HG/BSK’s dear friend Jackie Cain (one half of the marvelous jazz vocal and music duo of Jackie and Roy) has always looked beautiful and slightly ethereal but her tastes in food are robust. Cooked some powerful Polish and Czech specialties for her husband and musical partner, the late Roy Kral, and fortunate HG/BSK. While presenting a lush platter of long cooked spicy beef (or pork), puddles of spicy gravy and nicely absorbent dumplings, Jackie would say: “I just had a taste for it.” If it were a lush and savory noodle kugel (or the Polish equivalent of the dish), Jackie would introduce with the same words: “I just had a taste for it.” A few years ago, BSK enjoyed a hearty bowl of deeply spiced short ribs and soba noodles swimming in a fragrant broth. It was a temporary offering at Bones, the very good Asian fusion restaurant in Denver. Well, it seems that the dish had been haunting BSK. So, BSK did some intensive research (no recipe available at Bones) and found an approximation in the archives of Food & Wine Magazine. The dish, “Five-Spice Short Ribs With Udon Noodles,” is fairly labor intensive but BSK was up to the task. Chinese five-spice powder, garlic, thyme, red wine, chicken stock, ginger, celery, carrots, onions, daikon, mushrooms and konbu were involved. Meaty short ribs were browned and then simmered. Finally, the bowls of meat, noodles and vegetables were topped with poached eggs. Spectacular dish. Layers and layers of flavors. Exotic and earthy. HG expressed fervent gratitude. Said BSK: “I just had a taste for it.”
Calvin Trillin, the wonderful New Yorker (and The Nation) writer, is no fan of traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey-and-trimmings gluttony. He has lamented that English pilgrims rather than Italians landed in Plymouth. He wrote: “If it were Italians we would be having Spaghetti Carbonara instead of turkey.” Like Trillin, HG is a Carbonara fan (although HG has learned to embrace the turkey). BSK frowns upon the idea of having the dish too often since the rich mixture of pasta, eggs, bacon (or pancetta or best of all, guanciale – Italian pork jowl) is not number one on the cardiologists’ list of favorite foods. (Dish is also a challenge to a trim waistline). Nevertheless, it remains a special once-in-a-while treat. The trick in Carbonara is keeping things hot. Here’s how HG does it. Chopped pancetta is sizzled in a pan until browned. Eight ounces of Fettucine (HG prefers it to thinner shapes of pasta) are put up to boll. Six room temperature eggs are scrambled with lots of top quality grated parmesan, chopped parsley and plenty of ground black pepper. Moments before the pasta is at a perfect al dente, a bit of hot pasta water is added to the pancetta. Then, into the pan go the noodles followed by the beaten eggs. With the heat on high, everything is mixed quickly with some more pasta water to thin the sauce. Served in heated plates. Robust red wine, of course, and it’s nice to have Pavarotti roaring away on the Bose.
When BSK’s late, worldly, maternal grandmother received the grim news that BSK was going to marry HG, a Jew, she commented: “Well, there are three good things about Jews. They never hit their wives. They’re good with money. And, they don’t drink.” After many years of marriage (51 in upcoming July), HG often reminds BSK: “Hey, two out of three isn’t a bad batting average.” That’s because HG does drink. A lot. That means one (sometimes two) cocktails before dinner (tequila, vodka, rum are the basics with additions of lemon juice and either Aperol, Angostura Bitters or Campari). White wine with a few caper berries or Kalamata olives as an appetizer. Abundant red wine with dinner (or beer if the dishes are Mexican or Indian). After dinner TV watching companion is a brandy snifter of Bushmill’s Irish Honey Whiskey. Of course, this liquid regimen is frowned upon by the health police. But, in HG’s defense, this is preceded by New Mexico sunshine and pure air plus 15 minutes on HG’s stretching machine and one hour of swimming in the lap pool. There is also the loving and caring presence of BSK. And, that is a priceless deposit in HG’s bank of good health.
HG has never had really good risotto in a restaurant. It figures. Risotto requires patience. Steaming chicken (or beef) broth has to be added to rice spoonful by spoonful. The liquid has to be absorbed before any additional liquid is added. HG, a risotto master, takes at least 20 minutes to a half hour to produce a pot of risotto that combines slightly al dente rice gilded by creamy starch and delicious fats. Can’t be pre-cooked. Can’t be reheated. HG/BSK eat it the moment the pot is removed from the range. Anyway, here’s a step by step recipe for the lush spinach risotto HG/BSK ate last night: First, start with Italian Carnaroli rice a.k.a. The King Of RIces (okay, in a pinch you can use Arborio). Best Carnaroli brand is Riso Bello. The process starts with gently cooking chopped onion in butter and olive oil. When the onion has softened, stir in a cup of rice. Stir for a few minutes over low heat allowing the fats to coat each grain. Add a half cup of white wine and turn up the heat until the wine is absorbed by the rice. Meanwhile heat chicken stock (Trader Joe’s Free Range is the best). Add the heated stock ladle by ladle. Don’t hurry. Add only when previous ladleful is absorbed. Meanwhile saute baby spinach leaves in oil and a bit of garlic until the spinach is just wilted. About three or four minutes before the rice is done, add the spinach to the pot and stir. (At this juncture, if HG has a chunk of left over Parmesan in the refrigerator, HG cuts it into slices and tosses it into the pot). Two minutes before serving, HG tosses some grated Parmesan into the pot with a big chunk of butter. It all gets a final stir before being placed on the table and spooned into heated bowls. Additional Grated Parmesan to taste, freshly ground pepper, Maldon Smoked Sea Salt Flakes, a crisp, tossed salad and abundant hearty red wine. That’s the meal, folks, HG/BSK’s definition of home comfort. Not to be found in a restaurant.
Mark Bittman has a nice opinion piece in the New York Times about the perennial Holy Trio (pardon the sacrilege) of Jewish comfort food: Lox, Bagels, Cream Cheese. HG is a bit of a contrarian and curmudgeon on this subject. HG loathes bagels. HG shares this dislike with his late parents, both Jewish immigrants from Belorussia. Every Sunday morning throughout HG’s childhood, HG and his father would stroll to West Kingsbridge Road in The Bronx. They would separate. Father went to the “appetizing” store for Nova salmon, sable, sour pickles, black olives, cole slaw and potato salad. HG went to the bakery for bialys, onion rolls (pletzels) and sliced Jewish rye bread. (Mom had gone to Daitch Dairy the day before for cream cheese and baked farmer cheese). HG picked up the Sunday Times, Sunday News and the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward. Home for the feast at a table with a steaming pot of coffee, a pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice and a bottle of Hennessy Brandy. A morning of down home Jewish culinary delight. And, not a bagel in sight.
No, HG is not shedding tears for the billionaire, but it appears to HG that Donald Sterling is a victim (as well as a villain). In a private conversation with his girlfriend, Sterling said he didn’t want her to associate with African-Americans, be photographed with them or bring them to basketball games. Not nice. But, hell, as the saying goes: “It’s a free country.” If everyone is penalized for politically incorrect, sexist, salacious, etc. things they have said in private conversation we would be in a terrible fix. Obviously, given the racial composition of the NBA and the importance of basketball in African-American culture, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had to act swiftly and punish Sterling to the fullest extent possible. HG’s moral exemplar, HG’s late father, Hershele Zvi Freimann, hated these humans: Nazis, communists, informers, strikebreakers and scabs….and landlords. His comment on Sterling, who made his money as a landlord, would be: “Nu? What can you expect from a landlord?”