SJ, EM, Handsome Haru and Teru, Princess of Cuteness (and artistic creativity), are back safely in Brooklyn after their happy New Mexico visit. SJ and EM regaled HG/BSK with culinary delights but in their absence, BSK is performing the usual wonders in the kitchen. Dinner last night was an example. BSK made HG’s favorite comfort dish: Stracciatella with baby spinach and orzo. This is Italian with a BSK twist. HG first tasted stracciatella at The Italian Pavilion restaurant (long closed) on Manhattan’s posh Upper East Side. The dish was simple. Beaten eggs stirred into hot chicken broth . The trick was to add the eggs slowly so “strings” of egg formed in the broth. The Italian Pavillion served it with parmesan toast. The waiter adorned the dish with grated parmesan and black pepper flakes from a big grinder. Quite lush. BSK adds a variation: Baby spinach, orzo and lots of parmesan are stirred into the broth and egg mix. This gives the soup a filling heartiness equal to a main dish. Thus, HG/BSK had small bowls as starters (the remainder will be tomorrow’s lunch). Main dish was BSK’s version of chicken schnitzel (as served at Santa Fe’s Compound Restaurant). BSK flattened chicken thighs into thin paillards (BSK is skilled in the use of a rubber mallet). Dipped the chicken in beaten egg and then panko crumbs. Fried them in sizzling canola oil. Made a wonderful sauce of virgin olive oil, butter, white wine, lemon juice, dijon mustard and capers. Poured it over the crisp (not greasy) chicken. Sublime.
The diminutive stick of culinary dynamic, HG”s daughter-in-law Exquisite Maiko, is HG’s favorite chef (as noted, her hubby, SJ, is also a dab hand in the kitchen). EM has been delighting fans of her creative Japanese cooking at Brooklyn Smorgasburg, a recent pop up in Manhattan and other venues. But, it is at home that EM’s artistry shines. So, last night EM took over the Viking range in HG/BSK’s New Mexico kitchen and produced a succulent fish dinner. EM started by crisping garlic slices and seaweed in olive oil. Removed them to a paper towel. EM sautéed Petrale Sole in the flavored oil. When lightly browned, EM turned the heat to low and let the fish steam for a few minutes in sake and a dash of soy sauce. Put the fish on a warmed platter. Moistened the filets with the the sake-soy-oil in the pan. Dotted the dish with the crisp garlic slices and seaweed adornments. Accompanied it with highly sautéed and steamed bok choy, spinach and oyster mushrooms. It was a fish dinner whose taste will long linger in HG’s memory.
It’s a delight hanging out with SJ and family. Among the pleasures are the magical dinners turned out by Exquisite Maiko and SJ. Yes, EM is a renowned chef (a star of Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg among other venues). But, SJ also has a mighty arsenal of culinary skills. SJ’s barbecue is splendid. SJ’s pasta dishes are exemplary. HG maintains SJ’s chicken gumbo is his parade dish. Much better than any gumbo served in New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah and other gumbo-centric locales. The basis of a good gumbo is the roux (the slow cooked mix of flour and oil). Burnt or too dark roux makes the gumbo bitter or inedible. SJ is patient and painstaking. His roux is the result of almost 30 minutes of constant stirring until it reaches a lush mahogany color. That’s the base. The other elements are the New Orleans “Holy Trinity”: Chopped celery, green peppers and onions/garlic. Chicken, of course. Stock. Carrots. Okra. Lots of spices. File powder (thickens the gumbo). Slices of Polish kielbasa sausage. Rice. HG has never observed the cooking process closely. SJ may have some secrets. In any case, SJ Chicken Gumbo was dinner last night. Succulent. Spicy. Full of complex and tantalizing flavors. Very filling. HG could only manage one and a half bowls. (Well, they were pretty big bowls).
HG is very fond of fried fish. During the summer, HG is a devotee of fish (haddock or cod) at Rick’s Fish and Chips in the town of St. Peter’s (five minute drive from HG/BSK’s Prince Edward Island oceanfront home). When resident in New Mexico, HG relies upon Whole Foods for Petrale Sole from the Pacific. This firm fleshed fish is usually available at WF end of the week (HG calls in and order in advance). Dipped in beaten egg and rolled in fish fry seasoning. Then sizzled in hot canola oil. A treat with plenty of lemon juice and a dash of Tabasco. When HG was a journalist more than 60 years ago, a night of heavy boozing climaxed at an after hours coffee shop. Illegally, the shop served vodka and whiskey in coffee cups (to befuddle any lurking authorities). Accompaniment was chunks of cold fried fish covered with grated garlic and hot red pepper. Nice taste treat before retiring to the Russian baths on Second Avenue for steamy therapy. When HG was a college student at City College, he often haunted the streets of Harlem searching out delicious fried catfish sandwiches served on white bread with lemon, Tabasco and tartar sauce. Best fried fish ever were those served (once a summer) at the community hall (also a church and a music venue) in the Ocean Ridge neighborhood of Fire Island, NY. The late “Hobby” Miller was the cook and host. Fish were caught by Hobby and pals hours before in the Atlantic Ocean (Fire Island is a slim barrier beach with the Atlantic to the East and Great South Bay to the West). Hobby dusted the filets with salt and peppered flour and sizzled them in hot lard. Final touch was a splash of vinegar enhanced by hot peppers (a Louisiana condiment). Ice cold beer. Jolly eating. Ah, those balmy Fire Island summers.
Happy times full of love and food. SJ, Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru and Teru, small Queen of Cuteness are in New Mexico for a Passover/Easter visit with HG/BSK. Gorgeous Zena B. flew in for a too brief visit. Non-stop feasting. BSK’s special chile. Pork and green chile stew. Sopapillas. Green chile cheeseburgers (for Haru). Great spread of barbecue from Rudy’s Country BBQ (in Albuquerque). Abondanza, indeed. The traditional Passover Seder was ecumenical and diverse. It was decidedly feminist. Unlike traditional Seders which are dominated by male supremacy — oldest male conducts the ceremonies, youngest male asks “the four questions”, etc. This time BSK was in charge of the ceremonies and they went smoothly and joyously. Yes, Haru asked the four questions since very feminine Teru is still too young to read. Food was splendid. BSK made an unconventional salad of golden beets and mache. Main dish was a beautifully rare boneless leg of lamb accompanied by a potato and cauliflower gratin. SJ was in charge of the starter. Chicken soup with matzo balls. SJ’s matzo balls were sublime. Light, fluffy and full of flavor (SJ added chopped parsley to the matzo meal mix). HG would have been content to consume a dozen matzo balls and call it a meal. (that’s how good they were). Much wine, of course, and for dessert: Japanese cookies called Cigares (thoughtfully provided by EM). Passover kashruth (kosherness) was not observed but the Seder was a rousing tribute to Jewish survival even though HG was the only 100% Jew present. In any case, the diverse group voiced urgent wishes that we will soon be rid of a new Pharaoh.
The Santa Fe grocers are quirky. Products appear and disappear. Staples change location as the grocers are always remodeling. HG was delighted when Trader Joe’s began displaying excellent canned Indian food (paneer and spinach was a big winner as was dal). Suddenly disappeared. When HG inquired, the manager replied that they were so popular that customers stocked up with dozens of cans. Had no idea if those good things would ever reappear. TJ’s bone-in, Frenched pork chops appeared on HG /BSK’s dinner plates frequently. Gone from TJ’s meat section. Whole Foods could always be relied upon for preserved lemons, an essential in BSK’s Moroccan tagines. No more. Gone. Fresh herbs (except for cilantro) can no longer be found at Pojoaque Super Market. Fortunately, it seems as one product disappears, a new delicious treat will take its place (for a time!).
Der Trumperer’s draconian immigration policy may put a damper on American diversity. However, diversity of all kinds– human, animal, horticultural –reigns in New Mexico. Coming home last night, HG/BSK were delighted to meet a regal owl perched on an entry post. After surveying HG/BSK for some minutes, the bird spread large wings and flew away. In the morning, HG/BSK found signs of animal diversity in the droppings of bobcats, raccoons, coyotes and gophers. During the day, birds fill the sky and humming birds buzz around BSK’s hanging jars of sugar water. Trees on HG/BSK’s property are turning green and daffodils and tulips are flourishing. Soon there will be peonies, iris, roses and wisteria. Joyous colors and scents. And, of course there is the wonderful diversity of HG/BSK’s neighbors: Hispanic, Native American and Anglo. The Anglos come from many different countries–Russia, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, etc.. Yes, our neighborhood is diverse; but, it takes second place to Vancouver, B.C., where HG/BSK had a part time home for many years. While walking in Stanley Park, HG/BSK would hear almost twenty Asian, African and European languages.
HG/BSK chose El Paragua, in nearby Espanola, as the farewell dinner site for visiting daughter Lesley R.. HG dines at least once a week at El Parasol Restaurant, the wondrous casual restaurant in Pojoaque. Down home cooking. Delicious. It is run by Jose and Alicia Atencio, warm and gracious hosts. Jose Atencio also owns and runs El Paragua. Another El Parasol is adjacent to the restaurant and there are other El Parasols throughout New Mexico and franchised to the Atencio family members. El Paragua is a bit upscale (but very affordable). Excellent steaks and seafood in addition to the staples of New Mexico cuisine: Enchiladas, tacos, tamales chimichangas, menudo, etc.. There are also wonderful cocktails and an extensive and modestly priced wine list. El Paragua is housed in a cluster of old buildings that once housed the Atencio family and their plumbing business. It is very evocative of New Mexico’s rich past. Gentle lighting and friendly and efficient service add to the dining experience. HG/BSK drank a pleasant Dubeouf Beaujolais-Villages (2014) priced at $21. Lesley R. opted for Tecate Beer served with a slice of lime in an icy glass. Big, robust, yummy meal. Carne adovado burrito smothered in green chile and cheese, menudo for HG, guacamole. Big sirloin steak for HG/BSK (smothered in cheese and green chile plus roasted green onions and chimichurri). Sides of charro beans, warm tortillas and sopapillas. Flan and natillas for dessert. A WOW of an experience!
HG is a pasta lover and has happy memories of a number of pasta dishes consumed, with gusto, in a variety of locales. In Venice: Linguine a la Vongole (clam sauce); Linguine con Seppie (juicy cuttlefish with their own ink). Bologna: Spaghetti Bolognese (meat and tomato ragu). Bergamo: Pasta with shavings of white truffle. Belleville,N.J.: Cavatelli in a sauce of ricotta and tomatoes. Served at Belmont Tavern as a prelude to Stretch’s Chicken. North Arlington, N.J.: Fettuccine Alfredo prepared table side by the maitre d’ in a spacious (name forgotten) restaurant. And, of course, BSK’s pasta with pesto. BSK’s splendid carbonara and matchless Spaghetti a la Norma (eggplant). Linguine with Prince Edward Island mussels and clams. BSK has delighted HG with these wondrous dishes during their 54 years of co-habitation in New York, Montclair,N.J.; Golden and Denver, Colorado; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Vancouver, B.C; Fire Island; Nantucket and Prince Edward Island. Recently, HG has discovered a new pasta favorite at Santa Fe’s Saigon Cafe, home of splendid Vietnamese pho. At the suggestion of waitperson, Hua, HG switched from pho to Chow Fun. Broad noodles, cooked al dente, are stir fried in soybean oil with sliced onions, scallions, bean sprouts and steamed tofu. It is served with a plate of garnishes: Mint, flat leaf parsley, cilantro and jalapeno peppers. This is health conscious eating at its best.
Pork rinds are crisp, crunchy chips of pork skin that have been fried in lard. Sound unhealthy? HG (like George H.W. Bush) loves them, but eats them in moderation. There is a growing trend of dieters hoping to lose weight on high protein, low carb diets and they are eating pork rinds in abundance. That’s because pork rinds have no carbohydrates (but lots of cholesterol, sodium and fat!). Doctors are beginning to issue warnings as pork rind sales have soared over the past few years. The porky tidbits are called “chicharrones” or “cuchifritos” in Spanish. They are an omnipresent accompaniment to many Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian and Mexican dishes. HG’s favorite meal, when activist BSK is not cooking but busy saving the blessed New Mexico environment: HG gets a package of Bueno pork green chile stew out of the freezer. Adds an eight ounce take out container of green chile menudo from nearby El Parasol Restaurant. When piping hot, HG tops a big bowl with chopped onion, slices of avocado and squeezes of lemon juice. Eats this with chicharrones made by local women and sold at Pojoaque Super Market. Drinks shots of 100% Agave Tequila chased with icy Samuel Adams Ale. Jolly solitary feast.