Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Primary Day Cafe/Open House! One Night Only!

**please note: this was written before the FL election results were known. Not that that changes our intent, but now that Edwards is dropping out in a couple of hours I do feel slightly bad for kicking his hair while he is down, and who knew how bitter Giuliani could be???

From the Desk of Zora O'Neill:

Some of you may remember November 2004 and the glory that was Election Day Cafe. Even though we ended up with four more years of Bush, we at least enjoyed one full day of happiness while feasting on such patriotic dishes as chicken-fried steak, waffles, grilled-cheese sandwiches and, uh, cassoulet. Susannah, didn't you plot to assassinate the dude that day? What happened?

Well, now it's 2008, and we are not quite as crazy as we once were. Namely, we are _not_ waking up at the crack of ass to feed all you good little voters breakfast.

BUT we have concocted a lavish dinner to honor our diverse candidates, all best enjoyed by the glow of the TV as we follow the outcome of Super Tuesday.

Please join us anytime after 5pm for:

**Kucinich's All-Vegan Crudites--and because he dropped out, we feel like we can compromise his austere dietary vision with some dairy-based dip, or maybe even something with the actual flesh of little once-living anchovies (don't worry--it'll be on the side)

**Nachos--an Arizona treat from McCain...and Mizz Tamara of Phoenix. Whoa--McCain, rising like a phoenix? Never thought about that. Deep, dude--something to ponder while you crunch on these delectably cheesy things.

...Then we'll be moving on to a buffet dinner of:

**Chicago-style Chili--did you know Barack Obama said his favorite food to cook was chili? So fitting, when you think about it--a stew of disparate elements coming together, uniting, to be _changed_ into something miraculous and new. Oh whatever--gag me. But the chili will be delicious.

**Tortillas--more influence from McCain, but don't assume that means we want to vote for him!

**Spoonbread--this southern-style grits concoction is a nod to John Edwards's South Carolina roots, but also, in its fluffiness, to his hair.

**A nice green salad of Boston Bibb lettuce--that's for you, Mitt! And to honor the Mormon's change of opinion in the 1980's, black malden salt for judicious sprinkling!

**Huckabee's creationist special: Garden of Eden fruit salad (heavy on the apples)

...And for dessert:

**Chocolate-chip cookies, made from Hillary Clinton's own recipe from 1992, back when she was trying to kiss ass after disparaging women who just "stay home and bake cookies."

**Pecan pie with a lard crust--that's for you, Bill, even though you're *not* running.

Wash it all down with some coffee, if you like--Giuliani recommends you take it black and _bitter_. (We were going to make pasta puttanesca, aka whore's pasta, for Rudy, but it didn't really get along with the rest of the meal. Whaddya know.)

We'll also be supplying beer, because that somehow seems more American (and goes with chili better). We're not anticipating having to cap the numbers, since this isn't a sit-down thing, and it's a school night, but please RSVP right away if you want to come, just in case we're totally deluded.

And when you're headed to the ballot box this coming Tuesday, remember the immortal words of Julia Child: "Why don't you stuff it yourself!"

Primary Day Cafe and Open House anytime after 5pm
Reynolds/Wasserman Halfway House for Edwards and Obama Supporters

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pranzo Domenica In Astoria!

Old school Italy by way of Astoria. What could be better?


This meal was built around three dishes I have made before and loved, another dish I made before and kind of fucked up, and yet another dish that I ate once, dreamed about for the next four years, and never attempted to prepare until Saturday night. With most dishes like the latter, the longer you dream of cooking it without actually doing so, the more mythologized the dish becomes in your sense-memory.

Sometimes revisiting the Ghost Of Cuisine Past can be a terrible downer -- it turns out that the thing haunting your waking hours is nowhere near as good as you remembered. This was not the case with the "Grilled Onion Salad with Anchovies and Lemons."

I swear to God, I could eat this dish every day of the week, and I just might.

So simple. It's just grilled green onions (the sweet and the char are the hooks,) olive oil, little hunks of lemon, and whole cured anchovies.

The salt, the sweet, the bitter tang of the citrus, the char of the onions... I am telling you, it's BLISS. The last time I ate it was at my friend Victoria's Sicilian Family Christmas 4 years ago. I housed it. I was unable to attend their Christmas for 2 years, and then this year, the only thing I wanted to eat was that damned salad. When I got there, I saw the traditional Bacalao, Bacon-wrapped Scallops, Stuffed Shrimp, Scungili Salad... But, where were the fucking onions and anchovies? Zia Tina (Aunt Tina) had run out of time to assemble it so there the salad sat, deconstructed, in the fridge.

I quickly remembered that it was more than a little rude to obsess over what wasn't there so I shut up. But don't think it didn't kill me a little inside not to ask for it, because it did. So here I am, a month later, making the salad. Thank god Victoria was there to run kitchen interference, because in my memory, the anchovies constituted the bulk of the dish, but in fact, its the exact opposite.

The green onions comprise the majority and the anchovies twinkle on the top like salty little principessi. Deelicious.

We started out with a gorgeous Crudité platter with Hot Bagna Cauda. Again, anchovies took a starring role, this time in a hot bath of butter, garlic, olive oil and lemon. Crazy good.

Then we moved on to cockles, cooked in white wine, olive oil, garlic, chicken stock and a little chili flake.

Added the lardons (BACON!!!) at the end for good measure and served in a bowl with a piece of good farm bread at the bottom. It went quickly.

Next course was the dish that I made and fucked up once before. After my second go around with Two Minute Calamari, Sicilian Style, I have decided that, even though I did not exactly "follow" the directions last time, Mario's recipe, as written, is just plain wrong. I discovered a similar problem with his published Beef Cheek Ravioli recipe a couple of years ago. Now, it helps that I worked for him and know what it his dishes are supposed to taste and look like, so I let memory be my guide this time, and it worked out very well. It is an unbelievably easy recipe, but multilayered.

First you make sauce,

then you sauté currants, pine nuts, chili flake and parsley in olive oil, then you add the sauce and Israeli Couscous that was previously par cooked for 2 minutes,

bring it to a boil, and add the calamari.

Cook for 2 more minutes, add the caperberries and you are set to serve.

We thinned it down with a little water, and used a lot more tomato sauce than the recipe called for. Fine enough. Even after the pasta course, people were still clamoring for more of this! The little 2 minute dish that could...

The pasta was a Buccatini with Walnuts, Chili Flake, Caciocavallo and Bread Crumbs.

Guest prep chef Michelle busts up the walnuts...

Again, simple and ridiculously good. There was a general criticism that it needed a little more cheese, which I agree with. Next time!

Next was Broccoli Rabe with Roasted Shallots, tossed with a touch of balsamic and olive oil,

along with Victoria's Sicilian Orange salad.

This dish is also ridiculously good. Orange segments, (we used regular juice oranges and blood oranges), oregano (dried) and red onion.

The juice of the oranges and a little olive oil make the dressing. Sweet and tart and spicy...everything you could ever want!

Saffron Panna Cotta with Little Red Grapefruit Segments for dessert. Uhh, yeah.

Many thanks to all the helpers I had in the kitchen-- (Victoria and Michelle-- two authentic Italian Ladies!), and of course, my long suffering but always game husband Karl. We had new peeps, old peeps and I think everyone will return.

I guess there is a reason that five million Italian restaurants can survive in this great metropolis!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Smothered Steak & Lane Cake...

“Miss Maudie baked a Lane Cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.”
- Scout in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird

I love Lane Cake, and so did Edna Lewis and Harper Lee, apparently. Making Smothered Steak really took me back to third grade. The smell of a cheap cut of meat, dredged in flour and sizzling with onions in bacon fat transported me back to my mother's kitchen, with that shitty-ass electric stove blazing, and my father (the chef) not cooking but occasionally coming over to give instruction. Now that was some good times! Ha. I was relegated to peeling potatoes (hated it) or cutting the bad parts out of the strawberries that were too ugly to sell at our fruit stand. The strawberries would then be cooked down with pectin and made into a jam that got stored in the quilted ball jars with homemade wax on top. We ate it over Ricotta pancakes that my mom made all the time. How funny. I haven't thought about that in about 25 years.

At any rate, making Smothered Steak may not transport you back to your childhood in Phoenix, but it will save your ass even if no one ever taught you to make gravy, because it makes its own. The flour breaks down into the water and bacon fat and meat juices and creates some of the best damn gravy you ever ate... and you didn't have to *DO* anything but cover it and turn on the oven. Praise the Lord and Pass the Biscuits!

Read on....

We started you hungry kiddies off with an old-school comfort food favorite, Deviled Eggs, which gave Karl the opportunity to break out his shmancy new pastry bag and tips... He loves the kitchen gadgets. I'm constantly coming across some new squoosher or slicer in the kitchen drawers...

Despite initial nozzle cloggage, the filling of the egg whites went off without a hitch.

Ahh... Just like they look in the May 1955 Better Homes & Gardens...

Then, we sliced up a fuckload of delicious green market potatoes and turnips, and put them in a pan with chicken stock, butter, salt and pepper. They roasted covered in the oven for 45 minutes...

At some point, we realized we had over-brothed the mixture, so we pulled out some of the delicious vegetable/potato/chicken liquid with a baster, and set it aside.

There were beautiful Chiogga Beets from the Union Square Greenmarket, which we boiled with some other red beets, peeled while hot, and dressed in oil and sherry vinegar. Just gorgeous.

Remember that delicious chicken/potato/turnip water? We mixed it with the last of our beautiful pork pot liquor, onion, garlic and a hambone...

...and simmered up some chard, radish tops and other greens. I love it when a plan comes together.

Oh, Jeebus.

Sometimes, the simpler a recipe, the better it is. I took a few jars of the delicious Jersey Tomatoes I put up back in the summertime, sauteed them with garlic, onions, allspice and fresh grated nutmeg and put them in a roasty pan. I then topped them with slices of buttered farm bread, and baked in the oven until crispy. Voila! Baked Tomatoes With Crusty Bread. Just wonderful.

Then, the Smothered Steak... Dredged the delicious steaks in a flour mixture...

...gave 'em a little toss and a beat down...

...fried 'em up in the pan in some bacon fat left from the bacon I had previously fried...

...arranged 'em in a roasting pan with sauteed onion slices on top and some more of that chicken stock mixture left over from the potatoes. I covered them tightly with tin foil and left them to cook sloooooow in the oven.


Soak that up with a little bread...

Served them with some warm Roasted Apples for a little sweet/savory, and a gorgeous mixed green salad with (you guessed it! Hot Bacon Dressing), and called it good.

Finally, Lane Cake!

Smashy smashy.

Karl beat the hell out of a couple of coconuts, grated them up in the Cuisinart, and mixed in a few different kinds of raisins and pecans. This got mixed in a hot pan with a dozen egg yolks and sugar, and then cooled with a whole CUP of bourbon. I shit you not.

While the filling/icing cools, we baked three layers of cake that was full of egg whites (you were wondering about all the yolks, weren't you?)

Hot, delicious comfort food, followed by a Bourbon dessert. Good God, Y'All... Thanks, Edna.