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Monday, October 26, 2009

Salem, Here We Come!

What a dream it was to be in Salem this past weekend! I hadn't been since I was in the 5th or 6th grade, but there it was still waiting, as it had been when I first visited as a child with my cousin and aunt, vividly obsessed as I was with the stories of Tituba, the fitful girls and the riveting, haunting spectre of the witch trials. Although the little town is more like an overwrought mall now, we still treasured the guided tour of The House of the Seven Gables (in particular, the narrow climb up the hidden staircase off of the dining room!), that grand, historic edifice staring out onto the harbor; relished the leisurely, rainy walk on Chestnut Street along the gorgeous houses and foliage underneath the shelter of our umbrellas; the wine, mead, and craft beer festival on Essex Street; our little moments at the Lobster Shanty and the Black Lobster (twin 1 1/4 lb lobsters for a bargain $14.99) was also such fun to stay at the Hawthorne Hotel where scenes of the classic four-part Bewitched episodes were shot back in 1970, and where Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick Sargent stayed during the filming.

Visiting Salem was a perfect entry to fall, as we've so suddenly turned the corner, discovering with hardly a moment's notice that what we supposed to be summer this year was indeed over.
I propose one of the best recipes I know to celebrate the crisp new season: Chicken Pot Pie in a Pumpkin, adapted from the recipe courtesy of Ms. Martha Stewart.

Chicken Pot Pie in a Pumpkin
Serves 6
6 sugar pumpkins - (about 2 lbs are the best)
5 tb butter
2 tb melted butter
2 ts salt
1 ts Freshly ground pepper
1 ts Freshly grated nutmeg
1 lb pearl onions
5 tb all-purpose flour
9 oz peeled cubed potatoes
2 medium peeled sliced carrots
12 oz button mushrooms; quartered
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 c milk
4 1/2 c poached or roasted chicken
2 tb fresh thyme leaves
3 tb chopped parsley
2 tb chopped fresh sage
1 lg egg beaten with
1 tb heavy cream
This recipe calls for pate brisee with thyme but spare yourself the trouble and work with a tube of Pillsbury dough instead and pound some thyme into it.

Slice the tops off the pumpkins. (Placing a pumpkin on a towel will help keep it from rolling around.) Scoop out the seeds, and discard them. Using a pastry brush, brush insides of pumpkins with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Season insides of pumpkins with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Place pumpkins on a baking sheet; cover tightly with foil. Bake until tender, about 30 minutes.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add pearl onions, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Drain; rinse under cold running water. Peel onions, and set aside. Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a large, high-sided skillet set over medium heat. Add potatoes and onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes begin to turn golden.

Add mushrooms and carrots, and cook 4 to 5 minutes more. Add flour, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add reduced chicken stock and milk, and bring to a simmer. Cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in chicken, parsley, thyme, sage, remaining nutmeg, remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, 3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper.

Remove from heat, and divide mixture among reserved pumpkin shells. Roll each piece of pate brisee to a thickness of 1/8 inch.

Pull center of dough upward to form a pumpkin-like stem. Place over the hollow of each filled pumpkin. Using the back of a small paring knife, mark the dough to simulate the lines of the pumpkin.

Brush top of dough with egg wash.

Bake until crust is golden, about 45 minutes.

Happy Hallowe'en, everybody!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shouldn't You Just...?

Bring a little something for your host to enjoy the morning after the fabulous dinner party you attended? Such as packets of instant coffee perhaps and a round of pecan twirl coffee cake?

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new millennium

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Polynesian Cocktail Party

I freely admit I have a penchant for Polynesia. It started when I was a kid, going out to dinner with my family at the Asia Fantasia in Dover, NH. I was mad for all the screaming pomegranate-colored walls with images of cascading waterfalls hung on them, the bamboo huts where we ate, and simply enthralled by the flaming Scorpion Bowls and Volcanoes that swirled around us at neighboring tables. It was a mission of mine at a very early age to navigate the things called chopsticks. Most of all, I loved that delicious, perfect quintet with the funny name: the PuPu platter. Apart from the fact that it too arrived on fire, fueled by the preternatural incandescence of Sterno, I treasured the savory chicken wings laced with soy sauce, crispy fried shrimp, sticky spareribs, and spears of beef teriyaki that I remember, as well as the novelty of heating up the bit of exotica right at the table as we went along.

Having recently acquired a platter of our own, Baby and I were duly inspired to create an evening out of the Polynesian fantasia of my childhood. To set up our menu, we started by flipping through The House of Chan Cookbook, a modest volume that his mother had when he was a boy. After we decided what we wanted to serve, we went through old issues of Gourmet, Saveur, and other cookbooks too filling our shelves and also went online to compare recipes. Once we found what we thought would be the best recipe, we made our shopping list. We chose quite well, it turned out--they were all wonderful recipes, executed with little difficulty!

A pitcher of Planter's Punch cocktails from Anthony Dias Blue's incredibly comprehensive guide, The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks, set the mood. Equal parts light and dark rum are evenly matched by orange juice. I couldn't be bothered making simple syrup, and at Baby's suggestion, I just added some pineapple juice into freshly squeezed lime juice to sweetly balance the sour, and poured in a little Cointreau for added kick. And yes, these were served as long drinks, with knotted bamboo cocktail stirrers skewering orange and lime slices and maraschino cherries anchored by two chunks of pineapple, perched on top of the glass. One of our guests surprised us with paper umbrellas to further complete the picture.

PuPu for Eight

Beef Teriyaki Gourmet featured a PuPu platter menu October '08! We adorned with grilled pineapple and maraschino cherries.

Chinese Spareribs from Tyler Florence. We loved this. While the ribs cooked, the whole apartment smelled all gently spicy and warm like Christmas.

Dad's Chinese Chicken Wings not my dad, this is from A real winner.

Chinese Roast Pork I think this was our favorite--it's actually red food coloring that turns the meat pink!

Coconut Shrimp we did not butterfly the shrimp as the recipe suggests, we just fried it, the way the Asia Fantasia would, with Panko bread crumbs added into the mix.

We laid waste to the pints of ice cream that Baby's sister-in-law brought: outrageous Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle, heavenly Hawaiian Lehua Honey & Sweet Cream, both courtesy of Haagen-Dazs, and classic Peppermint Stick from the Adirondack Creamery.

I hope you create your own Asia Fantasia right at home too!

Soundtrack: Afro-Desia, the Exotic Sounds of Martin Denny; Ultra Lounge, Mondo Exotica; Cocktail Mix, Martini Madness; Combustible Edison, I, Swinger; Dancing at the Nick at NiteClub

Monday, October 19, 2009

Everything But The...Marinater!

With the fervor of those announcers on television who, when presenting any number of kitchen gadgets cry out, "It slices! It dices!" and so on and so forth, such is my enthusiasm for the Presorvac Marinater. This ingenious device marinates anything that would otherwise need to rest overnight in about three minutes. We've marinated skirt steaks, chicken and roasted pork all with excellent results--and with much less time.

The intense vacuum seals the meat and opens the pores, allowing the marinade to soak into the meat deeper and more rapidly than traditional marinating.

It's available at, but we found the Marinater for less on eBay.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

I bought a beautiful Le Creuset Moroccan tagine last year even though I knew neither Baby nor I had the vaguest idea of what to do with it; I just loved looking at it and was guilty of covetousness for a few years before I eventually succumbed, enamored with the enameled dome and the kiwi and lemongrass sunset that gently fades upward into a paler shade of green onyx.

So yes, our initial recipes didn't turn out so well--chicken and lamb dishes fell flat, which was odd, considering the host of sprightly ingredients which included olives, preserved lemons, and pungent Moroccan spices--and as a result, thoughts of making Sea Bass and sake in our tagine went by the wayside as well.

A friend who grew up in Morocco knew of our culinary conundrum and presented us with an incredible solution: his own Moroccan mama was in town and she was more than willing to show us just how to serve a proper tagine with a few traditional side dishes.

Mama speaks French and Arabic: I speak limited French, she limited English, but we managed to communicate with one another just the same, the kitchen being a universal ground, I suppose, with calls for a pinch of saffron here, ground ginger and cinnamon there. Her son translated otherwise over pots and pans with laudable panache.

I was absolutely delighted, watching the furious flurry in the kitchen, while still tending to our other guests. Working with a cubed leg of lamb (bone-in), Mama added ginger, hefty grinds of black pepper, sea salt, and saffron for color as much as flavor, ground cinnamon, coriander and garlic (she quickly peeled off the skin with a paring knife before grating it with our Microplane), making a fragrant foaming broth of the whole thing with water.

While it all simmered, she boiled prunes, apricots, dried figs and blanched almonds separately, peeling off the skins, before sauteeing them.

Mama had already made lightly fried Pastillas, "triangle shapes" with ground chicken, almonds, golden raisins (I think), and spices wrapped in phyllo dough, and fried them lightly in vegetable oil. Such a burst of flavor, really incredible, topped with ground cinnamon.

Pepper salad was suprisingly good (my haunches usually go up when I hear anything to do with peppers) and I loved the gently cooked carrots tossed with parsley, coriander, garlic, cumin, lime juice, and paprika.

The lamb was grandly served in the tagine after all, with the boiled fruit, almonds, and the thickened sauce on the side.

In honor of the evening, to round out the meal, I made a Moroccan-inspired Pineapple and Banana Couscous Pudding with diced bananas sauteed in butter and brown sugar that along with candied pineapple and couscous were folded into whipped heavy cream and served in individual parfait glasses, garnished with sprigs of mint.

I hope nothing was lost in translation when I hugged Mama goodbye at the end of the evening, flustering through my French, "Quel plaisir! Je suis ravis!"

What a pleasure! I am ravished!

Soundtrack: bossa brava, tropicale!; Sarah Vaughan, Viva Vaughan; Dave Brubeck, Time Out; Billie Holiday, Billie's Best; Dinah Washington, The Best of Dinah Washington

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shouldn't You Just...?

Return the Tupperware that was filled with the leftovers your host gave to you after dinner, if only in the hope of being invited back again?

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new millennium

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Next Magazine Review - Mari Vanna

Imagine that your little Russian grandmamma had invited you into her elegant home for dinner…then take a deep breath and behold Mari Vanna. The food is often fantastic, but it’s the moments found in the gorgeous mismatched plates, the intricate linens, the drape of the lovingly lit chandeliers, and the careful placement of every storied detail that create a journey pulled from the pages of the Russian novels that line the bookshelves and graciously welcome all who enter this humble abode.

When in Russia, you know—we started with a few Vodkas ($9), one infused with tarragon and lemon, and another honey, and ventured further with some shots of the classic Russian Standard ($9) while gleefully slurping our Oysters ($4/ea), presented on a regal bed of shaved ice, with red wine vinegar mignonette and marinated horseradish. While the meaty Malpeques whispered slightly metallic, the slenderer Kumamotos spoke of a brisk plunge into the sea.

The Cod Liver Pate ($12) was certainly good, Pirozhki ($10) not so much, but the Blinis with Red Caviar ($25) stole the show anyhow—traditional blinis, similar to a thin crepe, were lightly brushed with butter and sugar. We made short work of the juicy caviar with a dollop of crème fraiche here, some chopped egg and onion there. If the fresh Vinegret ($12) beet and vegetable salad was like a stroll through a leafy glade, then the Vegetarian Svekolnik ($10) beet soup was like a gentle dip into a cool, refreshing pond nearby.

We loved the hearty (but pricy) portion of Chicken Kiev ($25), lightly breaded and tenderly cooked. Beef Stroganoff ($27) was another story, however: although it made a grand arrival in what appeared to be a Babushka-type tea cozy, alas it was regrettably bland, with indistinguishable mushrooms, and also just too expensive.

Smetannik ($10) with strawberries is a signature dessert, but I prefer to address it as an incredibly moist, creamy cloud. If we were dreaming something out of a Russian fairy tale, which would be easy to do at Mari Vanna, such a luscious confection would be the perfect thing to float away upon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sunday Meatloaf

Baby threw his back out, so he was alternately resting and sleeping this past Sunday. With not much to do apart from take care of him when he was awake, I grew bored and as I often do, I began to putter in the kitchen. We had just thawed some left over ground beef from one of our numerous meatball adventures, but hadn't decided what to do with it yet. So, I set to work to make dinner: Sunday Meatloaf with Tomato Jam for Two. For something so off the cuff, with ingredients we had on hand, it came out really well--and so did Baby, after a trip to the chiropractor Monday morning.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

For the tomato jam:
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I had Ragu spaghetti sauce and used most of the jar)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tb olive oil
2 cloves
1/4 cup or so, honey
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Saute the garlic in oil until golden. Add tomatoes. Simmer with cloves for about a 45 minutes (if you are using a jar of spaghetti sauce, as I did, this won't take as long). Remove from heat and add honey; stir in pepper and let thicken.

For the meatloaf:
1 lb. ground beef (we used short rib, rib eye, skirt steak meat)
About a cup of homemade bread crumbs
Roughly a 1/4 cup Old Bay Dip & Crisp seasoned bread crumbs (if you can't find this, just add more bread crumbs and some plain Old Bay seasoning)
1 egg
Several dashes of Penzey's Shallot Pepper
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Mix the meatloaf ingredients together, form into a loaf and place into an appropriately sized baking dish, sprayed three times with fat free Pam. Glaze your meatloaf with the tomato jam and cook in the oven for about an hour.

Friday, October 2, 2009

In The Kitchen With Tadashi Ono - Halibut Hot Pot

I recently enjoyed a staggeringly good dinner at Tadashi Ono's cavernous Matsuri restaurant anchored in Manhattan's Maritime Hotel. He personally selected a recipe for a Halibut Hot Pot from his new book, Japanese Hot Pots, to be featured here. Domo Arigato Tadashi!
Halibut Hot Pot
Inspired by Ara Nabe (a variety of grouper from Fukuoka)

Serves 4

1 pound halibut fillet
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for curing the fish (to concentrate the flavor and make the fish denser)
2 (6-inch) pieces kombu
1 ounce harusame (thin, tranparent starchy noodles), soaked in water for 15 minutes
1/2 pound napa cabbage, sliced
1 negi (a Japanese onion, or sub two large scallions per negi), sliced on angle into 2-inch pieces
1/2 package (about 1/2 pound) firm tofu, cut into 4 pieces
6 ounces oyster mushrooms, trimmed and pulled apart
3 1/2 ounces (half of a 200-gram package) enoki mushrooms, trimmed and pulled apart
4 cups water
1 cup sake
1 cup ponzu (the sweet citrusy ponzu sauce may be found in Japanese markets), for dipping
1/4 cup momiji oroshi (a blend of Japanese chilies and daikon available in Japanese markets), for garnish
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh chives, for garnish

To cure the halibut, very lightly salt it on both sides and place it in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the fish, wipe off excess moisture on its surface with a paper towel, and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Set aside.
Place the kombu on the bottom of a hot pot and the harusame over the kombu. Place the cabbage, negi, tofu, oyster mushrooms, and enoki mushrooms on top of the harusame, arranging each ingredient in a separate, neat bunch. Pour in the 4 cups water and the sake, and sprinkle in the 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Cover the hot pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover the pot and arrange the halibut slices on top of the other ingredients. Simmer until the fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes more.
While the hot pot is simmering, pour the ponzu into four small bowls.
Transfer the hot pot ot the dining table. Garnish the ponzu with the momiji oroshi and the chives. Dip the ingredients into the ponzu, and eat.

Serve with rice zosui:
This is basically a soupy rice, a shime that typically complements thinner, more delicate broths. The technique is simple. For four servings, add 2 cups cooked Japanese short grain rice to the remaining broth in a hot pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the hot pot boils, turn off the heat, mix the contents well, and serve in individual bowls.

You can also prepare this hot pot with cod, Chilean sea bass, turbot, pollack, North American grouper, or barramundi.

Tableside Cooking Option:
Arrange the ingredients on serving platters. After curing the halibut, do all the cooking at the dining table. Add the supporting ingredients all at once, or reserve half or more to cook later. Cook a little of the fish at a time.

To order Tadashi's marvelous book, click here or here!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Waldorf=Astoria

Interior Design magazine is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Hall of Fame on December 2nd. I've had the privilege of working with the magazine and assisting the Director of the Hall of Fame in throwing the annual awards party at The Waldorf=Astoria since 2002. The glittery evening tops the list of events in the industry as the revered publication inducts select designers to join the ranks of their celebrated comrades, hosted by Interior Design's natty publisher Mark Strauss and vivacious editor in chief, Cindy Allen.

My favorite contribution to the always glorious night is creating the attire of the menu, suiting up what the guests will eat and the wines they'll drink. Reggie and I met in the lobby in the early afternoon, as we do, to meet with the gracious Jim Blauvelt, who once again led us to the belly of the Waldorf: the kitchen. We were seated at the chef's table and well taken care of as we worked out what was to be served this year.

We begged the staff to let us try some of the fried chicken that they happened to be cooking up for Bette Midler's Hula-Ween Ball. We actually got to try it this year even before The Divine Miss M did; one version was with buttermilk and lotsa pepper, flour and corn flakes. Another version added whole grain and Dijon mustard into the mix. Both were absolutely sumptuous and Hula-riffic.

Sips from a Canyon Ranch chardonnay, a Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc and a Bellerache Cotes du Rhone Blanc set the ball rolling as we lingered over our greens first and then other things, to wit:
Spinach Salad with pancetta, polenta croutons, hon shemijji mushrooms and a sherry vinaigrette; Organic Greens with a fantastic goat cheese brulee, an oven-roasted tomato, and carmelized endive with a honey lemon dressing; and a traditional Caesar Salad.

Tastes of red wine included a Cabernet, Pinot and California Zinfandel as we debated main courses.

Entree suggestions were Herb Roasted Chicken with sweet garlic and rosemary stock, with a side of ricotta gnocchi, smoky bacon and roasted root vegetables; Parmesan Crusted Chicken with morel risotto, asparagus and roasted tomato.

For desserts, we drooled over Classic Waldorf Red Velvet Cake with cream cheese and mascarpone icing; extraordinary Chocolate Griottines, a chocolate blackout cake with marscarpone mousse, sour cherry gelee and Rice Crispy pistachio crunch; over the top Peanut Butter and Caramel Mousse with a tres-leches center, white chocolate and peanut butter cookie crunch topped with a quenelle of whipped ganache.

So what did we choose?

There was no doubt that the crisp French Bellerache Cotes du Rhone Blanc was our white to pair with the meal; the others were fairly indiscriminate. The Dancing Bull Zinfandel from the Rancho Zabaco vineyard in California was the winner for the red.
Organic Greens won out over the other salads. Goat cheese brulee, anyone? The Caesar had a great dressing, but the romaine was pale and a far less appealing plate.
While the Herb Roasted Chicken was really good, and the ricotta gnocchi in cream sauce topped with the bacon was delicious, we'd served it in past years, so we embraced the new and went for the Parmesan Crusted Chicken. We chose a red onion marmalade to replace the roasted tomato that came with, as it was already in our salad, and would have been repetitive. I thought that was an excellent idea.
Classic Waldorf Red Velvet Cake had to be our dessert; it was created at the Waldorf after all and seemed entirely fitting. Besides the cream cheese and mascarpone icing had us dancing on the ceiling.

Citations to the most admirable crew that filled the kitchen on our wonderful afternoon:
Peter Orledda, executive sous chef
Peter Betz, executive banquet chef
William Lustburg, sous chef
Geron Douglas, saucier