27 May 2011

Me celebrity, me can cook

There is a rash of celebrity sightings in the kitchen these days: it seems that, like environmental do-goodness and politics, celebrities' tastes in food are automatically authoritative and worth sharing.  Of course, this makes sense--why wouldn't I consult a near-anorexic actress about her food choices?   It's like asking for advice on purchasing hair care products from a bald man--it just seems right.

Gwyneth Paltrow just came out with a new cookbook, launched Hollywood-style with a huge celebrity-ridden cocktail party.  It's called My Father's Daughter, and she wore a little apron with the logo on it while she cooked for Tom Hanks and some other oldish famous people.  Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria apparently likes food, so now she's a cookbook author.  Both of these A-list actresses evoke thoughts of love and family togetherness in their titles, offering down-home recipes like fried zucchini with spaghetti (Paltrow) and--I'm not joking--"Ants on  a Log"*recipe to follow from Longoria.  (Really?  I made that when I was five and my friends came over to play Barbies.)  Both books have really nice photos, some of the food, many of the actresses looking very happy to be cooking for their blurred-out friends and family.

In a playful riff on a song I always hated, Sheryl Crowe knew enough to bring in a real chef to co-author If It Makes you Healthy: More than 100 Delicious Recipes Inspired by the Seasons.  (Could we get a firm number here, Sheryl?  Have you read your own book?)    And because Alicia Silverstone is vegetarian, this also makes her qualified to counsel us on our nutritional choices in A Kind Diet, blah blah blah (the title was so preachy I got bored before I finished it).

Now, we know that classically trained chefs do not hold a monopoly on the food market: Mark Bittman is the self-taught author of the massive volumes How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, among many others; host of several PBS cooking shows (including one in which Gwyneth made a guest appearance); and long-standing regular contributor and food critic to the New York Times.  But let's face it, the guy is smart, and he's a total food nerd.  He trained as a journalist, got into food, and sought out the best chefs he could find to informally teach him how to do things.  He clearly chose to dedicate his life to studying the art of food.

I have not spent nearly the time and energy someone like Bittman has at learning the craft of cooking, and I don't claim to be an expert (this blog is for entertainment purposes only--I know where I stand in the spectrum), but I can generally keep a table of guests happy in my dining room.  I have several musician friends who can, too.  And there is a place for us to share recipes, ideas, and just talk about food--thanks to the popularity the subject now enjoys, there are more venues than ever before for laymen to geek out on cheeses and artisan oils.  I do not mean to imply that only professionals are allowed to even look at a food processor.  But, let's call a spade a spade--if Gwenyth gives you fried zucchini discs with pasta and a pile of shredded cheese on top, must we call it genius?  And Food + Wine magazine, shame on you for pretending she belongs in the same pages with Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard. And can we please admit that Eva's Kitchen: Cooking with Love for Family and Friends will be given as gifts to people the gift-givers don't know very well and end up being donated to the nearest library six months later?  You don't have to buy a Prius just because Leonardo wants you to, you don't have to let Harrison Ford pressure you into recycling (but you should do that), and for christ sakes, don't let Alicia Silverstone counsel you on your iron intake sans meat.  She is not a doctor!  

*Ants on a Log: cut up some celery sticks, smear some peanut butter in the cavity, and sprinkle some raisins on that shit.  And here's something I learned that Eva won't tell you: don't feed this to Stacy Wojak's dog.  He is too stupid to handle the celery strings.  Now pay me $30.

20 May 2011

Let's drink to the rapture.

Well, the Rapture is supposed to be coming, so you'll either be spirited away to eternal peace and happiness by this time tomorrow, or you'll be left here to be devoured by fire or brimstone or something bad. Either way, this seems like a champagne occasion to me.  And if you're still around tomorrow, come on over.  I'll be in the back yard drinking.

(PS--Champagne is so fancy-schmancy.  If you're too poor for it, you can also try these alternatives, which I carefully researched just for you.  And for my puny writing job.)

Classic Champagne Cocktail

Makes 1 drink

½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon angostura bitters
chilled Champagne or other dry white sparkling wine
Lemon or orange peel (optional)

Place sugar in a Champagne flute and saturate with bitters. Fill with Champagne (or substitute) and stir gently.  Drop orange or lemon peel into glass.


Makes 1 drink

½ oz. crème de cassis
5 oz. dry white sparkling wine

Pre-chill ingredients and mix together in a Champagne flute.

French Orange

Serves 12

3 oranges
1 ½ cups gin
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon angostura bitters
2 750-mL chilled Champagne or other dry white sparkling wine

Cut one of the oranges into twelve thin slices and reserve for garnishes.  Peel the other two oranges and roughly chop.  Place oranges in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or wooden spoon.  Stir in the gin, sugar, and bitters.  Strain into a measuring cup, pressing on solids to release liquid.  Chill 4 hours.

Pour 2 tablespoons gin mixture into each of twelve glasses and fill with sparkling white wine; garnish  the rim of each glass with an orange slice.

15 May 2011

The Lovely Ladies do dinner

I went out for dinner the other night, and the food was fine.  It was an Italian place near my house and I could have easily made the dish myself (as is often true with Italian restaurants), but it's still nice to not have dishes to wash now and then, right?  That's worth getting robbed for a glass of wine once in a while, I think.  But the food was not the problem.  They knew how to boil pasta and toss it with some chopped vegetables and butter just fine.  It was the service that weirded me out.

Our waiter was named Buzz.  I don't know if that was his real name--maybe he's preparing to become a very famous server and he's trying out some splashier names for the future publicity.  He looked like a Darryl or maybe a Brett to me, but what do I know?

He was painfully eager when we first sat down, but my friend and I, who made the mistake of being happy to see each other after about a year of subsisting on Facebook messages, chatted before opening our menus, so the first two times he asked to take our order (he came twice in five minutes), we were not yet ready.  It was 5pm and we were the only ones there, so I don't think they needed the table right away.

By the time we were ready to order, he had given up on us.  Or more likely, his nicotine craving had kicked in, because when we finally flagged him down to give him what he'd been waiting for (just the order, guys--come on) he reeked of cigarette smoke.  Reeked.  He had also failed to give us a drink menu, although he had certainly been eager to take our drink order earlier.  So we ordered our meals and when he said "and how about those drinks then?!", I told him that, although we did not have a wine list, I would like a glass of Pinot Grigio if they had it.  He didn't hear the last part because he scampered away to the bar to grab the drink menu.  OK.  So he gives it to me and then reads it over my shoulder with me, and he finds the Pinot Grigio before I do, because he gets all in my space and points it out, shouting "there it is!" a little too loudly in my ear, which is quite close to his ashtray-smelling mouth at this point.  So, problem solved.  Bravo, you have Pinot Grigio.

We proceed to wait for a good 30 minutes for our pasta with butter, white wine, and vegetables to arrive, though he came screaming out of the kitchen with that glass of wine, perhaps hoping I'd have time to order a second.  The food was good, though I wasn't quite ready to discuss dessert five minutes into the meal, which is when he first started asking.  Another ten minutes passed and he checked on us ("Are you Lovely Ladies saving room for some dessert?"  I won't go into the multiple problems with this query.)

Finally he went away, I feared for good.  Just as I was starting to think we could make it out of there without having to pay, he appeared and asked very specifically if we would like a piece of Tiramisu to share.  I don't know if being that very specific is taught, but  as it so happens, we both dislike Tiramisu.  And why did we need to share?  Were we looking bloated and Less Lovely?  We looked at each other, said no, thank you, and he left before we could order the coffee we had wanted.  He returned soon, looking somewhat dejected, I thought, with the bill.  We had to stop him in the middle of his "You ladies have a great night" shtick to ask for said coffee (big mistake--pretty sure it was Sanka) and make him redo the bill.  He came by later to ask how the coffee was, but he quickly answered his own question with a "pretty good, huh?" and an enthusiastic thumbs up.  I'm not kidding you.  I was so dumbfounded I just said "OK", which I realize does not quite answer the question, but he seemed happy enough.

And when he brought us the bill, he said, "You lovely ladies have a great night, whatever you're headed out to do."  Is it me, or is that just a little weird?

05 May 2011

Cinco de Mayo means booze.

Having never lived in a part of the country with a present Mexican-American population before, I grew up thinking that Cinco de Mayo meant an excuse to drink and perhaps grab dinner at Chi-Chi's Restaurant.  When I moved to Colorado, I thought that surely I would learn a greater appreciation for the cultural heritage of the Mexican people and their bravery in declaring independence.  What it seems to mean in the Denver area is that you can drink more and maybe go to Rio Grande (much better than Chi-Chi's) for dinner. I exaggerate, but only slightly.  And this seemed like the best way to introduce some recipes for margs and dips.

Jason's Classic Margarita

Serves 1
2 oz. gold tequila
1 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. lime juice
1 shot orange juice
salt for rimming glass
lime wedges for garnish

Combine all ingredients except salt and lime wedges in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and shake vigourously.  Strain into a glass that has been rimmed with sal and garnish with a lime wedge.  

I stole this one form that weird-ass lady, the Barefoot Contessa.
Grapefruit margaritas
Makes 4
1 lime cut into 4 wedges
Salt for rimming
1 cup ruby red grapefruit juice
½ cup lime juice
1 cup Triple Sec
2 cups ice
1 cup tequila
Cut a slice in the middle of each lime wedge and run each one over the rim of a short tumbler or old-fashioned glass. Dip each rim in salt and perch a lime wedge on the edge of each glass. Combine all remaining ingredients in a tall pitcher and stir well.

And something to soak up the booze is helpful...

Mango-Black Bean Dip
1 fresh mango, pitted and diced
2 tablespoons red onion finely chopped
1 small jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
Mash black beans, to a smaller size/paste, with a potato masher or use tines of a fork I like to leave a few whole ones for texture). Add mangoes, mango juice, onion, jalapeno, cumin, cayenne, cilantro and lime juice; combine evenly.  

And of course, I still love this bacon-laced guacamole I published earlier on this blog. 

And if you need more food, try these clever tacos; they make good drunk food, if I do say so myself.