Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Fig and Brie Panini

Happy Halloweenie! (save those pumpkin seeds because tomorrow, Frida's going to tell you where to stick 'em!*)

Bitchmother can find herself getting a bit hypoglycemic when she's trudging along the streets of brownstone Brooklyn, wondering when one of her ramped-up young is going to get knocked off a neighbor's stoop into the flames of a glowing Jack o' Lantern. It leads to much barking and purloining of fun-sized Snickers. My old friend, Grandma Waistband's been harping at me to lay off the chocolate covered caramel calories so I blow all my equity on things that count. Ergo, this afternoon, while Inky, Milo, and their friend Moie are fulfilling Inky's dream of doling out candy to fellow trick or treaters before heading out to collect several pillow cases' worth themselves, I will be chowing down on Fig and Brie panini, to fortify myself for the revels ahead.

Fig and Brie Panini

Let me start off by saying that I know not everyone is so fortunate as to have snagged a "Krups sandwich maker" for 15 bucks at the Salvation Army, so fresh in its original box that it could have gone right back under the Christmas tree and none would have been the wiser. In fact, that's exactly where I put it, but the dang kids, usually so desparate to cook or help cook, wouldn't bite. They must have sensed my big plans for slipping apples, pears, spinach, bananas, and other genuine nutrients into the little toasties I'd envisioned us gaily whipping together out of Nutella or cheese and whatever fast-aging loaf of 15-grains we happened to have on hand. One bite and that sandwich maker was dead to them. Fucker's been taking up valuable real estate in the cabinet over the stove for ten months now. I was just about ready to give it the old heave ho when I got inspired to get jiggy with the figgy. The results were so tasty, I guess it's mine for life. (Why is it that the blender, the electric mixer and the sewing machine croak if you look at them funny but things like sandwich makers are in for the long haul?) Anyways, this is a winning combination even if you have no way to compact it between sizzling metal plates. They're just so autumnal and fortifying when molten that if you can, you should.

Saw the top and bottom off a baguette to expose a toastable surface, then carefully bisect it lengthwise.

Slather the bottom half with fig jam. I got my fig jam at Fairway for slightly less than it costs to fly to Spain, but it's worth every Euro. It makes me feel like a pampered lady of rarified and expensive tastes.

Back to reality, cut some long skinny slices off your supermarket Brie and lay them atop the fig jam. Don't cut the white stuff off! That's where the nutrients are, or maybe the bacteria, I forget which.

Now wash and dry some watercress, and distribute a goodly portion of its tender leaves over the brie. Not so much that your sandwich maker won't close, but you don't want to be skimpy, either. Let's say about as much as you'd feed to a hungry goat.

Put the lid on, and cut it in such a way that it sort of fits in the sandwich maker. You may have to use some muscle to get the latch closed, but as long as you don't pinch the holy infant Christ child out of your finger like I did on Christmas morning of ought-six, everything's going to be okay. Yes, even if you see liquid brie oozing down the sides of your appliance.

You know to oil up your sandwich maker first, right, before you plug it in? I broke the bank at Fairway again, springing for some extra-nice-quality olive oil, and I like to think it makes a difference. (Of course, if we're playing by those rules, I should be fairly convinced that those lemon-scented paper towels Greg brought home, will give us all tumors before the week is out.)

Having tossed the instruction booklet the original owner had been kind enough to include, I don't know what the lights on my sandwich maker mean, so I just kept peeking and praying that the red one doesn't mean danger. After a couple of minutes, the sandwich had been transformed into a panini and hot damn, it were good!

* don't be afeared. It's just the oven.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Spice Tea

As promised...

Here's my mother's recipe for Spice Tea
Please don't let the ingredients scare you off. Be like an astronaut. Take the plunge. This stuff was sort of an aphrodisiac for me and "James", as he's known in Dirty Sugar Cookies' "Courtesy Bite" chapter. Oh man, I get a little flushed thinking about how long it took those electric burners to glow orange, so we could make for the yard, mugs in hand

Spice Tea
2 cups of Tang
2 cups of unsweetened Nestea - buy the generic because you should never use it for anything else.
2 1/2 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Now either you're having a party, or this batch'll see you through the romance. Whichever way you swing it, place 2 heaping teaspoons in a mug, add a cup of boiling water and stir.

You can also eat it dry, when you have nothing better to do, but watch out, it burns like smoking Tang-flavored crack.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What To Drink With What You Eat

Let's hoist a glass for tit, and another for tat. Midway though last June, Karen and Andrew not only hosted a pitstop on the Dirty Sugar Cookies Virtual Book Tour they took me out to lunch and even gave me an autographed copy of one of their cookbooks! All I've given them in return is a place to park their own virtual tour bus...and , I guess, the idea to go on a virtual tour, but I swiped that from Andi Buchanan! Well, I've got to say that the pleasure's all mine. I can't tell you how many times I've ruined a perfectly good dinner by swilling grain alcohol out of a poorly cut watermelon, or mixing a spoonful of Kwik into some cheap Australian Shiraz...but no more, thanks to WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT which Karen and Andrew are pimping here today. It's an alphabetically organized, near-dictionary-thick cheat sheet to ensure that the swill in your glass will be worthy of the stuff on your plate, with tips and pitfalls to be en garde against, and interviews aplenty with the kind of experts who generously name names even if many of those names will be beyond your reach, dear readers. (Expert #1 suggests pairing a 1968 magnum of Vega Sicilia> with Roquefort n' Bacon Burgers. Hope he's payin'.) Water, coffee, lemonade, tea and milkshakes put in appearances, but by and large, I'd say this is a book for gorwn-ups who drink (alcohol).

WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea -- Even Water -- Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

Hi Karen! Hi Andrew! The entire staff of Dirty Sugar Cookies joins me in congratulating you on the publication of your new book. We await your answers to our burning questions with glasses in hand... I mean, handS. Plural. Because why would one person have six glasses in a single hand? Ha ha, no reason. No reason at all.

1. Have you seen the cucumber lemonade recipe in the summer issue of Eating Well? What else can I drink with cucumbers, by which I mean containing cucumbers, rather than accompanying cucumbers? And what should oneI eat with this unholy cuke juice?

We haven't, but we extend our thanks to the good people at Eating Well anyway for doing their part to eliminate the taboo of making refreshing drinks with refreshing vegetables! After all, why should tomatoes have all the fun??

Make a drink with cucumbers? Why not?? In fact, there's a whole world of mixologists (formerly known as "bartenders," many now prefer the moniker of "bar chefs" or "mixologists") who have come up with a world of cucumber-based drinks that would boggle the mind. (We learned this when we learned that many consider our book CULINARY ARTISTRY to be something of a mixologist's bible.)

Take, for example, Kathy Casey's "Cucumber Sake Cocktail," the recipe for which appears on page 131 of WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT. It's an ideal accompaniment for sushi or other Pacific Rim appetizers and entrees.

Oh hell yeah! That looks mighty refreshing. I'm not going to share it here, though, because I want people to buy the book, not just sponge free cocktails off us like some sort of 20-year-old Lower East Side publishing exec! now then...
2. Any blender recommendations because I'm murder on them.

Andrew -- a former chef whom a number of Karen's female friends have taken along with them (instead of their own husbands!) when registering for their wedding gifts -- has two recommendations:

1) Go with a high-end restaurant supply store version, which will be heavy-duty and less expensive; or

2) Go with a cheapo Oster 10-speed ($19.99 at Target!) and just replace it every six months or as needed.

3. What's the gnarliest thing you've ever had to drink? Mine was some awful medicine that my mother mixed with Coca Cola and I remember that it took me a good, tearful hour to get down my nightly low ball's worth.

Karen: I'd rather try that than ever re-sample wheat grass juice, which tasted like lawn mower clippings!

Ayun: Wheat Grass is Cat Grass!

Andrew: Castor oil. If you ever saw the "Little Rascals" episode where they were forced to take castor oil and Alfalfa's and Spanky's hair stood up on end, you should know they weren't exaggerating: it's that awful.

No thank YOU! Last time I had castor oil I went into the most profound intestinal contractions that dovetailed into uterine contractions of the sort that produce a baby after seven hours of pushing. Moving on,
4. Karen, I can't remember. You went to Northwestern as well as worked at Dave's Italian Kitchen like me, yes? Were the Evans Scholars doing beer bongs in the courtyard of Willard when you were there? Ever do one? What would you recommend eating with one of those? Before or after.

Karen: Yes! But sorry -- I have no beer bong experiences to report, from Northwestern or elsewhere. I will admit that my college boyfriend at NU (a senior) enchanted me on our first date (when I was a freshman) by inviting me over for a banana daiquiri he made in his dorm room for me with a blender and nearly-black bananas.

Andrew: Having grown up in the Bay Area in the 1970s, I may have run across a bong or two in my day. I seem to recall that the beverage of choice was not beer but creme de menthe. As for a food pairing, I'd go with chocolate. (Besides, who after a few bong hits in the '70s didn't crave chocolate?)

5. Any memorable drinking with eating scenes in the movies or
literature? I was breaking out in empathetic hives as Paul Giamotti got trashed over dinner in Sideways.

It's amazing to hear from America's best sommeliers the impact that "Sideways" had, and its positive influence on the sales of Pinot Noir. Never underestimate the power of popular culture!

In fact, we wonder how much "The Thin Man" movies of the 1930s contributed to the popularity of the cocktail. One of them included one of the single most memorable drinking scenes, when Nora Charles meets husband Nick Charles in a bar, and this conversation ensues:

Nora: How many drinks have you had?
Nick: This will make six Martinis.
Nora: [to the waiter] All right. Will you bring me five more Martinis, Leo? Line them right up here....

Nora was obviously an early "equal rights" advocate.

Hmm....We don't seem to recall any food involved in the scene, though, unless they were olives....

6. Now, really, what does "oaky" mean? Like, I just don't know. I picture a sort of dignified leaf with an acorn suspended from it, but I've got no handle on how that would translate to wine. Like, I can imagine what "tastes like the underside of the couch cushions" would taste, but oaky seems like the winetelligentsia is trying to corner me into agreeing that the Emperor IS wearing clothes.

"Oaky" simply means that a wine was aged in oak barrels. Imagine if you left a half-eaten pint of vanilla ice cream next to the coffee beans or frozen fish sticks in your freeezer -- it might pick up some of the odors or flavors, right? So you can imagine how much of the aromas and flavors a Chardonnay aged in oak barrels picks up from the wood -- especially after a few months or years!

Ask your local wine store to recommend a big, oaky Chardonnay to you, as well as an unoaked Chardonnay. The unoaked Chardonnay will taste (and usually be priced!) lean, while the oaked Chardonnay will taste (and usually be priced!) rich!

That doesn't mean that oaked wines are necessarily better than unoaked wines. Karen's not big on oaked wines, for example, although she certainly appreciates their pairing prowess when it comes to certain foods (such as butter sauces).

In fact, want a short cut for pairing food with buttery, oaky Chardonnay? Picture any food that goes with butter, and you've probably hit upon a good match (e.g. chicken, crab, cream sauces, fish, lobster, salmon, scallops, veal, etc.)!

7. Wait, wait, back it up, all the way to page 128. Beer and ice cream? I like the cut of your jib, but are you insane? Scotch and ice cream, I'm totally down with, root beer and ice cream, hell yeah, just had me some of that at Philly's Franklin Fountain, courtesy of 2 East Village Inky / Ice Cream fans, but beer and ice cream? What about beer flavored ice cream? That sounds like something a professional chef, such as yourself, Andrew, could figure out.

You've obviously not tried a chocolate stout with vanilla ice cream yet! Or, even yummier, a nice Belgian lambic fruit beer (which literally sings with the flavor of cherries or raspberries!). What are you waiting for??

And one of the best things we tasted this summer was a root beer-flavored ice cream at chef Susan Spicer's Bayona restaurant in New Orleans. We'd get on a plane right this minute for the pleasure of another bite of it! (Though this time we might skip the accompanying 16-cent martini, in celebration of the restaurant's 16th year, which made for a long day....)

8. Lay some fab cocktail on me and I'll pay you back with my mother's spice tea, though I warn you, it has Tang and leads to unreconstituted huffing.

Oooh....If you like spice tea, you're gonna love this Chopin Cider Mill Martini! And we'll do you twice as nice, and share recipes for not one but two of the best cocktails we've tasted in recent memory:

Chopin Cider Mill Martini w/ butternut squash soup shooter

Chopin Cider Mill Martini

2 oz. Chopin Vodka
2 oz. fresh apple puree
2 oz. apple cider
green apple slice and/or cinnamon stick for garnish

To make the pumpkin seed rim: Toast pumpkin seeds and run through food processor. Add sugar and infuse with vanilla bean in a tightly-sealed container. Dampen the rim of the martini glass with apple juice or puree, and gently run the rim through the mix.

Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice; shake vigorously and pour into a chilled martini glass rimmed with the pumpkin seed mix. Float sliced green apple and/or cinnamon stick, and sprinkle with a touch of cinnamon and/or nutmeg.

Suggested pairing: Serve with a butternut squash or pumpkin soup.

Chopin Chocolate Decadence w/ rich banana-chocolate cake

Chopin Chocolate Decadence

2 oz. Chopin Vodka
1 oz. Chocolate Liqueur (such as Godiva)
1 oz. White Chocolate Liqueur (such as Godiva)
1/4 oz. chocolate syrup
cookie crumbs (blend equal amounts of Oreo cookies and vanilla wafers in food processor; store in a tightly-sealed container)

To make the cookie rim: Pour chocolate syrup onto a plate and run the rim around for a perfect edge. Dip into cookie crumbs. The rim may run into the drink, which is fine!

Mix all liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass prepared with the cookie rim.

Suggested Pairing: Serve with a rich banana cake.

Source: Our "Top 10 Food Blog" at www.becomingachef.com

10. Cheap, Australian shiraz. The big bottles with the kangaroo. Am I a laughing stock? Should I pour it into a pitcher so guests don't see?

It's not always the price -- it's the quality. It's surprising to many to learn that they're not always related. Want two tips for making even an inexpensive wine taste better?

Number one: Good glassware. A nice glass (e.g. made of clear, thin glass, with an appropriately-sized bowl) can really enhance the experience of drinking an inexpensive wine, while the wrong glass (e.g. made of opaque and/or colored, heavy glass, with a too-small bowl) can make the experience of drinking even an expensive Bordeaux sub-par.

Number two: Pair whatever wine you're serving with the right food, and it will elevate the experience! For example, if you pour that inexpensive Shiraz with grilled eggplant (for you vegetarians) or meat (for us carnivores), it will taste a whole lot better than if you served it with delicate fish or shellfish!

11. Are you sick of talking about those Twinkies yet? You will be. Just ask Anthony Bourdain about mussels and swordfish.

Because our new book just came out this week, you're actually the first to mention Twinkies! (For those who haven't seen the book yet, we list a beverage recommendation to accompany a Hostess Twinkie.) Believe us, the research was brutal...but in the end it is recommended with Asti (formerly known as Asti Spumante, a term that didn't age as well as the wine).

12. My mother-in-law gave Greg a big bottle of Veuve Cliquot Pousardin last January and we kept saving it for a special occasion until we forgot about it. It's been lying on its side, right under the ceiling of our top floor brownstone apartment. I'm grateful that the sublettors didn't mess with it, but is it skunked?

Champagne can be pretty hardy, especially in those big, thick bottles, so you might just be surprised. Chill it down, serve it up and find out! And let us get on our soapbox and encourage you and all your readers to stop thinking of drinking bubbles only on special occasions! Champagne and sparkling wines (which is what they call Champagne made anywhere other than the Champagne region of France) are incredibly versatile, and pair beautifully with lots of foods (besides the usual caviar, oysters, and smoked salmon). If it's fried or salty, think bubbles. There's a reason restaurants host "Champagne brunches" -- it also goes well with egg dishes. And don't miss the combination of Champagne and sushi!

Speaking of fine Champagne, we'd love to end our conversation by raising a virtual Champagne toast to you, Ayun Halliday, for so graciously hosting us for this stop on our Virtual Book Tour for WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT here on your hilarious Dirty Sugar Cookies Blog! Looking forward to getting together for a real live toast with you some time soon!

Oh shucks, it was MY pleasure! I'll get that Spice Tea to you (all of you!) tomorrow.

P.S. If any of your readers buy a copy of WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT online and forward the email receipt to CookbookRave@aol.com before October 15, 2006, we're happy to thank them by name on our Web site at www.becomingachef.com/rave.php and in the Acknowledgments of our next book Flavor Matchmaking, due out in Fall 2007!

Monday, October 02, 2006

I'm back with Huevos Rancheros!

Yeah, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and if apologies if you've been experiencing delays traveling it lately, seeing as how it was clogged like a bad drain with my big ol' carcass.

But I'm back, back from summer, back from the summer palace, back from the Dirty Sugar Tours, both live and virtual. Perhaps the biggest thing that happened to me, while we were absent, one from the other, is I fell a little bit head over heels with Austin, Texas. Not enough to move there - it's more of a Same Time, Next Year sort of deal. I mean I still haven't seen the bats. Can't go quiet until I see me them bats.

I did experience the wonders of the Box Springs Hogs,the best thrift store of my life, and the Austin Motel's sign f'ing the jet-lagged dawn like some giant neon salam'. And oh my lordie, the Mexican food. We don't have such a reliable cornucopia of that here in N Y F'in C. It's a crying shamethat I can't reproduce me El Sol Y La Luna's chori migas w/ vegetarian chorizo for your dining pleasure. (I would've said it's un petit mort, but for all I know that's a single entendre phrase, & I don't care to be corrected on ma francais, the way I'm corrected on the proper way to cook eggplant.) All I can do is offer up the Huevos Rancheros I've been meaning to post since late July, when I prepared them for Little MoMo to buck her up after a year of motherhood.

Huevos Rancheros

First you got to Refrito Some Frijoles, hombre, so tie on a couple of margaritas and get cracking the night before by tossing

1 & 1/2 cups of dried black beans
1 teaspoon of salt
1 dried red pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
and 1/4 cup of chopped onion

in your 2 gallon iron sombrero with enough water to cover them. Simmer for hours, enough hours to watch The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which is deserving of a Special Lifetime Achievement Award for former teen star Melissa Leo's seated, non-airbrushed, gloriously flabby 40-year-old nude scene! That girl is seated at the right hand of Kathy Bates, About Schmidt's hot tub heroine! Don't get so caught up in this gloriously real display of female flesh that you forget to check on your beans. You've got to water them every half hour or so, maybe salt them up a bit, and let em cook for another 30 minutes after they've gone all softy on you.

Hit rewind and heat a 1/4 cup of olive oil in a Texas-sized heavy skillet
3/4 cup of onion (i.e. the rest of the onion)
and a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic

After 3 minutes, introduce them to the remains of a finely chopped tomato.
Chaperone that party for another 5 minutes, after which you can either
a) turn the fire off and go to bed
b) keep going by Adding the drained beans to the skillet a cup at a time, mashing them with the back of a wooden spoon, or the heel of your boot, or some other such unyielding implement with the capacity for mashing.

Now then, amigos, let us hithee ho toward The Sauce!

Wash 4 dried ancho chilis, then drown them in some agua caliente! (No, not vodka! Save that for yourself! A cup of hot water's good enough for the likes of those withered donkey foreskins!) Let them soak for half an hour while you lay down with a cool cloth across your eyes to recover from the Deadwood-like vulgarities of your guide.

When the chilis are soft, relieve them of their seeds and stems and subject them to the blender, along with:
a big, undrained can of tomatoes
a clove of garlic, smashed or coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of oregano
and another cup-sized onion, as recommended by the National Onion Council.
Give em a whiz biz biz.
Or don't. I did a bad thing to my blender at the summer palace this summer. It smelled like burning. As a result, I had no choice but to go lumpy which is fine because that's just the way I like it!!! Just chop a little finer, if you're going that route.

Heat a two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, a heavy one, because that's how me and Melissa and Kathy like 'em!
Add your sauce
a little salt
a little pepper
a handful of chopped cilantro
and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar or really, any damn vinegar you can rustle up from the depths of the cabinetry, with the possible exception of raspberry.
Stir attentively for five minutes or you'll be calling your stovetop Freckles.

Mercy, is it Time To Assemble? Already? We've only been working on this for what? Two months? Feels like just under two hours. My how the time flies when you're recommending movies you should see again yourself, just to be sure.

Everybody gets a corn tortilla that you zap, front and back, on the burner so it gets floppy and warm, like my same sex lover, Melissa Leo!

Everybody gets a big spoonful of bean mix spread on top! (Reheat it if assembled the night before. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to insult your intelligence, but if I'm not mistaken, you were going to correct me on my French.)

Everybody gets a fried egg on top of that! (My, but it's convenient the way eggs come packaged by the dozen, because this recipe should yield enough to make 12 of these huevo-stacks. (which in my humble opinion serves three.)

Everybody gets a spoonful of (not cold) tomato sauce!

Don't eat it yet, because everybody gets a thin slice of cheese! Queso or Monterey Jack! Think pale, but not Dutch!

Bring it on home with some avocado and a lime wedge.

(Homegirl inhaled them huevos so rapido, the only breakfast table portrait available for publication is one shot the following day, when I tanked her up on leftover brown rice, simmered with coconut milk, brown sugar, and bananas.)

Thanky for your patience while I was playing hooky! I can swear beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'll be back by October 5, when the tables turn and it'll be my pleasure to host a pitstop on a virtual book tour for a book I didn't write, the extremely necessary What To Drink With What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. (If you're in need of a quenching right now, they recommend Champagne, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc for washing down Huevos Rancheros).

(on the left is what Little MoMo's been working on for the last year.)