Sunday, April 29, 2007

Pre-Opera Supper

Thursday 19 April
For lunch our nephew Robert took us out to the burger joint (called "The Burger Joint") hidden behind a curtain in the lobby of the Parker Meridien hotel. We each had a cheeseburger with everything, though Barbara is usually a purist and likes her hamburgers unadorned except for ketchup and grilled onions. Her verdict: great burger, great fries, but next time hold the lettuce and tomato at the very least. Holt's verdict: "gwomrrrrmarrammyummmmm."
After this meat-fest but before Turandot, Laurie supplied just what we needed: an elegant little supper at her apartment. Iron Horse champagne, crisp crackers, taramasalata, little tomatoes, spinach salad, two kinds of triple crème cheese (six crèmes in all), prosciutto, olives, almonds baked in olive oil with salt, a little cold roasted chicken, and strange sweet individually wrapped Mexican anise crisps for dessert.
Then we all went off to the Metropolitan Opera to watch a guy fall in love with a girl who tortures his other girlfriend until she kills herself, all singing their heads off (literally, in the case of the Prince of Persia). That's life in opera.

Buon' Amici

Wednesday April 18
The next day, Andi and Joel threw a cocktail/wine party to celebrate the dedication. Joel and Michael headed out for a Rangers' game (they won—the Rangers that is) and once again Andi took everybody out, this time to a spiffy local restaurant, Buon' Amici (Thanks, Andi!).
There was one brutta sorpresa: "Osso buco" that wasn't. Holt was somewhat bewildered to be presented with lamb shanks, yet again. Holt queried the dish and the waitress drew his attention to the fine print which read "osso buco di agnello," Now, these were good lamb shanks in a slow-simmered sauce, but "osso buco" does not mean lamb shanks, and saying "osso buco di agnello" is like saying "London Broil of chicken." Tasty, but not quite what he had in mind.
The kitchen seemed to have a Humpty Dumpty attitude to words.* So the other lovely but curiously named dish we had was "open ravioli": two pasta sheets draped over a sauced filling, generous with lobster and asparagus. Again, "open ravioli" is like "closed buccatini," a contradiction in terms, howsoe'er nutritious.
Wine and conversation flowed freely with Marian and other old friends, plus cousins we barely even knew we had (all of whom, like Robert, went to Vassar - obviously, an inherited Vassar gene in the Burrell clan). For dessert, a slab of Junior's cheesecake went the rounds. It's the best in the world, says all of Brooklyn - you got a problem with that?

*The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be the master--that's all."

Honoring Florry Burrell

Tuesday 17 April
The rain held off for the official ceremony to unveil the sign naming the Elmhurst, NY, street she lived on after Barbara's mother, the nicest mother-in-law ever. ( Some thirty friends, colleagues, and relatives gathered under grey skies, for short but moving speeches from Council Member Helen Sears, Barbara, and Andi.
Afterwards Joel, with characteristic generosity, took everyone who could hang around to the Georgia Diner, a classic of the genre (Thanks, Joel!). That way we got extra time with friends, especially with Brian, who had taken the train in from New Haven just for this.
We chose the lamb shanks with orzo (dull but worthy), and the fried sea food platter, which was exactly what you'd expect: a "crab cake" with inclusions of shrimp bits, three shrimps, three scallops (carefully divided to avoid an ugly fight), and the piece of cod that passeth understanding. Lashings of tartar sauce. No room for dessert, despite the tempting rotations of the glass display case, featuring Lemon Meringue Mile-High Pie.

Kitchen Challenge III: Pork chops alla Modena

Monday 16 April
We went shopping with Karen at Wegman's to pick up something quick for dinner. The pork chops looked good, and after looking around for something to do with them, we spotted some bundles of fresh sage. Here the blog really came into its own, for once we got back to Karen and Bill's we could log on and quickly check how we had done it before ("That's right--I remember now--no onions, no garlic, just the tomatoes").
We had a bit of bread and brie and a sampling from Wegman's amazing olive bar to stave off hunger while the pork chops got smothered. To accompany them, we did another favorite: a quick stir-fry of zucchini batons with minced garlic, doused at the last minute with a splash of wine vinegar.
The other advantage of Modena style pork is that it's infinitely reheatable, so that when Bill came back late, weary from a teaching a long class, there was a tender bit of pig waiting for him.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Sunday 15 April
After an unnecessarily traumatic Amtrak journey to Metropark NJ, involving torrential rains, crowded trains, and the loss of a beloved hat, Karen and Bill picked us up, soothed our jangled nerves, gave us wine and cheese, and took us out to Bellini's, a classic Italian-American joint. I use joint in the nicest possible sense. The music is Frank, the sauce is red, the portions are huge, and of course you get salad and a side of pasta with that.
We had the Veal Bellini: fried breaded eggplant, alternating with fried breaded veal, alternating with prosciutto (also possibly fried and breaded), each topped with sauce, the whole thing stacked and sealed in mozzarella and roasted red peppers . . . oh, and a strip of bacon on top. It looked like a giant white caterpillar with red stripes. We also had lobster ravioli swimming with shrimp and artichokes in a cream and tomato salsa rosata. No bacon (the kitchen must be slipping). Doggie bags for everyone, except the dog.

Formal dinner at Bryn Mawr

Saturday 14 April

The C. Densmore Curtis Lectures are a two-part gig: a big evening lecture for the public (, see below, and an intense seminar for the graduate students the next day. So on Saturday, after Barbara's invigorating two-hour chase through the varieties of imperial apotheosis, the grad students and faculty took us to a formal dinner at the Haffner center on campus. College catering, but not bad for all that. Baked salmon and vegetarian lasagne, though not really enough for starving students. The semi-satiated grad students (still clever and kind) presented Barbara with a Bryn-Mawr-crested pewter bowl filled with chocolates, a T-shirt featuring a good mean grad school owl, a copy of her poster, and lots of happy memories. Not to mention a whacking great honorarium.
We also had some nice Argentine wine (Malbec), but we can't remember the name.

Café San Pietro, Bryn Mawr

Friday 13 April
After Barbara's lecture (lots more than six people in the audience; see below), the entire Bryn Mawr graduate archaeology group (except those currently down a pit in Athens or elsewhere) took us out to a local favorite, Café San Pietro (Thanks, C. Densmore Curtis, the founder of the feast! Thanks, clever and kind graduate students!). Wine and dig stories flowed freely. We split two salads, the San Pietro, topped with crisp shrimp, and smoked salmon, ditto with three vast flensings of lox. There was a vitello ai carciofi (very generous with the artichokes) and a "nice piece fish": striped bass in a roasted red pepper sauce. A touch of grappa and more dig stories for dessert.

Zócalo, Philadelphia

Thursday 12 April
After Holt's lecture the entire audience (all six of us)* went out to eat courtesy of the Penn Linguistics Dept. (Thanks, Don!) at a nice Mexican restaurant near campus, Zócalo. We had a tart classic margarita and a surprisingly tasty ginger margarita to start with. For appetizers; sikil-pak, an addictive Mayan pumpkin seed dip, a pimenton-laced chorizo with corn and onions (the sausage came in curls, rather like slices off a gyro), and a plate of calamari. Holt and Barbara split a tilapia Veracruzana (tomatoes, green olives, capers), and a not-too-bitter chicken mole (the italics are important here - a Mexican chocolate sauce, not a small burrowing insectivorous mammal of the subfamily Talpinae). Then at the nice waitress's urging we had a lime empanada for dessert.

It occurs to us now to explain, as I don't think that we have before, that on our first time dining out, one of us said, "I'm torn between the X and the Y," while the other said, "I'm torn between the Y and X." We swapped plates half way through. Marriage inevitably followed and that has remained our custom and our delight.

*There might have been more had Holt forborne to specify in his lecture title that by Lesbian he meant the ancient Greek dialect.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Wednesday 11 April
We always try to take our hosts out for what Holt calls a slap-up dinner with all the trimmings, but Bob had to leave for a conference in Istanbul (poor Bob!). So there were only the three of us to go out to dinner at Philadelphia's new hot restaurant, RAE.
Hotness often has more to do with architecture than with food, and RAE has plenty of that: it's in the lobby (including under the escalators) of César Pelli's Cira Centre - like a bevel-mirrored thought-balloon behind the neoclassical Thirtieth Street Station. It's also fairly noisy, which is a ploy of hot restaurants to make themselves appear busier and thus hotter. We hate it. So it was quite a relief when the maitre-d' said that our table hadn't been cleared and would we mind sitting in the private room off the wine cellar. Nice lighting, comfy chairs, attentive waitstaff and less of other people's chatter? Sign us up.

Ever since Thomas Keller's gourmet take on peas and carrots and coffee and doughnuts at the French Laundry - what, ten years ago? - restaurants have been churning out their facetious takes on everyday American foods. Rae is no exception: our starters were cocktail reubens and veal kreplach with artichokes. But as at the French Laundry, there was a lot of thought and flavor behind the cute concepts: every part of the reubens was hand-made rather than processed, and the kreplach (actually veal dumplings) were divinely light and in a sauce you could die for. One main course was rabbit with a little iron stewpot of Brussels sprouts and white beans - again, cute, but a bit derivative, and we had the ultimate version of this at Pinot Brasserie in Las Vegas ("Everything from a Rabbit" - including the cute little frenched rack of rabbit, and the most meltingly delicious Napa cabbage) seven years ago. The other main was beef tenderloin, short rib, and marrow ravioli, and it was beautifully done; the ravioli and short rib almost over-packed with flavor, but you could eat bites of each with the plainer tenderloin.
The waiter gave us a Cline Ancient Vines Mourvèdre to try, and it went beautifully with the rich flavors of the food. All in all, RAE has good nosh.

Kitchen Challenge 2: Fun from the Freezer!

Tuesday April 10
We had spent a long day tramping around museums. Brian and Bob were spending a long day giving and attending lectures, and (so we assumed) going out to dinner afterwards. We had had a nice big lunch at the Sansom Street Oyster House (excellent as ever), and didn't feel much like going out. So we raided Brian and Bob's freezer, found a package of Trader Joe's lobster ravioli, and cranked up the gas. We were just about to toss the ravels in butter and cheese when B&B walked in, exhausted from giving and attending lectures, and not feeling much like going out. So an impromptu dinner began. We raided the freezer again, found four (so no ugly fights) Trader Joe's skinless boneless chicken bosoms, and while they were defrosting, had the ravels as appetizers. Then sprinkled the bosoms with some fresh rosemary + S&P, sautéed them in butter; splash of wine; cover. Meanwhile steamed some frozen Trader Joe's green beans, and threw oil and vinegar on some Trader Joe's baby arugula salad mix. The sauce didn't even need to be reduced, so we monte-ed au beurre, tossed some butter on the beans, and served forth to serve four. Did we mention Trader Joe's? B&B obviously love Trader Joe's, and so do we.

Vientiane Laotian Restaurant

Monday April 9
West Philadelphia has a wide range of ethnic restaurants, and this one is not only novel to us, but has the advantage of being located within a block's walk of Brian & Bob's B&B. Dale & Mark met us there, and the six of us had a very pleasant dinner. The place also does the more familiar Thai cuisine, so it was difficult to tell what the Laotians share with Thailand, and what was just Thai.
We shared a raft of appetizers, of course: vegetarian spring rolls, shrimp, and pork dumplings. For main courses, three of us got the home-made sausages (unusual, therefore Laotian? The newly hired waitstaff couldn't say), and boy were they right. They were chunky, spicy, well-grilled and good. So was Aw Lao, a soupy savory beef dish. Pad Thai was pad Thai. My fish casserole, which sounded great on the menu, didn't arrive until everyone else was nearly done, and though the shrimp on top were good, the scallops and vermicelli underneath had that fish-spam taste and texture that sometimes appears in Asian food - appealing to palates trained on it, perhaps, though not to me.
Dinner ended with a banana feast: tempura-fried bananas, and banana spring rolls with chocolate. Unless you're a fan of anything bananoid, they proved that Asian restaurants don't do desserts so well. I'd rather have a bowl of sweet almond soup any time. Mark tried the coconut ice cream, and it was a good thing that Brian, a confirmed coconutophobe who had been asking nervously whether each dish contained any tinge of the awful fruit, was sitting at the other end of the table. The ice cream was not only made out of pure coconut milk, but was dusted with grated coconut, and came in a coconut shell. Actually, pretty good.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kitchen Challenge 1: Easter Dinner!

Sunday April 8
Today we flew to Philadelphia to visit Brian and Bob. It was Easter Day, and our plane didn't get in until five-ish, so we had offered to cook Easter dinner for them, us, and our friends Ann and David, provided that someone would get the groceries, as supermarkets tend to be closed on Easter. Bob upped the challenge: he would get the food, but he wouldn't tell us what it was until we arrived, and we would have to cook whatever he got.
Luckily, he chose quality stuff that wouldn't take an age to cook: a couple of gorgeous racks of lamb (hey - lamb two days in a row!), a sheaf of asparagus, some good new potatoes, and onions. Holt, as chief chef here in the department of redundancy department, roasted the vegetables in olive oil with sea salt (first potatoes, then onions on top of them, then asparagus separately), coated the lamb in a mustard, garlic, fresh rosemary, and olive oil dressing, and roasted that too. We wisely brought the perfect housewarming gift: an instant-read thermometer, so we knew when the lamb would be a perfect medium-rare. And so it was. We ate it with Bob's choice of red wines, including a yummy Chateauneuf-du-Pape; and dessert was a giant chocolate fish, brought by Ann and David. An Easter feast we won't forget.

Lamb Stew with Pearl Onions

Saturday April 7
We were feeling paschal, though not enough to dye eggs or mark our doorpost with blood (multiple religions have twisted our minds). A lamb stew is a nice alternative. This one is a compromise between the Greek one given in Paula Wolfert's Slow Mediterranean Kitchen and the Turkish one (with added chestnuts) in Claudia Roden's Arabesque. Different countries, same cuisine. The two books are very different, too: Wolfert's recipe takes two days and dirties every dish in the house, while Roden's is more practical but lacks a few grace notes.
Here's what we ended up with.
Ingredients: a pound and a half of cubed-up lamb, a pound of pearl onions, an additional medium-sized onion, 2 cloves garlic, a pound can of diced (or similar) tomatoes, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. allspice, 1/2 tsp. sugar, 1 bay leaf, 1 TBSP. red wine vinegar.
To skin the pearl onions, blanch them BRIEFLY (maybe a minute - both recipes do it way too long) in boiling water. Trim and skin them until they're nice and pearly.
If you can do two things at once, at the same time heat some oil in your dutch oven and brown the chopped onion, then the garlic. Scrape them into a dishwasher-safe dish, add more oil, and brown the peeled pearl onions; put them in a different dish. Then brown the lamb in batches so the pieces are separate and cook evenly. You can add them to the chopped-onion dish.
Return the lamb, chopped onion, and garlic to the dutch oven, and throw in the can of tomatoes and all the seasonings except the vinegar. Cover, and let it cook 1 1/4 hours. At the end of that time, add the pearl onions and cook down for a half hour more, open or closed depending on how thick the sauce is and how thick you want it. At the end, add the vinegar, and adjust for salt and pepper.
Mediterranean lamby goodness.

Chilaquiles Redux

Friday April 6
See above, Tuesday. When we make chilaquiles in our big casserole, it's always enough for two days. Leftovers (leftover leftovers) get cut into wedges and nuked till they're hot enough.

Steak with Orzotto Cakes

Thursday April 5
The nice people at the meat department at IGA will slice your preferred thickness of steak if you call them in advance, so we reserved a couple of T-bones on sale and had them sliced an inch thick. We froze one and grilled the other with just a splash of Worcestershire.
We had some asparagus orzotto left over from last Saturday, so we decided to see if you could make cakes with it in the same way you do with leftover risotto. And indeed you can: just form the cold orzotto into little flat patties, dust with flour, and fry in oil until touched with gold. An excellent steak-accompanier, and a bit unusual.


Wednesday April 4
No, we didn't have caviar for dinner. It's the name of the restaurant in Hyde Park that Shari took us out to (thanks, Shari!) after an AIA lecture that evening. Neo-neo, bars lit from underneath, the symphony conductor with that week's soloist at the next table. As you would guess, it's a fish place, so we dove right in.
They do a nice line in sushi, so our appetizers were: a winter roll (crab and avocado wrapped in a thin layer of white tuna) and some à la carte sashimi: grilled eel, squid, toro, tuna, and mackerel. Dinners were: California roll, sashimi of tuna, yellowfin, and salmon, plus some nori sushi of shrimp, mackerel; and grilled ahi tuna in a puddle of delicious sauce whose nature I forget, with some nori rolls on the side. All beautifully prepared, and exquisite in taste.
We'd go back to Beluga again anytime.


Tuesday April 3
Volume 2 of the venerable Veggie Epi (okay, The Vegetarian Epicure) is the source for this, but there it's all veggier-than-thou and a huge mass of work: you have to individually fry up tortillas, make a sauce from scratch, etc. But when you break down the recipe, you realize that it's what to do with the leftovers from any Mexican food party: crushed-up tortilla chips layered with salsa, cheese, and any taco-meat, then filled up with an egg-milk custard and baked till it bubbles.
In short, it's a process parallel to UTOPia, that is, SOB, the Stale Object of Breadness. All cultures that invent bread will wake up one morning after a party and find lot of stale bready (or bread-like) objects lying about. What to do? So bread pudding, French toast, panzanella, rebollita, bruschetta (the greatest boon to restaurants, ever), etc.
In this case, we did do some extra work. We bought fresh poblano chiles, and roasted them; and we made chorizo out of a recipe from the Southwest Tastes cookbook. We actually had no idea what exactly we were going to do with them when we made them earlier in the week, but then inspiration hit. They got layered in a casserole along with a better brand of bottled cilantro salsa, a heap of Colby-jack cheese, and plenty of crushed chips. On top of the layers, you pour a custard made from three eggs beaten into a cup of milk. It's usually topped with shredded cheese, but in this case the thin strips of poblano looked lovely. It baked for about an hour at the People's Temperature. Strangely enough, despite all the salted chips, it needed more salt.

Cretan Squid with Fennel, Sorrel, and Spinach

Monday April 2
This recipe came from Paula Wolfert's book, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. It was prompted by the fact that we had some braised fennel left from last week, and a nice bunch of sorrel growing in the garden. So we picked up a bag of wholesale Spongebob Squarepants Spinach at Findlay Market, and a batch of the big frozen squid steaks at Trader Joe's.

The prep is a tad odd. You cut the big giant squid into rubber bands, then cook—without oil—in a frying pan, until the squid stops oozing—I mean giving off liquid. Impolitely push the squid to one side, and only then add oil. Fry up some onion in the oil and then add chopped fennel. Braise it for ten minutes then add about 1/2 lb. each of spinach and sorrel to wilt. Add a splash of wine, a TBSP of fresh dill, cover and cook forever, or until the squid is tender, about 40 minutes. (The rule with squid is under 3 minutes or over 30, otherwise it is rubber bands). Since we had already braised the fennel, we just added it in the last five minutes or so. This was outstanding. We had been apprehensive that the spinach would overwhelm the sorrel, but in fact it extended it. Lovely, fresh, and flavorful.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Holy Ravioli

1 April
This is no joke. Palm Sunday is the day of the semi-annual Italian Dinner at the Scared Heart Church, which we've already written about here.
It's always nice to go with friends, so we set out with Kathy and Julie at 2 PM on what turned out to be a sunny spring day. Holt wore his Italian Olympics tie, and along with our tupperware we carried some Bocce Zinfandel, with a very appropriate grape-box label. And mighty fruity it was too.

This was an extra-special dinner, because for the first time the shouting maitre-d' ("WE GOT TWO FOURS!") sent us to a table on the dais, so we got to be up close and personal with the mural that dominates the church hall. It turns out that the Bishop in the center of it is the Blessed John Scalabrini, because this is a Scalabrinian church, and they're all to do with immigrants (Mother Cabrini is there as well, not to mention the Indians - though they're not immigrants).
The ravioli were wondrous and overflowing as ever; I think you get about 25 per plate, still with the traditional cheese and spinach filling. But instead of the one giant meatball, they are making them smaller and giving out three per plate, which definitely improves the sauce:meatball ratio. Salad before, and ice cream and oatmeal cookie afterward, are just diversions.
We finished off our tupper of leftover ravioli that evening at our more normal dinnertime. And of course we got a box of fifty to stash in the freezer. Let's hope it holds us till the next Italian dinner, in October.

Orzotto of Asparagus

Saturday 31 March
Orzotto is to orzo "barley" as risotto is to riso "rice." We coined it, so we thought, to describe this dish from the April 2007 Gourmet, but it turns out to be a real Italian word, and perchè no?
Here's the link.
We admired the determination to get every last drop of asparagussy (asparaganserine?) goodness, and liked everything about it but the hazelnuts, which fought with the subtlety of the flavors and added an unnecessary extra chewiness to an already pleasantly chewy dish. Also note, if you're going to puree the asparagus in the food processor anyways, just toss the garlic in first, with a pinch of kosher salt to help it grind (acts as grit and absorbs the garlic juice).

Scallops on Melted Leeks

Friday 31 March
Some lovely big scallops at Krogers, so we tried this recipe from Epicurious.
Here it is, with annotations:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon drained capers, patted dry
2 1/2 cups dry white wine

7 whole peppercorns

3 shallots, thinly sliced

2 fresh thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup whipping cream
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, cut into pieces

5 leeks, chopped (white and pale green parts only; about 4 cups) 

3/4 cup water

1/3 cup (packed) chopped fresh chives
1 pound sea scallops
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy small skillet over medium heat. Add capers; sauté until crisp, about 1 minute. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.

[Don't bother: first the capers don't ever actually crisp up; second, they're going to get stirred back into a cream sauce.]

Boil wine and next 4 ingredients in small saucepan over medium heat until liquid is reduced to 3 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Add cream; boil until liquid is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. (Capers and sauce can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

[Read on to the end. Notice that the recipe leaves the bay leaf, crunchy little pepper corns, etc., until AFTER you've added cream and monter au beurre. Obviously forgot the "press on the solids" stage. The bay leaf is an off flavor for a cream sauce in any case, and the shallots are part of the sauce. Instead, toss in the thyme sprigs and fish them out when the wine is reduced. Add a grind of pepper, and the tarragon AT THE BEGINNING. Take off the heat, and then you've got a lovely sauce, ready to be enriched.]

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and 3/4 cup water. Simmer until leeks are tender and almost all water evaporates, about 4 minutes. Mix in chives. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer leek mixture to platter. Tent with foil.

[1. COVER the leeks. 2. Cook FIFTEEN minutes. 3. What's the deal with the platter? Just keep warm in the FRYING PAN you've already got dirty!]

Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in another heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add scallops; sauté until cooked, about 2 minutes per side. Arrange atop leeks. Tent with foil.

[Again, what's with the foil?]

Reheat sauce over medium heat. Gradually add 6 tablespoons butter; whisk until smooth, about 1 minute (do not boil). Strain sauce into small bowl. Stir in capers and tarragon. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon over scallops.

[DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES REHEAT THE SAUCE, which will only cause the butter to melt, rather than emulsify. Put the leeks on heated plates, like normal people, put the scallops on top, montez the sauce with butter, which will take about a minute, and eat it. Jeez! By the way, the capers do nothing for the dish.]

Barbecue Pork

Thursday 30 March
The last of Barbara's Big Ol' Butt. Pulled, doused in some of Mr. Pig's barbecue sauce, hotted up, on nice Kathy's nice bread.
Mighty good eatin' (the apostrophe adds extra flavor).

Penne alla Saffi

Wednesday 29 March 2007
All right, so maybe we do have this every week.
Monday Feb. 19, 2006
Saturday Jan. 13, 2006
Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006