Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Moving On

Buckhorn Exchange

In 3 days, I'll be leaving the South -- a place I never thought I'd live -- to move to the Rockies -- a place I never thought I'd live. Just goes to show, you can make all the plans you want, but sometimes life takes over.

Living in Virginia made me aware for the first time of Southern cuisine, although I've barely begun to explore it. My farewell Southern meal was a full pork picnic shoulder pulled barbecue I made in the Western North Carolina style along with fixin's for my friends Micah And Ricky. Like me, they're very Reform Jews.

Now I'm wondering if there is such as thing as Rockies cuisine. I think game meats such as buffalo and elk are part of it. One great place to enjoy them is the Buckhorn Exchange. It's the oldest restaurant in Denver and is decorated with lots of taxidermy. Another great one, in nearby Morrison, is The Fort. I also look forward to exploring the many taquerias and carnicerias in Denver.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Jewish-Style Deli Without Nitrates-Nitrites

I'm sensitive to nitrates or nitrites -- not sure which one, but they generally go together. All the processed cured meats such as ham, bacon and salami you buy in regular supermarkets have them. I think they're not good for anyone, but in my case I would get cranky and mean every time I had a Hebrew National salami sandwich. Not what I was looking for. An alternative medical practicioner I go to told me my body doesn't want these substances, and I believe her.

I do some of my shopping at Whole Foods, and they carry a variety of nitrate-nitrite-free products, but I hadn't found any to replace my Jewish-style deli products until recently. Wellshire Farms makes a hot dog and salami that come pretty close to the taste I'm looking for. They also make corned beef and pastrami, but those are not carried at my store so I haven't tried them yet. The specific products I like are: The Premium Beef Frank and Sliced Old Fashioned Deli Style Beef Salami.

I have been hankering for Jewish salami for so long it was a revelation to taste it again! Wellshire also makes the Primo line of Italian deli meats and they are very good.

When we were kids, my friend Carl's mom introduced me to the joys of fried salami sandwiches. It's simple: slice the salami, fry it until it crisps up a bit, and have it on bread with some mustard.

I take this a step further and make open-faced fried salami Reubens. Spread some Russian or Thousand Island dressing on your bread, cover with fried salami, cover that with sauerkraut and more dressing. I sometimes cover that with thinly sliced tomatoes. Cover all with thin swiss cheese and put under the broiler (I use a toaster oven) until the cheese starts to brown. Eat with fork and knife.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Toast to New Orleans

I know it is too soon to write an obituary for New Orleans. Having made my fourth visit there this past spring, the fresh memories of a great city compound the sadness I feel seeing it under water and its people in despair. There is much I love about the city, but for me, New Orleans is more than anything about the food.

In one week in April...
...I took a culinary history walking tour of the French Quarter
...had beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde 5 times and
...a big, greasy breakfast at Mother's another morning and
...atmospheric dinners at Broussard's, Arnaud's and Court of Two Sisters and
...not so fancy red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo and shrimp creole at the Gumbo Shop and Bon Ton Cafe and
...a shrimp po-boy and Abita beer at Bruning's overlooking Lake Ponchartrain and
...a muffaletta from Central Grocery

Of course there were the evenings drinking at the Monteleone's carousel bar, and listening to the incredible Zydeco accordianist Duane Dopsie and inveterate blues singer Big Al Carson on Bourbon Street.

There are many New Orleans cookbooks. The one I own is by the Gumbo Shop. While the restaurant itself is dependable but not exceptional, the cookbook is excellent; beautifully designed, with great photography, and the recipes are fabulous.



So here's to New Orleans. I know I'll be back.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Fried Clams

I lived in Maine for 18 years, and one of my favorite native foods was fried clams. My friend Janis Jaquith, another New England ex-pat, has written a great essay complete with recipe for our local paper, The Hook. Janis, now we need your recipe for tartar sauce!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Churrasco Estilo

Skirt steak, or Churrasco Estilo, is one of my favorite cuts of beef for grilling. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country it's difficult to find. Best bet is a Latino market. I get mine in Northern Virginia when returning from Washington. I like to buy steaks that are about 2 to 2-1/2 pounds each. Skirt is often used to make fajitas. But I put a mojo marinade on it, grill and serve with a chimichurri sauce.

skirt steaks

Churrasco Estilo recipe

Mojo Marinade reci
10 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sour orange juice*
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 teaspoon oregano
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Mash the garlic and salt into a paste using mortar and pestle. Stir in the juice, onion and oregano. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil to near boiling and remove from heat. Whisk in the juice mixture until blended. This will be enough marinade for up to 6 pounds of meat.

*Sour orange juice is available in Latino markets, or as a substitute combine two parts orange juice to one part lemon and one part lime.

Marinate steaks in the refrigerator overnight and then grill on the barbecue. I recommend serving rare to medium rare. Since heat and steak thickness will vary, start by grilling 4 minutes on each side. Then take the temperature with an instant read meat thermometer. Monitor every couple of minutes, and remember the meat will continue to cook a bit once off the grill, so take it off when it's not quite done to where you want it. Transfer steaks to a cutting board and let rest, covered with foil, for ten minutes. Slice against the grain 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Arrange on a platter and cover with Chimichurri, or put the sauce in a gravy boat or bowl and let diners apply to their own taste.


8 cloves garlic
1/4 cup white vinegar
juice of one lime
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup onion
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed*
dash of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
Put everything except the oil in a blender and "chop" until you have a thick mixture. Transfer to a bowl and whisk (do not use blender!) in the olive oil. Taste and add more salt, pepper, vinegar and lime juice as desired.

*Cubano style would call for cilantro, but I prefer the milder flavor of parsley, favored in Argentina.

This recipe adapted from Three Guys from Miami.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fiesta Rice Salad

I made up a Mexican-influenced rice salad this weekend to go with grilled St. Louis pork ribs with Two Trees sauce, savory chicken drumsticks and green salad.

Fiesta Rice Salad recipe

Cook 2 cups of white basmati rice (yields about 10 cups cooked) and spread out on a platter to cool. Put in a large bowl and mix in:

1/2 cup diced red pepper
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 15 oz. can corn, drained
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 teaspoons minced cilantro (optional)

Make a dressing with:

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
black pepper
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons lime juice
slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil while whisking to make an emulsion

Stir the dressing into the rice mixture, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

The flavor was pleasing but (intentionally) mild, so you may want to add more spice, or even some heat. I suggest you taste it and adjust as you are moved to do!

We had a lot left over, so the next night Bella added fresh tomato chunks and cheddar cheese to make it into a great one-dish meal.

Monday, June 06, 2005


Two great institutions were founded in 1888. One is the one I work for, The National Geographic Society. The other is Katz's Delicatessen on New York's Lower East Side.

I first enjoyed the pleasures of Katz's with my friend Barry when we were teenagers more than 35 years ago. I visited again last week and invited some industry friends to meet me there. It is set up cafeteria style. You go to the counter, and a counterman makes your sandwich. Tipping, once done on the sly, is now encouraged. A sign dating to W.W.II urges you to "send a salami to your boy in the Army" (in New York, that rhymes).

I always have a hard time choosing between corned beef and pastrami. Since Henry and I got there early, I had a hot dog appetizer while pondering the selection. Once our friends had arrived, they lined up behind me. I went for the pastrami, piled high on rye with mustard. The counterman gave me a generous plate of sour and half sour pickles and pickled green tomatoes. I helped myself to a plate of sauerkraut, and bought some potato knishes and fries for the table. Sipped first on a Dr. Brown's Cream soda, and still thirsty, followed with a Dr. Brown's Black Cherry. Regina enjoyed something I hate, but Barry always loved, Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray. Yup, celery soda.

Regina brought the table a classic New York black & white cookie to share. On Seinfeld, Jerry said, "Oh look Elaine, the black and white cookie. I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side. It's a wonderful thing isn't it?"

This was Shane's first dinner ever in New York. I told him he hit the jackpot -- few places are more unique to NY than Katz's. He unwittingly had a taste of tongue. I think he found it "interesting." I find tongue too rich to have by itself, but sometimes have a combo with corned beef.

I'll forgive Sandy for having a hot dog with relish and ketchup instead of the de rigeur mustard and kraut.

If you saw the movie When Harry Met Sally you've seen Katz's. Meg Ryan might have been faking it, but I've seen people with this look there:

"I'll Have What She's Having"

Molto Mario

In New York on business, I was with a colleague who went to high school with chef Mario Batali. He contacted Mario to get a reservation at his flagship restaurant, Babbo.

This was an amazing meal, and thanks to my friend Dan, three of us were treated to Mario's company during dinner and some great extras he served us.

Every element of every dish was exquisite, each new flavor a revelation, beginning with bruschetta topped with chick peas. Then Mario brought us two plates of salume, each with six or more types of cured meats. One plate had his creations and the other his father's. Mario's included a delicious salad of carmelized onions, Cipolle Modenese.

Armandino Batali's Mole

Antipasti we ordered were: Marinated Fresh Anchovies with Watermelon Radishes and Lobster Oil, Grilled Octopus with "Borlotti Marinati" and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette, and
Roasted Beet Salad with Ricotta Salata. Mario also brought us mozzerella with tomatoes and basil. This was not your everyday insalata caprese. The cheese was the most tender and flavorful ever, and there were several varieties of basil. Mario topped this with his own olive oil.

For our Primo, we shared Beef Cheek Ravioli. But since we had been talking with Mario about how gnocchi tended to be heavy "bombs", he insisted we try his, which were light as a feather.

For our Secondi, Dan and I each had Brasato ai Borolo (melt in your mouth braised beef). Charlie had a signature dish, Spicy Two-Minute Calamari Sicilian Lifeguard Style. Evidently a particularly "spicy" lifeguard was Mario's inspiration. These were accompanied by wine from Mario's vineyard in Italy.

A selection of digestives was followed by espresso and Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, Warm Blueberry Crostata, an assortment of Gelati and Sorbetti, and raspberries and figs over mascarpone.

It was fun to listen to Mario and Dan catching up after nearly 30 years while enjoying the meal of a lifetime.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Cinco de Mayo

Learned a couple of things: I thought Cinco de Mayo was Mexican Independence Day. Turns out not. It commemorates a later battle against the French. Also, CdM is not that major a holiday in Mexico.

But in the US, it's not only big among those of Mexican heritage, but is becoming totally mainstream. In that spirit, I made a successful CdM dinner for the family.

Black Bean Soup with Chicken & Chorizo recipe

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 canned chipotle, seeded and chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
2 15 oz. cans, black beans, drained
3 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 lb. fresh chorizo, sliced thinly
1/2 lb. chicken breast meat, 1/2" dice
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat oil. Add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chipotle, cumin and oregano. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the beans and stock and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Coarsely crush some of the beans with a potato masher.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet. Add the sausage and cook 3 minutes. Add the chicken and cook until chicken and sausage are cooked through (about 3 minutes). Add the meats, lime juice and cilantro to the soup. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for a few more minutes.

Serve in bowls with sour cream for optional topping.

Quesadillas recipe

1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 lb. poblano chiles, seeded and thinly sliced
3/4 lb. chicken breast meat, 1/2" dice
1/2 lb. fresh chorizo, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
10 9-inch flour tortillas
1-1/4 lb grated Monterey Jack cheese
3 tbsp. ranchero sauce (optional)
salsa and sour cream

Chile filling: Heat 3 tbsp. oil in large skillet over medium heat. All chiles and cook until soft, stirring occasionally and adding a few tsp. water along the way if needed. Add garlic and saute 1 minute If you can't find poblanos, use cubanelles or regular green bell peppers.

Chorizo filling: Heat large skillet and add chorizo. Cook until done.

Chicken filling: Heat 1 tsp oil, add chicken and the ranchero sauce (or salsa). Cook until done.

These fillings will make 2 each chile and chicken quesadillas and one chorizo. You can mix fillings or make some cheese only quesadillas; however you prefer. My family prefers the chicken, so you can choose to make just that by increasing the amount prepared and skipping the chiles and sausage, and so on.

Heat 2 tsp. oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add one tortilla. Top with 1/4 lb. cheese, spread across the tortilla. Add filling and top with another tortilla. Cook until bottom is brown, 2-3 minutes. Turn quesadilla over. Cook until bottom is brown and cheese melts, 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully to make sure you don't burn.

Transfer to cutting board and cut into 4-6 wedges. Transfer to platter. Serve with sour cream and salsa. I use two skillets to make 2 at a time.

May 5 was also my father's birthday. He was a public relations practitioner and founder of Press Agents Shining Hour, which takes place every May 5 from 3:15 - 4:15 pm local time.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Toasted Ravioli

This is a St. Louis specialty that is said to have originated at Charlie Gitto's restaurant there. I'd never had it, but decided to make it for a party. The recipe I found on the web said to just defrost frozen ravioli, bread and fry, but my testing showed that I had to partially cook the ravioli first. As this is labor intensive, I prepared it a couple of hours ahead and then reheated. I was afraid the ravioli would be chewy, but they were fine. Reviews of the final product were very positive.

Toasted Ravioli

1 pound frozen cheese ravioli
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg
1 cup fine bread crumbs, seasoned to taste with dried oregano, parsely and garlic powder
vegetable oil
1 cup marinara sauce
grated parmesan or romano

Boil ravioli for about half the time called for on the package. Drain and spread out on cookie sheets to cool. Pat dry with paper towels.

Beat together milk and egg in a shallow bowl. Season breadcrumbs and place in a shallow bowl. Dip each ravioli into egg mixture and coat with crumbs.

In a heavy 3-quart saucepan or deep frying pan, heat 2 inches of oil to 350 degrees.

Fry ravioli, about 6 at a time, in hot oil for 1 minute per side or until golden. Drain on paper towels. Arrange on cookie sheets and keep warm in a 300 degree oven while frying the rest, or cover with foil and reheat a little later.

Heat sauce. Serve as a starter: place 4-5 ravioli on a small plate with a dollop of sauce in the middle for dipping. Sprinkle cheese on top.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


I used to be married into a wonderful Italian family. My mother-in-law, Maria, was from a town in Abruzzo called Capestrano, among the Appennine mountains about 70 miles northeast of Rome. I left the marriage as friends with all, and my ex happily provided some of her mom's recipes.

The following two make a good combination for dinner, but we used to have the soup alone as a main dish. I often make the lasagna for company or parties, and it's always a winner. This past weekend I made a caesar style salad from Alton Brown's recipe, and it was a perfect accompaniment. I skipped the croutons as we had more than enough starches, so there was some puddling in the salad bowl, but nobody minded. I also found it needed more of the kosher salt than he calls for.

Minestrone recipe

2 carrots, sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 large white potato, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 – 3 stewed tomatoes (optional)
2 handfuls, elbow macaroni

Put all ingredients except macaroni in a 5-quart pot. Add 3-4 quarts water, 2 tbsp. olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley (fresh if you have it) to taste. The less water added, the thicker the soup.

Bring to boil and simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Add macaroni, bring to boil, and continue boiling until the elbows are done. If possible, let it sit for 15 minuts before serving. It's great the next day too.

Maria's Abruzzese Lasagna recipe

2 lbs ricotta
1 lb mozzerella, grated (or buy already shredded)
1 cup grated romano or parmesan
4 large eggs
1 lb lasagna noodles
4 cups tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 375º

In a large bowl, mix the three cheeses and the eggs together well.

Cook the lasagna noodles (see notes).

In a 13" x 9" pan (preferably glass), spread a little sauce on the bottom, then cover with four noodles slighly overlapped. Divide the cheese mixture into fourths, with one "fourth" a little smaller than the others.

Spoon one quarter of the mixture onto the noodles and pour one quarter of the remaining sauce on top. Mix the sauce into the cheese with your fingers and spread evenly.

Add three more layers of noodles, cheese and sauce in the same way. Thus, on top you'll have the last, smaller portion of cheese with sauce. Make sure the top layer of noodles is well covered with the mixture. On some layers, you may need an extra piece of noodle across one short end of the pan to fully fill out the layer -- just make sure not to run out of noodles.

Place lasagna in the oven and a cookie sheet on a rack below the lasagna in case of spillover.

Bake for 45 minutes, and let rest for 30 minutes before serving. Serves 10.


I prefer whole milk ricotta and mozzerella, but you can use part-skim.

I do not care for "no-boil" noodles. The trick with regular noodles is not to overcook them -- boil until supple, about 6 minutes -- and then lay out in a single layer on cookie sheets to cool.

I've found this recipe works fine with very meaty sauces, and with marinara or chunky vegetarian sauces.

Leftovers taste great, and you can also freeze individual servings.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Coconut Shrimp

For a quiet New Year's Eve at home, I made this simple but exotic dish. The recipe comes from the Princess Kaiulani Hotel in Honolulu and appeared in a now out-of-print cookbook from Sheraton hotels.

Since we were having this as a main dish for four, I doubled the recipe. The large shrimp I bought were about 30 per pound. This is a fine size; you can go larger if you wish but I wouldn't go smaller.

I found that it takes much longer to prep the shrimp (even after peeling) than to fry them. Next time, I will do all the dredging and rolling before starting to fry. The shrimp fry very quickly. I used standard issue vegetable oil for frying. Getting the temperature just right so the shrimp brown nicely is important. I didn't use a thermometer, but heated the oil until nearly smoking and then adjusted up and down as I did the frying. I used a large cast iron pan with enough oil to just cover the shrimp, and fried batches of up to 10 shrimp. For the doubled recipe, I would definitely use two pans next time. One reason is just to get it done faster, but I also found the oil got rather funky by the last two batches and really should have been changed -- the earlier batches were crisper and more attractive.

Bella handled the cocktail sauce. The recipe calls for standard cocktail sauce with crushed pineapple added. She went for something more interesting. Using ketchup as the base, she added dollops or spoonfuls (sorry no measurements -- do it to taste and substitute at whim) of hoisin sauce, grapefruit marmalade, pineapple juice and horseradish.

The shrimp were accompanied by jasmati rice and a green salad. The doubled recipe provided generous main dish servings for four. A single recipe would make a great appetizer for 5-6.

Shrimp Ono Nui (Coconut Shrimp)
1 pound large (raw) shrimp, peeled
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups shredded coconut

Dredge shrimp in flour, then in eggs. Roll the shrimp through shredded coconut, covering them thoroughly.

Deep fry shrimp at about 375º until they are brown. Drain on paper towels, then arrange on a platter.

Serve with cocktail sauce to which crushed pineapple is added according to taste.