Guilt makes me hungry.

I have been guilted to write, and so write I shall. Much has happened since my last entry exactly fifty-four weeks ago today. The fabulous wife and I now call Quincy, Massachusetts, home. I have a new job, the wife soon to follow.

Most relevantly, I returned to school. Boston University. To get my Master's in...gastronomy. Tee hee hee! My first course is...(hang on to something)...cheese. (!!!) Can you believe it? My classes comprise three hours of sampling a dozen cheeses, drinking accompanying wines, and giving my opinion. Three things I EXCEL at. In May, I begin my Sommelier certification classes. In the fall, "The Many Meanings of Meat." Truly! That's the name of the class! "The Many Meanings of Meat." I've got one meaning for you; meat makes me smile. I can't wait to learn more.

The gastronomy program was created by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin after realizing there were no programs for the study of food beyond culinary techniques; they wanted someone to be able to explore the value of food, of cooking, of eating. Although they didn't know it at the time, that someone clearly is me. Mr. Pepin sometimes teaches and pops his head in to check up on things. As it was his book, "The Apprentice" that exposed me to this wonderful program, I hope to one day thank him personally. If not, I fear I shall be relegated to dressing in a flower-print dress, donning a big grey wig, and attempting to commune with Julia's ghost over a half-case of Chateau Neuf-de-Pape and a gigantic wooden spoon (ever seen that photo of her with the four-foot wooden spoon? It's crazy!)

As for where the site is at, I've updated it with some new links to other foodies (as recommended by Ms. Allez-Oop, thank you very much), Formaggio Kitchen (THE greatest cheese shop in all of New England), and various and sundry other places to get your food on.

So, if you're one of the three or four readers I have that stuck with me during my absence, thanks. Know that I have been eating well, drinking finely, and cutting back on the salt and sugar. I hope the same for you.

Now I must leave you. I have a date at Previte's butchery to grind me up some veal; it's sausage making time at my grandmother's house. With a glass or three of Rose, I think.


Unlikely panfellows.

For those who enjoy shrimp, try taking a pan-full of just-finishing fellas and toss them with a little oil, fresh oregano, a tiny bit of lime juice, and some feta cheese. Marvelous.

Of course, some brined London Broil and grilled summer vegetables don't hurt, either!

The reality is that, someday, whatever you are eating will be the last thing you ever eat, so don't make it crap.

Eat well, everybody.


Gioia di consumo di estate.

Ah. The simple pleasures of warmer-weather eating. I know summer isn't here yet, not by a long shot. But to me, seventy-five degrees is seventy-five degrees, whether it's in March or August. Warmer weather means two things; the baseball season is approaching, and Our Grill Friday will be assigned heavier duty. (In the true Italian family styling, we have nicknames for everything.)

Last night, she was to handle the first serious grilling detail of the year. We do use her year-round, but in a limited capacity; winter fare calls for fewer grilled dishes other than meat. Come warmer weather, everything is grilled, and it began last night.

First up were the pork chops. Thickly-cut, pork chops sear extremely well on a medium-high grill. When glazed, they retail their moisture quite well. The lovely wife and I tried an apricot-dijon glaze. Dee-lish. The glaze is thick and tart with just a skosh of sweetness to it. The secret here is to begin grilling the chops without the glaze; just a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. We used kosher salt for the larger grain, and Indian Telicherry pepper for the robust kick it gives. Served with grilled vegetables (again, in only oil, salt, and pepper), this dish brings out the best in warm weather. We washed this down with a fairly cheap Rose (I am really growing to love rose wines; the perfect synthesis of chill and fruit.)

Thick-Cut Pork Chops with Apricot-Dijon Glaze

4-6 Pork chops, bone-in, thick-cut (1-inch thick or so)
1 cup Apricot preserves
1/2 cup dijon mustard (don't skimp here; better mustard pays off)
2 cups orange juice or pineapple juice
2 tbsp. bourbon
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Let the grill plate heat up for 5-7 minutes. Lightly toss the chops in olive oil, then coat with salt and pepper. Place as close to the center of the grill as possible.

Meanwhile, whisk all the remaining ingredients together until well-mixed. You can add red pepper flakes or minced hot pepper (1 tbsp MAX) if you want to spice it up, but it's tight the way it stands. Just like to give options, s'all!

After 4-5 minutes, turn the chops and brush the cooked side with the glaze; coat it well without globbing it on. After 2-3 minutes, turn the chops over again and glaze the other side. Repeat this until the chops are cooked; roughly 8-12 minutes depending on the size of the chops and your heat. The name of the game here is to flip and glaze frequently. The sugars in the glaze will turn the meat a golden-brown. It looks HOT!

If possible, cook the veggies simultaneously. If your grill can't accommodate the volume of food, cook the chops first, then tent in foil; it will give the juices time to come out even more.

Wicked yum.

For dessert, more grilling. We grilled a sliced pineapple that had been soaked in butter rum. We then topped it with Italian marscapone cheese blended with Bailey's and vanilla.

Again, wicked yum.

Grilled Butter-Run Pineapple with Mascarpone-Vanilla sauce

! pineapple, sliced (and cored, if preferred)
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup dark Jamaican rum
1 pinch freshly-ground allspice
1 pinch cinnamon, if desired
1 cup mascarpone cheese
Bailey's Irish Creme to taste
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add rum and spices and whisk briskly until thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour in a shallow baking dish. Add the pineapple slices and let soak, turning occasionally, 4-5 minutes. Put on medium-heated grill and cook, flipping frequently, until golden-brown and slightly burnt, approximately 4-6 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk cheese, Bailey's, and vanilla in a bowl until well-mixed.

Remove pineapple from grill and top with cheese. Serve immediately.

As mascarpone cheese isn't all that sweet, I would imagine you could substitute a hand-made Ricotta cheese to sweeten it up a bit. I haven't tried that variation yet, but it's on my list.

Now, get out there and grill something!

Buon appetito.


A new link.

For those who love fish, Beyond Salmon is a great blog to check out the latest goings-on in the pesce world. One of her entries just now saved me the embarrasment of serving a poor selection to the Mrs.

Thanks, Helen!


Nibble Notes: L'Enfant Cafe

One part Belgian, one part French. Crepes dominate the menu, Belgian tasties...the bar list. The best French Dip I've ever had, Belgian endive salad.

So which is it?

Who frickin' cares?

L'Enfant Cafe provides a bounty-o-happy for anyone wanting French or Belgian. And we were that anyone. Well, four anyones, to be precise.

Our friends, das Webbers, joined us downtown DC for a night of drinky-drinky and eating. After perusing a list of possibilities, we ultimately chose L'Enfant Cafe for its broad selection of Belgian beers. (Factually, I erroneously thought it a Belgian cafe. Oops.)

Located at 2000 18th Street NW in DC, it is a mere four blocks from our apartment. Easily walkable, and so we did. Herr Webber and I speculated over what beers we would find. The girls? Don't have a clue; brau chat can do that to a fella. Especially a fella who love beer as much as we do.

The cafe boasts the largest patio in Adams Morgan (that is not saying much, but it is a goodly-sized patio. Twelve tables provide seating for 72 or so.) The building is on a corner and provides more than a few window seats. The interior is dark wood, and wooden tables and chairs. It is very cozy, and without any pretense whatsoever. Coming from Boston, I found it just like a number of pubs back home, and that comforts. The tables are close enough to feel intimate, but the din is sufficient to provide privacy during conversation. The walls are adorned with posters of yesteryear, French of course, and are interspersed with photos and sundry decorations. It is by no means overwhelming or too much. In fact, after a few seconds of checking it out, I forgot all about the walls.

Sitting near the window, we checked out the menu. Simple, the menu is. The entire right page of the menu is dedicated to crepes of all sorts; sweet, savory, and so on. Clearly, this is a crepe joint. Otherwise, the menu offers sandwiches, salads and appetizers, and bowls of stew.

As we were in no rush, we decided to start with apps and drinks, and then order dinner when the mood struck us. We also decided to each try a beer we had never had before. Herr Webber got Hoegaarden (good for him!), Frau Webber got Stella Artois, Carmencita got a Delirium Tremens, and I got a Chimay Red. None were disappointed. For me, the Chimay Red was a great new flavor, mixing charcoal, molasses, and a slight fruit overtone, resulting in a hearty glass on a chilly night. (Ok, truth be told, I only had one; then I promptly switched to Hoegaarden for the rest of the evening.)

For starters, we ordered a cheese platter, featuring Brie, Camembert, and a mild cheddar served with crackers and fresh red grapes. Additionally, we got an unfortunately-named Pu-Pu L'Enfant; Prosciutto, marinated olives, pearl onions, gherkin pickles, roasted red peppers, and shaved Parmesean cheese. There was more than enough for the four of us to start, and we savored every minute of it, taking over an hour to polish it off; it's just that kind of place. Eventually we ordered dinner. For Carmencita, a turkey club sangwich. For Frau Webber, a crepe. For the guys, the French Dip.

Ok. Let me take a moment to tell you how ridiculous the French Dip was.

Pretty ridiculous, let me tell you.

My number one complaint with French Dips I've had is the au jus. It's always the damn au jus. Noone had ever gotten it right. The juice is meant to be a robust, flavorful, and textured dipping sauce...NOT a weak beef-flavored broth. Give me depth, damn you! We got our French Dips (served with a mesclun salad in a vinaigrette), and I knew L'Enfant meant business. The baguette was wide, browned perfectly, and with just the right amount of crunch; it would prove a worthy tool to sop juice with. The meat was flavorful and slightly stringy. I suspect it was a flank cut; a vast improvement from the chuck cuts I'm used to getting. Ick. Swiss cheese melted all over this sucker and provided a tangy cut to the richness of the salty jus.

The dip: soaking up juice with crusty bread, watching it stain a deep, deep brown is one of life's true pleasures.

The approach: droplets of beef juice fall to the cup below in slow motion, like beads of brown gold going back to the juice lair to await my command to enter my face. I can't believe this is happening to me.

The entry: My jaw drops in anticipation of the sangwich, much like the blast shield dropped for Han Solo and Luke pretending to be an Empire transport ship in The Return of the Jedi. I am still in disbelief. Sweet, sweet disbelief. Satisfaction...imminent.

The bite: Oh. My. God. My eyes tear up. Up until that moment, I could only imagine the joy a mother feels when holding her newly-born child for the first time in the hospital. Now...I weep with understanding. I have to will my face to chew. Otherwise, if left to its own devices, my body would crawl underneath the table and wait to perish, assuming it had seen the best this world had to offer a soul. And so I chew.

The swallow: It pains me to swallow, even though the rest of my system is patiently waiting for the bolus to come. I can't bear to let it go. Just...one...more...chew. Finally, after climax, I am ready for the next bite. I flag the waitress for many more napkins.

Yeah. You think I'm kidding.

For dessert, we ordered a variety of sweet crepes; Amaretto, Nutella, Chocolate, Lemon and Sugar. We shared crepes, the four of us. Crepes...and a moment. We were all changed by my ordering a French Dip sangwich, and somehow, we all knew it. We left better somehow. Better, and happier for me having ordered the sangwich.

The bill was a bit steep for our liking, but when you order $7 beers, that will happen to you. The service was okay (the waitress kept chatting with the bartender, resulting in our having to approach her a couple of times), and moved at a comfortable pace; we spent the better part of three hours eating sangwiches, cheese, and booze.

Interior: 8.50/10.00 (Cozy, dark, and all about the conversation, baby.)
Menu: 7.00/10.00 (Higher if you dig crepes enough to have it dominate a menu.)
Wine list: N/A. (Sorry. I didn't look at all. I'll go back and investigate.)
Service/Waitstaff: 5.00/10.00 (Nice when she was with us. Had to chase, though.)
Food: 9.00/10.00 (Do I really have to recap here?)
Value: 6.00/10.00 (If you order beer. If not, 8.25/10.00. The sangwiches were $9.)

Overall: 8.75/10.00


A mid-winter's snack.

We had a few friends over this evening to enjoy each other's company while the snow piled up outside. We couldn't decide what to serve; stew was too predicatble. Soup? Sure. In fact, we whipped up another batch of the tortellini soup from last night (we got a higher-quality spinach and splurged for the black Angus ground sirloin. What the hell, it's snowing out!) But we needed something else to start off with.

For whatever reason, my mind recalled a time when I had a single green Gironde oyster in San Francisco. Just one. At $7 a pop, a dozen seemed a far, far shot. Besides, where quality of flavor is concerned, one of something is more than enough to savor the experience; over-consuming overwhelms the taste, and leaves you with a lesser impression anyway.

For those who haven't had a green Gironde oyster, they really are something special. By French standards (as they are from the French Atlantic), green oysters must spend at least two mature weeks in their oyster bed, and have a population density of no more than 20 oysters per square meter. Only the Spéciales de claire stays longer (over twice as long), and has a smaller population density (10 per square meter). They are delicious, and "bien équilibrées"; providing a well-balanced taste with smooth flesh texture. As for serving them, hard-core enthusiasts insist you chew them "natural," with no additional sauces or dressings. For those not quite as fervent for the little bi-valves, a vinaigrette with shallots or a lemon sauce is dee-lish. Of course, the high-society way to nibble on the little guys is to eat an oyster (chewing for only a moment to release the flavors), take a sample of crusted bread (a la baguette), and a sip of a dry white wine. Repeat as necessary, or until you are mistaken for a debutante or ambassador's well-wisher.

While at our local Whole Foods, I spied a 16-ounce container of same-day-caught Maryland oysters. They may not be Gironde, but they are fresh, and that makes ALL the difference. Lightly-crumbed and sauteed, they were delightful with nothing more than a twist of lemon and a moderately-chilled glass of Sonoma Chardonnay.

Casserole-frit Huîtres
(modified from MacGourmet)

18-20 fresh oysters, drained
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp telicherry pepper, coarsely ground
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
A pinch of lemon thyme or lemon grass (just a pinch to accentuate the lemon juice served with them.)
1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter

Drain the oysters. Mix the dry ingredients together. Coat both sides of each oyster and put on paper towel for two or three minutes. Heat oil and butter in a frying pan until hot but not burnt. Brown oysters on each side and remove from heat. Serve with your favorite sauce and a glass of chilled vino.

Bon Appetit.


Dinner and a Mac.

My lady and I made our first major purchase together this afternoon; a shiny new Apple laptop computer.

In light of such a major endeavor to set it up and get it going, I wanted to make something easy for dinner. Easy, and tasty, of course. I started flipping through my home recipe cookbook, and came across this gem. Growing up, this soup was one of the favorites; probably THE favorite. I hope you enjoy it as well. Serve it with any crusty bread and fresh parmesean cheese grated over top.

Minestra della Polpetta con Tortellini

1 pound ground sirloin
14 oz. beef broth
14 oz. stewed tomatoes
2 cups tortellini
3 cups fresh chopped spinach
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. parmesean cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp parsely, minced
Garlic salt
Fennel seeds

For meatballs: mix beaten egg, bread crumbs, parsely, onion, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Add sirloin and fold in until well-blended. Preheat oven to 350. Roll meat into smallish balls and put on non-stick baking sheet; this should make 20-25 meatballs. Bake in oven until browned.

For soup: Bring broth, tomatoes, basil, fennel seeds, and oregano to a boil. Add pasta and reduce heat to medium-low to allo pasta to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Add spinach and meatballs. Simmer a further 4-6 minutes. Serve in a bowl with grated parmesean cheese and a fruity white wine.

Buon appetito!