Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pork Ribs, Day One

Margy was on her way back from Milwaukee, and I wanted to welcome her home with a nice cozy dinner. So I braised some country pork ribs.

I browned the ribs in a Dutch oven and then removed them and sautéed minced carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and herbs for a few minutes. I put the ribs back in the pot, along with some chicken stock, white wine, and canned tomato. I added salt and pepper and put the pot in a 350-degree oven for 90 minutes or so, until the meat came away from the bone without me even having to ask.

As an accompaniment I made cheddar grits in the rice cooker. Is there anything that machine can't do?

And I made enough pork for six people, so I doubt we've seen the last of these ribs. Yes, I was planning for leftovers, since braised meat heats up so nicely and the flavor even improves after a little rest, but as I packed up the remainder I wondered if we'd ever get through it all. We'll certainly try.

Friday, September 29, 2006


...I'm at my bachelor pad watching the Yankees game and eating a leftover-sausage sandwich.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Midwestern Salmon

What do you know -- Margy was in Milwaukee.

It was a quick work jaunt, and I stayed home, but she got a couple nice meals out of the deal. This is the pan-seared salmon at Coquette Cafe, where she went with a party of 40. Everyone was served each course (chosen from a short menu) at the same time, which Margy found most impressive. She says the food was excellent, though the "exploding brownie," otherwise known as warm chocolate cake, was a bit rich for her more delicate dessert tastes. We're a lot alike in that respect -- we prefer the light and fruity over the serious chocolate stuff. I know, we're on our own there...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Maybe you've heard me complain endlessly about the meager pizza choices in our Jersey town. I'm frustrated, I'm bitter, I'm angry, I'm depressed, I'm incredulous that no one has bothered to make a decent pie within twelve miles of our home. But then I go and eat the local schlock anyway... because it's pizza, dammit, and who wants to go weeks without pizza?

Well, sign me up.

I'm done with the places around here, and I'm not joking this time. I am now willing to go weeks without pizza if it means sparing myself junky pies. I'm not happy about this -- pizza is convenient, it's cheap, and it's always readily available... plus, you know, I'm a tiny bit obsessed with it -- but my hand has been forced by too many crushing disappointments.

Tonight, however, at least restored my faith that someone in this country besides Margy and my mom is committed to pizza excellence. Of course this was across the river in NYC, at No. 28 on Carmine Street, but at this point that's what I'm dealing with: either traveling a little or begging Margy for the homemade goods.

I had heard about No. 28 from Enzo, who is well aware of my obsession and who knew I'd dig the place. I just assumed Margy and I would have to wait for a table, but the joint was hardly full when we arrived. (Seems most New Yorkers are just like most New Jerseyans and choose their pizzerias based on proximity rather than deliciousness.) Walking in, we saw a brick oven, we smelled burning embers, we got excited. We ordered a Margherita with buffalo mozzarella and a white pie with garlic and sopressata.

As we were waiting for our pizzas, a trio of young Neapolitans walked in and made themselves at home at one of the outdoor tables. We were treated to the wonderful sound of their local dialect, which was so thick and obscure to my ears that, though I speak decent conversational Italian, I could only understand the odd word here and there. We were not in the New Jersey suburbs.

Again, that fact was borne out when the pizzas arrived. The first, most obvious good sign was burn marks on the crust. Aah, burn marks. All the ingredients were top notch, and there were very few of them -- another good sign. Pizza, to me, is not a depository for all my favorite meats and vegetables and cheeses; toppings are only there to support the most important component: the dough. And support it they did. The tomato sauce was fresh and bright, and the buffalo mozzarella was creamy and imparted just the right amount of dairy flavor. The garlic on the white pie made itself well known without being overpowering, and a bit of ricotta mellowed out the sopressata beautifully. The crust walked that delicate balance between crisp and chewy, offering a little bit of both.

It's no wonder that No. 28 has gained a "D.O.C." designation from the organization that recognizes proper Neapolitan, that is to say properly elemental, pizza. In that great miracle of culinary miracles, I got hungrier the more I ate, until my brain had to finally interfere and heed the stop signals that my stomach was refusing to send in such a blissed-out state.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Now the Party's Really Over

Well, we were able to squeeze one more dinner out of our party food.

This time it was the barbecued chicken, which I brushed with some remaining sauce, covered in foil, and reheated slowly in the oven. I can be funny about eating leftover chicken -- I find there's usually an unpleasant change in flavor -- but this worked out well. I think it was because the foil wrap and extra basting kept the meat moist.

And we were able to savor Margy's biscuits one last time... one last time, that is, before I beg her to make them again.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sparerib Salmon

Yesterday there was an article in the New York Times Magazine about Chinese-American barbecued spareribs. The piece noted the emphasis on American and reprinted a recipe from the early '60s that highlighted that point -- you'd never find these things in China. Inspired by the original version, which by the 21st century seemed to have more kitsch appeal than anything else, David Myers, chef at Sona in L.A., offered an adaptation featuring salmon. It was so easy, and he sounded so excited about it, that, though I had never heard of Sona, I trusted him instantly and had to give it a whirl. I had everything I needed but the salmon.

All you do is marinate salmon in equal parts soy sauce and honey, plus a little ketchup and some crushed garlic, and then you grill or broil it. I instinctively cut back just a bit on the honey, but otherwise I followed Myers's instructions, including making a cucumber salad side dish. I skipped a topping of preserved ginger, though... next time. I had to briefly boil the vinegar-based salad dressing, which stunk up the place for a while ("You dyeing Easter eggs?" Margy asked as she walked into the kitchen), but no big deal.

The salmon, which I grilled, was wonderful. The honey produced a gorgeous glaze, and the strong salty-sweet flavors of the marinade worked perfectly against the richness of the salmon. The cucumber salad was fragrant with ginger and subtly spicy due to a hit of Japanese togarashi pepper, and it made a great sharp-edged accompaniment to the luscious fish.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Evening After

We sent people home from our place with little foil-wrapped six-packs of cheddar-chive biscuits, but we kept a few for ourselves. And to my surprise and great delight, they warmed up beautifully and were almost as good as when they first came out of the oven. There were some sausages left as well, since at one point last night I decided we had too much food and held back a few links. So tonight I grilled a few of them, and we had an easy dinner of sausage and biscuits. Anyway, an easy dinner was about all we could handle.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pulling Out the Big Guns

Margy and I had a bunch of friends over, many of them making the trek out to "the country" from NYC, and these people deserved to be well fed.

With the guests gathered out back, we started everyone off with a rousing round of Those Things, which I stuffed and rolled using Margy's incredible pizza dough. Half of them were the traditional anchovy version, but I also tried some with fontina, which melted beautifully, and some with pancetta and Parmesan. Though I have a way to go before I can live up to my grandmother's Those Things legacy, the results were quite successful, and there were no leftovers. I was particularly proud to see our 18-month-old pal Charlie nibbling on one with anchovies (though I imagine his little piece was fish free).

When dinnertime approached, I lit one, two, three grills, two of which I'd borrowed. This is when things really got interesting. I placed dry-rubbed chicken pieces (thighs, drumsticks, and, to appease those whose tastes run toward the conservative, a few breasts) on each grill, opposite the coals, and put down the lids. I'd also sprinkled hickory chips on the charcoal to generate some smoke. It was a lot to keep track of, but the fact that I was using indirect heat was my saving grace -- no need to worry about burning.

After maybe 45 minutes or so, the chicken was looking fine, and that telltale spicy-smoky aroma was telling me we were getting close. So I added a few hot and sweet sausages to the grills, right over the coals. I did a little much-needed charcoal replenishment, and we remained in business. As the sausage cooked, I brushed the chicken with a sauce I'd made earlier with beer, honey, ketchup, vinegar, chipotle, onion, garlic, and spices.

We set out the chicken and sausages on a serving table, along with green beans (dressed with roasted tomatoes), mac and cheese, and cheddar-chive biscuits that Margy had made in the morning. Those biscuits were wonderful, and, this being the first official day of fall, they played right into our theme: Summer's over -- let's eat a huge dinner with lots of carbs. People began to fill their plates and dig in.

And then, in one of my final work-oriented acts of the evening, I grilled the Thai shrimp, which I'd entrusted our friend Sonny with skewering. Oh, what a job she did -- her steady hand and ample patience meant the little guys, I think there were about 85 or so, were just the way I like them, meticulously arranged. I'm pretty much a disorganized mess everywhere else, but the kitchen is one place where I like to preserve order.

The shrimp had been marinated in a puree of ginger, garlic, lemongrass, chilies, cilantro, sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice. They cooked quickly, and then I sprinkled them with more lime juice and some Thai basil. As I set the platter on the table, I looked up and saw a line of people heading my way with shrimp on their mind. That made all the work, not to mention the fact that Margy and I, as hosts, sort of neglected to eat properly, more than worthwhile. (I certainly didn't neglect to have a bunch of beers.)

Of course, we weren't quite through. Margy had made dessert: lemon meringue tart. She'd assembled the tart earlier, but the meringue part came at the last minute, and a small crowd watched her work her finishing-touch magic. I'll be "ordering" this creamy, lemony tart again on a monthly basis.

By this point everyone seemed happy and appropriately loopy. Dinner down, it was time to keep howling at the moon, and we did our best to live up to the task.

Friday, September 22, 2006

It's Almost Fall

Tomato season is coming to a close, and I'm not happy about it. All summer long I've been pruning and picking and watering, and soon there will be a void in my life. Sure, the sungolds have gone yellow and the cherry tomatoes don't pack as much punch as they did a month ago, but I'm still out there like the loyal gentleman farmer I aspire to be.

This was probably the last opportunity to use our beloved tomatoes with abandon. I'd roasted a big batch with garlic and thyme, and here I simply tossed cooked gemelli with the mixture and finished the dish with a little olive oil and sliced basil and a scattering of fried ham (I don't think I've ever fried ham two days in a row, but the last bit needed to go). If the moment was bittersweet, the sauce was delicious.

A message to supermarket tomatoes during the colder months: I'm sorry, but I'm looking the other way. I have nothing against you -- your deep red color is enticing -- but there's only room on our counter for the true Jersey tomatoes of summer. No offense.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tomato Sandwich, with Ham

Margy wasn't around and I was about to go out for the evening, so I improvised myself a sandwich.

I'm not a huge fan of subs and cold-cut sandwiches, but hot sandwiches are a different story. Hamburgers, meatball hoagies, po' boys -- that's my scene. Tonight I was mainly looking for an excuse to eat some of the roasted tomatoes that were sitting in the fridge, and I figured a fried ham sandwich would be a worthy vehicle. Earlier in the week I'd bought some ham for lunches (the one cold cut I do like), so I had everything I needed.

I cooked a few slices of ham quickly in a skillet with a drop of olive oil, browned a roll under the broiler, found an ear of leftover corn, and that was that. The meat was just protein -- this was all about bread and condiment.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tofu Teriyaki

Peanut oil's the secret.

Frying food in corn or canola oil is fine, but peanut oil has a higher smoke point, so it can fry more quickly and with less oil absorption. When I'm cooking things like chicken cutlets, fried shrimp, and, more recently, tofu, the difference is impressively clear -- everything is crispier and less greasy.

This really comes in handy with tofu, because teriyaki sauce would sog up soft slices of soy -- you need a nice firm texture on the outside before applying any liquids. So tonight I sliced the tofu and drained some of its moisture using paper towels, then I pressed the slices into a plate of black sesame seeds and dropped them into a red-hot peanut-oil-coated pan. There were splatters, sure, but eventually I had myself truly crispy tofu sitting on a rack in a warm oven. I painted on some teriyaki sauce, and dinner was served.

Despite the frying, this is a good light meal and a refreshing change of pace when we're sick of the same old stuff. I always worry that Margy won't find it substantial enough, but fortunately my fears remain unfounded.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Three More Times...

We reheated the paella at home for another fine, fragrant meal, and believe it or not there was still one portion left for Margy to have for lunch.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mom's Midas Touch

I was saddled with the important duty of picking up my father at the airport, and in exchange for my efforts Margy and I were invited to my parents' place for dinner.

Or, more accurately, I invited us over for dinner. But there's no need to split hairs here. I delivered said father into the waiting arms of said mother, and she in turn delivered a big bowl of spaghetti with squid to the table.

There's very little Mom can't cook. (Duck comes to mind, but even there I'm not convinced. Every time she made it when I lived with my folks, I'd be eating happily only to hear constant complaints from both of them. Mom: "I don't know why I try to make duck -- this is terrible." Dad: "I told you that you can't cook duck, but you never listen!" My protests always fell on deaf ears.) That said, she has a special rapport with squid and achieves hands-down excellence every time. Those little guys get mouthwateringly tender for her on command.

This sauce was wonderful as usual and tasted vibrantly of squid. Somehow Mom knows how to avoid buying flavorless cephalopods. I don't know her secret, but if she could apply her deft touch to shopping for and cooking a duck, my dad would be most impressed indeed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bienvenido a Newark

Margy joined me for day two of the drum festival, but the performance we were most looking forward to was dinner at a Spanish restaurant in Newark.

All my life I've heard about Newark's great Portuguese and Spanish food, yet I'm ashamed to admit this was my first time trying it, at a place called Casa Vasca. Well, it won't be my last. As we looked over the wine list, we were given steaming bowls of kale and potato soup with chorizo. That started things off right, but looking at the kale I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor spinach farmers whose livelihoods have been ruined by the recent health scare. Anyway, none of this stopped me from cleaning my bowl.

Though we eventually settled on the entrees we wanted, I asked the waiter a few questions anyway. We were generally thinking seafood, but there was something in his tone when I asked what the best dishes are. "You want fish?" he said.

"Why? Is meat your specialty?" I said.

"Yes," he said, "but all the best dishes are sold out by now." It was 7pm. Popular place.

We heard a few suggestions, but we weren't swayed. Margy ordered paella with seafood, chicken, and chorizo, and I went for a special of fried whiting. I am powerless to resist the pull of small deep-fried sea creatures. We'd been warned about the ridiculous amount of food you get at these restaurants, but what the heck -- we also ordered the stuffed mushrooms appetizer.

All the dishes were excellent. The whiting, four of them, served whole, scared Margy a little by bearing their little teeth at her, but she didn't complain when she took a bite. The fish was firm, the outside crisp, and the frying was relatively gentle, with no heavy coating. The paella, enough for at least three people (at under $20 no less), was a treasure chest of goodies that included lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, chicken on the bone, and slices of wonderful mild chorizo. On top was a fat spear of white asparagus. We also had a nice rioja that went well with the food.

I don't know why we skipped flan for dessert -- maybe it had something to do with eating half our weight in entrees -- but we'll be sure to order it next time.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Every Bite You Take

I was at a drum festival all day, but I planned to beat Margy home and cook some hamburgers just in time for her arrival. That didn't happen -- the schedule got delayed, and I wasn't about to miss the headliner, Stewart Copeland, so I called Margy and suggested she start dinner and I'd meet her back home. Despite her long Saturday at the office, she reluctantly agreed.

She didn't beat me by much, but she got tons of work done in that time. The grill was lit, the table was set, the salad was made. "Want me to do the dressing?" I asked. Nope, already done. The girl knows how to take care of business. All I had to do was grill the burgers.

Anyway, Margy's a huge Police fan, so she understood that I needed to be late. And it was worth it -- Stewart was in fine form, playing with the band Gismo, which he tours Italy with every summer (not a bad hobby). He wore a tight green soccer shirt and white drumming gloves, and he hammed it up at every opportunity, beginning his performance by bounding onstage and shouting, "Good evening, New Jersey!" He played great too -- he made a few deft ska-style moves, and even his softer strokes were brought down with serious force.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A First at Our Place

Well, I still can't say I've cooked eel, but now at least I can say I've served it.

Last month, when we were trying in vain to find the nonexistent Asian food market called Capital and instead found only the one called Asian Food Market, we spied prepared Japanese eel in the freezer case, and we brought some home.

The eel was precooked, and the package contained various heating instructions. All of the methods involved first placing the sealed package in hot water to "soften" the eel. Tonight I chose the method where you heat it further on foil in the oven, like many sushi chefs do (too few of them have those nifty eel grills that I've only seen once or twice at the best restaurants).

While the package soaked, I cooked teriyaki sauce, with a bit of shrimp stock added, to brush on the eel. But after all that careful sauce brewing, I pulled the softened eel out of its package to find it had already been dressed with sauce and was practically ready to eat. It was exactly like the stuff I used to get for lunch in the eel bowl at Saga Sushi, nee Daikichi Sushi, in NYC -- sweet and meaty and tasty, if not close to homemade. (I also get the impression that, with all the sugar and salt in the sauce, it's not exactly health food, despite eel being high in protein and vitamins A and B12. I'll have to look more closely at the package next time.) I slipped it into the toaster oven, and later I brushed a little of my sauce on it anyway.

The eel was quite the conversation piece when Margy got home, and we made quick work of it. I do intend to learn how to cook my own eel someday, but in the meantime this will do rather nicely.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's All in the Condiments

Lentil soup is a staple around here, because it's simple to prepare, freezes well, and makes a great quick dinner. But it helps to surround lentils with other fun stuff.

Like green beans.

Kidding -- green beans are wonderful, but I'm not sure I'd call straight-up boiled ones fun. I'm referring to the little bowl of roasted tomatoes with thyme and garlic. Whenever I've picked enough tomatoes from the garden, I toss them with salt, pepper, thyme sprigs, and garlic cloves and throw them in a not-too-hot oven for a couple hours. (As is so often the case, this brilliant idea came from my mom.) After barely half an hour, amazing things begin to happen. The aroma, savory and herbal yet a bit acidic, is enough to torture me, and it only grows more intense and tantalizing. Then when the tomatoes are finally finished -- some shriveled and deflated, others wrinkled but still plump -- I cover them with olive oil and put them in a jar, and they keep in the fridge for a long time. They make the ultimate condiment (see the rib eye from a few days ago).

Tonight I spread the tomatoes on a toasted roll as I ate the lentil soup, and that made dinner a lot more fun.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hello, Old Friend

As always, when I don't feel like running out to pick up any missing ingredients for a given dish, I make pasta with whatever's on hand. Tonight it was spaghetti alla carbonara, which we love but hadn't had in a long time.

Usually I don't skimp with the parsley, which I mix together with a couple of eggs, a bunch of Parmesan, and lots of black pepper. To that mixture I add the hot pasta, dressed with pancetta or bacon plus cream (if I have cream) and whatever else I feel like adding that day (sometimes onion, sometimes garlic, sometimes broth). Then I stir it all together to distribute the flavors evenly and "cook" the egg. But I was out of parsley, and the sprigs in our garden had nearly died, starved of light and nutrients by sharing the soil with our out-of-control tomato plants. I rescued the crop, but barely, and it was coming back slowly. So I clipped only a couple of perimeter sprigs tonight, figuring that if I'm patient we might have a decent plant just in time for the first frost.

To make up for the lack of attractive green specks, I threw in a few frozen peas, which carbonara often includes anyway. And I don't usually have heavy cream lying around unless I have some left over from another use. I had it tonight because I'd bought it to use in celery soup, but the soup was rich enough without it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Major Letdown

It's sad to go back to regular assembly-line pizza so soon after being treated to Margy's incredible homemade version, but grabbing a pie when you're pressed for time is the ultimate in convenience -- and one of the only relatively safe bets in a town of few decent take-out choices. Tonight it was gobble, gobble, then I was off to witness the dazzling guitar heroics of Jeff Beck live in concert. Margy opted out of the guitar-heroics part.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tastes of Summer

Margy and I checked our crave-o-meters, and for some reason only a steak would do.

I didn't spend $26 or anything, but I did find a nice rib eye. When it came off the grill to rest for a few minutes, I brushed two rolls with olive oil and melted butter and grilled them as an accompaniment. Then I topped the sliced rib eye with tomatoes from our garden that I'd roasted with garlic and thyme (a nifty condiment that pretty much goes well with anything). The whole thing could have easily been eaten as a sandwich, but we went with the knife-and-fork method.

At the farmers' market yesterday it was clear that it's now or never as far as corn is concerned. It was a bad year for corn all around, so by mid-September the tables were stacked with skinny little ears, which had all been picked over and partially shucked. But we found a few decent ones, and it was still summer for at least another night.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Celery Soup, It Ain't

Margy and I were at Juilliard to see a theater workshop directed by our friend Essho, and after the show we were starving and there was no time to waste. We passed a few anonymous-looking pizzerias and Mexican joints, and then across the street we saw a Chinese noodle shop, Bos.

There was a recent Time Out endorsement hanging in the window, and we walked in, sat down, and ordered some shrimp toast and a couple bowls of noodles. The shrimp toast was excellent, but the noodles were a bit of a letdown. The noodles themselves were al dente, but the broth was bland and the pork was chewy. I ate enough to satisfy my hunger, but on those few occasions when I'm not excited by my meal it's hard for me to go the distance. I was mortified when the waiter came by and with a puzzled look asked us, "You're done?" I hate not pulling my weight. But one thing I cannot do is force myself to eat when my heart's no longer in it.

The bygone Cafe Le Wok on 35th made a much better noodle soup, and they never got attention from any local magazines. What a shame -- if they had, the place might still be there today.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

We Can Always Count on Keema

I was about to go play a gig, and I didn't feel like cooking. But our local take-out options are so flimsy that I was forced into duty.

I went with trusty turkey keema, tonight served in tortillas, with thick and tangy tamarind sauce.

Friday, September 08, 2006


I bought a bunch of celery at the farmers' market on Sunday, to use when I boiled the chicken. And when I say a bunch, I mean a bunch.

It was organic, and for, I think, $3.50 (easily the most I've paid for celery) I got a lot of it. I tried using as much as I could at every opportunity, but the thing wouldn't dwindle. And it was unlike any other celery I've seen -- the stalks were really thin, very dark, and superdense. It was impossible to crunch on a raw piece without chewing for five minutes afterward. Not only that, but the base of the bunch was caked with dirt and mud... and pretty well crawling with insects. A beetle sauntered out onto my kitchen table as I pulled away a few stalks, and later I found a slug, alive and well and, presumably, well fed.

But oh, the flavor of this celery!

When I told Enzo about the giant green tree that was taking over our fridge, he suggested I use any leftovers to make soup. And so, after scrub, scrub, scrubbing the hell out of each and every little piece with a stiff brush -- Margy doesn't like slugs in her soup -- I boiled the celery in chicken stock along with carrot and onion, and later I added some celery root and a potato. Once the celery became tender (which took a long time), I poured everything into a blender and pureed it. Exciting things were starting to happen.

But... the stuff was way too fibrous, so Margy got out her Foley food mill, and we passed the soup through it to smooth out the texture. This took some time, but it needed to happen. And I had planned to add some cream to the final product, but the soup was so lush and rich that I didn't bother. It was like having all the savory flavor of celery concentrated into something far more satisfying and substantial than celery itself.

Next stop, cauliflower.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Catch-All Gemelli

A few days ago, the fridge was jam-packed. A tray of pizza balanced precariously atop milk and water jugs, and there was hardly a free spot for a container of blueberries. Now, however, after Margy and I had systematically worked our way through the bulk of our holiday-weekend goodies, it was time to clean house for real and prepare ourselves for yet another trip to the supermarket.

Nothing is a better vehicle than a pasta dish for synthesizing all the odds and ends into something delicious.

So into the pan went the leftover pizza toppings -- pancetta, sautéed mushrooms, mozzarella. Actually, I stirred the mozz into the hot pasta just before serving, but you get the idea. I basically just emptied all our half-full plastic containers, added a few ripe cherry tomatoes, cooked some gemelli, and dinner was served.

I can't believe it's already time to go shopping again.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Leftover Pizza

Margy is a magician. Hers is not normal pizza.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Fruit That Goes Its Own Way

I have lots of respect for avocados. For days they play hard-to-get, biding their time, remaining green on the outside, making us want to eat them but telling us we don't have permission. Then one day they're ready to give it up. They darken markedly; we poke them a little and they say, "Yes, NOW." If we don't obey soon enough, it's too late, and we know it.

That's why I found myself serving guacamole along with meat loaf sandwiches. I didn't know if I should, but I knew that if I didn't I ran the risk of letting the avocados that I had watched for days fall to ruin.

Well, guess what? It was a nice combo! I even spread the guac right on the sandwich a bit at a time, and its creaminess helped make it a fine condiment indeed. I don't mind a bit that I had to adhere to the avocados' schedule -- they kept me on my toes.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Chicken Bath

I'm pleased to relate that one of the easiest possible dinners is also among the most satisfying.

After making those grand pizza gestures yesterday, not to mention eating heroic quantities of food, we needed something simple. So, inspired as usual by my mother's meals, I threw a chicken in a pot with some vegetables, covered it with water by a few inches, tossed in a few potatoes after the bird had simmered for about an hour, and then another hour later we had a light and tasty meal that would yield both leftover chicken and a few quarts of ready-made stock for the freezer. Besides occasional stirring and salting and tasting, the work was done in five minutes.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Margy Labors on Labor Day Weekend

If there's one kind of grueling work that really pays off, it's pizza making. And Margy, it must be said, is becoming the master.

While we usually schedule pizza in advance and give ourselves something to look forward to -- or in my case, to obsess about -- today it was a late-breaking inspiration. Suddenly energized by our plan, we ran to the market to grab some fresh mozzarella and some San Marzano tomatoes, and we summoned our pal Yoz to come share the wealth.

While Margy made the dough and the San Marzano sauce, I worked on prepping the toppings. I sliced pancetta, sautéed mushrooms, and cooked spinach and garlic, and of course I halved a bunch of our homegrown cherry tomatoes. I couldn't contain my excitement over the idea of matching Margy's pizza with our flavorful little tomatoes.

It's wild how the crust always turns out a little different, probably owing to the weather and perhaps some more subtle factors, like water salinity and Margy's relaxation versus agitation levels as she kneads the dough. She claims I say this every time, but tonight might have been her best pizza ever. Yoz said it was the best pizza he'd ever had, and he later commented -- before the ice cream cone -- that he usually doesn't eat that much in three days. Attaboy. He will be invited back, perhaps even with an open invitation, regardless of whether his presence means fewer leftovers for Margy and me.

And the cherry tomatoes made one hell of an addition to pizza night. I scattered them on a white pie, along with olive oil, anchovies, chilies, mozzarella, and Parmesan. I sprinkled a few flakes of sea salt on the finished pizza to bring out the flavor a little more. Yup, best ever.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Sungolds and Cherries Everywhere

The tomatoes keep coming, and I'll keep using them on pasta until the first frost.

Tonight I made linguine with shrimp and clams, and, as always, tossed in a bunch of halved tomatoes right at the end. Seafood pasta is one of Margy's favorites, and she was glad I made enough for her to have some for lunch in a day or two.

I'm trying to block out the fact that summer is almost over. It's been such a treat to have instant access to these tomatoes, not to mention to lots and lots of herbs, plus cucumbers and the occasional long bean. I keep fantasizing about moving someplace where we can keep a garden growing year round.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Now Featuring Pork!

"I made something the other day that you have to try," my mom said, and she went on to describe what sounded like the ultimate meat loaf -- ground pork seasoned with ground porcini mushrooms, shaped into a log, and covered with slices of pancetta.

I didn't waste much time before I tried it myself, as I'm always looking for a reason to cover things with pancetta. Of course, I forgot to buy the mushrooms, so I doubt I achieved the same depth of flavor, but this was still pretty much my favorite meat loaf ever.

I should say that I'm not really such a big meat loaf fan, though I like it okay. (I think part of it is the name. Meat. Loaf. I dunno -- it just doesn't sound delicious. Too bad ambrosia is already taken.) But swapping the beef for pork and adding pancetta goes a long way in my book, and it really did the trick here. The loaf, which included bread, Parmesan, garlic, onion, and parsley, like a regular beef version, was moist and juicy, and the pancetta crisped up nicely on the outside. Like my mom noted, pancetta's flavor is a little mellower than bacon's, so it didn't overpower everything else. I can't wait to find out what the mushrooms bring to the table.