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August, 2008 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - August, 2008

Honeymoon smoothie

After 30 years of shacking up, Jeff and Gail got married.

In Hanalei Bay, on Kaua’i, Hawaii, in the lee of Bali Ha’i they spent six weeks snorkeling and snuggling. It was indeed their own special island.

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Each morning before the sun’s rays reached the blue sea floor they trundled down to the market to buy a tranche of  ahi or kampachi caught that very morning. After a morning in the water they prepared a lunch of sashimi (dipped in soy sauce and freshly grated wasabi) with slices of avocado, papaya, star fruit, or mango (the Haden variety, with pulp that is not stringy).haden.jpg

Richly dark greens like collard or rainbow chard filled the markets. Oddly enough, however, because the climate is so temperate, tomatoes do not ripen to full flavor there.

On Kaua’i they make a pungent and tangy feta-style goat cheese that pairs well with fresh cilantro and crunchy crackers.

But what was the potion impelling them to bind the ties of wedlock? What was their passion fruit?

It was the rum smoothie.

Gail’s Honeymoon Smoothie

dark rum
young ginger, grated
pineapple
guava
mango
splash of orange soda
dollop of lychee-flavored yogurt
coconut water (crack the nut with a hammer)
ice

Drink before dinner. Watch the stars come out.

Having lived happily ever after, having spent a honeymoon in paradise, and having gotten married, in that order, pretty soon now, yes, any minute Jeffrey is going to propose to Gail (or will it be vice versa?). Accordingly, the next logical step in their backward romance will be that unforgettable first blush of mutual infatuation. Who could not be envious?

Demi-glace

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When Lorna went into surgery for the second time in as many weeks, Mrs. Henry knew she had to prepare something delicious and nutritious, something to awaken an appetite numbed by anesthesia, an instant elixir to restore every weary faculty.

Like an Olympic competitor, Mrs. Henry dug deep.

From her mental recipe box she plucked a classic French veal stock equally serviceable as a demi-glace for vegetable dishes or as the secret flavor ingredient to any meat sauce or ragout.

Auguste Escoffier invented the versatile veal stock. Neither sweet nor salty, neither bitter nor sour, veal stock adds flavor and body to nearly any preparation. My Phuong makes this stock and freezes it in ice cube trays. She adds a single cube as a final touch to french beans or mushrooms. The results are sensational.
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Lorna drank two cups spoonlessly and pronounced it “worth living for.”

Mrs. Henry’s veal stock

2 veal shank bones (quartered by the butcher)
2 stalks of celery
1 onion, quartered
1 turnip, quartered
1 bunch parsley
1 handful of baby carrots
crushed peppercorns
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Roast the bones at 425˚ until golden brown, about 35 minutes. In 3-quart or larger pot cover with water, add ingredients and simmer for at least 4 hours. Let cool. Remove bones and pour stock through sieve. Refrigerate. When cool, skim fat. Reheat to liquid state and pour cheesecloth strainer (or fine sieve). Add salt.

Any veal bones will do nicely. Michael Ruhlman suggests veal breast, and his recipes are highly reliable.

You may roast the root vegetables, as well, but not for as long as the meat. Leeks work very well, too, as does fresh thyme, neither of which were available this time.

The extra step of refrigerating to remove fat ensures a lean, light broth. If you want a richer demi-glace for braising, however, skip this step.

Continuity and Change on the Upper West Side

hair.jpgDoper moved out. For 25 years he sat slumped in the same sunken upholstered chair watching TV, smoking joints and eating take-out. On sunny days he crept out onto the fire escape and talked on the telephone, prattling in a harsh outerborough accent.

At home, Doper never wore clothes.

Hearing the call of the Age of Aquarius, he was a naturalist who went back to the land, which for him meant the Upper West Side between 72nd Street and 96th Street.

During the quarter century he shared the backyard airspace with this hirsute old hippie, Mr. Henry never learned his real name.

Mr. Henry spoke directly to him only once. On a bright and cheerful morning Mr. Henry stepped out onto his tiny porch and was assaulted by the sight of natural man scratching his furry self.

“Couldn’t you put something on?” Mr. Henry asked rhetorically. Doper did not speak. Furrowing his giant uni-brow, he shrank back inside the dark apartment.

Doper did not go to work in any conventional sense. Once in a while he was spotted rifling corner trash cans for books and knicknacks that he displayed for sale on the sidewalk in front of Artie’s Delicatessen on Broadway and 83rd Street. Until ten years ago, every six months or so his aged parents came to straighten up his grotty apartment.

Perhaps because Doper always traveled by bicycle, he managed to maintain an enviably sleek physique despite being in his middle 60’s. Did he subsist exclusively on marijuana, Chinese take-out, and paper bags of birdseed? Will we soon be seeing The Doper Diet at Barnes & Noble?

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Perhaps he simply couldn’t stand the yuppification of Broadway.

At the corner of 77th Street a new restaurant is about to open, The West Branch, an offshoot of Tom Valenti’s Ouest which for years has been the only place in this neighborhood to get a really fine restaurant meal.

The West Branch will provide room service to the sleekly renovated hotel On the Ave.

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What’s more, next to The West Branch will be a new Fatty Crab, an uptown offshoot of the downtown place famous for Singaporean street food and for not accepting reservations.

Instantly 77th and Broadway, a corner where store after store has foundered, is becoming a destination location for people with appetite and cash.

The Doper moves on.

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Eggplant variations

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For three days Mr. Henry stared at three little eggplants lying wistfully in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. On a hot afternoon in the Citarella market they were beautiful, purple and plump, the most attractive vegetables on display. He bought them without a care and without a plan. Then he faced a moment of decision.

Summer is a languorous time of year, a time when there is time to spare, a time for experimentation with short pants and odd vegetable preparations.

Mr. Henry makes a mean Moroccan zaalouk, a fine Lebanese babaganoush, a veritable ratatouille, and a convincing caponata. Although these are not difficult dishes, to roast them requires firing up the oven for a good 45 minutes, or in the case of the ratatouille and its Sicilian cousin caponata, preparing the other ingredients takes at least as long. Eggplant parmesan is even more of a chore. All are best avoided on hot summer afternoons when you don’t want to heat up the house.

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Long ago he made a lightly-battered fried eggplant by first soaking eggplant slices in milk to combat the eggplant’s natural bitterness. Now that Mrs. Henry installed her fancy convection oven, what would happen if he simply soaked eggplant slices and then blasted them in the convection oven? Would he get a mushy eggplant ragout that fell apart on the spatula? Would he get an eggplant rigor mortis permanently fused to the pan?

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In this perilous world, boldness and cunning have their rewards. Milk may not be an ingredient that leaps to mind when considering the eggplant. In Consider the Oyster, however, the peerless M.F.K. Fisher (John Updike called her “our poet of the appetites.”) lists a dozen recipes for oyster stew (which is not really a stew at all, but that is another discussion). All but one recipe contain milk, and lots of it.

What about buttermilk?? Such a pairing could be interesting. But where to look for spices and flavor ideas? Both buttermilk and eggplant are found in Middle Eastern cuisine. Given that eggplant has been central to Jewish cuisine, perhaps Claudia Roden in her masterful The Book of Jewish Food might have an answer.

rodenjewishfood.gifTurkic peoples, Iranians, and Indians often use a spiced yogurt dressing but, alas, Claudia does not include recipes containing both eggplant and buttermilk.

Not dissuaded by the absence of traditional recipes, Mr. Henry seized his chance. After all, we live in the New World. Marinating for several hours in buttermilk and a bit of nutmeg, eggplant slices were cooked two ways: half were fried in olive oil, half were baked. Slowly fried in olive oil, slices emerged crispy and perfectly ready to eat. After 15 minutes the baked slices received a topping of grated parmesan and bread crumbs and then went back in the oven for another 25.

Curiously, although the baked slices were good, not mushy, fried slices came out better. They had that desirable crunchy exterior and soft interior. As Kit Pollard remarked in an inspired moment on her blog Mango & Ginger, they remind one of soft shell crab. Indeed, the eggplant is a mysterious playmate.

In the end, however, neither preparation with buttermilk exceeded the pleasure of a first class caponata enjoyed with a Rosso di Montalcino. Perhaps our Old World ancestors knew something after all.