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Friday, May 29, 2009

The Green Balloon - The Price Of Stamps

It's around 2 o'clock in the morning and I'm sitting in the dark, reflecting, just trying to take it all in. It's actually 8 o'clock in the morning, Europe time for me, which I've been on for the last three weeks. After perilously navigating German in Switzerland, clever French (the only language I'm remotely fluent in, besides sometimes English) in Marseilles and Cassis, and Italian in the Lago di Como, I've returned home to New York, remembering that few people speak English here either.

The quandry I have hovers over how to at once accurately and concisely describe it all, to create a picture postcard with some meaning; this part of my life, this wonderful gravity whilst in flight, something beyond the price of stamps.

I want to write about the moments, so suddenly ended the minute they dissolve, the tears I feel approaching, having had to leave it all behind. I am tired but I can't sleep. It's all too rapturous, the line, the weave of something finite, a finish, yet something extraordinary and infinite that brings us around the world and back and around again:

The whistler in Cassis who would bathe on occasion in the cold Mediterranean and froth the air with his particular tune. Moody, hazy mornings as well, that puffed up to full stride, grandly offering brilliant, sunny afternoons, and evenings at La Bar de la Marine in the port itself.

The Bouillabaisse in Marseilles that I didn't like, and the neighboring horde of Texans that I liked even less.

Fondue in Zurich, past the season to have it, but marvelous just the same. With chunks of bread dipped in glasses of Kirsch, before dunked into the bubbling cheese.

Lago di Como: on the ferry, there was the breath, the incredible mountains, the surrounding Alps, as we left our hotel in the little town of Tremezzo, venturing forth to Varenna (the unexpected, glorious maelstrom there) and Bellagio.

Lunch in Como, dinner in Milan, I put my hands on La Scala Teatro. We couldn't resist Varenna again, sunset fell on St. Moritz during the way back to Zurich, and we settled into a Bier Gaarten there.

The Zurich lake! I had put on my bathing suit underneath shorts and having removed the latter on our pedalot, I dived into the refreshingly chilly water, frightened as I was, seems silly now. There was a marvelous, soaring, eruptive fountain to swim to, anchored by a ring that anyone could bask on, once reached. I did.

The richly glamorous European couple, having paused for an afternoon behind the sausage stand in downtown Zurich at Rosaly's, sipping Cynar with soda, and still smoking.

Moments, images; some imprints captured or not: the price of stamps. The rest of it left to fill a lifetime, so often solely from memory.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Everything But The...Girolle!

I first sampled the marvellously heady Tete de Moine when Reggie and I reviewed Ayza earlier this year for Next magazine. Executive chef Sean Chudoba gets all of his cheese from Murray's cheese shop here in the city and serves it alongside a host of cured meats and small plates. Translating to Monk's Head from the French, there's a lot of history behind this Swiss delight, spreading over hundreds of years. French Revolution soldiers used to scrape the cheese with a blade that would otherwise have shaved the heads of monks, thus the name (I also suppose the frilly suggestion of a monk's coiffure had something to do with it). Only about 30 years ago, someone invented the girolle, a cunning device to elegantly unfurl the cheese. Although available at Murray's, Baby and I waited and went right to the source to purchase our girolle once we'd arrived in Switzerland!

A note on the cheese: only a throroughly chilled Tete de Moine will slice with ease.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fabulous Fondue

Sure springtime is a little past the season to have fondue, but then again, why the hell not? After all, we were in Switzerland and did imagine there was a faint chill in the air that needed remedying.

I was familiar with cheese fondue, having made it myself several times, a few of which landed with dubious results. Once when out on the town (there was a sort of fondue resurgence in Manhattan, years ago), I also tried the meat and fish kind, served with oil or broth. I'm not such a fan of that. Then of course, there is chocolate fondue, where just about anything that can be speared on the end of a fondue fork or other such similar conveyance is allowable, and usually encouraged.

This recipe for cheese fondue is a somewhat subtler bacchanal, suitable for six, where kirsch (cherry brandy) is not only an ingredient, and a digestive accompaniment but a neccessity as well, for dipping crusty cubes of country bread into first before plunging headlong unto the bubbling fray. Although not included here, a few grinds of white pepper and grated nutmeg would surely well assist.


1 clove garlic, halved

1 1/2 cups white wine (Neuchatel or the like)

1 Tb cornstarch

2 tsp Kirsch

1/2 lb coarsely grated Emmental cheese (2 cups)

1/2 lb coarsely grated Gruyere cheese (2 cups)

-Rub inside of pot with garlic, discard.

-Add wine to pot, bring to simmer over medium heat

-Stir Kirsch and cornstarch together and SET ASIDE

-Gradually add cheese and cook, stirring constantly in a zig-zag pattern until cheese is melted and creamy

-DO NOT BOIL, stir in cornstarch and Kirsch mixture

-Simmer and cook until thick

A Tale of Two Pastas

As delirious as we were from lack of sleep with the whole time change thing upon our arrival in Switzerland, we still managed to pull a dinner party together for our hosts, Kitty and Champ, and other company--and a darned good party at that, which featured Baby's excellent, impromptu ragu!

Here's what we served:

Salted Radishes with a Side of Butter

Warm Asparagus Wrapped with Frizzled Speck, Topped with Two Fried Eggs

Tomato Flan

Baby's Ragu with Saffron Pappardelle

Serves 6

Olive oil
2 lbs. quartered marrow bones (ask your butcher)
1 large chopped onion
1 large finely diced carrot
2 cloves minced garlic
2 lbs. coarsely ground veal, beef, pork mixture
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 Tb Balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Salt, black pepper to taste
2 Tbs dried oregano
Chiffonade of basil and flat parsley (rolled and sliced thin on the bias)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Make the demi-glace reduction:
Sautee marrow bones with olive oil in a heavy bottom skillet, making sure all sides are cooked until dark brown (roughly 20 minutes). Add enough water until bones are just barely covered and simmer for one hour, adding water to keep bones covered. Discard bones and reduce liquid to 2 Tbs (another 20 minutes). Set aside to cool.

In a large Dutch oven, sautee onions and carrots in a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent and yellow. Add garlic and sautee for another minute. Brown the ground meat in the mixture. Spoon out excess fat with a large kitchen spoon. Incorporate the crushed tomatoes into the meat mixture. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes, allowing the liquid to reduce, so that the meat shimmers with a light coating of the sauce instead of swimming in it. Add Balsamic vinegar and remaining spices to enliven the flavor, allowing 5 minutes time for it all to blend together.

The Grand Finish:
Add demi-glace reduction to your ragu, turn off heat. Stir in cheese and cream. Cover and let sit 10 minutes.

To Serve:
Place your drained (but not rinsed) pasta in a large bowl and spoon ragu on top of it. Using clean hands, dig in and toss together. Garnish with a pinch more cheese and parsley and present with a sturdy red wine.

For dessert we found a creamy brie that we drizzled with black truffle honey and ginger cookies.

Orata...or not a

Another weekend, when Champ suggested fish for dinner, I thought of the Mediterranean, which isn't all that far from Switzerland and as they do at dell'anima in New York, I proposed to make orata "in CARTOCCIO" with sumptuous cerignola and black olives, lemon, thyme, and fingerling potatoes in parchment paper. Cut to the Migro market, where they were pretty much out of all fish by the latter part of the afternoon, and the incredibly expensive Globus Food Hall where the orata was going to cost the equivalent of 100 U.S. dollars to feed the few of us.

We let go of the fish and the parchment when I remembered a recipe from years ago in a Saveur magazine where potatoes and green beans were tangled up with pasta (much cheaper than the fish we'd considered) and basil-lemon pesto, apparently a Ligurian tradition. Potatoes and pasta together is certainly a fine example of carb loading but the sprightly pesto lifts it all up and crunchy green beans make it a natural for a summer dish. Adding the olives, wedges of lemon and thyme truly enhanced our dish without fish! Make sure to reserve a half-cup or so of the pasta water to bind it all together.

So there we were, back at the Migro, with any number of homemade pastas before us. Tagliatelle seemed to be the right kind of noodle, somewhat broad and assertive, yet not obnoxious; it worked with the potatoes, as I thought it might--with a simple bunch of leafy greens tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, we had another memorable meal.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Next Magazine Review - dell´anima

38 8th Ave @ Jane St

So far, dell’anima is my favorite restaurant of the year. I could tell you what dell’anima means by definition but just go find out for yourself. I was enthralled by the rotating seasonal menu with some mainstays. No one’s trying to reinvent the wheel at the intimate dell’anima. It’s just a little bit of perfection, served without a lick of pretension.

First of all, they had me at Roasted Orange Negroni ($12). It’s difficult to find a well-made version of the classic, balancing the components of gin (here, Miller’s), Campari, and sweet vermouth (here, Carpano Antica). Not only did we want to kiss the bartender for his efforts, we raved over the incorporation of muddled roasted orange. Sheer heaven! My guy enjoyed the Sangiovese “A Sirio” ($17/glass) from Toscana; it was warm, creamy and peppery, perfect for a day that couldn’t make up its mind weather-wise.

Unfurled tentacles of Charred Octopus ($16) were quite good, with smoky chorizo, white rice beans (who knew?), and bitter chicory, relieved by a judicious spray of lemon.

We shared two pastas next, paired with a clean, full-bodied Sicilian Etna Bianco ($14/glass). Excellent Tajarin “alla Carbonara” ($21) with seasonal ramps, speck (similar to prosciutto), and pecorino was topped with a shimmering egg to fork into the mix. Tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($17) offered a wonderfully rich meat sauce with a peppery bite.

The Orata “al Cartoccio” ($29) was perfectly paired with a sturdy, white Slovenian Friulano “Toh-Kai” ($9/glass). The fish came wrapped in parchment, cohabitating with fingerling potatoes, thyme, lemon and plump green cerignola and black olives, which were utterly transformed. It was superb and wildly flavorful. Skirt Steak ($25) with endive braised in a sweet orange sauce with mint oil was great, paired with the knockout Damijan “Kapjla” ($15/glass), cloudy and apricot in color, served at red wine temperature. Asparagus ($13) with Meyer lemon zabaglione (a creamy what-have-you) was obscenely good with a caper-anchovy vinaigrette and shaved parmigiano.

Flourless Chocolate Cake ($10) with Lambrusco zabaglione and amarena cherries and a gripping Poli Traminer Grappe ($14/glass) left us breathless with delight—and we left completely elated!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cocktails in Como

Well, yes, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo Palace now and again found us having a dram, a wee drinkie, a cocktail, if you will, in the bar, on the terrace, by the pool floating on the lake, traversing the gardens...honestly, the whole glorious procession just felt like it was 1922 once again, as we supposed of course from the guests amongst us having originally beared witness.

To whit: Long Drinks proffered a seriously crafted Raffle's Singapore Sling with gin, Cointreau, Don Benedictine, lime juice and cherry herring just about as Old World an offering as the Mai Tai with an assortment of rums, Cointreau, grenadine, lemon juice, and almond syrup. From the list of Cocktails, the Negroni with gin, Campari and red vermouth had become like mother's milk during our stay on the Lago di Como. The Knickerbocker Martini 1912 with Bombay Sapphire Gin and dry vermouth was knicked up a notch with orange bitters, while The Waldorf Astoria Martini 1919 with olives and a lemon peel made us feel right to home, while perhaps thinking of our own home, back in New York.

Lift a glass will you, and cheers then to the Grand Hotel Tremezzo Palace!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

An Antler Cocktail Caddy

Yup, it's pretty awesome. Two deer antlers crossed together so that we may more elegantly serve rounds of drinks in highballs that bear boar, rabbits, foxes and hawks of some sort. Found at the Flea Market in downtown Zurich one Saturday. Even though the woman that sold it to us for 35 Swiss francs (about 30 bucks) didn't speak much English, nor we much German, she was at least able to convey that our antler cocktail caddy was "one of a kind."

No dispute here on that count. Live it. Love it. I imagine we'll soon have a cocktail party in honor of our fabulous find.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Green Balloon - In Search Of Sea Urchin

I cried when I left Cassis, how I loved it so! I've never cried before when merely leaving a place; leaving people, family and friends, many times, yes, but I don't think ever leaving a place.

The hope that I might visit Cassis began some years ago when I read an article in The Saveur 100 about a journey to the little port town, where one may order a tray of sea urchin, the fantastic, prickly, plucky devils found at Le Bar de la Marine and have them delivered to the table, freshly plucked from the Mediterranean. The very idea of such a thing took hold of my soul and imagination and held on for close to ten years until I actually got to visit a few weeks ago, this May just past.

On a brilliantly sunny day, having finally ventured to Cassis, Baby and I made our way to Le Bar de la Marine, about a five minute walk from our hotel, and took our seats outside, overlooking the Sea and the great number of colorful sailboats resting in the harbor.

After our waiter delivered a round of Gin & Tonics, he informed us that sea urchin season had ended in April, as it does, legally imposed. We laughed first, of course. I had suspected they might already be out of season, but had never bothered to check (nor in fact did I know how I would go about it).

That my search for the sea's answer to peanut butter was thwarted hardly mattered, for the real treasure was Cassis itself: la brouille de la mer; La Goggia d'Olio that we found tucked away in a side street serving steamed artichokes and roasted zucchini blossoms, baked lasagna made with crispy crepes, lobster ravioli; the whistler making his daily crossings up and down the road in front of our hotel; from our balcony, the view of the Mediterranean and stretching out on our small section of beach there over a few gauzy mornings, revisiting its cool mastery at night; how cold the Sea was; how warm the afternoons in town.

Here is what we saw from our balcony at the Hotel Mahogany, the graceful blue, which we stared into much like the feeble or the young might, in the utter grip of it.

And so, au revoir, my heart! I'll be back!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Green Balloon - Better Than Bouillabaisse

One of the things I was looking forward to in Marseilles was the bouillabaisse. Unfortunately, Miramar, one of the finest places that had been recommended to us, wasn't open when Baby and I went. Marseilles sort of shuts down on Sunday and Monday, sometimes Tuesday.

Pressing forward: we discovered Chez Loury on the Rue Fortia in the Vieux Port. It was cozy as all get out, seated as we were, in the back with only a few tables--even though one of them was filled with a drawling horde of somewhat unsettling Texans with a penchant for cell phones.

But we were there for the bouillabaisse, and we had it in spades. Now I can't say that I particularly liked it, although it wasn't the fault of the restaurant, just a matter of personal taste. I ordered the traditional version which came out in three exhaustive (and repetitive) courses. First out was the Soupe de Poisson (fish broth), which I very much enjoyed, with a fine taste summoned from a foreign shore enlivened by a classic rouille (saffron mayo) on a floating crouton. Then the broth resurfaced with the fish in it (Saint Pierre, rascasse, baudroie); afterwards, more fish (vive, galinette, fielas) without the broth. Baby ordered the more conservative version, a single dish of Bouillabaisse du Ravi.

I had always thought bouillabaisse was close to paella, indeed is served similarly in the States. True bouillabaisse (well, don't throw that phrase around a Frenchman) isn't outfitted with salmon or shrimp as I saw on a New York menu just the other day. It really just features cheap fish. Julia Child's recipe for Bouillabaisse a la Marseilles (Meditteranean Fish Chowder from The Twenty-third show) does encourage shellfish such as lobster or crab for color, but otherwise leans toward lean fish, "of the best and freshest-smelling quality" such as cod, grouper, perch, or haddock.
The real treat we had in marveilleux Marseilles was up the rue apiece from Chez Loury at Toinou where we settled down to a wondrous tray of les huitres! Divine oysters!

From the French coast resting on the Atlantic ocean between Nantes and Bordeaux, our pousses en claires were hefty beauties that were a perfect storm of everything an oyster should be, at once briny, creamy, and utterly delicious.

Consider the oyster, indeed, as we did!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Praise The Pearl - Penzey's Shallot-Pepper

It does seem a little strange to me that there was a time when I didn't know about shallots, because I use them all the time now, when in need of a more rarefied onion, or when I make Michael Lomonaco's Shallot-Champagne Vinaigrette, which I often do. But back when I was in high school, the word shallot first jumped out at me somewhere around my sophmore year I think, as an ingredient listed on a tin of escargots, to be minced, and then prepared with butter and parsley in a bubbling broth. I vividly remember the night my father first brought home the striated caramel and ivory colored shells (which we still use), to be filled with the plump escargots and how my mother subsequently rushed out to the supermarket to find something called shallots.

My father got a Purple Heart in WWII and has otherwise always had an air of adventure around him, with a touch of curiosity that he has handed down to me. Like a boy who brings home a stray cat, he used to come home with such preposterousness as pomegranates or stalks of sugar cane (remember, this was the '70's in New Hampshire, we didn't know from the currently ubiquitous Pom brands or Mojitos) so we could try them and tell him what we thought. He was always encouraging me to want to know things, to try things, unlike children today who are enabled to eat only chicken fingers while texting their BFF's.

The Old Man introduced me to oysters and escargots in Canada, Duck a l'Orange in New York, and bought my first suit and pair of wingtips before I went to school abroad in London just in case I might need to appear presentable. And you know what? I did need to appear presentable; one carefree college day my friends and I skipped class to have an afternoon tea at The Ritz. We were all only about 20 years old!

At 82 years old, my father still calls himself a farmer, indeed he was brought up on a farm, but frankly he is the finest, mannered gentleman I've ever known, with the soul of an artist, his stock and trade, while at it.

Having taken the long way around, although I do think it is important to cite one's references, let's get back to the idea of the shallot and the Shallot-Pepper blend with dried tarragon that can turn a Hollandaise into a Bearnaise or add new life to Easy Mac. It's just waiting at Penzey's, purveyor of the best spices, and can be collected easily enough from the stand in Grand Central Station or by catalog, and online.

So what do I do, now that Shallot-Pepper has got me reminiscing like Proust's madeleines?

Collect my thoughts, cluttered memories and go to bed, I suppose.

At the end of an ordinary day, it's somewhat of a mix between truth and imagination that persists.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Marvelous Mole

The granddaughter of Texan Margarita Sames (who is rumored to have invented the Margarita) first taught me how to make a basic version of this recipe with chicken, peanuts and chocolate. I’ve dispensed with the jar of Mexican mole she uses as well as the fistfuls of peanuts. Reese’s peanut butter cups are solely my own idea, based on the 50's tradition of cooking with commercial products such as Coca-Cola for baked beans and Velveeta cheese for just about anything. Smoky chipotles add a delicious fuel to the fire.

Marvelous Mole
Serves 4/entrée

1 rotisserie chicken, shredded to a rag and a bone
1 tablespoon-ish olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thin; a Vidalia or yellow onion is nice
2 cloves minced garlic
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped (save juice for another use)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from the can
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 stick cinnamon
Several Reese’s peanut butter cups
Some Jif crunchy peanut butter

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Sautee onion and garlic until yellowish. Add all the ingredients (except chicken, Reese’s cups and peanut butter) and simmer about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 10-15 minutes more, blending in Reese’s cups and peanut butter. Throw in shredded chicken until heated through, about 10 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste, remove the cinnamon stick; serve on top of corn chips in an appropriate vessel.

An Afternoon with A & P

Baby's father (A) was coming to town with his wife (P), to meet up with her daughter, her daughter's husband and their two children. It was all very last minute and as we had just thrown our Derby party, we wanted to serve something easy but elegant for family, 'natch. I think we quite succeeded, and simply so as well.

Julia Child's Quiche Lorraine (The Eighty-seventh Show) with crumbled fried bacon, eggs and heavy cream was an excellent starter, inverted on tea cup plates, which we chose to serve cold and without a crust. We also used less cream and dispensed with the chilled butter chips as the recipe encourages, we merely rubbed the ramekins with softened butter. All told, it was easy as pie and delicious as quiche.

I'm a huge fan of clever leftovers; the hearty remains of the Southern Shrimp from the Derby with a fresh batch of instant grits made their way onto comfortable spoons again to the delight of a new audience.

We sat with sumptuous crab cakes poised on a shallow pool of horseradish sauce before getting down to business. The medium rare grilled Filet Mignon entree was served with a side of scrumptious lobster mashed potatoes and asparagus, roasted with lemon zest, and lemon- and oregano-infused oils.

Homemade thyme-infused peach sorbet quite finished us off.

Ah oui, mesdames et monsieurs, a perfectly affable afternoon in which to serve Quiche Lorraine!

Soundtrack: Stephane Grappelli, Shades of Django; Henry Mancini, Combo!; Frank Sinatra, Sinatra Sings Cole Porter; Blues in the Night, The Johnny Mercer Songbook; Falling in Love with Glenn Miller.

Kentucky Derby Bon Voyage Party

For the first time in the 15 years that I've been throwing Kentucky Derby parties, I actually had to make more simple syrup for the Mint Juleps! Probably because I made Trudy's Mint Juleps for the first time too, which our guests found irresistable. This Derby party was also special since Baby and I are going overseas for a few weeks and we wanted to be with some of our nearest and dearest before we take off. Hence, a Kentucky Derby Bon Voyage Party!

When folks arrive, Benedictine sandwiches are always on the table, the recipe pulled from an issue of my beloved Saveur magazine collection. To whit, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, with a touch of Tabasco, lightly spread on Pepperidge Farm Very Thin White Bread. We also juiced a parsley bunch and whisked it in for some color and flavor, instead of the curious use of green food coloring.

Martha Stewart's Menus for Entertaining has always been epic in my mind, instrumental in planning my Derby parties--stuck in between its pages, my sentimental copy has grocery receipts, shopping lists and pressed lilacs from years past. From the "Fried Green Tomatoes" Brunch, the simple to make Buttermilk Biscuits with Red Tomatoes are always a crowd pleaser. I don't actually make the biscuits, as Ms. Stewart suggests, I just buy Pillsbury Grands; I don't think biscuits get much better than that. We purchased Homestyle, Southern Style and Buttermilk for a decent variety, sliced the tomatoes somewhat thinly, with a widge of salt and pepper and served in a colander lined with a cunning cloth napkin.

We introduced a vat of the legendary Chasen's Chili to the Derby party, which I think is probably the best chili I've ever had! We ordered Gebhardt's chili powder online (for cheap!), but also threw in some of Penzey's Chili 9000 powder, which features cocoa powder in its list of ingredients. We served with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, scallions and Frito's, like a Frito Pie. Mama yo quiero! How do you say delectable, divine?

Now to the race itself, the most exciting two minutes in sports, nobody at our party had bet on the winner, Mine That Bird, but since my pal and I had both bet on Pioneer of the Nile, who came in second, we split the pot. Another first! I had never won a dime ever at any Derby party!

Apres le competition, we served Ms. Stewart's Southern Shrimp with Grits, this time incorporating tender, flavorful rock shrimp as opposed to regular shrimp which is a pain in the neck to devein. We broke out and served it on individual spoons, with a dollop of grits, covered over by a fine dice of red, orange and yellow peppers with the shrimp and a topping of bacon and parsley. Just between us, anything presented on an individual spoon is sure to elicit innumerable 'oohs' and 'ahs.'

I think we all had a wonderful time and thankfully, the weather was with us once again for the Derby as we sipped our minty juleps with the breath of spring in the air, having pushed the windows wide open, even as we lingered into the evening.

Soundtrack: Sippie Wallace, Sippie; Atlantic Blues, Vocalists; The Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 Foursider; Antonio Carlos Jobim, The Man From Ipanema, Disc 2; XTC, Skylarking; and later, The B-52's Anthology, Nude on the Moon.