Nigel Slater's Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake
Deb Perelman's Intensely Chocolate Sablés

Le Grand Aïoli


I'll bet you've been wondering where I've been, haven't you. Felled by the flu, perhaps, you think. Off visiting her husband in his faraway city, maybe. No, dear reader, I was right here the whole time, only instead of cooking and writing or cleaning up my desk space (urgh) during my spare time this past week, I was deep - deep - into Downton Abbey. Yes, it's true. I abandoned you for an English television show. Forgive me. I can't help it. It is just so good.

I'm almost at the end of Season 3 now (how, you fellow Downton freaks gasp? Right here. You're welcome, unless you want to get anything done again, ever, in which case, I'm sorry.) and am finally coming up for air and it occurred to me that it might be nice to, you know, get back to work again or at least vacuum the apartment so that my child doesn't start teething on dust bunnies, seeing as he's starting to learn how to scoot forwards and sideways all of a sudden. (And has two teeth! Two bottom teeth!)

I have cooked now and then in the past week, most notably last Sunday when I made my mother a birthday lunch consisting of salt cod (chewy!), a plethora of delicately steamed vegetables (pain in the necky!) and a big old bowl of mayonnaise (this one) that broke not once but twice before I found the best trick ever for saving broken mayonnaise. (There was a lemon tart, too, that was a disaster from start to finish, but I'm not going to dwell on that now, am I. Confectioner's sugar hid a multitude of sins and it was gobbled up in no time, thank goodness.)


Salt cod, cooked vegetables and boiled eggs served with a big bowl of garlicky mayonnaise is called le grand aïoli in southern France and during this very cold, very gray January, it was a welcome change from the usual meaty stew I would have thought to serve for a lunch party. All complaining aside, it was actually quite fun to cook, too. The salt cod soaked on the balcony for several days before the lunch and then only had to be briefly boiled and skinned and shredded the day of the party. I prepared the vegetables the morning of the lunch, roasting the beets in the oven to concentrate their sweetness, while doing the rest - Romanesco, small, sweet carrots, tiny potatoes, golden-yolked eggs and fennel wedges - one after another on the stove. And Max was home to entertain Hugo, so all was right with the world.

Well, until that mayonnaise broke. The first time, I tried to save it with an additional egg yolk (put it in a clean bowl, carefully whisking the broken mayonnaise into it until it's nice and thick again). But then it broke again. This time, I had no more egg yolks to rely on. Our guests were arriving and things were getting very hot under my collar. (Did I mention the lemon tart from hell? It was staring at me balefully from the kitchen counter, under its blanket of powdered sugar.)

I ran to the computer for help and found this tip: instead of an additional egg yolk, put a spoonful of mustard in a clean bowl and whisk in the broken mayonnaise. (The genius tip comes from none other than Julia Child, goddess of frazzled daughters trying to cook their mother's birthday lunches everywhere.) Max handed the baby off to a pair of eager hands and came in to help. He whisked while I poured the broken mayonnaise (is there anything more hideous?) into the bowl and, lo and behold, a thick, glossy, delicious mayonnaise emerged (and it didn't taste like mustard, in case you were wondering). I practically cartwheeled with joy.


Gently steaming the vegetables until they're just done ensures that they taste fresh and sweet - so good that they hardly need a thing to dress them except for a big dollop of mayonnaise. That mayonnaise ties all the things on the table together, the chewy cod and the rich, soft eggs, too. It's the base note of a delicious little symphony. I'd even go so far as to say that that it was a ray of sun straight from southern France on that cold Berlin day.