Tag Archives: bourbon

Summer Tour, Part III: Bologna, by way Caroliina.

18 Aug

What could be more a more retro-fab American way to make Monday night dinner than by playing sous-chef (or “pinche,” as my Oklahoman grandfather would call it, partially in mocking deference to his partially-Chilean wife) for your Irish/Hungarian mom while she makes her family’s favorite Italian recipe? Nothing I can think of, except maybe doing it barefoot in a bathing suit while sipping a Red Hook nestle-chilled in a personalized wedding beer koozie. In the South. Also, just owning and using several beer koozies.

Recognize that koozie, Lynne? Tim + Vanessa 2009. That one's for you!

Although my personal kitchen hero Marcella Hazan would no doubt turn up her discerning nose at the thought of serving her famed five-hour Bolognese to a soundtrack of pre-season football (sorry, ‘Cell, but the fam loves the G-Men and I had given Mark Sanchez my heart even before my roomie and I managed to use his unparalleled visage to stop a lady-cop from impounding her car), I think she’d have to approve of the spirit behind the afternoon of prep for the feast.

There is no better vacation to me than the one my family takes every year to Oak Island, North Carolina, precisely because there’s literally nothing to do but nothing. With no museums to feel guilty about not visiting because you’re secretly uninterested in “learning about local culture,” nor any social scene to feel the need to put on heels for, these precious days on the bath-water warm Atlantic are reserved for sunning, swimming and reading crappy Jane Green novels. Evenings, meanwhile, follow one mandate alone, and needless to say it’s one of my favorites: eat, drink and be merry. So, after a morning of soaking up plenty of sunburn and several men’s magazines pilfered from the office (PR: it’s good for subscriptions), Mom and I retired to the rental house kitchen together to kick off the meal that will always make me think of the seemingly effortless love and care she devotes to feeding her family.

One of my earliest, and most visceral, food memories is the familiar grumble of thrilled hunger I’d feel when I’d come into our kitchen on Wedgewood Road and peer over the red and black granite countertop of the island to find on the stovetop a pot of stewing tomato sauce. Not plain red but flecked with the tiniest curls of almost grey-bluish beef simmering amidst barely detectable slivers of onion, carrot and celery. Fascinated, I would stand on tiptoes to reach for the wooden spoon resting next to the burner to skim the layer of thick orange fat layer that gathered sedentarily between the slow, frothing bubbles.

Marcella describes it better than I can, as just reading one of her recipes paints a picture of the domineering, bourbon-swilling dame responsible for teaching American there’s more to red sauce than Ragu brand long before Mario Batali did: “the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.” Hers was the first (new) cookbook my mom ever gave me for Christmas, and I vividly remember sitting in the backyard of my apartment in San Francisco in a stolen patch of January sunlight tuning out Jean-Claude, our French super who wears a beret and drives his three ancient whippet dogs everywhere in a van adorned on each side (roof included) with a perfectly replicated Pink Floyd album cover, while I pored over each of her directions. I could hear each one as sternly resolute as if they came straight from the mouth of the Italian grandmother I’ve never had. It’s pronouncements like these I love – Marcella, on Pasta:

“There is not the slightest justification for preferring homemade pasta to factory-made. Those who do deprive themselves of some of the most flavorful dishes in the Italian reperatory… They are seldom interchangeable, but in terms of absolute quality, they are fully equal.”

One more favorite before I tell you how to make the damn dinner. On tomatoes:

“The flavor of fresh tomatoes is livelier, less cloying than that of the canned, but fully ripened fresh tomatoes for cooking are still not a common feature of North American markets, except for the six or eight weeks during the summer when they are brought in from nearby farms. When you are unable to get good fresh tomatoes, rather than cook with watery, tasteless ones, it’s best to turn to the dependable canned variety.”

I’ll spare you her thoughts on the acceptable canned varieties. Obviously, they’re Italian.

No doubt she’ll recount the entire recipe for the Bolognese I’ve been eating my entire life far better than I can, so I’ll direct you to it: Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce, from The Essentials of Italian Cooking. But, to paraphrase, you first make a soffrito (dice about a handful of onions, celery and carrots, and heat, in that order, in oil and butter until soft).

The best way to get your veggies? Bathed in oil AND butter, clearly.

Sounds simple, right? It is. Although, not so much with Marcella over your shoulder:

“An imperfectly executed soffrito will impair the flavor of a dish no matter how carefully all of the succeeding steps are carried out. If the onion is merely stewed or incompletely sauteed, the taste of the sauce, or the risotto, or the vegetable never takes off and will remain feeble.”

So don’t eff it up.

Add ground beef and cook “until it loses its raw, red color,” S&P it, then add the two secret ingredients – milk (for which Mom took a measuring cup to the neighbors to fill because we only had skim – Americana at its best, my friends) and nutmeg (adding “warm” seasonings like allspice and cinnamon to sauces is a favorite tasty trick I got from Mom which I now suspect she plucked from Marcella herself). When the milk has evaporated, you add the same amount of white wine you added milk until that has evaporated too.

Here, Marcella left me to panic, because by this time in the recipe you have a yellow mass of liquid and it’s almost impossible to tell when exactly that magic moment is. I realized, though, that besides using the residue on the side of the pot to judge when the chalky white line has diminished to more or less where it was was before you added the wine, you can actually smell the sharpness of the alcohol until it has burned away. After that, you add the canned tomatoes, and then you wait. For hours. And hours. And more hours.

In the meantime, go finish off that sunburn. Return to the house to stir the pot every so often – like when the tingling on that awkward spot on your arm you didn’t reach makes you realize you need more SPF 30, when you feel the need to compulsively check your Blackberry despite the fact they’re certainly not paying you to do so, or if you have to use the bathroom in a manner not appropriate for the ocean. (Not that girls poo. Everybody knows we don’t. Ew.)

When it becomes four o’clock somewhere, a perfectly appropriate location being your own mind, I suggest you fix yourself a While You Wait Whiskey, my debut cocktail creation, inspired by a delicious visit to the Whiskey Kitchen in Nashville, Tennessee (thanks for gradumacating, brosef!).

Look, fruits too!! This day has ALL the food groups.

Cut up two or three strawberries into small pieces. Do what mixologists call “muddling” – mash them up how you see fit. I used the detachment from an electric mixer. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the mix. Put ice in a glass, pour a shot of bourbon over it (if I had my way I’d of course use Bulleit), add the muddled mix, top with club soda, and stir it all up. Adjust all ingredients to taste. Garnish with a sprig of basil, if you’ve got it, and you’re fancy.

The fam unanimously approved ( After “Stawberries? And whiskey? Katie, you’re so crazy, San Francisco blah blah blah.” Sip. “Oh… that works!” Another sip). Point one, pretension.

Even Brosef, the taste purist (complicating the childhood of yours truly the budding foodie by refusing to go to any restaurants where he'd be forced to eat "fancy pizza"), went for sip 2. Admittedly, the basil was a bit much for him.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When it has, add spaghetti.

Note: I actually think that even if it weren’t a sensible choice by virtue of its being healthier, the nutty taste and grainier texture of whole wheat spaghetti actually makes a nicer compliment to the sauce than traditional white pasta. Sorry, ‘Cell. I will, however, concede the milk battle. Whole – which is four percent fat – just works better than two percent here. It’s vacation.

Sit while the storm clouds you desperately miss on the East Coast roll in.

Meanwhile, open a bottle of wine. It should be full enough to stand up to the meat, but light enough not to overpower the delicate nature of the sauce. We had a Benziger Signaterra “Three Blocks” Red (2006), a Sonoma Cab Sauv (68%)/Merlot blend that is structured but very smooth, with more cocoa than fruit notes. (The bottle was sent to my Mom as part of the wine membership I got her for Christmas, and on a side note for all you wine country visitors, Benziger, a family-owned and run biodynamic winery is one of the best places to to go. I’ll expound later I’m sure.)

This is a completely extraneous shot I'm including only so I can look at it whistfully whilst stranded once again in cubeland braindead zone tomorrow. Sometimes I don't think the gold diggers have it so wrong.

When the pasta is done al dente, strain, “correct the salt” in the sauce, and serve all mixed up topped with parm cheese. After you’ve worked this hard, keep it classy. Make it fresh grated. Do it for Marcella.

Sit down to enjoy it with your adorable family.

But seriously, could they BE any cuter?

And now suspended 10,000 miles in the bumpy air above the Rockies, remembering the vivid sights, smells and tastes that bring me home no matter how far away that may be, I feel incredibly lucky.  Even if it’s precisely the frustratingly fleeting nature of these moments that make them so powerful.

welcome to the good life. catch ya on the flip side.

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Look Mom, Snacks for Dinner!

2 Jul
  • Because we’re all lazy at the end of the week.
  • Because I’m too tired and over being trapped in this effing cube to be clever.
  • Because I have a sick, sick obsession with alliteration.

For all these reasons, I present Five or Fewer Friday, a new column featuring complete meals made with no more ingredients than you can count on one hand. If you’re a six-fingered freak, you’re a lucky bastard today. Don’t let it go to your head. Or that circus sideshow of a finger. And if you’ve lost a digit somewhere along the way, like in Mr. Feely’s fifth grade woodworking class (yes that was his name and it was as creepy as it sounds) I’m sorry, but you’re SOL. I run a tight ship. I do it in a fabulous sailor costume, though, so there’s that.

I’m going with Top Chef rules, so salt, pepper and pantry seasonings are freebies, as is olive oil. This is both because Tom Colicchio is my vice, and Kevin, the red bearded pork Santa, is my future husband – seriously, he’s better than bacon. I do think it’s only fair that any animal product count as one, including butter. And I’m also going to count packaged condiments, as long as they’re made from whole foods, as one ingredient, although several may go into them. myblogmyrulesdealwithit!

Buttermilk Pretzel Chicken & Greens

I thought the Amurrican flag bowl was a nice 4th of July touch. My thumb in the top right was another.

INGREDIENTS

Buttermilk. Probably the lowfat cultured kind. Luckily for those of us who have already bought dresses we must squeeze into for events later this summer, buttermilk is naturally low in fat and high in protein. It’s even better for you than bourbon and viagra, apparently – just ask these guys.

Chicken. A note about my meat policy: if I’m springing to buy meat, I spring the extra $3 to buy meat that isn’t fed on its own family members. So yes, this chicken was organic, free-range. (Partially because I also secretly want to marry this man. Seriously, watch it. I dig his specs. Now those are happy cows, huh JG?)

Pretzels. This all came about because I spend approximately 25% of the workday thinking about whether it would be reasonable to eat more pretzels. Absolutely, if I can MAKE THEM INTO A MEAL, I justified. I used TJ’s honey wheat because that’s what I had, which makes the whole recipe sweeter than salty. Also because TJ’s apparently doesn’t have plain everyday pretzels. So use whatever kind. GET CRAZY.

Lettuce. I have no thoughts on lettuce. (Lies. I have inane thoughts on everything.) Cilantro does not belong in mixed greens. Other than that, anything goes.

Garlic Mustard Aioli. So yes, this is where I’m using the “one jar one ingredient” rule. However, you actually could use just mustard, or even the buttermilk, some yogurt, or some mayo (preferably Duke’s, obv) with some dill. But this ish is tasty. I mean seriously, aioli just a word for fancy mayonnaise, and one of the few things possibly better than mayo is flavored mayo.

MAKE ME, MAKE ME!

  1. Build me up, buttermilk baby. Pour a few cups of buttermilk into a big bowl or dish. Trim whatever looks narsty from your chicken (freeze those pieces to make stock) and put the good stuff in the bowl. Grab yourself a cold brewski (which would also be great with the finished dish) and let the chicken soak up buttermilk-y goodness for 30 minutes. Pre-heat oven to 375.
  2. Crunchtime. Fill a small ziploc with pretzels and smash them up (use the aioli jar for bonus kitchen scout points). Add salt, pepper and seasoning of choice – I like Italian, personally, with a few dashes of cayenne for kick. Pour over a plate.
  3. You must dip it. Once your chicken is good’n’milky, roll each piece in the pretzel coating. Put the dipped pieces on a lined baking tray (ESHEA KITCHEN LIFESAVER NOTE: Use parchment or tinfoil, not wax paper)
  4. Bake. About 30 minutes at 375.
  5. Dress Yoself. Toss a giant salad with your dressing of choice – to keep within 5, use the aioli cut with a little water, or some buttermilk whipped with dill and a little olive oil. When the chicken is done, serve alongside the greens with a dollop of the aoli for dipping. If you’ve got one, squeeze lemon over the top of the chicken.

Pretzel Buttermilk Chicken & Greens

THOUGHTS: This would also be really good with a half cup or so of shredded charp cheese, like a cheddar or what I think would be perfect is a dry vella jack, mixed into the pretzel coating. If you want to make a real meat and potatoes classic meal, this would be great with red mashed potatoes, and you could even use the buttermilk, like these from EatingWell. The honey pretzels make a really nice soft, rather than cruchy, coating for a meal you can eat with just one fork – no knife required. Uncoincidentally, this meal is pretty ideal for those of us without a dishwasher. Or a houseboy.

Yet. Currently accepting applications.

If I had one, I would have had him pack me this delicious leftovers sammy for lunch today instead of making it myself. Sometimes I don’t even know how I manage.

Yes, I did go out on the balcony to take this bberry photo for the lighting. Yes, I did get weird looks from the Yahoo dudes who work across the street. No, they don't have lives either.