Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Penne alla Saffi, with asparagus, ham, and cream

Mon. Feb. 19
Again, this blog proves its worth: we used to think we had this every other week (like pasta al salmone), but it now turns out we've only had it twice since the summer (again like pasta al salmone): a month ago, and back in September, when all the world and spring was young (in September?). Of course, this does mean that we've had asparagus two nights in a row. Oh, the shame!
Also unfortunately, IGA was out of heavy cream (no milk delivery on Presidents' Day), so I had to trudge back and get the thinner-yet-more-expensive stuff from the "convenience" store we call Untied Diary Framers (anagram - you figure it out).
Nonetheless, Schad's ham was good as ever, and the results were eventually tasty.

Asparagus Chicken with Black Bean Sauce

Sun. Feb. 18
We chose to celebrate Chinese New Year and the start of the Year of the Pig by eating chicken. Pretty ironic considering our location in Porkopolis and our demonstrated love of pigmeat in most of its forms (not ears, maws, feet, or chitlins - yet). But we got good asparagus from the Nice People at Findlay Market on Saturday, and it goes best with either chicken or beef, while black bean sauces are traditional for New Year.
So, as usual, get your sous-chef (thanks Holt!) to debone and chop up two chicken breasts into one-inch squares. (Put the bones in the freezer, to make broth when your frozen supply gets low.) Marinate the chicken pieces in a teaspoon of soy sauce, two teaspoons of Shao Xing wine, and a drizzle of sesame oil.
Take two teaspoons of fermented black beans, rinse them off in a sieve, let them drain, and chop them up fine. Mince a big clove of garlic, chop a large onion into inch-long pieces and separate their layers, and roll-chop a pound or more of asparagus into inch-long pieces, keeping the tips separate.
Assemble all this around you, along with some chicken broth (liquid or frozen), soy sauce, salt, vegetable oil, sesame oil, and a warm platter. This is the Chinese version of what chefs call mise en place, or just "meeze." There is probably a Chinese phrase for it, as chopping the various ingredients into similar sizes and shapes and having them ready is a crucial aspect of good Chinese cooking.
Once you have your meeze in place, heat the wok on high. When it's hot, add vegetable oil, then onions, which you stir-fry vigorously for a minute. Throw in the asparagus (stems first, tips a minute or two later) and a good pinch of salt, and stir-fry for a couple of minutes until they turn bright green. Dribble in (or if it's a frozen block, set in and let melt until you have the right amount) a tablespoon or so of broth, cover, and turn the heat low so the whole thing steams and simmers for a few minutes, until it's as tender as you like it. Scrape it all out onto the warm platter.
Reheat the wok on high, and when it's hot add more oil. Toss in the black beans and garlic, stir once, and put in the chicken, mixing vigorously. Keep stir-frying on high heat until all the chicken is opaque and thoroughly cooked; Doctor Betsy recently told us that about 70 percent of American chicken contains salmonella or campylobacter, and must be cooked to a temperature of at least 165 F. Thanks, Republicans, for emasculating the Food Safety Inspection Service!
When the chicken is cooked, empty the platter of vegetables back into the wok and keep stir-frying. Check the amount and flavor of the sauce by pushing a clearing into the center and letting it puddle up. If there's too much, let it boil and reduce. Taste it and add some soy or plain salt - it should be quite salty, as the chicken will bland it out. When it's hot, dribble with sesame oil, give a final stir, and serve.
Kung Hei Fat Choi: congratulations, be prosperous! See you in two weeks at the Lantern Festival, when we'll have put on several prosperous pounds!

Steak with Gorgonzola Butter and Whipped Potatoes

Sat. Feb. 17
Simplicity itself, especially when you made too much gorgonzola butter the last time, back in September, and froze it for later use. The steak was also frozen to start with, and took a good long time to defrost, as it was an inch and a half thick. Once it reached room temperature, we anointed it with Worcestershire and grilled it, flipping assiduously to get those crossed-bar grill marks on it. The potatoes were our standard yukon golds, boiled then whipped with some cream.
It's what's for dinner.

Spaghetti with Tomato-Pepperoni Sauce

Fri. Feb. 16
This is a spicy, warming dish that uses things that you might still have even though you haven't been able to dig the car out of the snow and go shopping for a week or more (we wrap a whole pepperoni stick in plastic and store it in the fridge for just these occasions).
Chop up an onion and a clove or two of garlic and fry them in oil while you slice off as much as you want of the pepperoni into paper-thin rounds or half rounds. When the onion is translucent, empty in a can of puréed or chopped tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes down and add the pepperoni to soften and contribute its flavors. Add oregano and basil. Salt and pepper as you like. Roll the spaghetti in the sauce, and top it with lots of romano cheese.
There is no Italian dish like this, but it comforts Americans because it reminds us of pizza.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Chili Reprise

Thurs. Feb. 15.
When you make chili and cornbread, you might as well make a lot and enjoy leftovers. Which we did

Veal Chops with Creamed Leeks

Valentine's Day

We wanted something special for "Bishop Valentine, whose day it is," so we shelled out for the veal rack at Eckerlin. $14.99/lb. Yikes! We're genuinely frugal, by temperament, but also as a matter of aesthetics. Any idiot can stuff a chicken with fois gras and proclaim it haute cuisine. What takes art is to turn the bottom of the vedge bin into something tasty (hence the grocery sack test at the good CIA). Nonetheless, sometimes we just got to have an indulgence. We figure that its amortizes out over time, so that (in the spirit of self-congratulations--and who better?) we eat not only nicer but also cheaper than Fast Food Nation. Which is nice if you're cheap.
So the veal, which gave Barbara the chance to say to Holt, "Nice rack," which he fondly believed to be a compliment. Holt cut it up at home and got five lovely chops, and one smaller but thicker one, perfect for boning out to make medallions. We chose the two best chops, about 1 1/2" thick, and froze the others.
The best ingredients sometimes call for the simplest preparation. So, congregation, follow along in your copies of Julia Child's The Way to Cook:
Sear the chops in a little butter and a film of plain oil for about 2 minutes on each side. Once seared, season with kosher salt and parve pepper, cook for another 2 minutes each side. Season now with tarragon, and cook for 1 minute each side. Now finish it off in the oven. About 5-7 minutes more in a 350º oven. Neither Julia nor Joy give a temperature for veal, but we set the automatic timer to 125º and plunged the sensor in the middle of the meatiest part. Worked a treat: tender, moist, still slightly pink. The chops rested on the heated plates, while we made the sauce. Again, simply deglaze with a tiny bit of good white wine and a couple of veal stock cubes.
Served this with creamy, dreamy leeks: browned just bit in butter, then cooked Barbara's way, covered at very low heat in just the water left from washing them. Added the cream while making the sauce and reduced it all.

We broke out a half bottle of the 1989 Château Beaucastel. I had read a review of it in the Wine Expectorator (okay, Spectator) in 1990, and thought it sounded just the thing, bit more expensive than we usually go, but we love Chateauneuf du Pape. We got a bottle at Cork and Bottle and it was superb. We were planning to indulge in another, when the WS anointed it "Wine of the Year." I acted fast, called Cork and Bottle the afternoon my copy arrived, and they scrounged up a full case, 6 bottles, 12 half bottles, and kindly charged only $35 a bottle, though the price had already sky-rocketed. One of the best buys we ever made. I'm going to brag here, cuz it's currently going for $195 a bottle, making it slightly terrifying to think of the price per gulp. The wine is still lovely, though it throws sediment like a raisin pie and has to be carefully decanted. What it's lost in tannic power over the years, it's made up for in a subtle softness. See the reviews from all the Cork Dorks and the Perrin Family homepage.

I thought we had a bottle of the DeLoach OFS Chardonnay still left. This is still our benchmark for chardonnays: lots of butter, moving on to butterscotch. Turns out we drank it all! And the DeLoach I had seen in the wine cellar (we've got a cellar, we put wine in it. OK?) was a Cab. Sauv. But we hit a winner with Hess Collection '03. Nice malolactic and pineapply flavors. Not a bad drop, as they say in Australia.

Speaking of which, we had friands for dessert, a lovely little cake we've never seen outside Oz, and a great way to use up left-over egg whites (which we freeze as they accumulate). The name is odd, because a French friand is a sort of puff-pastry enclosed meat pie, and the Oz friand is a French financier.
Here's pretty much the standard recipe for friands, translated from the 'Strain, and with many thanks to Elizabeth Minchin, who sent us the recipes:

1 ½ cups (200g) powered sugar
1 cup (120g) almond meal
(grinded up almonds)
½ cup (60g) flour

5 egg whites, lightly beaten

1 ½ cups (180g.) unsalted butter, melted, and cooled.


1. Pre-heat oven to 400º F (200º C.) Lightly grease 8 friand moulds. If friand moulds are not available, muffin tins can be used.
2. Place dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add egg whites and butter and stir again until the mixture is smooth. Spoon evenly into friand moulds and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the tops have started to crack and the edges are golden brown.
3. Remove from oven and allow to rest in moulds for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire cake rack to cool completely. Dust friands with icing sugar before serving.
Variations: Before baking, friands can be stuffed with raspberries, rhubarb [yeech!] or blueberries. 2 tablespoons poppy seeds and the grated rind of 2 lemons, oranges or mandarins can be added to the dry ingredients. If using citrus in the mixture, a glaze of melted marmalade can be brushed on the cooked friands whilst they are cooling. Friands are best eaten on the day they are made.
[I left the " whilst" in to prove how authentic it is]

I was planning to enclose a couple of frozen raspberries in each friand, but forgot completely. Still mighty good with Graeter's ice cream and a lovely desert wine, a sauternes, Château Gravas (which rapidly became Château Grab Ass, as the wine level lowered. Still, St. Valentine wouldn't mind).

Long-Simmered Chili

Tues. Feb. 13
The weather has been hideous: snow, followed by freezing rain, followed by more snow. So we decided that comfort was the better part of valor and stayed home (the University, as we learned later, shut down in any case). So a day for something slow cooked: chili was the choice. Started by simmering lots of pintos with a clove of garlic, a bay leaf, some oregano, and one dried red chile from Hatch, NM (the Chile Capital of the World) labeled "extra hot," split and deseeded. We read mystery novels and stirred the pot from time to time, adding water as needed. Beans sop up flavor from their liquid, and after about 3 hours they were tender and pleasantly spicy. We picked out the chile halves, because that was all the heat the dish needed. Then sautéed a mess o' onions, added 2 lbs. of chop meat (not chopped, Barbara's family lost the -ed sometime in the 1930s), poured off the not-insignificant amount of water and fat, then browned a butt-load of coriander and cumin (see below on the elective affinities of coriander and cumin) in the residual drippings. Added our penultimate can of tomatoes (gots to go shopping!), plus vinegar (see the secret revelation in the blog for the last batch). Put it all together, simmer for another hour. Serve with freshly-made corn bread. Say "Yah, Boo, Sucks" to winter.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Shrimp with Snow Peas

Mon. Feb. 12
Holt is usually chef de cuisine (and cookin') around here, but when we cook Chinese food, Barbara takes over the stove and Holt is sous-chef. It may have something to do with the many bonds between Chinese and Jewish culture (both strong on education and love to eat treyf on Saturday night). Or it could just be a New York childhood and a sensitive palate for the balance of flavors and textures that Chinese cooking demands.
Though the basic recipe for this comes from the slim but handy HP book, Chinese Cookery by Rose Cheng, I have developed my own way of preparing Chinese food. I hate thick gelatinous sauces, so I don't add cornstarch to anything. I don't pre-mix "cooking sauces," since I think that flavors (especially salt levels) need to be balanced depending on the ingredients, rather than decided on beforehand. And instead of stir-frying meat first and vegetables last, I do it the other way around. Most vegetables can stand up to getting reheated, but if you let freshly-fried shrimp or rare beef sit around while you do the vegetables, they lose their flavor and crispness, and only get rubbery in the final full-wok fry.
So get your sous-chef started on the ingredients (thanks, Holt!) and assemble them around you before you even heat the wok. Shell a pound of shrimp and start them marinating in two teaspoons of Shao Xing wine, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a teaspoon of minced ginger root, and a pinch of salt and white pepper. De-tail about three-quarters of a pound of snow peas. Mince a clove of garlic, and have vegetable oil, salt, oyster sauce, some clear broth (usually chicken, though this time we had lamb), and a warm platter standing by.
Start the wok over medium heat, and when it's hot, add a good shot of oil and the garlic, which you stir-fry quickly, because it will fry fast and burn even faster. Immediately add the snow peas and a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for a minute or two until they're bright green, then add a tablespoon or so of broth and stir-fry a minute until they begin to soften. Pour it all onto your warm platter, and scrape out the wok.
Reheat the wok, this time on high. When it's hot, add another dollop of oil and stir-fry the shrimps, flipping them frequently and not letting them clump together. When they begin to turn pink and opaque, add about a tablespoonful of oyster sauce, stir-fry to mix, and throw the platter of snowpeas back in the wok. As you stir-fry the whole dish, taste the sauce (which you now boil down in the center of the wok) and correct the seasonings: it may take a whole nother tablespoon of oyster sauce, or a pinch of salt, or neither. When the snow peas are hot and the sauce is reduced and bubbly, serve and eat it immediately.
nà gè zhēn hǎo chī - that was delicious. At least, that's what the waiter said it means, though it could be "we Jews want to try the pig snouts."

Pasta al Salmone

Sun. Feb. 11
As we've said before, the main reason for starting this blog was to dispel the sense that we had pasta al salmone every week. Okay, so now we know: we last had it on Jan. 2, and the time before that, on Sept. 22.
So it's more like every other month, but it's GOOD ENOUGH to have every week.

Grilled Caesar Salad

Sat. Feb. 10
A reprise of a light meal we had before Christmas.
The main difference was the croutons: not duck bread this time, but Holt's own Pane Pugliese, made from the recipe in Carol Field's The Italian Baker - outside of the cruise and the Kitchen Aid, the smartest gift I ever gave Holt, as I enjoy its products as much as he does. He had some heels left over, and as I waited for the bed to be delivered on Groundhog Day, I cut the larger parts up for croutons, froze them, and ground up the smaller bits as breadcrumbs for the meatloaf. It always pays to have good croutons and breadcrumbs in the freezer. The dressing spread its anchovoid goodness nicely in between the romaine leaves. Crossed with two more anchovies on top of the croutons.

Lamb with Broccoli and Gorgonzola Sauce

Fri. Feb. 9
Last slices of Saturday's leg of lamb; usually we'd have them pink and cold, but we were already pink and cold, so we nuked them with a little of the Scotch broth - makes its own gravy.
Broccoli and cheese sauce is classic, but instead of the usual time-and-labor-intensive recipe (boil broccoli in one pan while you make bechamel in another, melt cheese, then put everything in a casserole, top with more cheese and bake it for a half hour more until the broccoli becomes completely limp) we just steamed the broccoli and threw it into a pan in which we'd melted selected cheese(s) - in this case, half goat, half gorgonzola, which really perks up bland vegetable matter - with a bit of cream. Some warnings, though: drain the broccoli carefully, and make sure the cheese sauce is much thicker than you'd think it needs to be, as broccoli florets always add their own liquid.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Broccoli and Anchovy Pasta

Thurs. Feb. 8
A reprise of a dish we made before Christmas: broccoli-and-anchovy-pasta.
The only change was that we used cellentani instead of penne. A new brand of anchovies, and I think we needed to add more; can you believe that they're not salty enough?!

Porco com Masho

Weds. Feb. 7
Leftovers again, but refashioned. We took the Porco com cominho from Sunday, chopped it up, loosened it up with a little broth and white wine as it reheated in a pan, and piled it atop a mound of freshly-cooked potatoes mashed with butter and cream. Sort of a Portugese Swineherd's Pie, upside-down.
It's still cold out, so red wine again: a taste-off between the Charles Shaws. Merlot wins over Cabernet Sauvignon, which is judged "harsh" and "less balanced (but still cheap)" by our panel, led by the famous Auheigheault Ouaineaux.

Meatloaf and Roasted Vegetables

Tues. Feb 6
This meal was completely made up of nuked leftovers: the other half of the meatloaf we had on Friday, and the roasted potatoes, carrots, and shallots from our leg o' lamb on Saturday. When you walk the mile home along snow-packed streets in 8-degree F. weather at seven PM, you need something hot and tasty almost instantly; this was it. Add ketchup and serve. Oh, and a glass of cheap red wine doesn't hurt.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Napa Sausages with Peppers and Onions

Mon. Feb. 5
Our source for all sorts of sausages (say that three times fast) has been Kroeger & Sons Meats, which recently went over to new management. So far we see no change in quality. Though the texture of our favorite Napas (pork with green pepper, onion, and tomato) is a bit crumblier, they've stopped throwing in too much salt, which was sometimes a problem before. All we do with these is fry them for a few minutes with a bunch of sliced onions and (in this case, red) bell peppers; then a splash of white wine and cover the pan, so that they can steam and the insides of the sausages can cook through. Keep up the good work, new Kroegers.

Porco com cominho

Sunday Feb. 4
This is a Portugese dish from the Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking - both the book and the recipe are favorites. We had just bought a big boneless loin of pork on sale at IGA, and when you cut it up to freeze - one roast, a couple of packages of thin scalloppine, a couple more of thick slices - there are often scrappy bits left over, perfect for a pork stew. So here's what you do. Make a marinade out of a half cup of white wine, the juice of a big lime, 3 crushed cloves of garlic, a teaspoon and a half of ground cumin, a bay leaf, a teaspoon of salt, and some black pepper. Toss in your pork cubes, and we also put in a couple of sliced onions, and marinate overnight. The next day, drain and reserve the marinade, get your dutch oven out, and brown the meat and onions. Then pour the marinade back over the meat, cover it, and simmer until it's tender, an hour or so. While you're waiting for that, de-stem a bunch of fresh coriander/cilantro; you throw this into the pot in the last five minutes of cooking, along with a handful of dijon-style black olives. Thus you obey the unwritten law of all Mediterranean cooking: where there is cumin, there must also be coriander, and plenty of both.

Leg of Lamb with Roasted Vegetables

Friday, Feb. 3

Unlike the one we cooked December 21, 2006, we bought this leg o' lamb bone-in so that Holt could meticulously butterfly it and make a little Scotch broth with the bone. He rubbed the meat with Julia Child's classic lamb marinade from The Way to Cook: two cloves of garlic mashed to a paste with salt, some rosemary and thyme, mixed with a couple of tablespoons of Dijon mustard and an equal amount of lemon juice, and whipped up with some oil. She adds soy, he doesn't. He roasted it first at 450 for 15 minutes, then down to the People's Temperature, and halfway along he threw in some handfuls of peeled shallots, and batons of potatoes and carrots to roast in the juices. When the thermometer went ping at 120 degrees, he hauled the roast out to rest, put the vegetables in the toaster oven to keep warm, and deglazed the pan with red wine for a sauce. A suitably hearty meal for the cold weather we're getting now, with the advantage of plenty of leftovers for later in the week.

Meatloaf, Caramelized Onions, and Potato Cakes

Fri. Feb 2.
We usually try to celebrate Groundhog Day by cooking ground hog, i.e. pork, generally in some Chinese form like shu-mai or "Ants Climbing Tree." But Barbara was stuck at home waiting for the guys to deliver our new bed, and there was only ground beef in the freezer. Answer: the classic meatloaf, as last seen in our post of Nov. 6, 2006. The recipe is different every time, of course. This one had about as much minced celery as minced onion, and a squeeze of tomato paste instead of barbecue sauce. Also, this time I beat the egg and added everything BUT the meat and breadcrumbs to it, which made the mixing much easier. Should have figured that one out long ago, but it wasn't how my mother did it - did I say she was a lousy cook? Oh, and I used the remote-sensing thermometer, which told me exactly when the meatloaf came to the ideal 160-degree temperature.
Since I still wasn't going anywhere, I decided to caramelize the onions rather than just frying them. This means slow cooking over low heat, with the pan half-covered, for about an hour. The golden color doesn't come until the very end, when the onions have lost about three-quarters of their bulk. We served them on top of potato cakes, i.e. the previous day's mashed potatoes formed into patties, dipped into breadcrumbs, and shallow-fried. Comfort food at its best.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Rib-eye steaks

Thurs. 1 Feb.
A sale on steaks at Kroger. Not too thick, so just right for pan-frying. Made some potatoes, boiled with garlic and smashed with goat cheese, on the side. The perfect quick meal to prepare before watching "Ugly Betty." We love "Ugly Betty."

Baked ziti

Wed. 31 Jan.
We've slowly been clearing out the upstairs freezer, so now there's room enough to clear out the downstairs freezer. The last thing to go was the extra baked ziti from Christmas Eve! (We always make too much food. "But what if there's not enough? We don't want anyone to starve!")
Even though we took it out in the morning and left it on the counter all day, the ziti was (the ziti were? Anyways, they were actually campanelli) still solidly frozen when we came home. Put in the oven at the People's Temperature, stuck in the probe thermometer, and sat down. A mere two hours later, the buzzer went off. For future reference, the scientific definition of "piping hot" for a casserole is 160º F.

Tilapia with roasted carrots and parsnips

Tues. 30 Jan.
Feeling almost back to normal, but decided to keep the cena a little on the bianca side, and have a nice piece of fish. So a couple of carrots in juliennes, roasted in a pan at 450º for 10 minutes, then parsnips, ditto, for 5. Pushed them aside and slid in four little tilapia fillets, for about 5 more minutes.
Basil oil on top in a drizzle / Fo shizzle.

Goose Juice with mezzalune

Mon. 29 Jan.
Thanks again to Susan and Steve's good treatment, we survived the next day and the plane flight back. Holt had a piece of toast and tea for breakfast, and four crackers on the plane. Barbara managed plain yogurt and, eventually, a banana. Back home, safe but not quite sound. Our stomachs were still tender, so dinner was a soothing soup: just a couple of tubs of frozen goose broth (made from our Christmas Day goose) with a handful of dried mezzalune pasta with a squash filling (available from Trader Joe's).

El Día de los Muertos

Sun. 28 Jan.
. . . and at about 2 AM we both came down with food poisoning. Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, the lot. For hours, pretty much on the hour, until well past sunrise.
We were rescued by Susan, Barbara's sister's friend since college days, and her husband, Steve. They had kindly offered to put us up for Sunday, so we could catch a Monday flight home. We intended merely to save the Department some money. They wound up virtually (and virtuously) saving our lives. The original plan was they would show us some of the desert and old Las Vegas. Instead, they showed us the bathroom, a bed, and all kindness. Susan picked us up, still green about the gills, at 11 AM, and drove us to their home. Ever convivial, we disappeared into said bathroom and bedroom and didn't come out until sometime around 4 PM, when we managed a bowl of chicken broth. Then back to bed. Holt had cold plain rice at 2 in the morning and rejoiced therein.
Viva Las Vegas!

Vegas, Baby!

Sat. 27 Jan.
After a morning of papers, we headed off to lunch at Canaletto in the Venetian, Jon's treat (Thank you, Jon! Thank you fully-endowed Novak professorship!). Pleasant time talking with Helmut, John, and Mary, over the caterwauling of authentic Neapolitan songs and a soprano in her death agony (one could but hope) attempting "Nessun' Dorma" for some bizarre reason (Holt has plans for the Queen of the Night's "Der Hölle Rache" as a bass aria).

Dinner with Jon and Lois at Alex in Wynn. A stunning room with generally impeccable service (it's the sort of place that offers women miniature sofas for their purses), except for one surly waiter (out of a dozen) who not only could be pecced, but seemed to need regruntling.
We started with marinated Maine crab with grapefruit and avocado—bright citrus—and a sweet sushi-style minced shrimp in a long fluffy line. Then little Kumamoto oysters in the shells over creamed leeks with Meyer lemons and osetra caviar, which, unfortunately masked the oysters.
Saddle of rabbit stuffed with Swiss chard and chickpeas. A little fully frenched "rack of rabbit" (something we'd already seen at The French Laundry) served with a sliced roll of the stuffing, and preserved lemon (Preserved Lemon, by the way, is Holt's blues name). Then veal tenderloin, very rare, wrapped in pancetta, with a side dish of "mac 'n' cheese" in a very rich cream fontina sauce topped with truffle shavings.
For dessert, a tiramisù layered in a goblet, plus a chocolate "napoleon." As there had been throughout the meal, endless amuse-gueules, candies, and a little bag of more sweets to take home.
Another brilliant wine steward, kind, smart, professional, who, it turned out, had worked for one of Jon's favorite restaurateurs in Tucson. Jon just asked him for his own personal discoveries (under $***), and he happily shared a couple of new favorites, not yet, I think, on the carte. Alas, I don't have the notes on that evening's wines. I'll post them if I can get them.
Took a cab back to the hotel around midnight . . .

Fabulous Las Vegas!

Friday 26 Jan.
We went to give papers at Jon's always enjoyable session on The Classics and Popular Culture at the Far West Popular Culture Association meeting in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. (Read a newspaper story here). Arrived the day before, which was our 16th anniversary.
After checking into our hotel, the soon to be imploded Imperial Palace, we went across the road to Caesars Palace (no apostrophe) for lunch at Spago, for which we'll make an exception and include What Holt and Barbara Had for Lunch. Still very nice, for all that it is effectively a chain and Wolfgang Puck probably hasn't set foot in it in years. The menu:
Champagne and the three "starters."
• Calamari with Szechuan peppercorn, lime, and cucumber salad.
The calamari were strips off one of those huge steaks, which come from the Giant-Squid-vs.-Captain-Nemo-sized calamari. Amazingly tender, with a texture not unlike firm tofu. The salad of hot-house cukes was very refreshing.
• Eld Inlet oysters, with basic cocktail sauce (i.e. ketchup and horseradish) and a nice pink peppercorn mignonette. No need for either, since the oysters were nice and briny. Very good service, too. When I pointed out to a passing waitress that in fact there were only eleven oysters and that an ugly fight might ensue, she quickly brought us the escapee, while our waiter brought us two more: a baker's dozen plus. Speaking of bakers, the breads were very good, especially a rosemary loaf.
• Steamed mussels in a broth with chunks of stewed tomatoes, saffron, paprika, and little cubes of potato.

During the afternoon, Barbara toured the iconographical program of Caesars—the topic of her paper—then over to the new conservatory at Bellagio, dressed up for Chinese New Year (the conservatory, that is). Wasted some time in the Parisian trying to find a place for a drink with a view of the Bellagio's fountains, since the Fontane bar foolishly doesn't open till 5:30. Still managed to kill some time, by buying Barbara a little necklace by Elsa Peretti in Tiffany's. Champagne on the terrace at Fontane: the BEST show in Vegas. As Barbara says, what Louis XIV would have done, if only he'd had the money. So Dinner at Tiffany's, or rather, Tiffany's, then dinner. . .

Which was at Fleur de Lys, in our current opinion the best restaurant in Vegas. We're trying to collect all the Kellers. Having managed to get to The French Laundry in Napa, with Thomas, we're now trying Hubert in Las Vegas. The pink swirl you see on the wall consists of thousands of pink roses from Ecuador, bred so that the scent is not overpowering. The waiter pulled one down for Barbara.
We chose the four course menu. The appetizers were:
• Ahi tuna three ways: a little cup of consommé with dried bonito flakes, light and refreshing. Then Tuna tartare with ginger, and little rillettes with tarragon, served on Chinese soup spoons. The "trio" is now a standard trick, but it does allow the chef to show off his technique.
• Quail: thin slices of breast over a "torchon" (the word everyone seems to be using this month for "slice") of fois gras, over a celery root custard, studded with hazelnuts. This was an altogether brilliant little dish. Each ingrediant tasted of itself, while all the flavors worked well together. Holt, who dislikes liver, nonetheless proclaimed it the best liver he'd ever had.

The fish courses were diver scallops over what was labeled a "smoky" chowder—a fine textured base with smoked mussels. Next slices of lobster. All very springy: carrot purée, scattered with fresh shee poots—I mean pea shoots—drizzled with mint oil and an orange-curry sauce, and, yes, the lobster was springy, too—just au point.
The featured protein was a rare venison loin, with Chinese cabbage, black cardamom sauce, and a dry date chutney. The other hunks of meat were a hearty lamb loin on a Middle Eastern theme, served with two little cannelloni (if that's not a contradiction) stuffed with minced lamb shoulder, then eggplant caviar, and artichoke barigoule (i.e. stewed with carrots and other aromatics).
Alas, we forgot to scribble down notes on dessert. Something wonderful with chocolate occurred and we ate thereof. Part of the forgetfulness may be due to the wine. We started with a very yeasty champagne, Chartogne-Taillet, "Cuvee St.-Anne." The wine steward was superb: intelligent, knew his stock intimately, very welcoming. We gave him a price range, some rough indications of the types and styles we were looking for (sauv. blanc for the fish, a meaty red for the meat), and he came up these: a Sancerre, Domaine Lucien Crochet, "La Chêne," 2004: not overly flinty, very round and well-balanced; and a mighty Spaniard, Viñedos & Bodega Mustiguillo, Finca Terrerazo, 2003, based on Bobal grape, a new varietal for us.

Penne, Ham, and Cream

Thurs. Jan 25.
Before leaving for Las Vegas, a quicky meal: just slivers of Schad's ham, warmed in butter, with a little cream and romano over penne.