Sunday, May 18, 2008
“Summertime…and the living is easy. Oysters are jumpin’ and the cotton is high….”
All right I know it’s “catfish” but it should be oysters. They are indeed the perfect summer slurp, and be on the lookout for the new kid in town: Totten Inlet Virginica. I like to refer to them as the “Hottentot” oyster, because eating one of them is akin to taking a creamy bite of a can-can dancer’s thigh. Apparantly I’m not the only one that thinks so, either. These bi-valve babies won first place in the East Coast Shellfish Association’s 1st annual Oyster Challenge in Rhode Island, a fiercely competitive taste test-drive of all the Eastern Seaboard’s finest. Up against 19 other varieties in a blind judging, they trounced the others purely on taste. Rowan Jacobsen, author of The Geography of Oysters and one of the events celebrity judges, had this to say, “You don’t usually see all of that fruitiness and body in a virginica. To me, the superiority of the Totten’s flavor was stunning.” Indeed. Taste them for yourself at Grand Central Station’s Oyster Bar in Manhattan, a classic seafood restaurant under the domain of expert oceanic culinarian, executive chef and really nice guy, Chef Sandy Ingber.
Consider a Memorial Day bbq with a little sophistication and class this year. Bypass the frankfurters and Bud and slurp down some mermaid on the half shell, followed by a crisp swallow of my favorite oyster wine--Covey Run ’06 Fume Blanc. De-Vine! Dry Creek of Sonoma (Sav.Blanc ’06) is also lovely.
You can order the Tottens at: https://www.taylorshellfishstore.com/product.php?productid=60&cat=28&bestseller=Y and they will arrive at your door, fresh and sweet.
I am normally a purist with my M&C. What else could one possibly need but elbows, milk, butter and cheese? And salt, of course. Ohhhh I've had a few variations on a theme in my day. Goat cheese and chicken M&C (c'mon, that's a totally different pasta already), and forget all that bread-crumb topping nonesense that is so church pot-luck. Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with church pot-luck, I myself have been to zillions of the things, but that doesn't mean that dried bread belongs in pasta dishes. Well, shut my mouth and send me South because I have found an ingredient that I actually LIKE added to my macaroni and cheese. Tony Cachere's Creole Seasoning. I was sitting in Oddfellow's Rest (www.oddfellowsrest.com), a New Orleans type establishment in Hoboken minding my own business, when I realized that it was Sunday and there was M&C on the menu. For four dollars. Those things may not seem to be related, but they most certainly are. (Sunday and M&C, not four dollars because that is self-explanitory) Sunday is M&C day, because even the Dairy Queen (that would be me) realizes that it isn't a particularly, um...LOWFAT dish we're talking about here. MODERATION, hello. Once a week and I can still pretend I'm thin-ish. Anyhow, I ordered it, and it arrived all orange and gooey-rama in its bowl about ten long minutes later, and had this spice shaker thing with it! I was stunned. Creole seasoning? Seriously? I sprinkled on a bit carefully and then had one bite and dumped it on shamelessly. Oh my word in heaven. It was like a kick in the pants with a velvet boot. Try it, you will LOVE it. Here is the link to the Creole...but I'm sure you can pick it up in the grocery store: http://www.cajunspice.com/seasoning/
Hey, if anyone out there has a great Mac & Cheese recipe, email it to me and I'll slap it up here. I have been too afraid to try my own recipe out, being that I consider it the perfect food and I don't trust myself.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
I am a salt addict. I blame you, mom. Ahhh, the white salt of the 70’s. That shy girl with the umbrella, such a cute little death merchant she was. She had my mother firmly clutched in her tight tiny fist. She salted everything, my mother. Scrambled eggs (perfectly understandable), salad, pizza, McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Never was a food tasted before being sprinkled heavily with the white death. It almost makes me nostalgic to think about how simple salt was back then. Almost. Now there are a rainbow of salts gracing markets and grocery shelves, a multi-cultural scraping of the earth’s seas. It’s wonderful, and salt is now…a spice.
My hat goes off to Murray River Salt for having the most delicate flakes with the most delicious flavor. And such a pretty color! Not only is it delicious on practically everything, it’s environmentally sound. Australia has water issues, and the purchase of this salt helps keep the de-salination process going, creating a less salty dwindling water supply.
It’s a bit pricey, but listen it is so worth it when you have guests over and they pass around the salt pot and ooh and ahh over it and stick a little on their tongues for melting!
It’s happened, trust me.
So pick it up at Whole Foods right off the shelf, or order online at: http://www.saltworks.us/shop/product.asp?idProduct=165 and get yourself in the pink, baby.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Go Greek at the Brownstone Diner and Pancake House
Sunday is the loneliest day of the week. Displaced Midwesterners are scrabbling for something to fill that hole of forsaken dinners and after-church brunches, given up for the thrill of the gritty city. We crave family, dysfunctional and dreaded, whether we admit it or not. Despair not, for I have found a cure. Take a trip to the Brownstone Diner in Jersey City. It’s two bucks on the light rail or subway, and you can eavesdrop on tables of six, eight and ten. There are flowers in those vinyl booths, sensational Sunday hats topping blue curls, babbling babies, loud-mouthed laughter, Soprano-esque accents, and shabby hipsters that don’t fool anyone with their dirty hair and nonchalant expressions. This is community, people. A Sunday community.
I myself have always loved a diner, and I had an epiphany the other day, regarding these establishments. Most of them are Greek owned, correct? I, like most New Yorkers and New Jersey-ites, have spent many a dollar ordering gourmet selections at them, only to be disappointed at the swimming butter and confused platters. While checking out an insanely large menu (16 pages. I tell not a lie. There are 31 fricking omelet choices!) at the Brownstone, I spotted “Taste of Greece” in the “In the Beginning” section. Oooh, an appetizer with feta! And heck, why not order something that Greeks are experts in?
It was a continent of food. The main event was an enormous slab of spinach pie; crunchy and delicious. It was adorned with blooms of green pepper, discs of fat cukes, black olives, ringlets of red onions, and fragrant feta-all drizzled with olive oil. The side was a fantastic tatziki sauce, not too garlicky, and warm pita. Sometimes they remember to add stuffed grape leaves. And how much for this feast? $12.95.
Easily shareable with your other lonely friends, and Greek-dysfunctional-family-fantastic!
Monday, May 5, 2008
I really wanted to love this popcorn. I cracked open a smartly packaged bag of it at my friend Renee's, while watching a documentary about the evil genius of Wal-Mart. I broke open another just today in front of the worst movie on earth (Milo in case you were wondering), just me and Teddy snuggled up with our big bowl of butter. I mean popcorn. Pardon the slip-but that is essentially what is wrong with this product. Each kernel is a crispy butter-sponge, leaving your hands slick with oil, and your mouth covered in some kind of crazy, salty film. There is no possible way to eat this popcorn by the greedy fistful, it is way too rich for that true popcorn experience. Lily's latest has all the right things going for it with real butter, milk, canola oil, salt; it just doesn't taste good. Sigh. Maybe it's because part of the whole "buttered popcorn" thing is HOT butter, not room temperature oiliness.
Yeah, I know we all love to go to the movies, push the little butter-squirt thing that ejaculates butter-flavored oil into our tubs, but that's the way it should be at the movies. "So bad it's good" popcorn is perfect while you're kicking around Dots boxes on the way to your seat, or wasting time through those dumb trivia questions. It should NOT come out of a bag from the supermarket, and it really doesn't. Sadly, it is just another terribly fattening popcorn disappointment. I'm leaving the rest for Teddy.
My experiences with truffle oil have always bordered on the enigmatic. I was sitting at a little cafe in Fort Greene Brooklyn, enjoying the hell out of a cheese plate and a game of Scrabble, when I noticed something peculiar drizzled across my fromage. It had an unearthly kind of pungency about it-like a fairy dragged through the mud. It was very, very nice. So I inquired and was thereby introduced to white truffle oil. Since that fated meeting, I have tasted it in macaroni and cheese (Kerry Simon's restaurant in Sofitel LA-I must say it was a bit heavy-handed. Quite inedible, unfortunately), pizza, omelets, and even the occasional grilled cheese sandwich (the best-check out http://www.wichcraftnyc.com/menus/sample.html). I have never allowed myself to actually PURCHASE this fungal-scented nectar, that is until my last trip to Shop-Rite. Yes, you heard correctly- you can buy truffle oil at Shop-Rite. I picked it off the shelf, gazed at it uncertainly for a minute or so, held tremendous debates about spending $6.99 on a tiny little bottle of oil and even more so on being able to have it on hand thereby divesting it of its mystical qualities, and then tossed it right in amongst the broccoli florets. Two days later...I used it. Here's how:
Truffle Roasted Potatoes
Organic Potatoes (I am VERY hot on these. I recently and accidently, because I'm usually pretty cheap in the old grocery store, bought a bag and could not believe the difference in taste. I don't think I've ever had a real potato before! They're SUPPOSED to taste sweet and tenderly fall apart. Who knew?)
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Dash of White Truffle Oil
Cut up potatoes in quarters, and toss with rest of ingredients in a bowl.
Spread out in single layer on foil-covered, cooking-sprayed cookie sheet.
Bake at 375 degrees for about an hour. Turn them after about 25 minutes, so they brown nicely on two sides.
Careful of adding too much of the truffle oil, this is a flavor best used sparingly. Your potatoes should be scented with it, not doing cannonballs in it.
As a side note, and one that some "foodie" types freak out about, truffle oils are not made from real truffles, which are insanely expensive and hard to come by (remember those pigs that snort them up?), but are engineered by the very finest noses and palates of our scientific community. Nice work ladies and gentlemen!
Saturday, May 3, 2008
All I can say is I LOVE a shallot. Why use that plain old yellow onion, though it does have its uses I cannot discount, when you can French it up with a trendy shallot? Your eyes don't stream rivers of tears as much, it's a pretty purple color, it's small and makes you feel all delicate to chop it up-all kinds of reasons never mind the superb flavor. Ok so last week I was at Trader Joe's and I plucked up a pert little net bag of French Shallots. You know the ones I mean. I took myself back to my domicile and realized with dumbstruck horror (I usually know everything that resides in my kitchen-Virgos are very anal people) that I had shallots sitting right there in my veggie bin! What to do? You can't WASTE a good shallot! So I wrapped up the new ones in "cling film" as my Australian hubby calls it, and I chucked it into the freezer. So today I decide to make beef stew. I pulled out the meat and shallots to thaw, and hummed around at Target, the supermarket, my garden etc. etc. Stew time approached, I unwrapped the shallots and discovered that they were mushy and transparent. They were limp, lifeless shadows of their former sexy selves. "You dummy," my friend Lynne said. "You killed them. You can't freeze fresh vegetables like that. You have to cook them first!" Then she remarked that it was almost along the "duh!" lines of the time I realized my wooden cutting board was warped. I told my husband and he said, in tones of new dawning, "You know,I think it was the dishwasher!" and he was dead serious. Oh how Lynne and I howled...
Oh well. Thanks for listening, now I feel less guilty. I am going to say five "Hail Julia's" and have a glass of wine. But I leave you with this question: What is the deal with the frozen chopped onions in the bag?