Eight dollars for an egg cream. You read it right. That’s what that old timey New York candy store beverage costs at Russ & Daughters Cafe, recently opened on Orchard Street in New York’s Lower East Side. Scrambled eggs and caviar: $180. A helping of Transmontanus caviar: $175. Don’t know what a plate of kasha varnishkes costs or the price of bagel-Nova salmon-cream cheese. Presume they are lofty numbers. Since the smoked fish and caviar comes from the venerable Russ & Daughters “appetizing” store around the corner on Houston Street, HG presumes it’s all mighty tasty. But, those prices!! These are noshes meant for Russian oligarchs. The Russ & Daughters store has been a longtime favorite of HG/BSK and family. The store has been around for 100 years and has a devoted, fiercely loyal customer base. SJ is often first on line waiting for the store to open during Christmas season. SJ spends about $200 and gets enough culinary marvels for HG/BSK, the Riva family and SJ’s family to enjoy their gala Jewish/Russian/New York version of the traditional Italian Christmas Eve “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” When HG/BSK lived on Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village, HG was at R & D every Sunday morning. HG often encountered Calvin Trillin, the New Yorker and The Nation writer. Among many attainments, Trillin was the poet laureate of Russ & Daughters. HG’s pal, Peter Hellman, the distinguished journalist and wine authority, performed a similar function for Zabar’s, the megalopolis of smoked fish and much else, located on the Upper West Side. HG will continue to order R & D treats online. Unless there are some price adjustments, HG will stick to take-out and forgo the Cafe.
A good cookbook usually has many pages stained by spices and sauces. That’s because it is a book that is used, not a coffee table ornament. Michael Field’s Cooking School (published in 1965) was one of the first cookbooks acquired by HG/BSK and the duo has consulted it numerous times for better than 40 years. Michael Field’s recipes are foolproof. In the introduction to the book, Field makes it clear: “I cannot emphasize enough the need to follow these recipes precisely, especially the first few times you make them. Departures are all good and well providing you know exactly what it is you are departing from.” Last night, HG/BSK had two Colorado pals for dinner. BSK prepared a Field classic: Broiled Leg Of Lamb With Avgolemono Sauce. The leg is butterflied and marinated before broiling. The sauce is Greek in origin, lemony and invigorating, excellent over the lamb and even better over the steamed asparagus BSK served. The sauce is composed of egg yolks, lemon juice and chicken broth (plus a bit of arrowroot, cayenne and salt). Add more chicken broth and you’ve got a delicious soup (HG often had many bowls at the Pantheon Restaurant on Eighth Avenue in New York). Add rice, poached chicken and chopped parsley and you’ve a got a sumptuous dinner (precede it with a mezze of feta cheese, Kalamata olives and giant lima beans). Instead of chicken in the soup, try poached cod or other firm fleshed fish. Don’t see Avgolemono on many menus these days. A pity. As for Michael Field, he and his cookbooks seem to be forgotten. That’s a shame.
Hey, HG isn’t complaining.. HG has a wonderful life (with beloved BSK) in New Mexico and Prince Edward Island. Kids and their spouses (spice?) and the grandkids are an ongoing delight. But, HG’s thoughts occasionally turn to money as HG (with chagrin) notes various news items pertaining to the world oligarchy and the growing income disparity in the United States. Different attitudes toward money could be summed up in an incident that took place some 35 years ago. HG and zillionaire Alan G. were strolling in the Wall Street area of New York. HG had been spinning magical PR webs for the very rich guy who was engaged in a battle with the American Stock Exchange. The two guys watched an adroit African-American young man (and his shill) manipulating a lunchtime crowd with a three-card-monte game. Said HG: “What a shame. These are two bright, sharp young men. It’s a pity that legitimate business options haven’t been opened for these guys.” Said Alan G.: “Those weren’t my thoughts at all. I was trying to figure their hourly take from the hustle given the fact they would have to pay off some legitimate winners to keep the crowd interested. And, I was making a conjecture about an annual profit figuring in fines for illegitimate gambling plus payoffs to amenable cops. So, there’s a big difference in the way our minds work. You’re a talented guy, HG, and you’ll do okay. But, you’ll never get very rich.” And, that sums it up.
BSK is a very proficient cook of certain types of Asian food, especially the fine art of stir-frying. The secret, says BSK, is speed and organization. Stir frying is a high heat proposition. Everything must be ready with all elements of a dish ready-to-go in separate bowls to be added to the wok in proper order. As sous-chef, HG does much preparation. Kung Pao chicken is a wonderfully spicy, flavorful dish. When served in a restaurant, Kung Pao is usually a mockery of Chinese cooking: Too sweet, sauce thick and gloppy and sometimes dyed a ferocious shade of red. BSK’s version avoids each and every one of those pitfalls — she uses only very modest amounts of sugar and corn starch and of course, no food dye. First, BSK cuts Chicken breasts into small pieces and marinates them in soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, corn starch and Szechuan peppercorns. Then BSK slices scallions, garlic, ginger and dried red chiles. When all the elements are in place, BSK works her magic with the sizzling wok, crowning the dish in its final moments with a sprinkling of roasted peanuts. A BSK masterpiece: food with crunch, spice, heat and flavor.
Revueltos is a scrambled egg dish that is a staple in Spanish homes, restaurants and tapas bars. Easy to prepare. A delight to eat. Pure comfort. Here’s the way HG/BSK made it for a late supper last night. Cut a few slices of rustic bread into cubes and browned them in sizzling olive oil flavored with a crushed clove of garlic. When done, removed the bread cubes and let cool on some paper towels. Then, more oil was added to the pan in which an ample amount of thinly sliced potatoes were fried. Meanwhile, in another pan (a smaller one) chopped onions and garlic were sauteed until soft and slightly caramelized at which point a handful of fresh herbs was added. Six eggs were beaten with salt, pepper and pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika). Combined the herbaceous onion/garlic mix with the fried potatoes. Poured the eggs over everything and cooked until just done but still soft. Topped it all with the bread cubes, reserved chopped herbs and a swirl of olive oil. A bottle of red Malbec and a green salad completed the meal. Spaniards like to omit the potatoes and make the dish with wild asparagus (domestic American asparagus works splendidly). Experiment. Make the dish with a variety of vegetables and sausages. (HG likes to add slivers of fried Chorizo or smoked Andouille). HG had this dish with lamb brains in a Barcelona bar. Mighty good but not for the squeamish or offal haters.
Saravana Bhavan is a remarkably successful chain of Indian vegetarian restaurants (33 in India and 47 in other countries) and is probably the only restaurant chain founded, owned and run by a convicted murderer. This unusual man is 66-year-old P. Rajagopal. He was convicted of murder, served one year in prison and then, inexplicably, was released. (The murder was a traditional case of older guy obsessed with a younger woman). When HG/BSK lived in Vancouver, HG became very fond of Indian vegetarian food. So, when Saravana Bhavan opened a branch in that city HG was an eager customer. Sad. The food was second rate. Vancouverites are very knowing about food so it was not surprising when the restaurant soon closed. A chastened HG returned to Chutney Villa in the city’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood for his twice-a-week dose of dosa (thin, fried rice crepes); vada (lentil donuts) and idli (steamed riced cakes). These good things were dipped into sambar (spicy lentil soup) and a vegetable curry. This was accompanied by a variety of house made chutneys and cups of steaming chai. A very comforting lunch/brunch in scenic but rainy Vancouver. Chutney Villa is run by an attractive and welcoming woman. HG always received a warm hug upon his arrival. This is a lady who has never been convicted of anything but kindness.
Some time ago HG advised HG’s faithful followers that the only way to cook steak is the smoky, satisfying cast-iron-on-a-stovetop method. This involves heating a cast iron pan to the ultimate, sprinkling it with kosher salt and adding a well dried New York strip (or rib) steak and giving it a robust, crusty sear on both sides before turning down the heat. Well, in the New York Times Dining section today, Julia Moskin reiterates this advice (and illustrates it with a nice video). Moskin advises that after it is seared, the steak should be turned every 30 seconds. Crushed pepper should be added, she says, just before the steak nears readiness as pepper burns easily. Some HG counsel: If you like rare steak (anything else is a waste of good meat), take it off the heat while it is still very red in the interior. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing to let the meat’s juices re-circulate. During the “resting period,” it will continue cooking to the right saignant (as the French put it) point. The eccentric French (lovers of Jerry Lewis) like their steak “bleu”, not “saignant.” “Bleu” is raw beef with a modest sear. Enhance your steak with a pat of butter or top it the Tuscan way with a splash of fruity olive oil and crushed garlic. Pass that bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon down here, please.
Okay. For those unacquainted with yiddish, the rebbitsen is the rabbi’s wife. Convinced that women were smarter than men, HG’s Mom often said: “Listen to the rebbitsen.” The presumption was that rabbis were lost in a haze of spiritual, legalistic and other “of the Book” concerns. Rebbitsens, on the other hand, were sound on earthly matters. A recent New York Times obituary of Omaha Rabbi Myer Kripke (died age 100) brought this to mind. Midwest synagogues did not lavish money on their spiritual leaders but Kripke, through inheritance and frugality, managed to accumulate about $65,000 in the early 1960s. Rabbi Kripke and his wife Dorothy, an author of religious books for children, became friends with another Omaha couple, Mr. and Mrs. Warren Buffet. Buffet was achieving a local reputation as an astute money manager. Dorothy Kripke suggested that they turn over their money to Buffet to manage. Kripke demurred. Buffet was only accepting investors who put up $150,000-$250,000. Dorothy (a traditional noodge) kept insisting that Kripke approach Buffet. It took three years but Kripke finally gave in. Buffet, who liked Kripke, made an exception and accepted the money. By the early 90’s that modest sum grew to $25,000,000. Didn’t change the Kripkes. They continued to live modestly and used their wealth for a variety of philanthropic causes. They were guests at the Buffets’ annual Thanksgiving dinners. Knowing their kosher dietary strictures, Mrs Buffet hired an eminent caterer to prepare tuna salads for the the Kripkes.
Brasserie Balzar on the Rue des Ecoles in Paris was (before its takeover by the Flo Group) HG/BSK’s favorite dining spot. Just a sprinkling of tourists. It had a true Parisian ambience. It was patronized by Left Bank publishers, writers, arts and antiques dealers plus many academics from the nearby Sorbonne. Many pretty women. Chic without pretension. The decor and lighting were slightly deco and infinitely comfortable. The waiters were wonderful. True professionals. No servility and no arrogance, collaborators with the diners in creating a delicious experience. The food? Classic, plain spoken French. Roast chicken. Broiled liver. Oysters. Mussels. Skate wing in black butter with capers (HG’s favorite). Choucroute garnie. Tarte tatin with gobs of creme fraiche. Sadly, Balzar is now just a shadow of itself, another soulless Flo brasserie like Coupole, Vaudeville, etc. You can read about efforts to save the old Balzar in Adam Gopnik’s book, Paris to the Moon. In HG’s opinion, this is the best book ever written about Paris and contains many brilliant perceptions about French culture, food, manners, etc. Gopnik has also written a very rewarding book about New York, Through the Children’s Gate–A Home in New York. It’s a wry and knowing view of New York (plus many insights into the rewards and trials of parenting). There’s also a comic masterpiece in the book, a chapter titled, Man Goes To See A Doctor. Its portrait of Gopnik’s psychoanalyst is indelible. Gopnik is a fount of wit and erudition. But, he’s not perfect. Born in Montreal, Gopnik prefers that city’s sweet, honey flavored (feh!!) bagels to New York’s robust bagels, the traditional companions of cream cheese and Nova.
Ominous story in this week’s Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper. Menudo, the Mexican tripe stew adored by HG, does not have a bright future in New Mexico. The story is entitled: The Future of Menudo. Can This Beloved Hangover Cure, Known for its Potent Aroma, Find Popularity Among Younger Generations?. It points out that menudo is a dish favored by an older generation (of which HG is a member) that is only getting older…and disappearing. Santa Fe restaurateurs say that menudo is being kept alive by one group: Mexican-born citizens. As they become more and more Americanized will they lose their taste for menudo? That’s one of the big questions. Young folks in New Mexico of all colors and ethnicity enjoy the New Mexico traditionals: Tacos, enchiladas, flautas, carnitas, quesadillas, etc. But, they will not eat menudo. There’s only one place in New Mexico where menudo sales are increasing: The historic town of La Mesilla near Las Cruces in southern New Mexico. Andele Restaurant, a long time favorite there, sells over 30 gallons of menudo every week. They make their menudo with pig’s feet as well as beef tripe. Proprietor Andrea Schneider says: “We do a serve-yourself, all-you-can-eat special. People can pick what they want–more hominy, more broth, more tripe, more pig’s feet–and build their own bowl.” Schneider says it’s enjoyed by all generations–college students, older people, folks dining after church. HG thinks the secret is pig’s feet. HG would love to try the Andele menudo but, unfortunately, La Mesilla is 340 miles south of HG/BSK’s home. So, HG will have to make do (happily) with the fragrant and robust green chile menudo at El Parasol, the red chile menudo at Sopaipilla Factory and the even more rustic and robust menudo HG takes home from the prepared foods counter at Pojoaque Super Market. All three locations are minutes from the HG/BSK home. Joy for HG’s immediate future.