Category Archives: Dinner at Mark’s

My Stepmother’s Filipino Chicken Adobo

My Stepmother’s Filipino Chicken was a popular post. I’m sort of rethinking how often I write these as I’m finding three times a week is a bit much.  Tell me your thoughts. 

I called my father to wish him a happy birthday. He’s hard of hearing now, so I’m screaming into the phone. He still doesn’t understand English very well. As a Filipino, who was in the U.S. Navy, he never quite assimilated. He did try, though. He married a Caucasian woman and then that went belly up. (I was a by-product of that first union.)

On his second try at marriage, he gave up attempting to be “white” and married a former Filipino beauty queen, Myrna. They had two sons. I lived with them in their Virginia Beach ranch home for a short while in my teens. It was the first time that I ate well. One of the great memories I have of being with him and his family, Myrna or her mother, Grandma, was cooking Filipino food: chicken adobo, pancit, lumpia, or guisantes (simmered pork and peas) for a family dinner. My father never used utensils when eating. He ate only with his hands and fingers; somehow, food never dropped onto on his clothes.

There was to be a party at the house. I think it was a birthday party, but I don’t recall. The morning before, about a dozen of my Dad’s friends, my tios or uncles – depending on whom you ask — all speaking Tagalog (the native dialect of the Philippines), came over and began digging a hole into the backyard. Into that pit, about four feet deep and eight feet wide, lined with banana leaves, a bonfire was started. By early afternoon the next day, and about three or four cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon later, the men were cooking up a whole pig over blistering coals.  Between slugs of beer, a discussion of basketball and smoking cigarettes, they took turns slowly rotating the carcass; occasionally, throwing water onto the pig, creating a delicious billow of white smoke. Its purpose was to create a crispy skin and succulent roasted meat.

Their wives – my stepmother along with aunts and tias, about a dozen women in all — gathered in the kitchen and dining room, rinsed vegetables in pots of cold water. Two ladies to a pot.  Carrots cut into matchsticks, tomatoes diced, and onions chopped. The smell of pig’s blood simmering with Thai chilies was perfuming the house. Sweet. Spicy. Earthy. It mingled with cigarettes and constant chattering.

Sometime around 2 in the afternoon, more friends showed up. No one knocked or rang the bell; they just greeted with hugs and kisses. The elders met on bended knees, and heads bowed. Their folded hands kissed in blessings.

Adobo

Chicken Adobo (Myrna’s recipe)
Quartered chicken, using only legs and thighs. (I used about 3 lbs of chicken thighs)

For every cup of soy sauce, use a half cup of white vinegar. ( I used two cups of soy sauce and a cup of vinegar. You might want to do a cup and a half of soy sauce.)

Bay leaves. About three of four. (I used four fresh bay leaves but dried is good too.)

Garlic. “…as much as you want,” she says. (I used a whole head).

A quarter teaspoon of whole peppercorns. (Myrna’s instructions, “Throw in peppercorns.”)

Place everything in large pot and bring to boil, about 20 minutes. Cover slightly with the lid not all the way on the pot. When it gets to boil, turn to low heat to simmer, cooking for another 20 minutes but check the chicken and baste with the sauce. Cook until chicken is cooked through, with juices running clear. Serve over rice. Make it fancy with chopped scallions.

Note: I do not know of a Filipino who uses sugar or fries the chicken after it’s been braised.

The End. Go Eat.

i8tonite: Gratitude with a Corn Goat Cheese Savory Pudding

A Facebook “friend” asked that ubiquitous question the other day, “What are you grateful for today?” A lot.

Six years ago, I walked away from a car crash involving three big rigs and nine other cars on California Interstate 5. It was caused by a dust-storm that felt whipped up by Hades himself, near Bakersfield. Three people died. Whether it’s the grace of God or the fates intervening, I removed myself from my car before it exploded. Only seconds before, I sat in the driver’s seat…. breathed a sigh of relief I hadn’t hit the truck in front of me. In the passing of another second and almost on the second inhalation,  a 1975 Dodge pickup plowed into my SUV’s backside turning it into an accordion. To the side, there was a fireball that hurled towards me. Produced by a car driven by a young family man as he rear-ended the truck’s trailer, the one I narrowly avoided had jack-knifed across two lanes.  His exploding engine instantly cremated him, destroyed his vehicle and crafted an explosion pointed towards me from the 18-wheeler’s reserves tanks. There were milliseconds between the collision of automobiles and my ability to open my car door and get out. Had I not – I wouldn’t be in the Sonoran desert, hiking to the top of peaks, eating superb food, receiving kisses from my dogs, and love from Nick. I suffered a minor concussion and two cracked ribs.

After experiencing a trauma of that magnitude, it’s not uncommon for an accident victim to discover their life situations not working anymore.  The next six months after the crash, I implemented changes. I left a toxic relationship which should have ended years before.  I moved back to a city where I had support and love. Items that can never be bought.  I even discovered a new relationship I wasn’t planning on having but am grateful that I’m alive to experience it.

Not one day passes I don’t think about the accident.

This past weekend marks the anniversary of that experience  and the beginning of something new. As someone said to me recently, “You moved to Phoenix because you have risen from the ashes.”

At the end of 2013, former San Jose Mercury food editor, Carolyn Jung published her first cookbook, San Francisco Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from The City by The Bay (Lyons Press). I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with Carolyn over the years.  As a journalist and via her website FoodGal.com, she’s been supportive of my clients and their food endeavors. For me, I always think it’s important to recognize the writers who have helped along the way. A journalist’s life can be thankless especially from a public relations perspective.

To support the publishing of her book, I attempted to create a cooking and book-signing experience at a former San Francisco client. Unfortunately, the event never happened because the restaurant closed. I’m doing a little shout out about her book — saying thank you, hoping I can help sell even more cookbooks. I adapted this recipe from one of the many delicious dishes she curated in her cookbook from Bay Area chefs. This particular dish, from the owners/ chefs of Ame, I turned into a one dish casserole.

Goat Cheese Bread PuddingSweet Corn-Goat Cheese Bread Pudding (adapted from Carolyn Jung’s San Francisco Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from The City by the Bay).

 

 

  • 1 whole baguette. Cut into approximately one-inch pieces.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon sage
  • ½ cup of chicken stock
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup of sour cream
  • 2 cups grated Parmesan-Reggiano
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • Corn cut from 2 ears.

Let’s make this puppy:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees to toast the croutons. Bake for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven but keep the oven on to bake the final product.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and crisp the chopped bacon. Once the bacon has been slightly browned. Add the vegetables and sage. Stir until soft. Stir in the croutons, letting them soak up the fat.

Pour in the chicken stock and allow the bread to become saturated. Season well. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine the milk, egg, sour cream, and cheeses. Mix well. Assemble everything – croutons and wet ingredients including the corn.

Pour everything into a small casserole and place into a larger roasting pan creating a water bath. Pour water until halfway up the side of the casserole dish.  Dot with extra goat cheese and grated cheese.Bake for about 30 minutes until golden. Serve warm.

(Recommendation: If there are leftovers, reheat in the morning and top with poached eggs. Awesome!

The End. Go Eat. 

 

i8tonite: New England’s Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso Bucco

i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso Bucco
Executive Chef Greg Jordan

Approximately 45 minutes outside of Boston in an area called the South Shore, a 200-year-old historical gray stone building has been re-established as The Quarry.  Its façade holds superlative dining owned and operated by Executive Chef Greg Jordan and his partners Julie and Ron LeDuc.  The destination restaurant was lovingly created in mid-2014 for the townspeople of Hingham, Massachusetts.

Housemade Sausage with Grain Mustard. i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso Bucco
Housemade Sausage with Grain Mustard

Jordan cheffed at some Boston’s fine dining arenas such as Adrian’s, The Butcher Shop, and Gordon Hamersley at Hamersley Bistro. He was gaining gastronomic accolades at Boston’s famed North Shore seafood hall, Mare Oyster Bar, as the Executive Chef when this break to own his place came upon him. Ideally, he always wanted to settle back to Boston’s South Shore from where he hailed and like any chef, craft his food.  And, so he is. Currently, The Quarry’s kitchen is serving New England fare consisting of locally raised meats and fresh, sustainable seafood caught in Massachusetts.  A specialty of the house and Chef Jordan’s are housemade sausages and cured meats like the prosciutto, soppressata, and mortadella.

 i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso BuccoToday, Jordan’s skilled culinary craftsmanship comes through in his dishes that let New England’s ingredients and character shine. He observes that guests in both city and suburb want the same thing– quality. The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts alumnus says, “The Quarry’s wooded location is both a natural and inspiring setting for my ‘rustic meets refined’ cooking. We focus on the quality of natural flavors.”

An interesting aspect to The Quarry – named after a nearby quarry pond — is Beverage Director David Danforth’s forthcoming Master Cicerone certification. Much like a Master Sommelier is an expert in  i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso Buccowine, a Master Cicerone will be an expert in beers. Once Danforth completes the training, he will be only one of 10 people in North America that has this distinction. His expertise will create unique and unusual pairings with Chef Jordan’s food featuring internationally handpicked and cellared ales. It will turn a small colonial fishing town into an epicurean destination.

Chef’s Questionnaire with Greg Jordan: 

 i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso BuccoHow long have you been cooking? Nine years.

What is your favorite food to cook? Fish.

What do you always have in your fridge at home? I have butter, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and cheese.

What do you cook at home? Mostly eggs, unless I have guests.

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? I appreciate customers who have a sense of adventure and have a willingness to try something new.

 i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso Bucco
Seared Sea Scallops

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? I take allergies very seriously. I don’t like when customers misrepresent their allergies. For example, I am happy to accommodate someone who has a gluten allergy with an entrée change, but then do not order a donut for dessert.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? I prefer Pyrex.

Beer, wine or cocktail? A beer.

 i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso Bucco

Your favorite cookbook author? Mario Batali.

Your favorite kitchen tool? A left-handed fish spatula.

 i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso Bucco

Your favorite ingredient? Aria Olive Oil.

Your least favorite ingredient? Cilantro.

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? Sugar work.  It is too sticky for me.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? I enjoy Italian.

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? Beef

 i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso Bucco
Brussel Sprouts.

Favorite vegetable? Brussels sprouts.

Chef you most admire? Chef Michael P. Scelfo of Alden & Harlow, Cambridge, MA. He has accomplished a lot in the last five years and its exciting and inspiring.

Food you like the most to eat? A good soul satisfying dish of pasta: fresh, cooked in salted water and not oversauced. Sauce is a condiment.

Food you dislike the most? I do not like raw tomatoes in a sandwich.  I cannot explain it, but I just do not like them added in.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? None, just scars.

 

Recipe: Cider Braised Pork Osso Buco with Sweet Potatoes

 i8tonite: New England's Chef Greg Jordan, The Quarry in Hingham and Cider Braised Pork Osso Bucco

You will need:

  • 2 Pork Shanks,
  • Flour for dusting
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 Sweet potatoes, cubed.
  • Ginger, Bay Leaves
  • Apple Cider and chicken stock.

Salt and pepper two pork shanks, and dust in flour, and brown in a Dutch oven.  Remove from the pot and set aside. Sauté a diced onion and 2 cubed sweet potatoes for a minute.  Add a tablespoon of fresh chopped ginger and 2 bay leaves, return the pork to the pot, and cover the shanks 1/2 way up in equal parts apple cider and chicken stock.  Braise on the stove or in the oven till fork tender, about 1.5 hours.  Reduce the braising liquid and add some butter to make a rich flavorful sauce.

The End. Go Eat. 

 

i8tonite: BBQ Ribs and Four Seasons Scottsdale

20151019_075052Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m going with it. I created a food blog/website about food, recipes and travel. Writing about people I admire, places I’ve been and food I’ve enjoyed and can share with individuals – hopefully, a takeaway recipe for the reader to cook. That’s it. That’s all I want to do.

At the end of the day, that’s what I’m thinking. Cooking, eating and being with people you love. Three simple things. I worked a wine tasting over the weekend, and I kept thinking to myself, “Who are these people? What stories do they have?” as I plied them with an inexpensive sparkling.

I think the question isn’t so much who they are but who I’m becoming?

I know I’m different than I was five years ago when the dam broke. It was a self-imposed structure that stayed turbulent emotions, eventually needing some navigating. I erected it for survival – we all do it – the edifice kept feelings in-check. Although, like any man-made constructions it cracks, needing a variety of sealants but the façade always breaks down. Once it’s down, erecting a new dam is possible but it will never be the same.

With my journey, the one constant is food and looking for it. Having it, not having it. Will it ever be enough? Am I enough?  I have to remember that I have enough today and all those questions need not apply… if ever again. With my work for i8tonite, my food clients, and other culinary on-line experiences, I was invited with Nick to have an experience at the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North. We ate exceptional food and gawked at the vistas that only Mother Nature could make. From the lobby of the hotel, the view is breathtaking. Undulating mountain ranges blanketed by the blue Arizona skies. The earth’s dusky rose color flecked with prickly cactus and foremost amongst them, the mighty saguaros. Much like the California redwoods, these plants are resilient and massive. Invincible, like The Hulk, with arms reaching out asking for nothing but the elements and solitude. Yep, that was my view this morning. It was enough for today.

I was planning on cooking a delicious dish from Carolyn Jung’s San Francisco Chef’s Table: The City by The Bay (Lyon’s Press, ISBN 978-0-7627-9226-9). Carolyn is one of my favorite food journalists working today I want to support her as she has supported my food and hotel clients over the years.  Unfortunately, the days got away from me, and I wasn’t able to cook. Next week, though. Last week, I made an incredible beet and apple salad from the noted food memoirist and award-winning writer, Kim Sunee, whom I’ve also had the pleasure of knowing and working with over the years. Her book, Mouthful of Stars: A Constellation of Favorite Recipes from My World Travels, is mesmerizing as it trips effortlessly from Asia to Europe to Louisiana. I made her BBQ ribs to accompany last week’s salad to share at a later date. I guess this is the later date. I made it with some small tweaks that I always do to a recipe. It’s delicious and enough for today.

Ribs

You Will Need (Feeds 3 – 4):

About 9 pounds of Baby Back ribs or pork ribs.

 

Kim Sunee’s Spicy Tangy Sauce

¾ cup apple cider vinegar

¾ cup Frank’s RedHot Sauce

½ cup of fresh OJ

½ cup of ketchup

Several dashes of Worcestershire sauce

5 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon New Mexico red chile powder (Sprout’s carries this in bulk.)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

 

Dry Rub: This is the reason I loved this recipe.

1/3 cup of New Mexico Chile powder

3 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon coriander

1 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

 

Let’s Make This Puppy:

Preheat the oven 300 degrees and then line baking sheets or low rimmed pans with aluminum foil. While, the oven gets toasty, make the rub in a bowl and combining all the ingredients. Once made, work onto the meat, getting into the fibers. Roast it uncovered for about 2 hours. (You could stop here.)

 

Place all the ingredients for the barbecue sauce in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Once the ribs have cooked for their first two hours, brush with the sauce and cover tightly in more foil. Bake for another hour and serve with sauce on the side.

 

The End. Go Eat.

 

 

i8tonite: with New York City’s Chef Joey Campanaro, The Little Owl featuring his Eggplant Parmigiana

Image result for the little owl nyc gravy meatball sliders
Meatball Sliders, photo courtesy of Little Owl

The Little Owl is one of the New York City’s quintessential and great dining institutions. Sitting on the corner of Grove and Bedford, this West Village establishment is romantic in it’s atmosphere yet serves up lusty food. On the outside, with its scarlet-painted window panes and large blue awnings it seems like a colonial Manhattan bistro or tavern and comforting as if it’s been there forever. You almost expect to have Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese yell, “CUT!” it seems that familiar. On the inside, in the 28 seat dining room with vaulted ceilings, Chef Joey Campanaro creates seasonal American menus for which he has become known. Some of the restaurant’s signature dishes include Campanaro’s Gravy Meatball Sliders (featured on the website), Pork Chop with Butter Beans and a burger which was called by The London Observer as one of the “50 Best Things in The World to Eat.”

Image result for little owl nyc pork chop
The burger; photo courtesy of The Little Owl

He is co-owner with Chef Mike Price of Market Table and still maintains his own catering and consulting firm, Blackfoot Consulting. Not far from The Little Owl is The Little Owl Venue which can host up to 40 people for receptions, meetings and assorted gatherings. Campanaro has appeared seemingly on every Food Network show and been interviewed by every food writer….and now this one. (Small aside: Campanaro was also the Executive Chef of The Harrison, which used to be Hows Bayou, a Cajun restaurant in Tribeca. Hows Bayou was the restaurant in the late 80s where I waited tables for about 3 years and met some of my greatest friends – whom I still know today.)

Like each one of these Chef’s Questionnaires, we learn something a little interesting about the person at the stove such as his love of pasta and that his favorite cookbook author is Donna Hay.

  • How long have you been cooking? 25 years.
  • What is your favorite food to cook? Pasta.

  • What do you always have in your fridge at home? Butter and grated cheese.
  • What do you cook at home? Pasta.
  • What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? (People) with no expectations.
  • What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? Know-it-alls.
  • Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? Tupperware.
  • Beer, wine or cocktail? Beer.

  • Your favorite cookbook author? Donna Hay.
  • Your favorite kitchen tool? My hands.
  • Your favorite ingredient?  Clams.
  • Your least favorite ingredient? Heavy cream.
  • Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? Washing lettuce.

  • Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Italian.
  • Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? Pork.
  • Favorite vegetable? Onion.
  • Chef you most admire? Jimmy Bradley.
  • Food you like the most to eat? Blue claw crabs.
  • Food you dislike the most? Falafel.
  • How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? Zero.

90 Bedford Street, corner of Grove

New York, New York 10014

Website: www.thelittleowl.com

Hours:

Lunch:

Monday to Friday 12 – 2:30pm, Saturday (Lunch) and Sunday (Brunch) 11:00am – 2:30pm

Dinner: Monday – Saturday 5pm – 11pm, Sunday 5pm – 10pm.

Eggplant Parmigiana
Eggplant Parmigiana, photo courtesy of The Little Owl

Eggplant Parmigiana at little owl restaurant by Chef Joey Campanaro

Note: I loved the way Campanaro wrote out this recipe. It was beautiful — reading it, I felt like I was watching him cook — so I just left it with very few edits.

  • Canned whole peeled tomato
  • Medium eggplant
  • Garlic (chopped)
  • Onion (diced)
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Olive oil
  • Chili flakes
  • s/p

In an ample sauce pot, add olive oil and garlic and onion and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat, then add the tomatoes. I simply squeeze them (with my hands) before adding them to the pot. Add the cleaned chopped parsley and basil, season with salt and pepper and simmer for up to 2 hours. Cool and reserve.

Slice the eggplant, sprinkle with salt and layer on paper towels for 3 hours, this removes the bitter liquor. Prepare to bread the eggplant, you‘ll need, flour, eggs and bread crumbs mixed with grated parmesan cheese. The slices get dredged in the flour, then dipped into the beaten eggs and then finally in the mixed bread crumbs to coat thoroughly. Layer on to a baking sheet, drizzle the breaded slices with olive oil and then bake on very heat until lightly browned, remove from the oven and all time to cool. When cooled and the sauce has had time to cook and taste delicious, prepare the cheese mixture.

I mix grated fontina, parmesan, aged provolone and pecorino romano. The slices are layered each with sauce and cheese and stacked and baked.

The stacks get re-heated until the cheese melts, plated with a bit more of the sauce and then topped with a tomatoes salad. The tomatoes are diced and tossed with olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar basil leaves, salt pepper and basil.

The End. Go Eat.

To Brine or not Brine, That is The Question


If brining was all I had to think about I would be one very happy man. Unfortunately, it’s not, but brining (i.e cooking) makes me think of meats and seafood that are succulent and tasty. It does take a little forethought. The home-cook just has to think  in advance  about what they want to cook. Brining can take 20 minutes for seafood and up to 3 weeks for making corned beef.

As we all know, brining creates a moister protein. I really don’t want to bore anyone with why but for the cost-conscious, like myself, brining can turn a round roast into something extraordinary or a skinless, boneless chicken breast into an juicy bite every time.

Brining is just two in things: salt and water. By using these two ingredients which basically breaks down the muscles and tendons in the meat, cooks will find that their food is perfect every time. As you get used to brining, become creative and throw in Chinese Five Spice, cinnamon, garlic and rosemary. Or add some lemon, garlic and jalapeno. Go wild!!!

To make a simple brine for pork and chicken:

  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ cup salt (I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
  • ¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 cups ice cubes

Put all the ingredients into a plastic ziplock bag and place into your fridge for at least 2 to six hours. I will brine meats overnight such as chicken breasts, ribs, and roasts. Totally a personal decision.

Here’s a really simple recipe. It was a two step process process so I would make this on the weekends when you feel a leisurely and not so tired. Or even grill this.

Country Pork Ribs with a Blackberry Jam Glaze

2 1/2 lbs Pork Ribs

1 jar of blackberry jam or any jam will do.

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons butter

Let’s make this puppy!!!

1. Brine the ribs by following the above instructions. This can be done one day ahead or in the morning before you head to work.

2. Turn on the broiler. Take the ribs out of the brine and pat dry.

3. Place the ribs close to the broiler and turn them about every three minutes. Essentially, we want them to get brown on all four sides.

4. While the ribs brown, melt the butter in a saucepan. Once that’s melted add the vinegar and the jam about half a cup. We are going to the baste the ribs.

5. Once all the ribs have been browned, turn the oven down to 425 degrees. Baste the meat with the liquid glaze. Turn the ribs every 5 – 7 minutes and continue the process.

6. Ribs will be done when browned and cooked through. (It will also smell really delicious.)

7. Eat-up!!!

Blackberry Glazed Pork Ribs (2)

Pantry Preferences: Plainly Preferred

As a home cook, I choose my recipes very carefully. I want them to be simple. I don’t need to have toasted fennel seeds, combined with homemade harissa, needing to stir the pot every 30 minutes to make sure the reduction is only reduced by a quarter. I’m sure most of us look at recipes that are easy to make without being unhealthy.

Therefore, on a weekday night, after my Sunday farmers market grocery sprees when I get my herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil), garlic and lemons, lettuces, I start thinking about my menus. Planning the proteins, the vegetables, and preparations. I hate wasting food so I try…. it doesn’t always work…. but I try to plan around my work and social calendar. Often, I eat out at least 3 times a week. For me, that’s a lot. If I eat out more than that, I start to not feel so well. Too much rich food and not enough control over my diet. However, food is like medicine for me. I eat more vegetables, simply prepared, feeling great the next day. If I overindulge in sugar, alcohol or fats throughout the week, I start to feel less than stellar. But that’s I me. I’m approaching the mid-century mark….and like a 1950’s well oiled car, my body needs love and care. (Trust me, I danced in-and-on NYC dive bars after imbibing on my share of alcohol for decades…I need love and care! LOL.) I’m getting off topic but I do feel that it’s important to cook at home.  We have complete control over what we eat when we make it ourselves.No one can get it wrong if you do it yourself.

For me, I need to have this following pantry items at all times to make anything taste yummy and for ease throughout my week.

1. Salt and pepper (Gizmodo.com writes a brilliant essay on the pairing and noted use.) Kosher salt is the best for cooking and flavoring.

2. Extra virgin olive oil.

3. Lemons (and sometimes limes, oranges or grapefruit are good to have)….lemons though are at the always in my house.

4. Garlic

5. Fresh herbs

Optional

1. Hard italian cheeses (Parmesan, Reggiano or Asiago)

2. Flour

3. Onions

Clearly, this is based on a Mediterranean diet and I just find it simple. As long as I have the first 5 ingredients, I can make beef, poultry, seafood and vegetables taste amazing. And for me, I’m trying to keep it simple.

Let’s Make Something:

Salad Dressing: Two parts olive oil, 1 part lemon. Twist of Salt, twist of pepper. Boom!

Roasted Fish: Take one lemon and slice into several rounds. Take the fish  (salmon,cod, halibut) and place on bed of the citrus rounds.Take your chosen herbs, rough chop. Stir with some olive oil and garlic, making a think paste. Coat the fish and roast at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes Boom! Pretty too!

Chicken: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put slivers of garlic under chicken skin (breasts, thighs, legs), Heat up a pan that can go directly into oven. With the garlic stuffed chicken, place skin down and sautee until brown. Turn over and do the same. While chicken is browning, create herb paste, like above. Once chicken is browned, place face up squeeze juice of one lemon, and herb mixture onto onto poultry. Season with salt and pepper, and take lemon rind and place in skillet. Depending on the amount of chicken, cook for 30 to 45 minutes. Boom!

How to NOT Make a Cabbage Patch Dull

cabbage_0

My friend Mark is a homecook like me but he loves to make complicated Moroccan food. The dishes that are thirteen thousand ingredients and counting. I do not. I want my food and cooking. It’s not that I don’t think that dishes with a lot of ingredients aren’t tasty; on the contrary, I find them delicious. I just like making things that are unfettered. Personally, I just want to taste 4 or 5 ingredients.  Good quality ingredients with a simple preparation; very much like Alice Waters.

Mark recently asked me to help him cook a Moroccan dinner which was a thoughtful gift that he gave to a recently married couple. I was honored that he would ask for my help and since it had grown into a party of 10, he needed it. As part of the menu, he already planned two tagines: one lamb and one chicken, a fish b’stilla (the savory pie), cous-cous and roasted vegetables along with several appetizers. The one thing that the host specifically wanted was a series of Moroccan salads.

Cabbage 1

Mark, Mary (another homecook friend also asked by Mark to assist him) and I sat down to look at recipes that would be easy and complementary to his tagines featuring figs, dried apricots, preserved lemons and exotic Middle Eastern spices such as zatar and sumac. We started to look through several including a couple from Paula Wolfert.

Cabbage     cabbage_0

 

Since, Mark was already making several tagines from Paula and another cookbook, I scanned “Morocco” by Jeff Koehler. One of the first that popped out was a Moroccan Cabbage Salad with Olive Oil, Lemon and Garlic. With a quick look at the recipe, I knew this was a keeper. It’s delicious with freshly ground Himalayan pink salt for finishing. (This is my adaptation of it.). I also knew that I wanted to make it. 

What you need:

One head of Cabbage

2 Lemons

5 Garlic cloves

1/2 cup of oil

Let’s make this puppy:

1. Wash and slice the cabbage about a 1/4 inch thick into a large bowl for tossing. Don’t slice it too thin. (For color, you can add a little red cabbage.). 

2. In a smaller bowl, press the garlic cloves and extract all the liquid. Throw the pulp into the bowl too. 

3. Squeeze the juice out of lemons (removing all the seeds) into the same bowl. Add the olive oil and whisk. 

4. Depending on when you serve this salad and how “cooked” you want the it to be, is when you should mix dress the salad. If you let the cabbage sit in the liquid too long, it will get less crunchy. So, I like to dress it about 20 minutes ahead of time, set aside and then serve with a finishing salt and parsley. 

Awesome. Really. 

Cabbage Bowl

The Humble “Crumble” or Just a “Crisp”

ladies baking

I have written many times that my mother wasn’t really a cook. She was a working, single mother and it wasn’t really in her repertoire to cook. Occasionally, she would make a meatloaf or the requisite holiday dinner but normally it was a sandwich, doughnuts, Kraft Mac & Cheese, possibly a can of Campbell’s Pork and Beans (very Sandra Lee). 

It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that my taste buds began to experience real food and cooking. One of my teachers in my gastronomic learning was my roommate, Teresa. Born in Massachusetts, outside of Boston, from a family of 9, she quickly became someone I thought of as a family member; plus, she loved to cook. She made simple American dishes like “baking soda biscuits”, roasted chicken and made delicious “Apple Brown Betty” which is what she called it. Really it was just a “crumble” also known as a “crisp”. 

Brought over by English settlers, a crumble or crisp, is baked fruit topped with a crust of sugar, butter and flour. And one of the most amazing things in the American cooking world. It’s a simple concoction that conjures up Norman Rockwell scenes: kids frolicking in freshwater lakes, post an afternoon of strawberry picking or climbing apple trees, yanking down bushels of apples. (None of which I experienced growing up in Baltimore. Besides, I had never seen a berry plant much less an apple tree in the urban Seventies landscape.) 

Kids in a lake 1950

It was Teresa’s Irish family cooking which opened me to this bit of Americana. I can still smell the baking aromatics of cinnamon and nutmeg with the sweetness of the apples. She would pull it from the oven still bubbling hot and top it with some cheap ice cream bought at one of the local bodegas.  

20140725_204532 (3)

It sort of came back to me when I was moving. I was triggered to make a crisp for me and Nick. It’s funny how doing something can make you want to do something else. A move is stressful and I wanted to eat something nostalgic, when I thought life was simpler like living in New York City and being a club kid. (LOL) 

You will need: 

  • 2 pounds of hulled and sliced fresh strawberries
  • 2 or 3 cups of fresh blueberries
  • 3 tbs. of cornstarch
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • ¾ cups flour
  • ¾ cups quick-cooking oatmeal
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)
  • ½ cups Butter

To Make: 

Preheat oven to 350 F. Put the berries into a large bowl. Toss berries with cornstarch. Butter a 10″ glass pie plate or loaf pan and place the berries inside. 

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, rolled oats and cinnamon. Cut butter into the dry mix until resembling “crumbles”. Place over top of the berries.

Bake for 45-55 minutes with a rimmed baking sheet just in case it bubbles over.(Hate having to clean an oven!) 

Serve warm with your choice of ice cream…vanilla is probably my choice because it’s tasty and doesn’t conflict with the berries. You can top with some homemade whip cream. (Add a touch of bourbon to the cream….whoo- hoo!) 

Farmers Market Haul, Eating With Friends, & His Creamy Threesome Dip (for lack of a better name)

Farmers Market Haul

The Farmers Market was a light vegetable haul today. Partially, because I haven’t had time to really put my menu together for the week ahead. As noted in a previous post, I burned two dinners. However, I did purchase a lot of lettuces at the market. I love the summer for lettuces. It’s an easy dinner fix to make a simple salad with some form of protein and to turn it into a meal. Keep it simple so I don’t become overwhelmed. I also bought some peppermint to try instead of just regular mint to see what I do with it; other purchases included crispy romaine, peppery arugula, radicchio for the grill, basil (my plant isn’t doing so well this year) and a broccoli crown. Let’s see what the week brings.

Raita

Last night, my friend Mark, an amazing homecook with specialities in Indian and Moroccan, had another dinner. I posted about one a couple of weeks ago. He made the delicious Mulligatawny Stew, Pan Roasted Potatoes and Cauliflower, Cucumber Mint Raita (pictured above) and Dal, the staple of Indian cuisine. Of course, there was basmati rice, naan and poori. Simply yummy and delicious.

He also made an incredible tangy and tasty dip for crudites. His personal creation was delicious with just the right amount of flavors for the raw veggies. With the light tang that only Greek yogurt has, mixed with the cream cheese and Mexican Crema, it was an international trio of dairy creating a beautiful compliment to the crispness of the zucchini, the heat to the radishes and sweetness of the snaps. It was a yummy audition to his Indian meal.

On another note, joining me at Mark’s, where several other friends, Mark and Denise, Lisa, Sue and her girlfriend, Chloe, whom I never met but was sweet and beautiful. It was one of the type of “dining with friends evening” that are becoming incredibly special to me. Since coming back to Los Angeles from Northern California, it hasn’t been all peaches and cream like any major life decision. (Two of my other favorite nights, were with Shelley and Bonnie making pizza and playing Scrabble. Then at David’s, helping him with his housewarming making fresh hummus.) I’ve said it before, and I will probably say it again, eating at a friend’s house, helping to prep, passing the dishes, assisting in the clean-up, laughing, telling stories, petting the animals, voicing aspirations, feeling heartaches, boyfriends, girlfriends, work, …just life…was fun beyond belief. No one was asking us if we needed something else. We weren’t screaming over the din of the music. We found the bathroom without asking a frazzled waitperson. There was a casualness, a meeting of minds, gratefulness that we could be together in the true spirit of friendship. It’s what makes these food occassions special for me. Not necessarily the eating but the process of eating: the cooking, the chopping, playing sous chef and passing food family style. It’s Thanksgiving without any of the family drama. No one was drinking too much or getting too boisterous. It was camaraderie at its best, with cool Southern California evening breezes, carrying the laughter out onto the street.

Now, go make Mark’s dip, with some friends. It’s really good.

Mark's Greek Yogurt Dip

You Will Need:
2 oz. Cream Cheese (softened)
4 oz. Plain Greek Yogurt
3 oz. Crema Mexicana
1 Large or 2 small Shallots
1 Med. Garlic Clove
Chipotle LIme Seasoning (to taste) (I used Chef Tim Love’s sold at Sur la Table)

Let’s Make This Puppy:
1. Let the dairy items sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes.Then, with a fork, combine them in a bowl, trying to get as many of the lumps out of the cream cheese as possible.
2. Mince the shallots and garlic.
3. In a small saucepan over med-high heat, saute 2/3 of the shallots in vegetable oil* for a couple of minutes, until they start becoming soft – at which point add the garlic and continue to cook for another 2 minutes or so, until everything is pretty soft. Let that cool.
4. Add the room temperature shallot/garlic mixture to the blended dairy mixture, and add the remaining (raw) shallots, mix well. Add about a teaspoon of the Chipotle Lime seasoning and stir well, taste. Keep adding Chipotle Lime until you are happy with the taste. (I tasted it on the raw vegetables that I was serving with the dip, as the flavor will be less intense than it is on the tasting spoon – and you may want to add more seasoning). Chill for at least an hour, then serve!

*Mark used Sunflower Oil.