Tag Archives: Friends

Spicy

She chose the fish for Friday dinner.  Well, she and the fishmonger chose together.  She named a price point and asked what was freshest. “You like spicy?” the fishmonger replied.  She said yes, and came with two beautiful catfish filets, practically sparkling with paprika, cayenne, and who-knows-what-else.

The fishmonger was not kidding.  This was some seriously spicy fish.  The fragrance it gave off while I cooked it was remarkably pungent.  I made some tartar sauce from sweet and dill pickles, sour creme and mayonnaise to balance the heat. I went back for seconds–of the sauce.

We trust our fishmonger a lot.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t buy pre-seasoned fish; it would be too easy for an unscrupulous merchant to use strong spices to disguise fish that was a little past its sell-by date. Even so, I think I’ll suggest we season our own catfish next time.

We drove into New York on Saturday evening, but this wasn’t Date Night.  She went dancing with some old friends. They weren’t out clubbing–this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around–but instead attending a big folk dance gathering in a church hall.  (Yes, there are church halls in New York City.)

Meanwhile, I was helping to host an evening celebrating the impending wedding of a friend and collaborator.  Our evening wasn’t wild and crazy, either: we went for dinner at a great Indian restaurant (the groom-to-be’s favorite cuisine), then to an all-you-can-play pinball center.

Although it wasn’t a bachelor party at some strip club, the evening had plenty of spice.  One variety of curry listed on the menu was called phall; it came with the following description:

An excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavor!

So, of course, we had to try it.

For our customers who do this on a dare, we will require you to state a verbal disclaimer not holding us liable for any physical or emotional damage after eating this curry. If you do manage to finish your serving, a bottle of beer is on us, as is a certificate of completion and your picture in the (P)hall of fame.

Nobody in our party was crazy enough to attempt a full portion of  phall; we just asked for a side-order to share. Even so, we left far more in the bowl than we ate.  As with the fishmonger, this description was true to its word.  It was painfully hot.  Unpleasantly hot.  Ridiculously hot.  According to calculations done by a blogger specializing in Indian food, phall is 500 times hotter than tabasco sauce. (By my quick math, that’s 498 times hotter than any food needs to be.)

Having tried a little phall with a great deal of rice and some nan and knowing I’d not want to do that again, I wondered if it might be more useful as a condiment than an entree. A few drops added to some of my goat saag did indeed make the spinach-based curry sing with warmth.  I was careful: more than a few drops, and the song would have been a scream.

The boys finished the evening with milkshakes at Baskin-Robbins.  Dairy helps extinguish the burn from spicy foods. We maybe should have gone for ice cream before pinball. (She had a shake, too, after dancing for three hours, on the same principal as a runner uses chocolate milk as a recovery drink.) None of us made it into the “(p)hall of fame,” but none of us cared. Sometimes, knowing when to walk away is the smartest thing anyone can do.

When Delays, Doubles, and Failed Plans are Just Right

Things don’t always go as planned.

Boxes are unpacked right away, but then piles of indecision clutter the surfaces. Items are carefully re-boxed and placed for the local thrift store to collect, but then they don’t want your extra sofa after all. Contract painters show up four days early and do a lovely job, creating an unexpected construction zone for weekend entertaining.

He was a saint on Friday night, when the long hours, longer commutes, and lack of order finally took their toll on my good humour. The unplanned meltdown was ugly. The picking up and going on was beautiful – suffice it to say that the bedroom, guest room, and living room are all finally pleasant spaces to relax in.

On Saturday afternoon, we put together a stew for our guests – friends stopping over with us on the sad occasion of traveling to a funeral. Comfort food seemed called for.

A three-pound rump roast was cubed, dredged in flour, and seared. A trio of red onions were diced and cooked in the half-drained drippings, collecting the flavorful leavings and warming their bite. A few ribs of celery, a handful of carrots, and a minced bell pepper were added then the beef was tossed on top.  Seasoned liberally with oregano and bay leaf, with two dozen whole peppercorns thrown in for good measure. A palmful of kosher salt. Half a bottle of dry red wine.

(He drank a glass, proclaiming it “good” and “very dry”. I can’t stand the stuff; I take my grapes in a sugary cocktail, thanks.) Four cups of well seasoned mushroom stock were poured over all, then the lid went on and the Dutch oven went into the actual oven while we got back to work.

Six hours later, the beef was tasty but the broth was inconsistent in appearance and flavor. We set the oven to “warm” and left the pot alone overnight.

By Sunday morning, the meat and vegetables were fabulous, but the broth was still a mess – so I set out to repair it.

Solids were scooped from the first Dutch oven, drained, and placed into a second one. The liquid was painstakingly ladled into his grandmother’s gravy strainer, one cup at a time, and left to rest for twelve minutes.

When the oily bits had risen to the surface, every speck of fat was discarded and the good stuff was saved into a saucepan. Two hours later, with “the good stuff” fully assembled, the now fat-free broth was brought to a low simmer and thickened with corn starch – then poured over the meat and vegetable bits. The whole lot was brought back to temperature, covered, then placed back in the 200 degree oven to stay happy until our (delayed) guests arrived.

When they did, baked red potatoes were roughly chopped and placed into shallow bowls. Stew was ladled over top. Seconds were served, along with still and sparkling wines, ginger ales, and plenty of ice cream at dessert.

It couldn’t have been better if it had gone according to plan; there aren’t any leftovers to photograph.

Sometimes doubles aren't awful.

I’m glad to have kept both Dutch Ovens – one enameled, one not.

Manhattan Pancakes

She’d had a rough morning, I’d had a rough afternoon, and breakfast-for-dinner seemed the only way to go.  She replied to my iMessage asking what she’d like:

Ooh! Pancakes? Plain, topped with peanut butter and butter?

I agreed.  It was, in fact, what I was hoping she’d choose.

Meanwhile, knowing that comfort food was on the horizon, I posted jokingly to Facebook that I was having pancakes, and wondered

…what’s an appropriate wine to pair with them. Or perhaps the best hard spirits. Or both.

My friends enthusiastically rose to the challenge.  Suggestions included hard cider (apple or pear), moonshine, beer, various German wines and a couple of sparkling wines, blueberry schnapps, and “honey-infused rye whiskey.” This bunch clearly takes their pancakes-and-drinking seriously.  Or maybe they were just ready to help a friend in need.

The comment stream amused her as much as it had done for me, but that “infused” comment made her sit up and take notice: “We could just pour bourbon over the pancakes.”

All of a sudden I was in the act, too.  “Wait–what if we made some simple syrup…”

“…and added bourbon!”

Now, neither of us is really a drinker. I can mix a Manhattan, split it into two glasses, and there’ll be some left in each glass at the end of the evening. But, as with the one-spoon-sundae that has become a favorite dessert, sometimes just a little taste is enough.

There was no bourbon in the cupboard after all, so she flavored the syrup with rye and a splash of scotch. I mixed batter and heated the griddle. One pancake got the last of a batch of homemade maraschino cherries (the kind where real cherries have been infused with maraschino liqueur, not the candied-and-dyed fakes). We cooked some sausage, deglazed its pan with a little more rye and thickened it with a bit of butter, and drizzled that sauce over the sausage. All the while, she sang Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

“…drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry,
and good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye…”

Nobody got over-served.  We each had just a bit of the sort-of-cocktail syrup over very fluffy pancakes. Even so, neither of us was driving anywhere. The miserable parts of our days faded away in the giddiness of doing something silly in the kitchen, and in its unusual and tasty result.

“Who needs ‘American Pie,'” she asked, “when you’ve got cake!”

There’s quite a lot of the syrup left, but we’ll probably save it until we’ve both had a really good day at work.

Breakfast for Dinner for Grownups

Breakfast-for-Dinner for Grownups