Welcome to Naomi Kooker's blog.

At age 6 my mother let me into the kitchen, alone. By seventh grade I was feigning sick to stay home from school, "miraculously" feeling good enough to make baked-stuffed pork chops for dinner. My passion for cooking led me to a job as a sous chef in a Manhattan restaurant and, later, to stand quietly in the corner of (and eventually do one thing in) Restaurant Guy Savoy's kitchen in Paris. I overcame the ultimate cooking challenge when I made butter cream icing over a Bunsen burner at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It was for a friend's wedding cake, the centerpiece at the reception the next day. It was midnight. With just hours to go, I managed to whip up the icing, then carefully place the last few candied violets onto the cake before the reception. Oh, how grateful I was for that Bunsen burner and the corner bodega that was open 24 hours.

It all worked out in the end. It always does.

Food, cooking and eating are inextricably linked to life. Life is better when good food is involved, and even better when good company is part of the eating.

Thank you for stopping in and being part of a growing dinner party of readers.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sundays are for French Toast

There’s nothing like the wafting smell of browning butter, the sizzle of placing your egg-soaked bread in the pan and smelling the mix of cinnamon and warmth as you await your French toast. The first time I made French toast as a kid I confused the process with pancakes. I loved both, and at home would alternate between the two for Saturday breakfast. OK, my mom was really the one who made them.

But when I slept over at a friend’s house, the next morning I offered to make French toast. I was so sure how to make it. I mixed up flour and milk, baking powder and a little oil. That was it, wasn’t it? Hmm. Something didn’t look right, but I didn’t let on that I wasn’t sure. I dipped the bread in the lumpy batter and laid it down in the bed of hot Pam. One flip and it didn’t look like the French toast at home.

I called my mom. “Oh, honey [insert: dumbass]. That’s pancake batter. For French toast it’s just eggs and milk and a little cinnamon.”

For the record, my mom has never called me dumbass.

We scrapped the pan-toast (which to this day might be a bigger hit than chicken and waffles, but we never tried it), and got going on the French part: beating the eggs, adding a dollop of milk, a sprinkle of cinnamon and frying it up. I’m sure it was fine.

Fast forward to high school when I waited tables at a rustic resort in Maine during the summer. Our cook was a groovy dude, Carey. And, for the record, I had a bad crush on Carey. He wore fringed suede boots, touted a thick beard and said “man” a lot. At dinner he and the sous chef fired up white Russians once the mis en place was complete—smart. It didn’t hurt he was a graduate of the CIA. I just didn’t know why someone would hire a spy to cook at a resort.

Then Carey blew my mind. To make French toast he whisked some eggs, added cream, and sprinkled in cinnamon. But he didn’t stop there. He shaved in some fresh nutmeg, a pinch of sugar, a few grains of salt, a dash of vanilla, then, true to his line-cooking expertise, added a healthy tablespoon of rum. That was the closest I was going to get to loving Carey. I’ve always made it the same way since, often without the rum.

Carey’s Sunday French Toast

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon cream or half and half, or whole milk

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 shaves of fresh nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon dark rum

1 teaspoon sugar

1 pinch salt


6 slices regular bread, white or whole wheat

Real maple syrup

Whisk all the ingredients, except butter, bread and syrup, together in a shallow bowl.

Over medium-high heat, heat up enough butter to coat the bottom of a large skillet. Once the butter is lightly browned (you can smell it’s nuttiness), soak each piece of bread in the egg mixture and, two at a time, lay them in the skillet to cook. Turn down the heat to medium so you do not burn the bread. Once each side is cooked well, about 2 minutes each, turn them over. You may want to turn them over again to brown each side evenly.

Serve with butter and real maple syrup.

HOSPITALITY NOTE: One way to keep it all warm: warm the plates (provided they are oven proof) in about 150-degree oven. Heat the syrup.

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