Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Final Days of My Great Adventure: Why-O Why-O did I not see Milano...before now...and Sofia Minciotti's recipe for Pasta e Fagioli (and it's Gluten-Free!)

The Duomo all lit up on a Sunday night.
Sofia Minciotti's Gluten-Free Pasta e Fagioli
Italy outside the Freccia's windows

Once I left the Viking Star in Venice, I travelled across Northern Italy by bullet train to Milano, or so I hoped.  Unfortunately, a World War II bomb was discovered at Brescia, which is right on the route. The train was re-routed and instead of the 2 ½ hours it was meant to take, it was well past noon when I arrived.    

Monday, December 28, 2015

James Beard’s Roast Beef Hash

I just wish this looked as good as it tastes
You have just landed on the most popular post ever on Chewing the Fat.  It's been read 19,245 times and counting. It is so popular in our house, that I was promptly dismissed when I suggested to Andrew that I wanted to try a new version using this Christmas' Roast Beef to make it.  Stick to the original recipe I was told, in no uncertain terms.   Now I love this recipe, truly I do, so I am reprinting it exactly as it first appeared.  But before you rush off and cook it, you might want to have a look at another hash recipe that celebrates the Fifth Birthday of Chewing the Fat. You'll find it here:  But me, I am sticking with the original recipe, because I know what's good for me. 

Joe Beef's Veal Pojarski
This week, the New York Times’ Dining Section featured a front-page article entitled “Lucky to Be a Leftover”.   In it were some remarkable ideas from people all over who made meatballs from holiday hams (no recipe on that one and boy, did I want it!), to Veal Pojarski, made from diced roasted veal, pork or beef and a specialty of those two Montreal Chefs-of-the-Moment, Joe Beef’s own Dave McMillan and Frederic Morin.  The Montrealers go all the way to sticking a roasted bone in the resultant meatball.  The thing looks phenomenally good.  But to me, the best thing to do with the gorgeous centerpiece from our Christmas Day table, our standing Rib Roast of Beef, is to make Roast Beef Hash.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review of Jacques Pépin's "Heart and Soul in the Kitchen" and his superb recipe for Spinach Stuffed Pork Chops


I am a cookbook enthusiast and reader.  While I may troll the Internet instead of my bookshelves to find a recipe that is in one of the hundreds of cookbooks we own, I still get great pleasure from reading a great cookbook from start to finish.  In this case, even as a long time fan of Jacques Pépin and owner of at least ten cookbooks that the chef has already written, I can say this is my favorite cookbook of the year.  The reason is simple and can be found in the title.  M. Pepin has gone back to his roots and his memories and infused every page with his philosophy on life and of food. And oh what food!  Simple, direct, delicious. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts

I like cooking Chinese food at home.  And I had an overwhelming desire to do so after my stay in Milano last month.  My Italian ‘sister’, Sofia has a real problem with gluten.  This, unfortunately, removes a great deal of Italian food from her diet. So when I wanted to take Sofia and her husband, Mario, out to dinner she chose a local Chinese restaurant in the Art Deco district of Milan where she lives.   This was not necessarily a good sign since I had not see one Asian face in the neighborhood until we arrived at the family-run restaurant.  Sofia is so off gluten, she actually brings her own sauté pan fearing that some hint of flour may be left in the restaurant’s pans.  And how was the food?  Quite possibly the worst Chinese food I have ever tasted.  And you have to go a long way to ruin Chinese food—especially its stir-fries, which aside from chopping and prepping, are among the easiest things on earth to cook.  And today’s Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts, wildly popular in this country, is no exception. You can be forgiven if the name is unfamiliar to you.  That’s because in America, it’s more often called Kung Pao chicken. And interestingly, it’s not terribly popular in China.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dry Rubbed Flank Steak with Grilled Corn Salsa from Chef Brian Luscher in Bon Appetit Magazine


Chef Brian Luscher

         We’re not eating nearly as much beef as we used to.  But that doesn’t mean we’ve given it up altogether.  These days, when I do cook beef, I like it to really give it flavor.  When I saw this recipe from Chef Brian Luscher I was intrigued by the spicy and sweet rub he’d invented for Flank steak, one of my favorite cuts because it starts out with great beefy flavor.  

         Chef Luscher owns a restaurant in Dallas TX called Luscher’s Red Hots (2653 Commerce St., Deep Ellum, Dallas Tel: 214 434 1006). I digress at this point because I found Chef Luscher’s menu intriguing. I don’t know whether I need to tell you but a Red Hot is a hot dog, generally hailing from Chicago.  An all beef frankfurter, what stands out about a Chicago Red Hot is not necessarily the dog itself but what surrounds it: Stuffed into a poppy seed
Chef Luscher's take on a Red Hot
bun, the hot dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. You’ll note that all that’s missing is Ketchup.  In Chicago, there’s a strong belief that ketchup is an unacceptable condiment for a hot dog. Apparently, many Chicago hot dog vendors do not even offer ketchup. I note that on Chef Luscher’s menu, there’s a line that reads “Ketchup’s over on the counter”.   This breach of Chicago etiquette likely prompted the tagline: “Taste Texas Chicago Style”. In Texas, I assume ketchup is permissible. And while Chef Luscher put ketchup on his counters, he did not put his Dry Rubbed Flank Steak on the menu. I cannot think why not.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A simple Grilled Chicken Dinner with Arugula and Warm Chickpeas


         The grill has long since been put away.  But the grill pan does an admirable job of crisping the skin and giving us, if not the real thing, a taste of summer.  In this easy dish that takes under 30 minutes to make, the crispy chicken is pared with the pepper-y bite of arugula and soft warm chickpeas.  It’s also one of those dishes that don’t require a batterie de cuisine to make.  You warm the chickpeas in a skillet with some thyme and red pepper flakes.  You grill the chicken until it’s browned and charred to your liking.  Then you toss the arugula with the chickpeas, some lemon zest and lemon juice and you’re done.  Drizzle the dish with some extra virgin olive oil and your best sea salt and serve. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wild Mushroom, Cheese and Sausage Tart

         I have sung the praises of The East End Mushroom Company more than once.  I have the greatest affection for Jane Maguire and John Quigley who have put heart and soul into their company.  They now offer shiitake, maitake and blue oyster mushrooms grown right in their ‘farm’ in Cutchogue, NY.  And they very often ‘import’ other seasonal varieties for the “Mushroom Capital of the World”, Kennett Square, PA. These include more exotics like Velvet Pioppinis, White/Brown Beeches, along with more familiar Creminis and Portobellos. Their mushrooms are so good, I constantly keep an eye out for any recipe requiring mushrooms just so I can use them.  Now they’ve started selling dried mushrooms. Go to their website, and see how you can buy their mushrooms.  They make a great gift for all the cooks on your list.  Or save them for yourself.  Then you can come home and make this tart, of my own invention, I am happy to say, with their terrific mushrooms. Wild Mushroom, Cheese and Sausage Tart.  You can cut the finished in quarters and serve it for lunch or a light supper. Or you can cut it into two-inch squares and make a perfect hors d’oeuvre for holiday entertaining.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Day Fifteen of My Great Viking Adventure Part 2: Que c'est triste Venise

         The last port of call on Viking Star’s Mediterranean Odyssey was Venice.  Beautiful Venezia, La Serenissima, so-called because the once all-powerful city state was referred to in Italian as the Most Serene Republic of Venice or Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia. No matter how many times I have been there, the city fascinates me, captivates me and entrances me in a way no other place on earth does.  But always in Venice, beneath its breathtaking beauty, there is a hint of melancholy.  And this trip was no different.  Except here part of the sadness was that this was indeed the end of our amazing voyage.        
Viking Star at anchor off Monte Carlo 
I cannot remember any ship with a more devoted and extraordinary crew.  There is simply nothing that they cannot do for you.  They come from all over the world and they are universally gracious and kind.   I interviewed their leaders and it becomes crystal clear that the ship lives by the motto “Happy Crew, Happy Ship”.  It was thrilling to know that Viking Ocean, registered in Norway, with its corporate headquarters in
My favorite bartender, Dejan
from Montenegro
Switzerland, abides by labor laws that are unheard of on other lines.  There are, I was told, 1000 applications for each position on board.  There’s a test taken to assure compatibility with Viking’s ideals.  The crew are well cared-for and therefore they care for the passengers.  It’s hard to express how much I will miss them. 
My friends Mary (l.) and Esther Lee (r.)
flanking an unknown man wearing my
shirt and sweater.
Then there are the on-board friendships that are made. Some will last the cruise, some will go on far after it is over.  So this last day in Venice is a chance to say goodbye.  And fortunately, Viking Ocean doesn’t ceremoniously drop you on the dock.  There’s the better part of a day to explore the city and come back home to the ship for your farewells and disembarkation the next day.
         No matter how many times I’ve been to Venice, there is always more to explore.  Viking offers any number of excursions for first time visitors to the city.  But I chose Hidden Venice.  In all honesty, the most hidden thing about the tour was that Venice, perpetually mobbed by tourists, was hidden by throngs of people. Our arrival on a glorious Saturday did not help.  Our guide was a wildly amusing older man but the sights were mostly very familiar. Only his monologue was original.   But I was with two great new friends
My favorite waiter, I Ketat, on
of 60 Balinese crewmembers
with whom I had been laughing out loud since Sailaway in Barcelona.  So it hardly mattered when, at the end of the tour,  when we’d gone off to have one last Aperol Spritz, we managed to miss our group vaporetto back to the ship and had to self-navigate, which turned out to be a perfect way to enjoy one last glorious sunset.
         With Charles Azvanour’s “Que c’est triste Venise” (How sad is Venice) playing in my mind, I packed my bags, had one last glorious dinner of ‘Fegato alla Venezia’  (Calf’s Liver Venetian-style) and slipped off to sleep dreaming about the final chapter in my glorious trip: A reunion in Milano with my entire Italian family: The La Ferla-Minciotti-Amatruda clan all together in one glorious place.

Charles Azvanour’s Lyrics to “Que c’est triste Venise”

Que c'est triste Venise
Au temps des amours mortes
Que c'est triste Venise
Quand on ne s'aime plus
On cherche encore des mots
Mais l'ennui les emporte
On voudrait bien pleurer
Mais on ne le peut plus
Que c'est triste Venise
Lorsque les barcaroles
Ne viennent souligner
Que les silences creux
Et que le coeur se serre
En voyant les gondoles
Abriter le bonheur
Des couples amoureux

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving Way Out West: The Remains of the Day...Turkey Tetrazini so good, you may want to roast another Turkey

         This is my absolute favorite Thanksgiving recipe.  It is such a favorite that I have been known to cook a turkey or turkey breast just to make it.  It also is a great sentimental favorite because it was one of the first pieces of food writing I ever had published In Saveur Magazine. And then there is its provenance: Our dear friend Michael Grim introduced me to its creator, Anne Jaindl, a family friend with whom Michael’s late father Bill had worked.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Day Fourteen of My Great Viking Adventure Part 2: Split and the Cetina River

A Bas-Relief Map of Roman Emperor Diocletian's Palace helps you get your bearings in Split         
The Bell Tower of the Cathedral of
St. Domnius dares from 1100 AD
When I was growing up there was a rivalry between my hometown of Montreal and the capital of English Canada, Toronto. This never made particular sense to me, as the argument that Toronto was inferior seemed to revolve solely around that city’s inability to drink alcoholic beverages on Sundays.  Or so my parents said.  It appears that in Croatia, a similar rivalry exists between Dubrovnik and Split, the two Dalmatian coast town Viking visits on its Mediterranean Odyssey. After considerable research, it seems to come down to this: Dubrovnik has altogether too many…cruise ship passengers.  Split on the other hand is ‘a real town’ where you can mingle freely with the locals.
Two Cruise Ships in Split: Viking Star
and Splendour of the Seas...the latter
just a little over 50 percent bigger than the Star
but with over twice as many passengers.
Oddly, on our visit to Dubrovnik, Viking Star was the only cruise ship in town, whereas in Split we were one of two.  The other carried twice the number of passengers we did and they were much in evidence in beautiful downtown Split. Nevertheless, I loved Split.  Just keep in mind that I never actually saw Dubrovnik.
         Split is dominated by an extraordinary structure.  The Roman Palace of the Emperor Diocletian
Diocletian's Palace 
dominates the entire center of the town. One of the oldest cities in the Mediterranean, Split is considered to be 1700 years old to coincide with the building of the Palace.  However, archeologists discovered evidence of a Greek colony that thrived in the 4th century BC.  Like so many places in this part of the world, Split has had many masters.  It was Byzantine then became part of the Republic of Venice, until Venice fell to Napoleon when it was given to the Hapsburgs of Austro-Hungarian fame.  With the fall of that Empire, in 1918, the city became part of Yugoslavia.  During World War II it was annexed by Italy until that country fell to Germany.  It went back to Yugoslavia after the war and finally in 1991, Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia following the Croatian War of Independence.  Phew.

The net effect of all these many masters over Millennia is seen in the Palace. It   has been added to and restored and reconstructed and contains architectural elements from a dazzling number of periods and styles.   But this is no monument to yesterdays.  It is a vibrant hub of city life, its shops and restaurants a fascinating mix of ancient doorways and mantels and decorative styles with up to the minute offerings in their windows.   You could spend hours just walking it’s narrow passageways, a new discovery around each corner.  And just outside its walls is a vibrant marketplace filled with produce of every description and clothing and bric-a-brac and flowers and plants.  I wandered here for the prescribed period of personal time and then joined the others for the second part of our Viking excursion: to the Cetina River and a boat ride to a tavern on one of its banks.
Driving to the town of Omis, where the Cetina empties into the Adriatic, the sea is on one side and mountains on 
Fishing Shacks on the Cetina,
a river known for its trout. 
the other.  It seems impossible to believe that any river could penetrate these massive walls of limestone but then you come to the Cetina.  We boarded boats for a thirty-minute ride up to Kaštel Slanica, a restaurant known for serving local specialties.  These include frogs, eels and trout from the river, and game—venison, boar and water hen-- from the forests.  I was disappointed to see that all that was on offer to us was a platter of ham and cheese, some rather good bread and red or white wines.  And in keeping with all
Kaštel Slanica
my culinary activities this cruise, the wine was served at about 11:00 in the morning.  As we approach the shank end of the cruise, several fellow passengers wondered what on earth they were going to do when not served wine every morning before 11:00. 
         We returned to Split, passing through the ‘modern’ side of the city, which features numerous buildings that would be at home in any Soviet bloc country.  Our guide, a fabulous woman named Lela, was quick to point out that Yugoslavia, while Communist, was not aligned with the Soviets and in fact had a complete break with them in 1948.         

After it’s war of Independence from the former Yugoslavia, Croatia remains socialist with staggering tax rates and an unfortunately unemployment rate hovering around 20 percent.  Still, I have to say that Split is full of luxury cars with Croatian plates and as we passed through the city on a sunny Friday afternoon, dozens of people crowded its coffee shops and outdoor venues looking as prosperous as can be.