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Saturday, April 21, 2012

FreshDirect House Party

Alright, I'll admit it. I'm fairly obsessed with FreshDirect. I've spoken of my love previously here on Evenings With Peter so I won't belabor the point. Suffice to say, I won a House Party promotion from them and threw the event. Besides a $100 e-gift certificate to use for the food I ordered, I received a Party Pack that included reusable shopping bags, special offer brochures, notepads, aprons and a host of recipes that all our guests took home. We also giddily raffled off a FreshDirect oven mitt!

FreshDirect asked us to choose a theme, so Baby and I went retro with Pot Luck and things that people used to bring to actual house parties ever so long ago.

Tonight's Menu
Pigs in a Blanket
Mac n' Cheese
Green Bean Casserole
Vanilla Ice Cream

Although the basic set up for our menu was simple enough, everything we made was slightly different and there were no chafing dishes involved.

Produce played its part on the table and I put herbs such as rosemary, dill, and parsley in a pitcher instead of flowers.

Hebrew National franks filled Pillsbury crescent crusts and our Mac outfitted with Campbell's cheese soup was scooped out in individual spoons.

The green bean casserole however did not involve Campbell's mushroom soup; it was a riff, made instead with creamy bechamel sauce and we sauteed our own wild bunch of mushrooms in butter and olive oil. Refined haricot verts subbed for everyday green beans and I frizzled fresh shallots instead of using Durkee's onions from the can. The bechamel in preparation...

 The finished dish!

The meatloaf was pulled from an old Martha Stewart recipe that I love, with homemade tomato jam for slathering. Cut to the chase and use a judicious amount (a scant tablespoon) of Chinese Five-Spice Powder instead of dealing with the cinnamon sticks, ginger, cloves and star anise. I used homemade bread crumbs I already had on hand, mixed with panko breadcrumbs as well. Also, I subbed celery salt for celery and didn't use additional salt at all, as the recipe suggests. Here's the meatloaf, about to go in the oven.

Of course, I had to light something on fire. Ben & Jerry's gorgeous vanilla ice cream came out with ripe blackberries and burnt walnuts in a flaming buerre noisette sauce with brandy. It was so much fun.

Baby looked rather sporting in his apron.

A hundred dollars fed ten people (actually it was $99.66, like on The Price Is Right--the items I ordered didn't go over). And it was fabulous. Fresh Direct. Get to it.

Fresh Soundtrack: Herb Alpert, Whipped Cream and Other Delights; Mongo Santamaria, Watermelon Man; Lettuce, Rage; Parliament, Greatest Hits; Prince, Lovesexy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Play Reading - Little Shop of Horrors

For the first time in the years of my play reading dinners, a gung-ho band of friends and I took on a musical this month, Little Shop of Horrors. I burned the cd and downloaded and emailed copies of the script in preparation. It was all quite hilarious--besides playing my role of Seymour, the hapless nerdy hero, I also had the remote for the cd player (yes, I still have one of those) close at hand to play and pause as we sang over the recording. We had only two scripts and there were just four of us taking over the parts when we probably needed at least three more, but we marched on just the same.

If you are unfamiliar with the 50's pastiche musical that opened in the early 80's Off-Broadway, the movie version with Rick Moranis or the black-and-white Roger Corman film with Jack Nicholson in his first movie role, here's the basic plot--down-on-his-luck Seymour works in Mushnik's flower shop on Skid Row and fortune intervenes when he discovers a remarkable Venus Fly Trap-type plant which brings him fame and fortune. Things start to go horribly awry when Seymour discovers the murderous plant thrives on blood and eventually begins talking to him, while growing to epic proportions.

I created a creepy plant of my own as the setting for the dinner table, using a large cabbage and wilted red lettuce leaves situated on a footed cake stand. I also created extending "vines" by weaving watercress along the table. Sheet music from the show created a runner upon which everything sat.

Fiddlehead fern napkins were a fine touch.

Taking a cue from the botanical bent of the show, I served dolmas, rice-filled grape leaves as an appetizer and an appropriately green, chilled soup with peas and asparagus in an old cabbage-shaped tureen with withered sorrel wrapped around the base. Everybody went wild for my soup!

Baby (who played Mr. Mushnik to great effect) made stuffed vegetarian cabbage with zucchini bread for a surprising, delicious entree during intermission. We nibbled on some Green & Black's dark chocolate bars infused with peppermint oil for a dessert snack afterwards.

I drew the montage picture above!

Tonight's Menu
Dolmas (stuffed cabbage leaves from Fresh Direct)
Light Spring Soup with Peas and Asparagus -- I did not use rice as suggested, and served it chilled instead
Stuffed Cabbage (see Baby's recipe below)
Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate and Peppermint Bars

Stuffed Cabbage
1 large of cabbage
1 lb ground veal
1 lb ground beef
2 eggs
1/2 loaf zucchini bread, crumbled
3 carrots, grated
1 small onion, grated
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed black pepper
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
2 TB olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 loaf zucchini bread, crumbled
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp Chinese Five-Spice Powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

Remove outer leaves and core the cabbage. Put in boiling water for 45 minutes, until leaves are easily removed.
While cabbage is boiling, make the sauce: saute onion until translucent, add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Cook down tomatoes with two cups of water, simmering for about 15 minutes. Add salt, pepper, Chinese Five-Spice Powder. Add zucchini bread and stir into sauce until mixed, add honey and lemon juice and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.
Take cabbage out of water and let cool for 20 minutes.
While cabbage is cooling, heat oven to 350 degrees and make the filling by mixing all the other ingredients together with hands. Put about two tablespoons of filling at the base of each leaf when ready. Roll tightly, bringing in sides as you go. Repeat, placing each little bundle tightly in a Pyrex baking dish. Top with sauce, cover and put in oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Soundtrack: The Shangri-Las, Greatest Hits; The Supremes, Greatest Hits; and of course, our glorious voices united in an evening of song!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Next Magazine Review - Lugo Caffe

Lugo Caffe
1 Penn Plaza (btwn Seventh/Eighth Aves)

Who’da thunk it? Right in the heart of Penn Plaza, what my dining companion has dubbed as “Ugly Town,” is a delicious plunge amidst the raucous, hurried bunch primed to hop on their respective commuter trains. One might not expect well-executed food a stone’s throw away from a TGI Fridays or a Payless Shoes—but how delicious to be surrounded by a diorama of iconic shots from Fellini’s masterpiece, La Dolce Vita, in tribute to the restaurant‘s home-style Italian cuisine.

At first, while considering wines, I wondered if the roaming map was a warning of things to come. The Vernaccia white from Siena stalled a little but eventually succumbed to the evening as it opened up. My next glass turned toward a cleaner Gavi from the Piemonte region, resonating with a bright melon body. Reds involved an easy drinking Sangiovese with a soft start and luxuriated into a sharper, leathery finish. The Sicilian Nero d’Avola was a robust match for the meal.

The housemade, amazing mozzarella was the marquee-worthy star of the platter we were presented with in a vibrant display.  The dish featured a field of yellow and red vine-fresh tomatoes in quite a collaborative effort, with extra virgin olive oil showered over scorched peppers, purple olives, tongue-y folds of sopressata and invigorating, aromatic basil fronds—it would be disrespectful to suggest that these huge leaves were a mere garnish.

We passed on pizza that appeared on neighboring tables and seemed to be rather pedestrian, venturing instead toward a pasta course that commenced with crescents of semolina gnocchi that were really more like a subtle pyramid of polenta soaking in a buttery truffle fonduta with wild mushrooms and little frills of shredded Parmesan. Cavatelli “malloreddus” represented tradition and arrived perfectly al dente with gentle, homemade sausage, porcini mushrooms and ricotta cheese that further ridiculed us, daring us to devour. Crispy artichokes found a wonderful balance with a pert lemon aioli. Enormously engorged, moist meatballs in tangy pomodoro sauce stunned us, incorporating caramelized onions for sweetness.

Elegantly slinking past dessert cocktails that utilized a lot of gruesome, throat-thickening components such as vanilla vodka, KahlĂșa, milk and amaretto, we settled down with a glass of grappa and a cup of mint tea served in an organza purse suitably attired for steeping. Desserts seemed boring in comparison, although we might have sampled the raspberried chocolate truffle mousse. Instead we dabbled with a pleasantly light lemon custard with almonds and wine-poached pears as well as a ricotta cheesecake with a musky balsamic reduction. Had we been merely awaiting a train to take us home, we surely would have stayed and boarded a conveyance later.

Prices: Appetizers: $5-15; EntrĂ©es: $18-$40; Alcohol:  wine, full bar, dessert cocktails.
SHORT ORDER: Lugo Caffe is an unexpected experience in the heart of Penn Plaza, offering up well-executed, home-style Italian fare in a cavernous setting.
PETER’S PICKS: Huge, thought-provoking meatballs; mozzarella bar platter; cavatelli “malloreddus”
PETER’S PANS: Penn Plaza and its attendant horrors

First published in part in Next magazine

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Next Magazine - Gravy's Mint Julep

With the Kentucky Derby just around the corner, why not get a leg ahead with sipping Gravy’s refreshing take on a classic? I know I'm starting already! Doesn't it look delicious?

Mint Julep
2.5 oz Jim Beam Devil’s Cut bourbon
splash of simple syrup
4 leaves fresh mint
1 hard dash Angostura bitters
club soda

Combine the first four ingredients in a large cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake violently to partially pulverize ice and mint. Top with a splash of club soda. Strain mixture into a lowball glass packed with ice. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Gravy is located at 32 E 21st St (btwn Broadway/Park Ave S). Visit for more info.

 First published in part in Next magazine.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Red Hot Peppers!

My former cousin-in-law is a loose cannon to be sure so it's not surprising that her deliciously naughty pepper jelly packs a considerable punch. Just like she does, play it fast and loose with the peppers you choose--and of course, pour it over room-temperature cream cheese and serve with crackers for a great snack around cocktail hour.

Pepper Jelly 
2 red peppers
6 hot peppers
2 cups cider vinegar
8 cups sugar
1 package Certo pectin

In a small food processor, puree peppers. Combine all ingredients (except pectin) in a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add liquid pectin. Bring to a boil again for 1 minute.

For the bath: Boil jars and lids, pack jelly in jars. Wipe lids with damp cloth. Bathe for five minutes underwater. Let cool.

Thanks to for the image! 

Roman Holiday

While I was looking up something or other in a copy of Saveur magazine, I encountered an Roman Easter feast within the pages. Baby and I had planned to have a few friends over for the upcoming holiday and it seemed like these recipes would make an extraordinary meal indeed.

We had a lot of fun decorating the table with grandly colorful foil-wrapped chocolate eggs (we removed them before sitting down so we could see one another), pastel napkins, and chocolate Lindt carrots dangling off of the glasses.

This little fellow doesn't seem like he's headed for a great fall, perched on tiered cake stands; rather it appears he's in for a great Spring!

Stracciatella, a Roman egg drop soup, came out first, with the prosciutto and olive bread for dipping, seen below.

We ventured on to our first pasta course: Fettuccine alla Romana, with beef, pork, chicken livers, and a sumptuous short rib in red wine sauce.

Artichoke hearts marinated with wine, lemon, olive oil and topped with fresh chopped mint and crispy bacon served as the pause. I riffed on this recipe, using canned artichokes and not cooking the artichokes as that would make them mushy. I simply poured the hot sauce over them, tossed with mint and lemon (to prevent them discoloring) and let cool before putting in the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours. The bacon was my idea.

The collective plunge continued with a second, simpler fettuccine with fava beans, that featured onions, pancetta and escarole tossed about in olive oil. As that was made on the spot, I didn't have the time to take a picture of it!

Handsome lamb served as the centerpiece of the meal, coated in olive oil, and stuffed with garlic and rosemary, shown here, about to go in the oven. I followed the basic recipe but used a leg of lamb instead of the whole thing, as the recipe suggests.

This pyramid-shaped, tiramisu flavored with orange was unlike anything I had ever seen or made. It wasn't that hard in execution--it just needs several hours to chill ahead of time--but boy, was it good! Savaoiardi ladyfingers are soaked in cream and Cointreau and spread out like spokes of a wheel, followed by a layer of mascarpone cheese, heavy cream and orange zest. This is repeated in smaller layers to form the pyramid shape, using about 40 ladyfingers.

After our grateful glut, we retired to the sofa and put our feet up on the coffee table, stuffed to the gills. Look at the light in that incredible sky!

And of course, a spray of yellow tulips. Happy Easter!

Soundtrack: Quincy Jones, Hip Hits; Blossom Dearie, Stephane Grappelli, Shades of Django, Horace Silver; Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My First Taste of Mushrooms

My father's friend and I were tossing a football back and forth together in the backyard when I was eight years old one afternoon. He threw one pass way too far over my head and it soared well past me, shattering the kitchen window that belonged to my difficult, frequently devastating, confusingly inspiring and considerably older relative, cousin Annie, who once lived on the other side of our house. "Oops...looks like you broke a window," he said carelessly, drowsily. I broke a window? No! There was no witness but the obvious cause of that window breaking was because he threw a football in it and he broke it. I seem to remember but at least always felt that perhaps he was a little slow: a dopey grownup in a clown suit. I was just devastated nonetheless, and in apology and tears for some reason I gave Annie a paint-by-numbers of a few simple, flowering amber, yellow, and brown mushrooms that I had reasonably created. It was all I had to give. I was eight. And none of it was my fault. That was my first taste of mushrooms.