Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pancetta and Beans, These Are the Days

Pancetta and Beans
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats

I don't know where I got the inspiration. Maybe it was somewhere in the magenta stems of the beautiful swiss chard I had brought home, or maybe it was the relative chill of the air conditioning in our place during this streak of humidity we've been having.
I didn't follow any recipe per se, and this being my maiden attempt of this dish my hopes were not so high. In spite of, or perhaps because of, my reduced expectations this dish was a warm charm on an overly air conditioned morning. And look - not only have I figured out how to use my macro lens, I have also discovered that there are significant advantages to taking pictures in adequate natural light. If only my urges to photograph my food came more often during the day I would receive fewer critical comments from onlookers - you know who you are!

For this, I simply sauteed 2 shallots and about half a head of garlic, chopped fine, in a couple of tablespoons each of butter and olive oil, a sprinkle of kosher salt and a couple of turns of the pepper grinder. After a couple of minutes I added about a third of a pound of diced pancetta, and let all of that cook together over medium heat for 5 more minutes or so. Meanwhile, I blanched a bunch of red swiss chard in salted water for about a minute, drained it and chopped it.
To the shallot, garlic, and pancetta mixture I added a big splash of white white - I think it was Straight Jacket Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend that I had onhand, languishing in the fridge, unloved - and let that cook down. Then I dumped in 2 cans of cannelini beans with their juice and the reserved chard. I added some grated romano cheese and some pepper and let it all come together for a couple more minutes on the heat. A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of more romano went on top. I think this would be delicious with some fresh basil or parsley and some simple crostini or toast points. Next time.
This would freeze well I think, if you happen to have any left. Odds are that we won't.

In other news, I have been actively fulfilling a recurrent lobster craving that won't leave me alone. Maybe I am getting geared up for the 4th of July - I can't get enough!
Yesterday we went to Cap'n Jack's on Succotash Road in East Matunuck and I had a fantastically steamed little critter, and today I repeated the deed at Quito's in Bristol. Both Quito's and Cap'n Jack's are among my top rated places for consistently perfectly cooked lobster. Hemenway's is on the list too - it's a short list, one I am very selectively building. I can think of a handful of places I have been to in recent years that have undercooked a simple steamed lobster - easy to tell with a female because the raw roe is black, not the coral of its namesake. Twice, in two different local restaurants that I had enjoyed previously on many occasions (McCormick and Shmick's and George's of Galilee, to be specific), I had to send the same lobster back two successive times because it was still not rectified - still not properly cooked. That's just inexcusable. I guess the third time may have been a charm, but I didn't wait around for that to happen. Enough was enough. But there are places that get it right. I have found 3, and I am happy.

Quito's was really busy today because of the free Bristol Fourth of July Concert Series that are happening in the little park next to the restaurant. There will be a different concert each night this week until the 4th. Last night was John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Tonight is David Foster & The Mohegan Sun All-Stars. They sounded really good during the sound check and rehearsal. We were digesting on the rocks and had the pleasure of listening to them (I also had the misfortune of sitting on gum). I love live music! It makes me so excited to hear it. It's such a thrill to be on stage. I miss it - it's been a while. Here's a link to their website

Last night we strolled down to Waterfire for the first time this season. It was a beautiful night, and Waterfire was busy! We bought some almonds and cashews from the Nutty Bavarian, and then got some samosas and a stir-fry from Taste of India's booth. We took that home to nosh on while watching the very first episode of Saturday Night Live that aired last night, in honor of George Carlin who hosted it. It was so amazing for me to see how young everyone was - Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Jane Curtin. Janis Ian sang 17! She didn't look much older than 17 herself. And oh, those bellbottoms. It was aired originally in 1975, which I don't remember because I was 2. Those were the days. And these, too, are the days.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Wish I Felt Nothing

This Wallflowers song is one of my all time favorite songs, perhaps my theme song. I loved it over a decade ago when I first took a liking to it in the months after my mother died, and on a whim tonight tried to find it on youtube. I used to own the disc, but I have no idea what happened it, and my itunes got obliterated last year when my hard drive crashed.

Anyway, aside from my pure admiration for Jacob Dylan and anything that comes out of his mouth, my point is that I had no idea this song seems to have been popularized with the television show Lost.

I just had to say that I loved it first.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Superior Bakery Saves the Day

4 Seasons Restaurant on Reservoir Ave on the Cranston/Providence line - it's my favorite place for pan-Asian cuisine. I knew something was up when I tried to call in an order a couple of weeks ago when the Dinnerman was away. On 2 successive days I got a recording stating the number and saying that their mailbox was full. Uh-oh. Not a good sign. I had my heart set on that fried lort. Ever the optimist, however, I theorized that they were on summer vacation, and vowed to try again the following week.

Cut to today. I felt the need to get my Job Lot on. Aha, thought I, I can get a fix on the situation of my favorite Asian restaurant - up close and personal, simultaneous! Upon arrival to the plaza they share on Reservoir Ave, my hopes were dashed. There was the yellow tape on the trash cans in front, the cardboard signs in the window. "Temporarily closed for repair", they said. My hopes dashed, I felt my shoulders hunch. I could not even muster a smile when I found brand name Windex Wipes at Job Lot. The more immediate issue, however, was what to eat for lunch?

Not to fear - I can do this. Instinct kicked in - I grew up in Cranston; this is my territory! Filled with initiative I embarked on a sojourn to some of my old haunts. Garden City was my first stop, for the bank and Border's (Stephen White is the author of choice lately - you must read "Kill Me"). Things certainly look different there. It's been a while. Then I headed over to Oaklawn Ave - my old backyard. Sure there is a brand new CVS that I had never seen before, but the old fixtures are still there too. There's the world headquarters of Del's Lemonade. There's the original Haruki, the Athenian Deli Restaurant. And there is the ever-present solution to the many questions over the years of what to eat for lunch: Superior Bakery. Superior Bakery has been in the same spot on Oaklawn Ave for as long as my memory can stretch back. When I was a kid, they sold spinach pies, pizza strips, dough, and bread 24/7. After hours? Ring the bell in back. In my elementary school days, many a bagged lunch featured one of their victuals. Today, they have expanded the selections to include a panorama of different pizza slices and calzones. They even offer to heat them up. I was so happy with my fat and tasty spinach pie with olives - it filled me up and brought back many fond memories.

I will be back there soon, and I will buy a bunch of pizza strips for the spinach-averse Dinnerman, whose envy of my fancy-free galavanting of the day was intensified by the fact that the a/c was broken in his office building.

It is he whom I have to thank for my carefree spirit today too - his simple act of changing the station on the radio this morning freed me from the captivity of 80's tunes, thereby reminding me that anything was possible, anytime, anywhere.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Adventures in Grilling

I've talked about it before, but one of our favorite things to do is cook meat on the grill. Although we don't let cold or even snow stop us, the relative easy breeziness of summer means an increase in grilling frequency.

With the Dinnerman out of town a couple of weeks ago, my attention turned to seafood. I grilled a lot of salmon in particular, because he won't eat it. (It's a long story and has something to do with an ex-wife who forced it down his throat...but that was in another life.)

With his return this past week, the carnivore in me stepped forward once again. It was back to steak and chicken, baby.

Here is a picture of some chicken I threw on the barbie:

It's marinated very simply in chopped fresh garlic, fresh basil, fresh lime juice, curry powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, olive oil, and salt. I just throw all of that in a ziploc bag and let it sit all day. It couldn't be easier.

We ate it that night with a salad, and then we ate the leftovers for lunch for several days. (I had grilled a lot of chicken, and Kenny didn't want any, so there were a lot of leftovers.)
Other than that, there's not much new in Steph Land. We went to a great party yesterday in honor of summer's arrival where we indulged in some delicious homemade creamy (and strong!) melon liquer, among other things. Then we came home, forgot all about our plans to go to Waterfire, watched Michael Symon compete on Iron Chef, and talked once again about how much we want to get back to Cleveland soon. So much to eat, so little time!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

So Long Tim Russert...

...may you rest in peace.

Yesterday the world suddenly lost a great and talented man. Tim Russert was a fixture in our home on Sunday mornings, and he spoke at my graduation from Providence College in 1999.

He was tenacious and driven, but to me it always seemed that he always wanted to get to the truth, and had an uncanny ability to engage his subjects. But he was always fair. It's telling that people have only good things to say about him. He was obviously a well-respected man.
I'm sure he was a well-loved man too.

I was at the gym yesterday when I saw the headline flash across CNN, and I kept thinking that his family will always remember the time around Father's Day for this. It was reminiscent of when my own mother became deathly ill right before Mother's Day 11 years ago. You never get it out of your head.

My thoughts and condolences go out to his wife and son, and to everyone else whose lives were made better by his presence.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

In Which Steph Talks Coherently for a Change...About Wine

(as coherent as I get, anyway)

I want to make everyone aware of some delicious wines I've been drinking from an amazing vineyard in California that has 2 names. Sort of a dichotomous existence, which, if we are honest with ourselve, we all lead.

The wine I refer to goes by the names Easton and Terre Rouge. Easton is the family name of Bill Easton, President and winemaker, who has been involved in the industry for over 30 years in a variety of capacities - from retailer to importer to vineyard consultant.

Since the mid-80's, Bill has been handcrafting wine in the Sierra Foothills of California, using sustainable farming practices and solar power. Terre Rouge means "red earth"; this soil is a hallmark of the region. These wines are made from Rhone varietals grown in the terroir of the Sierra Foothills. Bill uses the family name Easton on the wines that are made from non-Rhone varietals.

I've sampled both and can say they are remarkably complex and lush. We drank the Easton Barbera with my pasta with Sunday gravy, and it was reminiscent of the best Italy has to offer. It's no wonder these wines are often compared with European wines. They have many layers of complexity.

I gathered much of these facts from the website of Terre Rouge and Easton wines, and something I read really resonated with my experiences: these wines are described as having a "full middle palate, and a long finish...". What a spot on description.

My first experience was with the Tete a Tete, at the suggestion of a wine expert at Campus Liquors on Brook Street in Providence. I was looking for a wine that would go well with cheese, and I had people to impress. I thought the label of this red wine looked French. I was surprised to learn after having tasted it that this wine was from California. I went back to Campus the next day, only to find they were sold out. They did tell me it goes fast. And as these wines' production quantities are dictated by the elements and not purely the demand, their supply is not constant and continuous. For me, that's part of the charm.

I then was sold on a bottle of the Roussanne, a white which has become one of my favorite whites of all time. It has such a rich and full feel in my mouth, and is really honey-like and luscious - not too dry. I love this wine. I'm sipping it now; thinking about my last bottle half empty in the fridge is making me panic.

Bill Easton prides himself on creating wine that has both power and finesse, never compromising quality for quantity - in fact, quite the opposite is true. Small batches of less than 600 cases are the norm. So go buy some, if you can find it! My unrefined "review" didn't do these wines justice.

Here's a link to their website, which is very well written and informative. This is a classy operation, no question. Buy a bottle and enjoy!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Phone Camera

Public Service Announcement: my recent Flickr photos were taken with my phone. Their crappiness has little to do with my lack of photographic prowess.

Here's an example:

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Recent Bites

Saturday we flew home. Great flight on Swiss Air, thanks for asking! I especially enjoyed the warm pizza pocket we were served. The coach section on Swiss Air is much more spacious and the flight attendants much nicer than on Lufthansa. Plus, the Zurich airport is much less crazy and much more pretty than Frankfurt. I will fly Swiss Air again, whenever possible.

Sunday we were anxious to get to Madeira, where I had the broiled scabbard and the Dinnerman indulged in the pork and clams. He ate the whole thing! We were starving, still on European time. (I had been up - as in out of bed and showered - since 3:30am)
Then we sat in the courtyard with Kenny and reminisced. It was a beautiful evening in Providence!

Monday found us up in Cambridge. I saw The Fall at the indie movie theater - great film. I had lettuce wraps and noodle soup at Anise in Kenmore Square.
Then the Dinnerman and I went to Fleming's in Providence. I had the salmon, he had the bone-in ribeye. I love Fleming's. They have a great selection of wine by the glass, and very friendly staff. I also love the radishes and celery that come with the crispy crackers, cheese spread, and olive tapenade. Plus they make great Manhattans.

This morning the power went out so we trekked up the street to The Brickway. The Dinnerman had french toast with ham and home fries, and I had that omelette with the mushrooms, onions, and brie. Mmm...

Still have not been to the grocery store since we got in. Will I go today? What will we eat tonight? Stay tuned...