Cookbooks

July 20th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Cookbooks make for pleasant reading and often better viewing (some cookbook photography is so lustfully shot that it is basically pornographic). They often have good cooking ideas and can serve as an active spur to the imagination. But, very few contain recipes that, when followed step-by-step, turn out right. Mark Bittman, the ubiquitous Bittman, is the great advocate of simplicity and a best-selling cookbook author. In HG’s opinion, Bittman’s recipes disappoint. They should be read as creative outlines to constructing a dish rather than precise instructions. The recipes in Saveur Magazine sure read good but make for unfortunate eating (SJ disagrees). HG relies on three cookbook authors: Mimi Sheraton (the former New York Times restaurant reviewer); the late Michael Field and Marcella Hazan, the woman who has had a powerful and positive impact on cooking Italian food in the home kitchen. Mimi Sheraton’s cookbook, From My Mother’s Kitchen, is an HG favorite. There is a strong emphasis on Jewish cooking (but not kosher—there are good recipes for clams, lobster and a ham-and-bean soup). The recipes are can’t miss and they emphasize simple things like matzo brei, blintzes, fish salads, pan broiled steaks and hamburgers, etc. Michael Field’s books feature precise recipes. Do exactly as he says and you have a winner dish. Always. Marcella Hazan is invaluable. However, it is necessary to adjust the quantities. She likes, in the Italian fashion, a lot of pasta and a little bit of sauce. A lot of Americans (including HG/BSK) like the reverse.

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One Shots

July 19th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

Many decades ago, HG frequented a colorful bar in Manhattan’s theater district — Harold’s Show Spot. It was a hangout of actors (Ben Gazzara, Anthony Franciosa, Shelley Winters), directors, stage managers, etc. On the walls were sardonic photos and posters celebrating playwrights who had only one play that made it to Broadway — Michael Gazzo (“Hatful of Rain”); Donald Bevan and Ed Trzcinski (“Stalag 17”), etc. The display was known as The Wall of the One Shots. Recently, HG thought about “The Wall” in terms of one shot restaurants that are generally indifferent but do one thing outstandingly well. In New York there was a (name forgotten) French restaurant in the East 30s that was uniformly mediocre except for an outstanding roast pigeon (served rare, of course). El Charro, a trapped-in-amber Spanish/Mexican joint that served (and still serves!) homogenized, bland Mexican food alongside a wonderful, steaming, garlicky pot of shrimp (or scallops) in green sauce. An un-named Cuban sandwich place in Washington Heights that presented a sublime platter of butterflied shrimp, deep fried and accompanied by black beans and rice. Many more. Sauteed fish in tofu skin wrappers at a Chinese restaurant on Chatham Square. Blintzes at Ratner’s and kasha varnishkes at Rappaport’s — two (now-shuttered)Lower East Side standouts. Sturgeon and eggs at Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side. In Santa Fe, HG orders one dish at Santacafe — perfect fried calamari. In Denver, HG always has succulent roast chicken at Potager and avoids the rest of the menu. In Paris, HG has bouillabaisse at Charlot: Roi des Coquillages (everything else on the carte is indifferent or overpriced.) Grilled pig’s foot with sauce bearnaise (certainly) at Pied de Cochon. And, New Jersey’s Belmont Tavern (located in Belleville) needn’t have a menu at all as it offers only one transcendent, must-travel-to-taste, inimitable dish — Stretch’s Chicken Savoy.

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Queen Majesty’s Scotch Bonnet & Ginger Hot Sauce

July 18th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

Over the past years HG has lauded a few hot sauces — Sriracha, Matouk’s West Indian Flambeau Sauce, Frank’s Red Hot and the old stand-by, Tabasco. Great hot sauces are “improvers,” a concentrated burst of piquant flavor that help lead a dish to the Promised Land by elevating the essential flavors rather than overwhelming them. Well, HG is happy to welcome a new Hot Sauce to the pantheon of tongue tingling heroes: Queen Majesty’s Scotch Bonnet & Ginger Hot Sauce. Handmade in Brooklyn (where all the good food seems to be coming from), the sauce blends the scorching, yet fruity, flavors of Scotch Bonnet peppers with the zing of ginger. The result is a highly nuanced hot sauce with pronounced Caribbean notes that works especially well with meaty stews like oxtail or robust curries. HG has also found that a couple drops of QM’s sauce in a Bloody Mary takes that classic cocktail to epic heights.

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Creative Sandwiches

July 18th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

In general, HG is not a big sandwich fan. Most of the time HG feels that most things that could be stuck between slices of bread are improved by eliminating the bread. However, there are exceptions and these days HG enjoys just a few classic sandwiches: A traditional bacon-lettuce-tomato (when tomatoes are in season — flavorful and juicy) with good, thick cut bacon and mayo on toasted wheat bread; a pastrami on Jewish rye (alas, now only available in all its splendor at Katz’s in New York, Schwartz’s in Montreal and Langer’s in L.A.); and finally, a corned beef Reuben, also on Jewish rye. The Croque Monsieurs and Croque Madames HG has enjoyed in Paris don’t really qualify as classic sandwiches. In the past HG was more adventurous in sandwich choices. On Nantucket Island, HG liked the specialty of a health food shop there: Sharp cheddar cheese, avocado, sprouts and chutney on whole grain bread. On the opposite health pole, HG relished the roast beef sandwiches consumed many years ago at Henrich’s Restaurant (long closed) on B. 116th Street, Rockaway Park, N.Y. These were constructed of thinly sliced rare roast beef, sliced raw onion and Jewish rye bread spread with (your choice) 1/8th or 1/4th of an inch of chicken fat. This was sprinkled with coarse salt and black pepper. Accompanied by a sour dill pickle. HG ate another unhealthy treat at the late Gitlitz Deli on New York’s Upper West Side. This was a combination of chopped liver and pastrami on rye with Russian dressing. The Gitlitz waiters, food conservatives, did not approve. At another long closed New York eatery, Belmont Cafeteria, the hangout for taxi drivers on Lexington Avenue, HG would accompany morning coffee with a heavily buttered onion roll enclosing muenster cheese and lettuce. In the past, BSK based her sandwich choices on peanut butter. No PB and J for BSK. Instead, the young woman ate peanut butter with lettuce and mayo sandwiches or peanut butter and sweet pickle slices sandwiches. While off on a hike with her Girl Scout troop, BSK carried “walking sandwiches” — peanut butter wrapped in cabbage leaves. Apparently these peanut buttery treats were the norm for BSK’s midwestern environ, but for HG, they sounded as exotic as the Zanzibar speciality Boku-Boku. Yes, many Italians love mixing Nutella with roasted peanuts on white bread and Elvis Presley mixed peanut butter with bacon and bananas but, for pure messy eccentricity, nothing beats the HG retro delight: The chow mein on a bun served at Nathan’s Famous on Coney Island.

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The Thrill Of Dill

July 17th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

As noted previously, excellent Nova Scotia smoked salmon (affectionately called “Novy” in New York), is available at HG’s favorite Prince Edward Island seafood vendor, By the Bay Fish Mart, in the town of St. Peter’s. Before setting out on a long sea walk, HG/BSK fortified themselves with a platter of scrambled eggs with onions and “Novy” (accompanied by toasted English muffins and coffee). BSK’s version of this dish is masterful. Eggs are scrambled with a bit of milk and a dash of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. Spring onions are fried in a just a drop of canola oil (butter is traditionally used but BSK is a confirmed enemy of cholesterol) in a non-stick pan. The heat is turned to low, the “Novy” is warmed. Then, BSK adds the eggs. Using a wooden spoon, BSK stirs the eggs with slow, gentle movements. The eggs form soft, delicate curds. Perfection. And, then comes a master stroke that is uniquely BSK. The dish is given a shower of freshly chopped dill. Wow. The dill enhances the salmon flavor and brings the right touch of color. Sure, dill and salmon are traditional partners (as in Gravlax). But, in years of consuming “Novy” (or lox) and eggs in New York “dairy” restaurants, HG never encountered dill. That is the distinctive BSK flourish, also evident in her unexpected, and rewarding, use of fresh rosemary, tarragon, oregano and basil in a host of unexpected and savory dishes.

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Updated Summer Tastes

July 17th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

There are tastes — namely the sour sting of sorrel and the sweet freshness of watermelon — that HG associates with the sunny days of
summer’s past. HG’s Mom used sorrel to make Schav, a mouth puckering Eastern European sorrel soup. This was a thin soup of sorrel leaves, served ice cold and accompanied by a hot boiled potato and sour cream. Very refreshing. BSK makes a different version of sorrel soup. Sorrel (cultivated by BSK in her Prince Edward Island herb garden) is cooked with lettuce, onions, butter and some egg yolks in chicken broth. When done, BSK purees the mixture with a hand blender. Sublime where HG’s mom’s soup was simply refreshing. Terence Conran, the multi-talented furniture and design merchant and prominent restaurateur, describes the soup as “very useful for lifting jaded appetites.” True…Athough HG’s appetite rarely needs leverage. On the sweltering sands of Rockaway Beach HG used to savor a thick slice of watermelon, the chilled juice running down HG’s chin — a wonderful, minimal pleasure. BSK, on the other hand, uses watermelon in an inventive summer salad. Chunks of watermelon are mixed with chopped tomatoes, scallions and parsley. Feta cheese is added to the mix and BSK gives it a hit of a secret ingredient — fig vinegar. Last night, BSK served demi-tasse cups of hot sorrel soup (the perfect amuse geule). The watermelon salad accompanied batter fried hake. A Perfect meal of updated summer pleasures.

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Lauhound.com

July 16th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

www.LauHound.com is one of HG’s and SJ’s favorite food blogs. While it is indispensable for lovers of Chinese and other Asian food, the reviews touch on a wide range of deliciousness (even introducing HG and SJ to the best Greek pastries in NYC). Lau’s restaurant reviews have unusual depth, analyzing anywhere from six to a dozen of a restaurant’s offerings. But, like any restaurant reviewer, Lau is not infallible. He recently called Hong Kong Cafe the best restaurant in Chinatown. Based on that praise, SJ (and famille) and HG’s Restaurateur Daughter Victoria dined there. Their unanimous verdict: Ungood; however SJ’s faith in Lau is unshaken — every restaurant can have an off night, and SJ will give Hong Kong Cafe a second chance. What makes reading Lauhound a delight is his straightforward prose, devoid of any hint of irony or humor — a sort of Friday (from Dragnet) of culinary delights — “Just the food ma’am.” He can be unconsciously funny. HG was beguiled and amused by his recent review of Main Street Imperial, a Taiwanese restaurant in the Flushing neighborhood of New York. In particular Lau discusses a dish of “Putz Fish” with seemingly no mention or understanding that “Putz” is the Yiddish word for penis (turns out the Taiwanese “Putz” is a berry or fruit — in Lau’s own words “The thing that I ended up liking the best about this dish was the putz; it reminded me of a sweet olive”). Irregardless of Lauhound’s lack of Yiddish skills, HG and SJ will continue to look forward to his posts and discovering wonderful food based on his acute observations.

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Rockaway Revels Now and Then

July 14th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

SJ, in his role as the head of Deadly Dragon Sound System (esteemed selectors of Jamaican music) entertained a crowd last week gathered at Caracas Arepa Bar located at Seaside Avenue (103rd Street) and the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk; it was once the home of Sligo Tavern and other raucous Irish entertainment venues. SJ reported that while many repairs are still needed, Rockaway was full of life and strongly recovering after the Hurricane Sandy devastation. Brought back memories of HG’s teenage days at that proletarian playground. At various times during the summer, HG’s boy and girl pals would have a night time beach party on the Rockaway sands. Communal blankets were brought to the beach. If a couple who were “going together” brought their own blanket it was a tip-off that they would wander away from the group for some serious intimacy. A bonfire was built and hot dogs and marshmallows were toasted in the flames. Much beer was drunk. In those days underage youngsters could easily purchase beer. One night, HG’s buddy, Larry M., brought a bottle of vodka. Mixed it with grapefruit juice, it proved potent. Larry M. had an interesting career. Unlike most of us, Larry did not go to college but pursued a profitable career as a marijuana dealer. After some years, he abandoned illegal activity and became a very wealthy shopping center developer and Democratic party fund raiser. An ironic note: His close friend, Willie, became a New York City policeman and was shot to death in a West Side hotel during a drug arrest.

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Oyster Bliss Revisited

July 13th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

Recently, HG posted a paean of praise dedicated to the South Lake oyster, one of Prince Edward Island’s tasty bivalves. A wonderful oyster; indeed, HG called it PEI’s best. Last night, HG/BSK had an experience that put that proposition in doubt. The duo’s generous neighbor, Chuck P., arrived at the door with a bag of a dozen oysters. They were from Johnny Flynn’s Colville Bay Oyster Co.. Although South Lake and Colville Bay are geographically close to each other (in the vicinity of the town of Souris), the oysters have recognizably distinctive tastes. Which is best? HG shucked the dozen Colville Bay plus six big oysters from South Lake. A bottle of chilled New Zealand Marlboro sauvignon blanc was opened and poured. Then, the judicious tasting experience began. Of course, both oyster varieties were delicious, better than anything HG/BSK had experienced in New York, New England, Paris, London and Vancouver. But, the winner of this very close contest was the Colville Bay oyster. Plump and full of brine and juice. A pure distillation of the sea. Is this variety PEI’s best ? HG will not leap to judgment. HG has not yet tasted the lauded Pickle Point or Rasberry Point varieties.

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No to Nostalgia

July 12th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

HG/BSK watched a World War Two propaganda movie (set in an improbable Poland) with perky Ida Lupino and stiff Paul Henreid. Excruciating. Terrible acting. Moronic plot. Next night watched Detective Story, the film adaptation of Sidney Kingsley’s Broadway hit play of the same name. When it was released the film was lauded for its realism. Hmmm…Kirk Douglas and Eleanor Parker are the stars and the deliver stagey, scenery-chewing performances. William Bendix, in a supporting role, is the only actor in the film who seems to have a grasp on naturalist performing. HG/BSK agreed: Today’s movie actors are infinitely better than yesterday’s. Yes, there were interesting personalities in the past (Cagney, Bogart, Gable, etc.) but few actors with the abilities of today’s stars. No one with the range of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and many others. Now, how does this relate to HG’s main focus, food? Well, HG may get nostalgic, and rightfully so, about long closed classic New York restaurants like Gage & Tollner, Luchow’s and Christ Cella; also, HG may get a bit wistful recalling the hearty blue collar eats of a New York that simply does not exist anymore. But, the reality is that today’s restaurant cooking is much better than that of the past. There is more emphasis on fresh, local ingredients and less use of butter, cream and heavy sauces. Greater use of a wide range of international ingredients. HG/BSK thought about this while enjoying imaginative dishes at 3 Petit Bouchons, a charming Montreal bistro. Grilled octopus with grilled potatoes. Cod with fiddlehead ferns and asparagus. Duck confit on Waldorf salad. Unusual sauces. A light touch. Dishes that would never have appeared on a menu 40 years ago. Also, because of changes in immigration patterns and disruptions in Asia and the Middle East, today’s restaurant diner (especially in New York) can taste extraordinary (and often very inexpensive) dishes from many parts of China as well as Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, India, etc. And, excellent Syrian, Lebanese, Turkish food abounds. The exposure to these diverse cuisines and the availability of the ingredients to prepare them has been one of the great boons to our restaurant culture — expanding palates and influencing chefs in the most positive way. To give you an idea of how insular cuisine was (even in New York) the big town in the 1950’s had only one Mexican restaurant — Xochitl. And, that was quite ordinary and Americanized.

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