Whole Foods always has fish specials on Friday. HG takes advantage. Last week HG bought a thick piece of swordfish for Friday dinner and a pound of good looking Pacific sole for Saturday. Total for finny treats was $21. Not bad. HG had the fish clerk cut the swordfish in four thin horizontal slices. HG dusted the slices with flour and sautéed them quickly in olive oil with plenty of lemon juice. When done, gilded them with capers and melted butter (and more lemon juice).BSK stir fried some asparagus and boiled tiny potatoes. Wonderful meal. Saturday the sole was prepared a la Exquisite Maiko, HG/BSK’s talented chef/daughter-in-law. The sole was steamed over baby bok choy in a mix of white wine (BSK sometimes uses sake), sesame oil, soy sauce and garlic. This was served with Vietnamese rice noodles flavored with sesame oil and Vietnamese fish sauce. Sriracha on the side. El Yummy.
That’s right. Whole Foods in Santa Fe no longer carries kasha (buckwheat groats). HG used to find this excellent food in the bulk section, the hot cereal section and the “international” section where Wolff’s boxed kasha would snuggle against vaguely dusty jars of gefilte fish and matzo ball mix. (More woe on the Santa Fe grocery front: Trader Joe’s no longer carries Belgian Butter Almond Cookies.) HG did some Google research and found a Santa Fe kasha source: Natural Grocers on Cerillos Road. Big, well organized market. HG bought two bags of dark brown organic kasha. They also carry white kasha. Have never tasted it but in future will try it as a breakfast dish. Filled the HG cart with many other natural and organic products. Will come back with BSK to examine their wide array of nut butter, jam, honey, granola, dried fruit, etc. Mystery: Why do customers in “health” stores look so unhealthy?
Thin rice noodles (often called rice “vermicelli” or “rice sticks”) are a staple of Asian cuisine and an HG favorite ingredient. Thai Kitchen makes a tasty and economical lunch dish—instant rice noodle soup (variety of flavors). HG likes to give the soup protein in the form of sliced tofu. Scallions or a handful of bean sprouts adds crunch. A dinner favorite is a home-cooked version of Pho, the heartening Vietnamese standby. BSK boils Whole Foods Pho broth and adds a plenitude of shredded chicken. HG plunges a big bag of rice sticks in boiling water. Takes it off the heat immediately, and lets the noodles steep until softened (10 to 20 minutes). Refreshes them with cold water while shaking them in a colander. They are added to the broth and chicken. Lots of garnishes on the table: Mint leaves, chopped scallions, bean sprouts, cilantro. HG/BSK like two unconventional toppings: Avocado slices and bean curd. Sriracha and soy sauce to taste. Nice East meets West (or Southwest) dish.
HG believes it is food snobbism to decry all frozen food. Lots of very good chefs agree with HG that frozen peas are far superior to the fresh peas available in supermarkets (and that includes Whole Foods). HG likes to toss a package into a pot of simmering ravioli or tortellini. (WF carries excellent frozen varieties). Add some grated parmesan and some grinds of black pepper (can also beat an egg into it) and you’ve got true comfort food for a chilly evening. Frozen peas are also good in a risotto or mixed with fettucini, butter, parmesan and prosciutto. WF’s frozen okra are splendid in Bhindi Masala, the lush Indian okra stew. Frozen spinach makes a nice bed for BSK’s pan steamed sole fillets with fried garlic chips. HG always has a bag of WF’s frozen shrimp in the freezer. HG likes the raw, cleaned, shell on variety. They defrost quickly under cold running water. HG dries them and does a quick stir fry in olive oil, sliced garlic and smoked Spanish paprika. Simple and absolutely delicious. They are a staple at Madrid bars. Customers sip sherry, eat the shrimp and spit the shells on the floor. And, that’s why knowing Spanish women don’t wear open toe shoes when bar hopping.
HG must make an admission: Despite the best wife in the world, glorious weather, stirring natural vistas, a beautiful home, interesting neighbors, history, art, culture and an abundance of smoky, lush green chiles HG’s life is incomplete. Why? The great New York/New Jersey Italian fennel sausage is unobtainable in the Land of Enchantment. Yes, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kaune’s and every supermarket display and purvey “Italian” sausages. “Italian” ? They are as Italian as Mitt Romney. They should be labeled “Mormon” sausages. They lack the fennel seeds and other time honored ingredients that make the New York Italian sausage so juicy, flavorful and memorable. During the opening scenes of the film, “Godfather II”, that wonderful actor/director/playwright/teacher Mike Gazzo (playing Frankie Pietangeli) laments the absence of sausage and peppers in Nevada. Frankie’s woe echoes HG’s. What HG has is memories. Sausage, peppers and onions served on good bread, dispensed from the back of a truck in Greenwich Village. The same dish bought from a cart on Lexington Avenue, eaten while racing to a business appointment. Sausage and peppers at the San Gennaro Festival in Manhattan (years ago when the the Festival was smaller and food was better) and at traditional festivals in the Mott Haven section of The Bronx. Sausage and peppers at old time, cheap restaurants in the Belmont section of The Bronx and in Little Italy (before it became a tourist travesty). There were Italian restaurants in northern New Jersey that made an epic of the dish. Jerry’s in East Rutherford (tragically, closed after many decades of operation) did it best. This is how The New York Times described it in 1998: “Jerry’s combines garlicky, crisp and juicy Chicken Scarpariello (chunks of chicken on the bone) with great fruity rounds of pepper (both hot and sweet), fried onions, crunchy Red Bliss potatoes, and plenty of Jerry’s fennel-scented sausage.” Yes, this expanded plain spoken “sausage and peppers” into a regal feast. This was an enormous platter of food. HG/BSK would dig in, drink a lot of modest Chianti and manage to finish about 60%. Appetizer? Dessert? Fuhgeddabout it !!!
The historic, architecturally unique city of Santa Fe, just a few miles from HG/BSK’s home, is far from any ocean. And, far from any lake. So, HG is puzzled. Why is fish (from Whole Foods or Kaune’s Grocery) so good and so fresh ? HG thought about this as HG gave a pound of never frozen Pacific sole a quick saute in a blazingly hot pan. One of HG’s talents (they are very few) is sauteing fish. These filets (dipped in beaten egg and rolled in Zatarain’s fish fry mix) were superb. Accompanied by spring asparagus dripping golden melted butter, HG/BSK drank a bottle of chilled Muscadet and smiled happily between swallows. And, a few nights before, HG/BSK knocked off a thick, fresh swordfish steak. BSK cut the fish into small chunks and gave them a quick stir fry in olive oil and garlic (fish was seared but the interior was rare). BSK added the swordfish to a puttanesca sauce (black olives, tomatoes, anchovies, capers). Al dente linguine was added to the pan to absorb the sauce. Showered with chopped Italian parsley, this was southern Italian cooking at its best. So, what’s the secret? Are there special jets bringing these good things to The City Different?
Whole Foods is now carrying containers of shucked East Coast oysters (better than those big, tasteless oysters from the Pacific). Provided the impetus for a nice light dinner of Japanese oyster pancakes (Okonomiyaki) . EM, HG/BSK’s lovely Japanese daughter-in-law, is a talented chef and caterer. Efforts to emulate her cuisine often fall short, but the flavors are so great that it is still worthwhile to try. BSK followed EM’s recipe and made a batter of egg, Wondra flour and milk. Mixed it with slivers of cabbage, scallions, carrots and plenty of chopped oysters. Turned out splendidly. Crisp, lacy, greaseless pancakes with plenty of sea flavor and crunch. BSK likes these pancakes with a squirt of Japanese Bull Dog Sauce, a semi- sweet condiment. HG sticks to a light dusting of truffle salt and a squeeze of lemon. Thank you, Maiko.
HG does not fancy canned goods — too many meals of “mystery cans” in HG’s youth (see the post Mom And Depression Canned Goods). However, there are exceptions. Alwadi Al Akhbar brand Baba Ghannouge is canned in Lebanon and is delicious. HG adds crushed garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and smoked Spanish paprika to this eggplant dip. Serves it with a selection from the Whole Foods olive bar (kalamatas, artichoke hearts, giant lima beans) plus warm pita bread dusted with zaatar (a middle eastern spice mix). Nice mezze. In another geographic mode, HG likes the Mexican products of Juanita’s Foods: Chicken (or pork) Posole. Hot and Spicy Menudo (tripe stew). Mucho flavor. Of course, HG is a huge fan of most Goya products, but especially their canned beans (white, kidney, garbanzos, black). Black beans mixed with rice (topped with raw onions and a few canned chipotle peppers) is an HG/BSK household favorite. (Cubans call it Moros y Cristianos — Moors and Christians). For chipotle peppers (plus other pepper varieties) look for the Herdez brand.
HG is ambiguous about Whole Foods. The produce is very good but is madly expensive as is almost everything else in the store. Whole Paycheck, indeed. But, there are values to be found. Whole Foods sources great, and very affordable, chicken. Their bread is very good. And, in landlocked Santa Fe, WF is HG/BSK’s only viable source for seafood. Oddly, it turns out that WF makes very good, robust, fairly priced sandwiches. And, today WF gave HG a very welcome surprise. The hungry old guy moseyed around the Japanese carry-out food section and ordered a bowl of “Spicy Chicken Noodle In Broth.” It was a very big bowl by any standard and filled with cellophane noodles, juicy dark meat chicken, straw mushrooms, baby bok choy, lemon and lemongrass. Slices of jalapeno pepper added heat. The broth had taste and body. The big meal in a bowl was totally hearty and delicious. It cost $7.99. Yes, Exquisite Maiko and fastidious SJ would sneer at this quasi-Japanese dish. But, HG intends to get back to WF at least once a week to slurp down this treat.
HG loves sole. But, like most romantics, HG is often disappointed. The filets at Whole Foods are usually cut too thin to be cooked. They lose firmness and turn to mush. However, HG is nothing if not persistent. Spotted some very fresh looking sole at Whole Foods a day ago. Filets looked reasonably thick. Had earnest discussion with young woman behind fish counter. Pick me a pound of the thickest, said HG (Firmly but courteously). Efficient woman held each filet up for HG’s approval. Bought six beauties. They were dusted with flour and sauteed in very hot grapeseed oil. No more than a minute or so a side. Served with cold soba noodles flavored with Vietnamese fish sauce, stir fried bok choy (with a dab of oyster sauce), bean sprouts (sesame oil and soy sauce). Cooked sole in two batches. Went straight from pan to plate. Very good. Of course, it wasn’t Dover Sole, that princely and pricey fish served at J. Sheekey and other great London seafood restaurants. The Dover Sole at Le Dome in Paris swims in lemony butter and is served with delectable potato puffs. Priced for Russian oligarchs. HG is watching out for Petrale Sole, that excellent fish from California’s Pacific waters. It appears sporadically at Whole Foods. Paragons of Petrale are served at the venerable Tadich Grill in San Francisco.