Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Is This The Way to Celebrate The New Year ?

Yes, New Year's Eve is coming up and you, being the saavy person you are, decide to leave the rabble-rousing in public to the amateurs in order to host your own small gathering of friends and family who will very likely spend the entire evening chez you.

You want to reward these faithful friends with delicious food & drink and decide to turn to the award-winning food & wine section of your local paper, The San Francisco Chronicle (if you happen to live in San Francisco) for ideas on quick and easy to make hors d'oeuvres for the party. What do these avatars of all that is bacchanalian suggest for your farewell to the past year celebration????? The Chex Party Mix.....WHAAAATTT???? Click here to read it yourself.

Lynne Char Bennett, the author of this atrocity, described it as fun and iconic. She went further and attributed this disgusting concoction of Cheerios, Rice Chex and bacon grease to longtime food editor and critic, Michael Bauer's sainted mother who served this for many years which, according to the article, he has spent the last 30 years tweaking to perfection. Sure, Mike! Now tell me why you bothered. This is a man who lambastes chefs, restaurants and restauranteurs when he doesn't like the design of their forks, the shape of their plates or the color scheme of their banquettes and he serves his guests warm bacon grease and Cheerios for New Years Eve? Way to add to your credibility as a gourmand and critic of professional hospitality, dude!!!

Look, I'm not snarking because I have anything against retro, homey offerings that make it easy for the busy person to throw something together at the last minute to host their party. Not everyone likes or can afford to feed a crowd beluga and blinis.

I'm not doing it because I dislike the author; as a matter of fact, I usually enjoy reading her food articles and recipes. BUT, when a recipe is composed of breakfast cereal, bacon grease and tabasco sauce AND takes 2 HOURS, yes 2 long hours in attendance in order to stir that muck up EVERY 20 MINUTES so you don't burn the house down with that volatile mix then you are not delivering on a tacit promise to your readers: making something delicious, simple, quick and appropriate for the occasion. Really poorly done on the part of the Chronicle's food staff.

They would have better served their public by publishing recipes from earlier this year if they didn't feel like going to the trouble of coming up with something more appropriate for the occasion!

They could also have come up with something quicker like wasabi peas and pretzel nuggets mixed with California nuts and dried fruit as a party mix if they wanted to go that route. Takes less than two minutes to mix & throw into pretty bowls and satisfies all the sweet, salty, spicy criteria of theirs without all the time, effort and preservatives of that ridiculous "recipe"!!!

Had to vent! I really felt outraged by that article. Feeling better now!!! Thanks & Happy Party Planning!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Wreck of the Hesperus: The Aftermath of a Holiday Cooking Battle Against a Sea of Kitchen Woes

I write this post to avoid the inevitable.

Yes, I'd look for any excuse to postpone the terrible thing that must be done... the post-holiday kitchen clean-up of culinary carnage of such epic proportions it makes the burning of Rome look like giddy kids making smores at a barbecue.

I have no one to fault but myself. I created the menus and I, and only I, arrogantly disregarded the limitations of my galley kitchen when I set out to sea with my billows frothing like yeast and the snow fall hissing in the brine. Sadly, I thought I could conquer the tempest.

Like the proud but ill-fated skipper of the schooner Hesperus that sailed the wintry sea, I surveyed the 'scape before me (although my 'scape was in the form of a poorly equipped rental kitchen rather than an angry, gale-ridden sea) and then laughed when the wise old sous chef within me said, "I pray thee, put into yonder port, for I fear a hurricane." or words to that effect.
The good new is I didn't have a little daughter in the wreckage with me whose eyes were as blue as fairy flax, cheeks like dawn of day and a bosom white as hawthorn buds, that ope in month of May.
That would have been a bummer!

Instead, I had my sweet and long-suffering hubby next to me; valiantly trying to buck me up while my brow was wet with honest sweat (sorry, that's another poem) & I cursed the day I ever decided to cancel our vacation plans to tough it out and cook a Christmas feast with a circa 1995 GE Electric Spectra Range provided to us by our "no penny ever goes without pinching" landlords in our new short-term rental.

The truth be told, the meals themselves were a resounding success. With changes to cooking temperatures, cooking times and other small adjustments, I managed to execute my vision even if the meals took longer to make and were served a little later than originally intended. So, no, unlike the poor Hesperus, I didn't end up in splinters on the reef of Norman's Woe; the kitchen justs looks like it did. Now I have to clean-up the wreckage, woe is me!

Here are 10 helpful hints for apartment dwellers who like me find their culinary dreams nearly thwarted by old electric ranges and the kitchens they occupy:
  1. Unlike their gas cousins, electric burners have a very slow reaction time; therefore, before cooking anything at a medium-high temperature for a sear make sure you have first turned on two burners: one at med-high and one at med or med-low. This way if your pan is too hot or smoky you can immediately lower the temperature of the pan by moving it to the lower temperature burner without interrupting the cooking. If you try to lower the temperature by turning down the heat on the burner, your food will burn by the time the electric burner reacts and lowers the heat.
  2. Make sure you have plenty of thick kitchen towels or heat-proof trivets to place hot pans and casserole dishes on. Melamine or other synthetic counters, the finish of choice for kitchens of many corporate rentals, cannot take the heat of a hot pot placed on their surfaces and with a small cooking range & oven you will find the need to move hot things off the range or out of the oven to make room for putting the finishing touches on your dishes.
  3. Preheat the oven.
  4. Preheat the oven.
  5. Preheat the oven.
  6. Equally important to the preheating, invest in an oven thermometer. It is the most accurate way to gauge the oven temperature and knowing the actual cooking temperature is vital when planning and executing the timing and preparation of meals. The thermostats of these older electric ovens are unreliable (I learned that the hard way) & nothing throws off a dinner party more than an entree that doesn't cook in the time you alloted because the oven never reached the proper temperature. A 350 degree setting on the oven knob may only heat up the oven to 300 degrees. An enormous difference in heat, method of cooking and eventual roasting time. $20.00 should buy you a decent oven thermometer and save you and your guests the angst of a roast that served 1 hour after the first course. Just be sure to hang the oven thermometer over the center of wherever you are placing the roasting pan.
  7. A meat thermometer is also a good purchase as it will give you a good indication of a roast's doneness especially if you are new to cooking. WARNING: It is not the same as an oven thermometer. You need both.
  8. Patience, cool-headedness and flexibility. My Breville cordless immersion blender was new and never charged. OOPS! My creamy caramelized onion & cauliflower puree that was to be the foil for a dollop of luxurious ossetra caviar was now a delicious but rustic soup that had to be abandoned for this particular meal but I still wanted to serve the caviar only I had no blinis, no toast points, no crackers. DISASTER, right? Wrong, I served it as a quenelle on the Dungeness crab & avocado salad with a tiny dab of creme fraiche, instead, and it was fabulous even better than my original concept plus I could always have the soup for lunch the next day by which time the new cordless blender (my old one with the cord is in storage) will have been charged.
  9. Keep an extra bottle of dishwasher detergent, dishwashing liquid & a variety of sponges, paper towels and dish towels. You'll be doing a lot of cleaning as you go to keep room on the counters as you cook. Keep the dishwasher going while you cook for the prep dishes, too. Even with all these precautions and a helpful hubby, you'll have a kitchen that looks like the pictures above after you're done.
  10. Order Takeout! Or better yet, go on that fabulous vacation you planned but were too depressed to travel to; no dishes, plenty of sunshine and you'd be away from that god-awful rental!
Oh well, at least I have a pretty view to look at when I'm done with my onerous task.

Click on the title of the post if you want to refresh your memory of Longfellow's incredibly depressing poem, "The Wreck of the Hesperus".

You'll see how pretty you're sitting in comparison to that clueless skipper & his unfortunate daughter. By the way, no offense Hank, but hawthorn buds??? What was Longfellow talking about? Other than being white, I have no idea what they are, do you? Not that I know what fairy flax is either. Hammering Hank must have indulged in a few very interesting varieties of muscle relaxants, don'tcha think?

Happy New Year!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Restaurant Review: Le Bernardin: Eric Ripert is God!

This morning I watched the best chef in the country on the insipid Today Show surrounded by a gaggle of clucking female television "journalists". He was valiantly attempting to cook a lovely simple autumn dish, Salmon with Warm Lentil Salad. (Click on the title of this post for a link to the recipe).
Well, despite being assaulted by a barrage of inane comments and incessant interruptions, he did miraculously manage to put the dish together in the 3 minutes allotted to him without butchering any of his tormentors with his 9" chef's knife (which would have been justifiable homicide in my mind).
Eric Ripert, God, & also Executive Chef of Le Bernardin
To the ladies of the Today Show I say: "Shut up, you bunch of meddling mental homunculi, it's Eric Ripert. Dammit, the man is a culinary God; let him speak! Viewers don't care about how your mother in Peoria makes her lentils, you glorified weather girl, a three star Michelin chef is cooking for you, bringing you beauty and harmony in edible form, shut up & watch him, unworthy philistine!"
I must say the man showed great intelligence, humor and restraint; and, it all comes through in his cooking which brings us to the title subject of this blog: dinner at Le Bernardin, year after year a Three Star Michelin restaurant. (Three stars is the rarest & highest award given by Michelin's dining guide).

When the hubby told me we were headed for Manhattan, the place I was born, raised and have been estranged from since moving to San Francisco, I didn't think about where we going to stay, what friends or family I'd arrange to see, which Broadway shows I should get tickets for or what museums exhibits I would take in.
No, the first thing I thought of was "We've got to get reservations to Le Bernardin, now!!!". So without delay, I frantically went on, the most useful website on the planet, and secured us a reservation for four on whatever night & time was available (a Monday night at 7:45 pm, yaaay!!!). While there were other restaurants on my hit list: Gramercy Tavern, Per Se, Cafe Boulud, etc., Le Bernardin was on the top of the list and for good reason as it turns out.

There are not enough superlatives in the English language to adequately describe the experience of eating at this temple of the culinary arts. You simply have to go there to understand the lure (& the lore for that matter, because under Ripert's magical reign, Le Bernardin, while always considered a NY classic, has become the stuff of legend & song).

As it turned out, a party of four quickly dwindled down to a party of two, so I, like all saavy restaurant lovers should, called Le Bernardin the day before to alert them of the change in plan. The couple we went to New York with felt, as many people might (mistakenly, in my opinion) that the dining at Le Bernardin would be too "chi-chi" and precious for their tastes; full of pompous sneering staff; heavy, elaborately prepared entrees at exorbitant prices and old, doddering well-heeled patrons who snored between courses & drooled into their napkins. To this couple, it would be the antithesis of all that is hip & cool to go there. In fairness to our dear friends who do love good dining, they never put these thoughts into actual words, it's just my fevered brain conjuring up what I perceived as their image of this type of super high-end eatery.
Why else wouldn't they want to go to the greatest seafood restaurant in the country? They've never been there. Hopefully, they will change their minds and go one day. They won't regret it. Eric Ripert has the sexiest, hippest most modern take on classic seafood being done today. The 41 year old hottie navigates the globe when searching for inspirations: France, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Italy, Spain; all well represented. As to the patrons who dine there, they are cut from a wide swath of cultural and generational cloth. Although, truth be told, I did see one octogenarian toddle through the dining room early in the evening. Why shouldn't he? He was so cute. Old folks with good taste & mega-money have a right to eat out, too!

51st Street between Broadway & 7th Avenue, like all mid-town Manhattan blocks, is a bustling, cacophonous madhouse of a street at anytime of day but it is particularly so at the magical 6-8pm hours when cabbies and limo drivers are duking it out trying to get their highly demanding clientele to their respective destinations at the appointed hour. Somehow, our driver gamely slugs it out with his adversaries and just manages to drop us off at 7:45 pm in front of the wide handsome doors of 155 W. 51st, the venerable site that houses our destination for the evening: Le Bernardin.

As soon as you step through those doors, the scene of verbal assaults, honking horns, overflowing trash cans and other less charming aspects of urban life, suddenly, melts away. You have stepped into another, higher realm of cosmopolitan life. It's New York the way it should be. Sleek, urbane, silk-lined and glamorous. Luxe but pared down. Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore. Nick and Nora Charles would be quite at home happily imbibing cocktails at the large, comfy bar area to the right of the entrance.

Le Bernardin's Bar Area

You walk to the host stand (beautiful staff alert) and are treated promptly & cordially by incredibly attractive, impeccably dressed persons (male & female) who also seem impossibly young. By the time we're shown to our magnificently positioned table for two that affords us a view of the entire restaurant in complete comfort (even if it does put us on display), two staff members have already warmly greeted us by name ("Good evening, Mr & Mrs Van Wagoner"). A nice touch that makes a first time patron like myself feel as welcome and relaxed as any of their "regulars" would. (Yes, Le Bernardin has regular clientele just like your ordinary corner diner does).

The dining room is not staggeringly beautiful but it is warm & tastefully appointed. As I said earlier, luxe but simple:
coffered ceilings, large comfortable leather chairs with armrests, beautiful table silver, linens, & crystal but it's a pared down, stream-lined luxury not staid, baronial splendor. The decor is minimalist with a zen-like sensibility that imparts focus and tranquility to the diner all the better to hone your senses for Eric Ripert's remarkable menu.
Le Bernardin
Le Bernardin's Dining Room in full swing
The dinner menu is a pre-fixe, 4 course menu; divided into three distinct savory categories and dessert. Here is where the great chef's sense of whimsy reveals itself.
The savory categories are as followed: Almost Raw, Barely Touched, Lightly Cooked. So cheeky & sexy! The diner chooses one item from several options per category.
Brilliant! Chef Ripert is telling you, you are about to enjoy food in the freshest, most pristine, meticulous preparation possible from start to finish. This is man who respects his ingredients and will not kill anything by overhandling, overcooking or over saucing. This is definitely not the place for Mrs. Paul's fish sticks drowned in tartar sauce. By the way, for the environmentally-concerned among you, Le Bernardin will not serve Chilean Sea Bass, Bluefin Tuna or Black Grouper in support of the NRDC and Sea Webs educational efforts to speed the recovery of these endangered species.
While this is a seafood restaurant, meat-eaters & vegetarians are also accommodated. Roasted squab, rack of lamb, Kobe beef, and black truffle pasta tagliatelle are available as entrees under the "Lightly Cooked" categories. There are also two tasting menus (of 8 courses & 7 courses) that must be ordered by the entire table to enjoy; one menu includes meat as a course, one does not.

Although the restaurant was quite lively & full, the decibel level allows for the romantic twosome to fully enjoy each other's company without resorting to shouting or texting. We were, of course, sent an amuse bouche from the kitchen to start the main event and give us a preview of what was to come. It was from the "Almost Raw" section; a delicious tartare of wild Alaskan & smoked salmon with apple, celery and baby watercress in a jalapeno emulsion. The juxtaposition of the fresh & the cured fish with the spicy, sweet & savory components of seasonal produce exploded flavor over every area of your tongue without jarring or overwhelming your palate. Perfect balance, went well with our 1/2 bottle of vintage rose champagne which the amazing wine list offered in this smaller bottle format.
So far, so good! I was already deliriously happy and I hadn't even ordered yet.

Now came the difficult part: making a decision. Chef Ripert is a French classicist with a remarkable affinity for Asian ingredients. I decided to try what I deemed were the enlightened takes on classic French preparations. My husband decided to try the Asian-nuanced dishes which allowed us both to try the scope & breadth of the very exciting & innovative menu.

My "Almost Raw" course was simply called Tuna.
It was accurately described on the menu as layers of yellowfin tuna, foie gras on toasted baguette with shaved chives and extra-virgin olive oil. It is a clever riff on Tournedos Rossini, a classic preparation usually made with filet mignon (& more recently with seared Ahi tuna) that basically includes layers of the main protein, with seared foie gras on top of a bed of crisp potato galette with a demiglace, madeira reduction. Not usually associated with anything light or raw and hardly a starter, right? WRONG!

The dish was a revelation & blew away any raw tuna dish I've had anywhere, The French Laundry & Joel Robuchon included! The glistening ahi was pounded into a delicate, ovoid-shaped carpaccio that draped the simple white platter it was served on, anointed by a drizzle of olive oil & shaved chives. This by itself would have satisfied the most discerning foodie but the pristine beauty was guarding it's secret well until you cut into the tuna, and suddenly underneath you find, like a prize out of a Cracker Jack box, a grissini-like baguette, so crisp & thin spread with the most unctuous, delectable torchon of foie gras that has just the hint of natural sweetness you find in the best foie (particularly when prepared simply a la torchon; it gives it the texture I personally prefer rather than the sometimes flaccid effect that can be imparted by searing it).
It is a truly sensual experience: the clean flavors with the full fruity olive oil, the herbaceous chives, the silky texture with just a hint of crunch from the bread, a counterpoint that makes each bite come alive. So simply presented, so exquisitely done. I was still really happy!

My husband chose the Kanpachi for his first course. A visually stunning tartare with a jewel-like layer of wasabi tobiko & a foamy ginger-coriander emulsion that I had to taste when I saw it. It tasted even better than it looked. The rich raw fish, perfectly diced seemed to be created by Mother Nature for the contrast of that ginger-coriander emulsion. Beautifully balanced, clean, lively flavors! I was already sorry I had but only one stomach to devote to this meal.

Next came the "Barely Touched" course:
Mine was the Escolar. A white tuna enhanced by barely poaching in extra-virgin olive oil served with sea beans, an ocean vegetable that tastes like briny green beans, and waffled potato crisps. Both vegetables added texture and acidity to the silken flesh of the escolar. The dish was finished with a light red wine bernaise sauce expertly poured tableside by a server who showed genuine delight in my appreciation of the dish.
The service is polished at Le Bernardin but also warm and receptive to its diners. These are people who enjoy working here and are proud (but never haughty) of being part of the experience. They do not put on a show. They are saavy & perceptive enough to know that the patron and the food are the co-stars of the night with service & the ambiance playing supporting roles. Kudo's to Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze, the owner, because that kind of attitude trickles down from the top.
This restaurant also has great credibility because its celebrity chef is right in the kitchen as well as in the dining room, manning the helm. I am far from a star-struck celebrity hound but I must admit a little frisson of excitement did go through me when I saw him in the dining room! The man is adorable. Did I mention it already? Eric Ripert is God!
Back to the "Barely Touched" course:
My husband had the Halibut. Another stunning presentation of poached halibut, marinated grape and cherry tomatoes with pickled shallot; all in a verjus-lemongrass infusion. By the fact that I wasn't even afforded a taste of it by my loving life's companion, I can only tell you by proxy the merits of this dish. His plate had not even a drop of the lemongrass-infused sauce left on it for me to taste. Enough said!

Next came the "Lightly Cooked" course. I had the "Monkfish" and Garrett had the "Wild Salmon".
My monkfish may have been the only slight misstep of the evening. The presentation was once again visually pleasing & the portion, as was the case with all the courses we had, very generous. The monkfish was pan-roasted served with a rich classic red wine-brandy sauce and an earthy truffled potato emulsion; essentially two very different sauces that complemented the meaty fish which, while undoubtedly fresh, was more than "lightly cooked". Monkfish is a fish whose flavor and texture does not lend itself to being eaten rare (although many sushi aficionados do enjoy ankimo, its lightly steamed liver) so I do understand cooking it to at least medium. Mine was cooked well past medium which made the protein's fibers a little more evident than I'm sure the chef intended. I also would have enjoyed some hearty green with a little texture & acidity; maybe chard, ramps or purslane? The weather on October 1st was still quite warm as it had been all of September in the Tri-State area, chances are these farmer's market darlings may still have been around for the kitchen to play with. I understand this dish is all about luxurious texture and flavor but it needed a foil for its richness.
Still all in all a marvelous dish & a great concept. I'm sure if the person at the protein station had taken it off the fire 45 seconds earlier I wouldn't have found any fault with it.
Garrett's wild salmon was beautifully prepared and served with a daikon, snow pea & enoki salad as well as a lovely sweet pea-wasabi sauce. It is the complete anti-thesis of my rich monkfish dish conceptually. It's astonishing to me how this kitchen manages to create flavor profiles that are world's apart but still execute their distinct visions faithfully & brilliantly. It's a sort of Grand Unified Theory of cookery. Albert Einstein is smiling in heaven!

Dessert was next. The dessert highly recommended by our server was the "Chocolate-Corn". Chocolate & corn seem like an unlikely combination so in the spirit of my friend, Nicole, who always enjoys ordering what appears to be the strangest dessert on the menu because she loves to be pleasantly surprised by the pastry chef's inventiveness, I thought I'd give it try. I wish Nicole had been there, she would have been very happy with this dessert. The dessert was an amazing and harmonious compilation of shapes & textures. First there was a delicate crunchy corn & hazelnut cookie-bar base covered in soft dark chocolate ganache; then a scoop of corn sorbet with a crisp corn tuile on top.
That I never heard of a chocolate-corn combo before this seems, in retrospect, ridiculous to me because the flavors married so well it now seems like a natural pairing. Both chocolate & corn are new world (North American) products so why isn't this part of our classic American cooking repertoire? Corn sorbet? Absolutely! Corn is naturally milky & sweet. Perfect for dessert. It was beyond brilliant! The pairing of this dessert with the Pedro Ximenez Solera sherry suggested by the sommelier...stunning!!!
My hubby, never a huge fan of desserts after dinner (he'd rather have something sweet for breakfast) went with the coconut sorbet which was creamy & delicious. He's been on a coconut sorbet kick ever since we returned from Hawaii. He keeps searching for the definitive coconut sorbet & Le Benardin's did not disappoint.

The wine list is prodigious with selections of varying prices, many varietals from all over the world and several bottle formats as well as an interesting list of wines by the glass. There are also suggested wine pairings for each course offered by the glass for an additional fee. The list is as thoughtful as the menu and mirrors it in many ways: offering the classic French & American "blue chip" wines as well as wines from less highly-tauted regions
for the more adventurous connoisseur. It's a world class list with something for everyone. Mark-ups are what you'd expect but there is a corkage fee, so they do allow you to bring your own wine.

My husband & I are big fans of white Burgundy from the southern half of Cote D'or, a.k.a. the Cote de Beaune, particularly those from the Puligny-Montrachet region; but the sommelier, a lovely young woman the night we were there, recommended we try a chardonnay from the northern half of Burgundy: a chablis that had been barrel-aged in oak by a lesser known producer whose cousin was a well-regarded negociant of that region. (Unfortunately, the name & vintage escapes me now 26 days later, the mind is a terrible thing to lose!) The wine was delicious with chablis' usual high acidity tempered by the aging in oak but without losing the fruit & steely character of the wine by over-oaking; it tasted like a Raveneau Valmur, a great chablis my husband & I enjoy with similar characteristics & at $180 or so, it was less than half the price of the Leflaive we were considering. Yaay!

Well, it was 2-1/2 hours of sheer bliss. If we lived in NY, I'd go twice a month. That being said it is most definitely a special occasion, destination restaurant worthy of the three stars that Michelin has bestowed upon it once again this year and a must if you go to NYC.
It is the only restaurant I went to that I deemed better than any similar restaurant in San Francisco. Aqua & Farallon, both exclusive seafood restaurants here, don't even begin to compare. Michael Mina's, Gary Danko and, yes, even the revered French Laundry do not serve better food than Le Bernardin; although these restaurants do blow Gramercy Tavern, Olive & other such NYC restaurants away.

Please go to Le Bernardin if you get the chance; especially, if you are someone who enjoys seafood taken to its absolute pinnacle of perfection in the most minimally invasive, wonderfully enhanced way possible. Some of this restaurant's detractors in the blogosphere simply do not understand the glory of impeccably fresh food prepared with precision, cooked to perfection, and served with reverence and humility. Amen.

Le Bernardin
155 West 51st Street
New York, N.Y. 10019
(212) 554-1515

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Taking A Bite Out of The Big Apple

Just had a taste of the most amazing apple ever at the Farmer's Market this Tuesday in the SF Ferry Building. It's a varietal I'd never heard of before called Arkansas Black. It's skin was the deepest burgundy so saturated in it's natural red pigment that every bite stained my lips. The meat of the apple was incredibly crisp with a juicy tart sweetness that made me gobble the thing up with a voracity usually reserved for the best chocolate gelato (a food I can never eat with any restraint). I wish I had taken a picture of it before I scarfed it down. It was so beautiful!

Enjoying the Arkansas Black reminded me of another amazing apple that I had experienced recently: New York City aka "The Big Apple".

View of Columbus Circle from Bouchon Cafe and Bakery

Fall in NY. There's no better time to be there. Manhattan is beautiful in late September, early October. The weather is warm without being muggy. Everything is still in full bloom on the streets & in Central Park. The softening light of autumn casts a golden hue over the city gilding every tree and building top; an effect not evident in the harsh light of summer or the white pall cast by the winter sun. Spring is great, too. The budding blooms and all that; but, I prefer the autumn just as the leaves of all the city trees begin their glorious show. You'd be surprised how leafy & almost sylvan New York streets are; particularly when compared to San Francisco which sadly has the fewest trees of any urban city in the country.

We went with another couple (the men on business, the ladies also on business: the business of fun-seeking, a serious endeavor in the pleasuredome that is Manhattan!). We stayed at Ian Schrager's newly-refurbished Gramercy Park Hotel in the fabulous Gramercy/Flatiron District of Manhattan. We ate at some exalted restaurants & some less exalted ones. I really need a few more posts to do the trip justice and will do so by ending now and picking up the thread in my next few postings. I just wanted to get the process started & now I have. More to come...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Back From Hiatus: An Indulgent Hawaiian-inspired Autumn Menu

It's been a long time since my last posting. Six weeks; if you, my imaginary readers, happen to be counting. I have been a busy little girl:
Two weeks in the land of Aloha; one week in that land's near polar opposite: Manhattan; and playing catch-up in San Francisco between trips.
It's astonishing how much time can be spent preparing to pack, then the actually packing, then the post-trip unpacking which includes the garb organizing into hand-washables, dry
cleanables, machine washables, disposables (something always needs to weeded out after either careless handling or never-fitting properly) and there's the always exciting, newly purchased piles that need to be carefully hidden until the appropriate "What this old thing?" or "Oh sweetie, I've had this for years, I can't believe you've never noticed it!!!" moment when the hubby remarks on the totally hot Dolce & Gabbana trench coat recently liberated from Barneys NY.

All of this, while not exactly one of the more rigorous forms of manual labor, not quite on par with say... coal-mining, does take time & requires effort that might otherwise go into more creative endeavors like blogging, for instance.

But fear not, gentle reader, all those sunsets, massages, cocktails and gourmet meals were not for naught. Every second that I spent soaking up the sun or scarfing down
ahi poke & Krug rose was spent for you and your continuing edification (always keeping the budding gourmand in mind). A martyr to my cause... that's what all who know me think and the next few blogs will prove it, you'll see.

For starters, an indulgent yet light Hawaiian-inspired autumn meal made with foods that are readily available in this season of mists & mellow fruitfulness.

Don'tcha just love that Keats dude. You can click on the title of this blog to a link to his "Ode to Autumn" and read it in its entirety. I can't believe he died so young but the early 19th century wasn't exactly a picnic. 

Three of the English language's most beloved romantic poets (Keats, Shelly & Byron) all died within a year or two of each other; all before the age of 30. Ain't that a coincidence? I'd welcome the views of any conspiracy theorists out there with regard to the untimely demise of these young Lotharios who were ill-regarded by the society of their day.

 Well, the fact is even if they were scandalously murdered by some Jack the Ripper of libertines (actually Keats died of TB, Byron of some venereal malady and Shelly drowned "accidentally"), they're immortal words will never be forgotten. (Take that you narrow-minded hate-mongers!)

To the romantic boys of the early 19th century and other fellow hedonists (actually I lead an almost ascetic lifestyle, really I do), I dedicate these recipes for their sensual textures; vibrant, jewel-like colors and exotic flavors. Here's looking at you, kids!!!

Autumn Salad of Smoked Duck Breast, Avocado, Pomegranate Seeds, Dried Figs and Feta over Curly Red Savoy Cabbage and Romaine Lettuce with a Jerez Sherry Vinaigrette

Pupus Anyone? Recipes for A Light Taste of Autumn

Don't let the lengthy name of this recipe fool you. It's easier to make than it is to type. The crisp lettuces are really the stars of the show.

Grimaud Farms makes a nice smoked duck breast that they cook with sweet spices (clove, cardamon, etc,) giving the duck a light pleasant asian flavor which I highly recommend using. You top chef wannabes can, of course, smoke or even sous vide your own duck breast, if you have the time and the inclination but sometimes it's better to sub it out. Think of an excellent pre-cooked gourmet product as your very own sous chef; assisting you with some of the more mundane tasks while you create & execute your ultimate vision. If you really don't like duck you can substitute with prosciutto.

Pomegranate seeds come from, you guessed it, pomegranates which you can find from now until January in most grocery stores unless you live in the hinterlands; then, I suggest you substitute the best grapes you can find & cut each grape in half for easier consumption with a fork. Apples cut into dice would work, too; but pomegranates are so sexy, jewel-like & beautiful, you should really try to find them. They are chock full of anti-oxidants & have a surprising nutty crunch along with a sweet/tart juice that really is nice with the duck & salad.

The pomegranate should feel heavy for its size & look plump & round. If it looks too leathery with heavy indentations, it's probably too old to eat but would look great in a flower arrangement or wreath, The seeds are not hard to remove but you want to make sure you remove them in tact. (Wear dark clothes if its you're first time ever.) Just use a very sharp knife, cut the fruit in half at its equator. Then cut each half in half, again. You'll see all the ruby-like seeds grouped together in bunches separated by papery segmented pith. Just grab the bunches of seeds & carefully separate them from the pith using your fingers. Once you do that, you can easily separate the seeds from each other & sprinkle them over your salad.

The sherry vinegar is important. You should have all kinds of vinegar in your pantry because different vinegars can really enhance or detract from a dish not unlike different wines would. Use the Spanish Vinagre de Jerez "La Bodega" which is produced & bottled by Bodegas Paez Morilla, S.A. It is not crazy expensive & will add a more nuanced balanced acidity to the dish than a white wine vinegar or the ubiquitous balsamic vinegar would. If push comes to shove use cider vinegar & a little dijon mustard as a substitute.

Equally important is the olive oil. Use the best you can find, buy it in small quantities so it doesn't go rancid before you use it all (which never happens in my house because I'm an olive oil junkie. I'd mainline it if I could taste it being pumped into my arteries) It must be extra-virgin, preferably cold-pressed and unfiltered. You really want the fruitiness in the oil for this dish. California makes some really great ones right now. I'm always trying different producers but my latest fave is Hillstone Olive Oil, an artisanal producer out of Yolo County, Ca. It's hand harvested from Arbequina Olives, a Spanish variety of olive grown primarily in Catalonia, Spain. The oil in my bottle was harvested 10/23/06 according to the handwritten date on the label. Delicious!!!
For more info

The mission figs air-dried naturally in the small walnut basket where I kept them which is why the recipe calls for dried figs (because I happen to have them on hand, silly) but you could easily use fresh figs which quite remarkably still seem to be available in some markets even this late in the season.
The curly leafed red savoy cabbage
(I used only the small inner leaves) is beautiful if you can find it , if not use radicchio.

You'll notice I do not create a salad dressing per
se. Instead I choose to simply drizzle the oil, vinegar, pomegranate juice & toss well. This creates a fresh, light coating over the salad ingredients. You can create an emulsion using a touch of dijon mustard, if you prefer it; but, it can be a little heavy & is not huge value add with this particular salad with all of its rich ingredients.

1/2 smoked duck breast (Grimaud Farm's brand recommended), skin removed, thinly sliced & brought to room temperature
2 oz. feta, crumbled
1 large avocado, pitted & cut into large dice
1 pomegranate, seeds removed & retained (see note), reserving a tablespoonful of seeds for a final garnish & a spoonful of the juice for the dressing
8 dried figs, stemmed & cut into quarters
2 heads of Romaine lettuce, crisp inner leaves only, washed, dried & torn into small pieces
1 head of red curly-leafed savoy cabbage, tender inner leaves only, washed, dried & separated (tear larger leaves into bite-sized pieces
1 small shallot, minced (optional)
2 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves only, roughly chopped (optional)
sea salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (see note)
1 Tablespoon Jerez (Sherry) Vinegar (see note)

Toss the salad greens, shallot & tarragon together in a large serving bowl.
Add the remaining ingredients drizzling the oil & vinegar over the salad makings, tossing well
to evenly distribute the ingredients & coat the lettuce leaves with the dressing. Add a final sprinkle of the reserved pomegranate seeds over the top. Serve family style or, alternatively, serve on individual salad plates. If you choose that route, for a more elegant presentation, you might like to reserve the duck breast, toss the remaining ingredients and place the salad on the individual plates & fan the thin duck breast slices on the plate around the salad with an additional drizzle of olive oil, pomegranate seeds & pomegranate juice over the duck.

Serves 4.

Opah Poke: Big Island Style Tartare

opah looked particularly fresh & delicious at Bryan's (my neighborhood seafood & meat purveyor) the day I made this which is why I chose it. It looked like toro, an unctuous, fattier, sinful cut from the belly of bluefin tuna, which made it doubly appealing to me but a little strong in flavor for some. Sashimi grade ahi, kampachi and/or fresh wild Pacific salmon (which inexplicably still seems to be in season at this posting) make excellent substitutes. All the fish should be firm to the touch with no scent whatsoever except maybe a light pleasant ocean smell.
Make sure whatever fish you buy is at least 1-1/2" thick and impeccably fresh. Remember this is a raw food dish where the fish is flash-cured for flavoring but freshness will be essential to minimize risks of contagions or food-borne illness.
You will have to trim any bloodlines and uneven pieces when you get it at home. Hone your knife beforehand for good clean cuts. The Hawaiians tend to cut their poke into larger cubes but you can make them smaller dice if you prefer a more refined texture. Make sure to cut the avocado the same size as you cut the fish but don't chop the avocado too finely or you'll have fishy guacamole instead of poke.
Add the lime juice after you add the oil to the fish to minimize "cooking" it. You will be adding all the ingredients to the fish first & folding them in before adding the avocado to the poke to minimize mashing the fruit into guacamole.

about 1 lb. of at least 1-1/2" thick Opah (Hawaiian moonfish), all bloodlines removed then discarded, cut into 1/2" dice
1/2 large Haas avocado, ripe but still firm to the touch, seeded & cut into 1/2" dice
1 Tablespoon of the highest quality extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil
the juice of one lime
1-1/2 teaspoons of high quality, low sodium shoyu (soy sauce)
1/2 teaspoon of sriratcha sauce (vietnamese chili sauce look for it in the Asian section of your market)
10 chives or 2 scallions, finely minced
1/4 of one jalapeno chile, seeded & finely minced
1 Tablespoon of cilantro, leaves & stems, finely chopped
1 teaspoon unsalted & roasted macadamia nuts, chopped (optional for garnish)
fleur de sel & fresh cracked pepper to taste (after mixing the poke & tasting for seasoning)
6 white corn tortillas, that have been cut into 1/8 of a tortilla wedges & baked in a 350 degree oven on a baking sheet for 10 minutes

In a large stainless steel mixing bowl, add the opah & mix in the olive oil using your hands or a spatula being sure to coat the fish completely. In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk all the remaining ingredients together except the avocado & the macadamia nuts. Add the dressing to the opah & mix well being sure to completely coat the fish. Now gently fold in the avocado, using your fingers to evenly distribute the avocado. Taste for seasoning & acidity & judiciously add another splash of lime juice an/or salt & pepper, if necessary. Set aside & allow to marinate for no more than 1/2 hour.
Serve in individual martini glasses with a sprinkle of the macadamia nuts atop or, alternatively, in one large caviar server with fresh baked tortilla chips on the side for dipping.

Serves 4.

Olive Oil Poached, Vanilla Scented Shrimp "Ceviche"

Although you will see dishes like this all over Hawaii, the real inspiration for this "ceviche" comes from a lobster dish served with a vanilla bean buerre blanc at a restaurant called Pitahayas on the hotel & residential corridor known as Los Cabos, a stretch of land between San Jose Del Cabo & Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula. The combination of the shellfish with the vanilla scented butter sauce was surprisingly good. I've lightened the dish considerably by lightly poaching the shrimp, an easier protein option for the home cook,
until just barely cooked through in an olive oil bath that has been "scented" (i.e. steeped) with Tahitian vanilla bean instead of serving it with a vanilla cream sauce. You can easily substitute the vanilla bean with a few drops of high quality vanilla extract. I call it ceviche because except for the olive oil vanilla poaching, I serve the shrimp as a salad with a typical ceviche ( i.e. citrus-based) marinade.
Use a shallow sauce pan or small saute pan to poach the shrimp.

For the poaching liguid:
3/4 cup olive oil (don't use extra-virgin oil just a nice quality olive oil will do)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tahitian vanilla bean, sliced in half & scraped with a knife (make sure to add scrapings to the poaching oil at athe appropriate point) or 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla bean extract
1 garlic clove, peeled & lightly smashed
1 whole dried red pepper or 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/2 lime, cut in half
1/4 bunch of chives, cut in half
a pinch (1/8 tsp) of sea salt & few grinds of very coarsely ground pepper
1/2 lb. #16 size shrimp ( about 8 large shrimp), keep shells on but remove the pleopods & pereopods (small legs underneath)

For the ceviche:
the juice of half a lime
the juice of one blood orange
1/2 bunch of chives, finely minced
1/2 Haas avocado, cut into 1/2" dice
half a handful of cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of the poaching liquid
the above (see poaching ingredients) shrimp, poached, de-shelled, de-veined & each cut into 4 equal sized pieces
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
lettuce leaves and lime wedges for garnish
8 warm small white corn tortillas or tortilla chips

For the Poaching:
Place olive oil in small (10") saute or sauce pan over low heat, the temperature should be somewhere between 130 - 160 degrees F with a thermometer or barely "shivering" as the French say which is below normal poaching temperature for liquids like water or stock. The oil should not be shimmering, be well below a simmer (185 degrees) & never reach the boiling point (212 degrees F).
When the oil is warm, carefully squeeze the lime juice in the oil and add the lime & all the poaching ingredients except the shrimp to the oil.
Allow the ingredients to steep in the oil for 15 minutes to flavor it then after making sure that the oil is at the proper temperature, add shrimp in a single layer to the pan. Watch shrimp closely for subtle changes in color & translucency. When the bottom appears slightly pinkish (about 2-3 minutes), flip the shrimp over poaching it for another 2 minutes then remove the pan from the heat & allow the shrimp to cool in the poaching oil about 15 minutes.

For the salad:
After the shrimp has cooled in its poaching liquid, remove them from their shells & devein them using a sharp paring knife to make a long shallow incision along the "spine" down to the tail exposing the digestive tract ("vein") & removing it, using a paper towel to brush away any remains. Cut each shrimp into quarters. Add the shrimp to a mixing bowl with the remaining ceviche ingredients and gently toss with your fingers, careful not to smash the avocado into guacamole.
Get a pretty white bowl, large enough to accommodate the shrimp ceviche & line it with the lettuce leaves, add the ceviche to the bowl mounding it atop the lettuce & garnish with lime wedges. Serve the ceviche with just warmed tortillas or tortilla chips.
Serves 4.
Ai ā hewa ka waha, ʻo ka leo ka uku!
(Eat until the mouth can have no more, [my] reward, [your] voice!)

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Fruits of Labor: A Labor Day Feast for Late Summer Harvest

It's the Friday before Labor Day.

Labor Day weekend has always represented the end of summer to me; practically if not technically. As a child in Manhattan, this weekend meant the sad end of the old year and the beginning of a new one; even more so than New Year's Eve in January, which always felt more like the end of the Christmas season than the beginning of anything new.

Yes, for me, Labor Day always marked the end of all the long lazy days spent reading, daydreaming, and wandering through a nearly empty city enjoying all the parks, museums and other amenities that New York had to offer a curious child with a hunger for everything, including food.
Street vendors with ti
ny carts that rang little bells to announce their presence offered delights like Italian frozen ices, Puerto Rican piraguas which are shaved ice snow cones filled with exotic syrups like guava, tamarind and guanabana (my favorites with just enough sweetness to make them palatable but a touch of sourness to make them refreshing on sticky 95 degree, 95 % humidity days) as well as coconut ices called coquitos which were creamy frozen concoctions much more like fruit granitas than frozen ices, and there was, of course, the Good Humor and Mr. Softee trucks with their sweet musical melodies resounding through the streets who were welcomed by the neighborhood children during the dog days of summer like conquering heroes freeing the wretched and oppressed.

As an adult now living in San Francisco, the advent of Labor Day has come to mean
something quite different. The strange confluence of nature with its Bay Area topography makes San Francisco's weather from late May to early September the greyest, coldest, gloomiest, 55 degree and foggy time of the year; as can be attested by any tourist who had the misfortune of coming here during the summer months and took home a pair of sweats with "San Francisco" emblazoned on them as unintended souvenirs. Rather than marking the end of summer here, Labor Day represents its beginning. The sunniest, warmest weather of the year in San Francisco starts now and ends the first days of November. Labor Day now means to me the best of summer's produce: yummy, ripe, amazing heirloom tomatoes in all shapes & colors, avocados, peaches and figs. While we chill in San Francisco, the surrounding areas north, east and south of us are sweltering in the more typical summer heat producing lush fruits that are just now at their most abundant and ready to be harvested.

So for all of you who will be spending this long holiday weekend at home either picking fruit from your garden or your favorite market, here are a few simple delicious recipes that will allow you to showcase the "fruits" of your labor and share goodies with your family and friends. These recipes are an excellent way to use fruit that may not be picture perfect because they've somehow gotten bruised on their way from the market or the garden to the kitchen. (By the way, tomatoes are definitely fruits; just ask the chefs at Oliveto's whose annual tomato dinner we attended last night, and who had mostly great success with them as desserts particularly the amazing fried ravioli filled with tomato jam & topped with confectioner's sugar. Delicious!)

We start with a fresh bruschetta of caponata and burrata with prosciutto crisps, and an easy bake pizza using a store-bought lavash crust, roasted heirloom tomato sauc
e with fresh mozzarella, shitake mushrooms and sweet Italian sausage. Next, we grill skewers of ahi tuna, cherry tomatoes & Greek haloumi cheese as well as Niman Ranch baby back ribs with a side of grilled corn on the cob. We then add an additional side of Caprese pasta salad made simply with fresh boccocino (tiny mozzarella balls) or feta (if you have o.d.'ed on mozzarella), calamata olives, fresh heirloom tomatoes, basil & olive oil. For dessert, warm blackberry & apricot crumble with mascarpone ice cream garnished with balsamic syrup and mint leaves. (There is definitely a bread, fruit & cheese theme running through this meal; they are often the best ingredients for a satisfying summer meal.)

This is a feast that's impressive to see, easy to make and even easier to eat! As always, substitute anything you like for the ingredients in the recipes except the ribs which have no good substitute and are a Labor Day tradition in my home. If you really don't like ribs grill a steak or pork tenderloin just don't use the ribs' recipe instructions as the heat & timing are intended for the slower cooking method more conducive to ribs.

Menu For A Labor Day Weekend Feast
All recipes for the Labor Day Weekend menu serve 4-6 people.

Bruschetta with Caponata, Burrata and Prosciutto Crisps

Note: Burrata is fresh mozzarella with a creamy cu
rd interior and a very short shelf life of about 2-3 days If you can't find burrata in your market (Whole Foods, Fresh Market or other specialty grocers usually carry it) substitute fresh buffalo or cow's milk mozzarella from Italy or a good fresh creamy ricotta from your local dairy farmer; otherwise, skip the cheese because Polly-O while ok on a pizza will not be good over the caponata.

  • 1 fresh loaf of Ciabatta or other country-style Italian bread, sliced into 3/4" rounds
  • 1 lb. of fresh burrata, left at room temperature (about 1 hour)
  • 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 lb. of very thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1/2 large onion, sliced & cut into fine dice
  • 1/2 large red pepper, cut into strips then chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed then minced
  • 2 japanese eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch dice, erring on the side of larger dice if in doubt
  • 2 zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch dice, same size as eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon italian tomato paste
  • 2 lbs. of heirloom or roma tomatoes, stemmed, seeded and cut into small dice (or 28 oz. can of plain crushed tomatoes)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup fresh calamata or black olives, pitted & roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of capers, drained
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 handful of fresh parsley, minced
  • 3 sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves only, minced
  • 10 large basil leaves, thinly julienned
  • 1 pinch of herbes de provence
  • freshly ground salt & pepper to taste

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fire up grill.

2) Heat a large saute or braising pan to medium high. When hot, add half the olive oil letting it heat up for a few seconds then add onions and 1 grind of salt & pepper mill.

3) Saute onions for a minute then add red peppers & garlic, lower the heat to medium and add the eggplant followed by the zucchini, stirring to coat vegetables evenly with olive oil & aromatics. I
f the eggplant has absorbed the oil in the pan and still appears dry add additional olive oil one tablespoon at a time until the eggplant appears moistened.

4) Now add the red pepper flakes & herbes de provence, gently stirrin
g until fragrant (10 - 15 seconds) followed by the tomato paste. Coat the vegetables with the tomato paste and let the mixture cook for 2 minutes until paste loses its raw color.

5) Add the tomatoes, gent
ly stirring to completely incorporate, then add the parsley, oregano & olives. Lower heat to low. Allow the sauce to cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to insure that sauce does not burn. When sauce has thickened, add lemon juice, capers & half the basil, stirring gently, careful not to break up the eggplant or the zucchini. Taste sauce. Add salt & pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and let cool or keep at the lowest simmer possible and cover pan with lid to keep warm.
Caponata can be prepared & refri
gerated after cooling up to 4 days in advance then either reheated or served at room temperature.

6) While sauce is cooking, place prosciutto slices on a baking sheet that has been covered with either foil or parchment paper. Bake prosciutto uncovered in middle rack for 5- 7 minutes until crisp. Do not let it burn. When prosciutto is crisp, remove from oven & let cool. When cool, crumble each slice into small
er pieces like large bacon bits. Set aside in a small decorative serving bowl.

7) While prosciutto, cools lightly brush bread slice on both sides with remaining (or additional) olive oil and place on grill. Grilling both sides about 45 seconds or so each side until bread is warm & has grill marks.

8) Now assemble the platter: On one
very large or two smaller platters, place a bowl filled with the caponata & a serving spoon in the center, the burrata with a serrated cheese knife, the prosciutto bits in another bowl, the remaining basil and the bread slices around the perimeter. Have each guest serve himself. Take a slice of bread, top first with the caponata, then the cheese, sprinkle with the basil & the prosciutto. Mangia!!!

Pizza with Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes, Shitake Mushrooms, and Grilled Italian Sausage

Note: I have greatly simplified this dish by using store-bought Middle Eastern lavash not the crispy cracker kind but the soft, large rectangular sheets of Armenian flatbread used for levant and other kinds of sandwiches. the result is a very pleasant crisp crust that reminds me of pizza you'd find in Rome. You can use any flatbread you like including whole unsliced pitas or large flour tortillas; just remember the thinner it is the less cooking time you'll need when you pre-bake the bread. A great sweet French baguette like the San Francisco Bay Area's bakery "Acme's" sweet baguette also works beautifully. Please don't use Boboli. It is a calorie rich, flavor-deficient, sodium laden brick of dough that is not worthy of summer's loveliest ingredients. If, however, you are more adept than I am at making pizza dough & have decided to make your own crust, by all means, more power to you!

As to cookware, I prefer the use of a preheated pizza stone that you can find at William-Sonoma, Macy's or on the internet. It really makes a differe
nce; but, if you don't have or want one, a preheated cookie sheet would work, too.

As for the tomatoes, I choose to roast them for two reasons: 1) roasting the heirlooms really concentra
tes their flavor & sweetness 2) a wetter, more traditional sauce would be too watery for the lavash and would result in a soggy, messy crust that falls apart when you try to eat it. Definitely not appetizing!

  • 2 soft lavash , carefully folded in half & brushed with refined olive oil (not extra virgin) on both sides; or 2 sweet baguettes, sliced in half horizontally; then cut in half vertically
  • 4 large or 2-1/2 lbs of heirloom tomatoes of different variety & color, cut into 1/4" slices
  • 4 large garlic cloves, crushed then minced
  • 1/2 of a large red pepper, sliced into strips
  • 6 large grilled or fried Italian sausages with fennel seed, cut into long slices lengthwise after grilling; then cut each half slice into quarters again (should be about 48 pieces); or, alternatively, remove the uncooked sausages from their casings & saute the ground meat in a pan breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon until cooked through
  • 1/2 lb of shitake mushrooms, sliced, sauteed in extra virgin olive oil & seasoned with salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoons of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon of herbes de provence
  • 10 large fresh basil leaves plus more for garnish, julienned
  • 2 Tablespoons of fresh minced parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon each of fresh ground salt & pepper, to season tomatoes
  • 1 lb. of fresh mozzarella, patted dry with paper towels & sliced thinly (Polly O is ok here, if necessary)
  • 1/2 cup of fresh parmagiano-reggiano, shaved or coarsely grated
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more on hand for drizzling

1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place pizza stone in center rack. Adjust oven so as to have an additional rack on the top for the roasting of the

2) Prepare a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place tomato slices & red pepper strips
in one single layer on sheet. Tomatoes on one side, peppers on the other side. Use two baking sheets if necessary. Season vegetables with salt, pepper, oregano, herbes de provence a pinch of parsley & basil and minced garlic. Drizzle half of the oil over the vegetables, using your fingers to completely coat them in the oil, tops & bottoms, and distribute the seasonings evenly over them. When oven reaches 450 degrees, place the tomatoes in the oven & roast about 15-20 minutes until lightly browned, soft and fragrant. Do not leave them completely unattended as the garlic as well as the tomatoes can burn quite easily. When done, remove tomatoes & peppers from oven & let cool completely

3) While the tomatoes roast, organize the remaining ingredients to be prepared for assembly of the pizzas.

4) While the tomatoes cool, blind bake the lavash (one at a time if your pi
zza stone is small and you only have one) for 2 minutes each crust. It is very important that you use light or refined olive oil to brush the lavash with; extra-virgin olive oil will burn in the dry heat of the stone & ruin the taste of your crust. Carefully remove the pizza stone from the oven (it's hot & heavy) and assemble your pizza. Turn the oven temperature up to 500 degrees.

5) With the crust still on the hot stone, start assembly by brushing the lavash with any remaining oil in the tomato roasting pan, then, using half the tomatoes and a flexible spatula or your fingers to remove them from the baking dish; you should almost be able to spread them like a jam on your crust. Sprinkle them with half the parsley & basil & add a very light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil as the moisture from the cool ingredients should not prevent the e.v.o.o. from burning.
Next, place half the sausage evenly ove
r the tomatoes. Taking care to leave a 1/2 inch border around the crust free of the ingredients to prevent crust from prematurely cracking under their weight.
Repeat with half the shitakes, finding the open spaces between the sausage pieces. Do th
e same with half of the roasted red peppers.
Sprinkle half of the parmagiano over the entire pizza, followed by half the slices of mozzarella, being careful not to overload the crust. If the stone is large enough to fit both, repeat the above assembly using the other crust. If not just bake one at a time.

5) Place the pizza on the stone in the center rack of the oven & cook 5-7 minutes or until mozzarella is bubbly, lightly golden & melted. If the mozzarella has not yet melted, leave pizza stone in center rack but turn on the broiler & broil watching very carefully the entire time until cheese reaches desired texture. Once you're happy with it, turn off the broiler, remove the pizza stone, let the pizza stand, for two minutes then slice with a pizza cutter & serve with an extra sprinkle of fresh basil.

Grilled Corn with Grilled Baby Back Ribs

Note: This is the easiest thing to make on the menu. I find it completely unnecessary to boil the ribs first, then slow smoke them, then grill them. A rack can be cooked completely on a gas grill in 40 - 45 minutes replete with a beautifully glazed crust & tender, succulent meat if you know where your hot spots are & don't leave them completely unattended ( one bathroom or wine run is ok). Use Niman Ranch pork if you can. Although the ranch is much larger now than when they started almost 30 years ago, their pork is still humanely raised & slaughtered and the proof is in the taste of the meat which you can just tell came from a contented pig. A happy pig is a tasty pig!
The corn can be grilled with the husks on for added moisture but a hot husk is a wicked thing to try to remove when your guests are h
ungry. So husk them first, rinse them in water to remove any remaining cornsilk and leave them damp when you wrap them in foil to allow them to steam. You can lightly butter the foil or corn before you wrap them but you are only inviting flare ups in the grill. Butter & season them before eating.

  • Dry rub & wet rub, as directed in the directions to follow
  • 2 racks of baby back pork ribs, preferably from Niman Ranch
  • 12 ears of white corn, prepared according to the preceding note
  • 1 stick melted unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (plus more for the table) of your favorite barbecue sauce (Mine is Bryan's Smooth and Spicy Barbecue Sauce, a private label sold by my favorite butcher shop, Bryan's)
  • salt & pepper, at the table to taste
  • lime wedges for corn

1) For seasoning, I use a dry rub that I mix of garlic powder, hot Hungarian paprika or Chipotle chili powder, ground cumin, a tiny amount of fresh ground sea salt (too much salt toughens grilled meat) and a more generous amount of fresh ground pepper. I usually use 2 parts of garlic powder to one part cumin & chili powder or paprika. The actual amounts depend on the size of the slabs, how the seasonings taste that day to me & my mood. Mix more than you'll need and save the mixture for another time in a empty spice bottle.

2) Let the ribs with the dry rub sit at room temperature for an hour.

3) Preheat the grill to high heat.
After the meat has reached room temperature, prepare a wet rub of about:
1/4 cup refined (not virgin or unrefined) olive, peanut or sesame oil
2 tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons of sherry or cider vinegar (do not use balsamic)
1 teaspoon of sriratcha or other hot sauce
Whisk the ingred
ients together.
Cover the ribs well with the marinade and let them sit on the counter for another 15 minutes before you pat them gently with a paper towel to remove excess marinade.

4) Grill is hot when you can barely hold your palm 1 foot above the grill for a count of fiv
e; about 15 - 20 minutes after lighting it, depending on the grill.
When grill is hot, turn temperature down to medium and place ribs directly over the hottest part for about 3 minutes on one side then 3 minutes on the other side.
At this stage, we want to sear the meat to caramelize it and seal in the juices but we don't want to burn it. Repeat cycle of 3 minutes per side once more, this time either turning down the heat slightly again or alternatively, moving the ribs away from the hottest part of the grill but still keeping it over direct heat. Watch for flare ups and be prepared to lower heat further or move ribs to the coolest part of the grill, if the flame seems too hot.

5) After about 12 minutes or so, move the ribs
to the coolest part of the grill and lightly brush the top side with your favorite barbecue sauce. Let ribs cook on that side for 5 minutes then turn and baste ribs with the barbecue sauce cooking the other side for an additional 5 minutes.
Here is where the grilling becomes more of an art than a science
. You must be cognizant of how much the glaze is browning, to avoid burning it but some charred bits are absolutely essential for that grilled flavor. Keep basting and turning each side every 5 minutes until you have cooked each side for about 15 minutes. Don't be afraid to test the ribs for doneness by hacking a little piece off. Don't forget to also change the right side / left side orientation of where the ribs are on the grill as well as turning their tops & bottoms. The right side (as well as the front portion) of my grill is always hotter than the left side (and the back portion) of it.

6) When the ribs are tender, baste them one final time each side; moving them to the hottest part of your grill for a few seconds each side if the glaze is not as browned as you like it. Just be careful not to burn the glaze. Remember, the sugar in it burns very quickly. Remove from the grill to a warm platter & loosely cover with foil, keeping them in a warm place until ready to serve.

7) Place damp corn in its foil wrap o
ver medium heat on the grill about 5 minutes each side while ribs rest. After 10 minutes, check 3 ears of corn: the one on the hottest part of the grill, the coldest part of the grill & the middle part of the grill & gauge cooking time accordingly. Serve with melted butter, salt & pepper & lime wedges.

Grilled Ahi Skewers with Heirloom Tomatoes, Haloumi and Mint Pesto Dipping Sauce

Note: It is important that the Ahi fillet be at least 1" thick so when you cut it into cubes & grill it, it will be remain moist & rare inside with a good char outside. Ahi is expensive & you don't want to spend $20 per lb. for something that tastes like styrofoam from overcooking. Ask your seafood purveyor to cut it to order if you don't see a thick enough piece. You can also use swordfish as a substitute since the swordfish is oiler, can be 3/4" thick & stand being fully cooked. Sea scallops or shrimp would also make excellent substitutes and have the added bonus of naturally being the perfect size for skewers.

Use metal skewers, if you have them. You don't need to soak them first like you do bamboo skewers and you won't be contributing to our overloaded landfills because the stainless steel skewers can be used over & over making them more "sustainable" (my new favorite word) & economical.

Cherry tomatoes are great
for the skewers. There are all kinds of varieties of heirloom being sold in bay area supermarkets now. You can use larger tomatoes cut into chunks, of course, if you need to. Haloumi is a cheese from Cyprus traditionally made from sheep's and goat's milk with a firm texture and salty flavor that holds up well to grilling and broiling. If you can't find it in your market, you can substitute smoked mozzarella or smoked provolone but may have to use larger chunks of cheese and cook them at a lower temperature to prevent a cheese meltdown all over your grill.
The dipping sauce is a minty pesto sauce which should offer a cool sweet counterpoint to the hot, sp
icy skewers and the salty haloumi.
This recipe will make 12 skewers.


For the skewers:
  • 2-1/4 lbs. of 1" thick sashimi grade Ahi, cut into 36 1" thick cubes
  • 48 large cherry tomatoes
  • 1-1/2 lbs. of haloumi, cut into 24 1" thick cubes
  • 12 metal skewers that have been oiled or 12 wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for one hour

For the marinade:
  • 1/4 cup of refined vegetable oil: olive, sesame or peanut
  • 2 Tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of sriratcha sauce or 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

For the dipping sauce:
  • a handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • a handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 sprigs of oregano, leaves only
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • the juice of one lemon
  • salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1/4 cup of unsalted roasted walnuts
  • 1/4 cup of chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup of high quality extra virgin olive oil


1) Assemble skewers: each skewer will have 3 pie
ces of ahi, 4 cherry tomatoes & 2 pieces of haloumi arranged with ahi, then add cherry tomato, then add haloumi, another cherry tomato, another piece of ahi, cherry tomato, halomui, cherry tomato and ends with a piece of ahi.

2) Arrange all twelve skewers in a shallow baking dish trying to keep them in a single layer. Now combine all the ingredients for the marinade whisking them in a medium mixing bowl. When well combined, pour marinade over the
skewers making sure to coat them completely using a pastry brush or your hands to insure the marinade has evenly coated each skewer. You can at this point cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for as little as 15 minutes up to 24 hours.

3)Preheat grill on medium high.

4)Prepare pesto: Using a food processor (or you can make it by hand with a large mortar & pestle if you like a more rustic texture), add the mint, parsley, oregano, garlic, shallot & lemon & pulse together lightly for a two se
conds to mix the herbs together. Then add the walnuts, pulsing for a few seconds until the mixture begin to look like a paste & walnuts are very finely chopped. Then with the processor running slowly add the olive oil until an emulsion forms and the mixture resembles pesto. Then add the honey & pulse for two seconds to incorporate well. Finally add the chicken broth in a slow steady stream watching carefully until the pesto is smooth but not too runny. Remove the sauce from the food processor, place in a serving bowl and set aside. (You can heat it in a microwave for 20 seconds before serving but it really isn't necessary if the pesto has been kept at room temperature.)

5) Remove skewers from refrigerator. Blot off all the excess marinade with a paper towel then carefully place as many skewers as will comfortably fit on your grill, you may need to cook the skewers in batches depending on the size of your grill. Grill skewers for one minute each side for a total of two minutes each skewer. The ahi & haloumi should blacken slightly but don't overcook the fish. Place skewers on a warm platter, brush lightly with some of the pesto sauce & serve with the remaining pesto on the side.

Pasta a l
a Caprese with Boccocino & Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

Note: It really doesn't get any easier than this dish. Cook the pasta, add the other ingredients raw, stir & voila. It's great hot or cold. You can use any small shape pasta you have on hand: fusilli, shells, orrechiette, farfalle are all good choices. Boccocini and cherry tomatoes have a natural affinity for each other; being as perfectly sized for each other as they are. You can obviously use small chunks of larger mozzarella & tomatoes or get away from Capri & head to Greece by substituting chunks of feta & oregano for the mozzarella & basil. I add calamata olives to the dish; not a traditional part of the caprese salad but then neither is the pasta. Olives add a nice bite and acidity to the dish and balances the sweet mild flavor of the mozzarella & the cherry tomatoes. Remember the quantity of each ingredient can & should be adjusted to suit your taste. This recipe like most is just a guide, an outline; it's up to you to color between the lines and make it the way you'd like it .


  • 1 lb. box of small shaped pasta like fusilli, shells, etc.
  • 1/2 cup of very good quality extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pint of heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved if large
  • 8 oz. of fresh boccocino, patted dry
  • handful of basil leaves, julienned
  • 2 oz. pitted calamata olives, halved
  • 2 oz. freshly grated parmagiano reggiano
  • 1 clove garlic, grated (optional)
  • the juice of one lemon (optional)
  • fresh ground salt & pepper to taste

1)Put a large pot to boil with salted water.

2)When water is rapidly boiling, slowly add the pasta, stirring it in and being careful not to stop the water from boiling. Cook the pasta according to the manufacturers instructions.

3)While pasta cooks, assemble all the ingredients (have them on hand). Place a large pasta serving bowl next to range & add garlic, whisk in olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Add basil, mozzarella, olives & tomatoes gently stirring them in & coating them with olive oil. You can refrigerate it at this time, if you'd rather keep the mozzarella from melting. Just be sure to bring the bowl next to the pasta pot (if you want to eat the pasta warm) so as to have it handy when you are ready to combine it with the pasta.

4)When pasta is cooked, turn off the heat & using a large slotted spoon or pasta fork, slowly remove the pasta from the pot, one spoonful at a time, allowing the water to drain completely before adding each spoonful to the large pasta serving bowl. When all the pasta is added, stir gently to combine all the ingredients, sprinkle the parmagiano over the pasta. Drizzle additional olive oil if desired & serve. Garnish with basil leaves.
If you prefer this as a cold salad, you can simply cook the pasta one minute less then drain the pasta in a colander, fill half the pasta pot with cold water & ice and plunge the colander in the pot for two or three minutes to cool it before draining and adding to the other ingredients.

Warm Blackberry and Apricot Crumble with Mascarpone Ice Cream

Note: Sorry, there is no real recipe for ice cream here. There are too many high quality premium ice creams available out there for me to suggest that I have a better way to do it at home. Instead, I think you should buy a pint of your favorite vanilla ice cream, allow it to soften at room temperature for an hour and then mix in well half a pint of mascarpone that has been "lightened" by whisking it with 3 oz. very cold heavy cream, 2 Tablespoons Frangelico liqueur, & 1/8 cup of confectioners sugar. Make sure you use a stainless steel bowl that's large enough to accomodate everything & then cover the surface of the ice cream with plastic wrap & put it in the freezer for a few hours. You could even do it a day ahead. The balsamic syrup adds a nice finishing touch to the dish but is not essential. Omit it if you like.


For the fruit:
  • 2 cups blackberries or blueberries
  • 3 cups of apricots or peaches, pitted & sliced thickly
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch (don't use flour)
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

For the crumble:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 stick of unsalted butter, very cold & cut into 1/2" cubes

For the balsamic syrup: (optional)
  • 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar (don't use your finest, just a good $5-$10 vinegar will do)
  • 2 Tablespoons of honey
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
  • a few sprigs of fresh mint

For the ice cream see note

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees

2) In a large mixing bowl, combine well all the ingredients for the fruit and pour into a small to medium lightly buttered gratin/baking dish (about 3-4 quart baking dish, Le Creuset or Emile Henry are the best & prettiest).

3) Using a food processor (or another large stainless steel bowl, if you're doing it au naturel), place all the ingredients except the butter in the bowl and pulse until ingredients have combined well; then, add the butter & pulse (or use your fingers, if food processorless) until the butter is the size of very small peas or the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.

4) Crumble the dry ingredients over the fruit, and gently pat down on top of the fruit. (you may have leftover crumble mixture). Then place baking dish in oven & bake for 35-40 minutes until top is golden brown & aromatic and fruit is bubbling. Remove from oven.

5) Let crumble cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes. While crumble is cooling combine 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar with 2 Tablespoons of honey and 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice by whisking together in a small saucepan set over low heat. Keep vinegar mixture over heat until reduced by half, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning. When done, remove from heat & allow it to cool slightly. Serve crumble with a scoop of mascarpone ice cream a, a drizzle of balsamic syrup and garnish with a sprig of mint.