Fat Tuesday, Film

Woody Allen has always thrived on charm. Throughout his career, his unconventional charm made him his own best leading man. His writing and directing lent his fellow actors his adorably flustered cadences, and his love of New York brought the charming city to life on screen. It follows then, that his latest film, “Midnight in Paris” relies almost purely on charm, and succeeds. There is a little more substance, but not much, and that’s ok. Allen finds an actor in Owen Wilson who starts with his own charisma and adds a classic Woody impression to the performance much more naturally and enjoyably than Scarlett Johansson’s panicking “nerd” in the painful “Scoop”.

Other characters are familiar to the Allen oeuvre, picked up by new talents like Michael Sheen, who channels Alan Alda’s narcissistic know-it-all in “Crimes and Misdemeanors”. After capturing New York and London, Allen finds a new muse in Paris, the ultimate city of enchantment, and banks on the seductive presence of a long list of literary and art world heroes.

The incarnation of Ernest Hemingway provided the most amusing scenes in the film, delivering tongue-in-cheek lines in the frank, deadpan manner of his writing style. Hemingway waxes monotonously poetic about truth and writing, Paris, love, bravery, honesty and good meals, as he does in A Moveable Feast, his brilliant memoir about living as a poor writer in Lost-Generation Paris with his first wife Hadley.

“Midnight in Paris” explores the nature of nostalgia, and A Moveable Feast has that feeling as well, as Hemingway recounts romantically on this time long past in his life. About his lifestyle and sharing it with his wife, he writes that although they were young and poor, “…we ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

Brasserie Balzar’s Midnight Onion Soup
La Gratinée de Minuit Brasserie Balzar

3 pounds onions
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2/3 cup dry white wine, such as Sancerre
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
Several sprigs fresh thyme, wrapped in cheesecloth
Several fresh or dried bay leaves
8 thin slices baguette, toasted
1 pound Swiss Gruyère cheese, freshly grated

1. Peel the onions and halve them vertically. Cut the halves lengthwise into thin slices.

2. In a 10-quart stockpot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the oil, onions, and salt, and stir to coat the onions. Cook, covered, over low heat– stirring occasionally so the onions do not scorch– just until the onions are soft but still pale, about 15 minutes.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir to coat the onions. Immediately add the stock, wine, 4 quarts water, the white pepper, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves. Bring just to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

4. Preheat the broiler.

5. Ladle the soup into individual ovenproof soup bowls. Top each serving with a slice of toasted baguette. Cover the bread with a thick coating of grated Gruyère. Place under the broiler. As soon as the cheese begins to bubble, serve the soup.

Brasserie Balzar
49, rue des Ecoles
Paris 5
Métro Odéon or Cluny-La Sorbonne

Recipe courtesy of: Patricia Wells. The Paris Cookbook. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2001.


Fat Tuesday

One of my favorite restaurants in New York is, unsurprisingly, a Jean-Georges restaurant. He’s got them all over town. Its a special occasion place, but lunch there is a forgivable luxury. The space is on a windswept corner of the West Side Highway at the end of Perry Street in the West Village. Huge windows look out over the Hudson, while inside high ceiling and quiet, muted decor has a touch of mid-century modern strained through the late ’80s/early ’90s. Luxurious, desolate, decidedly urban but at the end of earth, all at once.

Ginger Fried Rice
4 Servings

1/2 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried
4 cups day-old cooked rice, preferably jasmine, at room temperature
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce.

1. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and salt lightly.

2. Reduce heat under skillet to medium-low and add 2 tablespoons oil and leeks. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very tender but not browned. Season lightly with salt.

3. Raise heat to medium and add rice. Cook, stirring well, until heated through. Season to taste with salt.

4. In a nonstick skillet, fry eggs in remaining oil, sunny-side-up, until edges are set but yolk is still runny.

5. Divide rice among four dishes. Top each with an egg and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Sprinkle crisped garlic and ginger over everything and serve.

Perry Street
176 Perry Street
New York, NY 10014

recipe courtesy of the New York Times. Mark Bittman. January 22, 2010.

Fat Tuesday

We cannot get enough of tacos in this gorgeous weather. Luckily, there are great trucks, stands, and holes-in-the-wall in the city to duck into for a quick bite. If there was one thing I could ask more of a taco, it would be… SHELL. This is why a taco salad screams to me. I love the fillings- really, I do- but it’s really just an excuse to eat an entire bowl made out of crunchy, flaky torilla shell. When I came across this recipe in the Tampa Treasures Cookbook, it was an easy sell. Who wouldn’t follow Barry Zuckerkor… err, Henry Winkler’s advice on just about anything?

Another thing… preparing this at home, no one will know if I only made the bowl.

Henry Winkler’s Mexican Salad
4-6 servings prep 25 minutes

Winkler contributed this recipe to the Tampa Treasures Cookbook when he was in Tampa directing the movie Cop and a Half (1993)

1 1/2 cup mayo
1 (7-oz) can green chili salsa
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1-2 heads romaine, broken into 1/2 inch pieces
2 (2 1/4-oz) cans sliced black olives
2-3 large ripe tomatoes, diced
1 large red onion, diced
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 (4 oz) can diced green chilies
1-2 (6 1/2 oz) bags tortilla chips, crumbled
2 avocados, diced

Early in day: combine mayo, salsa, ketchup, and chili powder– chill.

When ready to serve: place romaine in large serving bowl; add olives, tomatoes, onion, cheese and chilies.
Top with crumbled chips and avocados. Spread dressing on top– serve.

For an impressive, tasty presentation, serve in flour tortilla shells:
Brush both sides of 12-16 inch flour tortillas with melted butter. Press them into small ovenproof bowls, toast 5-8 minutes in 375° F oven. Unmold the tortillas; place them directly on the oven rack until they are crispy and toasted 1-2 minutes.

Tampa Treasures Cookbook. The Junior League of Tampa. Nashville, Tennessee: Arcata Graphics, 1992.


Fat Tuesday

The season is approaching when New Yorkers who prayed for summer all winter remember its much too hot in the summer and flee. Barcelona– no, not the city in Spain– is a great destination a short train ride away from the city. Barcelona Restaurant has expanded to several locations in Connecticut, but the original tapas bar is in South Norwalk, CT. The SoNo downtown neighborhood is right off the Metro-North New Haven line stop, and its brick buildings have been restored to house cool restaurants and bars right on the Norwalk Harbor. Or you can make this little dish at home.

Serves 4-6

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 pounds smoked Spanish chorizo, cut on the diagonal into slices about 1/4 inch thick
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dried white Turkish figs, stemmed and quartered
1 1/4 cups sherry vinegar
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cloves

1. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat for about 1 minute. Working in batches, sear the chorizo and garlic for 2-3 minutes, turning the sausage once during cooking. Set sausage aside.

2. Put the figs in a medium saucepan with the vinegars, brown sugar, water, cinnamon cloves. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes, adjusting the heat up or down to maintain the simmer.

3. Divide the chorizo among 6 bowls. Pour the figs and the pan sauce over the chorizo and serve piping hot.

The Barcelona Cookbook. Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer with Mary Goodbody. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel publishing, LLC. 2009. pg. 86.

Barcelona SoNo
63.65 N. Main St.
S. Norwalk, CT 06854
Tel: 203.899.0088


Fat Tuesday

Aren’t there some days you just CAN’T decide what you want to eat? That’s what paella is for. It’s rice, it’s seafood, chicken, sausage, butter and spice. It’s Perfect.

6-8 servings

1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 pound chorizo sausage
2 1 1/4 pound lobsters
1/2 cup olive oil
1 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
18 medium-size shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 pound boneless lean pork loin, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups crushed canned Italian tomatoes
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 cups converted rice
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 cups bottled clam juice
18 large mussels, well scrubbed and with beards removed
12 littleneck clams, rinsed
2 lemons, cut into wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
2. Blanch the peas in lightly salted water, drain, and set them aside. Prick the sausages in several places with a fork and blanch the sausages in boiling water for 5 minutes; then drain. When the sausages are cool, cut them into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
3. Kill the lobsters instantly by plunging the tip of a large chef’s knife between the eyes. Cut off the claws and remove the tail. Using the large knife, cut the body and tail, crosswise, into 1-inch-thick pieces and place them in a dish to reserve any liquids. Remove and discard the small sac inside the lobster near the eyes.
4. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a paella pan. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and sauté them, moving the pieces around the pan until thoroughly browned, for about 5 minutes. Remove to a large platter.
5. Sprinkle the lobster pieces with salt and pepper and place them in the hot oil. Reserve the accumulated liquids in the dish for later. Sauté for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the shells turn deep red. Remove the lobster pieces to a platter.
6. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper and sauté in the paella pan very quickly, about 1 minute. Remove them to the platter with the lobster.
7. Sauté the sausage pieces in the same pan for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove to the platter with the chicken. Discard the oil in the paella pan.
8. Heat the remaining oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes, or until lightly browned all over.
9. Add the onions, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste to the pan. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and saffron. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the moisture from the vegetables has evaporated.
10. Add the rice and mix thoroughly. Pour in the reserved lobster juices and the fish broth. Add the hot pepper flakes and bring everything to a boil. Add the chicken, lobsters, sausages, and shrimp. Add the clams and mussels and stir well. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the rice and chicken are tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and toss lightly to distribute all ingredients throughout the dish.

Pierre Franey and Bryan Miller. The Seafood Cookbook. New York: Random House Times Books, 1986.


Fat Tuesday

Am I allowed to write a blog post about Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking if my name isn’t Julie? Oh well, here goes. A classic from a classic.

Moules à la Marinière
For 6-8 people

Here is the simplest version of this most typical of French methods for cooking mussels. They are steamed open in a big pot with wine and flavorings, and it only takes only about 5 minutes. Then the mussels, shells and all, are dipped out into soup plates, and the cooking liquor is poured over them. Each guest removes the mussels one by one from their shells with fingers or a fork and discards the shells into a side dish. In addition to shell dish and fork, provide your guests with a soup spoon for drinking up the mussel juices, a big napkin, and a finger bowl. long with the mussels serve French bread, butter, and a chilled, light, dry white wine such as a Muscadet, dry Graves, or one of the Pouillys.

2 cups of light, dry white wine or 1 cup dry white vermouth
An 8- to 10-quart enameled kettle with cover
1/2 cup minced shallots, or green onions, or very finely minced onions
8 parsley sprigs
1/2 bay leaf
1/4 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp pepper
6 TB butter

Bring the wine to a boil in the kettle with the rest of the ingredients listed. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes to evaporate its alcohol and the reduce its volume slightly.

6 quarts scrubbed, soaked mussels

After scrubbing each mussel clean with a brush, set the mussels in a basin of fresh water for an hour or two so they will disgorge their sand and also lose a bit of their saltiness. Drain and rinse mussels, then add them to the kettle. Cover tightly and boil quickly over high heat. Frequently grasp the kettle with both hands, your thumbs clamped to the cover, and toss the mussels in the kettle with an up and down slightly jerky motion so the mussels with change levels and cook evenly. In about 5 minutes the shells will swing open and the mussels are done.

1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley

With a big skimmer, dip the mussels into wide soup plates. Allow the cooking liquid to settle for a moment so any sand will sink to the bottom. Then ladle the liquid over the mussels, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Julia Child. Mastering the Art of French Cooking.


Fat Tuesday

Lots of living things come creeping out of the ground when spring arrives: wiggling worms, sweet crocuses and buds of forsythia. And fresh young vegetables and fruit to put on your table. Tender asparagus is one of my favorite foods to appear, so I flipped open my trusty Joy of Cooking in search of a simple recipe to get ready. I’m looking forward to Saturday lunch, making a soup while April rain falls. After a creamy, savory, but fresh soup a slice of sweet, tart and crumbly pie would be the perfect finish. Strawberries and rhubarb also emerge in the spring, all in all a perfect rainy spring lunch.

Cream of Asparagus Soup
About 6 cups

Wash and remove the tips from:
1 pound fresh green asparagus
Simmer the tips, covered, until they are tender, in a small amount of:
Milk or water
Cut the stalks into pieces and place them in a large saucepan. Add:
6 cups poultry stock
¼ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery

Simmer these ingredients, covered, about ½ hour. Strain them through a sieve. Melt in the top of a double boiler:
3 tablespoons butter
Stir until blended:
3 tablespoons flour
Stir in slowly:
½ cup cream

Add the asparagus stock. Heat the soup, adding the asparagus tips. Season immediately before serving with:
Salt, paprika and white pepper

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
A 9-inch, double crust pie

For a double-crust 9-inch, or a single-crust pie with a generous lattice, use the following amounts:
Sift together:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Measure and combine:
2/3 cup chilled leaf lard or shortening
2 tablespoons chilled butter

Cut half of the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, or work it in lightly with the tips of your fingers until it has the grain or cornmeal. Cut the remaining half coarsely into the dough until it is pea size.

Sprinkle the dough with:
4 tablespoons water
Blend the water lightly into the dough. You may lift the ingredients with a fork, allowing the moisture to spread. If needed to hold the ingredients together, add:
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon water
When you can gather the dough up into a tidy ball, stop handling it. Roll out dough and cut into circle to fit to pie dish.

Line a pie pan with:
Basic pie dough
Prepare by picking over and hulling:
2 cups fresh strawberries
and dice:
2 cups unpeeled, young rhubarb stalks

¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ – 2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter
(1 teaspoon grated orange rind)

Sprinkle these ingredients over the berries and stir gently until well blended. Let stand for 15 minutes

Preheat oven to 450°
Turn the fruit into the pie shell. Dot with:
1 – 2 tablespoons butter
Cover the pie with a well-pricked top or with a lattice. Bake the pie in a 450° over 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350° and bake 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

The Joy of Cooking. Irma von Starkloff Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. Bobbs-Merrill (1975).


Fat Tuesday, NYC Culture

There is something about a great neighborhood restaurant that makes New York somehow shrink, if only for a moment, into an intimate, comfortable place that feels like home. Frankies is that place in my neighborhood. There is often a crowd at night, so lunch there is my favorite meal, sitting at a sturdy wooden table with some slices of crusty bread, a plate of perfect pasta. I once noticed a man who sat in a sunny corner one Saturday afternoon with a plate of meatballs, a whole bottle of white wine, and a book, and thought “perfect.”

Frankies can feel at once like a place to see-and-be-seen, but also a secret; humble details like a vase of flowering branches in the front window that changes with the season infuses the space with a quality both timeless and ephemeral. My favorite dish there is something I often make at home with the help of Frankies’ friendly cookbook.

Frankies Spuntino 457
457 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Cavatelli with Sausage & Browned Sage Butter
Serves 6

1 pound hot Italian pork sausage (4-6 links depending on the size of the sausage)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
8-10 sage leaves (fewer if they are very large, more if they are very small)
Freshly ground white pepper
Ricotta Cavatelli
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it well.

2. Meanwhile, put the sausages into your widest sauté pan with 1/2 inch of water and turn the heat to medium. After 10 minutes, flip the sausages over and simmer them for another 5 minutes (replenish the water if it threatens to boil off). After 15 minutes, the sausages should be firm and cooked through. Remove the sausages to a cutting board (discard the water) and slice them into coins just shy of 1/2 inch. (You can do this an hour or even a day ahead of time if you like.)

3. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the pan and turn the heat to medium-high. After a minute, add the sausage coins in an even layer and let them cook, untouched, unstirred, unfussed with, until they’re deeply browned on the first side. (If there is not enough room to brown all the sausage in one pan– which there will very probably not be– split it between two pans or brown it in two batches and use an additional tablespoon of butter.) Flip and brown them on the B side. The browning in integral to the ultimate depth of flavor of the finished dish– don’t stint on it. When the sausage is browned, remove it from the pan (a plate lined with paper towels is a nice place to hold it) and return the pan to the butter.

4. Keep the heat at a medium-high and add the sage, the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter, and a few twists of white pepper. Stir the butter and scrape at the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. After a minute or two, it should not stop foaming and start to take on color. That’s when you should drop the ricotta cavatelli into the boiling water. Continue to cook the butter until its deeply browned and fragrant, about 4 minutes more, which should be just about how long the cavatelli takes to cook.

5. Do not drain the cavatelli too thoroughly. The water clinging to the pasta will give the sauce body. Add it to the butter sauce along with the sausage and stir.

6. Add the cheese, stir again, and portion the cavatelli among the serving plates. Scatter each with a couple of pinches of parsley. Serve immediately.

from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual. Edited by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo, & Peter Meehan. New York: Artisan Books, 2010.