Thursday, January 31, 2008

Serve Hot and Watch Your Guests Go Crazy!

With a wife and two daughters who are very much at home in the kitchen, my dad, understandably, usually enters the room just as dinner's hitting the table. The preparation of meals is largely handled by us gals, which is just fine with everyone involved. But on the rare occasion when Dad deems to cook, there's a very good chance he's making his signature dish: Party Ryes.

You could call the recipe retro, but that would suggest that Dad had revived it from a forgotten time. The thing is, Dad never stopped making Party Ryes. They debuted in the '70s, when he saw them mentioned on TV during a football game, and he's been making them ever since. A symphony of pimento-stuffed olives, chopped onions, parsley, mayo and swiss cheese, Party Ryes aren't exactly low-cal or high-brow. But nibbled during cocktail hour, especially if you're on vacation, cold beer in hand, deep in a heated game of gin rummy, you could do far worse. The Party Rye is a guilty pleasure appetizer and a nostalgic favorite. With the Superbowl coming up, I suggest you whip up a batch. As Dad wrote at the end of the recipe card he gave me once, "Serve hot and watch your guests go crazy."--S

Party Ryes

Small jar of olives with pimento, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/8 c. fresh parsley, chopped
4 T Mayonnaise ("real not diet")
Party rye bread slices ("no substitute")
Swiss cheese cut into squares

1. Put olives into bowl, add onions, parsley and mayo.
2. Spread onto party rye and top with squares of swiss cheese.
3. Bake on tray in toaster oven or oven broiler until cheese is thoroughly melted.
4. Serve hot and watch your guests go crazy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What Do You Call It When a Starbucks Closes? A Good Start!

An article in the New York Times this week reports some glorious news: a Starbucks is closing! Actually, it sounds like many of them might close.

“After more than a decade of sensational buzz, Starbucks is struggling,” notes the Times. Starbucks’ Howard D. Schultz said this week he will roll out a plan that “will almost certainly involve shutting down more stores, saying that the company's strategy of saturation (just look at the map of NYC starbucks locations!), its “WalMarting” of the coffee experience, is flailing. that’s great news. My question: what can I do to help hasten the downfall?

Yes, folks, I pretty much hate Starbucks. I hate this tasteless chain for taking over my city block by block, for threatening the livelihood of neighborhood cafes, for hypercaffeinating and giving refuge to dickhead, laptopped yuppies, for poisoning the culinary lexicon with "product" like the triple-shot venti mocha skim half-caff latte and the “frappuccino,” while overcharging for a regular cup of their grainy, bitter “coffee of the day.” And all that was before they started serving crappy food and selling crappy CDs. I have to think putting out Paul McCartney's latest turd on their own label alone is reponsible for 50 stores closing.

OK, maybe I'm a bit of hypocrite. In Madrid, I loved the offerings of Spanish chain Cafe y The. Part of my disdain for the corporate coffee experience that is Starbucks is tied up with the feeling of watching my once-vibrant neighborhood be overrun by developers. Between 1998 and 2000, no less than five Starbucks opened around my old East Village home. It was only a sign of things to come. Back in 1990, I used to walk down my block and see colorful slogans like “fuck the police” scrawled on walls. One day, shortly after the first “luxury dorm” went up and Starbucks began threatening my favorite coffee shops, a new slogan appeared: "ban ATM fees." The issues and struggles of the gentrifying yuppie may lack emotional impact, but about a year later, I was living in Brooklyn.

No, I'm not bitter (unlike Starbucks overly roasted Kona, blehhh). And, I know, you can't stop progress. But you can stop Starbucks, and that, as far as I'm concerned is progress.--F

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Favorite One-Pot Meal

With dinner guests coming on Tuesday and overnight temps in the 20s, I needed ideas for a tasty winter meal. It had to be something I could assemble quickly, since I work all day, and I didn't want something too meaty, since I'd just made meatloaf on Sunday. Fork had a brilliant suggestion: "How about that chicken you make in your dutch oven with the white beans?" It's not for nothing that I'm engaged to this genius.

The recipe for Baked Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes came to me by way of Aunt Betty (and you thought she was only a desserts whiz--ha). Not only is it a one-pot meal, it also calls for just five ingredients! This is a dish you want in your winter repertoire, trust me. Canned, stewed tomatoes give a hint of sweetness, and once you throw in bacon and onions, a humdrum chicken-and-beans dish becomes a standout meal.

I served the chicken with some roasted potatoes of debatable provenance: I got the recipe from my mom, who got it from Micol Negrin, but Fork maintains Jacques Pepin is the guy behind the dish, and he got the recipe from his mom. Whatever, they're great. You boil baby new potatoes just until they're tender, then smash them slightly and roast them in a 400-degree oven with olive oil, and just before serving toss them with minced garlic and herbs (last night I used thyme). We also enjoyed a Caesar salad with my cousin Mike's dressing, which was, as usual, excellent.

Enjoy winter--for now, anyway!--S

Baked Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes

6 bacon slices (1/4 lb total), cut into 1-inch pieces
4 large chicken thighs with skin and bone (1 1/2 lb total)
2 medium onions, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1 (14- to 16-oz) can stewed tomatoes including juice
2 (15- to 16-oz) cans small white beans, rinsed and drained

1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Cook bacon in a 10-inch heavy ovenproof skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, reserving fat in skillet.
3. While bacon is browning, pat chicken dry and season with 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t pepper. Brown chicken in fat in skillet over moderately high heat, turning over once, about 8 minutes total, then transfer chicken with tongs to paper towels to drain.
4. Pour off all but 3 T fat from skillet and reduce heat to moderate. Cook onions in skillet with 1/4 t salt, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir tomatoes and juice into onions and boil, uncovered, 3 minutes, to concentrate juices slightly. Stir in bacon and beans and bring to a simmer. Nestle chicken, skin side up, in beans and bake, uncovered, until chicken is cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

Recipe courtesy of Gourmet.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Family That Cooks Together...

Friday night, my family and I took a cab over to chef Micol Negrin's Midtown cooking studio to officially wind down the holiday season. It'd be tough to come up with a better finale to 12 days of eating and drinking than attending Micol's "Winter Feast in Northern Italy" class, helping to prepare the meal, learning cooking techniques and tricks, drinking wine and enjoying one of the best meals I've had this season.

In Micol's spacious, tricked-out kitchen (Wolf ranges and ovens; Subzero fridges, freezers and wine storage; Henckels knives), we chopped, sauteed and stirred. The first course was Crepes Stuffed with Two Cheeses & Shiitake Mushrooms in B├ęchamel Sauce. Micol did us the favor of making the crepes ahead of time, so we set to work making the sauce, sauteeing the mushrooms (a mix of shiitake, baby bella and oyster), mixing them with Raclette and Mozzarella cheeses, and assembling the crepes (my mom directed the positioning of the quesadilla-like crepes into a big roasting pan and ladled b├ęchamel sauce over them). The main course was Slow-Cooked Lamb Ossobuco with Mint Gremolata, which Micol had started the day before. Our task: make the sauce, which consisted of butter, onions, carrot (expertly chopped by my dad), celery, bacon and juniper berries. Once everything was soft and starting to caramelize (under Laura's watchful eye), in went flour, then red wine, then tomatoes, demi-glace, salt and pepper. The side dish was Roasted Garlic Risotto (I squeezed the hot, roasted garlic paste out of the garlic skins), and for dessert, Grand Marnier Mousse with Fresh Berries (layered into wine glasses as per my dad's instructions).

After about an hour and a half of cooking, we were ready to eat. It was an amazing meal: the crepes were a huge hit, nice and cozy, the Alpine cheeses lending a delicious Vermonty taste. The lamb was unbelievably tender and rich, and the risotto a comforting side. And dessert was lovely, light and airy. We ate around a large table with the other class participants (we were 20 in all). About halfway through dinner, I heard someone remark, "How about those carrots! Look how nicely they're chopped!" and before long I heard my dad saying, "I'm gonna bag 'em! Ron's diced carrots!"--S

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Oh, No, Bolo!

Some sad news to start 2008: Bolo, Bobby Flay's wonderful take on contemporary Spanish cuisine, has closed. "After 15 years we have closed our doors as of December 31, 2007," reads a sign in the window. "We would have loved to stay longer, but our home will soon be reduced to rubble." The latter statement surely refers to the sale of the building that housed Bolo on E. 22nd St. We expected the closure, just didn't expect it to come so soon or so suddenly.

Luckily, Spoon and I had a lovely meal there recently when my mother and my Aunt Judy visited from upstate New York. It was a typical Bolo affair: a terrific menu of seasonal ingredients, including a lovely butternut squash soup. The service was impeccable, as always. The waiter suggested a lovely Spanish white wine (Burgans Albarino, Rias Baixas) and obligingly wrote down the vintatge on a card for me after the meal. Spoon picked up a bottle for me as stocking stuffer this Christmas, and it sits chilling the fridge.

Bolo was a delicious, consistently excellent restaurant, a class act, and a terrific neighbor. Unlike some other experiences (ahem, Rocco), Bolo respected the block. It's a sad loss to start the year.--F