Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tandoori Chicken without the Tandoor Oven

I flipped open my new copy of Cook's Illustrated yesterday and came upon a recipe for tandoori chicken, which is traditionally made in a tandoor oven that can get up to 900 degrees! I wanted to try it and thought it would be a nice dish to bring to the birthday party later on that night. Well, it was good and the partygoers seemed to enjoy it but my finished product varied vastly from what I imagine came out of the test kitchen at Cook's Illustrated! First of all, I am not used to working with chicken thighs so when I opened the package to wash and clean them, I was shocked by how much fat was on them! I immediately attacked them, trimming and stripping the poor birds of any modicum of fat. Until I realized I was removing skin. Oops. Who needs it? Then I thought that if this was supposed to be appetizer-sized bites, I would need to remove the chicken from the bone. Have you ever boned chicken thighs? I don't recommend it. I spent an hour and a half engaged in the slippery, salmonella dream of a task. Once I got that done though, it was easy enough to put together. My little chicken pieces were so small that I opted to thread them on toothpicks to make chicken tandoori skewers, which worked out quite well. Finally, I baked them at 325 degrees as indicated and finished them off in the broiler. I ran into some more issues here, namely that the chicken started releasing juices so they were steam-baking. I probably didn't remove enough of the yogurt marinade. Anyway, I poured off the juices and put them back in the oven. I don't know how necessary the bake-then-broil process was for my version of the dish because the chicken pieces were so small but it turned out just fine. I stacked the skewers on pretty plates with little dishes of mango chutney and away they went! This did not evoke any tandoori chicken I've ever eaten but it was very tasty nonetheless.

2 T. vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic
2 T. grated ginger
1 T. garam masala
2 t. cumin
2 t. chili powder
4 T. lime juice, divided
1 c. yogurt
1 t. salt
4-5 lbs bone-in chicken thighs

Heat the oil in a skillet, add ginger and garlic, cook for one minute. Add the spices and cook for 30-60 more seconds. Cool. Add half this mixture to the chicken, along with salt and 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Mix in well and let sit for 30 minutes. Add the other half of the garlic-ginger-spice mixture to 1 cup of yogurt and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of lime juice. After the chicken has marinated in its spices, pour the yogurt mixture over it and mix well. Bake whole chicken pieces or thread smaller pieces on skewers at 325 degrees (Put on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet with wire rack to let juices fall away from the chicken. I didn't do this but I will next time!). Bake 12-15 minutes, then finish in a hot broiler for 3 minutes on each side. This time could vary greatly depending on the size of the chicken. Also, don't make the mistake I often have and let the chicken hang out in the yogurt; its enzymes break down the meat and make it mushy. Marinate in spices only and then dip quickly in the yogurt for that distinctive tang!





Friday, December 19, 2008

My Kitchen: Introduction

Last night, I tossed and turned in a sea of tissues. No amount of cough syrup, Vicks or chamomile tea helped, I was just plain sick. I tried several times "Ok, one more cup of tea, shot of the syrup, slather of Vicks and this time, I'll fall asleep!" In between tries, I pulled my laptop out in exasperation and perused a trillion different food blogs. I found some great sites, met some new characters and although I was awfully sleepy and quite a bit groggy, I felt inspired. One site featured different people, what their refrigerator staples were, favorite utensils etc. I thought about featuring my own kitchen and eating habits in a similar fashion and before you know it, I was leaping out of the bed at 4am to photograph the interior of my freezer.

So, here it is, my kitchen. Red walls and a black-and-white checkered floor, which happens to be the bane of my existence. Oh, it's cute and all but whoever created textured linoleum was a masochist and I gave up trying to keep that floor clean three years ago. In fact, I despise cleaning this particular floor so much that I complete the task over the course of days, doing the bit by the refrigerator on Sunday and the bit by the counter on Monday and so on, thereby ensuring that it is never, EVER completely clean.



Freezer: It's not too bad, well, it's a mess but it's not overly packed. Now, that is. For months, I have been trying to whittle down its contents in anticipation of my departure for Chile. Usually, I keep the freezer stocked as if I am expecting some dystopic future in which I have to fight rabid dogs and fierce gangs of raggedy-clothed urchins for an apple core or potato peel. Often I will have 5 pounds of chicken breast, a roasting chicken, pork ribs, 4-5 pounds of ground turkey, 4-5 pounds of ground chicken, 2 pounds of shrimp and a few pieces of assorted fish. There is no need for a single person to stockpile over 20 pounds of meat, along with a tray of stuffed shells, a couple pounds of meatballs, a vat or two of red sauce, half a quiche and several containers of soup. Right now, I have a steak, a couple chicken breasts and some shrimp. That's impressive. I also save leftover egg yolks and egg whites that I have NEVER used yet gamely continue to freeze and discard in a timely fashion. If I'm feeling particularly ambitious, I'll whiz up a base of peppers, onions, garlic and aromatics, split that into individual portions and freeze so it's ready to roll for me when I'm making a host of stews and soups. Kinda like that Martha Stewart tip to freeze leftover wine in ice cube trays for later use. Except, weirdly, I never seem to have any leftover wine.



Refrigerator: Yeah, that's a cheesecake you see in there. Chambord cheesecake with a walnut crust for the holiday party that I HOPE I can go to tonight, what with this winter storm and all. Anyway, I don't usually have cheesecake in there but I wanted to document it while I did. What I always have in there; soy milk, yogurt, Brita, romano cheese, butter, eggs, ginger, different color onions in various stages of use and a lemon or two. I, of course, have a rotating list of fruits and vegetables which change with the season, some tofu or other protein as well as numerous condiments (fish sauce, creole mustard, dijon mustard, wasabi, crawfish boil, Frank's Red Hot, Tabasco, sesame seeds, apricot preserves), but I consider the above list my absolute must-haves. Other must-haves that I do not keep in the refrigerator are olive oil, coffee beans, oatmeal, cold cereal, granola and garlic. Invariably when I start a meal, I reach for onions without having a clear idea what I'm going to ultimately end up with. I am a huge garlic fan as well but the onion-green, red, mayan, sweet, vidalia, carmelized, shallot, leek-is my true love. I also always have some rice or quinoa, pasta or other starch but I could go days without giving them any thought and then eat them nonstop for an entire week.

I'm realizing I could go on like this for hours so I'll stop now and promise titillating future installments with grabbing titles such as My Kitchen: The Spice Cabinet or My Kitchen: How Many Types of Cheese Does One Need?

Disclaimer: Cut me some slack, ok? I realize my freezer and refrigerator are in disarray but I took the pictures in the wee hours this morning and, let's be frank here, I'm not planning on sprucing it up in the next few days soooo......




Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Case You Haven't Met My Little Angel....

Isn't she something? My gorgeous niece Lucy, for those of you not lucky enough to receive the Christmas card graced with this image! Lucy called me the other night to sing "Jingle Bells" over the phone and I wish I could play you the recording because she cracked me up with her rendition.






Italy: Part One


So I was going to do this long, extended, several-part post on my magnificent trip to Italy this past fall and I just keep pushing it to the side. It was so monumental and filled with delectable morsels that I feared I would not do it justice by memorializing it in my usual, haphazard, bullet-point laden way. Now it's been over two months since my return and I've said nary a word, not so much as a peep. Well, before this year is over and my memory comPLETEly fails me, I am going to give it a shot.

I arrived in Rome on Wednesday morning after a long, long plane ride. I took the subway to our "B&B," which was less a bed and breakfast and more a rented closet in a crazy lady's apartment. It was odd to say the least but I'll touch on that a bit later. Anyway, Nicole was just finishing up breakfast and so I laid down my bags, took a quick shower and we were on our way! First stop was to pick up our Roma passes. We took the subway to Repubblica to that end and the way, we saw our first gelato place so we stopped for a quick taste. I got ciocolatto, Nicole got pistaccio and although in my now, less-euphoric state, I can admit it wasn't the best I've ever had, I swooned nonetheless. First gelato in Rome!

We hopped a bus to head towards a neighborhood known for pizza, cheap pizza at that. I should remember the neighborhood but I don't and this is an example of why I should have attacked this task two months ago. We weren't on for long when we jumped off to take pictures of this and that, Rome is gorgeous and crumbling and majestic and on and on. We found ourselves at a spot called PizzeriaRe and procured ourselves a table outside and, still giggling and mumbling in our imperfect Italian, managed to order some pasta dish and also a pizza. I don't know what we ate but it was marvelous; the pasta was chewy and had just the right bite, the pizza was light as air.






After that, we took a stroll through Campo di Fiori and across the river to Trastevere. As soon as we came upon the Tiber river with its tree-lined boulevards and ancient bridges, I just fell in love. I fall in love all the time so perhaps you may think this wasn't noteworthy but just wait til you see it for yourself! Still stuffed from our magnificent lunch, we decided to skip dinner and just have gelato.








Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Love

I haven't really been inspired by food lately, which is odd because I've eaten a lot of wonderful meals recently including a stupendous Thanksgiving dinner, day after steak and salmon blowout, family lunch at Francesca's in Chicago and a redemptive meal at Mother's with Dominick. (Side note: I have been disappointed by Mother's the last few times I was there but this time we had an outstanding quail stuffed with sweet potatoes, golden raisins and pistachios, plus a wild mushroom and white truffle risotto.) Maybe it's because I'm so overwhelmed with studying for the GRE, getting my school applications together, wrapping up work and a million other things before leaving for Chile in February, but in any case, every time I think about what I want to eat for dinner, I'm stumped. Caramelized tofu and brussel sprouts have been on heavy rotation, lots of roasted squash, wah, wah, wah. Boring. YET! I read this month's issue of Gourmet and was intruiged by a Roasted Potato and Wilted Kale Salad with lemon-tahini dressing. I just made it and I am SWOONING! I am excited to eat this again and again and again.



yield: Makes 4 (main course) or 6 (side dish) servings

active time: 20 min

total time: 45 min

Ingredients

* 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
* 1/3 cup olive oil
* 4 garlic cloves (3 thinly sliced and 1 minced)
* 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
* 1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
* 2 tablespoons water
* 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 3/4 pounds kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves very thinly sliced


* Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third.

Toss potatoes with oil and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large 4-sided sheet pan, then spread evenly. Roast, stirring once, 10 minutes. Stir in sliced garlic and roast 10 minutes more. Sprinkle with cheese and roast until cheese is melted and golden in spots, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, purée tahini, water, lemon juice, minced garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. (Add a bit of water if sauce is too thick.)

Toss kale with hot potatoes and any garlic and oil remaining in pan, then toss with tahini sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: I am delighted with the lemony-tang imparted to the creamy roasted potatoes. I added the zest of a lemon to aid that end and I highly recommend doing the same. I also upped the kale to about a pound. Would make a lovely substitution for mashed potatoes and some sort of meat but I thought it was sublimely perfect as a humble dinner on it's own. DO NOT skimp on the lemon and add more garlic if you like. Also, the kale DOES wilt a bit when you mix it with the potatoes but after I mixed and deemed it a little too raw still, I put the baking sheet with potatoes and kale back in the oven, but only for about 1.5-2 minutes. Perfect!






Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thanksgiving List Time

Alright loved one, it's that marvelous time of the year again. My family has been doing the "things we're thankful for" list for almost 15 years no. It's morphed from a handwritten page in my mamma's notebook to a full-blown website with entries from people all over, often including some I don't even know. I love this traditon and encourage you to share your thanks with us.



My 2008 List:

New Orleans and a sense of hope
Barack Obama and a sense of hope
peach season in Georgia
paying off my car
youtube and subsequent early 90s dance parties
running into people you thought you had lost forever
crab boils and meeting friendly neighbors who hold them in your honor
premier's coffee bean selection
Monday night sewing club/crochet club/all-around crafty club
my KitchenAid food processor, thanks pops!
getting to see my niece three times already this year!!!!!
hearing Lucy call me Yaiya
hearing Donovan call me Teetee Laila
Italian cashmere, specifically the sweater I bought in Florence
jars of pear sauce and dilly beans preserved from my garden and lining my shelves
oysters; on the half shell at Redfish, fried at Casemento's and chargrilled at Drago's
Books: Mudbound by Hilary Jordan and Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
Memorable Meals: El Quenepo in Vieques with the most incredible grilled meats and passionfruit creme brulee, Il Fagioli in Florence with Florentine steak, fagioli ucce'letto, tortelli di spinaci and torta di fichi with vin santo
Movies: None come to mind but I have enjoyed watching the series Mad Men on Netflix
Music: Santogold

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A cocktail and a stick of butter, please!

Saturday morning, Rebecca and I rose early, put on our pretty dresses and went over to wake Amy up and go to brunch. We were torn between Mr. B's and Palace Cafe; Palace has such great turtle soup but B's has that amaaaazing barbeque shrimp! Anyway, neither one were open yet so we went to the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone for a glass of kir royale. I'm on vacation, I can have a cocktail at 11am if I feel like it, ok?!

We decided on Mr. B's and although I've been there before, I forgot that it has this old-world elegance to it yet it isn't pretentious or stuffy at all. Our team of waiters fell all over us, fluttering napkins and deftly gliding us into our chairs. We got a very nice salad to start but that's really neither here nor there. We all ordered the barbeque shrimp and were properly outfitted with bibs (you have to wear one if you're eating barbeque shrimp, no matter how silly you look) and then they dropped this magnificent concoction on us.


Rebecca enjoying her skrimps.


Amy enjoying male attention, I mean, getting her hands washed.


So, in case you don't know, barbeque in New Orleans refers to a sauce of butter, lemon, worcestershire, black pepper and more butter. Really, it's just straight up, flavored butter and it's fantastic. The recipe that Mr. B's uses, available online, calls for 3 sticks of butter for two servings. I'm not even kidding. I'm not sure what business we thought we had ordering a piece of hot buttered pecan pie but we did and it was also delicious, washed down with a glass of muscato. Since the trip to Italy, I am really enjoying dessert wine and how it complements the food.

After our decadent lunch, we headed off to the lovely City Park, thick and verdant with live oaks and Spanish moss, to go to Voodoo Music Festival. It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon and although I was still too full from Mr. B's, I did have a taste of an alligator sausage sandwich that was spicy and flavorful. I exited the show just past dusk to go meet Amy for dinner, the music still dancing in my ears as I made my way through the dark, tropical obscurity and in that moment, it all made me so nostalgic for the time that I lived here, spending evenings strolling in the hush of sticky nights, smelling jasmine and knowing I'd never have to leave or grow old or forget this wonderful time of my life. Sigh.

OK, onward ho! Amy has been raving about these chargrilled oysters at Drago's forEVA! I'd heard about Drago's when I lived her but it's located in Fat City, out in Metairie and I just saw no need to go there. They opened one downtown within the past few years, at the Riverfront Hilton and it's became one of Amy's go-to spots when in New Orleans. And for damn good reason. What do you know, the oysters were swimming in a pool of butter, with some lemon and parmigiano on top for good measure. Add to that equation the delicious, smokiness of the grill and I was in heaven. It was so good, I actually picked up the oyster shells and licked them, not even caring if I got some of gritty, flaky shell as well.

After Drago's, we met up with old friends and went to go dancing at Mimi's. Next up, crab boil at Mr Billy's, a tour of the Ninth Ward and Donovan's first trip to Cafe du Monde!


Friday, November 7, 2008

Incidentally...

Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to the back of the house, in order to shut off the front and therefore save hundreds on my already astronomical heating bill. I'm a big fan of men doing men stuff and women doing women stuff. Oh, don't groan, I KNOW I'm capable of taking out the trash but I'd rather not, cook dinner and call it a day. But, the annual move is a source of fierce pride for me. I don't know why, maybe it reaffirms my single woman status but anyway last Thursday found me schlepping the bulky mattress over my shoulder, reassembling the bedframe etc. Then I got to the TV. Everyone makes fun of me for this old thing but it still works and I've never bought a TV before, relying on roommates or castaways. Well, I unplugged the TV and started hauling when I heard a nasty sound. It seems I forgot to unplug the cable as well. So I effectively murdered my TV. And you know what, it's been over a week now and I really don't care. I was never a huge TV watcher anyways but I do enjoy watching hockey games and cooking shows and OK, I admit, I LOVE "So You Think You Can Dance" and reruns of "Designing Women" but....it's been really liberating. I highly recommend it, give it a try!





Forgetting My Cares in the Crescent City














Damn, I love New Orleans. Every time I go back, I'm reminded of how I first fell in love with the city and get crazy ideas about moving back, buying a little cottage in the Marigny, fixing it up and having seafood boils on Sunday afternoons.

I flew in Thursday night, to be greeted by a bunch of New Orleans ex-pats, now living in places ranging from Portland to D.C. Immediately went and checked into my hotel on St. Charles and can I get an amen for staying in one's own hotel room? Amy and I hit Casamento's uptown for dinner because you know I was DREAMING about my oyster po-boy all day! So, Casamento's is the greatest place on earth. It's been open for about 90 years, the owner is the son of the original owner and they don't even have deep fryers, they fry everything by hand in deep, ancient pots on the stove. I love it.














Anyway, as we were throwing down on some expertly fried crab claws and oyster po-boy (the gumbo was fine but nothing special), who did we see in the kitchen but our beloved Ms. Judy! Amy and I worked with Ms. Judy at Olivier's back 1998 and she was like our adopted New Orleans mamma. She came running out of the kitchen screaming "my babies!" as we all hugged and cried and the rest of the restaurant looked at us like we were crazy. Did I mention that I love this place? Because I do, deeply so. I haven't even lived there in 6 years but give me two hours and I'll run into someone I know!

Next we hit the bar at the Pere Marquette hotel to meet the lovely Rebecca and company. Chris was bartending, although that's kind of a bastardization of the term when referring to him. He's more a mixologist, gives talks at the Smithsonian and whatnot, he's the real deal. Anyway, I had three magnificent drinks there, the most delicious concoctions I have ever tasted. The first was a mojito-style cocktail but it was less minty and more ethereal and served straight up and very cold in a martini glass. Then, since I heard Chris makes the world's best Pimm's cup, I had to have it. But he only had enough for one so I graciously split it with Amy. Holy hell, have you ever had a Pimm's cup anywhere else? You won't want to after this! It had fresh blueberries, and raspberries, and, oh my! It was heaven. Finally, I had the Gin-Do, which is muddled with crystallized ginger and lemon and I don't think anyone should drink anything else ever again.

Friday morning we got up and decided to make reservations at Bacco for lunch, but wanted to start at Redfish Grill with oysters. Rebecca and I have this tradition of eating oysters for breakfast and I for one can never eat too many oysters. Within minutes of being seated we had a dozen BBQ oysters and a Redfish Grill lemonade. By the way, I remember loving this drink, it ain't all that. Tasted like cheap, pre-mixed lemonade and too much Razzmatazz. The oysters were another story, perfectly plump and seasoned, fried and tossed in that addictive mixture of butter and hot sauce and dunked into blue cheese. Oh my word. Then there were the raw oysters and I liked them better than the ones at Casamento's because they were more petite. I don't like the big ones that look like elephant boogars.

I think I said previously that I wanted a Pimm's cup at Napoleon House. I would like to strike that from the record. Nasty, nasty, nasty. Anyway, these cocktails at lunchtime were making me sleepy so we moved on to Bacco, where we ran into Stovall, who used to work at the French Quarter bar at the Ritz. I swear, you can't spit in this city without seeing people you know. So Stovall fixed me up with an espresso and we worked our way over to a table. Sadly, they did not have any carpaccio and carpaccio at Bacco is another Laila/Rebecca tradition PLUS I was stuffed from all the bread and oysters at RedFish so I opted for just an order of shrimp remoulade for my lunch. It was good, but I think the shrimp was a mite overdone. At that point, I didn't care because our old boss, Steve, swung through the doors to start his dinner shift and it was hugs and smiles all around. Not to mention that I saw another friend who I haven't seen since 2001 strolling down the street. This city is truly crazy. For dessert, I wanted Steve to make our old signature cocktail, the Lady in Red. It sounds kinda gross but I love it eternally; praline liquer, chambord, vodka and cream. Alas, there was no praline liquer at the bar and just when I was about to give up, that genius Stovall subbed Nocello and the rest is history. Oh yeah, and Rebecca told Steve to comp our check to, I don't know, say 22 cents? And he did. I love him almost as much as I loved my Lady in Red.

After a good, solid three hours of eating, Rebecca and I moved down to OZ and drag queen bingo. Now, DQB used to be hosted by the inimitable Bianca del Rio. The hurricance displaced her to NYC and it hasn't been the same since. HOWEVER, Laura informed us that Bianca was back in town for a guest appearance!!!!! I have to say though, she wasn't as funny as she used to be but I'll blame that on her being out of practice? What was great about it though was that Laura showed up after work and it's been forever since I've seen her. She was just as fabulous as can be and after DQB, we went back to her place in the Marigny to plot dinner plans. WE ended up staying close by and walking around the corner to the cozy, neighborhood Schiro's cafe. I was about to order the caeser with fried oysters but Rebecca told me that Schiro's got their samosas from Sara's, a great Indian place uptown. So we split samosas and vindaloo and saag paneer and doused everthing with tamarind chutney and it was fantastic. Then there was the achingly tender peach upside-down cake, which is made in-house by a friend of Laura's who is a baker extraordinaire. I think she mentioned something about a lemonade-chambord cake he makes or maybe I imagined it? Anyway, that cake was good!

The night ended in one of my favorite ways; sitting on the stoop with my girls and Laura's amazing neighbor, Mr. Billy. He's lived next door since 1971, but in New Orleans his whole life and he had these great stories about going with washbasins to catch crawfish that would just run across the road in season. After he came back from the Army and the government had constructed the I-10, that didn't happen anymore because they ruined the fragile ecoysystem for wild crawfish. I love stuff like this and Mr. Billy is an endless source of just such tales. He promised to have a crab boil for us on Sunday and by golly, he really did buy 40 pounds of crab the next day! Anyway, this is getting long so I'll return for the rest of the story ina few...Don't run away though because I have yet to tell you about Saturday and Sunday, which were perhaps the two finest eating days of my life. Wait, there have been a lot of those, well, I have a flair for hyperbole, what can I say?




Monday, November 3, 2008

Remembering Albert

A dear family friend passed away last week, unexpectedly of a heart attack. Albert P. Saladino was 56 years old. father of three and friend to the masses. His service was yesterday and the line out of the church spanned several hundred feet for the better part of an hour. I have never seen such a turnout nor could there have been any more fitting tribute to Albert. I was so moved by the words that his loved ones expressed that I came home and tried to sum up what everyone had said.


Michael, oldest son:

"WOW!!! That's what my dad would have said right now." He started with that and then went on to say that whenever he had to do some task such as this, his dad was the first person he'd turn to for help and not having that this week brought it home for him. Friends always told him his dad was cool before parents were ever considered cool. He said Albert was always pushing him to be his best and one time when Michael was having a hard time at school, Albert told him he needed to go in and talk to the teacher. Michael said that he didn't want to but Albert said "We're going in there." Albert had a passion for people and he translated that passion into being a father as well. He ended by thanking his dad for helping him to be great and saying he loved him.

Sammy, middle child:

Very different from the more reserved Michael, Sammy sauntered up with his "bodyguard," chewing gum and turning around his cap, a la Albert and with an impressively honed gumba-inflected speech, told some quintessential Al Saladino stories. My favorites included Albert being, at best, assistant coach on Sammy's baseball team but he thought he ran the whole league. Sammy would be on the pitcher's mound and Albert in the dugout, reaming the umpire out for bad calls. Sammy said he couldn't count on two hands the times Albert got kicked out of Shoshone Park. Another time while camping at Alleghany, Albert pulled up to where Sammy and cousin Nicky were standing in a car he probably paid $750 for and said "get in the car." The kids were confused and didn't know why he wanted them to get in the car but he just repeated "GET in the car!" So they got in and Albert pulled a baseball bat out from under the seat and went outside and beat the shit out of a bee's hive on the top of the cabin ("excuse my French," said Sammy). Then he got in the car laughing like a 9 year old or a maniacal hitman. Here are the life lessons taught by Albert to Sammy:

1. Work hard.
2. Always put family first
3. Look everybody in the eye when you talk to them
4. Try to make Sunday dinner with the family
5. And don't ever leave that table hungry!

Finally, Sammy said his dad always told him he was real popular. And then, gesturing at the church overflowing with people, he said "But he should have looked in the mirror, he really should have looked in the mirror on that one. And I got a lot of friends but in the end, he was my best friend."

Thomas Centolella, childhood friend:

Thomas said he met Albert when they were 13, as Albert was wedging himself into the basement window of a church with Tom's cousin Marty Rafaello, trying to sneak into a Friday night dance. They were "inmates" together at the all-boys Notre Dame Catholic Academy in Utica, at that he stopped himself and said "oh, is that sacreligious?" The minister congenially nodded his head and Tom said "whew, I am glad we're in a Universalist church!" He said they were more than friends, they were brothers. He has never laughed so long with anyone else though so much time and triumphs. Getting a letter or postcard from Albert was always an event, you knew he'd be saying something great. He pulled out a postcard from Albert, dating from 1980, when Albert was about 28. I, of course, can't remember the entire postcard but I'll try to sum up what I remember.

"Tomas, Here in the city....something about energy, sparks igniting, illuminating, it's time for a change! When are you coming back East? In Peace and Rhythm.......P.S. I gave a friend your address, I hope it's no trouble! (Hope is such a silly word!) Bye bye! Albert

The front of the postcard had a picture of a craggy cliff and a large rock, there was a man jumping from the cliff to the rock.

Thomas closed by saying that if we could all hope to pack as much life, love, joy and zeal into our lives as Albert, then hope was indeed a silly word.

Carlotta, coworker and bandmate:

Just because you like doing a thing doesn't necessarily make you good at it. I like to sing but I never had the confidence. Albert bugged me about getting in this band, Universal Mind and I said I was too busy working. He said "but this IS work!" I remember being in Albert's basement on Huntington and there was this song I always wanted to sing in church but didn't have the courage. Albert told me to go ahead and when I did he said I really belted that one out. So now I'm going to sing, in church, His Eye is on the Sparrow.


Comments from my mother:
Thanks for recording these thoughts Laila.
What I gleaned from all the speakers was this:
That Albert was a man that lived his life with all cylinders fired up. His element was FIRE; be it the flames of a bonfire, igniting sparks, or the smoke he left in his wake.
I always said that Albert was like a brother to me. Sitting in that church, filled beyond capacity with people that loved Albert, it was clear to see that EVERYONE thought of Albert as their brother. He not only looked you in the eye when you spoke with him,he pierced you, saw your true essence and gave you a loving push to bring that essence out and LIVE IT.






Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hotlanta: The Final Installment


OK, I am anxious to tell you about Italy so I'm going to to try and quickly sum up the rest of the Atlanta trip. Tuesday evening we decided to go see Les Miserables at the historic Fox Theater. This theater is amazing, it's like being in Arabian Nights and the ceiling is painted like the night sky. The show was cool too. It brought me back to being 12 when I was really into musical theater and knew the Les Mis soundtrack by heart. But before that, we had the great fortune of eating dinner at Dogwood, just down the street from the theater. We got a bunch of appetizers because we had a late lunch. First off, we shared a flight of soups. I love tomato soup but this one had fried balls of goat cheese as a garnish that totally won me over. There was also a root vegetable soup with lingonberry preserves and a zucchini-watercress offering. For dinner, I ordered and appetizer of fried quail on a biscuit with a goat cheese-pepper gravy and red onion preserves on a biscuit. It tasted like a very upscale version of chicken-fried steak and I loved it. The quail had a fantastically crisp and perfectly seasoned exterior and was dense and juicy inside. The biscuit melted, the gravy was smooth and kicky and the red onion marmalade fused it all together. I also had an appetizer of sweet potato gnocchi with parmesean brown butter and toasted pecans. i thought it could have been a bit too rich but somehow, it wasn't. Kristin had a selection from their grits bar with ham and pimento cheese, which might sound kinda nasty but I assure you, it was delicious and reminded me why people go so crazy about grits. She also got a caesar salad with a green-tomato and bacon that was SPLENDID. I need to recreate that at home. It reminded me of a smoked tomato aioli at a restaurant in New Orleans that was legendary.

The next day, we got up and went to a spot near some university for breakfast, great biscuits. Maybe it was called Kenley's? Then we walked through the Sweet Auburn district, had sweet potato cheesecake (amazing, unlike most cheesecake, almost a pound cake for crust), went to see MLK's church and other historic sites. Then we went to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and I got all nostalgic about the first time I visited, about 8 years ago with Amy. We were like kids, fascinated by this incredible oasis of whimsy and beauty nestled in the heart of the city. If you go to Atlanta, do not miss this!



Finally, I wanted to hit the Flying Biscuit for lunch before taking off. I'm pretty sure we ate there last time I was in Atlanta, it's quirky and delicious. I got the love cakes, which are black bean cakes served with a tomatillo sauce and sour cream over a lush salad. While it was very good, I think it would have benefited from some avocado slices. However, the main reason to love this place is their lovely, lovely biscuits that come with everything. They are airy and light, although I like the craggy, rustic ones too, and they were served with a rhubarb-strawberry compote that had hints of ginger perhaps? It was so good we didn't even need the peach cobbler we eyed on the way in! And that's saying something!

Whew, finally! Done! So I can get to the Italy trip sometime this week before I take off for New Orleans on Thursday!




Friday, October 17, 2008

Hmmmm

I'm not a terribly political person, mostly because I find it resembles a cult with all its pomp and circumstance, nor do I believe that politicians as a general lot are trustworthy custodians of policies and procedures that guide us. However, I know who I'm voting for, I'm not a sheep, I've figured it out for myself a long time ago who I think is the best candidate. Anyway, if I weren't voting for Obama, the following might give me serious pause.


What if things were switched around? Would the country's collective point of view be different?

What if the Obamas had paraded five children across the stage, following the debate, including a three month-old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?

What if John McCain was a former president of the Harvard Law Review?

What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his college graduating class?

What if McCain had only married once, and Obama was a divorcee?

What if Obama had met his second wife in a bar and had a long affair while he was still married?

What if Michelle Obama was the wife who not only became addicted to pain killers but also acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?

What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama had been a member of the Keating Five? (The Keating Five were five United States Senators accused of corruption in 1989, igniting a major political scandal as part of the larger Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.)

What if Obama couldn't read from a teleprompter?

What if Obama was the one who had military experience that included discipline problems and a record of crashing seven planes?

What if Obama was the one who was known to publicly display a serious anger management problem?

What if Michelle Obama's family had made their money from beer distribution?

You could easily add to this list. If these questions reflected a reality, if the tables were turned, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative characteristics in another when there is a color difference.

And, think of this - the candidates' educational backgrounds:

Barack Obama:
Columbia University - B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in
International Relations.
Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

Joseph Biden:
University of Delaware - B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.
Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)

John McCain:
United States Naval Academy - Class rank: 894 of 899

Sarah Palin:
Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
North Idaho College - 2 semesters - general study
University of Idaho - 2 semesters - journalism
Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in Journalism

Education isn't everything, but this is about the two highest
offices in the land as well as our standing in the world.

You make the call.





Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Please Excuse the Interruption in the Blog Already in Place

I'll get to Hotlanta: The Final Adventure soon enough but I HAVE to first tell you about the torta di fichi or fig cake but it sounds a lot nicer in Italian, doesn't it? So, while in Italy I had THE MEAL TO END ALL MEALS, which I'll tell you about later but the end of it included this torta di fichi that I cannot get over. It appeared to be a very simple, rustic cake with figs baked on top but in reality it was the most meltingly, buttery, shortbread-like cake with luscious caramelized figs capping it off. Additionally, we ordered another Tuscan classic for dessert, biscotti with vin santo. I loved the vin santo and I loved the biscotti but I did not like them dipped in the wine, as is tradition. Instead, I dipped my biscotti in coffee and drank the vin santo with the fig cake. WOW. A new love was born. I got home late Tuesday evening from my European adventure but you better believe that on Wednesday I went out to buy figs and a bottle of vin santo. I tried my interpretation out yesterday and brought it to Tasty Tuesday for the girls to sample. They swooned, it was love for them too! Anyway, Maria said I MUST post the recipe immediately so here 'tis ladies!

Torta di Fichi (In Italian "chi" is a hard sound so this is pronounced fee-kee, not fee-chee)


1 pint figs
1/3 c. sugar
water
vin santo
lemon juice

Wash the figs thoroughly and remove stems. Coarsely chop, add sugar, water, lemon juice or vin santo and bring to a boil. Turn down immediately and simmer for 30 minutes or so. You can add more or less sugar, eliminate lemon juice or vin santo, it doesn't matter. This is really just cooking down the figs with some sugar to make a jam-like spread, it's hard to mess up unless you burn it. Don't make it too thick though, some of the moisture will bake out in the oven. Runny is a good consistency for this.

1 stick butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 t. salt
zest of one lemon

Cream the butter and sugar. Add egg, salt, zest and flour. Don't overbeat. Press into a 8 inch round cake pan.


I baked the crust for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees, then I took it out, spread the fig mixture on top and baked another 25 minutes. Next time, I'll add more liquid to the figs and then wait until the shell has cooked about 15 minutes before I add the figs to the cake. It came out a bit drier than I would have liked, although still really good.

Please drink this with a moderate glass of vin santo, it's amazing. Take a sip after each bite. DON'T pour a really big glass, it's strong and sweet. Enjoy!

Update: Just had the last piece (yeah, we kinda demolished it last night) with plain old coffee and it was tenderly, achingly delicious.





Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hotlanta Part Two

If you've ever traveled with me before, you know that I will likely produce my sheath of papers with various addresses and maps and morsels scribbled all over so when it comes to discussing where we are going eat, I've got you covered. I enjoy researching the city, regional cuisine, famed chefs and so on so I always have about 43424273423 options for my co-diners to choose from.

One of the places I was really interested in trying in Atlanta is called Watershed and it's owned by one half of the duo known as the Indigo Girls. Chef Scott Peacock is supposed to be fantastic, turning out regional classics made from locally sourced ingredients. We hopped on MARTA for an easy 20 minute ride to Decatur, which by the way is a super-cute little town, and walked to the restaurant. It was really lovely inside, all airy and cobalt and breezy-blue. We were immediately won over by the cocktail menu, blood orange cosmos and fig martinis and whatnot. I settled on the Cool Heat becasue it had jalapeno, mint and lime but I was kind of underwhelmed by it. Not so by the appetizer!!!!! We ordered a very simple-sounding saute of wild mushrooms with country ham on toast. It was magnificent, the texture of the mushooms were superb, the thin sliced ham marrying saltily with the mushroom juice and soaking into the bread. For entrees, Kristin got a pork chop with macaroni and cheese unlike any mac and cheese I've ever had. Let me preface this by saying I could probably blog til the end of eternity on variations in mac and cheese, different methods and preferences so I won't go there. Suffice it to say this had a rich, oozy, slightly custardy texture and was topped with an ungodly amount of cheese. My gall bladder lurched when I tasted it but it was damned delicious. I had a duck breast that was perfectly cooked, served with a garlic mayonaise and succotash, which I usually don't like but this was fresh and tasty. I do have to gripe about presentation though. Such a pretty restaurant, such nice food and crappy, heavy white plates that bore ugly, gray marks from innumerable run-ins with forks and knives from previous diners. And no pretty garnishes, which I can live with if the plates don't look like they were stolen from the cafeteria at the county jail. Finally for dessert, we ordered what they called "Very Good Chocolate Cake." I've probably stated here before that cake isn't my favorite, usually because it's too dry but this was definitely very good cake. You can tell just by looking that it's full of dense, chocolate-y goodness.













Plus, we had a caramel glazed fresh apple cake that was equally wonderful. The caramel glaze on top really made it superb. But, like the chocolate, it was dense and moist and suffered from none of the dreaded dry-crumbly cake factor.

Good Lord, I am sorry, I thought I'd be able to finish the Atlanta trip, I've got so much more to tell you, there were these TOMATOES and this CHEESECAKE and oh, I'm so hungry again. Looks like I'll have to do Part Three!






Friday, October 10, 2008

Hotlanta!

I had the pleasure of being sent to Atlanta a few weeks ago for work, with my marvelous co-worker and friend Kristin. I love traveling for work, probably because I don't do it very often, mostly because I get to stay in hotels I'd never pay for myself and I like those per diem checks!
The conference was meh but our hotel was hot, we had some great meals and the weather was beautiful! I got in early Sunday morning and the fabulous soon-to-be Dr. Miller met me for brunch. She made reservations at the restaurant at the top of my hotel (tallest in the Western Hemisphere or something) called the Sun Dial. I thought perhaps the food would take second place after the view, which was killer by the way. But no, the food was on point too! I had a pan-fried Georgia trout with fried green tomatoes, corn pudding and watermelon relish, pictured above. The fish was perfect, the tomatoes were ok, the corn was sweetly delicious and the watermelon was a great contrast to the fried food.

Kim ordered the crab cake benedict and it was awesome! Do you see what those eggs and ham are resting upon? CRAB CAKES!!! No English muffin here! And they were actually made from CRAB not breadcrumbs!



And yes MA'AM, we sure did end with some divine peach cobbler. Kim said it was the end of peach season and I say "when in Georgia, eat peaches" so cobbler it was!



Now I'm hungry and it's lunchtime so I'll get back to you with installment two of the Atlanta trip.



Thursday, October 9, 2008

Teaser

OK, I am recovering from serious jetlag and an 18-hour workday upon arrival so I am still getting myself together, ie. doing laundry and reconciling my now-miserable finances. Anyway, I PROMISE to update you on my Atlanta trip and of course, ITALIA!!!!! Needless to say, it was estupendo! I feasted on my favorite four food groups, coffee, gelato, pizza and pasta, to no end. But while I am getting myself back in sync, please be patient. I tried to upload a couple pictures here for you but as usual, I have no luck with this online forum and photos. Sorry to all of you I haven't gotten in touch with lately, what can I say, I'm a real gad-about and I never check messages!




Monday, September 29, 2008

Another Goody from Cook's Illustrated

The Ultimate Crispy Fried Chicken
Published: May 1, 2001
Serves 4 to 6


Maintaining an even oil temperature is key to the success of this recipe. An instant-read thermometer with a high upper range is perfect for checking the temperature; a clip-on candy/deep-fry thermometer is fine, though it can be clipped to the pot only for the uncovered portion of frying.
INGREDIENTS

1 1/4 cups kosher salt or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons table salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
3 medium heads garlic , cloves separated
3 bay leaves , crumbled
2 quarts buttermilk (low fat)
1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), giblets discarded, cut into 12 pieces (see illustrations below)
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3–4 cups refined peanut oil or vegetable shortening



See Illustrations Below: Cutting it Down to Size

1. In large zipper-lock plastic bag, combine salt, sugar, paprika, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. With rubber mallet or flat meat pounder, smash garlic into salt and spice mixture thoroughly. Pour mixture into large plastic container or nonreactive stockpot. Add 7 cups buttermilk and stir until salt is completely dissolved. Immerse chicken and refrigerate until fully seasoned, 2 to 3 hours. Remove chicken from buttermilk brine and shake off excess; place in single layer on large wire rack set over rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered for 2 hours. (After 2 hours, chicken can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 6 hours longer.)
2. Measure flour into large shallow dish. Beat egg, baking powder, and baking soda in medium bowl; stir in remaining 1 cup buttermilk (mixture will bubble and foam). Working in batches of 3, drop chicken pieces in flour and shake pan to coat. Shake excess flour from each piece, then, using tongs, dip chicken pieces into egg mixture, turning to coat well and allowing excess to drip off. Coat chicken pieces with flour again, shake off excess, and return to wire rack.
3. Adjust oven rack to middle position, set second wire rack over second rimmed baking sheet, and place on oven rack; heat oven to 200 degrees. Line large plate with double layer paper towels. Meanwhile, heat oil (oil should have 2 1/2-inch depth in pan) to 375 degrees over medium-high heat in large 8-quart cast-iron Dutch oven with a diameter of about 12 inches. Place half of chicken pieces skin-side down in oil, cover, reduce heat to medium, and fry until deep golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes; after about 3 minutes, lift chicken pieces with tongs to check for even browning; rearrange if some pieces are browning faster than others. (Spot-check oil temperature; after first 6 minutes of frying, oil should be about 325 degrees. Adjust burner if necessary.) Turn chicken pieces over and continue to fry, uncovered, until chicken pieces are deep golden brown on second side, 6 to 8 minutes longer. Using tongs, transfer chicken to paper towel–lined plate; let stand 2 minutes to drain, then transfer to rack in warm oven. Replace paper towel–lining on plate. Return oil to 375 degrees and fry remaining pieces, transferring pieces to paper towel–lined plate to drain, then transferring to wire rack with other chicken pieces. Cool chicken pieces on wire rack about 5 minutes and serve.



STEP BY STEP: Cutting it Down to Size

1. With a sharp chef’s knife, cut through the skin around the leg where it attaches to the breast.


2. Using both hands, pop the leg joint out of its socket.



3. Use a chef’s knife to cut through the flesh and skin to detach the leg from the body.


4. A line of fat separates the thigh and drumstick. Cut through the joint at this point. Repeat steps 1 through 4 with the other leg.



5. Bend the wing out from the breast and use a boning knife to cut through the joint. Repeat with the other wing.


6. Cut through the cartilage around the wing tip to remove it. Discard the tip. Cut through the joint to split. Repeat with the other wing.



7. Using poultry shears, cut along the ribs to completely separate the back from the breast. Discard backbone.


8. Place the knife on the breastbone, then apply pressure to cut through and separate the breast into halves.



9. Cut each breast in half crosswise into two pieces.









Creamy Cream-less Tomato Soup

I never liked tomato soup as a kid, probably because the only experience I had with it was that sickly-sweet mess served in the cafeteria. It always tasted more like watered-down ketchup than anything but I worked at this restaurant in Portland, OR one summer that made tomato soup that forever changed my view on said dish. It was creamy and rich-tasting, not overly sweet and had hints of basil and fennel. Since then, I've tried to mimic it with little success. I saw this recipe that uses bread instead of cream to create the kind of lush soup I'm after. I haven't tried this recipe yet but something tells me I'll love it.


If half of the soup fills your blender by more than two-thirds, process the soup in three batches. You can also use an immersion blender to process the soup directly in the pot. For an even smoother soup, pass the pureed mixture through a fine-mesh strainer before stirring in the chicken broth in step 2. Serve this soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches for a Crowd or topped with Butter Croutons (see related recipes).
INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil , plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion , chopped medium (about 1 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
Pinch hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 large slices good-quality sandwich bread , crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
Table salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes (if using), and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain. Stir in sugar and bread; bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf.
2. Transfer half of soup to blender. Add 1 tablespoon oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and oil. Rinse out Dutch oven and return soup to pot. Stir in chicken broth and brandy (if using). Return soup to boil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve soup in individual bowls. Sprinkle each portion with pepper and chives and drizzle with olive oil.





Thursday, September 18, 2008

Little of This, Little of That #5

You know what really keeps me from posting? The damn pictures. I know that food blogs are so much more appealing with photographs and I do apologize for my poorly formatted page, lackluster shots and overall incredible lack of visual interest. This is not lost on me, it's just so overwhelming. Anyway, that's my way of saying that I'm going to write a little post anyway and hopefully this weekend I will have some time and decent pictures to post.

I read so many food blogs, magazines and the like and I often think I'll remember to make that green tomato and canteloupe salad from Gourmet or whatever but invariably, I forget. So it's surprising to me that I've had a recipe from smitten kitchen in the back of my mind for well over a year. It's not that remarkable, it involves roasting eggplant and tomatoes, which are then pureed and tossed with pasta. I finally got around to making it and I really like it, the pureed eggplant gave a lushness to the sauce that kind of reminded me of a vodka sauce, without the addition of alcohol or dairy of course. I followed the recipe closely, which is hard for me, but I added one thing that I highly recommend doing. While roasting the vegetable, add a banana pepper to what's already there. Don't puree it though, just slice it in ribbons and toss over the top of the dish with plenty of romano. It was oh-so-nice.

I had a dear friend visit me from New Orleans this past weekend and I took him on a ghastly culinary tour. Within hours of landing, we had scarfed down chicken finger subs and loganberry. The former went over quite well, the latter no so much. Then we had pizza and wings for breakfast. By the way, I will love you forever if you eat pizza and wings with me first thing in the morning. Anyway, I'm really over LaNova wings, I need to find a new spot. (Update: Ate wings from Just Pizza on Elmwood and enjoyed them much more than LaNova).

Sunday, we went to the lesbian anarchist diner, AKA Amy's Place. God, I love this place. We started with the Veggie Wet Shoes, which fries covered with their delicious lentils, peppers and onions and cheese. Mmm. Then I had my old standy favorite, the Margie Meal. Charbroiled, marinated chicken with fajita fries and garlic sauce all wrapped up in a pita. Yes, more fries, it's a diner, what do you expect? I love the Margie Meal, mostly for the way the sauce permeates the rest of the deal, but I have to say their pita is wack. It is dry, always so dry. Amy's Place, please find a new vendor for your pita!!!!!!

Finally, since Paul is Polish and we have a lot of Polish people here in the 'Lo, we headed over to the Slavic Bazzar for some treats. Yes, that's how they spell it so I'm just staying consistent. It was great, they had all kinds of stuff from Poland, some of it translated and some of it????? If you need industrial size containers of poppy seed filling or kraut with caraway, this is your place. Their prepared food though, well, it lookoed pretty tired so I decided to hit a new stop (new for me) for Polish food, the venerable Polish Villa. HAAAAaaaaa, this place is really fantastic; the decor, the patrons, the lifesize Polish dolls, wow. I ordered the pierogi and galombki platter, which included soup and a potato pancake. The was good and very different, a Polish classic called czarina, it had prunes and vinegar and spices. Paul had a chicken and spaetzle soup that was very tasty. I'd have to say their galombki, or cabbage rolls, were pretty nasty. They were huge and fairly flavorless. The pierogi though, were FANTASTIC! Especially the cheese, probably the best cheese pierogi I've ever tasted. Everything was served with a huge stack of rye bread, cabbage and bacon salad and lavish amounts of horseradish and Weber's mustard.

Whew, that all made me hungry. I think I might run over to Amy's Place for an early lunch!





Saturday, September 6, 2008

I Can't Believe I'm About to Say This

I'm afraid I'm starting to get obnoxious with all these joyous proclamations of travel. You know, the Chile trip, off to New Orleans next month. And since you must know, I'm also going to Atlanta in a couple of weeks (for work, but still, I've got some SWEET places mapped out to eat), I'll be going to Baltimore sometime this fall and I'm going to Chicago in November for the biennial Thanksgiving family gathering and I'm even going to Seattle in January. You see, I'll be gone for so long and don't know where I'll be living when I get back that I want to make sure that I make my rounds of the country to see all my beloveds. How do I finance all this reckless gadding about? Am I independently wealthy, you may ask? No, no indeed. Actually, I've always put quite a bit of my budget aside for travel; I have no more car payment, no kids, no credit card debt. I also rarely go out to eat, on my dime anyway, and have never bought any furniture or TV or anything of the sort. Some people like to spend their money on dining room sets, which is all very well and good, but as I'm far from being settled, I prefer my mismatched hodgepodge of hand-me-downs and castoffs. This leaves me with more to spend on seeing the world!

Anyway, that being a long preamble, and in my own way, an apology of sorts because every time I talk about my trips, everyone groans and says "You're going WHERE this time?" or "Didn't you just get back from your last trip?" So please don't hate me when I tell you what I'm about to tell you. I AM GOING TO ROME AND FLORENCE WITH MY BEST FRIEND! When does this ever happen? When does everything in the celestial universe line up so this can be? Well, I'll tell you. So Nicole, my dear HLP and newly minted DOCTOR, decided to take few months to herself after the rigorous education, followed by fellowships and postdoc positions and an intense licensing procedure. She's never been to Europe and was planning to take a month to go explore. We joked about how wonderful it would be to to some of the trip together but of course, it would be so absurd since I'm doing all this other travel, most notably my Chile excursion. Anyway, she sent me her itinerary this morning, with a great ticket price that she got on vayama.com Just for shits and giggles, I decided to see how much it would be to join her for the first leg of her trip, which includes four days in Rome and three in Florence. And I found a ticket that was incredibly priced!! I immediately called my friend Kristin (many trips to Italy) to ask her what she thought a good price on a ticket to Italy. She was FLOORED when I told her what I found. I called Nicole. I called my mother. I called my sister. I knocked on pops' door. I thought I'd wait 24 hours but really, all signs pointed one way. Onward to Roma! Needless to say, I am extremely excited, not only to go to Italy, but to have this time with my best friend, who is amazingly and similarly unfettered by relationships or kids or heck, even jobs. Oh crap, speaking of jobs, my boss might be a little less than thrilled by this but hey, I'm quitting in a few months anyway! No, not to be cavalier but I feel as if this is such a delightful development and I must absolutely pursue it. So, I should have an amazing time, eat phenomenal food and take fantastic pictures of crumbling buildings and broad piazzas and oh, I don't know what else but I am EXCITED!



Thursday, September 4, 2008

Summer, So Wonderful, So Fleeting



I can't believe it is September already! Wow, the summer really flew by, which is okay because it wasn't really all that great with ONE NOTABLE EXCEPTION! My sister, brother-in-law and LUCY came home for 10 whole days in the beginning of August. On top of that, my mummy and her man rented a cottage in Thunder Bay, just a scant 20 minute drive. It was romantic and wistful and sunny and a little mildewed but who really cares? I was there with my most beloved people in the world and also, we had a great food. What else did you expect? Here's a typical dinner table. (Gordon's picture).



Greg threw a surprise party for my mother's birthday and we had some good eats, notably this beautiful caprese salad that Cricket made. After this photo was taken, she filled the center of the plate with luscious avocado. Delicious.



Oh, and there was LUCY. Lovely, loquacious, luminous LUCY. I am in love with my niece, in case you haven't noticed. I took countless pictures of her doing nothing at all and each one is breathtakingly beautiful because she just is. Here she is tearing into corn on the cob with Mima.




Oh yeah, the picture at the top, forgot to explain that one. Some of you may know I took a photography class this summer. This is a shot I took of this amazing storm cloud moving towards the lake at sunset, picking up all the glorious colors of a summer evening in its wake. This was shot while lying in a parking lot on William and Michigan, a little creepy, but anything in the name of art!



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Two Best Meals

If you're an epicurean snob, you may find this post boring. And while I love food and fancy preparations and truffle oil and saffron, I also enjoy very simple ingredients. So I had two great meals in the past few days that included everyday ingredients and took me about 12.4 seconds to make. Well, a little longer but you get the point.

Saturday morning I went grocery shopping at Wegman's. I rarely buy bagels, although I love them, because, well, they are a carbohydrate-laden nightmare and upstate New York isn't exactly overrun with amazing little bagel places like in NYC. Which usually means a frozen sixer of Lender's bagels and I haven't bought those in yeaaaaars. But something made me go pick a couple up at Wegman's bakery, just to throw in the freezer for later. Ohhh, but they were fresh and warm and displayed next to freshly made containers of cream cheese, not the waxy, oily stuff that can survive the refrigerator for months on end. I rushed home, lovingly toasted my everything bagel, slathered it with billowing cream cheese, layerd slices of tomato just picked from the garden and topped it with a little sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Oh. My. God. I'm too embarrassed to describe the sounds I made whilst eating this but trust me, it was good.

Speaking of tomatoes, I'm on a big BLT kick this summer. But I usually don't have white bread in the house and a BLT is not really a BLT on ezekial bread with sprouted grains and flax seed or whatever the heck kind of cardboard bread is in my freezer. I picked up a nice, country bakery loaf the other day though so yesterday was Ultimate BLT day at my house. Be prepared though, it's a bit unorthodox. First of all, I don't mind lettuce on a BLT but I don't think I've ever bought a head of iceberg and probably won't start. Nothing wrong with it of course, it just personally reminds me a browned, shriveled, slimy cafeteria salads and I'm so over that. Instead, I like thin slices of creamy avocado. Also, I don't think it needs mayonnaise and I've tried to prove myself wrong here many times. I'll say to myself "OK Laila, you can nix the lettuce but you HAVE to have cool, tangy mayo to contrast with the salty bacon, you HAVE to." But you don't. I like the bread to soak up the lovely tomato juices much, much more. Think panzanella. So my method goes a little something like this:

Go to the garden and pick some tomatoes and basil. Slice tomatoes up and toss with chopped basil, add salt and pepper.
Fry up three slices of bacon.
While frying, toast the bread.
When the bread is toasted, lay down the bacon on one slice of bread.
Crack some pepper on top.
Lay down avocado slices on top of the bacon.
More black pepper.
Dump the tomato mixture over all that (it will have some juice from sitting with the salt for a few minutes).
Mash the top piece of bread down and have at it.
Have extras on hand, I could probably eat ten of these myself!





Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jicama Salad

I have a great affinity for jicama. If you're not familiar with it, hmm, well, you should be because it's wonderful. It's crisp and refreshing and has few calories and lots of vitamin C. I've paired with with citrus before, orange or grapefruit segments, and it's quite tasty. Yesterday though, I was in the yard and noticed my pear tree was looking abundant and ripe. Interestingly, the pear has a similar texture to jicama so it made a very nice coupling. I tossed it with a bit of lime juice, sugar, rice wine vinegar, olive oil and chipotle powder and it was really tasty. I also think that it would make a nice entree if topped with grilled shrimp.


Jicama Salad:

1 medium jicama, peeled and cut into strips
1 large or 2 medium firm pears, like Bosc, seeded and cut into strips
1 lime, juiced
1 T. rice wine vinegar
1 T. olive oil
1 T. sugar or honey
1 t. chipotle powder

I cut everything up and added the dressing ingredients right in. If you want to make it with honey though, I would make the dressing separately and pour it over the strips of fruit/vegetables.





Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New Orleans Food Schedule

So, I'm making my annual pilgrimage to my beloved New Orleans in October and I'm SO EXCITED! This time though, it will be different. Every time I end up in New Orleans, I find myself being pushed and pulled by other peoples' whims, wishes, schedules, whatever. It's my damn vacation and I plan on doing everything I want to do. In that vein, I have been devising my food schedule all morning and it's going to be a delicious journey!

On Thursday, I'll get in around 5 and my dear Mary Beth recommended a new place in the Quarter that she says is amazing. It's called the Orleans Grapevine and I looked at their menu online, I think I will have the BQ shrimp and the crabcakes, please. I'd also really like to stop by the Marigny Brasserie to sample the duck spring rolls on the bar menu. Or maybe their nine spice BBQ shrimp. Or rabbit debris over pappardelle. Possibly even pan-fried redfish with chickpea crust and sesame dressing.

Friday morning, I will be having a fried oyster po-boy upon waking up. I hope that it's at Liuzza's but anywhere will do in a pinch. Breakfast of champions! And I will eat fried pickles and drink an Abita amber in a frozen goldfish bowl. God, I love that place.

Friday night, I'm going to have dinner at Dooky Chase's if it kills me. I can't believe I've never eaten there. The proprietess, Leach Chase, is 80 something and has been nationally recognized for her fried chicken, gumbo, courtbouillon and so on. Katrina wiped her out and I was afraid I'd missed my chance to taste her fare but not so! She seems to be a tenacious lady.

Pearlie Wurlie and I have a BBQ shrimp tradition at Mr. B's. I tried it Pascal's Manale a while back but I still think Mr. B's has the best. Hopefully Pearlie will be awake by noon and we can go put on those silly bibs and lollygag at the bar with some colorful delusionals.

Saturday night we are checking into the Hilton Riverside and immediately going to dinner at Drago's. The charbroiled oysters will be consumed in mass quantities. I don't even think I want an entree, just about four dozen oysters.
I cannot go to New Orleans without a stop at Napoleon House for cool, creamy shrimp remoulade in an silken avocado boat and a Pimm's Cup, of course. New Orleans and Napoleon House introduced me to joy of a Pimm's Cup, so refreshing! Oh, and we're planning on going to the Abita brewery across the lake in Abita Springs. I'm sure I will eat more oysters there. I'm not sure how I'm going to fit all this in but I will surely try! In fact, I'm not sure I have any time left over for other activities after accounting for all my meals!

Finally, I will end my trip in Baton Rouge to see my gorgeous godson, Donovan. He's really enough of a draw but I will have to try the Baton Rouge-style white beans while I'm there. Apparently, white beans are to BR what red beans are to New Orleans. Curious, no?

There you have it folks, that's my itinerary, join me for some or all of it but by no means try to hijack my time or plans! I do not want to eat sushi or Indian when I'm in New Orleans nor do I want to sleep on your couch. I mean, thank you for all the couches I've slept on but this time, I'm doing my trip grown-up style. And it feels pretty good.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Update

I'm sorry, I was so vague the other day! I just assume that everyone reading this has heard me babble on about Chile over the past few months and now I realize that I must divulge some details!
I am flying in Santiago, Chile in early February. This is not because I want to go spend a ton of time in a smoggy city of 8 million inhabitants but that's the only place I could get to with my frequent flier miles. No worry though, it's only a scant 70 miles to my destination city of Valparaiso and I hear land transit in South America is great, haaa.
So, Valparaiso, or Valpo as it is affectionately called, is a city on the Pacific coast. It was once a shipping capital and those blue collar roots are still palpable. But it also has a young, bohemian, artsy vibe and is often referred to as the San Francisco of the south. I hope the housing costs are NOT like San Francisco! Directly above Valpo is a resort town called Vina del Mar, a bit more upscale with beaches and touristy stuff. But I prefer earthy so I'll be making my home in Valparaiso. A cool thing about Valparaiso is it's topography; the city fans out around the bay and there are tons of hills, winding and deviating. Travel is made easier by ascensores, which in English means elevators but I think the word is really funiculars, you know, those cable cars that go up and down hills, like a ski lift.
Oh yes, this is no group thing, I am going alone on my great adventure, although I do welcome guests. I plan on doing a bit of community service while I'm there, to get into a groove and work my Spanish skills, which is the whole reason for going. I won't be making any money but I think it's important to have something concrete to do, I don't want to fritter away 5 months on the beach with surfer boys. Wait, that doesn't sound so terrible.
No, I don't know anyone there but I have a lot of friends with family there who can hopefully link me into their network. I'd like to find a roommate to help defray the cost of being unemployed for so long. Apparently I chose the most expensive country in South America, awesome. I have a real talent for squirreling out the priciest options! No matter, I think this is a once in a lifetime kinda deal so if I spend a few hundred more than I planned, so be it. I'm in debt to Sallie Mae for the rest of my life anyway.
Let's see, what else? Oh, the job and apartment. I'm leavng them both behind, sniffle. I've told my boss I'm off for adventure but my landlord is being a real jerk about me leaving in the winter. Just kidding pops. My landlord/father is awesome, I offered to move in with him for the last few months I'm here so he isn't saddled with an empty apartment for the rest of the winter but he doesn't seem to care. Or maybe he just doesn't want me moving in, hmmmm. Also, I'm spending this fall applying to go back to school, yet again, this time to get my PhD in public health, that's Dr. Bondi to you! So next fall should bring me to a new city and another exciting chapter in this book called life.
Finally, I will most certainly be updating ye olde blogge whilst on my travels. Hopefully I'll be eating lots of delicious food and taking tremendous pictures of breathtaking vistas. Wish me luck!





Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Holy Crap....

...I am going to CHILE for FIVE MONTHS!




And this is where I'll be living, come visit me!







Little of This, Little of That #5

Like my garden, this blogging thing so quickly gets out of control! I've got some tasty morsels for this installment though.

-I went to the Italian Festival a few weeks ago and was reminded why I haven't been there in about 15 years. It's terrible, really. And I can't even say I though much of the food. I had an arancino that was fairly bland and a lobster roll that was downright disgusting but I did share some fried dough with Suki and this is what it looked like. I think we're both looking a bit overwhelmed. Also, I'm looking pregnant? Just a bad picture, no worries!



-I made these little bites for music in the parkway last week and they were fantastic. I mixed a log of goat cheese with the zest of one lemon, some fresh mint and chopped pecans and then stuffed the mixture into dates. I tasted the filling on its own, which was very nice but paired with the dates, it became incredible. They morphed into little jewel-like treats that were almost reminiscent of candy, albeit a more upscale and refined candy. Alas, I also made that Mint-Ginger spritzer recipe to mix with rum and they proportions were all off. I even tried to make it a second time and it was off again. It's a fairly straightforward thing to make an infused simple syrup so I'll keep on trying.

-I had dinner with my daddy-o at Betty's last week. It can be hit or miss there for me, although the patio and decor is always inviting and charming. This week was a hit, luckily, I had a pasta salad with crab and Pops had a green salad with mango salsa and grilled salmon. I liked the little pepitas sprinkled over the top too.



-I enjoyed my crab salad so much that when I saw the recipe in Gourmet for sweet and sour crab salad I had to make it. It was ai-ight but I won't be making that again. Maybe after the millenium I spent cracking the crab legs and the innumerable puncture wounds I endured, I expected too much.

-Two noteworthy dinners, one at my mother's and one at Greg's. My mother had a fried chicken extravaganza, although how I ended up in the kitchen frying on a hot July night, I'll never know. To start, we had black-eyed pea fritters with this incredible hot pepper relish and tasty crab deviled eggs. The main course included a great salad, cornbread, corn and tomato salad and the deliciously brined chicken, accompanied by fresh watermelon cocktails. Cricket made a marvelous blueberry crisp for dessert, mmmm! Not to be outdone, Greg fired up the grill for an ENTIRE coho salmon stuffed with crab the next night. It was decadent and wonderful.

-I had a go at processing and preserving last night. I have cucumbers coming out of my ears and green and yellow beans galore. I was only working with two Mason jars yesterday though (I know Mamma, I'll get over to the house and pick up the rest today!) so I just did some pickled beans. When I worked in New Orleans, we'd garnish bloody marys with pickled green beans and pickled okra and I'd spend a better part of the evening munching away on pickled beans, I loved them so. Also, those olives stuffed with jalapenos, mmm, or blue cheese, even better! In fact, most of the college years, I subsisted on whatever I could graze at work, making my own salad bar out of the array of drink garnishments. LOTS of orange slices, pickled accoutrements and sugar-doused lemon wedges. And praline bread pudding when the boss man wasn't looking. That was a healthy time indeed. Anyway, sorry, sheesh, here's my beans, aren't they pretty?


By the way, you're all getting garden bounty for Christmas presents as I save up for El Grande adventure. I will leave you with this picture of last Saturday's rainbow. Not a great picture but I don't know the last time I saw a rainbow that was a full arc so it was noteworthy. Enjoy!





Monday, July 28, 2008

Operation "Feed Pops" Is Well Underway

My papa hasn't been feeling too well lately and he's not eating much but canned broth on a bad day and prepackaged food on a good day. My father has always been an excellent cook and besides that, I just cannot have him eating solely for sustenance and not for enjoyment. I saw a recipe for fusili with zuchinni, corn, bacon and pesto in this month's Gourmet and I thought that this would be a good recipe to both feed my dad and put a dent in the zucchini that is just starting to overwhelm the garden. The recipe calls for a container of pesto, of course I made it instead so that recipe follows my notes on the pasta recipe. Oh, and at dinner, my dad ate seconds and took a container home!

Zucchini, Corn and Basil Fusili with Bacon:

6 bacon slices
1 pound fusilli
3 ears corn, kernels cut from cob
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, coarsely chopped (1/2-inch pieces)
1 (5- to 7-ounce) container basil pesto

Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. Drain on paper towels; discard drippings from skillet.

Meanwhile, cook fusilli in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 quart water) until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then add vegetables to pasta in pot and cook, partially covered, 2 minutes (water will stop boiling). Drain.

Add pasta with vegetables to skillet along with pesto and 1/4 cup reserved cooking water and toss. Season with salt and moisten with additional cooking water if necessary.

Top with crumbled bacon and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper.

Notes: How can you crisp bacon and blanch zucchini, thereby wasting bacon drippings? That's wasteful. I drained almost all the fat but kept a bit to saute the zucchini for about 7-8 minutes, to get it golden but not make it mushy. I DID, however, blanch the corn on the cob to make it easier to cut off the kernels. Toss the corn in the skillet with the zucchini just for a minute. Then I put the vegetables in a huge pasta bowl with all the other ingredients and tossed with tongs to coat the pasta evenly. Yuo could, of course, make this without bacon but that was the best part. Actually, I rarely eat bacon and when I do, I want more than one slice per serving. Next time I'll up the bacon ante.

Pesto:

2 cups basil (the younger and more tender, the better!)
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts
1/2 c. olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 c. romano
salt and pepper

Process in the food processor. Easy. You may want to play with the amounts, everyone likes a different consistency. If you're planning on freezing any of this, leave out the cheese and remember to add it next time you use it.