The new Threepenny Review is out! I'm very proud of my essay Colorless, Odorless, Tasteless, about the miserable year I spent peddling vodka.
Chef Jack Riebel is the best cook I know, and I know some cooks. For many years, Jack was the chef at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, where my husband plays every Christmas with the Bad Plus. It was an absurdly glamorous experience to spend the holidays there, listening to the Plus, eating Jack's food, and being waited on by his wife Kathryne, one of those rare professionals who still views service as an art. Drummer Dave King's little son Otis could not pronounce "Chef Jack" and called him "Fresh Jack"; the name stuck.
Once I even worked the kitchen. It had been years since I'd done this professionally, and my performance on the leek and potato soup was similar to what Sosa, the head boxing trainer at my gym, said recently about my hand wrapping skills: "OK, but slow and fearful."
All good things come to an end, and so did Fresh's time at the Dakota. He moved on to help found Butcher and the Boar, a tremendously successful BBQ/bourbon/beer garden concept that landed Fresh in the finals for James Beard Chef of the Midwest.
This Christmas, Fresh announced he was moving on yet again, to consult for a new restaurant in Loring Park. Somehow I had still never eaten at B & the B, so I made him take me and Kathryne. The food was exquisite, much of it kissed by the wood grill, all of it bearing Fresh's distinctive signature: earnest, bold Americana meets French refinement.
Rare duck breast paired with foie gras boudin, served with "waldorf" garnish of pureed apple, celery, walnuts, and raisins. Also superb were the Texas-style jalepenos stuffed with peanut butter, mussels michelada with Fresno chili and smoked paprika, gorgeous lobster grilled cheese, and two items that I literally could not stop eating until they were all gone: the turkey braunschweiger, which is a kind of pate, and the grilled oysters, for which Fresh generously supplied the recipe (below).
In addition to being a great creative cook, Fresh is a wonderful leader. Here he poses with his staff, who were all a little sad, news of his departure having just hit the grill.
12 of your favorite, meaty, deep cup oysters, shucked
1 batch of oyster butter (recipe below)
¼ C toasted breadcrumbs. (Optional)
Make oyster butter and reserve at room temperature.
Light grill or preheat gas grill.
Place a teaspoon of oyster butter on each oyster, sprinkle with breadcrumbs if using.
Place oysters on hot grill and cook until butter has melted and bubbling. Move oysters around to avoid flare up. Some flare up will occur, no worries
When ready remove and serve with lemon wedge. Allow oyster to cool slightly as the shells are going to be very hot..
1 lb butter
½ c grated parmesan
1T fresh thyme
2 lemons zested
2 T minced chives
2 T minced garlic
salt & pepper to taste
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Tabasco to taste
Butter may be made ahead and kept refrigerated up to two weeks or frozen indefinitely. Butter should be tempered before use. (Note: I'm not exactly sure what this last sentence means, as I have only ever tempered chocolate before. I found a description of tempering butter here.)
Today I glazed the parfait and made the grapefruit sorbet base, which I'll put in the ice cream maker tomorrow. This is easy and delicious, another Nancy Silverton recipe. We used to serve this at Verbena.
PINK GRAPEFRUIT-TEQUILA SORBET
4 cups fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup tequila
Stir very well until all the sugar is dissolved. Chill and then freeze in an ice cream maker.
It was fun to be back at the gym today after a week layoff! When I came in, Earl Newman and Nkosi Solomon were having an instructive sparring. Earl is a classy heavyweight, and Nkosi is just starting out but showing great promise as a superheavy. A few days ago, Earl posted this fight to Facebook. A brutal war between a boxer and a puncher, from 2003 when James "Lights Out" Toney was in his late prime.
Check out how Toney fights off the ropes in round 6! Vintage Detroit style. The Kazakh champ is a machine and keeps coming grimly forward, but Toney is just too slick."Lights Out" finally gets Jirov down in the final round but can't finish him and wins a lopsided decision. Great work in Toney's corner by the calm, mystical Freddie Roach.
This Friday I'll be cooking a dinner in honor of my dear friends Debi and Eric. I wanted a festive, rich winter menu. Here's the plan:
It's a little heavy, but what the hell. We'll drink champagne with the soup and fish, then switch to a big red for the venison. Kate and Eric are my only friends with a proper wine cellar, so I look forward to their selection. I began yesterday with the stock and the pastry.
If you have great stock, you have a great meal. This is my recipe, which is cobbled together from various places including Lynn Rosetto Kaspar's magnificent book on Emilia-Romagna.
I'll use this for the chestnut soup and the venison stew. These quantities are really approximate: it's hard to go wrong as long as you use good meat, carmelize well and let it boil down a lot. Veal bones give the cleanest flavor, and the turkey wings add additional richness. I like to make a big batch and freeze what's left. You can also boil it way, way down to have a glaze for sauces.
6 lbs veal bones, cut up
2 lbs turkey wings
two bags of carrots, chopped into big pieces
bag of celery, chopped into big pieces
two bags of onions, sliced thickly (leave skins on)
head of garlic, split
Brown everything well in large saucepan with a little canola or grapeseed oil. Use many batches to avoid crowding in the pan and get a good sear on both meat and veg. As you finish, put them in the stockpot. This should take at least half an hour.
Deglaze with water. Taste the deglazing liquid. If it's bitter or burnt tasting, discard. If not, pour over meat and veg. Add to stockpot:
bunch of parsley<
few springs thyme
3 bay leaves
pinch black peppercorns
pinch whole coriander
Cover everything with enough water to cover the surface by half an inch. Bring to a boil. Lower to a very slow simmer and cook all day, like 12 hours. Cool. Strain (through a chinoise if possible), pressing on the solids lightly. Today I got about a gallon.
We finally got the news today, and it was good. The three London "wild card" slots for women boxers from the Americas will go to Canada's Mary Spencer (middleweight), the US's Queen Underwood (lightweight), and Brazil's Erica Matos (flyweight).
Historically the tripartite selections have been used to ensure greater diversity, going to athletes from underrepresented nations. I never like to root against diversty, but I was hoping that in this case they would go to the best fighters, and that's what happened.
Mary Spencer is a calm, technical boxer who has been slumping lately but deserves the chance to fight it out in London. Queen Underwood also comes off a streak of poor showings, but her conditioning is excellent and if she can get her head in the game I believe she can be a medal contender. Southpaw Erica Matos has a lovely style and will be a great representative of our sport.
With these selections, the US and Brazil will now send full three-women squads. Spencer will be the only Canadian woman in the Games. Given Canada's excellent coaching and their important role in the development of women's boxing, it's great to see one of their women included.
In other news, my descent into obesity and financial ruin continued today as I shopped and ate my way through Magazine Street. In New Orleans, they let you order cocktails to go. My day began with the purchase of a vintage metal-studded jean miniskirt and went downhill from there.
I had a pretty good oyster po' boy from Mahoney's. Sesame seed bun. Pickles. Unsweetened iced tea. Six napkins. The tripartite news came in while I was eating and soon my iPhone was covered with remoulade.
I thought I might go for a jog but ate a snowball instead. A snowball is like an Italian ice but better and served in a Chinese food takeout container. I got praline with whipped cream. If you take the time to breathe and relax, the urge to exercise generally passes.
My cab driver didn’t make out too badly in Katrina. He got his wife, son, and aged grandparents out to a hotel near Houston by the time the levee broke.
“When I got back home, the house was five feet deep in mold,” he said. "I was lucky."
I had only been in New Orleans for ten minutes, but I was already starting to understand why Jen had packed it all up and moved. New Orleans is on my short list of cities for which it is acceptable to dump New York.
As soon as I dropped off my suitcase in the palatial new apartment that costs less than Jen’s old East Village one-bedroom, we headed to Atchafalaya for brunch. The eggs Louisianne were perched atop extremely crabby crab cakes, and the sublime grits were almost more cheese than grit. A trio played jazz in the front bar while we chowed down in the back.
When Jen commented on the odd flavor of the green tomato mixer -- we’d chosen unwisely among the many options available in the make-your-own bloody mary bar -- the waiter said, “Let’s just hit the reset button, shall we?” and brought us fresh pint glasses of ice and vodka.
New Orleans is a place where the mistakes of the past no longer haunt you. We rebuilt our cocktails with red tomato juice, horseradish, pickled okra, and watermelon rinds and sipped them while Barbeque Dave explained how he got his nickname. Then we went home to nap.
Jen’s claim that she didn’t know how to parallel park proved untrue; she just parks at a rakish angle. We spent the cocktail hour at Sylvain, a jewel box of unpretentious deliciousness run by another New York refugee, Sean McCusker.
Here are some scallops over farro with roasted grapes. I tried not to think about how much butter was in this dish, especially because Jen had threatened to take me to a clothing-optional swimming pool the following morning. The scallops were perfectly caramelized and the grapes tasted like haute Welch’s jam. With them I drank the best sazerac I’ve ever had.
We next cabbed it to the Contemporary Arts Center for their “Bourbon and Burlesque” benefit, where we prowled the premises in search of more snacks and tried to fend off the advances of a pediatric dentist whose wife was on vacation in New Zealand. I began to wonder how I could ever make it up to Jen for being the Best Tour Guide Ever. Perhaps by letting her flog me in the Burlesque Photo Booth?
The live performance featuring local burlesque troops seemed more costume-driven and less sexily individualistic than New York burlesque, but Peekaboo Pointe has spoiled me. Mo Johnson and the Shim Shamettes, who closed the show, were the best. We left and went to dba for some live music.
“Come on, let’s dance,” Jen said, and she led me through the packed house to the front of the stage, where I could look down the barrel of the slide trombones.
The band was called the Hot 8, but they gave me chills and there were at least twelve of them. Up front were the trombones, trumpets, and saxophones. One of the trumpet players had no legs. Behind them were the tuba and drums, big guys who were shaking the stage.
I felt a pure joy in this music that I have not felt in a very long time. A woman was dancing up front with a flower made of dollar bills pinned to her dress.
“It’s her birthday,” Jen explained.
At the set break we went to R Bar for a round, although I had switched to seltzer at this point, being somewhat of an amateur. The persona at this smoky dive included Chris, who directs radio plays for the blind and told me about the literary wake his friends held for Ray Bradbury.
I also met a cranky man who directs a male chorus that sings only sea shanties. He got mad when Jen called his group a "choir" and was uninterested in my recommendation that they sing Robert Pearsall's setting of Sir Patrick Spens.
Then it was back to dba for the second set of the Hot 8...
...and even though our feet hurt and it was like three in the morning we snagged a ride with the pediatric dentist over to Mimi’s, where Jen said the best DJ in town was spinning. It was impossible to top the live brass band, but there were cute boys on the dance floor and I liked Soul Sister’s groovy 80’s stylings.
Jenn introduced me to the charming Jonathan Freilich, and at this point New Orleans reminded me a lot of college in that everyone seemed to know each other and have at one time been romantically involved. Jonathan gave us a lift back to his pad where he played us the Finale version of the song cycle he’s working on about De Kooning. The studio belonged to a hat maker and looked like the set of a very posh La Boheme.
It took us a while to figure out how to use the microwave so we could heat up some of the gumbo in the frig.
Jonathan kindly drove us home as dawn crept through the sky, and when we got there we figured, what the hell, why not finish off that bottle of rose. New Orleans is a city where only the brave survive. Before we fell asleep, Jen gave Elvis his insulin.
It's been a little hard coming home from China. I feel like half of me is still there, cheering on the fighters.
This photo of women Lego boxers is courtesy of Coach Christy Halbert. She constructed the red boxer by combining the torso portion of the Lego flamenco dancer with the legs and arms of the male amateur boxer. The blue-green boxer was built using the torso of the Lego weightlifter. There's also some hand painting. Christy is truly devoted to our sport.
It seemed to me like the red corner fought orthodox and the blue was a southpaw, but Christy said the blue fighter actually switch hits, which really comes in handy. At the moment when the photo was taken, blue was up on points, but you never know with Legos. One punch can end it.
The USA Boxing Board votes tonight on whether to oust their floridly creepy President, Hal Adonis. Huge props to Ariel Levy, who captured Hal mouthing off about women boxers, rape, and lesbians for her New Yorker profile, hastening his demise.
What happens inside a boxing ring is so pure. Why is the atmosphere around it so perniciously corrupt? It makes the porn industry seem wholesome.
All I've been doing since I got back from China is nap and eat. Here's a favorite recipe. This is so good. It's like homemade fast food, because once the paste is made, you can have a fabulous dinner ready in 15 minutes.
This makes about 2 cups, enough for two big curry dinners. Freezes well.
GREEN CURRY PASTE (From True Thai by Victor Sodsook)
Roast together in a dry skillet until fragrant and golden:
1/2 Tablespoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon aniseed
Grind them up along with
12 white peppercorns.
1 1/2 Tablespoons shrimp paste
neatly in a double layer of aluminum foil. Roast it in the dry skillet, flipping every once in a while, until fragrant and sizzling. Scrape into food processor along with the ground spices.
1/2 cup seeded, chopped jalepenos or serranos
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1/3 cup chopped ginger (galangal if you can get it)
1 cup chopped shallots
1/3 cup chopped cilantro stems
two stalks of lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed and bottom 3 inches finely chopped
shredded zest of two limes
6 large leaves of romanine lettuce
(optional, a few spoons of vegetable stock to facilitate pureeing)
Process for a long time, scraping down the sides periodically, until it's as smooth as you can get it.
Mix half of the above recipe (about one cup) with:
Two cans of coconut milk
1/4 cup of fish sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
Heat to simmering and add mixed vegetables, shrimp, tofu, whatever you feel like. Stagger the addition of items so the ones that take a long time to cook go in first. I like a mixture of broccoli and pumpkin with deep-fried tofu added at the end.
Don't add too many things; it should be brothy. Right before serving, swirl in a cup of basil leaves.
Serve over rice or noodles. You could garnsh with chopped peanuts and lime wedges if you want.
Don’t believe anyone who says that veganism – or any other restricted diet – is just as delicious as eating everything. People who say this kind of thing weren’t that into food to begin with. It’s hard to believe these people exist, but they do. There’s even people out there who aren’t that into sex.
Author PG Wodehouse, the patron saint of this blog, was not that into sex
From the tongue's point of view, nothing is better than an omnivorous diet that scorns environmental concerns, but the tongue isn’t the body's only pleasure center. When you look at certain big red chefs, you have to wonder if the life of gastronomic excess is still as fun as it used to be.
I’ve learned that there’s a very real pleasure in health and in knowing that the way you eat is kind. It isn’t as fun to write about as the pleasures of foie gras, but it might be more fun to experience. I've been eating mostly plants ever since I worked on this book.
For our sixth wedding anniversary, Ethan and I had a great dinner at Convivium, which has only gotten better over time and is far and away the best restaurant in Park Slope, unless there's some place I've missed. On this visit I was blown away by the skill with which the vegetables were handled.
The baby arugula salad was sparklingly fresh. The julienne of endive made the leaves seem sweet and more liquid. It was like what Rapunzel’s mother craved.
The Roman-style braised artichoke contained one heart so beautifully cleaned that there was nothing wasted on the plate. I’d just eaten Roman artichokes at a neighborhood Italian joint with some friends I met at a literary reading, and I’d had to discreetly spit the fibrous outer leaves into my napkin while discussing literature. Not so sexy. With Convivium’s artichoke all the work had been done. The braise was so good we sopped it up with the excellent country bread.
Polenta with wild mushrooms and taleggio was so delicious it inspired me to make the wild rice dish below. Convivium’s polenta was not health food: it was all butter and cream with a funky edge from the taleggio. I think the mushrooms were porcini. They were earthy and chewy and perfectly umami.
The star of the red snapper plate was the swiss chard, whose leaves and stems were cooked to equal tenderness. Everything was smothered in tomatoes and capers.
Then there’s the other things that set Convivium apart. First, the lighting. It’s warm and cozy and candlelit. You feel like you’re far away from everywhere else.
Then, the service. Park Slope has developed a signature style of obnoxious service, in evidence at places like Al Di La and Franny’s and Talde, that is heavy on PR and light on technique. Young waitresses basically have orgasms tableside while describing the specials to you. I’m glad they like their jobs, but I want to have my own reaction to the food. Convivium’s waiters are warm and deft. You’re left alone with your dinner and your lover, and isn’t that why you came?
TRUFFLED WILD RICE WITH WILD MUSHROOMS
This is an easy vegan one-pot dish that just relies on finding good ingredients. The can of beans is optional. Proportions aren’t too important, just make enough for your casserole pan.
To prepare wild rice: Rinse it and remove any dirt. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Drain. Cover with cold water again and bring to a second boil. Drain again. Cover with water again, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a third boil. This time let it cook until the grains are opened and it’s tender but still chewy. For me this takes about 25 minutes. If necessary, add more water to keep the rice covered. Drain and reserve.
To prepare wild mushrooms: Carefully wipe off dirt with a paper towel. Trim off stem ends and any bruised parts. Most wild mushrooms these days are hydroponically grown and not too dirty; if yours are very dirty, submerge in water and swirl, then scoop out and blot with paper towels.
Saute mushrooms over medium-high heat in an ample amount of extra virgin olive oil and canola oil until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms start to brown. Depending on the mushrooms and whether you washed them, this can take up to 20 minutes. When all the water is gone and the oil starts to sizzle, toss in a few minced shallots, salt, and pepper. Cook for another two minutes or so, stirring frequently until things carmelize. Deglaze with 3/4 C of dry vermouth. Let it come to a boil and then turn off the heat.
Mix mushrooms and juice into wild rice. Add:
one can of great northern beans, along with the liquid from the can
1/2 cup of minced herbs (anything you can get of parsley, tarragon, chervil, and chives)
Adjust salt and pepper. Put in a casserole pan and top with a cup of walnuts that you've pulsed in the food processor with a clove of minced garlic. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes or until it’s hot and the walnuts are browned. (If they don't brown, run it under the broiler for a sec.) Serve drizzled with ample truffle oil.
This is great with braised greens on the side, and if you're not vegan it is extra delicious with a fried egg and sriracha.
L and I stayed in Barcelona a few days, then rented a car and drove into France, staying a night near Carcassonne, then a night in Saint-Emilion, and a week in a cottage in the Dordogne Valley, just outside Sarlat. We drove back to Barcelona before flying home. What bliss!
My favorite meals...
Omlette sandwiches with cepe mushrooms (porcini), tomato, shallots, and purple basil
Brebis (sheep cheese)
Prunes from Agen
Midway through an 8km hike, L and I sat down in the shade in a walnut orchard and ate the egg sandwiches I'd made that morning. All the groceries were from the farmer's market in Sarlat. Nothing tastes better than food on a hike.
9. LA FONDA, BARCELONA
Cod in Goat Cheese Sauce
Thanks to S. for recommending this joint, which was the best value of the trip, I think under 20 euros per person. The cod and goat cheese was a weird combination that really worked, and fideo is just scrumptious. I wish I'd taken notes because I can't remember what this crisp, aromatic bottle of white was, some blend of local varietals including Muscat d'Alexandrie.
8. LUNCH, CHAI PASCAL, SAINT-EMILION
Warm Goat Cheese Salad
2006 Château Peyrou Côtes de Castillon
After we visited my inspirational friend M, who Is making her own wine in Montagne-St-Emilion, we stopped in at a wine bar in town she recommended. What a great meal! Their salad was huge, with fresh beets and chunks of warm, ashed goat cheese smeared on rustic toasts. The charcuterie plate had ham from the black Perigord pig, house-made terrine, pork rillettes, and dry sausage, and we washed it down with the juicy red Côtes de Castillon, made by Catherine Papon-Nouvel, which they poured by the glass.
7. STEAK DINNER, LA MUSE, LABASTIDE-ESPARBAIRENQUE
Local Entrecote with Red Wine Pan Sauce
Mashed potatoes and turnips
Cahors and Minervois
I made us a yummy dinner in a farmhouse kitchen at this wonderful artist's retreat in SW France. If you're an artist and you need some space and inspiration, you should really check out La Muse. It's in a spectacular, isolated mountain villiage in the Black Mountains, just outside Carcassonne. The landscape is almost medieval with a cool mystical vibe thanks to the Cathars.
It's hard not to eat well in this part of the world. We shopped at a tiny general store in the neighboring village of Mas Cabardes, a trip during which we got lost finding the store and finding our car afterwards.
The entrecote was from cows just down the road, sliced fresh for us by the local shopkeeper. I rubbed it with olive oil and garlic and sauteed it rare. Three firm Pyrenee cheeses: a brebis, a cow's milk, and a great, cheddary goat, plus a bloomy-rinded chevre that L said smelled like manure but I loved. It went great with the 6-euro bottles of Cahors and Minervois.
6. TAPAS, BAR BOQUERIA, BARCELONA
Octopus a la Plancha
Grilled Shishito(?) Peppers
Grilled Shrimp (the kind with their heads still on)
Barcelona's Boqueria is a serious contender for the title of Best Farmer's Market in the World. We had lunch at one of the bustling, informal countertop restaurants there. The lines were too long at Bar Central so we went to Bar Boqueria, which I think was even better. Everything was delicious, and ordering was an adventure. We drank lots of cheap rose out of tumblers.
Watercress salad with garlic dressing
Roast quinces with chestnut honey
2005 Domaine de l'A Côtes de Castillon
This was a let's-eat-everything left-in-the-frig supper. The stock from the head-on chicken I'd roasted the night before was better than the roast itself - I've never before gotten so much flavor out of a single bird. I threw in some giant white lima beans, carrots, leeks, pumpkin, and served it with garlic croutons. The smell of roasting quinces filled up the whole cottage.
The merlot-dominated red was made by Stephane Derenoncourt and purchased at a great wine shop in Saint-Emilion called Terres Millesimees. It was a fabulous value - silky and powerful with jammy black fruit and that special vibrancy you get in natural wine. Wish I'd brought some home!
4. LUNCH, BISTRO D'EN FACE, TREMOLAT, FRANCE
Salad of duck gizzards, Jerusalem artichokes, radicchio, and endive
Some weird and yummy herbal aperitif
Duck confit in port wine sauce
Potatoes Sarladaise (i.e., fried in duck fat)
House Red (Bergerac)
We decided to take down some serious duck fat at this charming bistro, which is the dressed-down sister of the Michelin-starred Vieux Logis across the street. The salad was one of the best dishes I had on the whole trip. I'd tried to make duck gizzards once, and they were ghastly, and so I was afraid to order this dish, but oh boy am I glad I did. The gizzards were like little chewy duck sausages, and the Jerusalem artichoke was tossed in some kind of tangy, creamy dressing, and the bitter greens cut sharply through all the richness. It was superb. Other things were less fabulous, like the snails, but basically this was what you want a bistro to be.
We talked to the elegant octogenarian at the table next to us, lunching with her niece. The two were discussing the aunt's wartime memories. She was happy to learn that I was Jewish and told me that during the war many of her neighbors had hidden Jews in their barns. As a symbolic gesture of gratitude, I gave her a feather I'd found in the woods.
3. DINNER, LA TREILLE, VITRAC, FRANCE
Pot au feu of foie gras and vegetables
Lamb chops with wild mushrooms
Macaroon with salted caramel ice cream and strawberry sauce
Vin de Pays du Perigord
Our hostess from the gite recommended this excellent local restaurant. The foie gras pot au feu was surprisingly delicate, with local baby carrots and turnips and potatoes cooked in a flavorful chicken broth. I had never had foie gras in consomme before. The dish was served, adorably, in a little mason jar. It was sort of like foie gras potpie, minus the crust.
The lamb chops were delicious and the presentation was beautiful, as if every spear of asparagus and tendril of morel had been set in its right place. Dessert was good, too. The wine was rough around the edges. I'd never heard of VDP Perigord before and maybe there's a good reason. Best service of the trip from the solemn, deft waitress.
2. DINNER, AUBERGE SAINT-JEAN, SAINT-JEAN DE BLAIGNAC, FRANCE
Grilled foie gras with celery root mousse and apple sorbet
Pigeon with Roasted Tomato
The chef's cute pregnant wife ran the front of the house at this ambitious restaurant on the Dordogne that probably deserves a Michelin star. The foie gras appetizer was L's favorite dish of the whole trip. It was seared, meltingly tender, and the celery root showed up three ways on the plate (I think): in a mousse, a puree, and as a brunoise. It was such a full experience of the flavor of the vegetable, and the apple sorbet tied it together perfectly. This dish was really breathtaking and announced a certain seriousness emanating from the kitchen.
The pigeon was very good, too. The breast was possibly cooked sous-vide, perfectly pink and earthy. The leg was falling-apart tender. My dessert (some kind of brownie-like thing) was only okay, and I was very jealous of L's choice, which had a vanilla-poached pear in salted toffee sauce and caramel-chocolate wafer. We splurged for a 2005 St-Emilion, which was great.
Afterwards I asked for verbena tea. It arrived in a teapot shaped like a hedgehog, which is what the chef's surname, l'Herisson, means.
Photo: Justin Bernhaut/acpsyndication.com
1. TAPAS, CAL PEP, BARCELONA
Mixed Fry of Smelts, Shrimp, and Squid
Cockles Steamed with Sausage and White Wine
Grilled Shishito(?) Peppers
Sweet Sausage with White Bean
Cod with Roasted Tomato and Potato
Gran Riserva Cava
The meal of the trip for me came on our last night in town. I've tried to go to Cal Pep many times, but the line was always too long.
This was a nearly-perfect meal, marred only by the fact that the line of people waiting to dine is right behind you, meaning that you can't linger over your food the way you want to when food is this good. The bottle of cava recommended by the waiter was flinty and refreshing and had a ton of character. The salty, crispy fried fish, the opulent cod, the sausage - it was all fabulous - but the spanish tortilla, a custardy omlette of potatoes flavored with bacon and aioli, was the best dish of the trip for me. Proof that simple food can be extraordinary.
When I had to say "no" to the question "uno mas?" I was genuinely sad.
This is addictively good, with multiple layers of flavor that do not obscure the taste of the squash. The hardest part is finding the ingredients, but these days you can order everything online even if you're far from an Indian grocery. Mustard oil in particular is worth seeking out.
You can make this recipe with any winter squash, and some of them - like delicata - won't even need peeling. From Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.
1/4 cup mustard oil or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon nigella seeds (AKA kalonji or black cumin)
1/4 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
1/8 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 whole dried hot red chiles (tiny ones, like cayenne or Thai bird)
about 2 pounds winter squash, deseeded, peeled if necessary, and cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in the bottom of a nonstick or stick-resistant pot (Le Creuset works great). Add cumin and mustard seeds. Once they start popping (just a few seconds), add the nigella, fennel, fenugreek, bay leaves, and chiles. Stir once or twice quickly and put in the cubed squash. Cover, turn heat down to low, and cook 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. At the end, add salt and sugar and mix well, breaking up any large chunks with the back of a wooden spoon. It will cook down into a mash but should still have some texture. Madhur Jaffrey notes: "The whole chiles should only be eaten by those who know what they are doing."