Sunday, November 30, 2008

Smith Family Rapberry Pie

Wow, I’m still full. How bout you? Was your Thanksgiving good? I wish you could share your Thanksgiving Day get together stories with me. That aunt who drank too much or that uncle who fell asleep and snored loudly are just the best. Those stories never get old.

What did I do? Since you asked, I went to Phoenix. My brother, David, lives there. We haven’t seen each other in years so was great catching up. My mom and step dad were there too. Connie is David’s girlfriend and Thanksgiving dinner was at her family’s home. Although we were the outsiders, they were amazingly gracious and it was a terrific meal.

When 15 people finished eating all of this food, it still looked untouched. Wow, there was a lot.

As a foodie, I found it difficult to grasp the idea that I had no role in dinner. Sure I’ve been the guest before but I never quite acclimatize to it. Fortunately for me, Connie let me help put the Antipasto Salad together. Mom and I headed to the store to add a few items to what would have already been a delicious salad. Connie stacked it high with fresh, traditional deli meats so we just touched it with some wonderful caper berries, olives and roasted peppers. It was a great starter.

Connie's Antipasto Salad that she let Mom and I play with

And since I just can’t show up at someone’s house empty handed, I decided on a pie. Now of course this pie has a story. I first tasted the Smith Family Raspberry pie years ago at a Thanksgiving in northwest Ohio. My girlfriend’s family (The Smith family) considers Thanksgiving to be the big family get together; better than Christmas. And like most families, the recipes along with their presentations are traditional. Each year the same platter has the same white-meat-only turkey on it and the ham is perfectly arranged on another platter right next to it. The myriad of vegetables and side dishes are placed along side ready to go. If you took a picture of the buffet line 10 years ago or a few days ago, you would have a difficult time distinguishing the difference. On the back counter, that raspberry pie sits waiting for everyone to have their fill of the first rounds. Then it makes its way to the front counter, along with other wonderful desert offerings and another wave of feeding begins.

I like this pie for a couple of reasons. Mostly, because it’s sinfully delicious but also because it’s super easy. A web search of raspberry pie recipes produces a plethora of delicious looking but more complex offerings. This one though is set in a sweet raspberry cornstarch thickened base then chilled. No eggs and no baking. The raspberry taste is more pure and unencumbered. More importantly, just like at the Smith family Thanksgivings, it was a hit here too.

Since I like raising the bar, I decided to make a vanilla whipped cream. I knew the pie itself couldn’t be improved upon (although I do have a couple of ideas for future experimentation) so a topping seemed quite logical. Well folks, all I can say is… Oh… My… God!!! I will be making this again and soon. The pie is light and sweet and overwhelmingly raspberryish. It is a blend of summer berry picking and fall kitchen mastery. The heavy cream beat to a light, airy pillow with fresh vanilla seed is a special touch. Mounding the clouds of whipped cream atop the bright red pie, I then dot the top with fresh raspberries like little red gumdrops. This pie is straight off the Candy Land playing board that my daughter so loves.

My pie, a homemade Chocolate Mocha Torte from Adrian and my vanilla whipped cream

You have not before and you may not again see me write about desert. It’s just not my thing. This was different though. Man do I love this pie. I know we are all considering some 12 step program after the gluttonous holiday of last week, but you can prepare this for your family for Christmas and not have completely fallen off the wagon. Skip the whipped cream and the fat content is zero.

Smith Family Raspberry Pie with Vanilla Whipped Cream

For the pie

Pie Shell (I used a store bought version because I am NOT a baker. Do what you like here)
1 cup sugar
1½ cup water
¼ cup cornstarch
Dash salt
3 oz raspberry Jell-O
1½ qt berries. Add a few tbsp sugar to sweeten then sit aside 30 minutes. Drain juice.

Cook 1st 4 ingredients over medium heat stirring constantly. Once thicker and clear remove from heat and stir in Jell-O. Dissolve. Add raspberries and stir. Fill pie shell and chill. Should be set in about 2 hours.

For the topping

6 oz heavy whipping cream
1 whole vanilla bean (or 1 tsp good quality vanilla extract)
¼ cup sugar (adjust to desired sweetness)
10-12 fresh raspberries

If using a whole bean (recommended), split in two gently along the length of the bean. With your knife, scrape the black seeds out of the bean and add to a mixing bowl. Otherwise, just add the extract. Add the cream and sugar as well. Beat with an electric mixer until cream is firm (about 5 minutes). Heap atop pie so that it is about 1 inch thick. Reserve extra cream for guests. Arrange fresh berries atop. Slice and serve

Serves 8-10

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Columbia Restaurant

The historic original facade of the famous Columbia Restaurant

What a wonderful Saturday but I am feeling a bit guilty. How could I have gone this long? It feels wrong. Living in Tampa Bay, writing a food blog and not mentioning The Columbia Restaurant is utter dining heresy. While we do have plenty of good places to eat, we have very few “landmark” restaurants. We have almost no places with national recognition though, and we are simply not on the culinary map. There are just a couple of exceptions and in my mind The Columbia is at the top of the list. This nationally renowned and award winning establishment is at the heart of Tampa history and her story goes back to the roots of this young gulf coast city.

Not only do we need to talk about the food, but it's really important to know how intertwined The Columbia is to Tampa. Let’s look back, shall we? Although discovered by the western world in the early 1500’s, Tampa Bay was largely overlooked until the very late 1800’s. Settled then abandoned several times, it was remote with no overland passage, the handful of western settlers (well under 1000 until then) fought yellow fever regularly and the heat of summer was oppressive. It wasn’t until Henry B. Plant brought the railroad to Tampa after the discovery of phosphate that the area began to boon. With the railroad here, other businesses began to expand and the Tampa population grew exponentially. Notably, Vincente Martinez Ybor moved his entire cigar making operation from Key West to a small factory area annexed from the city of Tampa in 1885. With tobacco resources easily shipped over the Gulf of Mexico from Cuba and good rail lines into the US interior, Ybor City was a major economic center for Tampa.

While Ybor City has changed over the century, it remains a historic landmark with some of the old cigar factories still here. At night, it is Tampa’s party scene. Clubs and bars that line 7th Street are well renowned night spots and southwest Florida’s youth flock here from miles around. During the day, shops and galleries make the area a bit more artisan and family oriented. It’s a community that has something for everyone. Smack dab in the middle of the historic area sits The Columbia Restaurant. Opened in 1905 by Casimiro Hernandez Sr., it is the oldest operating restaurant in the area. It has remained owned and operated by the same family for over 100 years. Although nestled in the heart of the Cuban cigar making neighborhood, Hernandez served traditional Spanish cuisine and his business was brisk. Even with several economic blows to the Tampa Bay area over the years, I can find no evidence of troubled economic times for The Columbia.

So last weekend, I had a dilemma. Lisa needed some peace and quiet to work on a school project (yet another 40-something back in college) and I had a houseful of company slated to visit. My step dad, James, was flying in from DC on a business trip and it was my weekend to be with my son Evan. Plus, Olivia being around is never conducive to getting study done. So we needed to be out of the house. After getting James from the airport in the late morning, the Columbia idea came to me. I remembered reading that it was voted “Best Place to Take an Out of Town Visitor” by a local website. Off to Ybor City we went.

Now I hadn’t been to this place in quite some time; probably 15 years. Shame on me. I mean, it’s not horribly close but there’s just no excuse for a true foodie not to visit annually. The history surrounds you, captivates you even. While certainly expanded over the years, each of the 15 dining rooms remains largely original in their appearance enhancing the experience. Here are three of them:

Unoriginally named the Red Room

Don Quixote Room

Cafe Dining Room

We were seated in the Patio Dining Room which was added in 1937 and designed to resemble a typical patio in southern Spain.

Beutiful decor in the Patio Dining Room

Olivia and I

The attention to detail in the architecture is astounding. It immediately gets your attention with beautifully arranged mosaic tiles and a wrap around balcony with an ornate and period bannister. So does the lovely fountain in the center of the room. The ceiling is retractable with a sheer covering so natural light is always part of the dining experience.

We settled in, ordered a beer and casually perused the menu. The first thing that captured my attention was the prices. In this elaborate space with ample and justified opportunity to present over-inflated menu prices, the Columbia offers fantastically authentic Spanish fare at prices consistent with the original working-class, cigar making neighborhood that surrounds it. My 13 year old son, Evan, got a kick out of using the 3 or 4 words he knows in Spanish with our waiter, who was perfectly gracious.

Our waiter helping Evan order

As I usually do, I asked for a recommendation. The waiter suggested a Sea Bass that was new to the menu. He said it was getting rave reviews and has fast become the most popular dish. That’s all I needed to hear. Turns out James wanted the same. Evan ordered a club sandwich that 6 Evans couldn’t have finished and Olivia (sticking to her true, non adventurous self) wanted the chicken strips. For an appetizer, I had 4 jumbo char grilled shrimp and Evan had Empanadas. Now these shrimp were the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. These were representative of the gorgeous and hearty Gulf of Mexico shrimp that we don’t see served enough. Perfectly seasoned and drizzled with lime, it was served with a tangy sauce that was dubbed “1905” sauce presumably because it was 1st served by Mr. Hernandez in 1905.

The pic does not do the size of these monsters justice

I tasted Evan’s Empanadas. The crust on these Latin meat pies was absolutely perfect and the beef filling was seasoned to perfection with traditional South American spices. If you are interested in making Empanadas or just reading about them, I write about them here.

Once the fish came, I was again impressed. Spiced, seared then topped with beautifully cooked onions with oregano and olive oil, this fish was succulent. James and I agreed the waiter hit the mark with this recommendation. Accompanied with a traditional Spanish rice, this portion was absolutely perfect. Being only lunch, we needed to be able to continue to move so we decided to skip desert, although the Flan was calling. Another time.

Delicious Sea Bass topped with Onions, Oregano and Olive Oil

We continued to stay away from the house by going to a museum and the zoo but I couldn’t help but reflect on the snapshot in time that is The Columbia Restaurant. I just felt as though we could have been sitting there in the early part of the last century and it wouldn’t have looked any different. The casual and relaxed lunch crowd accompanied by stunning visual surroundings and excellent food is unparalleled. Any trip to Tampa really has to have a stop here and if you are from Tampa, you must go.

What a wonderful Saturday we had.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


When it comes to food, nothing is really out of bounds for me. If someone eats it for sustenance somewhere on the planet, I think I’d try it. I occasionally watch Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel and he has a show where he eats some bizarre foods. In fact, it’s called Bizarre Foods. I have to admit, I occasionally think he’s eating something I might have trouble swallowing but that makes him my hero even more. From bugs to brains, this guy has no culinary boundaries.

While that might be a little extreme for me, there are many things I’ll try that many of my contemporaries are not fond of. When I talk about black pudding (blood sausage) from England or Haggis (sheep organs, oats and spices boiled in sheep’s stomach) from Scotland, grimaces begin to form on the faces of even my foodie friends. I feel very alone.

What if we tame it down a bit though? OK let’s try. Can we agree that sushi is yummy? Yes? OK good. That’s a start. If sushi is also out of your comfort zone, stop reading this now and go get a very well done steak. That should make you feel better. OK sushi haters should be gone now. Let’s go to the next level. What about Steak Tartar? Have you tried it? Would you try it? Well if you would, I’ll tell you how. First of all, try it at a restaurant. If you are scared of raw meat, best to not actually work with it the first time. After you fall in love with the buttery texture and herbaceous, beefy flavor combination, then give this a go at home. It couldn’t be simpler and you don’t need a super high end cut of meat. I used flank steak for this. Certainly filet would be fantastic but I just didn’t have one. Part of the trick is in the size of the actual cubes. I make then as small as possible.

I’d guess that you could fit 8-10 of them on a teaspoon. Pretty small, eh? Now you might think a food processor would do well but that creates hamburger. Hamburger tartar does not sound appealing to me but does have other applications (just ask McDonalds). I would guess (but I am not entirely sure) a more marbled cut of meat would actually be less desirable here. While that marbling creates the silkiness in a cooked steak, I think one might find it less appealing as raw fat. Just a thought. Using olive oil takes the marbling’s place for flavor. I made this and thought it was heaven. So much so, I did it a couple of times. The meat that I used was extremely lean and it was perfect. I actually am looking forward to exploring some other cuts of beef. I’ll report back.

On to more raw foods. So the next morning as I was trying to figure out what to make for breakfast, another light bulb went off. The original inspiration came from something I saw on TV although I don’t recall what show. So here I made a very simple but luxurious pasta (yes, pasta for breakfast); well seasoned and drizzled with olive oil, fresh parsley, parmesan cheese then topped with a slightly warmed egg yolk. Breaking it and twirling that golden delicious yolk into the ribbons of angel hair pasta was sinfully rich and decadent. What a great start to the day.

OK so hey. These aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but I found them to be wonderful, simple and reproducible. If you are adventurous at all, give it a go.

Here are the 2 recipes from my adaptations. You’ll find that the tartar takes only about 10 minutes and there are no pots or pans to scrub and the pasta takes about as long as it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta, 10-15 minutes, tops.

Simple and Fresh Steak Tartar

10 oz flank steak (Filet Mignon would be great too but less economical)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp finely chopped shallot
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
½ tsp lemon juice or vinegar (I used a Thai chili infused vinegar)
1 tbsp drained capers.

Put the steak in the freezer for a short time (15 minutes, maybe) so that it can be sliced into very small cubes. Once chopped combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to evenly mix all parts. It would be best to let sit in refrigerator for an hour, then let rest for 10 minutes at room temperature before serving.

To serve, divide mixture into 4 perfectly round glasses (I used my daughter’s Disney cups) and invert onto a plate. If you have a ring mold, that would work great.

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Angel Hair with Olive Oil and Egg

1 lb angel hair pasta
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
3-4 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
4 tbsp (or so) fresh grated parmesan cheese
4 egg yolks separated

Preheat broiler. Bring six cups of salted water to a boil. Add angel hair pasta and cook until al dente (approximately 4-5 minutes). Drain and place into mixing bowl. Add the salt pepper and oil and mix well.

Divide evenly onto 4 plates and sprinkle the parsley and cheese also evenly between the plates. In individual small vessels such as ramekins, place each egg yolk under the broiler for just a short time (30 sec-1 minute). Now place each yolk atop each plate.

Tell your guests to break the yolk and mix into the pasta before eating. They will be in heaven.

Serves 4

Friday, November 14, 2008

Upcoming Event

I received an email this week that I found a bit exciting. Our local PBS station has asked the Tampa Bay food blogging community (both of us, HA! Actually there are at least a dozen by my count) to help plug an upcoming event. It’s at an odd time of day for me but I am going to try to go. I’m not much of a baker and could use the inspiration. Here are the details from the website or you can check it out yourself here.

$45 per person, plus two cans of unopened food, which will be donated to America’s Second Harvest. Admission includes an autographed copy of the recently published America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book (retail value $34.95).

As you begin to prepare for the holidays, it’s always a good idea to get tips and tricks from the experts. Join WEDU as we bring our programming to life with Jack Bishop, tasting lab expert on public television's hit show America's Test Kitchen and new series Cook's Country. This special event will get you ready for baking this season.

You’ll have the chance to sample the test kitchen's three favorite holiday cookies; learn which baking gear the test kitchen's experts recommend—and why; participate in a blind taste-test of premium dark chocolates and receive the test kitchen's holiday gift giving guide to top-rated kitchen equipment and gourmet foods. Set in a professional culinary school, this event is a unique opportunity to get ready for the hectic season ahead.

Jack Bishop is the editorial director of America's Test Kitchen. He joined the staff of Cook's Magazine in 1988 and helped with the launch of Cook's Illustrated in 1993. He established the tasting protocols used in America's Test Kitchen and has authored dozens of articles for the magazine. Jack directed the launch of Cook's Country magazine and oversees editorial operations at both magazines. He is a cast member of America's Test Kitchen, the top-rated public television cooking show now in its seventh season. Jack edited The Best Recipe (1999) and established the book division at America's Test Kitchen. He is the author of several cookbooks, including A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen, Vegetables Every Day, The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, Pasta e Verdura, and Lasagna.

America’s Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full-time cooks and product testers. Their mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, they test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until they arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe.

Their recipes, equipment ratings, taste test results, and kitchen tips are made available through their magazines, cookbooks, Web sites, and PBS television series, America’s Test Kitchen Cook’s Country, seen on WEDU Saturday’s at 1:30 pm.

Sweet Potatoes with a Kick

This is my 1st ever holiday season as a blogger and am I ever excited. I mean, for us foodies, the whole year is filled with exploration of tastes, smells and new concoctions all in the quest for culinary nirvana but the holidays brings “foodism” to the mainstream. Friends and relatives, who know my passion for the subject, call and ask for my advice on Thanksgiving side dishes or they need an explanation as to what exactly a “crown roast” of something is.

In the next week, I think I’ll give you one or 2 past holiday successes for easy additions to your Christmas or Thanksgiving repertoire. The thought of the first one began at our last Rhode Island dinner gathering. Tina asked for a simple side dish recipe for her family gathering. Frankly, I hadn’t thought of the holiday meals yet nor had I explored any of the rags (magazines) that I usually peruse at holiday time (speaking of which, my Bon Apetit expired and I missed the Thanksgiving issue all together… Uhhhg!!! Fortunately, my December issue just arrived). So after thinking for a short while, I recalled a recipe from a few years back that was a hit then and has been on the occasions that I’ve made it since. It is so simple in fact that I’m almost embarrassed to bring it to you as a feature but I am nonetheless. It is also so simple that I hope you can see all of the potential variations to suit your particular taste. Prep time is almost zero and the compound butter can be made the day before.

The Sweet Potato is a wonderful holiday canvas for numerous side dishes and I think I’ve made most of them. Also known as a Yam here in the states, it is actually only a very distant cousin to the actual Yams of Asia and Africa and has only a slight relationship to the potato as well. That might account for the unique sweet flavor of this tuberous root. The Sweet Potato enjoys a perennial season and morphs through several edible stages during its life cycle. We harvest and enjoy them when their flesh is a bright tasty orange.

Compound butter is butter blended with anything that you think tastes good and can be put on anything you like. Here is my suggestion for a fantastic Thanksgiving compound butter that can be served with Baked Sweet Potatoes. The spicy chipotle peppers combined with sweet molasses and luxurious butter pays a perfect homage to the hearty and flavorful sweet potato.

Here we go.

Baked Sweet Potato with Chipotle-Molasses Butter

4 large Sweet Potatoes
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1-2 chipotle peppers (smoked red jalapenos found in the latin section of most grocery stores), finely chopped
1 tsp adobo sauce (from the peppers)
2 tbsp molasses
½ tsp salt
A few tbsp chives or mint for garnish, chopped (if desired)

Bake potatoes in 350 degree oven until fork tender, approximately 40 minutes.

While potatoes are baking thoroughly mix the rest of the ingredients. Chill.

Once the potatoes are done, split in half and fluff the soft flesh with a fork so that the butter can melt down in to potato. Place 2 tbsp of the compound butter atop the potato and serve.

Garnish with mint or chives or both.

Optional serving: If you with to pass the butter for folks to add to the potato themselves, here’s a cool trick for serving. Take a piece of plastic wrap and lay it on a work surface. Lay the room temperature compound butter mix in the center and shape like a log. Roll the plastic wrap like a sushi roll an twist the ends tightly until compact. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Can be made the day before. Now you have a butter that is presentable and fits neatly into a serving dish.

Quick variations could be:

If folks don’t like spicy, make some cinnamon butter in a similar fashion.
Caramelized onion or shallot atop potato with plain butter.

Have fun and please, someone try this and report back.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Truly Historic Night

What a night. Men and women who were clinging to hopes that things would turn out exactly as they prayed stood next to each other with anxious countenance. All of the preparation and hard work would culminate in this moment; a moment that I will not soon forget. This was Tuesday, November 4, 2008 and we were making history. We were having our first dinner at Michele’s house. I’m sorry. Did you think I was talking about the election itself? Well, I have yet to begin “Louis loves politics” dot com. In fact, I found the last month of the election to be superfluous; I voted by absentee weeks ago. The opportunity to change my mind with a moving TV ad or last minute campaign revelation was long gone. Instead, I cooked.

Michele hosted but was reluctant to have our group dinner at her house. Not because she was ashamed of anything. On the contrary, she has a fantastic little house in Narragansett, just rock throwing distance from the beach. Reminiscent of Ina Garten’s Hamptons retreat, it is a perfect example of what a New England house should be. She was worried that her place was too small and her kitchen too inadequate. I guess she doesn’t cook much. Well just to set the record straight, there was plenty of room for the 7 of us and there was an extra place setting for Tim, who had a late conference call with Asia and couldn’t make it. As far as the kitchen goes, it was just fine. There was plenty of room for both Noel and I to work; and work we did. A couple of months ago I asked Noel to help me with the chopping to save time. Little did I know, he was an accomplished kitchen steward but more on that in a minute.

Since Michele was concerned that her kitchen was too bare bones to cook and I had not been there, I decided for just simple ingredients and easy preparation. I started with the idea of Cornish Game Hens with Rosemary and Goat Cheese. Aside form salt, pepper and a bit of butter for basting, the entire ingredient list is in the title. I thought it was delicious and this photo makes me think Patty liked it too.

The origin of these little birds dates back only to the middle of the past century. While more than one farm claims responsibility for initially breeding these little chickens, we can safely say that sometime in the late 50’s and early 60’s, the first Cornish Game Hens came out of the Northeastern US. The idea was to get a fantastic tasting meat but cut the maturation age of the bird down dramatically. Mission accomplished. Now I’ve cooked with these several times and they work exactly like chicken at about half the size. I typically serve half a bird per person. That has always seemed to work out. So if you enjoy roasted chicken, I suggest giving this little fowl a try.

I placed the roasted hen atop a bed of tiny French lentils cooked with strips of carrot and red onion. They were amazingly delicate and together embodied the type of dish you might take in front of a fireplace and enjoy. Unfortunately though, I found my butter roasted potatoes to be bland and undercooked but no one complained to my face. I like my friends. I will not mention them again.

Look what Noel did? OMG was this good!!

Typically I would just share the recipe with you now and be done with my post. However, Noel’s salad commands discussion. He took it from and I’ll adapt it for you below. Like me, Noel lives far from the Rhode Island office and in the back yard of his Tucson, Arizona home there is a Pomegranate tree. Carting along a few of these fantastic fruit with him, he chose to contribute to our meal with this. It was just perfect. Citrus and Pomegranate were made for each other and the vibrant red arils (seeds) are natures sweet-tart. I loved this salad and I will make it at home. I am learning much from my vegetarian friend.

So here was our election night menu. A new day is truly dawning.

All recipes serve 4.

Spinach, Tangerine and Fennel Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
(Adapted from website )

For the vinaigrette:

¼ cup arils from 1 large Pomegranate
⅓ cup olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
⅛ tsp cinnamon

For the salad:

1 cup Pomegranate juice
3 tangerines, peeled and separated into slices
¼ cup granulated sugar (optional)
4-5 cups fresh spinach leaves
½ cup thinly sliced fennel
¼ cup thinly sliced red onions
Fennel ferns for garnish

Score 1 fresh pomegranate and place in a bowl of water. Break open the pomegranate under water to free the arils (seed sacs). The arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the membrane will float to the top. Sieve and put the arils in a separate bowl. Reserve ¼ cup of the arils from fruit and set aside. (Refrigerate or freeze remaining arils for another use.) Place tangerines in a bowl with 1 cup pomegranate juice and sugar if desired. Allow to marinate 30 to 45 minutes. Drain tangerines; reserve ⅓ cup of the marinade for vinaigrette. Mix ⅓ cup reserved pomegranate marinade with the other vinaigrette ingredients and shake together in a tightly covered container. Divide spinach, fennel and red onion on 4 salad plates. Divide tangerine slices on salad and dress with 1 to 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette per serving. Garnish with fennel ferns.

The website recipe describes an alternative by making fresh juice from the arils. That’s what Noel did with this salad and it was amazing. I chose to share the shorter version. I have cooked with Pomegranate juice many times and I find it wonderful. You choose.

Cornish Game Hens with Rosemary and Goat Cheese

2 Cornish Game Hens
6 oz room temperature goat cheese
6 tbsp fresh Rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp (½ stick) butter (for basting)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend the Rosemary and goat cheese together in a bowl. Wash the hens and pat dry. Salt and pepper generously both inside and out. Working with your hands, lift up the skin of the hen around the breast and thighs to form a pocket. Work the goat cheese and Rosemary mixture into these pockets. This gets messy. Do not work about any of the cheese that gets into the bird or on the outside of the skin. This will only enhance the flavor. Place in a roasting pan and into the oven for an hour to an hour and a half until a meat thermometer reaches about 160 degrees. About half way through the oven time, baste with the melted butter.

Lentils with Carrot and Red Onion

1 cup dried lentils
4 medium carrots, peeled and cleaned
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste.

To make the lentils, follow the package directions on the bag that you purchase because they can vary. I bought these beautiful small French lentils at a specialty store and simply boiled them in salted water for about 30 minutes. Using a vegetable peeler, I whittled strips off the carrots and added both the carrots and the onions in the last 5 minutes of the cooking process. This leaves the individual flavors of the onion and carrot more pronounced. I liked it that way. Season as you like with salt and pepper.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Profanity, Cold and Lessons in French

Disclaimer: I didn’t take my camera this week so all photography was the result of Googling.

I love writing now. I believe in drawing people in with vivid description and witty prose. The beauty of language, fully taken advantage of, has always managed to engage me; make me feel a part of the writing. Conversely, cheap short cuts appall me. Profanity for example, while prolific in my daily life, is something I strictly avoid in writing. I just find that I’d rather lift you up to the writing than jab you with an easy way out. If you are wondering where I am going with this, I’ll tell you. I’m in Montreal. And FUCK its cold!!!!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about really enjoying the fall weather in Westerly, Rhode Island and Mystic, Connecticut. I think I mentioned that I was finally coming around to the notion that fall is a welcome time. I was wrong. The trees that once had a bright, crisp glow now look like spiked demons waiting to impale any careless passerby. Blue skies have been replaced by steel gray that I’m told will last for months. Suicide rates are on the rise due to depression and its only October (OK November by the time this is posted).

But in Montreal, thank god for the people and the food. I’m going out on a limb here because there are so many places I have yet to visit but Montreal might be the sexiest city on the planet. Frankly, the people are hot. Model hot. Magazine cover hot. So hot that people like Beyonce and Jessica Simpson would look at these people and say, “Wow they’re hot!” It is challenging to carry on a conversation with the women because they are so striking. I sat next to a local gentleman at a bar the other night who, with a little teeth bleaching, could have easily passed for George Clooney. And Montrealites can cook too. The districts surrounding St Laurent and St Denis are so filled with fantastic eateries that the bitter temperatures and a busy work week could not hinder my exploration.

One such place was Café Cherrier near my hotel on rue St-Denis. Stumbling across this little brasserie was a stroke of good fortune. As I walked the streets in this neighborhood (freezing my ass off and trying to look hot to blend in), I peered into the storefronts and chose the place that had the most people inside. That’s always a sign of a good gathering spot. Once seated at the bar, a tall thin man with a rich voice, salt and pepper hair and distinguishing features offered a resounding “Bonjour”. After establishing that this was the extent of my understanding of the French language, Phillo immediately switched over to English. I ordered a Canadian Club and accepted the English version of the menu. I have found that most restaurants in Montreal will have an English version although sometimes you have to ask it.

The chap sitting to my left, a pleasant, smiling, middle aged gentleman who was engaged in a lively conversation with folks to his left, turned to me and suggested I try to order in French and that I abandon the English menu. He went on to describe in a true story teller fashion how beautiful his native language was. According to Sam, the romance and passion of French was almost a necessity in courtship. Suddenly feeling a bit inadequate, I was ready to tackle this French menu. Fortunately for me, many food words have the same latin derivative, so there are enough similarities to sort of get by. Veau is veal and saumon is salmon, for example, but champipgnon are mushrooms so there are still landmines to negotiate. Then Phillo and Sam wanted me to order with the French pronunciation. While I required a bit of coaching, I eventually got out an appetizer and an Entrée.

As a starter, I once again enjoyed a Black Pudding, or Boudin Noir. Coming down off a black pudding kick in the UK, I found this French version to be more delicate, succulent and rich. That makes more sense really. Where British style (yes they do have a style and yes it can be tasty) is more hearty and warming, French tends to be more sophisticated and refined. This is by no means a negative to the British style at all but enough different that it bears description. So what I found to be a touch on the dry side in England was perfectly moist with a buttery flavor.

For my entrée I had pan fried veal liver with a medley of roasted squashes and whipped parsnip. The liver was perfectly rich and pate like. Each unctuous bite hinted of the rich nature of this delicacy. Sliced as thinly as possible and served with a simple pan sauce this was heavenly. Phillo suggested a French house mustard. Now in the states, the idea of serving raw mustard with a delicate high end entrée would be insulting but as pretentious as the French reputation is, the food is not. Flavor is never sacrificed for snootiness. I like that. The mustard was perfectly complimentary and light. Just hints of vinegar and wine that elevated this dish to another place. A place I’d like to spend more time.

So my conversation continued for what seemed like only moments but soon I realized a good bit of time had passed and a fair amount of Canadian Whiskey had been consumed. By the way, I do like our whiskey’s better. After jotting down a couple of must try restaurant choices from my new friends, I meandered (a far better word than staggered) back to my hotel to rest for what would be a grueling couple of work days.

I did try Sam and Philo’s other recommendations. They were fine places as well with interesting folks too but still, the challenge of the French menu and fantastic personalities I met at Café Cherrier were the highlight of this trip. Combine that with the youth and beauty seen in the people of Montreal, and for just a moment I can envision myself nestled into this community. Moments later I step out into the cold and windy street and I suddenly realize, “FUCK, its cold!”