It might not be the prettiest plate of food you've ever seen, but this is my favorite thing from what I think is probably my favorite restaurant on earth, the New Mexican Platter at Richardson's. What they do isn't terribly sophisticated, but man they just push all my right buttons every time. Of course maybe that's because I always order the same thing. From right: green chile chicken burro, chile relleno, red chile pecan-smoked beef tamale, rice, beans, green and red chile sauce everywhere. Despite its sublimityness, I only ate about 26% of this plate, believe me it was the wisest course of action. The rest is in the fridge. In fact I just now gave my little self a papercut "looking" at the leftovers.
Yesterday I'm pretty sure I had the most luxurious experience of my life. A Samoan ex-boxer named Isaac gave me a straight razor shave. It might not sound like much if you've never had one, but, reclining in an old-school barber chair, a seemingly endless succession of steaming-hot towels pressed into your face followed by the rough (rough yet caring...think of what a boxer's trainer does to a boxer between rounds) application of various manly-smelling foams and gels followed by not one but two passes with the deadly deadly razor followed by more piping-hot foam (!) and finished with an ice-cold towel "to close my pores"....man. Best 30 minutes I've had in recent memory.
This was the first rainbow that I've ever seen the end of. Unfortunately I couldn't get my camera turned on in time and there was no way to stop the car; pictured above is the other end, the faraway end. The closeup end wasn't tremendously fascinating anyway, just kind of the same thing only closer up. It wasn't as big as you'd expect.
Bowling went pretty much as expected, except nobody cried. Only two punches were thrown. Of course all of the major food groups were represented: french fries, pizza, chocolate, and Coke. And ketchup.
Then we came home and I attempted a pretty stupid cooking feat. This is the non-stupid part, the notoriously unphotographable yet scrumptious squash and black bean enchiladas verde, although today the stupid part (arroz con pollo made with brown rice) tastes pretty good too.
We're celebrating this rainy afternoon by going bowling. Yesterday Cole and I celebrated the usual lack of rain by playing every sport. During the football portion of the proceedings I, again, overcome by inspiration, completely ignored the hostile physical contours of this cactus-infested backyard and AGAIN took a nasty spill in the end zone, here's the showable part of my external injuries:
Who knows what further damage was sustained internally, I feel like a punching bag today. But is this stopping me from throwing myself (hopefully not literally this time) once more into the fray? No, let's see how an indoor sport goes.
In more placid news, it was my dear mother's directive that before I left, for fun we would watch all of this year's Oscar contenders for Best Film. We're not going to make it. Tonight is the last one on our schedule, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Last night was Argo. Sunday was Lincoln. Etc. So far Silver Linings Playbook has been the only one to mean anything to me, but that's probably only true because I can't bring myself to see Amour even though Haneke is one of my absolute favorite living directors...I know that one will mean way too much to me. I do really want to see Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained but the folks have already seen them. None of us have any interest at all in Life of Pi or Le Mis. We haven't managed to find The Master anywhere, it's not out on DVD til 26 Feb and it's gone from theaters here.
Elsewhere: tonight's vegetarian option will be butternut and black bean enchiladas, recipe forthcoming. Basically I need black beans; vegetarian boy to decide if he wants red or green; make the sauce, add beans and cheese to filling; bake.
Guess the weather gawds thought I was homesick or something: 53F and rainy today. In its weather-weakened condition, was my resolve able to resist the all-too-prominently-displayed cooling racks of melty fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies?
Only if you consider having two of them a sort of resistance. Worth every guilt pang.
Details of recipe in progress. This is not the most efficient way to make this, but I'm interested in flavor not efficiency, and I have to cook it in two parts for scheduling reasons. So part one is designed to generate well-seasoned chicken parts that can sit in their cooking liquid all day in the fridge (hopefully increasing their tastiness); part two is for when I come home, shred the cold chicken, and combine it with the rice portion of things. The general proportions and technique details are again from Cook's Illustrated's The Best Recipe. A really useful book.
arroz con pollo.
2 giant American chicken breasts, or equivalent
4 sizable American chicken thighs, or equivalent
pinch lemon pepper
pinch ground cumin
pinch cumin seeds
tiny pinch ground ancho chile
tiny pinch ground chipotle chile
tiny pinch saffron
bunch of chicken broth
splash or two white wine
2 tbsp olive oil or chicken liquid from part 1
1 medium onion
3 medium garlic cloves
4 tsp paprika
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
1 can tomatoes (14 oz)
1/2 cup white wine
a few saffron threads
1/3 cup parsley
1/3 cup cilantro
This house is overstuffed with publications about food, they're everywhere. I don't mean overstuffed as in unpleasantly excessive; I mean it the way Pizza Hut or Taco Bell would mean it, in a totally positive way. As in, you're experiencing a wonderful and unusual luxury to encounter something this stuffed.
Buuuuuuut, with such a bountiful harvest, if I may lazily, stupidly, pre-emptively, etc extend an already clichéd food metaphor here: with soooooo much wheat, there's bound to be some serious fkn chaff.
And pour moi (is it or is it not interesting how many Frenchisms have snuck into English, since America hates the French so darn vituperatively), I fear that Chile Pepper Magazine gets totally filed under Fkn Chaff. There's an issue of it in my room near the bed and I (of course) leafed through it the other morning and found myself making scoffish faces within the first few seconds, and as the pages kept turning my face just got more and more scoffish until I was scoffing so intensely I couldn't even see the magazine any more, I think one of my eyes may have rolled kind of permanently.
That's probably mean. Ahhhh, I guess it's kind of quaint, but it's just so stuck in this not so quality-oriented "chilehead" thing from the 90s, where any/every ingredient is combined/infused/rubbed with chiles and voilà (Frenchism), wild and crazy food times ensue.
Anyway, I don't really care, and their intentions are ultimately on the good side I guess. I really only bring it up to mock my own cooking, because I'm making something tonight that could've come straight from the pages of Chile Pepper. If I capitalize all the ingredients 90s style, it's a Green Chile Crabby Melt with Tickler's Fabulous Extra Mature Cheddar, Kicky Jalapeño Tartar Sauce, Roasted and Marinated Red Bell Peppers, Caramelized Onions and Roasted Garlic Salsa. TGI Fridays here I come.
UPDATE: I should mock my food more often: these were actually stupendous, way better than yesterday's non-chilehead version...this is definitely the best sarcastic food I've ever made. Not much to look at though, as you can see: bad lighting and zero styling, I didn't even have time/foresight to chop some cilantro for a green visual distraction.
Had them ol' Clean Livin' Sleepless Blues again last night, so I did the right thing and went for a long walk this morning. Above, 6:55am. Below, 7:15am; that cactus is actually a cleverly-disguised cell phone tower.
Preserving saguaro cacti is a big deal out here, and it's not uncommon to see the local government go to great lengths to nurse ailing older specimens back to health. So when my mom was driving home one day and noticed some scaffolding being erected around this one she didn't think much of it. Weeks went by, and every day she passed it, it seemed like more and more effort was being poured into its resuscitation, and she was suitably impressed, thinking wow they're really giving it their all.
One day she was walking by with the boys or the dogs or some other entity she's responsible for keeping alive, and she got a closer look. Not a cactus at all.
I've mentioned the incredibleness of Lee Lee. This is an example, a big bag of pre-shredded fresh green papaya for $0.89.
This. This is from Wal*Mart. Note the runneth-over-ness.
Yesterday: good Middle Eastern/fusion food at the badly-named Pita Jungle. Badly-named b/c it sounds like your average lame sandwich place, and the food was a very pleasant surprise. That's my combination plate below of babaganoush, tzatziki, hummous, feta, cold and lemony green beans (very good), dolmades, falafel, and tabbouleh. Only the falafel disappointed a little. Below that is a totally solid roasted cauliflower in tahini sauce with sumac, caramelized onions and pine nuts. Below that is irresistible Asian graffiti ("wash me"?) at the perpetually awesome Lee Lee.
This experiment-in-progress will be a little more difficult for you to make if you're not in the American southwest. Tonight's serving suggestion is two salsas: chunky-style homemade avocado salsa (2 avocados, 3 limes, salt, and 2 tbsp of Trader Joe's pineapple salsa) and a really exceptional store-bought roasted tomato salsa from Texas, Mateo's.
The below technique for the cakes is perfect, it was adapted from Cook's Illustrated's very helpful tome The Best Recipe, my additions being the green chiles, a slight uptick in amount of green herbs used, and replacing standard bread crumbs with toasted corn tortillas (not tortilla chips cuz they'd add too much Earl).
I made a couple of extra, because that's how it works around here; I imagine tomorrow one or more of them will become part of a Green Chile Crab Melt (UPDATE: it did). Below is a picture of one waiting for some avocado salsa and/or some sour cream. Garnishes.
+++ green chile crab cakes.
1 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat
4 scallions, green part only, minced
4 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
1 and 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
3 or 4 tbsp fresh corn tortillas, toasted, rested for 10 minutes then pulverized (roughly 2 tortillas 'worth)
1/2 cup mild green Hatch or poblano chiles, roasted, skinned and chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise
freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup fine cornmeal, for dredging
neutral oil, for frying
Combine scallions, cilantro, Old Bay, tortillas, chiles, and mayo. Gently fold in crab so as not to break it down. Taste for seasoning, add black pepper and if necessary salt, but it should be OK salt-wise b/c Old Bay is salty. Fold in egg. Make 4 semi-spherical patties about 3 inches in diameter andabout 1.5 inches thick. Place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and refrigerate for an hour.
After an hour, gently dredge cakes in cornmeal and fry in 1/4 inch oil over medium-high heat for 5 minutes a side.
As always, it's a battle to accomplish everything that needs accomplishing here, but I guess that's true no matter where I am: I guess I'm just blessed like that. One week left in Arizona, and in order to maximize my awesomeness, there's a Monday morning organizational meeting. So now I know that sometime in the next couple days, I'll be making green chile/cornmeal crabcakes (combining this and this) and arroz con pollo.
And, otherwise, pursuant to ARS 13-1502 A1, I will NOT be abusing the vegetation.
I am on the proverbial roll in the kitchen, but I will only bore you with the details of Wednesday's effort: Italian sausage and peppers. It's something I've always loved but never made, and now that I've done it I know I'll be doing it again reeeeeely soon, probably without the sausage though since it is Health Kick Time up in this bitch. I ripped this recipe off from Michael Chiarello pretty much verbatim, and the balsamic vinegar makes all the difference in the worl'.
sausage and peppers.
3 or 4 cups cherry tomatoes
6 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, julienned
6 yellow onions, sliced
4 green chile peppers, seeded and cut in strips
10 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup to 1 cup freshly chopped basil leaves
Toss everything except basil with oil and vinegar, cook at 325F for 90 minutes or so, stirring every 20 minutes. Throw the basil in at the end.
Ahhh, the buzz of halogen lights; the blare of constant news; kids with iPads; general bigness.
One of the things I wanted to do when I was here was to talk to my mom about some of the food I remember from my youth, and maybe learn how some of it came about. There were five or so regularly recurring dinners that I really looked forward to, at least I know I requested them often; and it seemed like one of them was always in the fridge for between-meals ratboy snacking, and I very clearly recall my excitement at seeing any of them on the stove when I came in for dinner.
So my poor mother is in the middle of preparing one of these classics right now and in fact while at the stove just rather gravely intoned "you should probably just keep those fond memories of your childhood...let the past stay in the past," unaware that I was simultaneously typing about that very thing.
Indeed, our palates have changed. We have become unaccustomed to dishes whose seasoning is limited to salt, pepper, and condiments. Tonight's offering is Classic Dish #2: Beef and Rice (sort of a beef stew over rice, ingredients: beef, beef stock, wine, garlic, dash of steak sauce, corn starch, salt, pepper). #1 was Ham, Potatoes and Corn, which she made on Sunday (ingredients: ham, potatoes, green onions, corn, cheese, salt, pepper).
Another challenge in recreating this nostalgia food is that our groceries have changed so much in the last 30 years. Not just the products themselves, in terms of how they're made (HFCS), or their quality, but also my parents' budget has changed pretty dramatically. Ham, Potatoes and Corn for example, used to be made with a cheap ham steak, probably $1.00 or so at Grand Union or Price Chopper. Sunday's version was made using a $25.00 Costco spiral-cut ham.
So yis: the potatoes were a little different, the cheese was a little different, the ham was a little different, but it was close enough to the real thing to almost make me feel nine again.
If you see this somewhere, do NOT pick it up, even if you might think to yourself, "Hey, I like wasabi, I like Lindt dark chocolate, their other combinations are good, surely they know what they're doing when combining flavors, etc."
It is truly awful. I've never even met anyone who would like this.
Last night both things came out nicely, but the clear winner of the two was a Basque/Provençal hybrid we'll call a grilled ratatouille with grilled mahimahi. Really great. the only thing I would have changed about it would have been to use cod as originally planned, Costco I'm talking to you.
grilled ratatouille with grilled cod.
4 cod filets
3 cloves garlic, minced roughly
1/4 cup olive oil
juice and zest of a lemon
1 tbsp thyme
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and halved
1 eggplant, halved
1 sweet onion, cut in thick rings
1 cup canned tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1 tsp to 1 tbsp pimenton
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp capers
2 tbsp kalamata olives
3 tbsp toasted almonds, chopped
Marinate the fish for 3 hours. Grill the vegetables, let them cool, then dice them. Grill the fish, reserve the marinade, and set the fish aside. Put the marinade in a wide skillet and saute the roasted vegetables plus the chopped tomatoes in the marinade for 8-10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except basil and saute to integrate flavors, maybe 10 minutes. Add fish and saute until warmed through, garnish with basil and serve. I also drizzled mine with some of dad's top-shelf balsamic vinegar.
So Pitts was briefly overcome by some kind of stomach virus, thus cooking and eating has been put on pause. Above is some of the last actual meal I cooked, last night's roasted cauliflower with capers and raisins and aged Gouda from Amsterdam.
Here's what needs cooking: chicken parts; cod; mahimahi; kale; sweet potatoes; salmon; a whole ham; lots of frozen shrimp. Lemons from a neighbor's tree. Salsa verde from Manuela the cleaning lady.
One thing I want to do before I leave is try to make arroz con pollo for mia madre. It was always her favorite Mexican dish at this place back in Atlanta and, this will surprise no one, I like the idea of trying to recreate something nostalgic. It's also one of these recipes for which there are a thousand variations, and yes additionally it's a dish I've never actually tasted myself, so some interview-type questions will be necessary (was the rice yellow or red, were there peas and/or bell peppers in the rice, what cut of chicken was it, was the chicken browned, ect ect ect).
UPDATE: Answers for above questions: rice was white; there was a reddish sauce; no peas or peppers; it was a mix of white and dark meat, shredded.
Tomorrow: cod something with rice, probably Spanish. a better version of this but with fresh cod not dried.
Wow, it's been a long time since I really wiped out. I was playing baseball with Cole today and he hit a ground ball rather sharply towards first base, which is a stone pillar, pictured above. It bounced off that, and by the time I caught up to the ball it had gone around the corner of the house after ricocheting again off of a cactus.
When I looked back, Cole was just rounding second, and since I was already down 4-0 in this game* I was determined to stop that little bitch from scoring again. So I kicked on the afterburners, or whatever you call similar equipment on a sedentary 44-year-old, and sped across the back patio rather impressively until I had to dodge a piece of fresh-looking dog poop and found myself trying to abruptly change direction in the soft muddy edge where the patio meets the yard.
You wouldn't know it if you've met me in the last couple decades, but in the first half of my life I spent a great deal of time playing backyard sports. Mostly football, but a little of everything else as well. I can catch almost anything that comes my way, I throw well, and I used to have some pretty decent moves for a slow bastard.
I am a bit larger now than I was back then, and all I can say is that, if my brain is the driver and my body is the car....I don't handle as well as I used to. I would love to see footage of me trying to correct what happened after my right foot slipped in that mud I was talking about. After five or six wild variations on stumbling out-of-control steps, I hit the ground with all my weight and skidded across the bristly dry grass for a few feet, eventually coming to rest in a rising cloud of lawn debris: Cole and I laughed pretty hysterically about all of it as the dust settled. Abraded and probably concussed, I went on to lose 7-1.
*There are restrictions on how fast I can pitch, and what kind of bat I can use.
Above: my dad makes some pretty great meatballs, I guess for me pretty much the quintessential meatball.
So yeah I'm in Phoenix, the weather isn't quite as awesome as it looks like it is, it's a little on the cool side, but still, yes, I wore shorts yesterday while running after baseballs that were hit over the fence onto the mountain playing baseball with the knuckleheads.
As always, cooking here is a fun exercise in using whatever incredible surplus of ingredients my packrat of a dad has stockpiled. Right now the immediate candidates for restructuring are: salmon, lots of salmon; about six cups of tomatoes that need to turn into something rather urgently; and a piece of seared/rare tuna. I'm thinking.
Remind me to tell you about Cole's burgeoning relationship with profanity. Cole to my mom: "Nan, I can't get that word out of my mind. I just keep saying it quietly to myself, F-U-C-K, F-U-C-K, F-U-C-K." He's seven. "Sometimes Dylan and I just whisper shit damn and fuck to each other."
He also wants to know why he can't have sex with his dog.
Above: one of the few upsides of insomnia, winter sunrise.
Continuing in the vein of "Hey you're leaving town for a month let's have dinner", I finally got to go to "nose-to-tail" eatery Fa. Speijkervetlast night, and yes of course I forgot my camera. And I forgot to bring carnivores.
Some would say that this means we didn't order to their strengths, which would ostensibly be meat, specifically pig, but a) I'm a firm believer that if you put something on your menu it should be good, and b) we were a mostly vegetarian party and ordering a something like a pig testicle milkshake (not actually on the menu) or whatever didn't feel right, plus if everyone orders vegetarian then everyone gets to share everything etc, unless one of your vegetarians goes rogue and orders meat but whatever I win either way ha.
We started with mussels, beet ravioli, and an artichoke, mushroom + blue cheese tart to share. All homey and comforting in the best way, well-executed, tasty, the mussels being the least wow-ish just because well they weren't anything really out of the ordinary. But they were still mussels, so, good.
Our next course involved some slightly confusing things with vegetables we'd never heard of, and that our server couldn't even explain to the Dutch member of our party, and the names of which at this moment I myself can't remember: I surprised myself by ordering an entree whose main ingredient was parsnip puree (not one of the unfamiliar vegetables); the rest of it included some kind of well-cooked red or possibly black cabbage, teeny tiny Brussels sprouts, and fontina beignets, which were lovely little tempura-esque blobs of fried cheese. It was pretty great, and it pretty much all disappeared.
Noops went rogue and ordered ongelet, hanger steak to you and me, which was perfectly cooked from a tenderness perspective, which ongelet has to be, ongelet ongelet ongelet, I can't stop saying it, but in the end I think I enjoyed my bites of it more than Noops did, probably because he's a sucka vegetarian and I'm an actual carnivore. The (yis) ongelet also came with a mystery vegetable described to us beforehand as "something like asparagus", but in reality it was scorzonera, black salsify, a very local vegetable which I'd never tasted before and we all decided was "something more like parsnip than asparagus". Pretty good I thought.
And then hmmm...HBF had griet, which is brill in English, like a turbot, subtle and pleasing, but it came with another one of these mystery vegetables, possibly rutabaga, soesterknollen, again a very local vegetable, and this was the only wrong note of the meal: as prepared, their aggressive wineyness (sp?) rendered them not so appropriate for accompanying such a delicate-tasting fish. It seemed easy to imagine more complementary options, like maybe roasting them with winter herbs would've made more sense but hey what do I know. The griet also came with a cup of Hollandaise sauce that no one could determine the purpose of, and when we mentioned this at the end of the meal, our waitress just kind of giggled and said "Yeah..." and took our plates away (this would be her only real slip into Amsterdam-style customer service, otherwise she was totally on the ball).
That said, I'd happily go back in two seconds. Here's an unorganized list of things I liked about it. The inside is surprisingly spacious and pretty, I guess "fancy-seeming", but in reality chilled out enough to where it doesn't feel as uptight or stuffy as it seems it might. Good sentence. The beer selection could've been a wee bit more interesting but there were one or two unboring choices (I drank La Chouffe Bok). Everyone there was very "friendly" and helpful, and again it feels like a nice place to linger, despite its kind of upscale look...the tables are, or at least our kind of isolated table was, far enough away from everyone else that you could easily hear each other's horribly off-color comments but other tables couldn't hear you. Important.
Maybe most importantly: the price/deliciousness/sophistication ratios of the food were pretty significantly above Amsterdam averages and this is hopefully indicative of the recent upward trend in our local restaurant cooking: it's getting easier and easier to find laid-back restaurants with affordable food that's almost as good as what you can cook at home.
Add to that the fact that there's a pleasant, welcoming bar down the street (also, like Speijkervet, very mustard-colored inside, but in a surprisingly OK way) with a beer selection that's highly out of character for this hood (beers from Brewdog, 7 deugden; Brouwerij 't IJ) and you have yourself a nice little evening in the exotic land of Jan Evertsenstraat.
Albert HeijnStein; Mata Hari; Yokiyo menu; Bruggse Zot in the Yokiyo bar, where we were supposed to meet Johnny D and Mila. Time passed. The owner/manager sent us some free fish cakes b/c our friends were now 20 minutes late. Finally I got an SMS, and a cryptic texting exchange followed wherein we subtly accused each other of being late and and being assholes. After about another 15 minutes of us each trying to ascertain the other's ETA we realized we were both at the restaurant already.
At last we were upstairs, and lo and behold there were pitchers of maybe Brand; then we sat at the ready around the grill preparing to devour something; and then we went to de De Engelbewaarder for a discussion about bone magnets and water vans.
Tonight we got us a wild hair and embarked upon a new adventure, bánh xèo. Thoroughly damn delicious and unique-tasting; thoroughly difficult to eat b/c of the form factor and contents. Here's the recipe we started from (but we didn't use their sauce, we used mara's nuoc cham instead, which remains superlative on anything).
Also a very delicious but poorly color-corrected salad condiment happened using red onion, tomato, jackfruit, cucumbers, grated ginger, fish sauce, lime, and rice vinegar. And cilantro.
1 and 1/2 cups rice flour
2 cups coconut milk
2 tbsp water
1 tsp dried turmeric
1 white onion, chopped
2 large carrots, julienned
a handful of snow peas, julienned
two handfuls of shrimp, peeled and deveined
The technique that seemed to work well was: cook onion in hot non-stick skillet for a couple minutes; add shrimp for 1 minute; make sure skillet is well-oiled and ladle 1/3 cup batter in and immediately swirl to coat pan. Add one portion carrots and snow peas now (or saute separately). Cover and cook for three minutes.
Remove lid, drizzle oil around edges of crepe and attempt to crisp up. You can throw some herbs in there as well, then try to fold. Serve....yeah. How? We hacked our into pieces, then wrapped those pieces in a lettuce leaf and dunked it in the nuoc cham. It was completely delicious, but really awkward to eat, so we're going to try another form factor soon.
ACTUALLY: We are apparently not the first people to struggle with this edibility problem. Bánh khot is the hand-sized version, and is what we will make next time instead.