Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Our Official Household Dish: Turkey Keema

It must be, since we have it every few weeks without fail. It's different every time (I never use a recipe), and tonight it was unusually good.

I toasted some cumin seed in vegetable oil, then added a chopped red onion and let it get nice and brown. That might've been the secret weapon: browning. (Ah, browning.) I threw in minced garlic, ginger, and fresh chili and let that cook for a minute. Tomato paste and ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric rounded out my base, and then I added lots of ground turkey, a handful of frozen peas, and salt.

Sadly, though, the spiciness level was insufficient. I'm used to cooking with tiny but fiery Thai chilies, which leave quite an impressive path of wreckage in their wake. After several "I can see through time" meals where Margy's face was happy but tear-streaked, I've learned to be sparing with them. But I had run out, so I used ShopRite jalapeños, which are plump yet timid. Three might been enough; one certainly was not.

But that's what Sriracha Chili Sauce is for. Huy Fong Foods, Inc., in Rosemead, CA -- we love you.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Meatballs, Recontextualized

The veal-ricotta meatballs were great over pasta the first time around, but I think they were even better as an open-faced sandwich a couple of days later. I cut a fresh Portuguese roll in half, topped each half with meatballs, sauce, and grated Parmesan, and put the sandwiches on the pizza stone, which had been heating for a while in the oven at 400 degrees.

Margy and I had to pause a minute to examine our piping-hot sandwiches; we were unsure of the best way to eat them. A knife would have deflated the roll, which was crisp on the outside but still nice and soft within, but the meatballs seemed like they were piled a bit too high for a simple raise-and-bite. Nope. In the end we just lifted the sandwiches -- carefully -- and bit in. I can't wait to do this all over again.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

At Last, the Whole Bird

Chicken pieces don't really turn me on, but there's just something about having the whole thing at once. I guess it appeals to the primordial man within, the part of me that thinks that if I had to I could hunt for food. I'm sure that part of me is mistaken, but I still like whole everything: whole spices, whole fish, whole bags of Reese's.

It's also fun to do lots of things with one ingredient. Much like the scrawny famished guy in the cartoons who looks at his fellow castaways and pictures them as roast chickens, I see a roast chicken and I picture soup and a sandwich.

Which are well underway. Margy and I enjoyed a good winter dinner where every dish went right in the oven together -- juicy roast chicken, potatoes with rosemary and whole garlic cloves, and brussels sprouts with butter and pepper. Then after, or actually during, dinner, I put stock on the stove with the chicken carcass (we need stock bad) and made chicken salad with the leftover meat. Margy's set for the week.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A More Delicate Meatball

On Christmas Eve, my mom told me she'd recently made veal meatballs with ricotta cheese. They were light and delicious, she said, and she suggested I try making them. I thought about it almost every day, and now I finally gave it a whirl. She was right.

I didn't even do such a great job. I think I used too much ricotta -- almost half a cup to a little over a pound of ground veal -- because my meatballs weren't quite firm enough. Once I started to fry them in oil, they flattened a bit. Plus I'm sure I worked the meatball mixture, which also contained usual suspects garlic, egg, parsley, Parmesan, and bread crumbs, a bit too much. But hey: no harm, no foul. The meatballs were indeed light and tasty, and they had an almost silky texture. Margy was thrilled with this dinner, which I rounded out by making a quick tomato sauce at my mom's suggestion and boiling pasta for the third time this week.

And soon we shall have the leftover meatballs in a sandwich!

Friday, January 27, 2006

41 Shrimp at a Time

I used to be the world's slowest cook.

Though I'm still no speed demon, lots of practice has helped me quicken my pace. I genuinely enjoy the process, so I like to savor the experience of cooking -- but as Kramer said on Seinfeld, sometimes it's enough already and you just want to get some sleep.

I decided I'd had enough already of frying multiple batches of shrimp, so tonight I pulled out my two biggest skillets to do the job all at once. First I had to bread the shrimp, of course -- 41 of 'em to be exact. That takes a while, so I was lucky that Margy came home to help me out. As I dredged and dipped, my fingertips were growing fatter by the second, breaded themselves with flour, egg, and panko crumbs.

When the shrimp were ready to cook, I heated the two pans over high flames, since you want to fry fast and hot and get a nice crunch. I coated the pans with peanut oil, and the fun began. The whole frying process went like lightning; I could not stop working for even a second, or else some shrimp, somewhere, was going to burn. By the time I had placed the 41st shrimp into the oil in the second pan, it was time to go back and begin flipping the well-browned shrimp in pan #1. It was quite a rush, and standing at my little stove I almost felt like I was in a restaurant kitchen (where, truth be told, things would probably be about ten times more frenzied). Hot oil crackled and sputtered wildly as my tongs flitted from pan to pan. I even wore an apron, which I need to do far more often, since I'm currently finding it hard to track down a shirt lacking in permanent food stains.

Two pans. The way to go. And now we had leftovers.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Another Day, Another Pizza Place

One day Margy and I stumbled upon an odd little pizzeria/Italian restaurant tucked away on a side street near our house. It was our duty to give the place a shot.

Tonight I walked in the door to take a look at the joint and order a pie to go. (It is my policy to place my order in person on the first take-out visit to a given pizzeria, in case there's something special I could try that wouldn't be obvious unless I saw a menu, or in case, heaven forbid, I get a bad feeling and decide to turn around.)

Inside the door of the restaurant, time stood still. All of the decor was in shades of brown and done in the 1970s, at the latest. No problem. This, after all, was a pizza place. Still, something seemed off. There was an inordinate amount of rather insistent "NO STROLLERS!" signs. And then there was a plaque near the entrance explaining that in the event that the dining room is full, customers should give their name up front and then kindly get the hell out of the way of the people who are eating. It didn't say it like that, of course, but its tone was snippy. And the dining room wasn't anywhere near full, which I suspected was usually the case.

So you could say there were some warning signs, just not enough to stop me from purchasing a pizza, the pizza being the most important part of the equation. But, and perhaps not surprisingly, it was a very ordinary pie. The cheese didn't distinguish itself in any way, the crust was crisp but flavorless, and I would bet the sauce was the same red stuff I was seeing come out of the kitchen atop plates of pasta. But you know what? The sausage was really good. And that's something.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Almost two weeks had gone by since we'd eaten hamburgers, and that was long enough.

When I grill burgers for Margy and me, I have a new trick: I mix sliced onion and chopped fresh chilies with a little olive oil and melted butter, plus a sprinkle of salt. I wrap it all in foil, cut slashes throughout the foil, and toss the package on the grill with the burgers, flipping them at the same time. The intense heat chars the onions a bit and mellows the peppers, and you get an irresistible texture and flavor boost for your burger. Everybody wins.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Call Any Vegetable

Tonight I called broccoli.

Good thing broccoli responded, because I was pressed for time. Margy was running late, I had rehearsal, and my only shot at a decent dinner for us was making something quickly with whatever was lying around. So yeah, we had pasta again. I don't usually cook pasta two nights in a row, but both of us could certainly eat it every day. We've done it in Italy, where the whole country eats pasta daily... and svelte 80-year-old pasta-eating men ride bicycles up long 45-degree hills with lit cigarettes dangling from their lips. So why not?

The recipe is an awesome vegetarian dish that my mom taught me -- a simple oil-based sauce with chickpeas and broccoli. Eaten very hot with lots of Parmesan, it makes you feel fantastic. I don't have exact instructions per se, but it pretty much goes like this:

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add a bunch of thinly sliced garlic, some chopped parsley, a big pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. I've found that playing chicken with the garlic is a good way to go with this dish -- let it get nice and brown, almost approaching too brown. You'll be adding rinsed chickpeas in a second, and water later, so at this point your garlic will be about as browned as it will get.

Add a can of rinsed and drained chickpeas, and stir to coat with the oil-garlic-parsley base. Cook this for about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chickpeas begin to become tender. If the mixture is drying out, add 2 tablespoons of water. (At some point while the chickpeas are cooking, start boiling your pasta, since you have about 10 minutes to go.)

Then throw plenty of cut-up broccoli, florets and stems (cut the stems a little smaller, since they take longer to cook), into the pot with the chickpeas. Add a pinch of salt. Stir in 1/2 or 3/4 cup of water, enough to make a sauce without drowning your chickpeas and broccoli. (I recommend using the starchy cooking water from the pasta, assuming the pasta is boiling by now. If not, tap water is fine.) Cook the broccoli for about 4-6 minutes until tender but still deep green. Check for salt. Serve sauce over pasta, with grated cheese.

My goodness, it's delicious. A Margy favorite.

Making a cameo in the photo is the Frank Zappa biography I'm reading, a gift from my dear friend Mr. Thowmbpsin. You can just make out Frank's iconic facial hair on the spine of the book. If you dig Zappa, as I do, it's a fascinating read. Excerpts from his Senate speech regarding censorship and stickers on records are alone worth the price of admission (I think the full speech is in his autobiography). "Fundamentalism is not a state religion." That's a good one. Yet it seems Frank was incapable of giving or receiving love. How could this be true of a man who wrote songs like, "I Ain't Got No Heart," "The Torture Never Stops," "The Illinois Enema Bandit," "Shove It Right In," "Didja Get Any Onya?" and "Hot Poop"?

After all, he also brought us "The Voice of Cheese," "The Duke of Prunes," "Crusing for Burgers," "The Sealed Tuna Bolero," "Peaches en Regalia," and of course, "Theme from Burnt Weeny Sandwich."

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Littlenecking

There are times when my palate demands linguine with clams.

Tonight was one of those times, and Margy's palate, though a bit less demanding, was happy to play along.

This is so easy, and so satisfying. When the clams open (these are littlenecks), their plentiful juice becomes the body of a thin but powerful sauce. Let me show you. A recipe follows this post.

Recipe: Pasta with White Clam Sauce

This isn't an exact science; if you're wild about using tons of garlic, increase the amount. I don't usually add salt, because clams provide plenty of it, but be sure to check for it before serving and add some if you need to. As far as the clams, if you have access to tiny cockles and don't mind taking the time to scrub them, they're wonderful. They cook more quickly than littlenecks, so check them after about 3 minutes and serve them as soon as almost all of them have opened. Whatever kind of clams you use, there will usually be some duds that stay closed. Curse them mightily, then just let go and toss them in the trash.

Serves 2

1/2 pound linguine or spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-2 small fresh chilies or pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup white wine
18 littleneck clams, rinsed under cold water and scrubbed with a stiff brush

1. Set a large pot of salted water over high heat to cook the pasta. If your pasta's cooking time is longer than 7 minutes or so, you should begin boiling it before you start cooking the sauce, as the sauce takes very little time.

2. Choose a large skillet that has a cover, and set the skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and allow to heat for 1 minute.

3. Add garlic, chilies or chili flakes, and parsley, and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until garlic becomes golden (don't let it burn).

4. Add wine and simmer for about 20 seconds to let wine reduce.

5. Add clams, turn heat to high, and cover skillet. Check progress after 3 minutes. If most clams haven't opened, continue to cook for up to 2-3 minutes more. After that, discard any unopened clams.

6. Before serving, taste sauce, and add salt if necessary. Ladle sauce over hot cooked pasta, and top with clams. You can shell them if you like, but clams in their shells make an attractive presentation.

Note: This is the most basic version of this sauce. Try…

* Starting by cooking 2 strips of bacon or some sliced pancetta in the skillet. Remove the meat when crisp but leave its fat in the pan to mix with the olive oil in step 2. Proceed with the recipe, and then sprinkle the crumbled bacon or pancetta over the sauce to serve.

* Adding 1 or 2 anchovy filets along with the garlic, chili, and parsley. Break them up as you stir, and they'll melt into the sauce and give it a richer, deeper, slightly saltier flavor.

* Garnishing the dish with thinly sliced fresh basil.

* Draining the pasta 2 minutes before it's cooked, then tossing it into the sauce so it better absorbs the sauce's flavor. The only hitch here is that it's best to remove the clam meat from the shells first, or else it can be difficult to stir the pasta into the sauce.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Guac That Rocks

I want a mortar just like this. It weighs a ton, and I bet it makes pounding and crushing just about anything (with its complementary pestle, naturally) a lot more fun.

Margy and I were at La Taqueria in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for an evening on the town. La Taqueria used to be one of our favorite places for a quick, inexpensive dinner, and we were pleased to see that despite having expanded they're still turning out fresh and colorful food.

This guacamole was prepared tableside. A server wheeled over a cart holding various bowls containing avocados, pico de gallo, chopped jalapeño, chopped cilantro, and salt, and he went to work slicing, scooping, and mixing, carefully but with a flourish. His crowning touch was to drop the big round avocado pit into the guacamole as he set the mortar (with both hands) on our table.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

New Year's Dumplings All Over Again

It was a champagne-soaked New Year's Eve experiment: Can we freeze the uncooked dumplings?

Three weeks later, I'm here to tell you: The answer is yes!

At the time, after spending many hours in the kitchen making the damn dumplings, to toss the leftovers in a bag and throw the bag in the freezer seemed like the quickest way to stop looking at them. But you know how it goes. A week later you're poking around the frozen food and there they are -- little rows of hard-earned dough pockets that you had completely forgotten about, and they look like they're suffocating. You're ready for them now.

So Margy came home from work today and she had them again, with brown rice and my strange little side dish: green beans and brussels sprouts with miso dressing. I can think of people to whom that would sound like something that simply is not food. But it worked out pretty well, I have to say. It was improvised, since I had just six string beans. Why the hell I would make all but six string beans on some other night is beyond me now, but I must have had my reasons. Like Miles Davis used to say, there's no such thing as a mistake.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Rip-Roarin' Frito Pie

I like Fritos. I really like chili. But rip open a bag of Fritos, slap a big ladle of chili on those suckers, and throw some jalapeños, sour cream, and cheddar on top, and it's love. You may be able to imagine what happens to Fritos sitting under hot chili, but if you can't I don't want to spoil it for you.

Cowgirl in NYC is where to get it.

One complaint: I swear they took out some Fritos. They shouldn't.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Crispness Is Skin Deep

I keep running into this fine-looking steelhead trout, and I keep buying it. Yeah, it's farm raised, but it's also healthy, tasty... and $5.99 a pound. I pan-roasted the trout, pan-roasting quickly becoming my preferred method for cooking skin-on fish filets. I love the way the skin crisps up just right in a mixture of olive oil and butter. And this time I made a quick sauce with shallot, white wine, lemon juice, and parsley. Nothing too thick, just a bit of extra flavor for the fish.

But believe it or not, this meal was based on the baked potato. That part came first -- I think I was dreaming about baked potatoes -- and then I filled in the rest.

Now that I'm taking a closer look, I realize that, for me, the potato and the trout were both playing second fiddle to their respective outer layers. It was their crispy skin I relished most! Margy doesn't even like baked potato skins. Do you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Margy's Indian Hors d'Oeuvres

I wasn't invited to this one. Margy and her buddy G went to Leela in NYC, which Margy described as a hip, urban Indian restaurant. The place is pretty new, and incorporates fusion elements (surprise, surprise) into its Indian repertoire.

They ordered a bunch of appetizers: lentil fritters, chaat (made with those great Indian "crispies"), samosas, and tandoori-roasted Indian cheese (paneer) kabobs. You can barely see the kabobs, but Margy said they were delicious.

Me, for a long time I didn't understand the Indian cheese thing. It just seemed out of place, as in my post-collegiate ignorance (funny how that works) I thought "Asian" and "dairy" were mutually exclusive. But I like to work my way through menus, so I tried paneer eventually, and it was wonderful, closer to firm tofu than cottage cheese in consistency. And its mild flavor makes it the perfect foil for vibrant sauces and chutneys. For the last bunch of years we've been ordering it constantly. The next step is making it myself.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Monday, January 16, 2006

Transporting Penne Across State Lines

My amatriciana was too fiery for my sister's tender palate, so Margy and I brought the container of leftovers home from Vermont.

Good thing we did, since we didn't feel like lifting a finger. I only had to lift half a finger to sprinkle Parmesan and bread crumbs over the pasta and toss it into the oven. Should I admit we devoured our well-browned baked penne while watching the Golden Globes on TV? Probably not. But it's true. It was an odd broadcast; it seemed like the celebs have finally grasped the ludicrousness of the Globes and the fact that these supposedly important Oscar-forecasting awards are voted on by like six Swiss freelance movie critics. Practically every actor's acceptance speech was flippant and borderline mocking... and not too funny. Why do they all bother to show up? Why do some of us bother to tune in?

Maybe this answers both of those questions: It's the booze.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Margy and Sister #3 Bake Sticky Buns!

All week leading up to our Vermont trip, Margy was in a quandary: Does she or doesn't she make sticky buns for the gang while we're up there? On one hand, she really wanted to try her mom's recipe for quick and easy buns using frozen bread dough. On the other hand, my sister is a trained pastry chef, and we'd be on her turf.

In the end, while everyone else but my early-rising sis slept off a long evening of heroic rock and roll excess, Margy awoke after three and a half measly hours of shut-eye and went to work. Bless her heart. Like the fabulous sisters-in-law that they are, Margy and sister #3 collaborated beautifully and turned out two kinds of baked goods, which I like to call (from left to right) the psychedelic and the merely groovy.

The merely groovy are cinnamon rolls, while the sticky buns are truly psychedelic, as is any "breakfast" that contains more sugar than a bowl of Ben & Jerry's.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Green Mountains, Red Pasta

It was Vermont in January, and it was 55 degrees and raining. Good thing we were there to play music and not to ski.

The band and our entourage, including Margy, spent the morning (okay, the afternoon) eating my sister's incredible homemade muffins -- banana nut, with and without chocolate chips, and blueberry. The rain stopped for a while and we took a nice walk, admiring a gorgeous VT landscape made even more beautiful by thick clouds of low-riding mist.

Before the gig, with faithful sous chef Margy chopping calmly by my side, I made a big bowl of penne all'amatriciana, which for those who are unfamiliar means a tomato sauce with bacon or pancetta, onion, and chili pepper. I used good old Oscar Meyer bacon (my dirty little secret is that I usually buy low-sodium bacon, but this time I went with reg'lar), and fresh jalapeños instead of the customary dried red pepper flakes. It came out pretty well and had a good kick to it -- though a bit more salt might not have hurt. A big salad of mixed lettuces, spinach, carrot, celery, cucumber, apple, and walnuts with a honey-mustard vinaigrette made a great accompaniment.

I cooked two pounds of penne for seven people, and we had some left over. You'll be seeing it again...

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Perfect Burger...

...is the one you're eating right now.

This, however, is the Perfect Wife burger, served at the Perfect Wife Restaurant and Tavern in Manchester, VT. Ah, sweet burger. Get this: We were a party of eight and we ordered seven hamburgers. I felt like a cruel person as I recited our surprisingly complicated order to the waitress: One like this, one like that. One with American, three with cheddar... two of those medium and one medium rare... one of the mediums and the medium rare with fries and the other medium with onion rings...

The food arrived and a lot of hungry people began to eat. After a few minutes, once the initial feeding frenzy had died down, someone mentioned that her burger was perfectly cooked. Then someone else, someone with a vastly different set of hamburger parameters, said the same thing. We all looked up around the table at each other and we all had the same satisfied expression. Even the person with the pulled pork.

The Perfect Wife indeed!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Raw Before the Cooked

My ShopRite fish guys don't normally serve up sushi-grade seafood (I'm sure they could if I asked), but this salmon looked so good I almost popped a piece in my mouth raw. It, along with the shrimp, soon went under the broiler.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Great Omen

If Margy and I were asked to pick our favorite restaurant, it would have to be Omen on Thompson St. in NYC.

Some people are puzzled by Omen, because it's a Japanese restaurant that does wonderful things with raw fish but doesn't serve sushi. To us, this is hardly a problem, and we're always looking for a special occasion to give us an excuse to go there. Omen specializes in traditional Kyoto-style cuisine, which features fresh ingredients -- meat, fish, vegetables -- in refined and beautiful presentations. A meal in the long brick-walled room is invariably light, delicious, and really fun.

The illumination, however, is really dim, and we weren't about to use a flash, so apologies for the somewhat dark photo of our fried soba noodle appetizer. A bundle of noodles is wrapped in seaweed and cut into makilike rolls, then set in a bowl of slightly sweet soy-based broth and topped with scallions and slivers of fried yellow squash. Such a simple dish depends on top-quality ingredients, and Omen always comes through. The portions are small, so you can order a fairly wide sampling from the à la carte menu or choose from lovely seasonal prix fixe "dinner courses." Tonight we went à la carte.

As goes for most great restaurants, much of the wonder of Omen is in the details. If you want your palate pounded by dramatic flavors, this might not be the place for you. Witness the miso soup that came with a broiled eel entree and was the first thing we ate. Where many restaurants serve a clear broth with salty clouds of miso paste stirred up from the bottom (I am not knocking this -- I almost always love it), Omen's version is far more subtle and distinct. It isn't very salty; it isn't even very cloudy. And floating in the bowl along with bits of seaweed are delicate sprigs of cilantro, thin slices of sesame-flavored fried tofu, and tiny clumps of slender enoki mushrooms. Not exactly your local take-out joint's miso soup.

The soup set the stage for a progression of dishes that had Margy and me rubbing our hands together with excitement. The centerpiece of our dinner was a gorgeous plate of sashimi that included tuna, salmon, yellowtail, red snapper, fluke (I think), sea urchin, avocado, cucumber, two kinds of seaweed, and shredded daikon. Eating it was like swimming in the ocean. We couldn't get to everything fast enough, yet I grew depressed as I watched it all disappear.

If you love Japanese food and you have an open mind, go. All of your dishes may arrive at once (as is the custom in Japan but can be jarring when you don't expect it), and your sashimi may not come with pickled ginger. But these are minor issues, more than compensated for by the aesthetic and culinary wonders of a meal at Omen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mom's Meat Sauce

Oh, how the day had gotten away from me.

I woke up at like quarter to 8, with a long list of work-related things to do before I could hit the kitchen to cook for Margy. But then the distractions began to mount, and I found my afternoon spiraling out of control. Finally, Margy called to say she'd be home late. Since I had a rehearsal, I knew I'd miss her.

So much for eating with Margy. And I had no time to cook a proper dinner.

But again, and I know I keep saying this, that's what freezers are for. While I dealt with distraction #9, a poorly timed yet still very welcome call from the Mule, I defrosted a container of meat sauce, heated water for pasta, and made a salad.

This meat sauce is worth its weight in pork. (Who really needs gold?) I got the basic recipe from my mom, who'd been making it since way before I was born. My first few attempts confirmed my suspicion that I could never come close to replicating her magic. It was a tall order, because the sauce triggers some of my oldest and most enduring food memories. Anytime I want I can recall the house-filling aroma of simmering meat, tomato, and fennel seed, and I remember how the wait always seemed endless between smelling the sauce and finally being able to eat it. (The idea that "it tastes even better the next day" never seemed to help on day one.) I recall how when I was a kid the pot my mom used seemed as big as a bathtub.

But now I have my own bathtub, and filling it a couple times a year with sausages and meatballs and pork ribs and veal chops -- basically whatever looks good at the butcher's, though a few bones are essential -- has become one of my favorite cooking experiences.

Have I ever made it as well as my mother does? No way. But I promise to keep trying. After all, we have only one container left.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Quick Plug for Häagen-Dazs

Their mango ice cream is our new favorite.

They don't need any help from Margy and me, but still, to Häagen-Dazs we say: Keep up the good work.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pâté Party

Tonight we had the honor of being invited to a cooking school banquet in NYC -- a grand buffet of pâtés, terrines, and assorted appetizers. It was a fabulously decadent display of all things bite-sized, loglike, and brickish. Our friend the ace student worked hard in her chef whites, but she eventually got to stop and have a glass of champagne.

I actually arrived before Margy, who'd gone shopping, in a moment of calm before the storm. Within minutes of my taking this somewhat serene photograph, hordes of people streamed into the room and began eating. A long, carefully molded rectangle of lentil salad collapsed under serving spoons and spread all over its dish. Mini crabcakes seemed to fly off a plate at time-lapse speed. Mirrored trays that held slices of pâté were quickly left streaked and empty. It was great.

Just for the heck of it I'll try to remember as many things as I can (guessing a lot):

* Smoked duck quesadillas with guacamole
* Crisp-edged mini potato pancakes topped with smoked salmon, caviar, and cream
* Risotto balls
* Lentil salad pressed into a 2-foot-long log, with greens on a prosciutto-lined platter
* Couscous, also in a log
* Assorted vegetable, seafood, poultry, and meat terrines and pâtés
* Crabcakes with mustard
* Sausage in crust
* Foie gras pâté in crust
* Red pepper tartlets
* Small clear jars containing colorful layers of spinach, carrot, and cauliflower gelatin (in back of photo)
* Aspics served in spoons and tiny bowls (in foreground of photo)
* A dessert table with filled chocolates, chocolate/fruit terrines, and a white chocolate treasure chest bursting with chocolate/caramel/krispies candies

The event was really fun, and I admired the students who had put it together. Their presentations were very attractive, and their food tasted great. I hope they're proud of their accomplishment. It clearly involved tons of work, from just 16 people.

That must be about a kilo of gelatin per person!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Good-Lookin' Lebkuchen

Margy's mom gave me a package of these cookies straight from Germany. It's a rich spice cookie baked on top of a wafer identical to the ones you get from a priest during Communion. Virtuously delicious.

To balance out the old angel-devil thing, there's chocolate on top.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pasteur-ized Vietnamese

On Baxter St. in NYC's Chinatown, just off Walker St., there are two really good Vietnamese restaurants: Nha Trang and New Pasteur. A couple of years ago, a friend raved about the crispy squid with garlic at Nha Trang, and I found myself down there that very evening. But alas, Nha Trang was inexplicably closed. So Margy and I tried New Pasteur right next door, and had a vibrant, delicious dinner for like 20 bucks.

I've been back to both places a few times, and I've concluded that you can't really go wrong. Nha Trang is large and has a bit more atmosphere; New Pasteur is no-frills and a little homier. A little cheaper too. But both are quick and tasty.

Tonight Roberto and I went to New Pasteur before checking out some music at the Knitting Factory. These are our appetizers: shredded pork rolls and shrimp rolls. Stuffed with rice vermicelli, lettuce, and bright-tasting herbs like basil and mint, they're cool and refreshing and offer a little snap to the bite. This was the only photo that turned out, and I missed all the dishes of different-colored sauces that accompany the rolls. What can I say -- I'm still a bit timid with the camera in restaurants, and I felt like the staff was watching me like hawks, which made me self-conscious. Silly of me. I was simply capturing a great meal so it could live on in my mind (and in my blog)!

Roberto then had seafood pho, and I had squid with chili and lemongrass. My squid, a good-sized portion, was $4.50.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Pizza Supply Dwindles

It seems like a lot of dough as Margy's rolling it out, but man does it fly off the shelves.

This was the last we'd see of the New Year's pizza leftovers, so we were properly reverent at the table. Getting three dinners out of one batch isn't bad, yet too much is never enough.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Breakfast for Dinner

It's been a busy week.

No one felt like doing much -- pizza hangover? -- so we had bacon and eggs.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Thank Goodness for Leftovers

The roof of my mouth still hasn't healed from last night, but that won't stop me from having Margy's pizza again. And again.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Margy Cooks! And Bakes! Pizza!

This was the moment I'd been waiting for.

I'd eat other pizzas and wish I were eating this one right here. Margy's pizza. She really is ridiculously good at making the stuff. From scratch -- no store-bought dough for her.

You know, now that I think of it, pizza making is a male-dominated pursuit. Maybe Margy will change all that. My mom, Margy's pizza muse and mentor, would have changed all that herself had she responded to just one of my dad's thousands of entreaties over the years: "If we opened a pizzeria we'd make a fortune."

But alas, my family likes to save its best food for itself. And the occasional guest. (We are not barbarians.)

I guess if you don't like thin, crispy pizza you wouldn't like Margy's. But you'd have to be really vehement about this, because one crust-shattering bite can go a long way toward converting those of the floppy-slice ilk.

Tonight's toppings were, as usual, simple, to let the magic of the dough shine through. Sushi is about rice; pizza is about dough -- period. What is added should never distract us from these essentials, but should rather enhance. So on the red pies, which Margy assembled with a simple uncooked tomato sauce seasoned with herbs and spices, we had fresh mozzarella, pancetta, mushrooms, and fresh basil. I did the honors in putting together white pies with mozzarella, spinach and garlic, anchovies, and grated Parmesan. Just writing about this now I'm having a hard time not walking over to the fridge for a leftover slice. And I'm really full.

This may be easy for me to say since I've never actually made pizza myself, but the one indispensable item here is a baking stone for the oven. Using a stone is the only way for the home cook to achieve a temperature high enough to turn out a gorgeous pie. (Commercial pizza ovens can reach temperatures of 800 degrees or more.) You slide the stone onto the oven rack -- or just leave it there all the time, like we do -- crank up the heat to 500 or 550 or whatever your highest setting is, and in 40 minutes or so it's ready to get to work and will cook a pizza to crisp perfection in around 8 minutes.

Just be sure to disable your smoke alarm.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

First Sushi of 2006

We are not masochists; sometimes we let someone else do the work.