Monday, September 13, 2010


Get an atypical New York street faire experience a mere spittin' distance from my front door at the Belmont Business Improvement District's Ferragosto Festival. NYC is infamous for the same 20 vendors showing up at every summer street fair on the island, hawking the same tired wares to the same tired tourists. Only their (the out-of-towners) names and faces change. Ferragosto has local businesses selling fresh hot food and sweets to families and friends who come back to the neighborhood year after year. Ferragosto 2010 was this past Sunday on Arthur Avenue and not even the cool dreary weather could keep folks away. The Lone Ranger showed up to sip sangria and sample grilled meats with me. We ran into students from the University, my favorite barkeep & his wife, and crowds of locals that I see every weekend on my regular shopping trips.
Ferragosto was originally a mid-summer pagan holiday in Augustan Rome, celebrating fertility and ripening. There were probably lots of bare breasts on display. Sorry, I see the word ripening, and my mind wanders to boobies. Anyhow, the Roman Catholic Church - like with a lot of ancient celebrations - co-opted the party by taking all the fun away and making it a holy day of obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Politicians Popes decreed almost 2000 years after her death that Mary, "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." I know, it's complicated.
But before I offend anymore of my devoted readers, take a gander at Little Italy's interpretation of a summer harvest festival!
Meat grilled over open fires played a major supporting role in the festival.
Wannabe gangsters, fathers pushing baby strollers, sober academics, bent-over grandfathers all puffed away on hand-rolled cigars.
The street was blocked off and local restaurants brought out tables and chairs for dining al fresco. Fromaggio di Parma was proudly displayed along with her co-star, dried salami.
Suckling pig got top billing. It took 15 minutes of elbowing and contorting between horrified children and satisfied looking Italian matrons to get these shots. I should have them blown up and framed for my efforts.
As a reward for valiant perseverance, I treated the Lone Ranger and myself to Enzo's baked polenta and a couple of Peronis, Birra Nastro Azzurro*.
Ferragosto is a true community enterprise. Every local shop owner gets involved. There is such a convivial display of camaraderie, because everyone KNOWS everybody else. Even outsiders don't stay strangers long. So much more personal than those fly-by-night operations in dreary old Manhattan, don't you think?
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
* Blue Ribbon beer

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Date Night

"Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese." `Gilbert K. Chesterton
Sunday dawned clear and crisp. By the time I arose, the Lone Ranger had swept away the previous night's detritus and there was very little for me to do except drink my coffee and listen to the birds call. We did have this one meaningful exchange, however:
Lone Ranger: What do you want for breakfast?
Tonto: Scrambled eggs on toast.
Lone Ranger: Okay.

Breakfast made to order.
The guy is a treasure, I'm tellin' ya.
It was a day for doing very little and doing it expertly. The garden plants did managed to get watered and the beer & wine bottles cleared to the recycling bin. The silver was safely locked away and the china dutifully stacked in the beautiful inherited hutch. There was even a Home Depot run for paint samples and a DVD from the Incredible Shrinking Blockbuster.
Late in day, with growling tummies and leftovers aplenty, we gorged a second time on pot roast and vegetables sopped in rich thick gravy. But we weren't done there. With some serious down time, we spoiled ourselves with the alchemy of cheese and the genius that is Steve Carell and Tina Fey.
Cheese Fondue - updated from Peyton's Godmother Joan Brown
  • ½ lb Swiss cheese, grated
  • ½ lb Gruyère cheese, grate
  • 3 tsp flour
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • pinch nutmeg
Toss grated cheese with flour. Rub chafing dish and mixing spoon with garlic. Add wine to dish and heat up. Add cheese, stirring until melted. Stir in seasonings. Serve with cubed Italian bread.
Here's the thing about rubbing garlic on stuff: it's bunk. Caesar salad dressing recipes call for the same technique. Unless it's toasty French baguettes however, don't bother. The Lone Ranger (a trained professional, mind you) scoffs at the practice. Subtlety is not a forte he cultivates; nor do I. Instead, finely chop the garlic and add it to the other ingredients, it'll bring out a nice garlicky flavor, and nobody who matters will ever notice the switch you pulled.

© 20th Century Fox  
For our own Date Night, we dispensed with all the customary dining protocols and sat in the living room hunched over the coffee table, dipping day-old Italian bread into our bubbling cauldron of cheesy goodness. The Lone Ranger even managed to snooze through part of the movie. I put him to bed as the credits rolled. He's coming to NYC this weekend for a change. What in the world am I gonna serve him?
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Just Desserts

Raphaelle Peale, A Dessert (Still Life with Lemons and Oranges), 1814
If one can go by the responses to the dessert photo in my last post, and a very unscientific poll it would be, readers are just wild about sweets in general, and Key lime pie in particular. You know where I stand on the whole topic, give me a second helping of potatoes and you can have my slice of pie. But then, I've never made any claims to normalcy. Even so, I've picked up the dessert fork more often in the past five years or so than I have in all the years preceding them, which are many.
When we left off, our dinner party had retired to the patio to finish off the dregs of wine and enjoy a comforting fire on a cool night. Desserts were served, accompanied by a chorus of oohs and ahs from guests and neighbors alike. The Lone Ranger was host, let's start with his creation first, eh?
Apple Crumb Cake - by the Lone Ranger
  • 2 lbs Granny Smith apples
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ sticks butter
  • ¾ cup shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sugar
Peel and slice apples then toss with ¾ cup sugar and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cut shortening into the flour, ¾ cup sugar, salt, baking powder and vanilla, with a pastry cutter (or two forks). Divide mix into two equal halves in separate bowls. To one bowl, add the egg and cut in to combine. Press this mixture into a greased 9x15 baking pan. Spread sweetened apples evenly over dough then drop remaining crumb mixture over apples to cover loosely. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 350°F in a pre-heated oven for one hour. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature before serving. Vanilla ice cream would not suck with this dessert.
The Lone Ranger mixed in some Florina apples with the Granny Smiths. He likes the sweetness they add to the tart green ones. I'd have to say I agree with him. There was a very nice balance to the fruit.  But even after toiling over his apples in front of the television the night before, everybody raved about somebody else's pie. What a bunch of ingrates!
Key Lime Pie
  • 1 doz ginger snap cookies
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice (approximately 12 Key limes)
  • 2 tsp lime zest
Whipped Cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tsp granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
For the crust, run cookies through a food processor until a medium-fine crumb forms. (For a low tech solution, bash cookies in a sealed freezer bag, with a rolling pin until crushed fine.) Mix together with the sugar, then add the melted butter and stir with a fork until fully blended. Pour this mixture into a 9" pie pan and press over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake on the center rack of a 325°F pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the crust is lightly brown. Remove and allow to come down to room temperature on a cooling rack. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and lime zest together in a bowl until tinted light green. This takes about 2 minutes. Beat in condensed milk, then the lime juice and set aside at room temperature till it thickens. Pour the lime filling into the cooled crust, spread evenly, and bake at 325° for 15 minutes, or until the center sets but still wiggles when shaken. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Whip the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla with a sturdy whisk or hand mixer until stiff peaks form. You can use a piping bag and decorative tip for a fancy topping, but whipped cream spread evenly over the filling with a spatula works just as well. Refrigerate for at least three hours before serving well chilled.
Even after delivering slices throughout the neighborhood, the Lone Ranger and I were eating leftover dessert for days afterward. Luckily bathing suit season is winding down.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Workers of the World, Unite!

Here in the good ol' US of A, we just celebrated the symbolic end of summer with the long Labor Day weekend, a federal holiday hastily enacted in 1894 by a president and congress fearful of labor union unrest after the military and US Marshals killed several railway strikers in Pullman, Illinois. Like all American holidays, this one has been watered down to make it palatable to BBQ aficionados and football fans (the NFL and college seasons begin this weekend). These days, most folks couldn't identify the President (Grover Cleveland), who signed the act, if he fell on top of them, let alone point to Pullman on a map. So, patriotic Americans that the Lone Ranger and I are, we invited friends over for pot roast and apple crumb cake!
Peyton's Labor Day Dinner Menu
Strawberry salad with poppy seed vinaigrette
Pot roast
Mashed potatoes with pan gravy
Poached asparagus
Apple crumb cake
Any cook worth her salt should know how to make a pot roast. If not, get on the telephone to your mothers right now and get a recipe. The Lone Ranger plugs his beef with garlic cloves before searing in his own sainted mother's cast iron Dutch oven. Once the meat is browned on all sides, add vegetables - traditionally onions, carrots and celery - some good stock and red wine, return the beef to the pot and place in a 350°F oven for three hours. I usually go a little lower on the temp, 275° or so and cook for longer, but, with company expected at 5:00, we were pressed for time. Remove the roast from the pot, loosely tent with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, strain the juices from the Dutch oven, whisk in a slurry of flour & water, herbs and seasonings, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow the pan gravy to thicken and reduce. Slice your roast thinly against the bias and serve.
The Lone Ranger taught me a chef's secret about perfect, creamy mashed potatoes: whip the spuds BEFORE adding any liquid or butter. Failure to comply will result in a lumpy side and dinner guests who mock you openly.
Well, the Lone Ranger went all out with the table setting. Grandma's silver, best China and crystal. The Queen herself (or two, for that matter) would have felt right at home. The highlight for me though? The salad!
Strawberry Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp poppy seeds
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp minced onion
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1 qt fresh strawberries, cored and sliced
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds
Combine the first 8 ingredients in a sealable jar and shake viorously to combine. If making ahead of time, refrigerate until ready to serve with the salad. Arrange spinach on salad plates and top with sliced strawberries. Sprinkle almonds around the salad, then drizzle with poppy seed dressing. We served ours before the main course. D-lish!
Did someone say dessert? Well, there were two, actually. The LR made his apple crumb cake, but one of our guests brought home-made Key lime pie. Recipes to follow, but just look at that money shot!
Friends arrived early and stayed late. I love that. Between dinner and the sweet stuff, it was cool enough on the patio for a fire in the Mexican chiminea. Neighbors caught sight of the light and shadow play and joined us for pie. We sat out there until late in the night savoring our made-up American birthright. I'll pass up any stadium tailgating party every time for a night like this, and I defy you to challenge me.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food