe Valley Bakery. It was moist, had a fine crumb, and was the perfect vehicle for whipped frosting.

Cooking can be a social activity, but I love to cook alone. I don't have one of those sleek, stainless steel kitchens. My kitchen is small, lacking decent counter space, and equipped with an old Magic Chef with fewer BTUs than what one burner on a Viking range can emit. But I always feel comfortable here. When I'm scrubbing all the pots, bowls and whisks from a marathon cooking session, I can clear my mind. And plan the next meal.

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