Archive for the ‘ Food ’ Category

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My Wigilia Table 2011

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Butternut Squash and Shrimp Pasta

1 ½ lbs. large Gulf or Mexican shrimp (Indonesian tiger shrimp will give this or anything a weird oily taste)

½ cup white wine, a dry sauvignon or fume blanc is good

1 lb pennette pasta

2 12 oz bags butternut squash chunks

½ to 1 cup heavy cream

2 TBS butter

3 TBS Olive oil

2 TBS honey

Handful of fresh chopped sage

4-6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped fine

½ cup of reduced shrimp-shell stock or 1 envelope of Swanson’s Chicken Flavor Boost

1/2 cup sharp, aged parmegiano

Salt, pepper, a couple of dashes of good cayenne pepper

I watched Giada make her version of this dish and it just looked too bland. It needed kicking up. So here’s what I did.

Peel, devein and clean shrimp. Soak the shrimp in the wine. Place shells in two cups lightly salted water and simmer down until you have about a cup of shrimp stock. Strain and discard shells and continue simmering stock down to a viscous half cup. It should be have a very concentrated shrimp aroma and taste.

Gently boil one bag of squash in salted water until soft. Drain, season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add ½ cup heavy cream and puree with stick blender. Add more cream if you’d like a thinner sauce, but I’d wait until you pull everything together to see if it needs it. Cover and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400° Dump the other bag of squash into a baking dish and drizzle with honey with one TBS olive oil. Season and roast for about 20 minutes. Stir squash so it begins to caramelize on all sides and continue roasting until it look beautiful. I like it crunchy.

Cook the pasta in salted water.

Heat butter and remaining olive oil on high. Drain and sauté the shrimp until it begins to caramelize, add the garlic. Just before the garlic begins to brown add more wine if you like and the shrimp stock. Simmer it down a bit before adding the squash puree. Heat, stirring until all the shrimp are coated. Chop a quantity of fresh sage (other recipes call for basil, but I think sage and squash are a cute couple) and sprinkle over the shrimp. Add the hot pasta to the pan, stir until coated. Pour into serving dish and sprinkle with parmesan and then the roasted squash.



Hell no. It isn’t a glutinous, gummy, grayish clump of quivering mush with a few pinkish flecks of clam poked into it. In the versions at the low-scale “family restaurant” at Bay Village’s Gazebo in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island last week and on the way back from LBI last night at the upscale Blue20 on Route 70 in Cherry Hill you can’t say the clams were floating in the soup because the stuff is just too gluey. It figures an Ohio-based would-be chain (the Mancy family in Toledo)would get it wrong. At no time should FLOUR be used to thicken a New England Clam Chowder! At no time should it be potato soup with a few clams thrown in.

But Ohio-bastardized or not, most of what we get in area restaurants is a ghastly version of Maine-style New England chowder, a cream-based soup with little, if any flour. When well-made its good, but you haven’t lived if you haven’t tried Rhode Island-style. The best example of that is at The Black Pearl in Newport, RI. The first time I visited, the other patrons began placing bets on how many bowls I would eat after I finished my third. I ordered nothing else, but stopped at six bowls. Not that I couldn’t have eaten a couple more, but I started to feel a little embarrassed.

Emeril Lagasse’s hometown of Fall River, MA is just a scant 21 miles from Newport, and I get close to the Black Pearl’s chowder by blending his method with my own. If you can’t make it to the Black Pearl, make it at home.

For six servings:

  • 5 pounds large cherrystone clams, scrubbed, rinsed, discard open clams
  • 1/4 lb fatback or Salt Pork finely diced (Bacon is an OK substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a couple for finishing
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • salt  to taste
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives or green onions
  • a small dash of cayenne

In a large stockpot bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the clams, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Shake the pot and cook 5 to 10 minutes longer until the clams are open.

Transfer the clams to a bowl and strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheescloth into a bowl. If you have less than a quart of broth, add some bottled clam broth. When the clams are cool enough, shuck and chop them.

Cook the fatback in a large heavy pot over medium heat until crisp and the fat is rendered. Pour off all the fat except 2 tablespoons. Add the 2 tablespoons butter, leeks, onions, and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, and bay leaves and cook until the vegetables soften, about 3 minutes, being careful not to brown. Add the potatoes and reserved clam broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the broth thickens slightly and the potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, discard the thyme stems and bay leaves, stir in the clams and cream, and season with the pepper and the salt to taste. You may add more cream or clam juice at this point, to taste.

Set the chowder aside for 1 hour, covered, to blend the flavors. Reheat on low, but do not boil. Serve hot; garnish each bowl with a pat of butter, parsley and chives, and I add a bit of freshly chopped thyme as well. I find the thyme brings out the clam taste best. Finally, a wee dash of cayenne pepper on each serving, as the big E would say, kicks it up a notch.

The Black Pearl Newport Bannister’s Wharf Newport, RI 02840


By Merilyn Jackson

I use my backyard as a summer kitchen and cook everything out there to keep my house cooler. I like to cook my softshells out on my grill, either in a black spider or my larger 14 inch stainless steel saute pan depending on how many I have. If you have read the recipe for perfect softshells, you can easily ramp up the remaining pan juices into a wonderful sauce for linguine.

Prep extra garlic and parsley chopped with sea salt. After removing crabs from the pan, add extra olive oil, about a half cup for a pound of pasta and a bit of butter if you like. You can also take a couple of more minutes here to throw in some scallops or shrimp to add to the pasta. Toss in the persillade, maybe some jarred sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, shaved fennel, and/or roasted red peppers, anything, in short, you like.  Once all your additions are jumping, add a good cup of a pouilly fume or fume blanc to deglaze. Toss in some al dente linguine and cook down for a minute or so until the pasta starch thickens the sauce nicely. Mound on platter and top with the crispy softshells. Sprinkle additional chopped parsley and pepper on top and serve hot.

By Merilyn Jackson

Went to Mud City, Tom’s River Asked to have my softshells sauteed crisp. Was told that couldn’t be done!

No wonder there were only four patrons there on a balmy Thursday evening at 7:30! We overheard them saying the better cook was not on that night. Guess the locals know when to go.

They charged $24.95 for two mini-softshells cooked soggy with jarred garlic and something that did not resemble butter. My method is different from deep frying in that the crabs are not breaded and the sauteeing in a mix of butter and olive oil leaves the crabmeat sweet and moist. I left the cook my recipe for:

Foolproof Method of Sauteeing Crispy Softshells: Clean and dry crabs, dip in clarified butter, then in seasoned flour, shake off. Smash quantity (depends on how many crabs you are working with) of garlic & parsley. Saute crabs in clarified butter and olive oil abt 2 mins on each side. Toss in garlic and parsley. Remove crabs. Place sauce ON PLATE with crispy crabs on top so sauce DOES NOT decrisp them!


Ode to Pork

A couple of Christmases ago, before the Swine Flu outbreak, I gave a foodie friend a book from Italy, Pigs and Pork. Coincidentally, I unwrapped the same book from my husband.  He knows my love for the flesh and skin of pig – not the kind you pass and kick, the kind you slow roast to a snap and a pop of the crackling. The book’s slightly skewered translation says scratchings for what I take to mean cracklings. And the title — how does one separate the pig from the pork? After all, Pigs R Pork.

The book says there are approximately 960 million pigs in the world, roughly a third of them in China. Europe has 243 million and the United States only 95 million. Boiled Pig’s Cheek with Garbanza Beans is just one of the book’s recipes I have yet to make. But now that we’re getting succulent pork dishes in restaurants like Chifa and Lolita, I may not take the time.

In Chinese astrology, I’m a goat and my most compatible match is the pig. Alas, I am married to a rat. But he must have ascendant pig qualities:  nice to a fault, they delight in eating good food and lovemaking, believe in the best qualities of humankind, are highly intelligent, and make wonderful life partners due to their hearts of gold and love of family.

Not only is pork the other white meat, pig is featured in fairytales, cartoons, the Babe movies. Philly’s most celebrated theater company calls itself Pig Iron Theater. And New York’s redoubtable Mabou Mines, does an off-off Broadway production Ecco Porco. Actor Frederic Neumann starred as Gonzo Porco. About a pig by that name, the play runs four hours – enough to roast a suckling in time for an aftermath party.

After seeing the play in the East Village one brittle January night, we found Col Legno’s cozy room still open. We warmed up not far from the brick oven where they bake quail, pizza, and white beans with sage in glass flasks.

I have eaten wild boar throughout Eastern Europe where it is still available in butcher shops and featured on the menus of fine old hotel restaurants. Its musty taste surprised me and reminded me of the deep tones of the marrow sauces of my childhood. In honor of Gonzo, we ordered Col Legno’s Pasta with Wild Boar sauce – a Bolognese with finely chopped boar and sage.

Zimne Nogy (literally, cold feet) is pickled pig’s feet — Souse to y’all. You can go into a bar in Poland and order “binoculars and jellyfish” — two shots of vodka and a small plate of Zimne Nogy. Although I would not eat the stuff as a kid, I now ferret it out wherever I go. Krakus Market in Port Richmond prepares the best I’ve had locally. But I adore the Crispy Pig’s feet at Cochon.  And I’m heading up to Northern Spy in the East Village soon as I can to try their shredded pig’s feet wrapped around mustard greens, breaded, then fried!

On cold winter Sundays, my family’s favorite was a huge (and cheap) fresh ham, slow cooked until it fell apart. Pepper, salt, garlic, and maybe ginger or cloves, made up the limited palette of spices in the Polish “Kuchnia.” It was always good enough to eat like Guinea islanders, who, normally vegetarian, annually binge over a three-day feast on the pigs that ferret out their root veggies.

Once, after a visit to Taller Puertoriquenno up at 5th and Lehigh, we stopped into a Puerto Rican restaurant down the street. I looked over the unfamiliar menu, unsuccessful in my attempts to wrest meaning from our surly waiter, who, it later dawned on us, had feigned insufficiency in the Queen’s English.

Cuchifritos are crisply fried pork parts that include ears, tails, and stomach. I used to get them from K-Rico Bakery in Phoenix and they were mouthwatering. Since I’ll eat anything fried, when the word Cuchifritos popped out, I ordered it.

The waiter crooked his eyebrow, smirked, and bowed as he wheeled away to the kitchen.  Shortly, he placed before me a plate of what looked like lukewarm, undoctored, off-brand baked beans with wilted, pasty-looking triangles poking through here and there. He stood at attention, waiting for me to dig in. The first rubbery bite was undistinguishable from an old girdle.

“Do you know what you are eating, Senora?”  I smiled weakly, trying to chew as he hastened to tell me. “Pig’s ears.”

I offered a taste to Herb, a non-practicing Jew, who, nevertheless, does not eat pork. He declined.

“Oh, well, would you mind bringing me the chicken like his and wrapping this up to go?  My husband will love it,” I said with a wink at Herb.

Herb told me a story about a man in Israel who needed a new heart valve, and how the rabbis, after much Talmudic discussion, decided to approve the use of a pig’s valve. Since pigs, like us, are omnivorous and have similar tissue makeup, we use them in medical research. I asked if he’d heard about the researchers’ latest fear, that, like the transfer of the HIV virus from animal to human, something similar could happen with pigs.

“Well,” Herb began after asking the waiter to pack the remains his chicken, “that came from eating monkey. So, if the same hasn’t yet happened from eating pig all these millennia, maybe it’s OK – even though I still wouldn’t.”

At home I placed my foam carton on the counter and turned to read the mail. My husband rummaged behind me. “What did you bring me?”

“Oh, just some leftovers.”

“Well, this is really fall-apart delicious. Best I’ve had.”

I spun around.  The pig’s ears had turned into something other than a silk purse. As I watched my husband tucking into Herb’s chicken, I pictured Herb opening his carton tomorrow. Oink vey!

Nothing’s as Easy as Pie

Or is it? I’ve always wondered where that saying comes from because making a great pie does not come easy to everyone. I come from a family of bakers in Fairmount where we were known for our pies. One aunt for her plum crumb, another for her apple, and my mother for her pineapple walnut chiffon pie, a mouthwatering tart if ever there was one. It’s very hard to make a perfect pie until you get the knack – the feel – of making flaky, crispy, rich crusts.

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer makes this pie article very timely, stating pie will surpass cupcakes in popularity this year.

Throughout the year I make my crusts with butter, oil or non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, a good one is in Whole Foods, and if you’re used to soft-supermarket vegetable shortening, be forewarned, this stuff is hard and unmalleable.

But I can’t imagine a holiday apple pie without a lard crust. Find pure leaf lard, not a package that says hydrogenated lard. Hydrogenation is what makes fats unhealthy and turns it into trans-fat. That’s why margarine is so much worse for you than a little butter. If you’ve been following the war against trans-fats, you may know that beef lard contains just 40 percent saturated fat, compared with nearly 60 percent for butter and it’s good fat – monounsaturated.

For a good leaf lard, made from the fat around pork organs, take a fall weekend jaunt to Dietrich’s Meats in Krumsville, PA.  It’s worth finding because nothing else gives apples more authority than lard. It says winter food.

I didn’t get to Dietrich’s this year but spied a package of beef suet up in a Poconos supermarket and remembering how my grandmother rendered her own snow-white lard from beef kidneys, I snatched it up to experiment with. I rendered it over a medium heat straining the melted fat into a metal bowl where it soon hardened. Once I felt I had enough to use as part of the fat for my crust, I studded the remaining few ounces of suet with nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and hung it out on my patio tree for the birds to winter on. They’re having quite a holiday out there and I enjoy watching them while I bake.

For Thanksgiving, I made a butter and non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening apple pie from a 2009 issue of Bon Appetit that made a French guest burst into tears at first bite. Alarmed, I jumped to her side. “I have never eaten such perfection,” she said and kept repeating it until the last bite.

Still, bakers always want to surpass themselves. So I made the same pie with the following slightly altered crust for Christmas day. I baked one and made another which is sitting unbaked in my freezer for later. I liked the general proportions of the Bon Appetit recipe and stuck close to them, substituting just a portion of my beef lard for the butter for that flavor burst. This is the hardest lard I have ever used and when chilled, it was difficult to cut in, so I grated it on the shave side of my grater and it turned out terrific, giving me the sturdy crust I wanted to travel to family on Christmas day without losing the bottom crust to fruit juices.

This makes a large pie with 4 lbs of apples and serves 12. Make this your once a year holiday crust. If you double it, you can have two disks of dough in the freezer. This makes a good single crust for custard pies as it holds its shape beautifully. My next post will be about fillings.

Butter, Vegetable shortening and Lard Crust

Butter a large 10” glass pie pan (Do not miss this step if you want to cut that first piece out without having it fall apart.)

3 cups unbleached flour

¼ cup sugar

1 ¼ t. salt

1 cup unsalted butter – 2 sticks

¼ cup leaf lard

1/3 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening

6+ TBSP ice water

Plastic wrap

Wax paper

Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces. Grate the lard over them and chill in freezer for a few minutes. In a very large wide bowl, whisk sugar and salt into flour and make a well in the flour. Dump all the shortenings in. Run your hands under the cold-water tap for a few seconds to cool your skin and dig into the flour and fats rubbing them quickly together with your fingertips until they break up into small flour-coated bits. Add the first six TBSP of ice-water and combine until you can gently shape the dough into a ball. Only add additional ice-water bit-by-bit as needed – too much and it will be sticky and yucky.

The dough should be malleable, firm and still slightly dry, but wet enough to roll. When it’s right, you’ll feel it.

Divide into two balls and flatten them, wrapping them in plastic wrap. Yeah, the way you’ve seen Martha Stewart do it. Chill for an hour while you make the filling or freeze till you want it.

Pull out a length of wax paper larger than your pie pan, double it and cut it off the roll. Fold that in half and slide your bottom crust inside for easy rolling. When you’ve it a good inch wider than your pan, slide a cookie sheet under it and stick it in the fridge while you roll out the top crust. Put that one in the fridge while you start handling the bottom crust.

The trick is to keep both crusts cold as possible and work fast. The colder the crust is the easier the wax paper will peel off. Peel back the top section of wax paper, lay it back and flip the crust, lay it flat and peel back the other side. Now you have loosely covered crust and you can peel back one side of the paper and easily slam the dough into the center of your prepared pan, pulling off the rest of the paper. Press the dough into the sides gently. Run the tines of a fork gently around the sides and prick the bottom all over. You may sprinkle a TBSP of graham cracker, vanilla wafer or even plain bread crumbs over the bottom to absorb fruit juices. Fill, place top crust on and seal the edges. Make steam slits or holes, glaze with milk or egg wash, and sprinkle with Sugar in the Raw if you like. Place on a four-sided jelly-roll pan or the fats will melt out and make a mess in your oven. Use the lowest rack and bake at 425° 15 minutes; turn oven down to 375° for about an hour longer. Cool for an hour to let the pie set up. This pie or its leftovers can sit out overnight, covered with a bowl. Refrigerating it hardens the crust and you’ll have to let it come to room temp or reheat it to serve again.

When I crave a cheese steak in Philly I always order a cheese steak hoagie with mayo, fried onions, provolone, lettuce, and tomato. The ketchup goes on last, by me. Lee’s, which started out at 19th & Cheltenham when I was a kid and grew to a huge franchise, still makes the best Philly cheese steaks. It has since downsized, with one location in West Philly.

In South Philly, Franco & Luigi’s is my go to. Sure there’s Pat’s and Geno’s, but having been born in 19130, I’m no tourist. Besides, I want to see my steak sizzled in front of me, not glopped on a roll from a mound of graying meat sitting on the grill. And I want the steak to be hot enough to MELT the cheese on the sandwich. You don’t get that at Pat’s or Geno’s.

That’s why Whiz came into play. They figured out that the warm goop of oil product would seem as if it had melted onto the sandwich and it wouldn’t matter if the meat wasn’t hot from the grill. You are always taking a chance on a food-born illness when you go to a place that doesn’t cook the meat to order.

Moreover, Joey Vento, Geno’s owner, is a rampant racist who thinks freedom of speech allows him to decree that his product be ordered in “English Only.” These signs on his establishment are in direct response to the influx of Mexican kitchen workers who fled New York’s crackdown on illegal workers in its kitchens. They came to Philadelphia over the last ten years in droves, filling necessary jobs in Philadelphia’s always brilliantly bustling restaurant scene and opened wonderful Mexican restaurants of their own.

The Washington Avenue corridor that used to be dominated by Vietnamese restaurants, now shares the neighborhood with great Mexican foods. So Vento was feeling the competition and annoyed by his Mexican and Asian customers who could not always order in English. It didn’t matter that Vento’s own mother barely spoke English. Wonder if he ever said, “Yo Ma, This is America. Speak English. Cabish?”

Still the corner is a scene in any season, especially after 2 am, when the bars close. White and black stretches belly up to SUVs, VWs, whatever, and the fluorescent and neon-lit line of shit-faced people looking for some sobering protein, stretches around Passyunk and down Wharton in this micro Steak Square.

My favorite steaks come from a place with no scene at all and which has recently borne scandal as racially-colored as Geno’s due to its name: Chink’s. Chink’s has been up on Torresdale an easy off from I-95 for about half a century but the name was never objected to until a few years ago.

Somehow they held onto the name, but the scandal didn’t increase their fame as much as it did Joey Vento’s. What they do have over Vento is the best steak in Philly. I zip up the highway to Chink’s with visitors so they can try the best, and then test all the rest. Chink’s always wins.

Back here in Phoenix there is no choice. As far as I’m concerned Corleone’s is the ONLY steak shop in town. It’s a “Family” run biz with three locations in the Valley. Fortunately the “Family” is from Philly, owner Joe Bobbie’s family ran Denofio’s at Castor and Hunting Park, not too far from Chink’s until they sold out seven years ago to come out to Phoenix.

The steak is cooked right there before your very eyes. It is deeply authentic. The meat never has any gristle, the rolls fresh with a good bite to them. They are not like having a steak on a hotdog bun as Seth Chadwick (in his 2006 Feasting in Phoenix piece) seemed to think they should be served. He kept raving about the “soft roll.” But his barometer was Jim’s Steaks at 4th and South Streets in Philly, much better than Pat’s and Geno’s but yet just another tourist haven. Corleone’s rolls are almost as they ought to be: hefty enough to absorb the meat juices, yet crusty enough to provide a nice contrasting crunch to the squishy meat and cheeses. Since I get them as take out, I ask them to toast them a bit so they hold the ten minutes to my house. They always smilingly oblige.

The only thing I would want to change is perhaps a sharper provolone. Because despite the menu’s description of a sandwich called the “Philly Original Whiz, Wit,” sharp provolone gives a better counterpoint to the sweet meat and fried onions. And Philly natives who aren’t knuckle-draggers don’t actually ask for a cheese steak “Whiz, Wit.” If you want a steak with Whiz, you just say “Steak, wit.” If you don’t like Whiz, you supply your own wit.

Many years ago I pitched the Arizona Republic’s food editor a pre-Thanksgiving story. She said “Oh you’re from Philly. What do you know beyond cheese steaks?”

I said “Well, in Philly we only put Cheese Whiz on our steaks, not on our Thanksgiving tables like you do here.”

MEATY: [Definitions] rich, especially in matter for thought : substantial <actors looking for meaty roles> Full of substance or interest, satisfying: The ballet has stayed the course because of the meaty roles it offers.

I like to say that the interests and experiences I’ve listed in this blog will all come together when I write a novel about an anorexic Polish ballerina who leaves the stage to write a cookbook. But I can begin to give them a good gloss here on Prime Glib.

So why call this blog “PrimeGlib” and why use an image that will surely turn off many who are not carnivores? Because I am an animal that, like other animals, eats other animals and I enjoy the occasional joint. The beef says juicy, raw and sanguine – in both the cheerfully optimistic sense and the bloody – and I have never been anything if not meaty. I therefore let a standing rib roast stand for me.

So I loved seeing Lady Gaga’s skirt steak. It got my attention. Gaga is good – she reveals her pathos and shallowness. People miss the pun: she is full of gags and she makes you gag and she is neither gogo nor gew-gew and certainly not gigi. But I largely agree with Camille Paglia’s grilling of her in the Sunday Times of London. The Lady may be meaty on the outside, but there’s little if any substance inside. She made a good metaphor but doesn’t show us any meaning other than shock value.


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