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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Murder, He Wrote

I must confess that I seem to have murder on my mind as of late. When I discovered my old musical comedy teacher from college was to portray Miss Marple in Agatha Christie's classic play A Murder is Announced at the Cortland Repertory Theater, my own plot began to thicken. I offered to go over her lines with her on an afternoon, and then naturally what else to do? A picnic was soon announced as I set forth to compose a dastardly basket--of murder!

Recollections of years past and people poured forth, as we dined in her apartment mid-town, before getting to work on her lines. I first took out a heavy candlestick from the basket, as many murders require a blunt instrument. Here it was used just to eat by some inspiring candlelight. The actual menu began with sparkling cyanide (it was really only fizzy pink lemonade) and a drop of poison. For the latter, I filled an old apothecary bottle with Jim Beam Devil's Cut bourbon and labeled it POISON XXX with a marker and adhesive tape. Indeed 90 proof was in the poison! My Surprising Tuna with capers took their involvement in the proceedings as we were on quite a caper. Roasted sliced potatoes with parsley were served with mushrooms that we grilled for information. Fried chicken was executed as well because of course, it was a picnic. Pepperidge Farm Brussels cookies followed for dessert out of respect to our favorite Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, along with Ciao Bella blood orange sorbet for a particularly sanguine conclusion. A box of English Breakfast tea was left for the hostess to help her prepare for her role as she steps into Miss Marple's formidable shoes.

A great afternoon perfectly suited for a great lady! Thanks for the privilege CLB!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Next Magazine Review - Gascogne

158 Eighth Ave (btwn 17th/18th Sts)

Gascogne is one of my favorite places to eat, drink and hang out in New York. On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, my fella and I took a special lady there to do all three things, while celebrating a certain holiday for all of our beloved mothers. As the weather was on our side, we took our seats happily ensconced in the leafy glade outside in the rear of the restaurant.

Orange juice, a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary is included as part of the Prix Fixe Brunch Menu ($22) but we cut right to the chase and ordered cocktails, straight up. A Bombay Sapphire Martini ($11) is a delight any time of the day, when served appropriately brisk and ever so dry. Same goes for a Belvedere Martini ($11.50), which I utterly adored. A Hennessey Sidecar ($9.50) was also perfect for my guy.

To the food! Young rabbit, a.k.a. Lapereau ($12.50) was outfitted as a terrine for our appetizer and it was quite good, spread upon hearty slices of rustic country bread.

While we eyed the plates of beefy Kobe Sliders ($14), and the Cotelettes d’Agneau au Romarin ($17.50)—lamb chops prepared with rosemary and thyme—and the Steak Tartare ($17.50) that whirled past us, we chose the Crab Cake Benedicte ($14.50) instead. It was nicely seared and thankfully not soggy as sometimes happens. Oeufs Benedicte ($12) with fresh gravlax (garlic sausage was the other option) fully featured salmon that was definitely swimming upstream! The revered Croque Madame ($12), a classic ham and cheese sandwich with a perfect egg on top, was a little salty, but indeed sizable.

We were delighted to find Profiterolles ($9) on the menu and ordered them straightaway. The three little balls of puff pastry stuffed with ice cream and dappled with chocolate suited our trio just fine. To further our boozapolooza, we put some Baileys ($8.50) in our coffee and had a glass of Armagnac ($10) or two to grandly finish our most celebratory meal on such a lovely day.

First published in part for Next magazine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Tempting Paella

With George's shrieking mother from Seinfeld firmly in mind, I recently attempted Paella a la Marinera, which seemed to me to be the most traditional version of the Spanish fish dish served with rice. There are a thousand different varieties I'm sure. This all started because my dear friend sent me a packet with two grams of Iranian Sargol saffron threads, so what else to do? Make paella and use the largest pan you have to accompany the abundance of fish!

This paella was a good first try. The rice was perfectly cooked and the fish was not overcooked: that is indeed the goal, since both are on such intimate terms with one another.

We used red snapper fish heads and bones for our stock as that was what was available from our fishmonger; here we simmered them down with cubes of court bouillon and vegetable bouillon (or just chopped carrots, onions and celery) in the mix. Add enough water to cover. A few cloves impart a most elusive flavor. Strain it of course when you're through. Regrets to my fine fishy friends gazing heavenward from the pot.

Keep this stock excited for about 45 minutes and once it has cooled, place it in the fridge to reveal a most gelatinous consistency the next morning. Skim the fat before incorporating the stock into your paella.

While steeping the saffron which adds color as well as flavor, we sauteed the monkfish, head-on shrimp and squid in a generous amount of olive oil with sea salt and pepper.

The paprika, onions, diced tomatoes (canned), garlic, chopped peppers (jarred) all went into the pan once the large shrimp and monkfish were removed and set aside (these go back in later). Subsequently, the fervor was further brought to a boil with the fish broth added in.

Trust the rice. Once the grain is ingrained into the paella, don't fret over it, but do check in to see what's cooking. Do enjoy!

Click here to find out more!
Paella a la Marinera
Adapted from Saveur Magazine, No. 128
25 threads saffron, crushed (a heaping 1⁄4 tsp.)
1 lb. boneless monkfish filets, cut into 2" pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 langoustines or extra-large head-on shrimp in the shell
10 oz. cuttlefish or small squid, cleaned and cut into 1" pieces
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
4 medium tomatoes, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 small onion, minced
7 cups fish broth
2 1⁄2 cups short-grain rice,
preferably Valencia or bomba
1⁄2 lb. small clams, cleaned

1. Put saffron and 1⁄4 cup hot water in a small bowl; let sit for 15 minutes. Season monkfish with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 16"–18" paella pan over medium-high heat. Add monkfish and langoustines and cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes; transfer monkfish and langoustines to a plate and set aside. Add cuttlefish, paprika, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, and onions to pan and cook, stirring often, until onions are soft, about 6 minutes. Add reserved saffron mixture and broth, season with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Sprinkle in rice, distribute evenly with a spoon, and cook, without stirring, until rice has absorbed most of the liquid, 10–12 minutes. (If your pan is larger than the burner, rotate it every two minutes so different parts are over the heat and the rice cooks evenly.) Reduce heat to low, add reserved fish and langoustines, and nestle in clams hinge side down; cook, without stirring, until clams have opened and rice has absorbed the liquid and is al dente, 5–10 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cover with aluminum foil, and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

SERVES 6 – 8

Friday, May 20, 2011

Next Magazine Review - Graffit

141 W 69th St btwn Broadway/Columbus Ave
New York, NY

Graffit may just be a case of style over substance. But is it art? Executive chef and founding partner Jesús Núñez spent a colorful past as a graffiti artist, and his fare reflects that with a fanciful reliance on such things as purple potatoes and a deftly designed palette of sauces poised to please the palate. The whole affair appeared quite fun from our perch in the graffiti-sprayed garden at the back of the restaurant.

While we considered wine, we tended toward The Upper West Side ($12) cocktail. Rittenhouse rye, ruby port, maraschino liqueur and brandy-soaked cherries were a perfect foil for the reluctant spring day. The Beet Goes On ($12) with gin and ginger, beets, celery, apple foam and a sprinkle of dehydrated beet powder was just like a brisk morning jog with booze.

Forego the familiar and seek adventure on the menu. We stalled over the Pulpo a la Gallega ($14), octopus with a spray of purple potato purée and a scribble of smoked paprika, but admired the street-art aspect. Kale Stuffed with Creamy Mushrooms and Vegetable Sauce ($13) was a savory bundle reminiscent of a rangoon with mushrooms, kale purée, cream cheese and a vegetable gastrique influenced by sherry vinegar. Not-Your-Average Egg ($15) was a wildly vibrant collection of stewed peppers, asparagus and peas. The crowning glory was the egg itself, stripped of its albumen, which was miraculously replaced by an orb of cauliflower purée forming the perfect alternate egg white. Beyond! “Fake Truffles” ($14) were an entertaining garden of falafels planted in “edible earth” comprised of olive and carrot powders, with hazelnuts and citrus yogurt sauce.

Filet Mignon ($27) was fine meat indeed, with a frolic of wild mushrooms, fragrant rosemary and then, disconsolate bone marrow ravioli. Duck Breast ($26) in a white wine fennel duck reduction was rich and excellent with a galette of white truffle potatoes and green-apple purée.

For dessert we eagerly drew upon the sexy Warm Liquid Chocolate Fritter ($10) experience with explosive kumquats to further color our world. Graffit isn’t cheap but then again, art has always had its price.

First published in Next magazine.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tagliatelle con Ragu alla Bolognese

Baby cut to the chase on this one, as we wanted to make Bolognese sauce with tagliatelle pasta for our guests but didn't have the luxury of over four hours to patiently labor over a gently simmering ragu. We did make the pasta, however. The process is very simple really when abetted by a KitchenAid mixer pasta attachment. We called our guests into the kitchen and all of us had a hand at making our own tagliatelle. It was quite fun! Otherwise buy fresh pasta to further save time and effort. But back to the sauce: we turned up the heat and fiercely cooked it down, evaporating much of the liquid, and the whole thing was ready in a little over an hour. Just lower the heat when adding in the milk. And so, we served a most delicious, fragrant and handsome short-version Ragu alla Bolognese!

Tagliatelle con Ragu alla Bolognese
Adapted from La Cucina Italiana
For the sauce:1 (14-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, preferably San Marzano
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon tomato paste, preferably double concentrated
1 beef bouillon cube
1 celery rib, roughly chopped
1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
1/2 medium carrot, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
2 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, finely chopped
3/4 pound ground beef (not lean)
3/4 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg

For serving:Fresh tagliatelle, or other pasta, cooked until tender in salted water
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Purée tomatoes and their juice in blender until smooth; set aside.
In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer; whisk in tomato paste and beef base. Remove from heat; set aside.
Make a battuto (the foundation for many Italian soups, stews and sauces) by finely chopping together (by hand) celery, onion and carrot.
Heat butter over medium-low heat until melted and foaming; add battuto, sausage and pancetta. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sausage is broken into small bits, then continue cooking, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened (do not brown), about 25 minutes.
Add beef, pork and veal; increase heat to medium. Cook, stirring until meat is broken into small bits, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly for 10 minutes more (do not brown).
Add wine; bring to a boil and cook until wine and juices in pot are mostly evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Add reserved puréed tomato, reserved beef base mixture and bay leaf.
Cook ragù at the barest simmer, stirring occasionally (making sure to stir into edges of pot), until meat is very tender and sauce is thick (as sauce thickens, add water, bit by bit, if necessary, to keep sauce moist and just barely liquid), about
2 1/2 hours.
Add milk and continue cooking for 30 minutes more. Stir in pinch nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve
Toss the ragù with pasta using 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of sauce per pound of pasta. Serve immediately with cheese.

Photo Credit: G. Giraldo

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kentucky Derby Pie

Yes, that Kentucky Derby Pie hovering on a cake stand is one of the many things that I whipped up for the Derby party over the past weekend. It was eaten pretty quickly but still I managed to get a photo of this beauty. And don't wait for any particular celebration--serve it anytime of the year! Vintage tablecloths, sturdy cookware and carefully chosen items such as a fine pitcher always make an excellent table. Note the racing form in the background!

Kentucky Derby Pie
2 eggs, beaten
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plain flour
1 t vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Beat together eggs, butter, sugar, flour, until well blended. Add vanilla, chocolate chips, and nuts. Add to pie crust and bake at 325 degrees and remove after about 28 minutes so it will be a little bit gooey.

Thanks to for the recipe and Adrienne Hays for the photo!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Make Mine Mint

If you've been reading Evenings With Peter you know of my long love affair with the Kentucky Derby. I've thrown a party for years now, barely have ever made a dime on a bet, but on the first Saturday of May I like to offer up a shindig in honor of the run for the roses. Once again we are ready to pull out of the starting gate! I've already started plotting what my table will look like, and shopping for ingredients that will make Mint Juleps, Benedictine Sandwiches, Shrimp & Grits, Corn Bread, Tomato & Biscuit Sandwiches, and Derby Pie for dessert.

As there are so many Julep recipes, here's another one to try out from the folks at Steinhauser, while we celebrate the two most exciting minutes in sports. I just found this tucked in the pages of my Martha Stewart's Menus for Entertaining cookbook that I have filled with other recipes, receipts and other remnants of Derby parties past such as pressed lilac leaves!

Mint Julep
Adapted from Steinhauser
Dissolve 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons of water into a Mint Julep glass. Fill with finely shaved ice and 1 1/2 ounce of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, such as Jim Beam. Stir until the glass is heavily frosted and add more ice if necessary. Don't hold the glass while stirring. Garnish with 5 or 6 fresh mint sprigs. The tops should be about 2 inches above the rim of the glass. The mint is meant for fragrance, use a short straw so that you can bury your nose in the mint.

Please ride responsibly.

Monday, May 2, 2011


The air was filled with music that summer: the Go-Go's, Duran Duran and Rita Marley. It wasn't enough that after watching The Price Is Right, packing a lunch and slurping a Flavo-Ice while on my bike to lay out by the pool all day, no. My cousin and I also had to sneak out of our houses and break into the Ramada Inn at night. We were fifteen.

It was just the two of us, Jenny and me and it really wasn't so much breaking in like a Brink's job as it was hopping a fence. We'd shuck our clothes and leave the muggy night, dipping ourselves into the cool, hushing our giggles. Gauzy green lights spread out underneath the water as we swam to the deep end and dove to the bottom. It was deliciously daring and tasted of flight: our secret, achingly youthful. Just once we asked someone else to join us. It was my plan more than hers and the first time I saw my best friend naked.

Jenny had it easier than I did. Her bedroom was on the first floor, she just had to crawl out of her window. My escape was a little more elaborate: after stuffing pillows under a blanket to make it look like I'd fallen asleep in front of the t.v. watching 'Fridays' in case my parents came downstairs, I went out through the living room window.

Towards summer's end we figured we were pressing our luck with our parents finding out but that was part of the thrill. Anyway, we had to go back at least once more: we had met a man earlier who asked us to meet him at midnight. He said to come back at midnight, he had Champagne. I remember vaguely thinking we might be entering some twilit carnal zone, perhaps remember even wanting it too, but whatever it would be, at the least we would score some hooch. Jenny lived closer so we again met at our usual spot at the end of her street at 11:30 and then spent what was left of the half hour playing video games in the hotel lobby. At 12 o'clock precisely, we tip-toed through the chlorine-scented hallway to the man's room. We knocked, and knocked again. We looked at each other and tried once more. He wasn't there.

At fifteen, cares are fleeting and disappointments evaporate like bubbles in a glass. We just hopped the fence and went swimming without him. It was to be our last time. Foregoing our usual let-the-phone-ring-once-so-I'll-know-you-made-it-home-safe call, Jenny didn't know I got home to find my Mother in the driveway, raising the garage door to take out the car. She also didn't know I spent the better part of the next hour explaining where I had been to both of my parents and was something unnatural and untoward transpiring between my cousin and I? They should have been so lucky. I was grounded for a week.

The pool at the Ramada Inn is gone now. After filling so many of my childhood summers, years ago the pool itself was filled. Where students now park their cars to attend night school, Jenny and I once spent our nights dancing on water.