The Great Improvers

July 4th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

At the urging (very vigorous urging) of BSK, obedient HG has given up vodka as a pre-dinner cocktail. A sobering move. Instead, creative HG fills a wine glass with ice. In goes some cheap, indifferent white wine plus some Campari and generous squeezes of lime. A refreshing, lightly alcoholic drink. Perfect for summer. While sipping, HG thought how Campari is one of the Great Improvers — it enlivens sparkling water, tonic water and, when living dangerously, it can make even the most pedestrian vodka sing; an even better pairing is vodka, Campari, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth and lots of ice. Strained into a chilled martini glass — delicious. Other members of the Great Improvers Club are Sriracha, Parmesan cheese and sour cream (or Greek yogurt). Few things are not made better by a judicious squirt of tongue tingling sriracha. It first made its appearance on the tables of Vietnamese restaurants in the United States. Now,it can be found in every supermarket and in every professional kichen — a Sriracha flavored Dorito chip cannot be far behind. Parmesan is the savior of indifferent Italian cooking (and salad making). Sour cream and/or thick Greek yogurt rescues many Jewish/Russian/Eastern European dishes. Borscht, schav (chilled sorrel soup) and pelmeny (Siberian ravioli) should always be served with abundant dollops of sour cream. Karnezelach (beef-onion-garlic-parsley burgers formed into fat cigar shapes and pan broiled) are attractive with Greek yogurt enhanced by garlic, olive oil and some sliced radish. Latkes (potato pancakes) become poetic with good sour cream. As for blintzes, pierogi, etc. All are simply excuses to eat lots of sour cream.

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The Triumph of BSK Vegetables

March 11th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

“Eat your vegetables!!” “Finish your brocoli — or no dessert!!” “Eat them — they’re good for you!!” Yes, as children, we were all subject to threats, pleadings and promises regarding vegetables. And, naturally, this has led to resistance. What didn’t come across was the fact that vegetables, if treated properly, are very tasty and worthy companions to good red wine. Witness the roasted vegetable platter prepared this week by life companion BSK. Neither a doctrinaire vegetarian nor a rigid health nut, BSK nonetheless glories in vegetables and treats them imaginatively and with dignity. For the vegetable dinner, BSK filled a baking pan with cauliflower florets, slices of red pepper, radishes,fennel slices, chick peas, chunks of turnip and carrot, Brussel sprouts. This colorful melange got a nice dousing of garlic infused olive oil plus a sprinkling of ground pepper, kosher salt and Goya Adobo. For crunch, BSK topped the vegetables with some finely chopped pancetta (a bow to HG’s infatuation with Italian piggy products). Into a 375 degree oven. Roasted into levels of crisp and unctuous. BSK also cooked some quinoa with onions and mushrooms in chicken stock. This was the centerpiece of the vegetable extravaganza. A companion was a very big bowl of Greek yogurt enriched with oil, garlic, Tsatziki spices, some preserved lemon and piquant Spanish smoked paprika. Adding a Middle Eastern touch was a small dish of harissa. Delicious. Some worthy folks like George Bernard Shaw and I.B. Singer were dedicated vegetarians. HG doubts they ever tasted anything as good as BSK’s creation even with the pancetta and chicken broth eliminated.

Fage: The Authentic Greek Yogurt

February 28th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Some years ago, HG was lunching at a restaurant in Chicago’s Greektown. Grilled octopus. A tasty slab of sauteed pickerel with garlicky greens, okra and orzo (the Greek version of Jewish farvel, a small pasta shape also called “egg barley.”). Retsina wine (admittedly, an acquired taste). For dessert, my companions (all of Greek origin) ordered yogurt for dessert. Didn’t sound promising. Sounded like a bad health food restaurant option. It proved to be a revelation. Thick, really thick yogurt, topped with walnuts and fragrant honey. Delicious. Remains one of HG’s favorite desserts. Greek yogurt was hard to find then. HG managed to source some at a Greek delicatessen in Vancouver where it was scooped out of a big tub. Now it has become omnipresent. Even Dannon has a version. But, as far as HG is concerned, only the Fage brand has authentic Greek texture and taste.

In Trader Joe’s spice department you can find a nice melange of spices labeled “Tsatziki Mix.” Add it to plain Fage yogurt. Make some Keftas (Middle Eastern lamb burgers utilizing garlic, cumin, mint and grated onion). Tuck a Kefta into a warmed pita with a dollop of Tsatziki-spiced yogurt and a few slices of raw onion and tomato plus a squirt of Sriracha for heat. The burger from heaven.

Tiny Taters

August 19th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

All over Prince Edward Island vendors are selling a Spud Isle specialty — tiny, new potatoes. These potatoes (the largest are the size of a golf ball) have a unique, slightly mineral taste, the product of PEI’s red earth and salt air. They are great tossed with parsley, olive oil, sea salt and ground pepper. Equally good with melted butter. HG likes to smother them in a mixture of chopped dill, garlic, olive oil and Greek yogurt. Unadorned, the little spuds are a nice companion to any cold soup (like the beet borscht and sorrel soup HG’s Mom used to make). When BSK makes roast or grilled chicken she usually usually roasts a big pan of the wee taters with an abundance of herbs, olive oil and garlic. Crisp and intensely flavorful. The potatoes should not be overcooked. They should remain slightly al dente. Only potato to match the PEI product are the little ones La Famiglia would consume on Nantucket Island many years ago. These were a favorite of young gourmand SJ. There must be something about potatoes grown on a salt sea island.

Sweet, Greek Goodie

February 6th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

A simple great dessert is Greek yogurt (preferably, the Fage brand) doused with some good honey and sprinkled with an abundance of walnuts. Presume this was enjoyed by Socrates, Aristotle, Melina Mercouri and other splendid Greeks. HG first had the dessert in Chicago’s Greektown after a lunch of grilled, tender octopus and a big platter of greens and okra braised in garlic and pungent Greek olive oil. Washed it down with retsina (an acquired taste), of course. HG’s counsel: Follow it up with Metaxa and throw some plates around. Zorba had it right.

Melina Mercouri

Observing BSK.

September 17th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

BSK looks good. HG has been observing the woman for 48 years and she still has the body of a much, much younger woman. Her energy level is extraordinary. BSK can push, pull, lift, swim, kayak, etc., etc. at a high level. She is flexible and supple.

What are the secrets? First of all, be lucky in your choice of gene pools. BSK is the daughter of athletes. Then, there’s movement. BSK is rarely still for long. Stretching, walking, and various Yoga poses are part of her daily routine.

Food? BSK loves food and wine. But, unlike HG, BSK is rarely immoderate. BSK adores fruit and vegetables. BSK’s most frequent lunch is carrots, radish, celery, turnips, raw broccoli dipped into hummus. BSK is devoted to salads. Green salads. Radish and celeriac. Raw, sliced turnip. BSK grills chicken and flank steak. Serves it over mounds of greens in a mustardy vinaigrette. Fish and chicken are staples. Lots of chicken salad for lunch and often dinners of Spatchcocked roast chicken (dusted with Goya Adobo). Unlike naughty HG, BSK does not eat the lush, crisp, flavorful chicken skin. When in a hurry, BSK lunches on Greek yogurt and blueberries. Winter breakfast is blueberries and oatmeal. When corn is in season, BSK is voracious. But, she uses little or no butter. Just some coarse sea salt. Since yellow beans are now in season on Prince Edward Island, BSK prepares them in abundance. Steams them until tender. Stops the cooking with splashes of cold waters. Dresses the beans in (once more) the special mustardy vinaigrette. Showers the salad with an abundance of herbs.

BSK weaknesses: Ice cream, of course, and an old fashioned English perversion — a sickening licorice variety pack known as Licorice All Sorts.

Strawberry Fields

July 16th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

HG has been turned off by strawberries available in United States groceries (even the pricey berries at Whole Foods). Big, red, watery and tasteless. Good for the eyes, not for the belly.

Here on Prince Edward Island, HG is in the midst of strawberry season (blueberries soon to follow). A revelation. Strawberries that taste like the strawberries of yesteryear. Yum. HG breakfast treat is Greek yogurt, lots of sliced strawberries and local honey. Most local strawberry fields are U-Pickem. You get a basket and pick the berries. Cost is minimal and taste is maximum.

Atlantic Avenue And Magical Za’atar

April 5th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in Brooklyn zoom over to Atlantic Avenue, the broad thoroughfare that is the dividing line between Brooklyn Heights (with its wonderful port promenade facing the towers of downtown Manhattan) and Cobble Hill. Atlantic has very good middle eastern groceries. HG suggests you stock up on pita, olives and other good things. It is HG’s source for halvah, that wonderful confection of ground sesame seeds (tahini) and sugar. Best of all, Atlantic is New York headquarters for za’atar and HG buys this marvelous spice blend in bulk. There are many types of za’atar but basically it’s a blend of sumac, roasted sesame seeds and lots of dried green herbs (oregano, thyme, marjoram, etc,). Magic. Mix it with olive oil as a sublime dip for pita or bread. Or, warm pita, douse it with olive oil and dust it with za’atar. Good dry rub for lamb. Dust potatoes and cauliflower with it. An HG favorite: a bowl of Greek yogurt with some pureed garlic and za’atar. Many sources will mail order za’atar such as Dean & Deluca. Don’t live without it.

Smetana and Greek Yogurt

March 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

HG is a devoted fan of that wonderful writer, Ian Frazier. HG is currently engrossed in Frazier’s “Travels in Siberia.” There is a direct link between Frazier’s diet on his Siberian voyage and HG’s diet as a youngster in The Bronx. The staple Siberian food is cottage cheese and smetana (sour cream) which Frasier ate at least twice a day during his rugged travels. Little HG also had a robust ration of smetana daily. Sour cream was always called “smetana” in the HG household, a reminder of HG’s Russian ancestry. HG had smetana with boiled potatoes. Smetana with borscht. Smetana with schav (cold sorrel soup, a summer treat). Smetana with cottage cheese, pot cheese, farmer cheese. Smetana with herring. Smetana with kasha. Smetana with chopped scallions and radishes. Smetana with every variety of fruit. The little guy ingested an awful lot of smetana.

This sour cream wasn’t the pallid stuff you find in supermarket containers these days. Bronx smetana was a local product, bought at local stores where butter didn’t come in packages but was cut from a giant tub. The closest you can get to Bronx smetana is Greek yogurt. Happily, it’s easily available. Followers of HG may note that HG adds Greek yogurt to many dishes. Childhood food comforts live forever.