Delicious Improv

May 13th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

When BSK was a young actress in New York studying theater with the late greats Lloyd Richards, Lee Strasberg (remember him as Hyman Roth in “Godfather Two”?) and Mike Gazzo (Also in “Godfather Two” as Frank Pentangelli) BSK was particularly adept at “improv” — those acting exercises that are unscripted, spur-of-the-moment improvisations based around general themes or situations. Eventually, BSK left acting behind and had later careers as a photographer, political strategist and government relations expert. Currently, BSK is busily engaged as a potter and painter, turning out extraordinary work in a spacious studio. No matter the career changes, BSK has retained her talent for improvisation. Witness dinner last night. HG and BSK found themselves hungry (surprise, surprise!) and, somehow, the day had gone by with no menu plans and no food shopping. No worries. BSK rummaged in the refrigerator and out came zucchini and some last bits of bacon and pancetta. There was also a heel of goat cheese enriched with jalapeno peppers. Sous chef HG diced garlic. Into a hot pan of olive oil it went with lots of sliced zucchini. BSK sizzled the bacon and pancetta until crisp. Water was put up to boil for pasta (fusili). BSK dashed out to her herb garden for a big bunch of parsley. This was chopped with some kumato (juicy, always ripe brown tomatoes from Mexico). When the zucchini and garlic had softened, the drained pasta went into the pan with the goat cheese (and a bit of pasta water). This created a slightly creamy sauce (with heat from the peppers). BSK stirred in the crispy bacon and pancetta bits. Topped it with the parsley/kumato mix. Green salad and a bottle of Sicilian Nero d’Avolo red wine. Perfect meal. Another starring improv performance from BSK

Baccala, Bacalao, Etc.

May 11th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, salt cod is spelled in different ways in Portugal, Italy, Spain, Brazil, France and other countries where it is enjoyed and appreciated. It needs a good soaking in many changes of water before it can be cooked but that’s time well spent because it is a staple of many wonderful dishes. An HG favorite is Brandade, a puree of salt cod, potatoes, sweet cream and garlic — lots of garlic. HG eats it with slices of garlic rubbed, toasted sourdough bread. Cold Muscadet or Macon-Village Chardonnay is a pleasant accompaniment. HG likes the Brandade at both Balthazar, the busy New York brasserie and Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto Restaurant in Greenwich Village.

Salt cod has an affinity for garlic. The Provence feast of poached salt cod and vegetables (cooked and raw) is served with an abundance of aioli, a garlic enriched mayonnaise. HG is looking forward this weekend to BSK’s Basque salt cod (cooked with olive oil, white wine, tomatoes, capers, parsley and, of course, garlic). BSK will serve it with her smashed potatoes gilded with Sicilian olive oil. And, to make sure that vampires are kept at bay, HG will make plenty of aioli (HG will add some cayenne for a bit of a bite).

While no garlic was served in the dish, SJ once made HG salivate with a description of an improvised feast in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica consisting of chunks of sat cod and yam roasted over an open fire with a hefty dose of margarine. And in Rome’s Campo Di Fiori there is a busy, little joint that apparently serves salt cod fritters to die for. HG bets there is garlic in those fritters.

In the Italian-Irish-Jewish Bronx nabe where HG was reared, lengths of dried salt cod were displayed like cord wood in every Italian food store. Now you can find it in cute little wooden boxes at the fish counters of supermarkets. Progress: The wooden box salt cod has less bones.

The Oak Room: R.I.P.

May 10th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The Oak Room in New York’s venerable Plaza Hotel was, in HG’s opinion, the most history-drenched and comfortable restaurant in New York. Alas, HG just learned, the beautiful room has closed. HG has written before about happy times there and merry martini sipping in the adjacent Oak Bar. Memories: Tournedos with Bearnaise Sauce and Souffle Potatoes. Braised Celery with Beef Marrow. Cary Grant (looking and behaving like Cary Grant) at an adjoining table. HG had a charge account at the Oak Room and a tendency to run up large bills. HG, during that cycle in HG’s professional life, did not pay bills promptly. HG relished the good manners and courtesy of the gentle letter he received from the Oak Room management when HG was six months in arrears: “It appears that due to the many pressures and obligations of your career, you may have overlooked etc., etc.,etc.”

HG always paid…Eventually.

Living With History

May 8th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

At HG and BSK’s verdant compound in Santa Fe County, the fortunate duo live in close linkage to thousands of years of history. HG and BSK’s five acres are fed water from an Acequia, a communal irrigation canal that preserves and shares water in New Mexico’s desert environment. A Mayordomo (water master) makes all decisions concerning the Acequia and supervises equable water distribution throughout the community (neighbor Tony G. is HG and BSK’s Mayordomo). Acequias were born more than 10,000 years ago in the deserts of the middle east, established in Spain by the Moors during their 800-year reign and brought to New Mexico by the Spaniards. Acequia irrigation means a plentiful supply of flowers for the HG/BSK household and, best of all, a fertile herb garden filled with basil, mint, sage, tarragon,rosemary, parsley and chives. BSK puts them, with a bow to history, to very good use in the HG/BSK kitchen.

Santa Fe — Art and Appetite

May 6th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

One of the wonderful things about Santa Fe is that you can see high quality, ever changing art exhibits every day. And, it’s easy. Ample parking (or once you’re in the center of town you can stroll to dozens of galleries). And, the galleries are never too crowded.You can really see the art and pause before a favorite without being jostled. HG and BSK visited the Monroe Gallery of Photography a few days ago for a knockout show: Stephen Wilkes’ Day to Night. This was a show of panoramic photos of New York City landmarks in which Wilkes captures a 15-hour time span of a single day. Astonishing. Time is condensed. Colors shift from night purple to the golden sunlight of day to the the heady contrasts of afternoon shadow. Yes, all in a single photo. These photos of the Flatiron Building, Coney Island, the High Line, Park Avenue, Bethesda Fountain, Washington Square, Central Park in winter, New York Public Library, Gramercy Park, Times square are unique examples of artistic imagination and technical mastery. In order to achieve these photographs, Wilkes perched for 15 hours on a 50-foot crane taking hundreds of shots. In the post production phase, Wilkes studied each individual image and chose elements which he digitally merged into a single photograph. These works don’t look like a composite, just a seamless compression of time and space. Wilkes describes these photos as “a love letter to the City of New York.” The big town is lucky to have a lover like Wilkes. In any case, the exciting show made HG and BSK hungry. So, the fortunate duo picked up some Prince Edward Island mussels and a pound of squid for a dinner of linguini and sea critters. Life’s good in the Land of Enchantment.

Cocktail Discoveries

May 6th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Joy in the HG household. HG has discovered a new pre-dinner cocktail: The Vesper Martini. This has become a favorite in Santa Fe’s hip sipping circles. Here’s how you do it. Fill a shaker with ice. Add one part vodka and one part gin. A modest splash of Lillet (the French, slightly sweet aperitif wine). Pour into a (pre-chilled in the freezer, of course) martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. A lovely, lethal drink with a nice French accent.

HG has also made some good, inexpensive wine discoveries. Italy’s Contadino sparkling Pinot Grigio (BSK’s pre-dinner choice) which is wonderful drunk straight or mixed with Aperol in the classic Venetian “Spriss.” Also, Argentina’s Trivento Reserve Malbec tickles the HG palate with a spicy complexity.

London Memories and Grace Notes

May 5th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Best restaurant in the world was the restaurant in London’s Connaught Hotel (it was right up there with Le Pavillion under the reign of Henri Soule).

The Connaught Dining Room

HG gathers that the cuisine at the Connaught has changed but HG likes to think about it during its glory days. HG and BSK always lunched there during visits to London. Superb smoked salmon sliced paper thin and served with brown bread, butter, capers, etc. (HG once remarked on the perfect slicing. A captain explained: “James has been slicing salmon here for 37 years”). A mixed grill with souffle potatoes or perfectly de-boned, grilled dover sole with savory butter sauce. Stilton and port to finish.

Once, the HG/BSK table wasn’t ready as per their reservation. HG and BSK were ushered into a lovely chintz and old oak ante room. With graceful apologies we were offered glasses of chilled, dry sherry (on the house, of course).

Another London favorite was J. Sheekey, the seafood restaurant in the theater district. More casual than the Connaught and the perfect place for oysters and grilled fish. Once, a waitperson spilled a drink at the HG/BSK table. The wet table cloth was whisked away and replaced by a new one. Once more, graceful apologies ensued and (with a flourish) a bottle of very good, gratis champagne appeared. Nice memories of English grace and generosity.