The Beginning of the Affair

The Beginning of the Affair

Monday, March 26, 2007


I have to let some off because I'm pissed. No. I'm just kidding...not entirely. The price of fish at Whole Foods is ridiculously high and I frequently miss out on some damn good fish because of this. Don't even think to suggest that I should try Stop and Shop or any other local market for fish. It's not worth it. Especially when steam is involved in its preparation.

The other day I just said, "Fuck it. I'm having fish. Damn good fish!" Finally giving into their monopoly on decent seafood in Providence (Anyone have any suggestions?) I went to Whole Foods to pick up a nice white flaky fish like cod, but budgetary reality wouldn't allow me to indulge my foodie whims. Unfortunately the haddock looked dull and the other varieties of fish didn't even deserve to be on display. (Did you know that most farm-raised Salmon is color-enhanced???) I picked out a couple of flounder
fillets: white with rosy flesh-colored centers, subtle vein filigrees and bright shimmer.

Ideally I would've liked to have a
fillet of cod steamed in Napa Cabbage with some light Asian flavors; however, I was forced to make yet another substitution. Neither Whole Foods nor Stop and Shop had Napa so I grabbed a small head of Savoy instead. I didn't know what to expect of this pairing of flounder and Savoy Cabbage, but I knew that I would be using some of my favorite Asian ingredients so I was at least looking forward to having that.

At home I began my preparations by layering about six cabbage leaves directly on the steaming platform. I nestled both
fillets among the leaves and poured some sesame oil and somen tsuyu on top. Somen tsuyu--meaning somen dipping broth in Japanese--includes shoyu (a highly concentrated soy sauce), citrus, and extracts from various fish skins like bonito and sea vegetables like kelp. Not to be overpowered by the intensity of the shoyu, the broth is light and because of the bonito it is nice and smoky. It's typically used as a savory complement for somen--a wheat noodle resembling soba in size and shape. I used the somen tsuyu as a flavor base and added a few dashes of shoyu to provide salt and highlight the other ingredients I added.

With a couple of minced garlic cloves, sliced ginger that looked like matchsticks, and a bias-cut scallion, I finished assembling the dish. I set the steaming platform in the pot, folded the cabbage leaves over the fish and covered it with the lid. The cabbage leaves were a little resistant to the lid so I kept an
eightball I found in my kitchen on top to ensure that the lid wouldn't pop off. No joke. You can see for yourself. What else is true is that the eightball was the fortune-telling kind and so I felt that I should consult with it to see if this dish was going to be any good.

Indeed it was, but I really would've preferred cod and
Napa cabbage. The flounder held the flavor just as well, but it was the mushy texture that made me crave the flaky flesh of the cod. Compared to Napa's flavor and texture, Savoy was slightly bitter and tough and overpowered the relatively meager fish. The best part for me was the somen tsuyu and the combination of fresh garlic and ginger. The steam brought out all of these flavors subtly and ultimately made it a good dish--although not great.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Missing Her

I left New York a month ago and of course I left things that are near and dear to me: Fairway (the best and cheapest produce in the city if you can't get to Chinatown), Farmers' Market (Union Square), East 5th Street (Bangladeshi restaurants, great deals on Indian spices, and the freshest and tastiest Japanese soba I have ever had in the states), and...Angie!

We've known each other since we were 7. Some of our best moments together involved food that she made. Odd combinations like white Goya rice with feta cheese melted on top in the microwave, saltine crackers with butter spread like cheese on top with a sweep of jam (usually strawberry), and a curious mixture of sour cream, pimento-stuffed olives and olive juice for which the vehicle to our mouths was irrelevant. I miss her...and her food.

We've matured in years and taste and recently our favorite meal to share is brunch--one of the best ones we had which was exactly two years ago. I grabbed polenta left over from dinner the night before out of the fridge and cut it into thick slices. I toasted it on each side using a non-stick pan with olive oil. Just a tablespoon or so to coat the surface area because polenta is really absorbent and you can easily be seduced into using more. If you do, then you can count on ending up with a bland and oily tile of polenta. After a few minutes the polenta was perfectly charred on the edges and a crunchy layer developed on all sides while the interior remained warm and creamy. Oh my goodness...

I plated two slices on each plate and placed in succeeding order a fresh tomato slice, poached egg, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a sprinkling of small basil leaves. Angie poured two glasses of Bolthouse carrot juice with lots of ice and prepared mugs of fresh espresso ground Colombian coffee and it was wasn't so until we punctured the yolk. It was only then that we experienced what the dish was really made of. All the flavors came together--deep from the yolk and olive oil, tangy tomato, crunchy and creamy from the polenta with sweet and savory corn notes (ah...and that's the extent of my wine lexicon: "notes of...") sweet and peppery from the basil, and the fresh and bright flavors of the juice and dark richness of the coffee. It was like a re-enactment of dream--resting on the mattress of polenta and a pillow of poached egg rising into an experience of deep and rich succession of flavors or memories abstracted by the spices and drinks.

The memory of this meal reminds me that "relish" is more than pickled cucumbers and onions. Be in the moment and love everything about it...and the person you're with!

Friday, February 23, 2007


Please feel free to comment on any and all of my posts. I just posted a few comments under "The Avocado" in response to some "disagreements" over my guacamole recipe. I reviewed my recipe and altered it a bit. I also offered my pick of ingredients for a more traditional variation of guacamole, but I would love to have more input...or disagreements...ehem.

I'll be posting a whole new recipe for guacamole--avocados, tomatoes, onions, and more, oh my!--as soon as I bother to use measurements when I'm at it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


The single most delicious mussel I have ever had was at a trattoria on Elba Island in Southern Italy. A dish of risotto bejeweled with mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops was set on the table and for a moment I just sat there. I was a giddy little food freak just oggling the dish in all its sexy seafood glory. The risotto di frutti di mare didn't last very long. Not many pauses in between bites I'll shamelessly admit. It wasn't until I parted that pair of black shells and dove into their iridescent interior to suck out the meaty morsel and all it's lovely juices. It was the one. Its glorious remains are pictured to the right.

The best highlight for seafood flavors would traditionally be white wine and it was a Bombino Bianco called Marese and a Prosecco that highlighted the bright and fresh seafood dishes that I shared with my mother and sister. Referred to as vino frizzante rather than Champagne Brut, Prosecco is a dry bubbly that I believe can be enjoyed with sweets and savories alike. And so we did...with our risotto di frutti di mare, melanzane, grigliata mista di mare and pane--endless pane.

Back to the mussel. I do not believe in enhancing the flavor of seafood with butter unless lobster is involved. There is a consistency of lobster meat that is well complemented by the density of butter. I would say that the only fish besides this sea creature that fits well with butter is skate. And...if you prepare it like you should with lobster...unsalted. The flavors at first mild linger strong with the essence of seabed. It's a beautiful thing. Anyhow...this was buttery with a tartness reminiscent of sun-dried tomato. Its flavor deepened with the fruity taste of olive oil, heightened with the herbal essence of parsley, and brightened with the citrus kiss of lemon. Often risotto is served with cheese, however it is a general rule to not to add cheese when seafood is involved and thankfully this tradition was honored.

The other dishes from that night--melanzane and grigliata mista di mare. Eggplant, much like tofu, takes on the flavor of the elements you introduce to the dish. It was mainly tomato, sweet onion, and basil. The eggplant and all its rustic friends melded together with a sweetness that was unparalleled by any dessert I've ever had. This is when the Prosecco was appropriately inbibed. The best combinatation of sweet, savory, wet and dry. I'm telling you...

The grigliata mista di mare was eaten almost out of obligation. I was in the south. I had to do fish...just fish. When the dish was served it was glistening with promise. It served its purpose...fresh fish, charged with vibrant green parsley and lemon that almost took on the color and flavor of the olive oil with which the fish was grilled--altogether a beautiful marriage of the peasants and bourgeois and the elite of the sea (you decide which are which): giant squid, orate, scampi, and swordfish. I savored every bite. The fish was good. I could take each individual flavor, but really...the mussel...the mussel!

The mussel demonstrates the ability of Southern Italian cooking to take fresh and good ingredients and present them to your palette in the simplest way...thus allowing for its inherent depth of flavor to be represented. If we open up our minds (hearts?) and mouths...forget the salt and the sugar...and let the mussels do the work...the robust flavors embedded in every single entity of the sea are just waiting to explode on your taste buds...perhaps with a few Southern Italian accomplices (if you weren't paying attention: olive oil, parsley, and lemon).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Global Gastronomy

I was recently inspired to unearth some of my travel journal entries when--at Sunday brunch of course--I met this lovely young woman, Noelle Ashley, an international travel writer. She has a blog too: Check out her pieces on Hamansi food in Belize and "sublime" French food in St. Barth's. The food looks amazing.

I like to travel and I like to experience different cultures through food. I seek out local markets, "hole-in-the-wall" gems, and convenience stores that carry as many different types of candy as they do calling cards. Fancy food in four-star restaurants are often too expensive and never as satisfying as the fried fish at Food Street in Pakistan, the fresh soy donuts from the donut stands in Japan, or the mountains of nutty chocolately gelati that impose their majesticity on passersby all over Italy. So I like to eat my way through cities indulging my palette without digging too deeply into my wallet. Speaking of digging in...

Here's a preview of things to come:

The Robust Flavors of Southern Italian Cooking

"The single most delicious mussel I have ever had was at a trattoria on Elba Island in Southern Italy. A dish of risotto bejeweled with mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops was set on the table and for a moment I just sat there. I was a giddy little food freak just oggling the dish in all its sexy seafood glory..."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Avocado

I usually don't buy avocados mainly because they're rarely ripe enough and usually too expensive--at least two or three dollars for just one. Today I was at Whole Foods and found a very inconspicuous pile of avocados in their prime. You know that deep dark green that sort of looks like it was freshly saturated with blood? To add to that they were each just two cents shy of two dollars--this is good for Whole Foods. The first one I grabbed was just right with its tenderness--this rarely ever happens when I shop for food. Everyone I know would readily testify to the humorless fact that I could spend at least five minutes of my life searching for the best lemon in a pile of about 300. You may not want to come to the grocery store with me when I have to buy a dozen eggs.

I had a sense of urgency about this avocado as if it were the culinary grenade that would explode into the most delicious guacamole I would ever have...and it was.

Its flesh was pristine. I almost wanted to have it the way I have high quality sushi with its inherent depth of flavor unencumbered by condiments, but today I felt that a simple preparation of the avocado with a little acidity and elementary spicing would yeild no regrets.

One perfect avocado...hacked at lovingly

Actually, you may want to approach it like one would spooning into ice cream: gently folding the scoops over each other halving their size over and over. This should take no longer than a minute. Otherwise overprocessing it makes it too thick and creamy and no matter how much acidity you add it will feel like a blob of fat in your mouth. I've made this mistake before.

One garlic clove minced
One tablespoon fresh fresh lemon juice
One and a half teaspoons fresh fresh lime juice
One to one and a half teaspoons fine sea salt or coarse kosher salt
Half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Keep in mind that I approximated the measurements because I always feel it out. You should adjust the proportions according to your taste.

I want you to try this and tell me about your experience. Forget the cilantro; the only thing green should be the avocado. Forget the onions and tomatoes too. When you have real and fresh fresh food the simpler the preparation the better.

I had it with some organic blue corn chips if I wasn't just spooning it into my mouth and the perfect beer is Presidente. It's a great Dominican Pilsner. If you haven't tried it, have it with your guacamole. You'll love it!

Monday, February 12, 2007

From Birth

Pungent cheese pocked with mold, sweet heirloom tomatoes that look like malformed newborn babies, freshly baked bread that requires tearing rather than cutting, deep fried squid tentacles and zucchini flowers, and salty sheets of prosciutto are among my favorite savories to devour. They remind me of growing up in the kitchen. My mother literally raised me on a tile floor surrounded by dark brown particle board and wallpaper of pea green and mustard yellow. My passion for food was innate and growing up I was sure that simply watching my mother at play all those years would give me everything I needed to make anything edible...incredible. As soon as I advanced to the formica countertop I was making absolute shit.

I thought I was my mother in the kitchen, but it took me years to master only some of her infinite skills. It was probably not until my early twenties when I felt comfortable with the basics--frying eggs, boiling rice, sauteeing vegetables--and I had learned to be patient with myself. In other words: allow myself to make mistakes and many I did. Just know that it's the most freeing biggest fuck-up was worrying too much what other people would think of my food and ultimately myself. Strange to make such a connection? I don't think so. I think food is very telling of the kind of person you are. As soon as I would dismiss my concerns as petty insecurities--which has not happened until recently--I was happy and made the best food I've ever eaten in my life. And mother would approve...not that I care. I'm kidding.