Oh, happy days!! Sweet corn is in season and BSK has the source for the best ever. Every morning, in a shopping center parking lot in the town of Montague, Blum Farms parks a pick up truck laden with freshly picked corn. BSK makes a well-worth-it 20 minute drive from HG/BSK’s Prince Edward Island oceanfront home to grab a dozen or more ears before it all sells off (as it typically does by noon). The corn is sublime: yellow niblets so fresh that each kernel seems to explode with flavor and the sweetness of sugars that haven’t even dreamed of turning to starch. HG/BSK (plus family visitors) eat many ears slathered with butter and sea salt. Extra cooked ears are refrigerated and are used for many dishes including BSK’s sublime corn and clam chowder. Here’s how BSK does it: Lean bacon goes into a sauce pan and before it crisps chopped onions and diced potatoes are added. Salt and Aleppo pepper go into the the sauté as well as a splash of olive oil (if the bacon is very lean). Little neck clams are steamed in clam broth (the clam juice adds potency to the broth). Clams are removed when just barely open. Plucked out of the shells, they are cut in half (if using larger, tougher clams, BSK gives them a sturdy chop). The clam broth and a half cup of whole milk is poured into the deep sauce pan over the bacon-onion-potato mix and simmered until the mineral rich PEI spuds begin to soften. Some chopped thyme adds a nice herbal touch. Clams go into the pan with corn kernels from five ears of corn. When all is heated through the chowder is given a dusting of smoked Spanish paprika or Aleppo pepper (this is optional–favored by HG who likes spicy heat). The dish is a nice fusion of farm and sea, a good metaphor for Prince Edward Island itself.
Kale seems to be the trendy, green, leafy vegetable of the moment but HG still prefers spinach. HG did not always love spinach. As a little fellow, HG expressed negative opinions regarding spinach. A believer in the nutritional value of the leafy, green wonder food, HG’s cunning Mom would enclose spinach in a mound of buttery, creamy mashed potatoes. She called the dish “buried treasure.” The romantic name — evoking pirates, the Spanish Main and wealth beyond imagination — convinced HG the vegetable was good stuff. These days HG associates spinach with many splendid restaurant dishes. Creamed spinach of sublime quality would accompany a thick cut of savory boiled tongue (plus a boiled potato and fiery English mustard) at Al Cooper’s Restaurant (long closed) in New York’s Garment Center. Creamed spinach was very good at Ben Benson’s Steak House (also closed) in midtown New York. Palm Restaurant (branches all over the country) serves whole leaf spinach sauteed in high-quality Italian olive oil and plenty of garlic with its steaks and hash browns. The Compound, in Santa Fe, flanks its Chicken Schnitzel in parsley caper sauce with some leaves of sautéed spinach. When HG lived in Colorado he lunched daily at 240 Union, the very good restaurant in Lakewood. The chef at the time, Matthew Franklin, would nest broiled or sautéed fish on a mound of spinach. There was always a plentiful amount of mashed potatoes. What made the dish sing was the abundance of melted butter. Cooking at home, HG likes to place a grilled paillard of chicken breast on some spinach cooked with oil, garlic and a tiny bit of nutmeg. A spinach risotto is a comforting dish as is a rice pilaf mixed with spinach. A very simple dish is some good tortelloni or ravioli plus spinach in steaming chicken broth. Popeye was right. Spinach makes muscle. Take that, Bluto!! Wham ! Bam ! Kazam !
Exquisite Maiko, HG’s daughter in law, brings an arsenal of knife skills and Japanese flavors to the kitchen. Speed. Timing. Precision. These were all in evidence last night as EM prepared a soba and tempura feast. Typical of EM, the soba was presented on a platter in sightly individual whorls not in a big, ungainly clump. The soba went into individual bowls with broth and topped with finely chopped scallions. Wasabi and a citrusy Japanese pepper mix were on the table. On to the tempura: sole, cod, haddock, scallops, shrimp, mushrooms, sweet onion slices. All were dipped in EM’s special batter and received a brief cooking in hot oil. The result was, as usual, sublime. There is no tempura quite like EM’s. Spectacularly light and greaseless, every bit of seafood and vegetable flavor retained and enhanced. EM added an original tidbit: corn tempura. EM cut rectangles of corn kernels from some cold, cooked cobs and gave them the tempura treatment. Mouth heaven. The crispness and sweetness of the corn gave it a dessert like quality. Of course, this is a highly unfair meal. Tempura goes straight from the pan to the dish. No waiting. This means everyone is scaling the culinary heights while EM is in constant motion at the gas range. Only a momentary pause to snare a few chopsticks worth of food. Recognizing this inequity, sensitive husband SJ prepared some pre-dinner clams casino for EM (one of her favorite dishes). The only problem with EM’s cooking is that it dims the luster of HG’s favorite Japanese restaurants.
SJ introduced the assembled Freeman/Riva clans to Alabama White Sauce Chicken sandwiches last night. A wonder of a dish, just right for happy, informal family feasting. It was accompanied by lots of first of season hot buttered corn on the cob. As HG’s late Mom would say when she wanted to describe the ultimate in deliciousness: “Nu, nu, don’t ask!!” The chicken and corn were preceded by some “Kyoto” style, pickled mackerel sashimi. As previously reported, when Exquisite Maiko first arrived on Prince Edward Island, she picked up numerous fresh mackerel right from the fishing boats at Naufrage harbor. Some were eaten that first night with scallion and ginger, others were air-dried and salted for grilling and a portion were marinated and slightly pickled. They were equally delicious as first-night sashimi with the mackerel flavor intensified by the marinade and the texture gaining a firmer mouth-feel. But, the SJ chicken was the star; Here’s how SJ made the wondrous Alabama Chicken:
Okay, SJ here. This post, by the way, marks the 1000th HUNGRY GERALD post so it is rightfully a collaborative posting between HG and myself (I humbly “edit” HUNGRY GERALD and provide the illustrations to HG’s wonderful writing). Sooo….I first heard of Alabama White Sauce Chicken sandwiches in Saveur Magazine (complete with recipe). It sounded so delicious but oddly none of my friends from Alabama have ever been able to confirm that this dish is actually a part of Alabama’s culinary heritage. Whatever the case, it is a delicious sandwich and this is how I go about making it: spatchcock a chicken (or two) and cut into quarters. Mix a tablespoon each of salt, cumin, coriander, black pepper, garlic powder, celery seeds and a teaspoon of cayenne. Take half this mix and rub into the chickens — when done wrap in plastic and let sit in fridge for a couple of hours. Meanwhile, prepare the white sauce! Take 2 cups Hellman’s Mayo and mix the remainder of the spice mix into it. Then add a half cup of the STRONGEST white horseradish you can find and a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar. Add 2 tablespoons sugar. Mix it all up well. Divide the sauce in two dishes (one for basting the chicken and one for serving with the chicken) After about two hours take chicken out and let it come to room temperature. If you have a smoker, get it ready or if you have a bbq and can get some nice hickory or apple wood chips in there, do that! If you only have an oven, then…you know what, use that as it will still be great. Cook your chicken low and slow at about 225 degrees basting it every 30 minutes with your white sauce. After about 2 hours it should be ready. Shred the chicken discarding the bones (feel free to munch on the skin) and serve on a hamburger bun with dill pickle chips, cole slaw and a hefty dollop of the white sauce! Enjoy!
HG derived vicarious pleasure watching distinguished son-in-law Profesore Massimo R. devour a giant marrow bone at Prince Edward Island’s Terre Rouge bistro (yes, the generous Ufficiale gave HG a taste). Roasted marrow bones have long been served at old time Paris bistros. HG has relished them with a crusty baguette and a carafe of rough red wine in Left Bank rooms perfumed with Gauloise smoke. For years, the health police managed to have them banished from most American restaurants but, thankfully, marrow bones are making a comeback: In the mid 90s Fergus Henderson, the British chef and cookbook author served a dish at his St. John restaurant in London of roasted marrow bones with parsley and capers that was an immediate trend-setter and was soon replicated at New York restaurants like Prune and Blue Ribbon Bakery; now there is hardly a meat-centric New York menu without marrow bones. In older times, bone marrow found a elegant approach as a specialty of the old Oak Room in New York’s Plaza Hotel: A big scoop of bone marrow adorned braised celery which accompanied tournedos and potatoes soufflé. It was one of HG/BSK’s favorite meals. HG once had a very lusty steak, a pave, topped with almost a half inch of bone marrow at some long defunct bistro near the Place de Clichy. Memorable. Bone marrow is frowned upon by cardiologists because it is pure fat and cholesterol, a big time artery clogger. Wickedly delicious, however.
HG misses a champion quality warm weather dish: the Gefilte Fish prepared by HG’s late Mom. Often maligned due the rubbery, jellied, mass produced version served from a jar on Jewish holidays, Gefilte Fish means “stuffed fish.” But, this is misleading. The Gefilte Fish that we have come to know consists of chopped freshwater fish combined with matzo meal, eggs, grated onion and white pepper. This forcemeat is formed into balls, poached in strong fish broth and served cold with the jellied broth and strong horseradish — essentially a Jewish quenelle. Egg bread (challah) is the appropriate accompaniment. Little HG often acted as Mom’s sous chef in the preparation of Gefilte Fish. HG grated onion and horse radish and tried not to inhale the pungent fumes or scrape his knuckles on the box grater. Removed the fish heads and bones from the fish stock and dumped them in the garbage can. HG’s Mom chopped four varieties of fish — carp, pike, whitefish and buffel. This last fish, buffel, was a mystery to little HG. Years later HG learned this was a reference to Buffalo Fish. Buffel was the Yiddish translation (or Yinglish). These days Buffalo Fish can only be found at fishmongers in New York’s Chinatown. HG’s Mom used a high proportion of carp. This gave her fish balls a richer flavor and a much darker color than most other versions. Carp is native to China and was brought to Europe in the 17th Century by Jewish traders (and others) working the silk routes. Jews began cultivating carp in special ponds and it quickly became a significant holiday dish in Eastern European homes both Jewish and Gentile. Its popularity spread and “Carpe a la Juive” (jellied carp prepared in the Jewish style) rated four entries in France’s encyclopedic Larousse Gatronomique. HG’s Mom often prepared it. Not an HG favorite. HG preferred her rich and velvety Gefilte Fish — a humble and delicious dish with a sullied reputation.
Lots and lots of tasty food at Gifted Daughter Lesley R.’s birthday dinner at Terre Rouge in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. One of the star features was a gigantic, roasted marrow bone (see the photo of the scooped out bone) ordered by Profesore/Ufficiale Massimo R. The treat was the size of a dinosaur femur and was served with parsley caper salad, duck fat toast, shallot marmalade and a fried egg. Much more food. Roast pork, Smoked potatoes. Buttery mashies. Arctic char. Chicken liver pate. Cod fritters. Mushrooms on toast. Beet salad. Three flavors of ice cream to finish. Muscadet and pinot noir were the beverages of choice. Yes, there was lots to eat and drink following HG’s dining strategy: When in doubt, over order. That’s why doggie bags were invented.
Full house at the HG/BSK/GDL/SJ residence on Prince Edward Island. SJ and family (Exquisite Maiko, son Haru, daughter Teru and nephew Taku) have arrived joining HG/BSK and the Riva family (Gifted Daughter Lesley; Profesore/Ufficiale Massimo, daughter Sofia). Much laughter; gaiety, sea, sun, ocean winds, rain quickly leading to sunshine and multi-lingual conversation (English, Italian, Japanese, fragmented and newly remembered Yiddish). It all comes together at joyous family feasting. Fortunately, the group has a collective hearty appetite, serious food knowledge and cooking skills to match. The acknowledged Queen of the Kitchen is Exquisite Maiko. Talented EM has a set of razor sharp Japanese knives (dangerous in ordinary hands) and EM slices and dices with precision and art. An EM dish is not only filled with fresh flavor, it is a visual wonder. As is EM’s PEI custom, EM drove to the port of Naufrage and picked up a dozen mackerel — so fresh they were frozen in rigor mortis. The fishermen refuse to charge EM for the the mackerel as it is a plentiful but not a favored fish on PEI. Strange, because few fish are as delicious as fresh (really fresh) mackerel. Dinner started with sashimi, beautifully sliced raw mackerel adorned with shavings of scallion, herbs and cherry tomato. This was followed by another EM signature dish: Sole filets sautéed and steamed in sake and a bit of soy. EM added another texture and burst of flavor by topping the sole with crisp fried garlic chips and shio kombu – a type of salted, preserved Japanese seaweed. Lesley and BSK contributed to the meal with some lovely side dishes of snap peas and yellow beans (just arrived into season). HG accompanied the food with Shochu, a potent and flavorful Japanese spirit distilled from sweet potatos. A thoughtful gift from EM’s sister, this is a magical brew. Unfortunately, according to SJ, high quality Shohchu is not available in North America. Just as well, commented BSK, since HG doesn’t need to add another strong spirit to the HG arsenal of beverages.
In order to have an insightful and balanced view of the dismal, unending conflict between Israel and its neighbors, HG suggests reading a book published this year: My Promised Land–The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. The author is a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and also serves on its editorial board. The book was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Book Review and the reviewer said: “Shavit has an un-doctrinaire mind and comes not to praise or to blame, though along the way he does both, with erudition and eloquence; he comes instead to observe and reflect.” The review goes on to say: “It is a Zionist book unblinkered by Zionism. It is about the entire Israeli experience.” The book has made HG reflect about Zionism. Yes, the displacement of Palestinians has been a tragedy (often a tragedy of their own making). But, HG retains his admiration for Zionism. Theodore Herzl witnessed the hatred of Jews that boiled over in France, a civilized European country, during the Dreyfus affair. Herzl realized, as did subsequent Zionist visionaries, that Jews had no future in Europe. Did the Zionists foresee the industrialized murder of millions of Jews by Hitler? Perhaps not, but they did know the destruction of Europe’s Jews was imminent. It was Zionism’s mission to rescue Jews and provide them with a homeland. This is what gave Zionism its urgency. As Shavit notes: “The need was real. The vision was impressive.” Like all nations, Israel was born in blood and fire and maintaining its nationhood has demanded more blood and fire. HG must sadly acknowledge:There has been no other choice.
There’s been a long tradition of New York department stores containing some fairly beloved restaurants. The intent, obviously, is to keep the customer in the store and keep her shopping (the gender specific “her” is probably an out-dated notion, but NY’s department stores were initially created for and catered to an almost exclusively female audience). Tea sandwiches, salads and exuberant desserts were featured. Gourmands sneered at these dainties but during HG’s days in New York, HG often lunched in department stores. HG’s favorite was Lord & Taylor. The store broke with tradition by operating a soup bar. A very large African-American man wearing a chef’s toque ladled soups from a big kettle. The soup was served with Ritz crackers and was a cold weather treat. Dignified B. Altman (long gone) on 34th and Fifth was famed for ladies’ intimate apparel and high quality furniture. The restaurant was classy. The hands down favorite of fashionable women was Bergdorf Goodman with restaurants in the basement and on a high floor (spectacular Central Park views). Alex Witchel of The New York Times did a charming story (in 2013) about lunching there with writer Patricia Volk. Paris, of course, has the best department store restaurants. Bon Marche’s are the height of chic but for variety nothing tops Galeries Lafayette. There’s a dim sum restaurant, an oyster and fish eatery, Italian restaurant, Spanish counter with the best Serrano ham. There’s pizza, tapas, paella, Indian tandoori..and more.. (HG’s pal, journalist/wine expert/author Peter Hellman did a nice article on Paris department store dining for The New York Times some years ago). In addition to dining, Bon Marche and Galeries Lafayette have stupendous food and wine departments. Bon Marche’s, the Epicerie, is epic. HG/BSK have many happy memories of smoked salmon, country pate, jambon persille, countless varieties of perfectly ripened cheese and savory charcuterie. The makings of exuberant dinners with wine and fresh baguettes in HG/BSK’s rented Paris apartments. Of course, the glories of Paris department store dining and food halls (including the splendid one at London’s Harrod’s) dwindle when compared to the limitless cornucopia of delicacies offered at KaDeWe, the Berlin department store (largest in Europe). There are two vast floors of food plus a rooftop cafeteria. HG/BSK plan to be there sometime in the future and indulge in oysters and champagne plus many other good things from every part of the world.