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Fork Play: November 27, 2007

Gourmand Don Juan, Thanksgiving/No Regrets, Christmas Cards Buy a Meal

Dear Friends and Family,

     I thought I had written the last word on fork play.  A third of Delicious Sex, my "gourmet guide to pleasure for women and men francescowho want to love them better," is devoted to fork play, Ford play, fur play, frog play, fjord play. Words that sound sexual when spoken languorously but are not: mango, creamy, indigo. How to Eat a Fig. (Alas, even the paperback edition - Bantam, 1988 - is out of print, available only on line for 99 cents.)

     Even so, I was mesmerized at a dinner last week by the lust- drenched dissertation of our pal, Francesco, the gourmand Don Juan.  So much passion, study and warrior-thinking has gone into his research on seduction at the table. Is Strip House really the sexiest restaurant in New York, as he suggests? "When a woman says she wants meat, she's already telling you something," he said. "She doesn't mind showing you her appetite.  I ask for a two in the back. There's nothing to intimidate her.  She's comfortable.  That's the secret. You order the rib eye for two. The truffled potatoes.  That chocolate cake, of course.  She is charmed. You can be sure she's coming tofrancesco bed with you."

     What do you think?  Did your ex-wife surrender to Francesco after a dinner at Gilt? How did he seduce a certain well-known woman about town? And where would he take Barbra Streisand if lust was foremost in his mind? Do you have a favorite spot for seduction? Email me why it works and I'll post it on BITE.

Thanksgiving Just When I Needed 4500 Calories

     Several readers were curious about what an Insatiable Critic's Thanksgiving would be like. Caviar, of course, I am pleased to report, actually sensational trout eggs from Russ & Daughters on small potato pancakes of impeccable crispness-- while waiting for everyone to arrive.

     Like most Americans, my Thanksgiving was about family, except it was mostly some one else's family and four friends I consider among my New York "family."  We settled around Elisa Herr and Eddie Schoenfeld's long country table in one of those lovely old detached houses in Brooklyn that you might find in Atlanta or Grand Rapids. I felt like I was in the real America, as opposed to Manhattan.

     Eddie starred as a phenomenon in the 70's as the only Caucasian captain in Chinese restaurants till he almost got shot at David Keh's brilliant restaurant, Uncle Tai. He is famed for his cooking. And he loves being watched while he cooks, unlike me, who can't talk and flip at the same time. Danny Kaye was like that too.  When he cooked before his guests he waved his arms as if he were Toscanini conducting the wok.

     Eddie lets Elisa hand him tools and ingredients as if she were a surgical nurse.  She is also allowed to bake.  The brined turkey was properly juicy but it only had two legs and two thighs - a serious disability when feeding gourmands who won't even touch the white meat. But as Eddie I am sure agrees, a turkey is just an excuse to eat stuffing.  And that was great.  So was the cabbage and the fennel au gratin.

     When Elisa's two amazing apple cakes and my friend Vicki's delicate ginger snaps finally hit the table no one could eat another bite, but amazingly, we rallied.  I tried to say no when Elisa offered apple cake to take home but my lips were frozen by the need to have apple cake for breakfast--a kind of gentle tapering off from delicious excess.

Here are two recipes you might want to have.

Parmesan Glazed Fennel
4 heads fennel
� teaspoon salt for seasoning, � teaspoon for glaze
white pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
� cup water (approx) - enough to have � inch in gratin dish
� cup grated parmesan cheese
3-4 tablespoons water

     Trim and discard fronds so fennel bulbs are 3-4" long. Cut in half lengthwise, arrange in one layer, cut side down, in a gratin dish.

     Preheat oven to 350.

     Add water to �" in gratin dish. Sprinkle fennel with salt, pepper and olive oil. Cover dish with aluminum foil, bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until fennel is mostly cooked and the water has reduced by 75%. You may want to uncover the gratin dish during the last few minutes to increase the reduction. Remove the fennel from the oven and let it cool until you're able to handle it.

     Ahead of Time Note: You could cool the fennel completely, then refrigerate and glaze it the next day.

     To glaze the fennel: RAISE oven temperature to 450.
Cut the cooked fennel halves lengthwise into quarters. Lightly salt and pepper, then dredge in grated parmesan to coat thoroughly. Put parmesan-coated pieces back in gratin dish, cheese covered sides up, and sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of water in the bottom of the dish. Put in oven for 10-12 minutes or until cheese melts and starts browning around the edges and the water is almost evaporated.  Serves 4 to 6.

Elisa's Cinnamon-Apple Cake

1 3/4 cups sugar, divided, 1 � cups for batter, � for sprinkle
1/2 cup softened stick butter (or margarine)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounce block NeuFchatel (fat-free) cream cheese, softened (about 3/4 cup)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 1/2 cups peeled, cored, & chopped Fuji apples (about 3 large) or any other sweet apple.

Preheat oven to 350�.

     Beat with electric mixer 1 1/2 cups sugar, butter, vanilla, and cream cheese at medium speed until well blended (about 4 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, beating at low speed until blended.

     Combine 1/4 cup sugar and ground cinnamon. Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of the cinnamon-sugar mix over apples, tossing until they're lightly coated.  Fold apples into batter until thoroughly mixed. Pour batter into an 8-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray or butter and dust the top of the cake with some remaining cinnamon-sugar mix.

     Bake at 350� about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake is fragrant & pulls away from sides of the pan. Cool cake completely on a wire rack, and cut using a serrated knife.

     Note: You can also make this cake in a 9-inch square cake pan or a 9-inch springform pan; just reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes.

     Yield: 12 servings

The Holiday Card that Delivers a Meal.

     The bustle of the holidays--even just the smell of apples and cinnamon this time of year always reminds me that so many New Yorkers are alone at Thanksgiving. Even those who can manage to get out to sit in the sun on a park bench when the weather is mild will soon be prisoners in their rooms once the streets are slick with ice.  My mind flashes on images of the frail homebound elderly, thousands of them -18,000 now - that generous New Yorkers help us feed with their support of Citymeals-on-Wheels.

    I hope you will keep Citymeals on your gift list and consider using our holiday cards this year.  Each card you send delivers one meal to a needy shut-in, possibly someone living just steps from your home or your office-- it's the caring gift that makes New York feel like a loving small town.

The Gourmand Don Juan photo by Steven Richter

Copyright pending: Gael Greene 2007