Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thinking Caviar

I was reminded that when one thinks of Eartha Kitt one thinks of caviar and champagne, not anchovies and pasta. As the New Year approaches one hopes that caviar will make an appearance at parties, even if it is the humble (but delicious) Salmon Roe.

The simplest pairing is a blini with a touch of sour cream and some chives. Nothing more is needed but a glass of crisp champagne to hail a New Year. If you can make a pancake, you can make a blini.

2/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 large egg plus 2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup of heavy cream
5 grinds of black pepper

Whisk together. Batter may be a bit lumpy, don't worry. If it is super thick, thin with a touch of water. Get your pan hot with a little peanut oil and drop a tablespoon at a time on the pan or griddle. Cook for about 2 minutes until brown on the bottom, bubbly on top. Turn and cook for another minute.

These are enough blini for a party so if you are making fewer cut the recipe in half.

I won't wish you a happy new year...that's too much pressure to put on a person. How can one expect an entire year of happiness? I wish for you that any bad times you have, will help you know the good times when they are there. Appreciate the good times.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eartha Kitt, the most exciting woman in the world

"I am Eartha Mae," she announced as I walked into her hotel suite. "Eartha Kitt is a character I play and I am happy to talk about her, no one enjoys her as much as I, but I could not be her all the time, it would be exhausting." And thus began my afternoon with Eartha Kitt.

I was working for a small weekly in San Francisco called "Spirit of the City." The publicist at the Venetian room very kindly granted my request for an interview.

Fascinated by all of the exotic locations she had visited I began by asking her about Paris and the early years. She told me many stories and at one point ran over to the desk to get a piece of paper. She asked me where she should eat while in San Francisco.

I confessed that I didn't have the budget for Filet and Champagne and had no where to refer her to. She laughed, "When I first arrived in Paris I knew nothing of caviar and champagne and had no budget for either. My favorite meal was one of my first. After a long day of rehearsal I was very hungry and I wandered into a cafe. They brought me the wine of the house and I pointed to a dish and ordered it, Pot au Feu, I was so surprised when they brought me a boiled chicken with vegetables. I think it was the first time I had tasted leeks and the chicken and broth were so delicious. So many times it is the simple food I crave, tell me where you eat."

So I did, I told her where to get a great Mission style burrito, good Chinese food and one of my favorite Italian Restaurants. She wrote them all down. Food, travel and politics were the topics of the day, almost no time spent on the questions I had written down. Listening to her keen mind go from topic to topic was far more interesting than anything I could have imagined.

After almost three hours she looked at her watch and told me that she had to eat a little bite and then get ready for her show. The tapes had run out but she ordered fruit and tea and invited me to join her. We continued to talk until she had to go take care of her transformation into Miss Kitt.

Towards the end of her run she got my telephone number from the Hotel publicist and called me. She thanked me for the food recommendations and told me how much she had loved the anchovy sauce at Basta Pasta. It was a special I had told her about, and though it was not on the menu the day she went in, the Chef made it for her at her request, and she loved it. This led to a conversation about how anchovies can so wonderfully enhance so many dishes.

The last time I saw Miss Kitt was a few months ago at the Carlyle, she was in strong voice and delighted to be performing. We sat me at a front table and she played with and flirted with myself and a friend. For almost forty years I was in her audience and at every show she always went around and thanked everyone for coming.

With Basta Pasta's indulgence....

Anchovy Sauce Eartha Kitt
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 pound butter
2 tablespoons capers chopped
8 anchovies
Juice of a half lemon
10 basil leaves chopped
Black Pepper
Parmesan grated.

Saute the garlic in the olive oil til soft, add the butter and the anchovies and let the fish melt into the butter. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drizzle on fish, chicken or toss with pasta. Top with freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkle of Parmesan.

I made this on Saturday and served it with a simple wine. We raised our glasses to Eartha Mae Kitt, the most exciting woman in the world.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Judy Merrick's Retro-Noir Cocktail Sauce

Judy Merrick gets a nod for her spot on homage/parody of a Film Noir tramp/goddess. Currently appearing in End Time's Naked Holidays as Santa's second wife Wanda. She plays the kind of dame whose just a little beat up by life, the kind who could get all crazy for a guy who would take her out and buy her a shrimp cocktail and a glass of champagne. She plays it so well, so authentically that we have to make this sauce from a fresh tomato, nothing canned, and no catsup for this dame.

Juice of one lemon
2 fresh ripe Roma tomatoes
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 T. Horseradish
1 T. pepper sauce
1 tablespoon celery seed
Put all ingredients into the food process and pulse until pureed.

This is a fresh, zesty and lively sauce, for a fresh zesty and lively performance. As for the rest of the show. Despite the provocative title (that has literally nothing to do with the show's content) it was pretty bland. Nothing went far enough, was edgy enough or dangerous enough to qualify as comedy or parody. But sometimes a single dame can make everything worth it. A toast to Judy.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wines for Maggie

Maggie has recently begun the transition from white to red wine, she doesn't want to drink anything to heavy and nothing dry.

For the red newbie here's a list of friendly wines to try before you move onto Bordeaux.
Beaujolais, and I am not talking about the new stuff that comes out every Thanksgiving, but the Beaujolais Village and the Beaujolais Cru, they are more developed than the 'New' with more complexity but are never super dry or intimidating.

Gamay Noir is another selection that many white drinkers come to favor for it's simple fruit, light body and ability to be served chilled.

California Pinot Noir can also be a wonderful choice for those new to red. It tends to be light in style and can easily be served with salmon or other flavorful fish.

A Chianti may have a bit more heft but with Italian food it's fruity charms can be considerable. The bright acid is appealing to many who favor the pale stuff.

Taste, enjoy and let me know what you end up loving.

Forensic Recipe Reconstruction/Pumpkin Sauce

It is no secret that I have spent much of my time learning from my elders. I began with my own grandparents and have sought out the old men and women all over the world that hold the food traditions of their region in their heads and hands. So many things are not in cookbooks but are integral to the taste of the dish as made by these cooks.

One thing that I love to do is help people get into writing tastes and flavors they remember from those who had passed on. I call this service Forensic Recipe Reconstruction. By asking a multitude of questions, not only about the tastes and textures of the finished dish but the heritage of the person who prepared it I can often re-create the dish and put the steps on paper, much to the delight of the descendants.

I had one recently that was almost too easy. I got a phone call from a young man who had lost his grandmother. He was trying to re-create her fried chicken, he had watched her make it at least 100 times, he had written down the herbs and spices she used. Each time he made it it was ALMOST what he wanted and his frustration was palpable. After I asked him a few questions about his grandmother I asked him if he ever saw a coffee can near the stove.

"Yea, it would go from the stove to the refrigerator after breakfast every day."

Fry the chicken in bacon fat, not vegetable oil.

He did and called me back overjoyed. THAT was grandma's chicken. He had learned every step except what fat she had used.

Another query was not so simple.

A young man called needing his Mother's recipe for 'sauce'. To his mind her Tomato Gravy was the best in the entire world, the only thing she made for him and her meatballs beyond compare.

The sauce variations are so personal I warned him that this would be the hardest recipe to re-create and I could easily fail. We might never know.

I got all the information from him I could including approximate cooking time based on the fact that she would leave work at noon to make this sauce. I looked in her cupboards for clues and they were almost devoid of seasonings, I opened a drawer and found a plethora of receipts from grocery stores. I asked if I could take them too look for clues. He agreed.

As I went through the receipts the answer became clear. In addition to all the frozen meals, twice a month there was a receipt for Ragu and chopped Gilroy garlic, along with Swedish meatballs from Ikea. Based on the shopping times I could see that the sauce simmered for no more than 90 minutes.

I went shopping, dumped it all together and invited him to taste. He almost cried, saying that I had it exactly. After he cleaned his plate I told him the 'recipe'. He was infuriated, claiming that I had ruined the memory of his mother and I shoulda kept my mouth shut. He never paid his bill and later sent me some hate mail.

The following is a successful recipe reconstruction from a Perugian Grandmother who made a pumpkin sauce for ricotta stuffed Ravioli. After a couple of tries I got the sauce down and made the grandson happy. This is really a delicious fall recipe.

1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
20 fresh sage leaves finely chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic finely chopped

Mix together and warm, pour over ravioli or double recipe and use as a sauce for an all cheese lasagna.

Instead of cheese to garnish try a few roasted ground hazelnuts.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A link to one of my recipes in the Daily News


As requested this link is being re-published, along with the original if horrific photo taken by the Daily News Staff photographer. I look like I am wearing a crooked fat mask of my face, but when standing next to a pasta covered in caviar who is looking at my face. I loved making this dish.

I got an e mail asking for a recipe based on Tom Cruise...I am not sure how to do that. It would have to be crazy and uninteresting at the same time. Maybe fruit cocktail topped with Miracle Whip, or Bologna on Wonder Bread.

I will consider naming some more dishes after special or interesting people.

Do follow the link and if you are looking for something very special for a holiday dinner this dish might suffice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wines for the New Depression: Trapiche Falling Star Merlot

This simple wine is Merlot blended with Malbec Argentina's premiere grape,

it is very low cost and a delicious party wine.

I first had a glass of this at a Spanish restaurant for 8 bucks a glass. For 8 bucks I felt ripped off. It was a nice fruit burst, but not an 8 buck a glass wine.

For 5 bucks a bottle it is a great party wine, I guess it is all perspective. When you are entertaining on the cheap, it works well and it pairs with a lot of party foods.

I kid you not this wine with Lipton Onion Dip and Chips is it's own form of heaven.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sausage Rice on the Side

Okay, the photo is not very appetizing. Talk about a dish that needs some parsley, or a sprinkling of paprika, but as we all know sometimes the best things come in ugly packages.

I got an e mail over the weekend from Melissa who is doing a dinner party and more than half of her guests will be vegetarian. She wanted a side dish recipe that would include meat both for her and the other carnivores in the crowd.

This is just a simple variation of the New Orleans Dirty Rice that is so popular.

1/2 pound Italian Sausage (I get the spicy)
1 minced medium onion
1 minced clove of garlic
1 1/2 cup rice
3 1/4 cups water

If the sausage is in a casing cut the casing away and add to the water. Put on a glove, this part is messy. Mix the sausage into the water, like soup, you want the sausage to fall into little bits and not clump up. Once you have a mushy mess stir in the rice, onion and garlic and put on the stove to boil. When it comes to a big boil turn down to a low simmer, put the pot on the rice and leave alone for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave alone for 5, then get a fork and fluff and serve.

When I get in one of those moods I have been known to make a pot and top with some stewed okra and tomatoes and eat a big ole bowl. The New Orleans of my childhood may not exist anymore but with a bowl of this mess, you can believe the South will rise again.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lemon Chicken Recipe

The month of December is an eating month and we tend to overindulge in the rich and delicious foods of the season. This lemon chicken recipe is elegant enough for holiday entertaining but easy enough for a Tuesday night at home. The light bright flavors are a great way to wake up your palate.

1 chicken thigh or breast per serving (boneless and skinless, partially frozen)
Juice of one lemon per serving
1 finely chopped garlic clove per serving
1 tablespoon of capers per serving
1 splash of white wine per serving
A sprinkling of flour

*If you like a sauce that has a hint of sweetness a touch of honey can be added.

When the thighs are partially frozen they are easy to slice. Try to get 8 slices out of each thigh with a serrated knife. Put between two sheets of plastic wrap and hit with a hammer a few times to thin. Once you have beaten your meat lightly salt, pepper and dust (do not drench) with flour. Sprinkle the flour as you would the salt, very lightly.

Heat some olive oil in a large pan and saute each slice just until cooked, approximately 4 minutes. Remove to a warm platter.

Turn heat HIGH, toss in the garlic and when soft, throw in the lemon juice, splash of wine and reduce. Throw in the capers and pour over the chicken and serve.

If you have a crisp Rose left over from the summer it would be beautiful with this dish.