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.

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

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

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


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


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


Shinto shrines and blessings from around the world


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, 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

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!