Thursday, December 30, 2010
But you may have already guessed that.
Shove an old Woody Allen movie in the VCR, place a Tim Dorsey novel on my nightstand, let me watch an episode of 30 Rock, or put me around the bbq grill with the likes of Michael and Andy and you will know what I mean. I can feel the years melt away even as we speak. At this rate, I just might kick Methuselah's ass.
But it's just not the laughter that keeps me young.
No. It's waking up each morning to a family that is always rooting for me.
It's a wife that doesn't stand for any bullshit and the sexual intimacy borne on years of celebration and hardship.
It's the friendships that outlast the 3 scotches we all downed at Meehan's Pub.
It's the readers who's eyes follow each vowel and consonant that I joyfully place on the page of this blog.
It's the parties I attend where the guest of honor is someone who's name doesn't start with Warren.
And it's the food. Always the food.
I feel it every time I partake of a meal that someone has poured themselves into. It's what I want to offer every time I create a meal for others.
I live and exist because of what someone has taken the time to do for me. And I can only give thanks. Oh...And if you throw in a glass of wine or two, I'm sure we will laugh as well.
Food. Drink. Prepared for us by those that love us will nurture us. And I'm reminded of something said long ago: Take and eat. Drink. This is my body...
And although this thought is no laughing matter, I approach the cup and His smile...
Sunday, December 26, 2010
I enjoy "It's a Wonderful Life". Always have. It's not only thought-provoking, but it never fails to evoke memories of Christmas past. Fond memories.
I feel the same about Chock Full O' Nuts coffee. The fam finally relented and bought me two bags. They hate it. I love it.
Start up a potful and with one whiff I'm suddenly transported back to crowded nicotine-stained subways into the city, Macy's glorious Christmas store windows, hot dog carts spewing steam into the frozen air like slumbering volcanoes, bustling automats, traffic cops bundled up like Frosty the Snowman in the cartoon, Checker cab drivers who actually spoke English, brown-tinged snow piled high on the curbs and threatening to gobble up the parking meters, and a face so frozen it felt like it was going to crack and fall off. Sigh...those were the days.
Here's hoping your 12 days between Christmas and Theophany (Epiphany in the Western church) are filled with Joy and similar fond memories.
And to help those memories along, here's a great recipe for Mulled Wine. Thank you, Clarence. Hope you're enjoying those wings.
TRADITIONAL MULLED WINE
2 bottles (750 ml) red wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 sticks cinnamon (or 4 teaspoons ground)
5 whole cloves
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 bay leaf
1 orange, zested and squeezed (reserve juice)
Bring the water to a boil in a dutch oven and add the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and bay leaf. Return to a slow boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and add the wine, orange juice, and orange zest. Warm over low heat (do not boil) for 30 minutes. Strain and serve.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I think NikkiD summed it up best when she wrote and said:
"Man, Caterson, your pics suck. Listen to me. I'm serious, they really suck. In fact, the last time I saw so much sucking was when I absentmindedly plugged my Hoover into the 220 outlet. Talk about sucking. I lost a throw rug, two remotes, and a ficus tree."
So now I'm back to simply writing prose in the hope that your vivid culinary imagination will fill in the blanks.
After all, it works in other areas. Leading experts in the science of human sexuality believe that it's not the genitals, but the mind that is the strongest sex organ. And if what I think about 98% of the time is any indication, I'd have to agree with the experts.
But back to food. I'm afraid I will have to leave the delectably delicious photos to those who already do it well.
For the rest of us? Please continue to read my blog with an open and creative mind. Let the pictures unfold in your imagination and then let them tickle your taste buds.
But if you do need something a little more visually concrete, you're always welcome to drop by the house for some real food. There's always something cooking. And there's always enough.
We'll save you a seat. Promise.
PS. Anyone need an iPad clone? I got one for sale. Cheap...
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
However, I have a good reason for not posting any pictures to go along with my prose. You see, up until now I couldn't afford the technology and equipment to do so. I was writing all of my blogs on a computer at the library. (That is, until I got kicked out - see my post here: Blogger ).
But all that has changed. I recently came into some extra cash (the Santa with the kettle in front of Walmart barely put up a fight) so I treated myself to an early Christmas present and purchased an iPad on e-Bay. Okay, it's not technically an iPad. The name at the top says Etchasketch. The unique name suggests that it is probably an Apple clone manufactured by a company somewhere in Eastern Europe. I'm thinking what used to be Yugoslavia.
The important thing is I finally upgraded my blogging gear for half the price of an iPad. I mean, why pay top dollar if you can get something close? Am I on this planet just so Steve Jobs can afford to buy another truckload of used-looking designer jeans and black turtlenecks? I think not.
Of course I'm well aware that my device may not have all of the features of a real iPad, but d'you know what's really cool? Whenever the screen freezes, all I have to do is turn it upside down and shake it to reboot. Let's see an iPad do that.
At any rate, I'm going to include pictures on my blog. Starting now. I think it will enhance your blog reading experience and it just may propel me to Featured Publisher on Foodbuzz. Here's a pic of the fried eggs I made this morning:
The screen froze up again.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
So in the spirit of the season, I offer ten more. (And may you, bjorn99, enjoy 'the lake' as well!).
1. Refrigerate all foods labeled “Keep Refrigerated.” I know this sounds like a no-brainer. But remember what happened when you ignored the label that said ”Warning: Keep Away from Open Flame.”? I bet the eyebrows you used to have remember.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Have a safe and happy holiday season!
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
But rarely do they ever ask if my recipes contain too much celery, paprika, or are written in such a way that might impinge upon the rights of an overly sensitive people group.
No. Salt is the issue of today. Though it's true that sometimes someone will ask if my recipes are low-fat - but that is rare since the low-fat craze has lost a lot of oomph.
So why is salt such a big issue? Because the use of salt has been linked to such maladies as high blood pressure, stomach cancer, asthma, Alzheimer's, kidney stones, osteoporosis and, according to one report I found in a recent edition of Cars and Chicks, eating too much salt may also be responsible for those morons in front of us who drive with their blinkers on even though they have no intention of turning.
Think about it. We've all seen articles and reports with alarming titles like: Salt, The Pillar of Death, or The Hidden Dangers of Salt, or Salt: The Silent Killer, or I Was a Salt-Licking Teenage Mutant.
Yes, salt is getting a bad rap these days. So let me help set the record straight*. Salt, like money, is not evil. (The love of money is the root of all evil). It is not even dangerous. (Too much or too little can be harmful, but that goes for just about anything). Our bodies need salt (sodium). We cannot function without it. I'm not going to expound on the biological reasons as to why this is the case. That's why God created science textbooks.
No. I'm not here to teach a science lesson. Nor am I here to say that the consumption of salt in today's world is not harmful. I believe, and the data shows, that American's do ingest too much. We should cut back. But not in our day-to-day cooking. Why? because salt does affect flavor. In a big way. The 1/2-teaspoon of salt that we stir into a sauce or sprinkle on a steak would be sorely missed if we were to ban it from our cupboards. No, this thoughtful and moderate use of salt is not the primary culprit in our society's struggle with hypertension or any or the other maladies listed above.
The real culprit? Processed food. Most are loaded with salt. Look at the label of any processed food to see what I mean. If you want to cut down on your sodium intake, cut down on your intake of processed food. I also steer clear of fast food and family-style restaurants as a matter of habit because they also load their dishes with salt.
So, unless you are strictly advised otherwise by your physician, feel free to sprinkle some Kosher salt on that roast, vegetable, or starch. Your body won't mind and your taste buds will love you for it.
I generally use all-purpose non-iodized table salt in most everyday applications, including baking, because the small grains dissolve readily, but I will reach for Kosher salt when I am seasoning meat, fish, poultry or vegetables because it's easier to control and the grains cling a bit better. Oh, and on a side note, have you ever wondered why a good number of chefs (including me) sprinkle Kosher salt on any given item from a height of 12 to 20 inches? It's not to present some type of grand flair. No. The food we prepare will hopefully showcase our talent. The reason we sprinkle salt from such a height is because it is more evenly distributed that way. Go ahead. Try it. And the fact that it looks cool certainly doesn't hurt.
So we've touched on some of the issues of salt. But there's more. Topics like how and when is it best to apply salt. Brining (effective and useful). Those nifty little salt grinders that are turning up in stores and restaurants (silly and useless). And what about the rage over sea salt?
These questions and more will be discussed in a future blog.
Until then, pass the salt, will ya?
*As a matter of record, I am a cook and not a nutritionist, dietitian or doctor (although I once played doctor with the other kids when I was a child). The recommendations made in this blog are the result of careful research, classroom instruction, and the occasional wild guess. Any lawsuits stemming from physical harm incurred from said recommendations should be addressed to the real author of this blog: Andrew Shmedley, 1203 Commorant Way, Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and not to Warren Caterson.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
It's a 'Flash Opera' that took place at the Macys in Philly this past Saturday.
650+ singers burst into the Hallelujah Chorus at noon. Startling weary shoppers and eliciting broad smiles.
Okay. I admit it. I'm a sucker for this type of thing (I'm often tickled by Improv Everywhere and their antics on YouTube). But this particular one put chill bumps on my chill bumps. Click on the link below and see what I mean.
Eric Voegelin once coined the phrase 'Immanentize the Eschaton' (loosely meaning: trying to create heaven on earth) back in the 50's. William F. Buckley popularized it by saying 'Don't Immanentize the Eschaton' a little later on. College student fans of Buckley even sported buttons quoting him.
And with all the religious fruitcakes that dot our landscape I would have to agree with that sentiment.
After hearing and sharing in the joy of these singers on the video, I must admit that perhaps I caught a brief glimpse of the Eschaton.
Sometimes God shows up. Even in Macys.
Like in the voice of that middle-aged black woman.
Or in that toddler dancing in the outstretched arms of her dad.
Or in that Generation Y guy taking pictures with his iPhone.
Or in that ten-year-old-boy who surely must've been wondering what the hell was going on.
I especially loved the placard that announced to those in attendance that they had just experienced 'A Random Act of Culture'. Kudos to the Opera Company of Philadelphia and all the choral groups who shared their voices.
I know this blog has nothing to do with food.
But perhaps we should all watch the video and chew on it for awhile. Bon appetit!
Monday, November 1, 2010
My friend Lee Ann has a very nice set of All-Clad cookware. You may have seen them offered in serious gourmet cook stores or glossy high-end chef's catalogs. They are rated very highly by numerous chefs and testing labs, and therefore find themselves ensconced at the top of the home cookware heap. They are very good. But they are not cheap. Lee Ann sometimes lets me come over to look at them as long as I wipe the drool off her countertop before I leave. I also have another friend who inherited a set of French copper cookware. They perform flawlessly and the polished copper looks glorious hanging from the hooks in her kitchen. But since she charges me three bucks just to look at it, I rarely ever do.
Because cookware will be one of your most important investments you should purchase the very best that you can afford. And as with cutlery, cookware should be selected for its effectiveness and durability. And remember, it pays to shop around. In addition to both on line and brick and mortar cook stores, be sure to check out the sales at department stores as well as stores like Marshalls, Homegoods, Ross, or TJ Maxx.
Now...a word about "Celebrity Cookware".
You've seen them. Knives, pots and pans, kitchen gadgets, counter top machines, blah, blah, blah. All stamped with the name of the celebrity chef of the hour. I generally steer clear of these items and stick to the cookware that most of these celebrities actually use in their own kitchens. But don't take my word for it. Objective reviews of celebrity cookware may be found in consumer publications as well as on-line. If you already have them, use them til they wear out. But I digress...
The Table for Two kitchen will initially require a half-dozen or so carefully chosen pieces of cookware. Here are my recommendations:
8-inch non-stick omelet pan
10-inch or 12-inch stainless steel skillet*
10-inch or 12-inch pre-seasoned cast iron skillet
1-quart or 1-1/2-quart stainless steel saucepan*
2-quart stainless steel saucepan*
3-quart stainless steel or enameled cast iron dutch oven*
8-quart covered stockpot with steamer basket
*Look for tri-ply stainless steel cookware where an aluminum core runs up the whole side of the pan and is sandwiched between two sheets of stainless steel for effective and even heating.
Of course, you will eventually add to your collection as you see fit, but these items will make a nice start. You may even find some of these items in cost-saving sets. For a complete rundown on specific pots and pans as well as brand recommendations, sign up for my newsletter on the right side of my blog. It's not too late to be in the running for my 8-piece cookware giveaway. I'll be drawing names this weekend.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Intrigued, I made a quick u-turn and pulled up beside him. I rolled down my window and asked, "So, you say you can help me increase my blog followers?"
He wiped his nose with a sun burnt forearm as his narrow, mailbox slot eyes fixed on a passing Escalade crammed full of tan surfer girls, all bouncing off the seats to a blaring tune I didn't recognize.
"Absolutely," he replied, his eyes following the black beast of an SUV as it turned right toward the beach. "I have a system that could double it."
"You can? For food?"
"How much food?"
"About a forty bucks worth."
So I whipped out two twenties and tossed them to him. "Now what?"
He slid the bills into his back pocket then wiped his nose with his forearm again. "S'easy," he replied as he stared off into the distance. "You just need to ask all the folks that are following your blog to recruit one more follower."
He stopped staring at the vision in the distance and his eyes locked on mine. "I shared that with Bill Gates. Back in '77. Course there were no blogs back then. We was talking about doubling the users of that Microsoft thing he had going." He turned his head and spat on the ground. "Course, the rest is history."
I thanked him and pointed my car to the Usina Bridge. As I crossed over the Intracoastal, I smiled and thought, Yep, Warren. Money well spent.
Now...you dear reader know what to do. Why keep all this blog buffoonery to yourself? Ask a friend to follow. Maybe two friends. I'd love to drive by that old man in a few weeks and watch his brown-as-tanned leather face fold up into a smile as I shout, "It worked. It worked!"
And while we're talking about doubling things. Here's a recipe for two that is great doubled.
GARLIC BAKED SHRIMP
PREP: 10 minutes COOK: 15 minutes
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
3 tablespoons seasoned breadcrumbs with Romano cheese
1-1/2 tablespoons dry sherry (or dry white wine, Sauvignon Blanc is good)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 375°.
2. Place the shrimp in a small casserole dish and add the melted butter.
Stir shrimp to coat well.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to coat. May be refrigerated
until ready to bake.
4. Place casserole dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes (a little
longer if the shrimp have been chilled.)
Serve with Steamed White Rice and Corn.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Well, actually, it was more like a stray comment here or there. Something more akin to: "What? Is that it?" or "Is that all you got?"
My answer? A resounding NO! Here's eight more!
Now, keep those cards and letters coming.
CONCERNING THOSE WHO USE THE WORD 'PLETHORA'
You can pretty much discount the credibility of anyone who uses the word 'plethora' in any form of written or oral communication. If they use it twice in the same communication, you will be absolved if you hunt them down and beat them repeatedly with a Roget's Thesaurus.
When microwave ovens were introduced they were supposed to revolutionize our culinary lives. Manufacturers claimed they would do everything except crush garlic and wash dishes. I have owned a microwave for over three decades and am convinced it is good for only four things: popping bags of popcorn, defrosting or cooking frozen veggies, reheating last night's dinner for lunch, and taking up three square feet of precious counter space. (Reports that it can also dry wet cats are purely speculative).
WHEN DINNER GUESTS SHOW UP EARLY
Many of us make a real effort to show up for a dinner party a little later than when we are told to arrive. This is good form. However, there is a very small minority who insist on showing up early. Sometimes very early. When these socially-inept morons arrive while you are finishing a sauce or fluffing the rice, throw some sliced onions in a skillet with some olive oil and saute them. The aroma will drive them nuts and they will drool uncontrollably, which is always good for a few laughs. (Oh, and be sure to pour some of your cheap wine in a carafe and set it out. Save the good stuff for those guests who have the good sense to show up at the right time).
KEEPING YOUR FRIDGE SMELLING FRESH
Placing an open box of baking soda in the back of the fridge to keep it odor-free is a strategy that has been handed down from great-grandparents to grandparents to parents. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work. Here is the best way to keep your fridge odor-free: Make sure all of your food is tightly-wrapped, throw out the veggies that are starting to rot, and clean the refrigerator every now and then with soap and water. I know it's more work than putting a little yellow box on the shelf, but this technique actually works.
Removing chicken skin with your bare fingers works just fine with the first piece. After that they get so slimy you may as well have had them dipped in oil. Instead, use a paper towel to grasp the skin and then toss the paper towel when you're done. No muss. No fuss.
QUICK THAWING STEAKS AND CHOPS
The quickest way to thaw frozen steaks and chops is to place them unwrapped in a heavy aluminum skillet or baking pan (the heavier and thicker, the better) at room temperature. You'll be amazed at how quickly they defrost. Of course, thicker roasts and chicken should only be defrosted in the fridge.
COOKING FRESH SPINACH
A pound of fresh spinach looks like it could feed a small army but when it cooks down it only yields about one cup. Keep that in mind when you're out shopping.
LATE NIGHT GADGET INFOMERCIALS
The effectiveness of any gadget advertised on a late night infomercial is diminished in proportion to the amount of airtime said infomercial expends.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
I know I would!
Unfortunately, I will be busy on the 14th and will be unable to attend such a momentous occasion. And that's the reason why I am writing to you today.
You see, instead of participating in such an extraordinary event I will be busy filming my 45-minute cooking demonstration on the 14th, and I would like you to be part of the studio audience. There are several reasons why we are doing this:
- There is an agency that has expressed interest in representing me but they would like to see an example of my live presentation.
- Several out-of-state cooking/food events have extended a tentative invitation for me to appear but require a video before confirming.
- I would like to audition for the Food Channel next year but will need to submit a b-roll of my 'performance' along with the usual paperwork.
I know it's a weeknight, but this is the only way we could pull this off at a price I can afford (many folk are volunteering for this - I am so appreciative!) I'd count it an honor if you would join me for this project.
Here are the details:
When: Tuesday, September 14th 7 pm to 8 pm
Where: A. Chef's Cooking Studio, 145 Hilden Road in Jacksonville, Florida. (I will send directions if you choose to attend).
Seating is very limited so we are requesting 'firm' RSVP's to be sure to accomodate everyone. Please let me know if you will be attending by sending an e-mail to:
If you cannot make it, please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.
PS. Normal blog buffonery will continue in all its foolishness in a day or so. Thanks for following!
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
No. Not migraine.
You see, my mind has a habit of wandering, but occasionally it migrates. Sometimes it migrates so far I often fear I will lose it. Such was the case this past week.
While my mind was gone, I had some time to reflect. Here’s what I realized: I promised my blog readers timesaving kitchen tips and helpful cooking hints.
See? It’s right up there in the masthead.
Unfortunately, I haven’t lived up to my promise.
Sure, I’ve dished up some winsome commentary, lots of buffoonery, and a couple of good recipes, but there’s been a dearth of tips.
But wouldn't you know it? When my mind returned, it had in it's possession a bevy of kitchen tips. Here’s a good half-dozen, in no particular order.
CHOPPING ONIONS WITHOUT TEARS
A good way to avoid tears when chopping onions is to use a very sharp knife. You see, when we chop onions we damage cells and release sulfuric compounds and enzymes that are normally separate when the onion is intact. These compounds and enzymes combine to create thiopropanal sulfoxide, the substance that irritates our eyes. Using a dull knife damages more cells and thus creates more thiopropanal sulfoxide. Using a sharp knife damages less cells, and, therefore, creates less thiopropanal sulfoxide. You'll also get your chopping out of the way quicker.
Of course, the best way to avoid tears when chopping onions is to have your spouse do it while you go out and get the mail.
TESTING THE HEAT OF A FRESH HOT PEPPER
Testing the heat level of a scotch bonnet, habernero, or even a jalapeno pepper by biting into it is not, and never will be, a good idea.
IF YOU DO BURN YOUR MOUTH ON A HOT PEPPER
Don’t reach for a glass of water; it will only make it worse. Instead, reach for some milk, yogurt or even ice cream. The casein in the dairy products attach themselves to the capsaicinoids in the hot peppers and haul them away (much like dish detergent does to grease).
SOY SAUCE, SALT, AND THE FIFTH TASTE
Contrary to the opinion of many, soy sauce is not just liquid salt. If you want to add a little 'something' to gravy, soup, or broth, reach for the soy sauce before you reach for the salt. A couple of dashes of soy sauce will add what the Japanese call umami, the fifth taste we can perceive after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Give it a shot.
SAVING FRESH HERBS
So you bought a bunch of parsley for a recipe that called for 2 teaspoons. What do you do with the rest? One option is to place the remainder in a glass with water covering the roots. Set it in the fridge, replacing the water occasionally, and it’ll keep for a good while. If you don’t plan on using a lot in the short term, go ahead and chop all of your parsley (basil, cilantro, sage, etc) and place a tablespoon in each compartment of an ice cube tray. Add just enough water to cover and freeze. Then pop the cubes out into a baggie, label it, and toss it back into the freezer. Now when you need a ‘fresh’ herb for a stew, soup, or sauce, grab a cube out of the freezer and toss it in.
SEX AND CHOCOLATE
If someone declares that a certain brand of chocolate is better than sex, they are lying.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
It's not that I harbor an aversion to letting someone else do all the cooking, serving, and cleaning up. It's just that, well, so many restaurants seem to do it so badly these days. Especially the serving part.
Of course, there are still establishments scattered around the country that will only allow you to serve if you are fortunate enough to have inherited the position from a parent or relative. I'm thinking of the likes of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, or Le Bernardin in Manhattan, or even Bern's Steakhouse in my old stomping grounds of Tampa Bay. Landing a server position at one of those venerable institutions would be akin to winning the lottery.
No. I'm talking about the other 99% of the restaurants that dot our highways and byways. The ones where red-headed and barely post-teen hostesses greet everyone with a smile as sweet and natural as a packet of Splenda and gush, "So how are you guys tonight?" Even if the party is made up of a half-dozen septuagenarian women fresh from a late-afternoon game of bridge.
You know the type and I know the type. It's the effervescent gum-popping blonde whose cell phone is surgically affixed to her ear. Or the middle-aged woman who is convinced she can take the orders from three different tables simultaneously and effectively. Or the gangly 20-something waiter with the dreadlocked ponytail and an order pad stuffed down the front of his pants.
I can sense some of you nodding in agreement.
However, I've been known to overlook my server's hairstyle, order-taking strategies, or technological accouterments if the food and service are exceptional. Heck, I own a cell phone and I once sported a ponytail. But there are occasions when it's hard to ignore certain examples of dining room buffoonery.
Like the time my fiancee, now wife, ordered warm apple pie a la mode. The waitress presented her with a pie that was nearly as cold as the vanilla ice cream that crowned it. When I pointed this out to the waitress she snatched it up and replied, "I'm sorry. I'll be right back."
You're probably guessing what happened next.
The waitress returned a few minutes later with the same plate of pie and ice cream, but after she had obviously nuked it for a minute or two in the microwave. True, the apple pie was now as warm as a baby's cuddle, but the ice cream had completely melted over the pie, creating a thick, dull white pool that oozed across the plate. Yum.
Or the time I ordered a chef's salad with Dijon vinaigrette on the side. When the waitress placed my salad in front of me, I kindly asked if she would bring my side of salad dressing. She said she had already added it. I stared at my naked salad as she continued, "I poured it down the side of the bowl just like you asked me to. It's probably all at the bottom."
Or the time I ordered a medium-rare rib eye and received one that was plainly well-done. When I pointed this out to the waiter he offered to take it back to the kitchen so the chef could fix it. (Short of firing up the time machine they must've had stashed back there, I'm not sure what the chef could've done to "fix" my steak).
Or the time my date ordered her eggs once-over-light and was presented with an order that was unmistakably scrambled. When I reminded the waitress that my companion had requested eggs over light the waitress replied that she had, indeed, seen the cook turn them over once, but she would go back and check with him just to be sure.
Hmm. Now that I think of it, being greeted at the door by a bouncy redhead with a "How are you guys, tonight?" doesn't sound so bad after all. Even if my 79-year-old mother is with me.
Now, hand me that colander, will ya?
Grilled Steak - Indoors
I believe getting a good steak is one of the reasons we like to go out to eat. For some reason, we just can't seem to duplicate that restaurant taste at home, especially if we choose to cook indoors. It's true that high-end restaurants have access to cuts of beef that the average person doesn't. They can purchase dry-aged Prime beef, we're stuck with cry-o-vac Choice. But don't fret. Here's a recipe for great Choice grade steak that you can cook indoors. It may surprise you, but you won't need to fire up the broiler on this one. And unlike searing and cooking steak on your stove top, this version will not fill your house with smoke.
Prep Time: 5 minutes Sitting Time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 6 minutes Rest Time: 3-5 minutes
2 6-8 ounce Rib-eye, New York strip, t-bone, top sirloin, or flat iron (my favorite) steaks, 1-inch thick.
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 (or more) teaspoons cracked black pepper
1. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt on each side of the steak and let sit at room termperature for 1 hour. Sprinkle with cracked pepper and use your hand to press it into the meat. Preheat oven to as high as it will go (mine goes to 550 degrees).
2. When the oven has reached its highest temperature. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to turn gray (about 10 minutes).
3. Pat the steaks with a paper towel and add them to the skillet. Immediately place the skillet on the floor of your oven and close the door. Cook for 3 minutes for medium rare. Open the door, flip the steaks then cook for an additional 3 minutes. Remove steaks to a warm platter, cover and let sit for a few minutes so the juices redistribute themselves.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Okay. I confess. I am one of those nerds who scours the World Wide Web looking for killer travel deals that could only be explained as being posted by disgruntled employees intent on driving their employers to bankruptcy. I’m talking about incredible deals. Uber deals. Obscene deals.
Of course, several friends (…okay…many friends) think this kind of cyber sleuthing is a complete waste of time. That I should be spending my limited free hours on something more productive. Like farting or watching television.
But no. This is my hobby, thank you very much. And unlike other people’s addictive and life-sapping suburban hobbies like fantasy football, internet porn, and growing vegetables from scratch in that weed-infested plot of land most folks call “the backyard”, my hobby actually pays real dividends. Whenever one of my friends rags on me for spending so many hours hunkered down in front of the blue light of my laptop, I ask them when was the last time they scored a $450-per-night boutique hotel room with a full kitchen in Mid-town Manhattan for $90 bucks a night? Oops. Did I hear “never”? All right then.
So a couple of weeks before our scheduled trip to Miami, I snuggled up to the computer with a glass of wine, began my search, and made reservations.
We checked into our hotel just north of South Beach (which is also known as SoBe) in an area called Miami Modern (also known as MiMo). However, this area is not to be confused with the mainland Miami Modern section on Biscayne Boulevard (also known as MiMo BiBo). No. We were staying in that part of Miami Beach that showcases the grand architecture of Morris Lapidus and Norman Giller. Think Fontainebleau, Eden Roc, the Delano, and the Carillon.
We opted to stay at the less prestigious but infinitely more affordable Townhouse, which is located in a sub-section of MiMo called Low Cost Miami Modern (also known as LoCo MiMo). While not situated directly on the beach (it is a mere block away) the Townhouse makes up for it with a stunning roof top venue arrayed with enormous red and white striped umbrellas and lounges the size of inflatable life rafts. At least that’s what the pictures on the web site depicted. The roof top lounge would have made for several delightfully romantic evenings had it not been closed and under renovation. Oh well, at least there was a sushi bar in the basement.
But since I am not an ardent fan of sushi (preferring jelly rolls to California rolls), we brushed aside that option to explore some of the other venues/activities I’d found on the Internet. Here's a few (with price per person):
The Townhouse, of course. Which, in spite of the fact that the roof top lounge was closed, had a pretty funky vibe and a great continental breakfast. Not to mention the retro beach bikes they have for rent in case the brand new bikes you brought with you get stolen in broad daylight on a busy street even though they were secured with an elephant chain and industrial-grade padlocks. $85 bucks a night for two.
Christine Michaels’ Art Deco Walking Tour. Christine’s genuine enthusiasm, irresistible charm, and extensive knowledge raise her Art Deco Tour above just about any other tour I have taken. Plus, she’s prettier than the guy leading the ‘other’ Deco walking tour. $20 bucks (there were seven in our group – I think it’s $30 for two or four).
Café Charlotte. This little hole-in-the-wall storefront restaurant serves up remarkably delicious Venezuelan/Argentine food at a terrific price. No pretense or attitude. It's easy to miss, so keep an eye out. Under $10 bucks.
The newly renovated Fontainebleau. We wandered through this stunning ode to mid-century excess like we owned the place, helping ourselves to the complementary fresh-squeezed lemonade. Free.
Puerto Sagua Restaurant. This is a local joint in every sense of the word. It's always packed but they seem to find a place for everybody since turnover is quick. Great Cuban comfort food at a remarkably reasonable price, like, $10 bucks.
Spiga Ristorante Italiano. From the quiet ambiance to the delicious entrees to the attentive wait staff, Spiga sets itself apart from most of the other SoBe restaurants in its price range. $50 bucks with wine. Our anniversary. We splurged.
The Boardwalk. Riding bikes with the ocean breeze at our backs and the sun on our shoulders. Free.
Front Porch Café and Tropical Beach Café. Deliciously filling home-made breakfasts. $9 bucks and $7 bucks respectively.
Now, when you think about the $80 we could’ve shelled out for a round of Margaritas (see previous blog), I think we came out ahead, don’t you?
And while we’re talking about eating well, but on the cheap, here’s my take on a dish that Café Charlotte is noted for.
PABELLON CRIOLLO A CABALLO
Pabellon Criollo is Venezuela’s national, and certainly most popular dish. It is loosely translated as “Creole Flag” because when it is served, with the shredded beef on the left of the plate, the steamed rice in the middle, and the black beans to the right, it resembles the Venezuelan flag. “A caballo” simply means “on horseback” and refers to the optional fried egg topping. This looks like it takes some time to make, but remember, most of the cooking time is spent simmering the beef.
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Simmer Time: 1 – 1 ½ hours
2 pounds flank steak
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 bay leaf
5 cups beef broth
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 15-oz can chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg for each serving
1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Pat dry steak and sear on both sides until brown, about 4 – 5 minutes per side.
2. Remove from skillet and place in a large pot or Dutch oven with 1 cup chopped onion, bay leaf and enough beef broth to cover (about 5 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours until meat is very tender.
3. Remove the meat and set aside to cool. Strain the broth and reserve. When the meat is cook, shred with your fingers or a fork.
4. Reheat the skillet over medium-heat and add remaining olive oil. Add the remaining chopped onion and the red pepper. Sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about 8 – 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin and oregano and sauté 1 – 2 additional minutes.
5. Stir in the shredded meat, chopped tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Add enough reserved broth to moisten the mixture (you may freeze remaining broth for other uses). Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, adding broth as necessary to keep the mixture moist.
6. Meanwhile, fry an egg for each.
7. Serve each portion topped with a fried egg.
Serve with steamed white rice, black beans, and fried plantains.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Frying eggs on the sidewalk? Ha, mere child’s play. We saw two guys grilling brats in mid-air as we drove by Flamingo Park.
Anyway, we checked into our hotel at four pm then wandered down to Ocean Drive to scope things out. For those of you who have never visited South Beach, Ocean Drive is flanked by beachfront Lummus Park to the east and three-story Art Deco hotels, clad in the pastel colors that made Miami Vice famous, to the west. The hotels also house cafés that spill out of their lobbies and onto the sidewalk where umbrellas the size of flying saucers shield diners from the blazing sun. Since the sidewalks are clustered with tables, it only leaves a narrow pathway for pedestrians to amble through in single file. Two can walk abreast if they are anorexic. Severely overweight tourists are forced to use the street.
Most of these cafés also feature gorgeous but aggressive young women with mysterious accents accosting passersby with discount cards for lunch, dinner and 2-for-1 drinks. We had only walked two or three blocks, fending off a half-dozen of these young waifs, when the heat and humidity began to take its toll. We were parched. The constant sight of couples nursing drinks under the shade of billowing umbrellas didn’t help.
And, oh, what drinks!
I knew it was only an illusion created by the clever shape of the glasses (wide as a hubcap but shallow as a thimble) but they still looked like you could bathe a small child in one. As sweat pooled around our feet and soaked into our flip-flops, we decided it was time to dive into one of these enormous margaritas.
We were in luck. The next café had a few empty tables. The girl manning the sidewalk released her grip on a fleeing family of five and greeted us in an English dialect that could only have been acquired from a childhood spent raking dirt on a farm in a former Soviet Socialist Republic that surely ended in -stan.
“Two for table? Dinner?” she asked with a smile as bright as the sun.
“No. Just drinks,” I replied, my lips puckering at the thought of cool lime-infused tequila washing over my taste buds. “The 2-for-1 special.”
“This way,” she said as she led us through a sea of couples enjoying their frozen concoctions. But just before we sat down, I did something I’ve never done in a bar or café.
I asked her how much the drinks were.
I don’t know what drove me to it. I’ve been in lots of bars from Orlando to New York to Chicago to LA. I’ve had $12 dollar martinis off Central Park and $2 bottles of PBR in Portland. I figured South Beach would be at the upper end. Maybe $10 bucks for what must surely be a mostly-fruit-juice margarita. But still. I asked.
"So. How much are the drinks?"
“How much?” our petite hostess echoed, scrunching up her nose as if that sort of question had not been covered in training.
“Yes. For a Margarita.”
“Not counting tax and tip,” she added.
I crunched the numbers in my head. $29 for the drink. 7% sales tax. 2% food and beverage tax. 1% homeless and domestic violence tax on food and beverage. Then the 20% tip that is automatically and inexplicably added to all tabs in South Beach regardless of the service. Some cafés even add a surcharge that goes to their favorite charity.
It came out to almost $40 bucks. Yep. $40 friggin' bucks.
But we were hot. We were in the shade. We were on vacation. And it *was* 2-for-1. We certainly could spare $20 bucks apiece for a large margarita, couldn’t we?
I pulled out a chair and found myself saying, “Okay. We’ll take the 2-for-1 one special. I’ll have one. My wife will have the other.”
“Sorry. No sharing. One drink special per customer. You each have to buy one.”
She waved her hand toward the other restaurants that dotted the boulevard. “Everywhere the same. This is South Beach.”
The calculator in my mind whirred and buzzed. $80 bucks for two orders of margaritas? I looked around at the other tourists enjoying their drinks and wondered if they knew how much their final tab would be.
I shuddered as I heard a couple to my left order a second round. Cha-ching. $160 bucks worth of drinks for those two.
To my right, a Fabio-look-alike leapt to his feet and tossed his chair aside while screaming something that vaguely sounded like Portuguese. The woman with him looked mortified.
I assumed he had just received his tab.
Oh, my. Looks like they'd ordered appetizers, too.
I turned back to our hostess. “No thanks,” I said.
We wound our way back out to the sidewalk and continued our journey south until we spotted a lonely café off the beaten path. A waiter clearing tables out front invited us in for the "mojito drink special."
I smirked. “How much?”
I smiled, grabbed my wife’s hand and wandered into the cool and shade.
Sometimes it pays to ask.
CLASSIC MARGARITA FOR ONE
I know you can buy bottles of margarita mix. In fact, margaritas made from mix are what most of us are accustomed to. It’s what restaurants use. And although it’ll do in a pinch, or if you’re throwing a large party, there’s nothing quite like a margarita made from scratch. Here’s one such recipe. It'll cost a tad more to make it from scratch than from a mix. But be careful, once you taste it, you may never go back to a mix again.
Kosher salt for rimming the glasses
1-1/2 ounces good tequila (blanco, 100% agave nectar)
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce Cointreau (or Triple Sec for a sweeter margarita)
Fresh lime slices for garnish
1. Place the salt in a shallow dish or saucer. Moisten the rim of the glass with a slice of lime then dip into the salt.
2. Fill the glass with ice (crushed is optional). Add tequila, lime juice and Cointreau. Stir until chilled. Garnish with a slice of lime and serve immediately.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
One afternoon we stumbled into a crowd of people entranced by a man perched on a small platform. He stood in front of a makeshift wooden table. On the table stood a few red-ripe tomatoes and empty Coca-Cola cans. He was dazzling the crowd with his well-rehearsed patter about a new, revolutionary knife from the orient. He declared that this sharp, serrated wonder would cut through a ripe tomato like a hot knife through warm butter. He laid the blade against a bright red beefsteak and eased it through. Then he picked up a soda can and announced that the very same knife would slice through aluminum just as easily, and he proceeded to do so. Then he sliced the tomato again. The crowed gasped in delight.
“I bet your knife can’t do that!” he said as the applause died out. “This knife is made with 100% true surgical stainless steel and comes with a lifetime warranty – it will be as sharp in twenty years as it is the day you buy it.”
He went on to say that a knife like this would cost $19.95 in stores, but we could buy it today for just $10. He sold them as fast as his partner could yank them out of a large cardboard box.
I was one of them.
And I didn’t even cook.
It was going to be a mother’s day present. My girlfriend was a little less enthused. “Shouldn’t you wait? Read up on it? See what Consumer Reports says or something?”
“It’s got a lifetime warranty. If it doesn’t work I’ll just bring it back. What’s to lose?”
We stopped at a grocery store on the way home and I bought two plump tomatoes and a six-pack of Dr. Pepper. That night I amazed my dorm-mates as I sliced through a tomato, then through an empty Dr. Pepper can, then back through the tomato and then the can. But when I tried the tomato again, it didn’t slice like a hot knife through butter. I examined the knife – the serrated edges were bent. Dull as Larry King with a head cold.
“Not to worry,” I said as I placed the knife back in the box. “It has a lifetime warranty. I’ll just send it back.”
I looked for paperwork that may have come in box. There wasn’t any. Nada. Even the box lacked a company address or phone number. Oh well, I thought. I’ll just go back to the flea market next week and get my money back.
Next Sunday I headed back out to the flea market and searched the grounds for the knife salesman. He was nowhere to be found. I did, however, notice quite a few people making the rounds with a knife box similar to the one clutched in my hand. They all seemed pretty steamed about the situation. Me? I just chalked it up to a nineteen-year-old kid who had $10 burning a hole in his pocket.
All wasn’t lost. Even though my mom could never use the ruined-knife as it was intended, it did serve a purpose. You see, she discovered that the thin, flexible blade popped open the bolt on the front door when she locked herself out. It was more effective than a credit card and it didn’t chew up the doorjamb like a screwdriver. Eventually the knife found its way to a convenient hook in the garage where it hangs to this day. I remember times when I’d show up unexpectedly from college with a few friends in tow only to find myself locked out. We’d head into the garage to get the knife. My friends would stare and ask, “What the heck is that?”
“It’s a door opener,” I’d reply with a grin.
“I never saw one like that.”
My lesson? If something is too good to be true, it probably is. I also learned that you don’t always get what you pay for; remember, I bought that $10 knife when the minimum wage was around $2 bucks an hour. That knife today would probably hover around $40. Not exactly cheap.
So, when it comes to kitchen cutlery. Buy the very best knife you can afford. And don’t get it at the flea market.
WARREN'S 8-inch CHEF'S KNIFE RECOMMENDATIONS
(with avg. prices - shop around for bargains)
J. A. Henckels Four Star $90.00
J. A. Henckels Twin Professional ‘S’ series $95.00
Wüsthof Classic Cooks Knife $100.00
Forschner Victorinox Fibrox $30.00
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
And here’s what I found out. A whistle is a lot like the bagpipes, only easier to play. See, my parents bought me a set of bagpipes for my 21st birthday (to honor my Scots/Irish heritage). Since they came with no directions, the only way I knew how to play them was to haul butt down the interstate and hold them out the window. Geez, what a racket that made. In the first week alone, I was pulled over six times for practicing.
Thankfully, all that practice prepared me for my job with the Ocean Conservancy. At the interview they asked me if I enjoyed working with sea creatures. I said yeah. They asked if I’d ever handled an octopus. I said, no, but I knew how to play the bagpipes. They said that was close enough and I got the job. And that’s when I learned to cook calamari.
But the bagpipes was not my first instrument. That would’ve been the trumpet. Everyone in the 5th grade at Daniel Warren Elementary in the 60s had to learn an instrument. My first choice? The violin. Probably because Larry from The Three Stooges wreaked so much havoc with his. Remember when his bow took that guy’s toupee off in the courtroom? I so wanted to do that. I even wanted to be a lawyer just so I could try it. Anyway, it seemed that most of my classmates had the exact same idea. The school ran out of violins, so they gave me a trumpet.
And here’s what I learned: One should never take a trumpet to the beach to practice. Do you know how much sand a 5th grader can cram into the horn of a trumpet? Trust me. A lot. Especially if he takes off his sneaker and uses it to really cram it in.
The next day I turned my trumpet back in to the music teacher cuz the plungers keep sticking and the mouthpiece tasted like salt. After muttering some words that sounded a lot like ‘you little muffin plucker,’ he snatched the trumpet out of my hand and issued me a triangle in its place. But that was okay. Now I could at least practice at the beach.
Later on, in college, I picked up the banjo. Got pretty good at it, too. In the late 70s I was voted 2nd best banjo player in the state of Florida. I’d show you my trophy but the engraver misspelled the word ‘banjo’. He spelled it ‘bango’ (like I was playing a tropical fruit as it might be pronounced by someone with a sinus infection). I would’ve won first place if that star-spangled Vietnam Vet with MS hadn’t shown up in a wheelchair with the seeing-eye dog. Hell, he didn’t even own a banjo, let alone play one. I’m convinced he got the sympathy vote. But hey, at least I got second place. Third place went to a mailbox. It was a small competition.
Anyway, I still trace my fondest musical memory back to the bagpipes. It was fun practicing on the freeway and it was fun wearing a kilt as I did so. By the way, do you know what a Scot wears under his kilt? Me neither. So I wore nothing. It was very liberating. But you sure can’t jump off the second floor porch of a frat house into a crowd of sorority girls and not expect a reaction. Or an arrest. Especially if the campus police are hovering nearby. I’m just saying.
I hope you’ve been able to follow my glorious train of thought: Bagpipes. Bango. Octopus. Calamari...
Because even though calamari might resemble a small octopus, it is really quite different. Here is a classic recipe that I’m sure you will enjoy. Scaled down for two, of course. However, if you feel like inviting the Y basketball league or the entire sorority over, you may want to spring for an octopus. Oh, and if you’re bound and determined to jump off the second floor porch, don’t forget to wear some boxers under that kilt.
It hasn’t always been easy to find calamari (squid) in your neighborhood grocery store. Now, thankfully, many carry it cleaned and ready to cook at the seafood counter or in the frozen food section. If your grocery store doesn’t carry it, your local fish market most certainly will. This recipe is a northern Italian classic. Although traditionally served with a squirt of lemon juice, I’ve also included an aioli dipping sauce (calamari with tomato sauce is an American invention).
Prep Time: 15 minutes Soak Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 5 minutes
1/2 pound calamari, cleaned
3/4 cup milk
3 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Enough canola or vegetable oil to fill skillet to 1-inch
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Lemon wedges to garnish
1. Rinse the calamari and pat dry. Cut the body into 1/2-inch rings and trim the tentacles as desired.
2. Combine the milk, egg, and basil leaves in a small bowl. Beat until well mixed. Place the calamari into the mixture and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Prepare Aioli Sauce (below) and refrigerate.
3. Meanwhile, combine the flour, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, salt and pepper in a bowl.
4. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet or heavy pot over medium heat until the temperature reaches 375˚.
5. Dredge the calamari in the seasoned flour to coat, then fry for 1 to 3 minutes until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with lemon wedges or an aioli dipping sauce.
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Refrigerate for 15 – 30 minutes.
Friday, July 2, 2010
I was relaxing in a chair in the magazine section flipping through back issues of 'The Enlightened Sous Chef' when someone called me on my cell phone. I answered and tried to talk in whispers so as not to disturb anyone who was actually there to read. Then this librarian scurried over and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, sir, but didn’t you see the sign? You’re not allowed to use a cell phone in the library.”
I glanced up at her. “But I’m not using a cell phone”.
“Oh?” she said, raising one eyebrow. “Then what’s that thing you’re holding up to your ear?”
“It’s a pacemaker. For my brain. See, whenever I forget something or loose my train of thought, this little baby jumpstarts my thought process.”
She placed her hands on her hips and leaned forward. “Oh yeah? Then how come I saw you talking into it?”
“It’s voice activated,” I replied with a smile. “It only comes on when I speak. I save a fortune on batteries.”
She didn’t buy it and I found myself out on the street.
So I got back at them.
The next day I got my revenge. I went back and checked out, like, 27 books. But instead of leaving with them, I put them all back on the shelf.
Ha! Let ‘em figure that one out.
And while they’re scratching their heads over that one, let me share a recipe I managed to scribble down on the back of my library card. It’s from the Enlightened Sous Chef Issue #86 – The Swimsuit Edition.
FRUIT GLAZED HAM STEAK
This is a wonderfully quick and delicious meal. Ham steaks can be found in the meat section and reheat in a jiffy. I usually purchase several if they’re on sale and keep them in the freezer for those nights when I don’t have a lot of time to cook but still want something out of the ordinary. If you begin the rice pilaf and steam the corn just before you grill the ham steaks, you’ll have dinner on the table in less than half an hour (a bit more if you are using charcoal).
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 15 – 20 minutes
2 tablespoons plum preserves (you may use apricot if plum preserves are unavailable)
1 tablespoon white wine
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 pound hams steak, 1-inch thick
1. Preheat outdoor grill or hibachi.
2. When the grill is nearly ready, combine the preserves, wine, mustard, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook and stir until well combined, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
3. Lightly score the edges of the ham steak (to prevent curling) then grill, uncovered, until cooked through, about 5 to 8 minutes per side depending on the temperature of your grill. Brush with the glaze during the last few minutes (do not burn glaze).
Serve with corn on the cob and rice pilaf.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Several of my friends say I should have my head examined. “You’re upset about getting Victoria's Secret Catalogs but you’re depressed that you haven’t received an invite from Lebowitz? What gives?”
Here’s what gives. I admit, the Victoria’ Secret models are beautiful. Stunningly so. But the pix have no soul. No depth. And even though Fran Lebowitz has been recognized by Vanity Fair as one of their Best Dressed Women, I doubt she would ever be chosen to grace the pages of Victoria's Secret. Or would want to.
But given a choice between holding court with her and others like her (Dorothy Parker, may she rest in peace, comes to mind) around a resurrected Algonquin Round Table; or snuggling with a couple of models from the Spring issue of Victoria's Secret at a corner table in the Rose Bar... well, I’d cast my lot with the likes of Fran and Dorothy.
Someone once said that beauty is only skin deep. That may be true. But wit, wisdom and the beauty of one’s soul runs deeper. And while I am not one to avert my gaze as a gorgeous woman passes by, there’s something winsome, earthy and simple in the writings of women like Fran Lebowitz that is remarkably attractive.
And how do Cuban Black Beans fit into the equation? Easy. I’m also drawn to meals that are winsome, earthy and simple. Dishes that have delighted both humble families and self-important monarchs. Cuban Black Beans is one such dish. Depth, history, comfort, and spice. It’s all there. I'm sure there are as many recipes for this as there are cooks. I whipped up a batch for 80+ people who dropped by the house this past Sunday. I’ve included it below. Scaled down, of course. This will make enough for 4 to 8 depending on what else you are serving and how hungry you are (freeze the leftovers for another day).
Now, you’ll have to excuse me. My cab just pulled up to take me to West 44th Street for a delicious lunch and scintillating conversation with a cadre of writers, illustrators and journalists – and more than one delightful ghost.
CUBAN BLACK BEANS
1 pound dry black beans
½ pound smoked pork (2 or 3 ham hocks are fine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon cider or red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon rum
3 or 4 dashes of hot sauce, or to taste
1. Rinse black beans and remove any stones or small sticks. Place in a 5-quart Dutch oven or pot and add 6 cups water. Soak for 5 hours or overnight.
2. After soaking, add the smoked pork and bring the beans to a boil over high heat then turn heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are barely tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the age of the beans. Skim any foam that rises to the surface.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Stir in the oregano and cumin and sauté 1 additional minute.
4. Add the onion and pepper mixture, bay leaf and brown sugar to the beans. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Return heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Season with salt and simmer until beans are soft, about 30 minutes more.
5. Remove the bay leaf and smoked ham and pick off and dice meat. Return meat to the pot and stir in the vinegar, pepper and rum. Season with hot sauce and additional salt to taste.
Serve in bowls or over steamed white rice.
Monday, June 7, 2010
I got a visit from the blog goons this week. Two burly guys in trench coats and starched white shirts. The one called Mikey Payday - his face looked just like a Payday candy bar - hoisted me up by my collar and threw me against the wall while his colleague, Kit-Kat Johnny - his face also looked like a Payday bar but they couldn’t have two guys named Payday in the same gang so they called him Kit-Kat - waved a freshly opened bottle of WiteOut® under my nose and seethed, “Your blogs are too long. You’re making all the other bloggers look bad. Like they ain’t got enough to say. You gotta cut back.”
I gulped and sputtered, “Cut back? How much?”
Mikey Payday drew his face close to mine. “Half.”
My eyes grew wide. “Half?”
“What is there, an echo in here?”
“Well, sometimes when all the windows are shut and the ceiling fan isn’t running you can quite often hear an….”
“Shaddup!” Kit-Kat said as he jabbed a finger into my chest. “In half. By tomorrow. Or else.” And with that the two goons spun on their heels and marched out of the room.
I stared down at my blog draft and sighed. In half? But how? Then it hit me. I could delete every other letter. That would certainly do it! I sat down and feverishly retyped my blog, posted it, then sat back and waited for the comments to roll in. It didn’t take long. The first was from my agent.
“What the heck do you call this jibber jabber?”
I tried to explain about the trench coats and the deceptively intoxicating smell of WiteOut, but she cut me off.
“Good grief, Caterson. Your blog reads like it was typed in tongues by some Pentecostal evangelist!”
I glanced down at my delete-every-other-letter blog. She was right. Heck, I wasn’t even a Blogger anymore. I was a Bogr (which is pronounced ‘booger’ in some parts of Bavaria). I slammed the phone down and bowed my head in abject failure. Then I heard a knock at the door. The mailman. I opened it and he dumped two duffle bags of express mail at my feet. All filled with fan letters, prayer requests and checks. And the letters kept coming. For days.
I finally called my agent to tell her that my blogging in tongues had made me a bona fide Blogging Pentecostal Evangelist and that I was only 75 cents short of clearing a gazillion dollars.
“Fantastic,” she said, no doubt thinking about her 15 per cent cut. “Now there’s only two more things you have to do to become the primo Pentecostal Evangelist of the blogosphere.”
“What’s that?” I asked. “Go to seminary and get ordained?”
“No. You need to bone your secretary and then cry about it on TV.”
“You know I can’t do that!”
“I don’t have a TV.”
Then it happened. I lost my following overnight to a new guy who can blog the future for his generous followers. All they have to do is reset the clocks on their computers to yesterday and he’ll predict what would happen to them today. It wasn’t long 'til the post office was dumping mounds of letters and checks on his doorstep.
Sometimes I think religion in America is a lot like fast food. We want it convenient, we want it our way, and we want it now. If someone down the street can serve what we want faster, well, see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.
I went to church last week. The service was from the 4th century and was nearly two hours long. We pretty much stood the whole friggin’ time. I’m glad I went.
Slow food is good. So is slow religion.
So here I am, back to writing long blogs again. I’m sorry I’ve taken up so much of your time. But to make it up to you, I’ve included a killer recipe. But it’s not fast food. Are you up for it?
And if you set your computer clock back to yesterday, I’ll even predict what you might have for supper tonight…
• BEEF BURGUNDY •
If you make this a day ahead of time the flavors will meld and you'll have a truly heavenly dish. Can't make it ahead of time? Don't worry. This recipe is for four. That way, you'll have enough left over for lunch tomorrow.
PREP: 10 minutes
MARINATE: 8 to 24 Hours
COOK: 2 to 2-1/2 hours
2 pounds boneless chuck or bottom round cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
For the marinade:
1 cup burgundy wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion chopped
1 small carrot chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 slice of bacon, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup beef broth
1/2 (15.5-ounce ) can diced tomatoes
4 ounces mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup pearl onions, peeled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1. Mix marinade ingredients in a bowl. Place meat in a 1 gallon plastic bag and add marinade. Toss to coat and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Turn occasionally.
2. Remove the beef and pat dry. Strain the marinade into a bowl and reserve the vegetables in another bowl.
3. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon. Cook until brown and remove the bacon. Add the olive oil and heat. Add the beef and brown on all sides (you’ll need to do this in batches so the meat will brown, rather than steam). Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
4. Add the reserved vegetables, stir and cook until slightly brown, 5 minutes or so.
5. Add the flour and stir for 1 – 2 minutes until smooth and slightly brown. Stir in the reserved marinade, beef broth, and tomatoes. Return the beef and bacon to the pan. Bring to a boil and cover. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until meat is very tender but not falling apart.
6. Add mushrooms and onions and cover. Cook an additional 15 – 20 minutes until tender. Garnish with fresh parsley.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Now I can understand why John Lennon was so often depressed. The news in his day was often bad. Perhaps today even more so. Terrorism. Assassinations. Ecological disasters. Wall Street fluctuations. The Yankees five games behind at the start of the season. On and on. Deeper and darker. And yet, we as a people are resilient. I believe God has placed a spirit of ascendancy in humankind. A drive to rise above the muck and the mire.
We only need think about one of the greatest symbols of modern man’s quest for immortality – the Empire State Building. Bones of iron and steel anchored in bedrock…clad in panels of Indiana limestone…soaring 1250 feet into the ether…and built during one of our country’s darkest hours – the Great Depression.
Do you think this magnificent building would ever have been built if Morrie Stuckman hadn’t laid that very first brick?
Of course it would’ve.
‘Cuz that idiot Morrie Stuckman laid the first brick in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, 31 miles from the Empire State Building. His uncanny ability to habitually show up at the wrong job site is just one reason why Morrie was never nominated for the Bricklayers Hall of Fame. The other reason being the fact that he erected the first section of scaffolding for the Chrysler Building in J. Edgar Hoover’s shorts.
But it still remains that even the longest journey begins with just one step. I’m often reminded of those immortal words spoken by Neil Armstrong as he stepped from the lunar module onto the moon: “That’s one small step for man,” he said with pride. Then looking back at the azure blue earth glowing in the distance, added, “And that’ll be one giant cab fare if they leave my ass on this god-forsaken rock.” Even today, those inspiring words bring tears to my eyes, as I’m sure they do yours.
But seriously. Sometimes we do lay the brick in the wrong state, but more often than not we lay it exactly where it needs to be. The important thing is we’re trying to do something productive. And if we erect scaffolding in a stranger’s drawers, so be it, as long as we recognize our mistake, tear it down, and rebuild it where it’s supposed to be.
You see, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that there is a lot of wild and unpredictable Grace out there. Lots of opportunities for second, third, and even fourth chances.
Now that I’ve hopefully inspired us to do something, let’s grab that skillet and open up a bottle of Marsala ‘cuz we’re about to get busy.
Oh. And don’t let me forget to say Grace.
CHICKEN MARSALA WITH MUSHROOMS
The rich, smoky flavor of Marsala defines this classic Sicilian dish; one that is traditionally prepared with veal. As in all of the wines used for cooking, Marsala does not have to be expensive. There are several reasonably priced domestic selections to choose from.
PREP: 10 minutes COOK: 20 to 25 minutes
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped onion (1 small onion)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 pound fresh mushrooms (or one 4-oz jar) sliced
2 tablespoons dry Marsala wine
1/2 cup beef stock
Salt to taste
1. Dry chicken breasts with paper towels.
2. Place a breast between two pieces of plastic or wax paper and pound it to 1/4” thickness.
3. Heat the 1 tablespoon butter and the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat.
4. Mix the flour, salt and pepper together in a shallow dish. Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off excess.
5. Add chicken breasts to the skillet and cook 4 minutes per side until meat is tender, lightly brown and opaque. Remove breasts to a plate and cover with another plate to keep warm.
6. Add onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
7. Add mushrooms and sautè until lightly brown, 3 to 5 minutes
8. Return chicken breasts to the pan and pour the Marsala and stock over chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until sauce is reduced by about 1/3. Add remaining tablespoon of butter and swirl. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with Buttered Noodles and Sautéed Spinach with Garlic.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
I had the pleasure of speaking at an event in St. Augustine Beach last week. They were just completing an eight-part series on Ethical Eating and I spoke about healthy cooking. I was the last presenter and thought the event was very successful. Of course, I figure any event where no one hurls anything at me while I’m speaking is a successful event.
But I digress…
During the course of my cooking demo, I held up a box I purchased in the frozen food section of my local grocery store. Crab Stuffed Sole. It promised to be a quick, healthy entrée for two. It even boasted “Original Classic Recipe” on the front. It sold for just over six bucks. I usually don’t buy my seafood in fancy blue cardboard boxes, but hey, I’m one to try anything once. Just ask my wife. (But please don’t bring up that night with the Cool Whip, hula-hoops, bungee cords, and that thing you have to plug in).
Anyway…this frozen food entrée wasn’t all that quick. (For something to qualify as ‘quick’ for me, I have to be able to do it faster than I can spell it). This dish needed 35 minutes in the oven. When you add ten minutes to preheat the oven you’d be pushing 45 minutes. So I crossed ‘quick’ off my list of adjectives.
But it had sole and crab, so it must be healthy, right? I thought so 'til I read the ingredient list. Oops. There was no crab in this meal. Just surimi…imitation crab. Worse still, it had no sole (there is no sole in American waters. True sole must be flown in from Great Britain or Scandinavia, and is, therefore, pretty pricey. What we call sole here in the states is most likely flounder). But this particular entrée had neither sole nor flounder. It contained fish all right, but an unnamed variety of whitefish probably caught in trawling nets the size of Rhode Island somewhere north of the Bering Sea or snatched out of a fish farm somewhere in the bowels of Thailand.
Okay, so my Crab Stuffed Sole entrée had no crab and no sole in it. But it did contain a list of 50+ other ingredients including tetrasodium pyrophosphate. I don’t know about you, but I’ve made it a point not to eat anything with the word ‘pyro’ in it. And I certainly avoid food with the word ‘phosphate’ in it. (Isn’t that what I wash my clothes in?)
I have to give them credit on one account, however. They did include calcium carbonate in the ingredients, which as we all know, is an antacid. TUMS, to be exact. See, they must’ve figured all these chemicals and artificial ingredients would make us sick so they mixed in some antacid as a pre-emptive strike. I'm glad they did. It worked.
I had to chuckle as I finished reading the many unpronounceable, laboratory-sounding ingredients and remembered the “Original Classic Recipe” claim on the cover of the box. Whose ‘Original Classic Recipe’ is this? Dr. Frankenstein’s? Bon appétit, Igor.
Now here’s a recipe that contains real seafood, eight other ingredients and can be made in well under half an hour. I’ve even left out the phosphates and TUMS. Oh, and there’s not a ‘pyro’ in sight.
By the way, if you want a creative dessert, I have some leftover Cool Whip and a few unused bungee cords. E-mail me…
BROILED GROUPER WITH CREAMY CRAB SAUCE
PREP: 5 minutes COOK: 10 minutes
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 (6-ounce) can crabmeat, drained and flaked
1/4 teaspoon Cajun or Creole seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
2 (5-6 ounce) grouper* fillets
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven broiler.
2. Melt butter with cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the mustard and stir until thickened. Add the crab and season with Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook until heated through.
3. Place grouper in a small, greased baking dish, and rub with olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Broil grouper about 4 minutes on each side, until easily flaked with a fork. Spoon the crab sauce over fish and serve.
Serve with Garlic Smashed Potatoes and Corn.
* Can’t find Grouper? You can make this dish with striped bass, black sea bass (flakier texture), mahi-mahi, pompano, lemonfish, catfish, or red snapper (flakier texture).
Monday, May 17, 2010
I thank them, sign their book, and smile. Because I know I’m lucky.
I was born into a family of immigrant entrepreneurs who spun gold from hardship.
I went to a public high school where I learned algebra, studied Chaucer, and read Langston Hughes. I attended a college where I sat side-by-side with brilliant young men and women who went on to launch equally brilliant careers.
I married a wonderful, beautiful woman who gave birth to six incredible kids. We built a new house and planted a garden. We owned a Porsche. We sold everything and moved to the inner city to work with young people. I remodeled and lived in three Victorian homes.
I made a lot of money. I lost a lot of money. I made some of it back.
I wrote a novel that didn’t sell and a cookbook that did. Now I’m writing this blog.
Yep. It was all a massive stroke of luck. I guess I was one of the ‘chosen few’.
I remember going to the Fireman’s Day Parade as a child in my hometown of Mamaroneck, New York in the early sixties. It was a big deal. Not like so many parades today - anemic and under-attended. This was the era of three TV stations, sandlot baseball, circus under a real tent, and pizza by the slice. My dad hoisted me on his shoulders to see the parade. I know I saw more than he did. But I’m convinced we both had a great time.
Flash-forward to the Mid-90’s. I took my wife and kids to Chicago. The Thanksgiving Day Parade. Crowds swarmed and jostled along the curb. The older kids nudged their way to the front. I hoisted my young son Aaron up on my shoulders so he could revel in a parade that I would never see. But I certainly enjoyed his squeals of laughter as floats, clowns and marching bands drifted by. Yep, I’m convinced we both had a great time.
Back in the day when I was raising money for non-profits, I once solicited a wealthy gentleman for a major gift. He responded, “Warren, when I win the lottery, I’ll give you that big gift.”
“Mike, you were born in America. You already won the lottery.”
He shook his head and chuckled. Then he whipped out a pen and signed the pledge card.
See, here’s the deal. If you live in America, you’ve already won the lottery. You’re already ‘lucky’. ‘Cuz someone, somewhere let you climb on their shoulders to see The Parade. I don’t care if you were raised in Beverly Hills or Bed-Stuy. We’re all standing on someone’s shoulders to see a parade that they could only hope to see. It might’ve been a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, teacher, coach, neighbor, rabbi, or minister… Someone stooped low enough to allow us to scramble onto their shoulders to see something remarkable while we were perched up there.
Now it’s time for each one of us to lift someone up on our shoulders. To let them fully see what you and I have only caught a glimpse of.
This is how the world changes…..For the good.
I bet you’re wondering, ‘What does this have to do with jumbo shrimp?’
Easy. I’m gonna give you a recipe that’ll knock your socks off. But I have to let you in on a secret. It’s not mine.
I gleaned it when I climbed on the shoulders of a great New York chef who has long since passed away. He wrote it down for the likes of me to see and tweak. I’ve made it for family and friends for over 20 years. Now I’m passing it on to others.
I’m standing on his shoulders. Now pull out that skillet and climb up on mine.
SHRIMP SCAMPI for TWO
PREP: 10 minutes COOK: 10 minutes
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Lemon slices to garnish (optional)
Parsley sprigs to garnish
1. Rinse shrimp and set aside.
2. Heat butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Sauté garlic 1 – 2 minutes or until softened (do not brown).
3. Raise heat to medium-high and add shrimp. Sauté until pink and firm, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn shrimp and add parsley. Sauté for 1 – 2 minutes more. Stir in white wine and lemon juice then season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 30 seconds.
4. Garnish with lemon slices and parsley sprigs.
Serve with Rice Pilaf and Broccoli with Garlic Butter.