Thursday, July 23, 2009


Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Germany)République française (France)United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (England)Danmark (Denmark)Repubblica Italiana (Italy)
I have alluded to a trip to Europe this summer. My boy Whogus celebrates his 50th birthday this August, and just like his 30th and 40th, he's throwing himself a three-day party at his family's summer cottage in Strib, on the island of Fyn in Denmark, the sight of some very festive soirées. I have every confidence the old boy will out do himself this time around. After all, he's not getting any younger, you know.
Since I'm going all that way, I've padded the travel budget a bit and extended the visit to three weeks. Based on the national flags above, see if you can work out my other destinations. (Hint: run your mouse over each image.) I'll be visiting old haunts and hopefully making wondrous new discoveries as well. All the while casting myself in the role of le pig de guinea gastronomique. I will have limited access to the double-u, double-u, double-u's; but will be taking copious notes and photographs cataloging what went into my stomach, and how it got there. I'll stop in an Intertube cafe as often as possible with brief updates. Real blogging, however, will have to wait until my return mid-August.
U.S Passport cover
Until then, my gentle readers, I thank you for checking out this here blog thingy. You can rest easy knowing that my extended absence is for epicurean research only, and not for anything as frivolous as fun.
Hasta pronto - Blog O. Food

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hard Rock Knocks

Mosaic floor from a church in Petra (detail)Back when I was a struggling crew coach, money was always an issue. In the off season, I invariably had to find a job to support my bad habits. One summer I landed what I thought was gonna be a sweet gig cooking the books for an Italian stone importer (actually, I just paid the bills). He had a smokin' hot French associate who could be heard swearing in her native tongue over the telephone to quarrymen in Europe. We had a tasteful West Hollywood showroom with stunning mosaic granite and marble tile. One heard rumors of the shady antiquity deal, but I never saw anything like that go down. Unbeknownst to me, the owner was looking for a Lloyd to his Ari Gold. After unknowingly failing to pay a parking ticket for him and pick up his Mercedes from the impound yard one afternoon, I was unceremoniously fired about four weeks into the summer. I spent the next two months eating tuna out of the can, riding my road bike and surfing. My credit card balance ballooned and I lost about 15 pounds, but I turned heads when shirtless!
Before that fateful day however, the owner invited me to his home in Beverly Hills for dinner one night. He and his wife lived in this magnificent old Spanish colonial that I dreamed of owning one day. For the main course, his wife served a crispy roasted chicken, unadorned except for salt & pepper, but what I remembered most was a simple, and simply delicious first course. All it was was conchiglie (sea shell) pasta with onions and peas, a little white wine and lots of pepper. Her secret was sweating her onions on the lowest flame possible for a good 40 minutes or so before adding any other ingredient. I tried it out on my parents one winter, and my stepmother Anita loved it so much that, for a while there, it was all I ever made when I visited. It got to be a running joke after a time.
Conchiglie e Piselli - adapted from an old Naples recipe
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 2⁄3 cup olive oil
  • 1½ Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup fresh, shelled baby peas
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 pound conchiglie (shell) pasta
  • 3 cups water or chicken stock
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Sweat thinly sliced onionToss in pancettaToss in string beans once onions have almost dissolved
Sweat onions and pancetta with plenty of pepper in olive oil over low, low heat for 40-50 minutes, stirring frequently. The onions should almost liquefy, but not brown. Add peas and 1 cup of white wine, cover and cook over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add 3 more cups of water or stock to the peas. Bring mixture to a boil and add pasta shells. Reduce heat to medium and cover the stock pot. Stir pasta frequently. Most of the broth should be absorbed, but if necessary, add just enough extra liquid to allow pasta to cook to al dente. Toss with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes to taste. Serve immediately.
Conchiglie e Piselli
This is a good first course on Italian night, or even a one-dish meal if you're going stag. It's important to keep as low a flame as possible when sweating your onions. I place my stock pot in a large sauté pan and heat that over a medium-low flame. I get great indirect heat that way. Remove the sauté pan once you are ready to boil your liquid and cook the pasta.
Simmering the pasta produces a slightly thick sauce as the starch combines with the wine and chicken stock. The pancetta adds smoky complexity. With a few more cups of stock and maybe some poached chicken breasts, you can stretch your food dollar by turning this dish into a very good soup.
Keep It Fresh: you want the peas (or whatever!) and onions to stand out, so fresh, fresh, fresh from the farmers market when in season. Unfortunately, life often throws you a curve ball. Be flexible. The peas weren't that impressive looking but the string beans were dark green, and plump. I removed the tips and cut them into thirds before adding them to the onions and pancetta. The result was still a bright-tasting pasta sauce.
Enzo's meatballs, onions and peppersEnzo's meatballs, onions and peppers
I cheated.
On my way to the market, I swung by Enzo's and ordered a plate of meatballs and peppers. They were ready by the time I finished shopping. I even sat down for a glass of wine with the waiter before heading home. Totally. Worth. It.
Well, I didn't make my millions importing stone for high-end homes in southern California, but I learned some interesting French cuss words, and walked away with a terrific Italian recipe from the old country. One, I share with you now, the others will have to wait until I'm losing at cards or you're in the passenger seat as I drive the streets of New York City.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, July 19, 2009

This Is Not Yo Cheese!

Nachos ZoneMost days I can be counted upon to stick my nose up in the air at processed foods. I can whip up something healthier, better tasting, and cheaper at home. However, if you ever see me at a ballpark or stadium, that snooty attitude goes the way of the Dodo, only faster. Suddenly, my darker nature kicks in, and I'm shoveling hotdogs and soft pretzels down my gullet with alarming speed and deadly accuracy. I spend the rest of the afternoon simultaneously satisfied and disgusted with myself. But junk food at sporting events is included in the Bill of Rights, right? Surely that is what George W. Bush meant when he said the terrorists hate us for our freedoms.
All this past weekend I passed up chances to fall off the wagon and gorge on Buffalo wings, curly fries, jalapeño poppers and nachos. By this afternoon, my defenses were completely shot, so I rationalized that making junk at home would surely be healthier than ordering it off the menu at Yankee Stadium or some Irish bar in Woodlawn. My conscience will no doubt nag me later, but right now, my full belly congratulates me.
Steak & black bean nachos
  • Corn tortilla chips
  • 2 cups refried black beans
  • ¾ lb shaved beef
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ lb cheddar cheese, grated
  • ¼ lb Monterey jack cheese, grated
  • 3 jalapeño peppers, sliced
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp chili power
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • Salt and hot sauce to taste
Start by marinating beef, overnight if possible, in oil, soy sauce, herbs and spices. Bring to room temperature 1 hour before cooking. If you're not of Hispanic decent, you probably don't have a pot of beans on the stove at all times. In that case, used canned refried beans. Latinos know how to make refried beans by the time they're 6-years old. I've covered it before here.
Refried black beansCheese sauceGrilled shaved beef
For the sauce, make a roux with the butter and flour, cooking for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, and gradually whisk in the two grated cheeses and allow sauce to thicken, stirring frequently for 10 minutes. Season with salt and hot sauce. While the cheese sauce thickens, grill beef on a cast iron griddle over medium high heat for 6-7 minutes, tossing frequently. Lay down a layer of corn tortilla chips on a large platter. Sprinkle with cooked beef and a big spoonful of beans. Drizzle with cheese sauce and top with chilies. Repeat with another layer of chips, meat, beans, cheese sauce and peppers.
Steak and black bean nachos
The marinated beef was extraordinary. Complex, rich and multi-layered. Cheese in the refried beans along with the spicy cheese sauce seems to me a little excessive, but we are talking junk food here after all. Besides, it's Sunday, and all bets are off. Finally, fresh, hot chilies brighten things up and make your scalp sweat. A good reason to drink an arctic cold beer with your plate of triple-bypass chips.
Penn State Nacho Cheese SauceFlorida State Nacho Cheese SauceOhio State Nacho Cheese Sauce
University of Illinois Nacho Cheese SauceUNC Nacho Cheese SauceClemson Nacho Cheese Sauce
Before starting, I went online to look over cheese sauce recipes as a refresher course. I hit the mother lode for all things nacho. I am quite simply astounded at what you can purchase online these days. I wish I were a salesman. I would be writing this blog from a white, sandy beach on my own private Pacific island along the Equator. You just know every one of the sauces above is the exact same thing with just a different label plastered on the jars. There is probably some slob collecting a fat check for every university alumni who orders a jar of this crap. All I can say is, good for him.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Favorite Things

The Laughing Cow logoAs you know, I am a simple sort of man. Every weekday morning, I rise early, put on a pot of coffee, peruse the headlines online and listen to NPR. An hour later, I make some breakfast, shower, dress and head out the door. Routines like this will help me when aggressive senility ultimate takes me down. In the mean time, they're comforting. They comfort me.

The only time the stove gets lit before 5pm is if I'm having oatmeal. Otherwise, straightforwardness and convenience are at the controls. I have two favorite breakfast customs. This is my 2nd favorite:
English muffin Frenchies (the Brits will love that one)
  • Whole wheat English muffins
  • Fresh organic tomatoes, sliced
  • La Vache Qui Rit® cheese
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper
  • Scalding hot coffee
I don't remember when I discovered La Vache Qui Rit. It seems to me I've been eating it forever, but I know that to be impossible. Whatever the case, it's just delicious and brilliantly packaged with little individually wrapped wedges in a cool little cardboard round. While I wasn't looking, some ad executive decided that the American audience was too stupid or lazy to figure out that la vache qui rit translates into "laughing cow", so marketing in the U.S. goes by the English moniker. I hate that. Give us a little more credit, why don't you. I think we can figure out that a cheese imported from France will probably have French words. Extrapolating from there, we just may be capable of deducing that they might have something to do with the happy cow on the label. Sorry. Sarcasm is another of my AM routines.
Anyway, cheese and salty tomato on toasted bread. Someone could market that. Give it a snappy (American sounding) name and make a million bucks. Or, you could go out an make some of your own, whether pressed for time in the morning or not.
English muffin, Laughing Cow and organic tomato breakfast
My absolute favorite breakfast tradition? Two soft-boiled eggs served in little porcelain cups, with lots and lots of buttered sourdough toast for dipping in the yolks, all eaten out-of-doors under a beautiful California summer sun with the San Francisco Chronicle spilling onto the ground all around me. Like I said, simple pleasures!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Keeping It Real

Grant Wood - American GothicMore cooking by way of the new and improved BOF credo: Keep It Fresh, Stupid! Farm stand basil and more heirloom tomatoes shine in another version of my Pasta Salad.  Intense Cherry tomatoes replace the sundried variety while they're in season. The basil crop is going gangbusters now that the sun is out. Freshly grated parm from the Retail Market and lots and lots of extra virgin olive oil. Adding grilled sweet Italian sausages allows me to retain my Man Tribe membership card.
Pasta salad with sweet Italian sausage and heirloom cherry tomatoes
I could have wallowed in self-pity cooking for one after so many great family meals up in Maine. But summer's bounty (and a new exercise regimen) are buoying my disposition. And this lighter fare is helping to retard wear & tear on the old bathroom scales. Always an ego boost.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Migliorelli Farm

Migliorelli Logo
It was back to the Farmers Market this weekend. I missed a couple weeks while on holiday, so it was nice to see familiar, friendly faces behind counters and stalls. The summer growing season marches on as evidenced by what crops are popping up. Berries of all kinds are in full, if short, production. The cherries are small, but remarkably sweet and the blueberries just won't end. I've had them in yoghurt, on ice cream, and in my oatmeal. They are a summer favorite.

Cooking greens are all over the map: broccoli rabe, chard, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, and turnip greens. Salad greens are keeping pace too. The arugula is amazing right now. Young, crisp and peppery. It can transform a tuna or chicken salad sandwich from pedestrian to inspired. For my lunch, I toasted a baguette, smeared on some soft brie, then stacked on some baby arugula and was whisked back to a summer backpacking trip through France. I wish I were that kid all over again.

You should see the early root crops: beets, beets, and more beets. Japanese turnips, baby carrots, beautiful French Breakfast radishes. There's a shopping list of produce I could run down, but you get the idea.
Bing cherriesBlueberries
The New York Botanical Garden Farmers Market is a small operation; just a handful of stalls. Most of the vendors talk readily about their farms and what practices they use in the fields and for harvesting. You can learn a lot just by showing an interest in their products. I gravitate most frequently to Migliorelli Farm. Theirs is a very conscientious venture up the Hudson Valley in Tivoli, NY, Duchess County. Migliorelli used to have fields right here in the Bronx, but moved up river when development squeezed out the last farms in New York City. The Migliorelli family is working diligently to transform their farm into a ecologically conscious, sustainable farming enterprise. Rotating production field crops, ending reliance on pesticides and reducing their carbon footprint are just some of the efforts the family is voluntarily taking on. What this means for the consumer is safer, fresher produce.
Pattypan squashGlobe squashGlobe squash
French Breakfast radishBasil
This season, I've made my own pledge to plan meals that focus on what's in season. Produce is getting the spotlight. I'm simplifying techniques and keeping the burners off as often as possible. Tonight it was a summer salad with grilled chicken breasts:
  • Mixed salad greens
  • Sliced French Breakfast radishes
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Chopped fresh dill
  • Heirloom cherry tomatoes
I marinated my chicken for a couple of hours in a mix of freshly chopped garlic, soy sauce, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and lots of freshly ground black pepper. I didn't add any salt; there was plenty in the soy. It only took about 10 minutes to get them grilled.
For a vinaigrette, I mixed olive oil and Balsamic vinegar in 3:1 ratio, added a dollop of Dijon mustard, more freshly chopped garlic, basil, oregano, and plenty of salt & pepper. Perfection and better in every way to any store-bought salad dressing.
Organic chicken salad
Here was a meal to suit the season. Light, refreshing, satisfying. All the produce had been in the ground less than 24 hours earlier. Even the chicken came from hormone-free birds. One didn't leave the table feeling stuffed or uncomfortable, so I gave myself a good pat on the back after drying the dishes. Pops O'Food would have broke into song, "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble..."
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Thursday, July 9, 2009

When the World Gives You Lemons...

RaindropsIf you though the weather was bad in NYC those first few weeks of June, I've got news for you, Maine was experiencing rain of biblical proportions. On Chebeague, the ground was completely saturated. I played a round of golf in six inches of mud. God knows why they even opened up the course; it's now ruined for the season. The Webb Cottage kids were about 24 hours away from total bat-shit crazy. There weren't enough DVDs at the library or jigsaw puzzles on the shelves to keep them occupied. The grown ups weren't faring much better themselves. There were only two consolations: booze and food. We cover the latter in this here blog thingy.
Pork Roast – adapted from Atlanta Junior League Cookbook
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp unsulphered molasses
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 2tsp dry mustard
  • 6 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 4-5 lb pork loin roast
Marinated pork roastRoasted pork loin resting
Roasted pork tenderloinBlue Willow table setting
Mix first 6 ingredients together and let stand for 15 minutes to combine. Marinate pork in the refrigerator overnight in a large zip-lock bag with marinade, turning several times before going to bed. Remove pork roast from the ice box 1 hour before roasting. Place meat, fat-side up in an oiled shallow backing pan. Reserve the marinade. Roast meat for 2.5 hours in a pre-heated 350° oven, basting with reserved marinade every 20 minutes or so. Roast will be cooked to medium when an internal thermometer registers 140°. Remove roast from oven, loosely tent with aluminum foil, resting for 20 minutes before carving.
And for dessert? Gingerbread cake.
Gingerbread Cake – adapted from the New York Times
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups dark molasses
  • Freshly whipped cream, for serving.
Add melted butter to dry ingredientsSlowing whisk beaten eggs into batter
Pour batter into greased, floured baking dishCool gingerbread cake before cutting and serving
Sift flour, baking soda and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in spices and salt. In a small pan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Melt ½ cup butter in it, then whisk liquid into flour mixture. Beat eggs and add to flour along with the molasses. Stir until well blended. Pour batter into a buttered, floured 8x8 baking pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a skewer plunged into the center of the bread comes out clean. Serve warm with freshly whipped cream.
Gingerbread cake with fresh whipped cream
By Thursday afternoon, the weather finally broke with streaks of blue sky and the sun poking through clouds. Friday dawned clear, and the fair weather stuck around the entire holiday weekend. Saturday night, watching the mainland fireworks from our vantage point above the Hook, a fattening moon rose brilliantly over Deer Point, its reflection on the cove a white path to the heavens. Magical.
I've looked over my posts from Chebeague, and in my humble opinion, they are some of the finest musings I've come up with so far on You Gonna Finish That?. I can draw only one conclusion: food, for me, is a social experiment. Breaking bread fulfills me and that pleasure pours out in my writing. It has been a sheer delight sharing stories of loved ones and our good times together, almost as much fun as the experiences themselves. It's been almost a year, and this blogger is finding his voice. I wondered for a time what this effort would ultimately be about. Seems I have my answer.
Now back to work!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

As Close to Flan...

... as one gets on an island.
Cream cheeseLet's all just assume you read my Enchilada Casserole post and make nice about it. I brought the recipe with me on my first visit to Maine seven years ago. You should have seen the looks of utter skepticism on the faces of the younger Webb Cottage denizens as I chopped black olives and prepared the chili sauce. They'd never seen anything more alien. Had there been a McDonald's within swimming distance, I might have been the only one eating Mexican food that night. Open revolt hung in the balance. Luckily for me, good nurturing parents won out and everyone agreed to try a bite before passing judgment. Well, as I stated in that earlier post, I had a houseful of new converts on my hands. The casserole now makes a command performance every year and I have an army of eager helping hands in the kitchen.
But what to do about dessert? In case you haven't noticed, sweets are a highly charged subject within the Chebeague clan. Muffy, High Priestess of the Menu, put the kibosh on flan as too impractical and totally un-islandish. I have to say I agreed. Cheesecake was the populist compromise.
Three Cities of Spain Cheesecake – adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook
  • 3 8oz packages cream cheese, softened
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup plus 1Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1lb sour cream
  • Crumb crust (recipe to follow)
Preheat oven to 350°. Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, until fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Put 9” spring form pan with crust on a shallow baking pan. Pour filling into crust. Bake until cake is set 3 inches from edges, but center is still slightly wobbly, about 45 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack for 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.) Stir together sour cream, remaining sugar and remaining vanilla in a medium bowl. Drop spoonfuls of topping around edges of cake and then spread evenly over the top. Bake cake an additional 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen, and then let cool completely in the pan on a rack. Refrigerate cake, loosely covered for at least 6 hours. Remove side of pan, transfer cake to a plate and bring to room temperature before serving.
Graham Cracker Crumb Crust
  • 1½ cups finely ground graham crackers
  • 5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1⁄3 cup sugar
  • ⅛ tsp salt
Stir together all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Press into bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a buttered spring form pan. Fill with cake batter immediately, or keep crust refrigerated for up to 2 hours.
Box of graham cracker crumbsForming graham cracker crustAdd eggs to beaten cream cheese
Pour cheese batter into spring form moldGently tap pan to release any bubbles in batterCheesecake rising in the oven
Cheesecake, and not apple pie, ought to be America's dessert. There are dozens of variations and we love them all, but there's nothing quite like fresh berries adorning a fat slice of cheesecake to get the mouth watering and forks whirring.
Cheesecake and fresh blueberries
I am fast becoming a dessert man, and am now leaving room for something sweet after dinner. There goes my girlish figure.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food