HG is very fond of tequila (100% agave, of course). Likes to sip it neat before dinner (sometimes with a bit of lemon and salt). The following may offend purists: HG also likes it on the rocks with a dash of Campari or Aperol (and a bit of lemon peel). While eating spicy Mexican food, HG will sip tequila between guzzles of cold beer and get slightly sozzled. HG no longer drinks margaritas. The only good ones, HG attests, were served at the long closed, beloved Fornos Restaurant in New York. HG’s New Mexico neighborhood has many tequila connossieurs. Three local liquor stores stock an extraordinary range of tequilas with prices rising to $135 a bottle. HG sticks to the more modest (but tasty) brands. HG remembers his introduction to tequila. It was at the bar of a Spanish/Mexican restaurant in Greenwich Village. The introducer was the aptly named Robert S. Elegant, one of the very few people who ever overawed HG. It was 1952. HG was a young New York journalist and Elegant (only two years older than HG) was a correspondent in China (he was fluent in Chinese, Japanese and later in German, Italian and Indonesian). A prodigy, Elegant was a Phi Beta Kappa college graduate at the age of 18. In 1951, he published his first book, China’s Red Masters, a well received analysis of China’s Communist leadership. Later in his career, he turned to fiction and had many best sellers including Dynasty and Manchu (his fiction has been translated into 20 languages). HG remembers Elegant nestling salt between his thumb and pointer finger. A lick of lemon, a sip of tequila, a taste of salt. A lovely ritual which HG was glad to emulate and has done so for the next half century and more.
HG has always loved roasted, salted pistachios. When HG was a little fellow growing up in The Bronx, HG and beloved older sister, the late Beulah Naomi Katz, would stroll the Grand Concourse. Always stopped at J.S Krum Ice Cream Parlor. Picked up a generous bag of pistachios for munching during our perambulation. In those days, pistachio shells were always, for no apparent reason, dyed red (the pigment stained our fingers). Sometimes a bag of pistachios accompanied HG and Beulah during a movie matinee at Loew’s Paradise on the Concourse, one of the great movie palaces. SJ is aware of his father’s love of pistachios. One of SJ’s Christmas gifts for HG was a big bag of Turkish pistachios from Sahadi’s, the middle eastern food emporium on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The best pistachios ever — lighter, crunchier and more concentrated in flavor than typical brands (you can buy them online from Sahadi’s). HG likes to eat them with the last of dinner red wine accompanied by Medjool dates and Mascarpone (or Roquefort) cheese. Also nice with Port. If you are in Brooklyn, be sure to visit Sahadi’s. Be astonished at the vast array of olives, spices and good things from the middle east.
Shakshuka. Love the sound of the word and love the taste of the dish. The origin is Tunisian. It is a popular breakfast or lunch dish in Israel. HG/BSK dined on it last night (with gusto). Canny BSK made enough sauce so the dish could be revisited for breakfast (once more consumed with gusto). The recipe comes from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (book was a Christmas gift from Gifted Daughter Lesley R.). Shakshuka is made by creating a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, tomato paste, garlic, olive oil, cumin and plenty of harissa (the fiery Middle Eastern condiment). Egg yolks are poached in the thick sauce and some poached eggs (yolks and whites) are added upon serving. Served with zaatar (Middle Eastern spice mixture) dusted Greek yogurt and warm pita. The combination of the runny egg yolks and creamy yogurt in the spicy sauce is a revelation. Every last drop is wiped up with pita. Jerusalem is filled with great recipes. Besides shakshuka, HG/BSK have tried sweet and sour fish and turkey/zucchini burgers with green onion and cumin. Taste explosions. There’s a great human story behind the partnership of Ottolenghi (an Israeli Jew) and Tamimi (a Palestinian Arab). The New Yorker Magazine did a profile of them last year. The men met in London and have created five restaurants and a delicatessen in that city. All are roaring successes. There’s a moral in this somewhere.
A rift in the usually peaceful HG/BSK household. BSK took exception to HG’s recent post, Pasta Joys. First of all, HG messed up BSK’s method of making penne with broccoli. Here’s how BSK does it: Chop broccoli stems and heads. Blanche briefly and remove from water. Put stems and garlic (you can add some shallot as well) in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped (not blended into a puree). Sautee this mixture in olive oil until tender – then add broccoli florets, salt and pepper and some chili flakes to taste. In the meantime cook the pasta in salted water until al dente (don’t discard water). Add pasta to the pan – if you need liquid add some of the cooking water – or you could add a little chicken broth.
Then, HG received a tongue lashing for seeming to approve the Giuliano Bugialli recipe for the dish. BSK maintains that if you Follow the alleged pasta maven’s instructions for cooking the broccoli and pasta together in one pot, the result would be mushy broccoli or underdone pasta. Finally, BSK tempered her enthusiasm for her penne with cauliflower cooked in the style of risotto. Make up your mind, cautioned BSK. Either make risotto or penne. Do not attempt an awkward marriage. HG hopes his union with BSK has not entered an awkward phase. Perhaps flowers, caviar and diamonds might help. Or maybe just a well cooked plate of fresh-cut egg noodles loaded with shavings of white truffle.
Exciting night at HG/BSK’s New Mexico home. With the dinner hour approaching and appetites honed in wait, a sudden squall hit. Rain and intense wind. And, poof, no power. All was darkness. Incompetent HG murmured maledictions. BSK went into overdrive. Lit some two dozen candles. Found flashlights. Then some major frustration: The much-repaired emergency generator on the property kicked in. Five minutes of light and then…it conked out again. BSK went out in the rain and did what she could in a vain effort to restart the cursed device. Nothing. With a call into the repairman, hunger was still an issue so back in the kitchen. Again BSK took charge, manipulating pots, pans, flashlight, candles, knives, fish, bacon, butter, milk, leeks, spices etc.. The end result was a spectacular fish chowder heated up by plenty of smoked Spanish paprika. While the recipe (Smoky Fish Chowder). came from Melissa Clark of The New York Times, the soul came from BSK. By the end of the meal electricity was restored and stomachs were sated. The feast was just another example of BSK’s indomitable resourcefulness.
A sopaipilla is an airy, crisp northern New Mexican treat much like a classic popover. Served with a ball of honey infused butter, they are addictive. As the name indicates, they are the specialty of Pojoaque’s Sopaipilla Factory, a very pleasant restaurant about a 15-minute drive north of Santa Fe. Despite an unfortunate name which brings to mind the dreaded Cheesecake Factory, this is not a tourist restaurant. The clientele is local (like HG)) but very diverse. Many tables of turbaned Sikhs (there are some nearby ashrams); multi-generation Latino families dining together; farmers, ranchers and artists. The food is classical New Mexican with a surprising number of healthy vegetarian options (including tofu fajitas). HG’s twice-a-week lunch is a chicken/cheese enchilada (HG requests that sides of rice and beans be eliminated). Here’s how the dish is composed: A very sizeable amount of shredded white meat chicken is rolled in a tortilla with white Mexican cheese melted on top. HG specifies “Christmas”. This means half the dish is covered with flavorful green chile sauce and the other half with fiery red. For crunch, HG showers it all with chopped sweet onions (There’s also a mini salad of shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes). If HG is really hungry, HG orders the giant chicken burrito or the chicken stuffed sopaipilla (both adorned “Christmas” style). The restaurant also offers a suave bowl of tender menudo. A full bar with a nice array of tequilas and margaritas. HG sometimes has a “Michelada”, a beer and Clamato juice drink in a salt rimmed glass with lime edges. The drink gets a substantial shake of Tabasco. It’s a local favorite as is everything about this delightful restaurant.
There are some supermarket staples that are splendid, unchanging and need no improvements. They define what they are, beat back all challengers and laugh at innovation. They are so basic that we have the tendency to know just the substance and not the manufacturer. Some examples: Ketchup (Heinz); Mayonnaise (Hellmans); Tabasco (McIlhenny); English Muffins (Thomas); Worcestershire Sauce (Lea & Perrins). Sadly, much of what clutters supermarket aisles consists of “snacks”, sugary junk, sodas and “energy drinks” and should be flagged like cigarettes, with skull and cross bones warning: “Harmful To Your Health.” That said, there are a few items of negligible nutritional value that HG cannot resist: Keebler’s Club Crackers, Pepperidge Farm Thin Sliced White Bread, Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Rice. And, from the frozen foods case: Haagen Dasz (their salted caramel gelato and dulce de leche ice cream are really special). Bubbie’s very superior pickles were only found at Whole Foods but are now sneaking into some lower priced grocery stores. Sriracha from Huy Fong Foods is now omnipresent. Much applause from HG. No food remains bland while that hot chili sauce is at hand.
Was it a French gourmand (or possibly just HG) who mused: “Dinner without an entree (appetizer) is like making love without foreplay” ? Yes, an appetizer is a good idea. But, it must be modest so as not to blunt ardor for the main event (okay, okay, that’s the end of the semi-naughty references). So, here are a few of HG’s favorite starters. Three chilled Colville Bay oysters on the half-shell. Spanish Piquillo peppers with a bit of fresh mozzarella/buratta drizzled in good olive oil and Maldon Smoked Sea Salt Flakes. A slice of Italian prosciutto with a ripe, fresh fig. A slice of Serrano ham on thin buttered bread. A dab of Alaskan salmon red caviar (best purchased online from Zabar’s) topped with creme fraiche on a buttered slice of lightly toasted Pepperidge Farm Thin White bread. A chunk of schmaltz herring (from Russ & Daughters) rolled in chopped onion and downed with a shot glass of icy vodka. Slice of smoked salmon (Nova Scotia or Scotland) with capers, olive oil and ground pepper. And, here’s a suggestion by HG for something you may not have tried: Cook a small bit of Angel Hair or Capellini pasta. Top it with a sauce made of olive oil, finely chopped raw garlic, a few sardines, a squeeze of tomato paste, coarse salt and plenty of ground black pepper. So good that you might be sorry you’re not having it as your main dish.
It may seem like HG is referencing the Middle Ages, but back in the 1970s pasta was still a fairly exotic term while spaghetti ruled the roost when it came to Italian noodles dishes. The great wave of wonderful pasta dishes and their sauces had yet to arrive in the typical american pantry. In fact, HG first tasted penne with broccoli at Delsomma, a wonderful (alas, long closed) Italian restaurant on W. 47th Street in New York. (HG wrote about the restaurant: Gone But Not Forgotten Restaurants: Delsomma…Sept. 2011). Loved the dish and it became a mainstay in the HG/BSK home. BSK makes the broccoli sauce this way: Blanches florets and stems in the boiling pasta water. Purees some of the broccoli in the blender with chicken stock. Sautes the rest of the broccoli in olive oil with anchovies and minced garlic. It’s all blended with parmesan and poured over the pasta with a dusting of red pepper flakes and chopped parsley. Mighty good. Giuliano Bugialli, the esteemed Italian pasta authority, suggests another way to make penne with broccoli, a method popular in southern Italy. The broccoli is cooked with the pasta. First, the stems are added to the boiling pasta. After two minutes, the florets go into the pot. in 12 to 15 minutes the pasta is al dente and the broccoli is cooked. Minced garlic, red pepper flakes and capers are heated in olive oil and poured over the broccoli and pasta. Showered with chopped parsley. HG will try this method but will add anchovies, an ingredient that complements the sponge-like nature of a broccoli floret.
While it may seem difficult to find a new method to making pasta, BSK did just that a few days ago: Cauliflower-bacon-penne risotto. That’s right. Risotto made with penne pasta instead of rice. BSK roasted cauliflower florets with a dusting of cumin. Fried thick cut bacon to crispness. Deglazed the bacon pan, sauteed some garlic and added the bacon and roasted cauliflower. Cooked the penne like Arborio rice. In a heavy saucepan, cooked sliced onion in olive oil until transparent. Mixed the softened onions with penne. Added chicken stock. Tossed in a tablespoon of dry white wine. Brought liquid to a boil. Reduced to medium high and then simmered. HG stirred the mixture until the penne had absorbed the flavorful broth and was al dente. HG made sure some starchy broth remained to make a sauce. In went the cauliflower-bacon with Romano cheese, Maldon Smoked Sea Salt Flakes and ground pepper. A perfect dish wish a green salad and red wine. Pasta still has many joys.