Monday, December 31, 2007

Things That Get in My Way Update

Yesterday I went to brunch at Mode with the marvelous Mrs. Bennett and we enjoyed our Eggs Benedict and mimosas. Now, while that is plenty of food, I just felt thaqt our meal wouldn't be complete without something sweet. We ordered the flourless chocolate truffle torte. Oh my goodness. It was kind of like eating a huge, rich, sinfully decadent truffle. Although. There were these shavings of white chocolate sprinkled all over the top and I brushed them aside, as they were getting in my way. My companion laughed heartily but she agreed so Mode, keep the white chocolate shavings and give me more whipped cream and strawberries.



Sunday, December 30, 2007

LaNova, You're Losing Your Touch

I have never been a big fan of LaNova pizza, I'm more of a Mr. Pizza kind of girl. But I must admit, LaNova BBQ wings are the last word in my book. Tossed in that sweet, tangy sauce and then thrown on the grill fo a few minutes to produce a light char, they are magnificent. So we wanted to order some wings and pizza and thought it might be kind of ridiculous to order wings from one place and pizza from another. I have to say I was disappointed. LEt's rate the wings using my scorecard.

1. The wings were of normal size, not those nasty mutants.

2. We got an order of medium and one of BBQ. The medium couldn't even be considered mild, they had no flavor and worst of all, they had lots of undercooked, fatty bits. Wack. The BBQ was good but not remarkable.

3. THe blue cheese was terrible but at least I anticipated that and had Marie's easily accessible. Incidentally, Nicole put in a vote for Rootie's blue cheese. I'd like to do a blind taste test but we were too lazy to leave the house to pick some up.

4. The pizza was edible but also unremarkbale. I had to doctor it up with some banana peppers and blue cheese. LANova pizza, as usual, is just too goddamn doughy. And they don't offer the variety of flavored crusts. My favorite is still Mr. Pizza garlic crust with hot peppers and sausage. The non-meat eaters wanted mushrooms and although I love a good fungus, on pizza it just doesn't do it for me.

Anyway, I'm still on my quest for the perfect wing. I'm starting to suspect that it's in my very own kitchen.





Christmas Bounty

I am a lucky, lucky girl. My dear ones know my passion for food, cookbooks, essays on food etc. and I got lots of compelling reading material for gifts this year.

1. "The Best International Recipe." This cookbook was compiled by the editors of Cook's Illustrated. In a previous post, I mentioned Cook's Illustrated, that fantastic magazine that makes you feel as if you have a seasoned chef on hand to personally consult with. I had oh so gently hinted that I wouldn't mind a subscription for Christmas so when Nicole gave me this impressive tome, she prefaced it by saying she hadn't gotten a magazine subscription because she figured someone else had already picked up on that tip. Leave it to my bestie to pick up on the hint. I am still subscriptionless but my birthday is coming up! Anyway, I prefer the cookbook because magazines have a tendency to get lost and pushed aside. There are fourteen chapters, covering Mexico to Scandanavia to Korea. Each recipe meticulously details the various iterations of ingredients and methods used to produce the best results. It's really riveting and almost reads like a book, instead of a list of ingredients.

2. "American Food Writing." Edited by Molly O'Neill. This book is a collection of essays from iconic American authors writing about food. There is a chapter by Herman Melville on clam chowder and one by Ralph Ellison on the virtues of the baked yam. This prmises to be a great read, thanks honey for picking up on my tip!

3. "Elements of Cooking." By Michael Ruhlman. This book ia an A-Z reference guide that probably every good cook should have. For example, I've often wondered what exactly the role of baking soda vs baking powder is. THis book has the answers. What exactly is umami, the fith taste sensation and what ingredients enhance it? Yes, this book answers that question as well.

$. "The Art of Simple Food. By Alice Waters. Who doesn't love Alice Waters, the mother of "California Cuisine," which supports fresh, simple ingredients that are in season and locally produced. Although her famous restaurant Chez Panisse opned in the 70s and she has been a culinary cult hero, the recent and rising awareness of eating locally makes her latest book very timely. All of a sudden, people are referring to themsleves as "locavores" or taking on the 100 mile diet in an effort to get back in touch with their food and where it comes from.






Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Dinner

After stuffing myself with French toast, sausage and an ungodly number of Christmas cookies, I really wanted to curl up in my bed and pass out but my mother strong-armed us into going to church with her so I bravely soldiered on. I forgot that sometimes I seem to be afflicted with narcolepsy, particularly in lectures, important meetings and church. Especially when full. Anyway, we made it through mass, just to go home for a veeeeeeery wee nap and off to Christmas dinner at Greg's house.

My contribution was a snazzy little combination of salty bacon and sweet dates. Well, I had to use turkey bacon to accomodate all present, which is fine, but I think this would have been better with prosciutto. Also, I was slightly disturbed that the first ingredient in the turkey bacon was mechanically separated turkey. Why do they have to say that? They must be legally obligated to put that on the package, otherwise they wouldn't because I'll you that I personally find that abhorrent. Moving along though, this is an easy snack for parties and it's a crowd pleaser. Simply wrap half a slice of bacon around a date, secure with a toothpick and bake at 350 until the bacon is crisped. The dates carameliza and get oozy and the bacon is a perfect contrast. Mmm.

But dinner was beyond compare. Greg made the most succulent turkey I've ever had, one of those pop-on-a-beer-can and throw-it-on-the-grill joints. That always sounded too messy for me but I can attest to its deliciousness. Other stars were candied sweet potatoes with cinnamon sticks, collard greens with smoked turkey, glazed green beans with pearl onions, mashed potaoes, oyster dressing, mushroom dressing and cranberry sauce. And macaroni and cheese. I made that last bit its own sentence to really highlight how great this macaroni and cheese was. Kimberly, the chef, she outdid herself this time. I was so full but I went back for more macaroni and mashed potatoes, a flurry of starch indeed. I was beyond full at that point and I had to pretend to eat dessert. I guess I just gave myself away but I'd like you to think of it as less that I didn't want dessert and more that I really couldn't get enough of Kim's macaroni.

Next Up: Polish Christmas Meat Fest




Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Brunch

I wanted to recreate some of the food we had in Puerto Rico for Christmas brunch. One morning in Vieques, I had a mango-cream cheese stuffed French toast. The idea was great, but the restaurant used sliced white bread. I was lucky enough as a kid to have a parents who made French toast with good, bakery bread, sliced thick. It was only as I grew up and started attending slumber parties that I found out some people, most people, just use sliced white bread. This sullies the entire idea of French toast, as far as I'm concerned. It is based on the idea of using up stale bread from the day before and then dipping it into an egg mixture to soften the bread. To use factory-made, pre-sliced bread that is already soft yields a soggy mess. Anyway, I decided to make a loaf of brioche the day before so that the bread would have a day to become a but more sturdy and also because sweet, buttery brioche lends itself so well to the dish. I got a recipe for brioche from recipezaar.com and it was a lot of work, mostly because I don't have a standing mixer with a dough hook. But the result was a light, airy brioche and it certainly made a terrific base for my French toast.

THE SPONGE

1/3 cup warm whole milk (100- 110 degrees F)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 large egg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

THE DOUGH

1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten, room temp
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (approx)
6 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

Put the milk, yeast, egg and 1 cup of the flour in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer.
Mix the ingredients together with a rubber spatula, mixing just until everything is blended.
Sprinkle over the remaining cup of flour to cover the sponge.
Set the sponge aside to rest uncovered for 30-40 minutes.
After this resting time, the flour coating will crack, your indication that everything is moving along properly.
Add the sugar, salt, eggs, and 1 cup of the flour to the sponge.
Set in the mixer, attach the dough hook, and mix on low speed for a minute or two, just until the ingredients look as if they are about to come together.
Still mixing, sprinkle in 1/2 cup more flour.
When the flour is incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 15 minutes, stopping to scrape down the hook and bowl as needed.
During this mixing period, the dough should come together, wrap itself around the hook and slap the sides of the bowl.
In order to incorporate the butter into the dough, you must work the butter until it is the same consistency as the dough.
You can bash the butter into submission with a rolling pin or give it kinder and gentler handling by using a dough scraper to smear it bit by bit across a smooth work surface.
When it is ready, the butter will be smooth, soft, and still cool- not warm, oily or greasy.
With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time.
This is the point at which you'll think you've made a huge mistake, because the dough that you worked so hard to make smooth will fall apart- don't worry, don't panic- carry on.
When all of the butter has been added, raise the mixer speed to medium-high for a minute, then reduce the speed to medium and beat the dough for about 5 minutes, or until you once again hear the dough slapping against the sides of the bowl.
Clean the sides of the bowl frequently as you work; if it looks as though the dough is not coming together after 2-3 minutes, add up to 1 tablespoon more flour.
When you're finished, the dough should feel somewhat cool.
It will be soft and sill sticky and may cling slightly to the sides and bottom of the bowl.
FIRST RISE: Transfer the dough to a very large buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 2- 2 1/2 hours.
SECOND RISE AND CHILL: Deflate the dough by placing your fingers under it, lifting a section of dough, and then letting it fall back into the bowl.
Work your way around the circumference of the dough, lifting and releasing.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight, or for at least 4-6 hours, during which time it will continue to rise and may double in size again.
AFTER THIS LONG CHILL, THE DOUGH IS READY TO USE IN ANY BRIOCHE RECIPE.
STORING: If you are not going to use or bake the dough after it's second rise, deflate it, wrap it airtight, and store it in the freezer.
The dough can remain frozen for up to a month.
Thaw the dough, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight and use it directly from the refrigerator.
TO BAKE IN LOAVES: Divide the dough into thirds.
Divide each section into 6 equal pieces, and shape each piece into a ball on a lightly floured work-surface.
Place the balls side-by-side in a greased loaf pan so that you have 3 short rows, each with two balls of dough.
Do the same with the other two pieces of brioche dough.
Cover the pans with plastic and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Lightly brush each loaf with egg wash, taking care not to let the glaze dribble into the pan (it will impair the dough's rise in the oven).
Use the ends of a pair of very sharp scissors to snip a cross in each ball of dough.
Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 200°F.
Cool to room temperature on a rack.

Notes: This whole recipe is supposed to yield three loaves. I halved the amounts and I only got one loaf. No matter, that's all I needed. To stuff the French toast, mix together equal parts cream cheese and guava paste, slather the mixture between two slices, dip in egg wash and grill on both sides in plenty of butter. I used light cream cheese because, good God, did you see how much butter was in brioche dough? I didn't even notice a difference and I am not usually a fan of light products. As far as guava paste is concerned, you can buy it in the section of the store that sells Hispanic products. I use the Goya brand. I got turned on to guava paste years ago. It's very thick, you can cut it into slices and serve it on crackers with cream cheese. In fact, that's the only thing I know how to do with it. Since I don't really buy cookies, ice cream or other sweets, this usually satisfies late night sugar cravings quite nicely. It keeps in the refrigerator forever, it's delicious and it always pleasantly surprises people when served. For our brunch, We served the French toast with some sausage and fresh fruit. It was fantastic and only takes a few minutes, once you've got the bread that is. If you don't want to make the brioche, just buy it or some other sturdy bread.



Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Just Ain't Christmas Without Coquito

Coquito is a holiday drink in Puerto Rico, very similar to eggnog, except better, claro mi amor! Well, they are both lovely but I favor coquito because it has coconut milk. I've never made it before but I've sampled others and while I love the flavor, often times it is way too thick for me. I think it's because some people use cream of coconut instead of coconut milk. Way too sweet, much too thick. So my first attempt came out well, actually a bit on the thin side so I think I may whip up some egg whites to blend in and give it a little heft. But the flavor is spot on.

Coquito:

1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1 can coconut milk
2 egg yolks
1 T vanilla
1 pint of rum-I think it's traditional with white but I used an aged rum that I bought in Puerto Rico and I think it would be tops with spiced rum or dark rum.

Mix together all ingredients and top with freshly grated cinnamon. The flavor gets better as it sits and it lasts quite a while in the refrigerator. I mean, it won't spoil quickly but actually, it's so tasty that it probably won't stay long at all. Merry Christmas!






Sunday, December 23, 2007

Rodriguez Family Party

I got an invitation to hang out with one of my favorite families last night. I've mentioned their marvelous spreads on the blog before and of course, I knew that this gathering would certainly live up to my expectations. I was hungry quite a bit before the party but I knew it would be foolish to eat.

Robin was in the kitchen when we arrived, rolling out dough for two different pizzas. The first one was simply spread with a caponata-style sauce she made with tomatoes, celery and eggplant. The second was a white pizza with shrimp, red onions and feta. She warned us to get out of the kitchen or else we'd smell like chicken wings all night and although I am not averse to that, I thought I'd give the master room to work. So we retired to the living room with chips, salsa, guacamole and fantastic Don Julio margaritas.

Annmarie showed up, arms laden with bowls and covered dishes. She brought a pasta salad with so much fresh basil, it felt like summer again. It helped that it was about 85 degrees in the house but it was very tasty. She also brought mofongo and guineos en escabeche. Mmmm. Mofongo is fried plantains that are mashed up with garlic and spices and baked. It can be plain, with pork, seafood etc. We had some mofongo in Puerto Rico with yucca instead of plantains and that was even better because the texture of yucca is lighter. Guineos in escabeche is also referred to as banana salad but the bananas are green bananas or even plantains. They are boiled and tossed in escabeche, that Caribbean sauce of oil, vinegar, olives and onions. Annmarie has a heavy hand with the herbs so, like with the basil-rich pasta salad, the cilantro in the banana salad was generous. I love people who aren't stingy on the seasoning.

So Robin piled our plates high with wings and pizza, we loaded up on sides and tore into the meal. I was in pain for about two hours after we finished the overwhelming task of cleaning our plates. I went to bed six hours later and I was still full. Keep in mind that I usually eat every couple of hours. I even went to another Christmas party with two full tables loaded with food and couldn't bring myself to sample even one morsel. In fact, I'm still not hungry and I ate about 15 hours ago.

Robein said she's having us over for crab cakes this week. I'll have to remember not to eat all day in preparation.




Saturday, December 22, 2007

Things That Offend

As a follow-up to yesterday's highly contentious "Things That Get in My Way" post, I thought I would take the time to discuss things that perhaps are culturally acceptable to some and highly offensive to others.

1. My godmother has a woman from Colombia staying with her family for the year. She puts ketchup on her pasta. This highly offended everyone present.

2. When my mother first married my dad, she was sick and he made her some chicken soup. Awww. Anyway, my mother dumped parmesean all over it and my father was not only incredulous, but insulted.

3. In the same vein, most of my family is of the mind that a good steak should not be ruined by unnecessary steak sauce, that it should somehow speak for itself. I love A1. I do, I really love it, on baked potatoes, peas, by the spoonful. The family turns up their nose at this but I guess I get their point.

4. Chicken fingers or wings are often served (anywhere but Buffalo, that is) with ranch dressing or honey mustard. What the hell is that about? They should both be served with a plastic tub of blue cheese, into which one pours the hot sauce, yielding a hot, tangy, heavenly sauce. Honey mustard, bah humbug!

5. Have you ever gone over to a friend's house to eat and they were making meatballs/hamburgers with plain ground beef? That is really gross.

6. My sister is married to a Scottish man and she has a hard time when visiting Scotland because of the food. For example, at a nice restaurant, she will get a lovely salad that is both fresh and beautifully composed. And served with mayonnaise. Ouch. However, I hear they deep-fry Mars Bars over there and I'm all about that.

7. I lived with a Pakistani family in Memphis when my car broke down and I had to work at a jewelry store for a month to make enough money to get it fixed. Long story. I loved the food, spicy rich sauces, simmered meat and fresh, hand-stretched flatbread. With every meal, our "vegetable" was a salad of sliced cucumbers, onions, hot peppers and lemon juice. It was tasty for sure, but I felt low on my stores of folate, potassium and vitamin K so I bought a bag of baby spinach to augment the meal. I highly offended them.

8. I had a friend who loved mayonnaise on toast. Not my thing but not so offensive. What really put me over the edge was that she would eat a whole loaf of bread, slathered with Hellman's. Granted, she was pregnant but I had to leave whenever I saw her hunker down with the mayonnaise jar.

9. "Syrup" that is really maple-flavored corn syrup makes me sad. I think most people don't even know what real maple syrup tastes like

I think I could go on and on forever. I'll certainly have to keep a running list in my head and would love to hear what offends you.





Friday, December 21, 2007

Things That Get in My Way

I have noticed lately that I dislike lots of food, not really based on flavor or texture but because they get in my way of the real deal. I'm not sure if that makes any sense

1. I love sauce. I love meatballs. I really despise meat sauce as I feel all those little squiggly pieces of meat get in my way. This is how I eat pasta. Toss liberally with sauce to coat each and every strand. Cover the whole thing with another scoop of extra sauce and two meatballs, perhaps also a sausage or a spare rib. Douse with romano cheese, parm if that's all you've got, and then some red pepper flakes. Then I like to eat my meatballs and pasta separately. In Italy actually, meatballs are served as "secondi." Spaghetti AND meatballs is totally Italian-American, with emphasis on American. One time, I spent all day lovingly preparing sauce for an ex-boyfriend. I proudly brought him a plate and he proceed to mash my beautiful meatballs into a mush and mix them in. I was appalled.

2. Brownies with nuts in them. Yuck. I like both brownies and nuts but I don't want them in my way, you see. Weirdly, this does not work the same way with cookies. You could throw some chocolate chips, pecans and coconut flakes in the cookie dough and I'd probably love them.

3. Sprinkles. I hate sprinkles. They're completely useless, they serve no function at all except to dress up an already delicious dessert. Why ruin a luscious, creamy ice cream cone with sprinkles? You have to ruin the experience with all these gritty, nasty, flavorless things messing it all up.

4. Noodle of any sort in broth. I hate chicken noodle soup. Now, before ye doth protest, I love everything except those goddamn noodles. I want the rich broth, chunks of meat and vegetables to reign victorious in each bite without a soggy noodle in my way. Lentils with ditalini? Sorry Mom, I don't like it even on New Year's Day. Please do not talk to me about rice either. Gumbo, hold the rice, thank you. The noodle/rice presence is enough to put me off but I abhor the practice of putting said starches in AND LETTING THEM SOAK UP ALL THE BROTH FOR INDEFINITE PERIODS OF TIME. Let me give you an example. At a mythical cafeteria, there was a lady who made marvelous soup. OK, it's at my job, I hope nobody I work with reads this. So they make soup every day here and I respect that. I do not, however, respect bastardizing otherwise delicious soup with stars, rice, egg noodles or whatever, placing it in a heater where it sits cooking away for hours so that residents can help themselves to hot soup throughout the day. That is a mean thing to do to good soup. The noodles get overcooked and slippery and the broth all but disappears.

That's all that I can thing of right now in the "things that get in my way" category. I'm sure I'll thing of other things later and feel free to tell me about things that get in your way, so that I don't feel like a freak.




Monday, December 17, 2007

Chicken Wing Scorecard

I had a staff gathering on Friday night at Pearl Street Brewery and it occurred to me, as I lapped up the wing sauce, that I should create categories for scoreworthy components of a delicious chicken wing.

In a previous post, I had mentioned making it my winter's work to scour each and every wing joint in the WNY region. I will probably just limit that to Erie County unless there are some strong contenders in the far-flung Southern Tier. But I cannot just rush into this blindly. I must methodically document and reason, throughly research and create a standardized assessment through which I can objectively choose the superior chicken wing.

Incidentally, I liked the wings at Pearl Street. I thought their pizza and onion rings were pretty weak but the wings were mighty fine. So I will rate the Pearl Street wing by the categories I have devised. If I am missing a category, or you have some input on modifying my already-existing ones, let me know.

1. Size: Some people complain about small wings. I personally find the huge, hulking ones pretty creepy. I feel like they came from some genetically-modified, hormone-high chicken. Plus, I like a high skin-meat ratio. Not enough surface area on those big ones. So these wings were right in the middle, just fine by me.

2. Crisp: Underfry a wing and they are a soggy mess and those nasty veins are much too flaccid. Yuck. Overfry a wing and you have something that resembles a pork rind more than a chicken wing. They must be perfectly fried to avoid either one of those outcomes and be able to soak up the sauce and still retain a bit of that crispy exterior. Pearl Street did this marvellously.

3. Wing Sauce: It has to be Frank's Red Hot and butter, people! Cannot skimp on the butter. And oh my, they did not.

4. Blue Cheese: First of all, does it come with blue cheese? If not, they are not wings! Second, is it laden with blue cheese chunks? Is the mayonnaise base redolent with garlic? This isa downfall of most places, I often have to resort to bringing an emergency container of Marie's Extra-Chunky Blue Cheese. OK, I really get the light, which is pretty good too. Anyway, Pearl Street did not receive high marks in this category. The blue cheese was middle of the road, few chunks and had a sort of nasty, bulk mayonnaise taste.

5. Carrot/Celery: I don't think this category carries as much weight as the others but it's part of the experience. Many wing joints skimp here too, throwing a few anemic-looking celery sticks and dried out carrots on the plate. Kudos to Pearl Street; the vegetables were fresh and ample.

6. Double vs. Single: I don't know how else to describe them. You know, there are the wings with one bone and then the double-jointed guys. I used to favor the drumstick-like wings, now I think I prefer the doubles. I'll eat both but some people are fanatics about only eating one type or another. Cast your vote please.

I just read something about Swannie House wings being the world's greatest. That may be my next stop. If you'd like to join my on my adventures in chicken wing scouting, please let me know. Also, I'd like comments on your personal preferences and secret haunts.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Baking Mishaps

I had two duds in a row this weekend and I must fully confess and get them off my chest so that I can get over it and move on. Thursday evening, I planned on making Chrismas cookies but of course, I can't stick with old classics, I had to try something new. I found a recipe for double chocolate sable cookies. The story is that sable is French for sandy ( I can't verify this because I took Spanish, not French, correct me if this is wrong). I am familiar with pecan sandies but I wasn't aware that "sandy" cookies were a whole other class of cookie. I was wrong. I should have known they'd be a flop because the only liquid in the recipe was one measly egg. But I was made temporarily insane with thoughts of the shaved dark chocolate and Ghiradelli cocoa that I'd be using.

So, when the recipe referred to a sandy texture, that was no joke. I had to press this "sand" lightly into waxed paper, firmly pressing and rolling and then chill for an hour. This further annoyed me because I wanted cookies NOW, and I was mad at myself for not reading all the way to end the end of the recipe to find that I would have to delay my gratification. After a very long hour, I removed the chocolate roll from the refrigerator and was moving on to the next step, which included cutting the roll into slices and then chilling the slices another 15 minutes. This was getting really tedious. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait because the roll completely disintegrated when I tried to slice it. Thoroughly vexed, I pressed that stupid sand into a muffin tin and flung it into the oven. Weirdly, they were pretty good but awfully frustrating and time consuming and I will NOT be making them again.

Unperturbed and feeling buoyant after a marvelous roast chicken dinner, I decided to try my hand at making mallorcas, the lovely sweet pastry we enjoyed so much in Puerto Rico. I thought how lovely they'd be with some cafe con leche, with beans I brought home with me. I let the dough rise overnight, punching it down several times while fantasizing about a glistening coil of sweet dough and how good the photo would look on my blog. I lovingly cut pieces of dough, rolled into long strands and coiled into perfect little pastries. I dabbed them with butter and popped them in the oven. After a few minutes, I checked on them. In just a few minutes, my cute little pastries had grown into monstrosities, expanding out of their coils and ruining their lovely shape. Oh well. My rationale is that anything covered with butter and powdered sugar is pretty exquisite so they weren't a total flop. To be fair, I got the flavor right, but they were too dense and dry. I invited Pops in to reminisce about our trip and though he and N. both ate theirs with gusto, I'm pretty sure they were just humoring me. Ah well, I'll have to keep on trying.



Friday, December 14, 2007

Beautiful San Juan

Friday morning, after we luxuriated over cafe con leche and mallorcas tostadas, we set off to see the historical sights of the old city. Old San Juan is the original settlement and is a small island, connected to the rest of the city by bridges and tree-lined boulevards. So it's very easy to walk around in a few hours, with the vista of the ocean all around. The San Cristobal Fort and El Morro are these incredible, massive structures with walls that looked about 25 feet deep.

After visiting both sites and taking tons of pictures we had worked up quite an appetite. We stopped at a place called Mojito's, which was on the tourist strip but was packed with locals, which is a decent indicator that we wouldn't be eating slop. Dad got bistec encebollado, which simply translates as steak with onions, but it's an iconic Puerto Rican dish that I love and his was delicious. As a side note, the version served at our local Peurto Rican dinery, once called Niagara Cafe and now known as Wishbone, is beyond nasty. I can't fathom how people think their food is a good representation of Puerto Rican cuisine. It's grey and oily and ugh...I can't go on. Anyway, I got sierra en escabeche, which is fish in a sort of pickled sauce composed of olive oil, vinegar, olives and capers. The sauce was fantastic, the fish was kind of strong. Both meals were served with white rice and beans to ladle over the top. I have to admit, I think mine are better. I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this ubiqutous dish all over the island. This is kind of odd, considering that rice and beans served as my introduction to the flavors of Puerto Rico and led to my love affair with recao, roast pork, sweet, caramelized plantains and golden pillows of pasteles graced with avocado slices.

We retired to our rooftop oasis for an afternoon siesta in the sun....



Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mallorca, Sweet Mallorca


So, to backtrack a couple of weeks, we got into Puerto Rico on Thursday afternoon, checked into our art boutique hotel in Old San Juan and immediately went out exploring. Old San Juan is marvelous, it reminded me so much of New Orleans with its narrow, cobbled streets, balconies and wrought iron. I didn't plan this, but we were conveniently located one scant block from La Bombonera, a place I had on my must-visit list of locations. La Bombonera is part of local lore. It's a cafe/restaurant that has been open since 1902 and still uses the same, archaic coffee maker, with its silver spigots and various tanks that produce a fine, smooth coffee, con leche of course. Who knew Puerto Rico had such fine coffee? I had seen some show on the Food Network about the place and they were featuring their mallorca, a sort of sweet bread, topped with powdered sugar. Now, one can purchase the mallorcas as is and I'm sure they are lovely. But people in the know ask for them "tostada," or toasted, which means they are split down the middle, lathered with butter and warmed on the grill, rendering a soft, doughy delight, lightly browned and dripping with butter. The combination of this treasure with that fantastic coffee reminded me a lot of cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde, and that got me thinking that beignets would be so much better if, after their swim in the deep-fryer, they received a similar butter-grill treatment.
My dad and I ate these every morning while in Old San Juan. And actually, after that visit to La Bombonera, we found another place (even closer!) that had an equally marvelous product, at a place appropriately named Cafeteria Mallorca.
Interestingly, the mallorca is so named because this type of pastry is indigenous to the island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain, although there it is called the ensaimada. Saim is the Arabic word for pork lard, which I imagine played an integral role in the first recipes. No wonder they're so damn good!



Friday, December 7, 2007

Sorpresa!

I must keep this brief because we are off to a rum distillery in 20 minutes but I just wanted to give a brief update. Boy, have we hit the mother lode here! I have about 37 pages in my notebook, detailing all our adventures and especially all of our meals. Just to give you an idea, we started the morning with cafe con leche and patries that were flaky as can be and filled with guava. Then we went to the Ponce Museum of Art and saw the beautiful Flaming June.On our walk back, I stopped in my tracks. There was an unmistakable fragrance of roasting coffee with caramel undertones. We went into a little coffeeshop and the bartender/barista told us that indeed, they roasted beans on site. He measured and tapped and flattened and brewed us a lovely cup of coffee. While enjoying it, a man at the bar asked if we'd like to see the roastery. I'll be able to post some pictures up when I get home but it was such a beautiful place. Three tiny little rooms, filled with old artifacts and beans in various states of cleaning, shelling and roasting. Spoiler alert: If I love you, you may be receiving this coffee as a Christmas gift. Oops, I used up all my time, it off to the distillery! More later!




Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Turkey Tales: The Final Saga

OK, I just want to give the last update on Thanksgiving before I take off for my Caribbean adventure tomorrow! We had nine people for dinner, most travelling from afar. Sheila E. brought an amazing cheddar-potato soup and ome vegetarian stuffing. My stuffing, by the way, was a hit. Very simple but sometimes nothing is better than sesame-seeded bread soaked with butter, chicken stock, celery and onions. Another unusual addition to the traditional menu was the appetizer Jamie made; banana peppers stuffed with walnuts, breadcrumbs, mascrpone and blue cheese. The peppers were spicy and the walnuts added some crunch. My dad made mashed potatoes with chives that were simply, classicly wonderful. I thought I was being consrvative with my portion size but a third of the way through my plate, I was stuffed. I, however, am not a quitter. So I ate the rest.

We rested for about 30 minutes, washed some dishes and brewed the coffee. For dessert offerings we had the aforementioned sweet potato-kahlua cheesecake, chocolate-pecan pie, pumpkin pie, as well as an apple pie (thanks pops), a lemon meringue pie (thanks mamma) and even a vegan cranberry-apple crisp (thank you N.)

Excuse this rather uninspired post, I'm kind of distracted by thoughts of the pernil, mojitos, for real cuchifrito, arroz con gandules, pastellios de camarones and all the other wonderful goodies I will be sampling for the next ten days. I don't imagine I will have internet access, nor do I want it but rest assured I will have planty to tell you about when I return!





Cheese of the Week

Before Thanksgiving dinner, I sent the kids on their merry way to get some last minute items. You know how it is on Thanksgiving Day; you're starving but you don't really want to eat and take away precious stomach room. Anyway, Dominick came back to the house with what is one of my favorite cheeses for a pre-dinner snack, Humboldt Fog. It's goat milk cheese with a line of vegetable ash running through it.


My understanding of vegetable ash is that it was used back in the day as a sort of short-term preservative. So the cheesemaker would put a layer of wood ash over the top of the cheese to prevent it from drying out. Then the next day, more milk would be poured on top.

Another interesting thing about Humboldt Fog is that the cheese ripens from the outside, so let it sit out and come to room temperature. Then you can see the outside becoming runny and utterly delicious, while the inside retains the fresh goat cheese flavor. I also really enjoy the rind; it's got a springy texture that is fantastic.

Speaking of cheese, I went to my mother's house over the weekend and she served Wensleydale with dried cranberries. You may have heard of Wensleydale from the movie Wallace and Gromit, in which they refer to it as their favorite cheese. Now I know why they ate it all the time because it is delicious. It was almost white in color and crumbly, sort of like feta's texture. Except that it had none of feta's tang and was more mild, almost sweet and the dried cranberries really heightened the sweet-tart contrast. Interestingly, this cheese was originally made by Fench monks from Roquefort who came to the Wensleydale region of England. Their process changed over time because they used cow's milk instead of ewe's milk. It's also very seasonal and pretty.





Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Original Pancake House

Let me take a break from my Thanksgiving story to talk about Sunday morning breakfast. We had spent all weekend waxing poetic about the glories of the Original Pancake House in Williamsville. No, not IHOP, this is not a chain. So we set off bright and early on Sunday morning with high hopes.

I should remind you that I hate travelling to the suburbs so you should take this as an indication of how we all looked forward to our visit. We thought we had beat the Sunday morning crowd but it was already hopping. Fortunately, it didn't take long to seat us. As we navigated through the main dining room, some of our party asked if we were indeed sure this was not a chain. I wavered, it sure did look like a Ponderosa dining room.

We were shown to a table in a small room that was freezing and overrun by small children whose parents seemed unaware of their presence. The table was already set with water glasses the size of a thimble. Have you ever been to a restaurant that serves a small juice in one of these tiny receptacles? I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when the waitress informed us that this was a medium. I don't need all my food and drink supersized but come on.

I ordered an omelette with mushrooms and sherry, mostly because it came with potato pancakes. One of my pet peeves is charging scandalous prices for obscene amounts of food. This omelette was probably made with at least 8 eggs and although the menu said $8.75, the bill said $10.15. For an omelette? And it wasn't even all that. The mushrooms and sherry were dropped on top on the omelette, floating in a grey and grainy-looking cream sauce. Eww. THe worst part though, had to be the potato pancakes. I am used to chunks of grated potato, unlike this, which seemded to be mashed potatoes poured into a pancake mix. Not only was the consistency less than desirable, they were bitter. I tried applesauce, no good. I opted for sour cream, no better. I finally said to myself nothing can make these more unpalatable and doused them with butter and syrup. Still pretty nasty.

It was an odd experience. The food was not pleasing, the decor (country-motif wallpaper with a border of harvest apples?) was pathetic and the service could have been a lot better. I was in the restaurant business for years so I'm pretty forgiving but I found my reserves of forgiveness all used up trying to digest that $10 omelette.

Not recommended unless you like overpriced, useless and not even attractive food.



Monday, November 26, 2007

Turkey Tales: Part Two

Thursday: I woke up just before 6am, not because I felt like it but I heard my Chicago family creep in the door after a long, grueling drive. After giggling and whatnot with them for an hour, I went outside to examine my bird. I figured since it was a 20 pound bird, I needed to get it in by 8 for dinner at 3. I mean, 20 minutes per/lb. times 20 pounds is 400 minutes, plus 30 minutes to rest is what, like 7 hours? Keep that formula in mind as you read.

Anyway, we started setting up the tables. At first we had two, separate tables but then we opted to push them together to make one big table and we liked that much better. At 11, after several bastings, the turkey looked......kinda done. What? I scrambled through the junk drawer trying to unearth a meat thermometer. 180 degrees? Oh my, I thought I ruined Thanksgiving! I don't really know how a 20 lb bird was done in 3 hours (at 350 degrees, thank you), perhaps my oven is off but better early than too late. Going with my whole Zen-like attitude, I decided not to get flustered and just put it back in the oven for 30 minutes before the meal. I don't know if it was the brine or what, but the turkey was tasty and moist and it even freed up all the room in the oven for my other dishes! Perfect! I'll just pretend I did that on purpose.

Usually with a big dinner like this, I will horribly mangle at least one thing. Besides the turkey confusion, everything went smoothly. Dinner even started right on time. The cranberries were tart.....

...the gravy was rosemary-infused...

...the yams were all candied...

...little, wee onions stuffed and roasted...

...and Jamie arrived just in time to bake up these goodies.


Whew, I'm getting tired again, I'll have to give the dessert rundown later!





Sunday, November 25, 2007

Turkey Tales: Part One

So Thanksgiving has come and gone, the house is empty and all is quiet. To properly recount the holiday weekend, I will have to go day by day.

Wednesday: I got home from work feeling rather frantic and did some manic cleaning for a couple of hours. First order of food business was brining the turkey. I put it in a cooler, it was 20 pounds after all, with coarse salt, brown sugar, ice water, lemon and bay leaves. Then I got started on my sweet potato kahlua cheesecake. I kept seeing recipes for pumpkin-bourbon cheesecake but since I was making pumpkin pie, I thought I'd swap that for sweet potato. I'm not a huge bourbon fan, nor do I have any in the house. So this cheesecake was born. It was delicious and definitely my favorite dessert of the weekend. I got the inspiration from the smittenkitchen website and she got it from Gourmet magazine.

Crust:
Half a box of vanilla wafers
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Filling:
1 can of sweet potatoes, drained
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 T. Kahlua
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 T cornstarch
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. salt
3 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

Topping:
2 c. sour cream
2 T. granulated sugar
1 T. Kahlua
1 T. vanilla

Dominick arrived and I quickly enlisted his assistance as my sous chef. He started making tembleque, which is a coconut pudding; light, not too sweet and an old favorite of ours. While I hollowed out onions, which served as containers for the stuffing, Dominick put together the filling for the pumpkin pie, nothing out of the ordinary except that we added cardamom.


Let me talk a bit about these onions. I was expecting 10 people or so for dinner and scooping all those layers of onions while trying to preserve the outside and simultaneously weeping, was no piece of cake. But I stuffed the onions and they were so dainty and cute that I forgot all about it.



Another guest arrived, the wine was opened yet still I had pie crusts to roll out. Of course, halfway through the process, I realized I was short on flour. I'm not going to elaborate but needless to say, the crust really didn't go the way I was hoping. I cobbled together bits of dough and pressed them into the pie plates, making Dominick and Jessica promise not to tell anyone about the debacle.

At this point, my cheescake was out of the oven, the turkey was brining, the stuffing was ready to go in the oven and two pies were underway. I had some more wine and went to bed. I'll have to tell you all about Thursday in the next post, this is exhausting!



Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Caeser Salad: A Photo Essay

Ahhhh, Tasty Tuesday. Another one come and gone. Usually I eat beforehand and forego the takeout because quite frankly, I cannot wait until 7 or 8 to eat, particularly when I am drinking wine. I had the last of Greg's bouilliabaisse (post to come) and headed over with a bottle of French red and the rest of the olive tapenade. The tapenade, by the way, was better than it was the first day because the flavors were able to meld and mellow.


Then Jenn showed up with bags full of groceries and (oh, how I love this) a Tupperware container with her wine. What did the bags contain? Ingredients for a caesar salad, including the wooden salad bowl set! We all found this marvellously entertaining but Jenn insisited there was a method to this madness. I usually whip up caesar dressing in the blender so I was curious to see how she created her masterpiece.

1. Wash romaine leaves very carefully and leave to dry while preparing the rest of the salad.


2. Crush the garlic very finely through a garlic press. Yes, Jenn brought her own press. Then rub the garlic all over the inside of a large, wooden salad bowl. This truly was genius, the aroma was palpable in the air three feet away.








3. Add olive oil, lemon, salt and generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper.



4. Jenn has a thing about raw eggs, I don't blame her. So she "cooked" the eggs in the microwave. This means that some of the egg became scrambled and was discarded but the rest of the liquid no longer had that gelatinous, nasty clear bit. Add to the bowl and stir, don't forget ground mustard. This is key!




5. Finally, dry the lettuce well, rip into small pieces and add to the bowl in one layer. Top with croutons and cheese. Repeat. Toss.



It was wonderfully garlicky and peppery, the croutons soaked up all the flavors and I'm slightly embarrassed to say we all ate our salads, standing up in the kitchen and didn't even make it back to the other room and eat sitting down like civilized adults. And then we ordered that damn Mister Potato Pizza again. Apparently it's our latest vice.



We also ordered a NY-style cheese with garlic-sesame crust. Normally, I find cheese pizza the height of boring but this was shockingly delicious. It was the thin crust, I'm sure of it. Perhaps it is disgusting that I ate three pieces of pieces, in addition to my salad, generous amount of tapenade, not to mention the bouilliabaise. I also ate a brownie. Whatever, this week is a wash!












Monday, November 19, 2007

Lexington Co-Op Thanksgiving Extravaganza

I read somewhere the other day that the Co-op would have a holiday meal with all the trimmings, open to all on Saturday from 11am-2pm. I don't know if they feature food every Saturday but I've been there before to sample their tasty tidbits. There was so much delicious food today that I think I must review all items in list format.

1. Organic Mashed Yams: If I ever have kids, this is all that I will feed them.

2. Sparkling Pear, Apple and Cranberry Juices: Pear was lively, cranberry was insipid and I skipped the apple because I didn't want to appear greedy.

3. Cheese, glorious cheese: Three kinds of cheese to sample! There was a fine Lively Goat cheese, which I think is local. Also a triple cream cheese with champignon that was velvety and luscious. And would you believe that I mentioned Old Chatham Camembert last week and they must have read my blog because it was waiting there for me to try. I liked it, it had a texture like goat cheese except slightly less creamy and more dense. I especially liked the crackers, or, excuse me, flatbread, it was served with. Suzie's something or other with rosemary, delicious.

4. Organic, free-range, massaged and pampered turkey: It was good but I have to admit, I really don't taste a difference with the conventional turkey. Maybe my palette is dull.

5. Cranberry Sauce: I normally hate it when people mess with my cranberries. No Grand Marnier, no vanilla beans, no, no, no! This had apples or something in it and I did not hate it.

6. Two really good dips: Some buttery bleu cheese spread and asiago-artichoke dip. I paused to think about how much mayonnaise, sour cream and cheese lurked in the two but....I went to the gym right afterwards and purged it from my mind.

7. Pumpkin and Apple pies: Pumpkin was oh so boring, I couldn't discern the slightest hint of Ceylon cinnamom nor a whiff of Siamese cardamom. The apple was nice though, good crust too.

8. Green and Black Chocolate with Black Cherries: I don't love this brand of chocolate, mostly because it doesn't give easily. What do I mean by that? Hmmm, well, I like chocolate that immediately starts to warm and melt upon consuming. If all chocolate did that, I'd eat a lot more baking chocolate but, good thing for me, it's too hard, chalky, waxy or something. Anyway, I'm not sure if I'm making that point any clearer but the real story is that this chocolate was good. The dark chocolate was smooth and the tart, dried cherries made me feel like a Polish peasant, savoring their one piece of chocolate for the year.

Thank you Co-Op, I appreciate you. Next year though, please do not forget the mashed potatoes and stuffing. That's sacrilegious.







Thanksgiving List


My family started a tradition many moons ago of creating a list of things we are thanksful for. We would recite at the table while my mother frantically wrote them down in a notebook. This of course, was in the prehistoric ages, before we had email and blogs. We felt compelled to share our tradition with friends and loved ones around the world and would circulate the lists via email, resulting in a very full inbox. Praise be to the mighty, technologically advanced clan in Seattle for the creating the blog we now use to share our lists. Stop by and visit the site, read the lists and add one of your own.

Here is my 2007 list.


Being an auntie

Online photosharing, especially by the most prolific couple in the world who are constantly supplying my need for more little Lucy pictures

Porches

Surprise Sabres tickets

Tasty Tuesday with the girls, good food and wine and all the new additions to our crew this year

Weddings-specifically for getting together with old friends and meeting new, special ones, or one

Books on CD that make long drives more bearable

Triple cream cheese

Vegetable ash

Good running shoes

Supportive workplaces

Having an assistant

Watching my best friend transform from intern to doctor

Sunday dinners

Brunch

Food blogging

Frequent flier miles

Storm windows

When I make the coffee juuuuuuuuust right

Jazzfest (and my job paying for me to get to New Orleans!)

Trappist monks

Goodreads

Shinto shrines and blessings from around the world

Self-worth

I hate posting this because then later I always think of more things.

Favorite Book: Middlesex, old, I know, but I just read it

Favorite Movie: Don’t really know but I just watched Bread and Tulips and liked it

Favorite Meal: Ibiza in New Haven

Favorite Song/CD: Well, I was briefly obsessed with Tegan and Sara, followed by another brief obsession with M.I.A

Favorite Website/Blog: well riceandbeanandcollardgreens.blogspot.com, of course!









Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saturday Slumber Party

I've been having dificulty getting together with two close friends and we finally secured Saturday night to have a sleepover at my house. Of course, the last few days I have been in manic mode; cleaning, laundering, organizing, rearranging and planning furiously for the Thanksgiving festivities. I really had no business saying that I might make dinner, depending on how I felt. Well, I felt exhausted but I guess I'm not wired to host people in my home and not have food available. "I'll just make some hummus quickly, put out some vegetables and cheese," I thought to myself. I rummaged through the cupboards for tahini (check) but weirdly, among the 752 options of canned and dried beans I have on hand, I seemed to have used up all the garbanzo beans. I did spy a can of black olives, a vestige from Nicole's stay here this summer. Also some sauerkraut and Ramen. Not sure if I'll ever get to that. But I sure did use that arborio rice she left, thanks girl! I've never made tapenade but I had capers, anchovies and assorted herbs and spices. I arranged it on a plate with some rosemary crackers, cheese and carrots thus was able to satisfy my appetizer quotient for the day.

Speaking of cheese, my featured cheese was Chaumes, which is a soft cheese from France that has egg in it! In its package, it looked as creamy as brie but when I sliced it up, it had a more firm texture. Actually, the appearance and taste reminded me a lot of Muenster cheese, complete with the washed orange rind. It had more character than Muenster of course, mon dieu, it's French! I also some had pretty standard Vermont extra-sharp cheddar, one of my perennial favorites. I liked both but the Chaumes took on an unappealing, oily look after sitting on the plate for 20 minutes or so. Perhaps this was because of the egg but still, I'd probably wouldn't put it on a cheese plate again for that reason. Grilled cheese though? Oh yes.

Black Olive Tapenade

I can black olives, drained
2 anchovies
2 cloves garlic
1 t. red pepper flakes
1 t. dijon mustard
2 T. capers
juice of half a lemon
2 t. red wine vinegar
pinch of black pepper
pinch of thyme
pinch of rosemary
a couple of good glugs of olive oil, a few tablespoons?

Pulse in a blender. Wegman's sells an olive tapenade that is very smooth, I prefer it a bit more chunky but it is up to your taste. On the flip side, I can't stand chunky hummus, I like it really smooth with extra olive oil pooled on top, a la Mona's Cafe in New Orleans. Go figure. I'm sure this would be better with olives not from a can but that's what I had and the girls gobbled it up.







Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cornbread Strata with Broccoli Rabe

Wednesday rolled around, my favorite day, because its when the NY Times Dining Section is posted. I like Tuesdays for the Science Section and Saturdays for travel but Wednesday is the best day. Of course, it was very holiday-themed, including a discussiona of the best potatoes for mashing (Waxy or starchy? Who even knew this was a dilemma?) and what wine goes well with turkey and so on. It seems that someone is concerned about the vegetarians out there who apparently cannot cobble together some semblance of a meal from all the sides. OK, I'm being a little snarky. It's true that I plan to use chicken stock in my stuffing and how I would love to roast brussel sprouts with pancetta. Snarkiness aside, I considered this recipe as a hearty main course for vegetarians (but not vegans, oh no!) and/or different side dish for everyone else. I abandoned the idea, pronouncing it "too rich" for Thanksgiving. As if there is such a thing.

Anyway, a friend of the family just lost her mother a month ago and her brother this week! I found myself pretty deflated by this news and of course, the only way I know how to alleviate that helpless feeling when a loved one is going through rough times, is to cook. So I decided to make the Cornbread Strata for Cynde and her husband. I hope it helps a little.

By the way, the amounts listed in the Times recipe were absurd. I quartered it and, knowing how I have a penchant for overdoing things, I still thought it was ample.

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for pan
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound broccoli rabe, outer leaves and thick stems removed; florets and tender stems coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1/4 cup chopped pitted calamata olives
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups half-and-half or whole milk
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds homemade or purchased corn bread, cut into 2-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
6 ounces grated Gruyère cheese (1 1/2 cups)

1. Oil a 9-by 13-inch baking dish. In a large skillet, heat remaining oil over medium heat; add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broccoli rabe and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup water. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook until broccoli rabe is very tender, about 3 minutes longer. (If mixture looks watery when rabe is done, let simmer uncovered for a minute to dry it out.) Transfer to a bowl and stir in roasted pepper and olives.

2. Make a custard by whisking together eggs, half-and-half or milk, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper.

3. Spread corn-bread cubes in prepared dish. Scatter vegetable mixture over corn bread. Dot with dollops of ricotta. Pour custard evenly over corn bread. Sprinkle with Gruyère. Cover baking dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

4. When ready to bake strata, remove it from refrigerator and let rest at room temperature while oven preheats to 350 degrees. Bake until firm and golden on top, about 45 to 55 minutes. Cool at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve hot or warm.

Yield: 10 main-course servings or 16 side-dish servings.

Notes: Who in their right mind uses one clove of garlic for ten main-course servings.? I quartered the recipe and quadrupled the garlic. Silly Anglos. I used broccoli instead of rabe, close enough. I cut the red peppers and olives and subbed tomatoes. I'm pretty sure I used way more ricotta than the recipe called for and I dusted the top with romano instead of gruyere. I didn't taste this, it was a gift, but that golden, molten armor of cheese looked mighty enticing. I should have made two.




Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Spicy Swordfish with Spinach


I love a good piece of fish, simply sauteed in olive oil and butter, which is usually how I prepare swordfish. I don't think the firm, juicy fish needs much adornment. But I did something a little different last night and it was fantastic. It's a great way to prepare spinach as well, even if you prefer something more plain for the fish.

Spicy Swordfish and Spinach

1 6oz. piece of swordfish
1/4 medium onion, minced fine
1 clove garlic, minced fine
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 T. olive oil
1/8 t. smoked Spanish paprika
1/8 t. cumin
1/8 t. cajun seasoning
salt and pepper
spinach

Marinate the fish for 30 minutes in the spices, oil and lemon juice. Remove from the marinade and brush off any errant pieces of onion and garlic. Heat a small amount of olive oil and/or butter in a nonstick skillet and cook the fish in high for 3 minutes. Turn over and turn off the pan. Walk away for ten minutes and come back, remove the fish. Add the marinade to the pan and cook for 5-7 minutes, then add the spinach, tossing to mix evenly. Place the spinach on the plate, perch the fish on top and garnish with lemon slices and extra pan juices.

Notes: I made this for myself but I don't see why this can't be modified for a larger meal. I use Penzey's spices, available online. I like to order from them becasue their spices are much higher quality and much fresher than those factory-floor sweepings available in the grocery store. The cajun seasoning I used contains sweet paprika, salt, celery, sugar, garlic, black pepper, onion, oregano, cayenne, caraway, dill, turmeric, cumin, basil, bay leaf, mace, cardamom, marjoram, rosemary and thyme. The sear-on-one-side-and-walk-away method works well for me when cooking fish because I have a tendency to overcook it. You can, of course, cook it however you like, as long as you get a beautiful, spicy crust on the outside. Although I favor my cast iron skillet, I like nonstick for fish because it is easier to turn over without ripping the delicate flesh.





Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Roasted Beet Salad with Storyville Dressing


Oh fall, how I love thee in all thy root vegetable glory! I bought some beets because I have been salivating over the idea of beets and blue cheese, a fantastic combination. I selected some blue cheese made in the Hudson River Vally by the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company and Creamery called "Ewe's Blue." A quick note about the cheese before I continue. I adore creamy gorgonzola, less so the more firm and tangy Stilton. This cheese was creamy but it had a sort of grittiness to it that detracted from the smooth texture. The flavor was very strong, straight penecillin. At $23.99/lb, I will likely not purchase this again. However, Old Chatham has won numerous awards for its Camembert so I will be looking for that next time I'm in the mood for overpriced cheese.

The salad dressing in this recipe is from a restaurant/jazz club that I worked at in New Orleans called Storyville. Unfortunately, the creative minds that came together for this venture could not work out their differences and Storyville is no longer. But I fell in love with the cafe salad and wisely got the recipe from Chef Rob during my tenure there. The original salad was mixed greens, pecans toasted with butter and cayenne, goat cheese and this superb dressing. I have been making this dressing for the past 7 years and I still admire its balance of sweetness and acidity.

Roasted Beet Salad with Storyville Dressing

3 medium beets, trimmed and washed
10 oz bag of baby spinach
3 oz. blue cheese

1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 T. dijon mustard
1 1/2 T. Steen's Cane Syrup
salt and pepper

Roast the beets at 350 degrees for about an hour. Allow them to cool. Remove the skins and slice.

Combine the olive oil and garlic in a small saucepan over low heat. Do not walk away while you are doing this, even on low heat, the garlic will burn quickly. Then you will waste not only the garlic but also the olive oil. Once the garlic is lightly browned and has imparted its flavor to the olive oil, remove and allow the oil to cool. Then whisk in the cane syrup and mustard. Finally add the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Toss the spinach with the dressing, top with sliced beets and blue cheese.

Notes: Steen's Cane Syrup, made from sugar cane in Abbeville, Louisiana is traditionally used in pecan pies, glazed hams etc. I always make sure to stock up on my annual New Orleans visit. I would probably use half honey, half molasses if it was not available. Also, it pains me to see people throw away their beet greens. I rinse them well to remove grit, chop into about 1-inch pieces and saute with garlic and olive oil.











New Haven vs Buffalo: A Fish Fry Showdown

When in New England, one must eat New England clam chowder, right? N. got a tip that good place to go would be one Captain's Galley in West Haven. It was located on a meandering road that overlooked the water, good sign. As we walked in, we saw a staff member pouring out some murky-looking liquid into the trash, bad sign. We walked past an old bar filled with crusty regulars hugging the waitresses and I bet if I walked up and ordered a Tom and Jerry, the bartender wouldn't have batted an eyelash.

We both ordered the fish and chips. First, I had to see how a New England fish fry compares to a Buffalo one. Second, it came with a choice of soup! One point for New England! I chose the Rhode Island clam chowder. Rhode Island is in New England, correct? The basic difference is that the soup is not dairy-based so it was a clear broth with chunks of potatoes, celery, carrots and CLAMS-complete with shell and grit so I knew they were not from a can.

The fish fry was goddamn ridiculous. I think the Buffalo-style, fish fillet falling off the plate is silly but this trumped it. Four enormous pieces of fish towered over a mound of french fries. It must have been two pounds of fish. It came with an extra-large vat of tartar sauce, one more point for New England. There was no coleslaw or macaroni salad or German potato salad, score one for Buffalo. The fish was good-flaky and tender-and it had a bit of a cornmeal dusting in its fried outer sheath. I like that but I prefer Buffalo beer-battered. I think that makes the two even. For the first time ever, I ate more than N., although to be fair, he was sick. We carried two, very full to-go containers home that contained enough fish to feed at least three more hungry adults. I had plans for a fish sandwich the next day.

If you ever wonder if leftover fish fry is worth bringing home, please wonder no more. I'll eat it, but that's because I hate waste. I'll eat it cold and pick off the fried bits. Is that disgusting? Oh well. N. mentioned how he loved a good fish sandwich so the next day we put the fish in the oven to reheat and retain the crisp crust. I sliced some really great ciabatta with olive oil and kosher salt, lightly toasted it and slathered each piece with tartar sauce, very thinly sliced red onions and lettuce. We added some scotch bonnet hot sauce and that was one messily perfect sandwich. I liked it better than the actual fish fry. It brought to mind the Junkyard Dog sandwich, made famous by the Taste of Buffalo Festival. It's a fish fry all wrapped up in some flatbread, fish, fries, coleslaw and all. Mmmm. My eyes just went all misty.

Final verdict: I like the two styles of fish fry; they both have their merits. As long as I have some leftover to make sandwiches the next day, I don't really care!





I'm Back!

I ate the last of the pizza in the car on the way to New Haven. Thank God that's over. I got to New Haven at just about dinner time. N. wanted to go to "this Japanese restaurant that's pretty good." We went to Miya on Howe Street and it was quite the adventure. I am usually turned off by inattentive staff, long waits and the inattentive staff's inability to make these long waits slightly less uncomfortbale. This was no exception. We probably would have left except that we were perusing the menu while waiting and there was no way I could have left at that point. There was a roll called "Tiger, tiger burning brightly in the forest?" The menu read like poem and the chef clearly enjoyed playing with different ingredients as much as he did words. There were rolls with sweet potato, brie, cranberries, chocolate and so on. It was actually a bit overwhelming.

We were finally seated and some time later, our inattentive waitperson arrived and we ordered miso soup and vegetable gyoza to start. The miso soup-to reflect the season-was a pumpkin miso soup. Mmm. I liked the soup and although I didn't really taste pumpkin, it was a richer color than it usually is. It also had little pieces of asparagus in it, which was good but odd considering that asparagus is not at all a reflection of autumn. The gyoza were delicate green bundles, well-seasoned and ginger-laden. For rolls, we had the Water Piglet, with seared tuna, goat cheese and cranberry. Delicious but I could do without the name. We also had Ebibabe, which was a roll of potato skins, stuffed with havarti and doused with a creamy dill sauce. My favorites-hmm-it's a tossup between the Peekytoe crab roll with avocado and curry mayonnaise or the Very Crunchy Hamachi Roll. I'm a sucker for spice and crunch. Oh, and avocado. We did not order the Thousand Tender Kisses, which was scallop sashimi with a garlic sauce that sounded marvelous. Actually, I was relying on looking at the menu online so that I could recall some of the more inventive combinations and quirky names but alas, Miya is not online. I think they should remedy that. I also think that each piece was too darn big and I can't enjoy the food when I have to try and stuff the whole piece in. Do I just have a small mouth or is this a problem at many sushi places? Don't be a showoff and roll obscenely large rolls! Maybe the chef has little man syndrome. Anyway, it was a gastronomic experience for sure. As with my sushi outing a few weeks ago, this is not really the place for traditional sushi but more for the daring, the unique and the experimental. Fortunately for me, I like both styles.




Friday, November 9, 2007

Forgive Me

Things have been a little sparse lately because I have been living off of leftover pizza, for the most part. I am off to New Haven this weekend and will hopefully have much delicious fodder upon my return.





Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Seven Days without Pizza Makes One Weak

I hardly ever eat pizza unless I make it at home. Not because I don't love it but I'm a girl on her own and a pizza would take me some time to plow through. I have to wait until friends come home for the holidays and need their wing-pizza-chicken finger sub fix or, in this case, a series of work-related events.

Last Thursday, we decided to have a staff lunch, just the five of us, very cozy. We haven't done this since adding two people to our staff, so I was excited becuase this time we got to order TWO pizzas and deviate from the usual Low-Cal Veggie. Devan had his heart set on Laura's Old Fashioned, which is extra-thick crust, ample sauce and topped liberally with cheese and thick-cut pepperoni. Bill favors the Low-Cal Chicken Veggie, with spinach and artichokes. It took Just Pizza forever to get here and when they did, I was irritated because Laura's Old Fashioned looked like regular old pepperoni with a fancy name and a higher price. Oh how I was wrong! I especially loved the thick slices of pepperoni that cradled lovely puddles of grease. You can wrinkle your nose in disgust but it was damn good. Low-Cal Chicken Veggie was tasty but unremarkable. Actually, I liked the veggies but could have done without chicken. If meat is going to be present on a pizza, please let it be in pepperoni or sausage form.

Yesterday, I had a long meeting here so I ordered lunch for the group. It amazes me how everyone wants regular old pepperoni when there are exciting choices, like Stuffed Banana Pepper pizza, which is topped with banana peppers, ricotta and sausage. Anyway, I got one of those and one of the old standby, cheese and pepperoni. Now the pizza was once again from Just Pizza and the difference between last week's Laura's Old Fashioned and this week's cheese and pepperoni was vast. The sauce was too sweet and the cheese kind of flavorless. It wasn't bad but it was unimpressive. The Banana Pepper on the other hand, mmmmm. The ricotta was very creamy, the sausage ample and the peppers adding the perfect amount of kick.

This is when the tale becomes a little embarassing. We ordered pizza at Tasty Tuesday last night. True, I had already eaten dinner (pizza leftovers) and didn't really partake. Actually, I wouldn't have eaten any had they not ordered the mysterious Mister Potato Pie from Mister Pizza. But I had to try this. Starch on top of starch? It reminded me of those glorious french fry po-boys with lots of gravy in New Orleans. The pizza included wedges of potatoes that were a cross between baked and fried and they were amazing. Of course, there was also bacon, chives, three cheeses and a side of sour cream. I just had a bite to satisfy my curiousity and now I can't wait to have it again. Suki and I were already emailing this morning to plan a slumber party as an excuse to order it.

Although I've had no chicken wings on my week-long pizza adventure, I was inspired this morning by an article by Calvin Trillin, that appeared in the New Yorker in 1980, entitled "An Attempt to Compile a Short History of the Buffalo Chicken Wing." It's an entertaining article but its pretty dated so I thought I'd make it my winter's work to update it. This will include sampling wings at all the old classics, as well as the newcomers. I'm going to need some assistance with this task, one can only eat so many wings, so drop me a line if you're interested.











Sunday, November 4, 2007

From Knucklebones to Chocolate Cake

I was invited to have pho over at 15th Street Heights today (that's what we call Dom's brother and sister-in-law's house, it's so classy). When I got there, Domma had beef knucklebones cooking down with charred ginger and onion, star anise, cinnamon and black pepper. The recipe he had called for oxtail or beef knucklebones, and at $3.99/lb vs. $1.49/lb respectively, the choice was obvious. I have never eaten knucklebones before but the smell was intoxicating. Dom strained the broth and ladled it over bowls of rice noodles, bean sprouts, basil and cilantro leaves and chili peppers. To top it off, Dom's brother added slices of grilled flank steak, marinated in chili oil, brown sugar and other goodies, as well as shrimp skewers in the same marinade. I've had more food on the grill in the past few days that I did in the whole month of August! I am really kicking myself for not having a camera to capture this beauty. It was amazing; complex and rich, mulit-layered and well-balanced, a kind of Vietnamese surf and turf.

As a side note, my family is proud of their succu recipe (that's red sauce or pasta sauce for those non-Italians who aren't in the know). It's typically made with three meats: pork ribs, Italian sausage and meatballs. When my mother started dating her boyfriend, who does not eat pork, we were all aghast. However will she make sauce for him, the ultimate expression of our love? My mother decied to use oxtail as a substitute and we were scandalized to find we preferred the oxtail sauce to the traditional. Anyway, these knucklebones got me thinking. I'm going to use them next time I make sauce, with meatballs of course.

After the pho, Robin pulled out a piece of birthday cake that she had made for her son but saved a piece for Dominick and me to savor. I normally don't care much for cake. I love sweets but I'm more of a pie, cheesecake, brownie kind of person. I think cake is often just too dry for me. Not this cake. Robin said she put a pound of butter in the cake and another pound in the frosting. Ridiculous but delicious. It was just a simple chocolate cake, but with all that butter and buttermilk and almond extract, it was far from the dry, tasteless Betty Crocker mix cakes.

Since the cake was just a little something for us to taste, Robin then brought out the real dessert. Ciao Bella has an outstanding Blackberry-Cabernet sorbet. I might not have tasted the wine had I not known, but I do think that it added richness without excessive sweetness. I have had sorbets and ice creams with wine before, with what I guessed was very cheap wine and too much of it so it was overwhelming in a bad way. This was subtle. Served with the sorbet were tiny coconut macaroons and chocolate-covered bananas. The dark chocolate, of course, complemented the sorbet beautifully.

Robin made us pomegranate martinis and we watched the game. By 5pm, I was pretty much in hypoglycemic shock, Robin was preparing her pizza dough and I thought I should make my escape. Well-sated and several pounds heavier, I made my way home thinking about how else I could use those luscious knucklebones.




Weekend Roundup

I've been eating some mighty fine food this weekend, although cooked mostly by other people. Friday brought me to Rochester for work. My co-worker, who joined me, used to live in Rochester and she was dying to go to her favorite Thai place, The King and I. No sooner had we ordered than two cups of steaming, chicken soup, redolent with lemongrass and fish sauce, were brought to the table. The only thing I didn't love, weirdly, were the small pieces of chicken in the soup; it kinda got in my way of the real deal. Then I had a chicken dish in a red curry-coconut sauce that disappeared quickly.

You'd think since I had a late, and very filling lunch that I wouldn't have been keen on going out for a fish fry-that hallowed, Friday evening tradition. But pops had a hankering and I happily agreed to join him. I'm still trying to figure out where my favorite fish fry in Buffalo is. As a default, we go to the neighborhood joint, which is pretty good but this time the fish was a bit tough. But it's fast and cheap and they now serve REAL french fries, not those awful crinkle-cut ones.


(This is not my picture, nor my fish fry and sadly, not my martini)


And finally, I was invited over to a friend's house for banana-cream pie and coffee. Interestingly, my hosts are lactose-intolerant, so the filling was made with soy milk (delicious still) and instead of whipped cream, we had unbaked meringue on top. I have never had meringue that wasn't baked on top of a luscious lemon pie and I was surprised by how much I liked it, not too sweet.

Saturday night, I went to a party that featured green chili and roast pork on an outdoor spit. Yes ma'am! We could hardly believe we were having an outdoor party in Buffalo in November! With a fire, some mulled cider and that steaming chili, full of tender chunks of beef and pork, tomatoes and fresh, plump corn kernels, we were perfectly content.

This afternoon, I have a date with D. to make Vietnamese pho. I do love that rich broth of beef shank, lemongrass and star anise but I've never made it before so I'll report back later on that. Cilantro, bean sprouts, lime and recao, mmmmm. I'm ready for lunch and I haven't even had breakfast!





Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Broccoli-Cranberry Salad

I scavenged what is probably the last of the broccoli from the garden today and, with nothing else presenting itself for dinner, decided to make a meal of it. I thought about how to make it filling enough by adding some protein. Then I remembered a cookbook that an old roommate and dear friend had from the grand old department store Marshall Fields. This dear friend grew up in Detroit and I think she had a soft spot in her heart for this cookbook that featured recipes from the cafe in this venerable, Midwestern institution. I got the idea that going to Marshall Fields for lunch was akin to having tea at the Plaza, in a more jello-molded, mayonnaise-laden, wholly Midwestern kind of way. So she made this salad from a recipe within that book. I have to say, at first it sounded awful. Broccoli with mayonnaise? But then I tasted it and it became a little bit of an addiction for awhile. To make this more agreeable to you, perhaps think of this as a sort of coleslaw, but with broccoli instead of cabbage. The bright green broccoli studded with deep, garnet-colored dried cranberries is very pretty to boot. Sadly, I no longer live with aforementioned, dear Midwestern friend, so I can't run to the bookshelf for the exact recipe. This is my approximation.

Marshall Fields Broccoli-Cranberry Salad

1 head of broccoli
2-3 T. mayonnaise-I use Hellman's Light but whatever you've got
Splash of cider vinegar
2 T. sugar
Handful of dried cranberries
Handful of sunflower seeds

Steam the broccoli for a few minutes. Don't overcook because then you will lose that verdant green. Of course, you should never overcook broccoli but I thought I should really stress it here because brownish broccoli served cold in a salad sounds dreadful. Drain and let it cool.
While cooling, mix the mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar together. Add more mayo if you like it very creamy or more vinegar for a bite. Stir in the broccoli. I like to put it in a container with a lid so I can shake it and distribute the dressing evenly. Top with cranberries and sunflower seeds.

Note: I think the original recipe called for grapes instead of cranberries. I favor it this way but I'm sure grapes, raisins or other dried fruit would also be good.






Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunday Dinner

My mother, like most of my family, is an excellent cook. Lucky for us, so is her boyfriend. Every Sunday, he cooks her an elaborate meal, which I find quite endearing. I ocasionally receive an invitation to these lavish Sunday dinners. Greg really has no boundaries when it comes to food preparation. I'm always hearing about the new concoctions he whipped up with his smoker and his early morning treks to the Broadway Market for fresh bay scallops and the like.

Since N. was in town this weekend, Greg and my mamma invited us over to eat. I have to start by saying that I love biscuits. Maybe this is a by-product of living in the South or perhaps I have an affinity for all things light, airy and buttery. In any event, my mother got a recipe from Cook's Magazine, which I do not subscribe to but I won't be mad at you if you decide to get me a subscription for a present. I could go on and on about the glory of this magazine; it's so informative! But I will leave that research up to you. The point is, my mother found a recipe for the best biscuits I have ever had, although I have to give a close second to Miss Nettie, from Memphis, who makes biscuits and hot water cornbread to die for. I don't have the complete recipe yet but the technique that made these biscuits so delectable I can share. The melted butter is poured directly into cold buttermilk, whereby it immediately clumps up. This may look rather nasty, but the effect is that smalls globes of butter are suspended throughout the mixture, distributing their heavenly lightness and flavor. My mamma added snippets of fresh sage that just about put me over the edge.

So that was just the biscuits. The first course was a pureed soup of cauliflower and parsnips. Upon first taste, Greg pronounced that he would go to war for that soup. It was so seasonal, the taste of fall consummate. I love this time of year, when smooth, pureed soups of root vegetables really highlight local produce.

The main course was osso bucco, simmered in a spicy broth with carrots and turnips. I don't even like turnips but smothered in a rich, veal gravy, I cannot complain. The meat was tender to the bone. Sides included a risotto with chanterelle, shitake and oyster mushrooms and topped with TRUFFLE SHAVINGS! No wonder my mother loves this man. There was also swiss chard, sauteed with a bit of chipotle for a kick. I cleaned my plate and mopped it up with another biscuit. Oh my.

I should mention that Greg mixes a mean cosmopolitan, which I sipped on through the meal. After we finished eating, my mother whipped out this beautiful tea bud that she bought at the Elmwood Farmers Market. I'm kind of ignorant about tea so I can't say much except to describe how it looked. The long, slender green tea leaves were pulled together and knotted at the base, four wine-colored leaves extended up and the center was a raspberry burst of color. We watched it unfurl in the hot water while my mother snapped about a million pictures. I think the experience was better than the taste. It was nice, but very delicate. I prefer the more robust punch of coffee. But I would definitely buy this tea again, probably just to take a warm bath in and watch them bloom in the water around me.

Finally, gingerbread cake with lemon sauce. I could have happily lapped that lemon sauce up like a cat with a saucer of milk. That's not really polite so I was content to drown my cake in the moat of sauce. Greg and N. sipped some cognac, while bonding over manly fodder like baseball and the World Series. It was finally after 10 when we sleepily made our departure. My mom said she wanted to make the blog, so mamma, this one is for you two! That's one heck of a man you've got.