Olympic Gold: Veal Steaks "Stroganoff" with Shiitakes & Portobellos

AFP 520158322 S SPO SPO RUS -I hope you have been enjoying watching the Olympics as much as I have. I've found myself wanting to indulge in a few hearty Russian classics, but how about a new-fashioned Veal Steaks "Stroganoff?" Priyatnogo appetita! Veal Steaks “Stroganoff” with Shiitakes & Portobellos (Radically Simple, Rodale, 2010)

Flavors of fino sherry, espresso, and lemon “lift” an old-fashioned dish, generally made with beef, to something lighter and special.

4 thick veal steaks, about 9 ounces each 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 teaspoons sweet paprika 1 cup heavy cream 6 tablespoons fino sherry 8 ounces baby Portobello mushrooms, sliced 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced 2 teaspoons chopped fresh lemon thyme ¼ teaspoon espresso powder 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives

Preheat the broiler. Rub the veal with the olive oil. Season with the paprika and salt and pepper and arrange on a broiler pan. Heat the cream in a large skillet until bubbly. Add 3 tablespoons of the sherry and all the mushrooms. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the mushrooms soften, 4 minutes. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons sherry, thyme, espresso powder, and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms exude their liquid and then absorb much of the sauce, 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, broil the veal six inches from the heat for 3 to four minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Let rest 5 minutes; thickly slice on the bias. Top with the mushroom sauce and sprinkle with chives. Serves 4

Marc Vetri: A Culinary Bodhisattva

In this world of bug-chomping, mean-spirited, limelight-loving chefs, comes a new breed of nice, clean-shaven, family guys with no tattoos -- who actually feel good about themselves and their customers. Ben Pollinger, the Michelin-starred chef of Oceana in Manhattan is one such guy. His buddy Dan Kluger, of abckitchen, recently deemed New York's best new restaurant, is another. This new crop of chefs cook for the pleasure of their guests (and thereby themselves) and whose goal is for others to experience culinary enlightenment rather than mirror their own hype. These chefs create a kind of dining "sangha" (community) where all participants feel interconnected, whether to some intrinsic food memory, to the earth, to nature, or to other sentient beings. And while I'm certain there are many who fit this description, cooking under the radar in kitchens all across America, by chance I met the kindest, gentlest chef of all.

Just last week, at a small press dinner in New York entitled "Sounds Good, Tastes Good," I met Marc Vetri from the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. Vetri is the real deal:  a philanthropic, guitar-playing, accomplished, brilliantly modest chef who owns three restaurants, has two cookbooks, runs a million dollar foundation, and by happenstance embodies the "six perfections" that a Bodhisattva must generate -- hence the title of this piece. These are:  generosity, ethics, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom. Never mind that Marc met his wife at a yoga class (he summoned the nerve to talk to her after one year) and has been known to meditate, but his divining attributes shown brightly through the food that night. We ate the intangibles that separate one guy's food from another's. More soul, than craft. More you, than me.  Food Network TV producer and host, Marc Summers, a Philadelphia neighbor, who often has holiday meals at Marc's home, says "Vetri is the sweetest, most generous soul I've ever met. I love the guy. And while you couldn't pay me to eat a liver, I love his rigatoni with chicken livers.  I wanted to dive in the bowl and swim around."

Marc's three Philadelphia ventures -- Vetri Ristorante, Osteria and Amis -- are considered among the best Italian restaurants in America. A new place, called Alla Spina, is on its way. Mario Batali has called Marc the "best Italian chef in the country." (Big praise from the buddha himself.)  Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine Magazine, has said when it comes to Marc's hospitality and philosophy, "It's all about the cooks and the cooking. No pretension, just genius food."   James Beard award-winning Vetri, whose grandmother is Sicilian, trained in Bergamo, Italy and himself has trained several chefs who went on to win their own Beard awards. He treats his restaurant family and home family with equal compassion.

Last week's dinner was a fabulous throw-back to experiences of another generation.  Hors d'oeuvres (homemade fennel salami and artichoke mostarda, gutsy caponata, and even gustier bread), were served "family style" as guests meandered with a glass of wine getting to know each other. The seated dinner was served around one long, farm table that sat 24 generously, in a West Village dining spot owned by The Little Owl group. The meal was one of the most authentically Italian imaginable -- both rustic and perfect. Ethereal tuna-ricotta fritters, lusty meatballs, the aforementioned pasta with chicken livers, and the best "plin" -- a stuffed pasta from Piedmont -- I've had.  The roasted lamb shoulder tasted like it came from a salt marsh, the fish braised in olive oil was an exercise in radical simplicity (my mantra), and dessert -- an olive oil cake with amaretti semifreddo and chocolate sauce -- was a crowd-pleaser. Thankfully, all of the recipes can be found in Marc's new book, Rustic Italian Food from Ten Speed Press which is hot off the press this month. But the real dessert was the music that followed. Singer/song-writer Phil Roy sang his heart out while Vetri played "sous-guitarist" to his good sounds.

But perhaps it is Marc's charitable efforts that affords him the Bodhisattva award. Just this past summer, Marc gathered some of the country's best chefs to come to Philadelphia to raise $800,000 for Alex's Lemonade Stand (for children's cancer research.) In 2009, he founded the Vetri Foundation for Children, whose mission is to "support the development of healthy living habits for underserved youth." The foundation recently launched the "Eatiquette" program whose destiny is to have every school in America serving a fresh, family-style lunch. A kind of eating "sangha" (community) for kids. You see, for Marc, it's never just about the food. It's about the people who eat it.

Labor Day Food

The irony about Labor Day is that it has come to signify a day of relaxation, fun, stress-free cooking, and wistful end-of-summer feelings.  The first Labor Day was celebrated in the US in 1882 by the Central Labor Union of New York after being mandated a national holiday by President Grover Cleveland as a reconciliation with the labor movement.  Who knew?  While no longer commemorated in the way prescribed in the holiday's proposal:  "A street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations, to be followed by a festival for the workers and their families," its meaning, like so many other national holidays, has lost its essence.  No matter.  Today its symbolism is one of seasonal transition and, for those of you living on Society Hill, it's no longer fashionable to wear white. But for the rest of us, living elsewhere, we barbecue, shuck corn, cut up watermelon, and make cold soups.   I had one of the best cold soups just last night at the home of Jerry and Beth Adler.   Jerry, is a journalist par excellence (Newsweek editor for eons -- who recently wrote the definitive article about the molecular gastronomist Myhrvold for Smithsonian magazine -- a must-read) and Beth, is a scholarly city planner.   They always have great dinner parties and it feels like a party even when it's just the four of us.  Last night's menu included Jerry's wonderful, original cucumber soup (recipe below), dry-rubbed ribs, grilled zucchini, summer corn, and glorious heirloom tomatoes, graced with avocado and nuggets of mozzarella.  Dessert?  Ronnybrook ice cream and a delicious fruit salad that included fresh figs and mango. A crisp white Protocolo from Spain and a flintly Sancerre.   Dark and stormies, to begin (Dark rum and ginger beer).  Divine.

Divine, too, was another party -- this time for 12 -- at the home of another special hostess, Saralie Slonsky -- considered the doyenne of health-care pr in the country who now teaches a master class at New York University in public relations.  Esteemed guests included New York's food maven Arthur Schwartz, and a young journalist, Max Falkowitz, who writes about spices and ice cream for Serious Eats.   Presaging Labor Day by just a few days, the dinner was the stuff the upcoming holiday is made of:  superb guacamole, smoked trout mousse in tiny cucumber cups, fresh shrimp rolls (like lobster rolls!), grilled skirt steak with a poblano pesto, more heirloom tomatoes, the best and simplest cooked spinach I've ever had, and a new potato-and-fresh herb salad.  Dessert included a homemade amaretti torte with summer berries, walnut cookies, and macaroons from Laduree (!) generously bought and brought by Mr. Falkowitz.  The meal was catered by Freya Clibansky and her assistant, Chef Annie Wright (daughter of the iconic designer Russell Wright.)   Thank you, Saralie!  And thank you, Freya and Annie!

This is the food of Labor Day.   Enjoy.

Jerry Adler's Wonderful Cucumber Soup

16 ounces Fage 2% plain Greek yogurt (or other thick yogurt) 2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped 1/3 cup packed cup chopped cilantro 1/3 packed cup chopped dill 2 to 3 medium cloves of garlic 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, light toasted and ground 1 teaspoon salt freshly ground black pepper, to taste additional cilantro for garnishing freshly made croutons, made from a baguette (sauteed in butter or oil)

Place the first 8 ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.  Chill until very cold.  Garnish with additional slivered cilantro and warm croutons.   Serves 6

Cleaning out the Fridge

For the last four days I have been involved in a "secret project"-- one that has required lots and lots of cooking and food photography. Sixty-two photos to be exact! My days have begun at 5:45 a.m. and have lasted up to 16 hours, at which time, the dishes would be washed (we have no dishwasher!), the shopping lists made for the next day's shoot, and a final sip taken from a big glass of red wine. My house and kitchen, turned into a "studio" with simple lighting, an array of white plates, a cornucopia of fresh ingredients, and a very credible photographer whose work has graced the pages of magazines, books and food products for decades. Part performance art, part circus, it required the best of spirits and the steady hands of an assistant, and at certain times two! -- both of whom work as personal chefs. The rhythm to get so much done in a day was at times cool jazz and at other times a symphonic movement which could have been titled Heroica! (Beethoven). If the Marx Brothers had a theme song, that, too, might describe the mood, as we spliced and diced and chopped, steamed, broiled and sauteed, churned ice cream, and sipped and slurped the strongest iced coffee you can imagine. As a frame of reference, in advertising, getting three shots done a day is good work; in publishing a book, seven or eight shots is considered fabulous. We were pushing 16, if you do the math. The reward? Beautiful images and a refrigerator so full that it was getting warm. My fridge 'runneth over! Up again at 5:45 a.m. this morning to sort out the wheat from the chaff, and to re-jigger odds and ends into dinner. That is, dinner for a week! Ground meat was turned into a meat sauce (I had lots of fresh tomatoes, basil and red onion), my gratin dauphinoise was re-layered with thin slices of roast chicken and asparagus; a multitude of vegetables from the farmer's market were steamed and tossed with fresh fettuccine as a kind of room-temperature salad for lunch today; leftover poached pears, raspberries, fresh orange segments, roasted grapes and slivers of caramelized pineapple turned into a healthy dessert for tonight's meal.

But nothing topped breakfast this morning -- a slice of my husband's dense homemade rye bread spread with leftover scallion butter (used for a creamy corn soup) and sprinkled with salt. I encourage you to visit your fridge and to visit a website called "expendible edibles" for inspiration. You may want to fry the carrot tops lurking in the vegetable drawer and scatter them atop a nice carrot-ginger soup. It's time again to make lemonade out of lemons or better yet, make refreshing agua fresca from leftover watermelon, honeydew or cantaloupe. Recipe below (for carrot tops, too!)

Fried Carrot Tops

1/4 cup lacy green carrot tops 3 tablespoons olive oil

Wash the carrot tops and dry thoroughly. Heat the oil in a small skillet until hot. Carefully add the carrot tops and fry for 30 seconds. or until crispy and still bright green. Transfer to paper towels. Sprinkle very lightly with salt. Stays crispy for several hours.

Agua Fresca (adapted from Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs) This doesn't require much sugar; just let the fresh fruit flavors shine through.

1/2 large ripe cantaloupe or honeydew (or leftover pieces) 1/4 cup sugar slices of lemon or lime

Remove any seeds from melon. Cut into large pieces and put in a blender with the sugar, 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt. Process on high until very smooth. You will have 3 cups of liquid. Put it in a pitcher and add 3 cups of cold water. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Pour over ice and garnish with lemon or lime. Add more sugar (dissolved in hot water), if needed. Garnish with pieces of melon, if you wish. Serves 4

Two Movies That Made Me Hungry

Midnight in Paris and Passione.  French and Italian.  The first, a delicious confection. The latter, a lusty stew. The first, written, produced and directed by Woody Allen is charming and uproariously clever, a look-see into Paris in the 20's, where the Fitzgeralds and Picasso and Salvador Dali mingle with the protagonist (no doubt, Mr. Allen) who is vested in 2009 but rooted in his fantasies. The more you know about Paris during that time, the more you will enjoy it, as much of the pleasure comes from the anticipation of the characters and events.  The latter, written, produced and directed by John Turturro was a musical soul-catcher, depicting life in Naples today built note by note, and dance step by dance step, into a Neapolitan version of Rent in which the protagonist experiences life in the moment through a historical lens.  The main character here is the music of Naples, narrated by Mr. Turturro, who shows both his intellect and insight, and an extraordinary ability to...dance! Yet since we are talking about two of the world's most notable food cities, one could not help find the references, though there were few.  In Midnight in Paris, Maxim's was portrayed as Paris's socio-gastronomic apex, whereas in Passione, Taverna Dell'Arte, the restaurant of one of the leading characters, Don Alfonzo, was in shadow, a mere suggestion of the dining culture in Naples.  The B-roll in each city provided but a glimpse of the culinary clichés we love:  outdoor cafes in Paris and covered outdoor markets in Naples.

I went to see Midnight in Paris with my husband.  It was one of the few dates we've had without our 15 year old daughter.  We, in turn, went to see Passione with our daughter, and with the man who knows more about life, food, and the culture of Naples than anyone -- maestro Arthur Schwartz and his partner, the scholarly Bob Harned. What a joy to dance in our seats together.

If there are two food books that exemplify these movies, they would be Dorie Greenspan's wonderful new, and award-winning book, Cooking Around My French Table, and Arthur's encyclopedic, Naples at Table.  Read them both, see the movies, prepare a meal, buy the Passione soundtrack (available soon), and invite me to dinner.

Women with Beards

There is much chatter about women in the restaurant industry or, rather, the lack of them.  Since my early days as one of the few women chefs in New York (late 1970's/early 1980's), this has been a subject that rears its head every few years.  Has the glass ceiling been shattered?  Have women earned a competitive place alongside their male peers in upscale restaurants?  Is it possible to differentiate food created by women from that of  men?   It depends who you ask, but swirling speculation and empirical evidence aside, Monday night's James Beard Awards showcased women in the brightest of lights.   A terrific article by Sumathi Reddy in the Wall Street Journal, posted moments after the awards, summed up the "women wins":  Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef of Prune (in New York's east village); Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas (best chef Southwest), Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (best chef Southeast), Angela Pinkerton of Eleven Madison Park in New York City (outstanding pastry chef), and in the wine category, Belinda Chang of Danny Meyer's Modern (outstanding wine service).

With a note of sarcasm in her acceptance speech, Ms. Hamilton said "Wow, I didn't know you could win a Beard Award for opening a can of sardines and serving it with Triscuits."  Hmmmm.  Would a guy say that? Prune has a one-star rating from the New York Times as opposed to the numerous two and three-star offerings from the other nominees, including the very awesome April Bloomfield -- whose simple brilliance is in evidence at the Breslin, the John Dory, and the Spotted Pig daily.  But a perusal of all the restaurant and chef categories at the Awards shows some statistical shortcomings.  Out of five choices in each category, there was only one woman, Barbara Lynch of Menton in Boston, who was a nominee for Best New Restaurant.  One woman, Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles, for Outstanding Chef Award, one woman as Rising Star Chef -- Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar, and, out of 50 nominees for regional best chefs, there were only six women* represented.  And true to the industry's norm, there were three women out of five nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef Award.

Many more women (including me) were represented at the media and book awards and there were lots of women "guest chefs" cooking for the receptions.  And there were wonderful women chefs on stage, including Traci des Jardins and Susan Feniger, and major kudos to Emily Luchetti who organized the entire outstanding event. As past president and a member (for three decades!) of the first professional organization of women in food, wine and hospitality, Les Dames d'Escoffier, I can faithfully say that we've come a long way yet still have a long way to go.   But first we must continue to celebrate the industry's extraordinary women -- for our contributions are womanfold.

*Krista Kern Desjarlais of Bresca in Portland, Maine; Maricel Presilla for Cucharamama in Hoboken, New Jersey; April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig in New York City; were nominated, three of the six won in their categories.

Long Island Merlot (and Wine-Dark Short Ribs!)

Last week I was asked to be a judge at a merlot wine tasting and dinner sponsored by the Long Island Merlot Alliance. As a fan of the efforts of Long Island winemakers and their wines since the late 1970's, I served them when I was the chef at Gracie Mansion in 1979 (specifically those from Hargrave Vineyards and Lenz Winery).  Now, at City Winery on Varick Street, I was in the company of a cadre of esteemed wine writers, including Howard Goldberg from the New York Times, Joshua Greene, publisher of Wine & Spirits, Robin Kelley O'Connor from Christie's, and Patricia Savoie from the Wine Media Guild.

While we thought the task at hand was to rate 14 merlots from Long Island, there were seven "decoys" from France and California in the mix. The results showed that few could identify the French and California wines. This amused a handful of us and it showed the promise of Long Island's viticulture, making those seven merlots (and several of the winemakers present) very proud.  I particularly enjoyed a merlot from McCall Vineyard from the North Fork known as Ben's Blend ($45) and also a Merlot Reserve from Castello di Borghese, also from the North Fork ($29).  The wine that took first place (from both the afternoon and evening tastings) was the Wölffer Estate Vineyard Christian's Cuvee Merlot (The Hamptons) at $100 a bottle.  (Who knew?)   All the wines were from the 2007 vintage. The spread between the top wine (Wölffer) was 86.86 and the last (Chateau La Croix Saint-Georges from St. Emilion) was 82.96; narrow indeed.

Dinner was lovely, especially the company.  I was seated next to the beautiful Ann-Marie Borghese (from Castello di Borghese) who is the last person you'd ever expect to see at New York's farmer's markets four days a week pouring her wines.  I can't wait until she comes to the Park Slope market up the street from our house in Grand Army Plaza at the end of May.  All in all, it was a great evening for Long Island, for merlot (which I tend not to cozy up to), and for the wonderful tradition of blind tastings, good food and conversation.

Great partners?  Merlot and wine-dark short ribs.  Here's the recipe from my Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook.  It has a secret ingredient (hoisin!) which makes it really delicious and radically simple to prepare.  A votre sante. Wine-Dark Short Ribs Serve with your favorite mashed potatoes or with brown rice studded with sun-dried cherries.

4 pounds short ribs, cut between the bones (cut in half across the bone, if desired) 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce 2 cups merlot

Place the ribs, 1/2 cup hoisin, and 1 cup merlot in a large, nonreactive bowl.  Cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.  Remove ribs from marinade.  Transfer the marinade to a heavy pot large enough to hold the ribs in one layer.  Add 3 cups water, the ribs, and lots of freshly ground black pepper.  Cover and cook slowly over low heat for 2-1/2 hours, turning several times during cooking.  Meanwhile, place remaining cup of merlot and 2 tablespoons hoisin in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and reduce until 1/2 cup. Set aside.  When tender, remove short ribs with a slotted spoon.  Bring liquid to a boil and cook until thick and syrupy.  Whisk in enough of the reserved wine reduction until you have a well-balanced sauce.  Add salt to taste.  Pour sauce over ribs and serve immediately.  Serves 4

The Best Thing She Ever Ate

About one month ago, I received a very special email from a stranger whom I now consider a loyal friend.  She found me through my website and took the time to write. And what did she say?

Chef Gold: I am fairly sure the subject dish featured in a recent Bon Appetit is not only the best thing I have ever made (in +40 years of cooking), it may be the best thing I've ever eaten. Bravo!

It made me smile. I'm still smiling and decided to share this recipe with you. It originally appeared in the March issue of Bon Appetit in an article I wrote about baked pastas. It is a riff on the Greek dish "Pastistio." According to Peter Minakis who writes a web-column called "Greek Food & Beyond," pastistio is the Greek form of the Italian word pasticcio, which means hodgepodge (among other things).  It is simply a baked pasta dish whose three components include: the pasta (often bucatini), a meat sauce (a classic Bolognese finished with a pinch of cinnamon-- a must), and bechamel (a thick creamy sauce made from butter, flour, milk, eggs and cheese.)

Like the traditional Greek pastistio, my version has a bit of cinnamon in it, but I ramp up the flavors with the addition of ras el hanout (an aromatic spice blend popular in Morocco), cumin, and dried mint -- a hallmark of many Moroccan dishes. This can be assembled and baked early in the day and reheated before serving. (Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 18 minutes.) Try one of the terrific Greek wines (white or red) now available in many wine stores.

I raise a glass to Mary Bowler of Southfield, MI, for her lovely note. Keep in touch!

Morrocan-Inspired “Pastistio” with Spicy Lamb & Cinnamon

2 tablespoons olive oil 1 heaping cup finely diced red onion 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped 1-1/2 tablespoons ras el hanout 1 tablespoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 pound ground lamb 28-ounces plum tomatoes in puree 2 tablespoons dried mint leaves 8 tablespoons unsalted butter 6 tablespoons flour 3 cups milk 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled 3 eggs, separated 1  pound  penne rigate ½ cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Heat oil in a very large skillet.  Add onions and garlic and cook over high heat 5 minutes until soft.  Add lamb and cook 5 minutes until just cooked through.  Add tomatoes, ras el hanout, cinnamon, mint, and all but 1/2 teaspoon cumin.  Bring to a boil, stirring, lower heat and simmer 20 minutes until thick.  Add salt and pepper to taste

Meanwhile, melt 6 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in flour, and cook until golden, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Bring milk just to a boil in another saucepan.  Slowly add hot milk to flour mixture, whisking constantly until smooth.  Bring just to a boil, then simmer several minutes until thick.  Remove from heat.  Stir in feta, egg yolks and remaining cumin.   Whisk 1 minute until yolks “cook.”  Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until just tender, about 12 minutes.  Drain pasta well and transfer to large bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons butter, egg whites and 1/4 cup grated parmesan.  Arrange 1/2 pasta in a deep 9-x-12 inch lasagna pan.  Spread the lamb sauce over pasta.  Top with remaining pasta and press firmly.  Spoon white sauce on top and sprinkle with remaining parmesan.    Bake 40 minutes until bubbly.   Serves 8

Food News & Views

Saturday night we had a fabulous time eating dinner with David Rosengarten at his home with 10 guests from France (including the COO of the famed Dorcester Hotel Group --the Plaza-Athenee, Bel-Aire Hotel, Le Meurice, Beverly Wilshire, the Palace -- you get the idea) and his friend Sylvia Golden who is his business partner.  Not only was the town house one of New York's most beautiful, but the food that night, the most deliciously incongruous.  As many of you know, David Rosengarten is one of the most esteemed foodies in America.  As author of The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook (one of my favorites) and several others, including David Rosengarten Entertains: Fabulous Parties for Food Lovers, he was one of the Food Network's first stars beginning with the trendy show, "Food News & Views," which he hosted with Donna Hanover. (I was a guest on the very first show!) Later, David hosted the award-winning program "Taste."  This particular evening, David wanted to treat his Gallic friends (including a handful of children) to a very decidedly American dinner. In that spirit, we began with tequila-based Bloody Marys (into which a celery stalk and a pickled okra was inserted), oyster shooters, the most amazing crab cakes, the size of softballs, adorned with chipotle mayonnaise and a winning slaw with a background of cumin.  Although we were only twelve, there were two styles of brisket, smoked ribs, carrot pudding, half-a-dozen barbecue sauces, homemade potato chips, and dozens of wines including a Kistler Chardonnay and several credible reds from Long Island.  (In 1980, I "smuggled" a bottle of Kistler in my handbag back from a trip to California.  It had still not arrived on the East Coast and I was sure this was going to be a contender in California's burgeoning wine portfolio.)

For dessert, we had what David considers the best rum cake made in America (will get you the info soon) and our contribution which was a restaurant size cheesecake from Juniors (not so far from where we live.)  There was enough cheesecake to feed all of Paris (they eat small portions) and it was a huge hit.  In our neck of the woods, a cheesecake from Juniors is considered a locavore food! Francois, the COO, brought Sylvia (the evening's host) copies of several of Alain Ducasse's cookbooks -- Ducasse's restaurants are housed in several of the company's hotels.  Ducasse's newest book is not yet available in America and is as impressive as the new Noma cookbook (Rene Redzepi, Noma's chef, was voted the world's best chef this year.)  There was lots of talk about the hotel world, food world, about Paris and Morocco, about India, and most interesting for us, David's upcoming new business ventures --  including, hopefully, a new tv show. More about that as it unfolds but, for now, I will ask David to share his sources.  You won't want to miss the rum cake, brisket, and David's favorite barbecue sauce. The New York Times once said of David..."He explores his subjects so thoroughly that he makes instant  experts of his viewers." Ditto, his dinner guests.

An Accidental Sandwich

On Saturday morning, I woke up craving a chicken salad sandwich. Quite by accident, I wound up having a great one in an unexpected place.  More by mismanagement than good planning, my husband and I found ourselves around 1 p.m. in a newly refurbished Boston Market near New Canaan, Connecticut.  Ever the trends analyst, my husband knew that Boston Market had rejiggered its old formula and he was somewhat interested to try it.  Rarely do we ever eat in fast food restaurants, or fast-casual ones, and on that particular afternoon we were just looking for a pizza joint.  No go. We were starving, so we sucked in our breath and walked into a surprise.  Anchored on each table, in clean and bright Boston Market surroundings, was a bottle of the trendiest condiment of all -- Sriracha sauce!  This spicy, fire-engine red Thai chili sauce has become the darling of upscale restaurant chefs, and it was a welcome semaphore of things to come.  Standing in front of the Boston Market food line, with nice friendly servers behind, were the usual array of Americana side dishes -- corn niblets, creamed spinach, mac and cheese, haricots verts! (skinny string beans) and wall units of slow-roasting chickens.  I was about to order some when I saw a sign for...chicken salad sandwiches!  Craving satisfied?  I took a chance:  For $5.79, freshly-roasted chicken, cut into friendly chunks with just the right about of mayo, sat like juicy mortar between two slabs of credible whole grain bread (with whole grains!) layered with, what was this? Tender leaves of mesclun?  Served on large white china plates?   In addition to Sriracha there was also Jamaican Pick-a-Pepper Sauce and Mexican Cholula hot sauce, too?    Real silverware?  This huge sandwich, weighing in at 68o calories, felt almost virtuous and was especially tasty drizzled with the trendy condiment.  My husband enjoyed his dark meat chicken, served with sides of corn and string beans and an adorable little loaf of corn bread.  Lunch for the two of us was $13.69.  We left arm-in-arm with lots of change in our pockets, happy that we took a chance.

How to use Sriracha: Drizzle it on chicken salad Dot it on top of cream soups Spoon a bit into marinara sauce Stir a bit into melted butter and spoon it on lobsters, scallops, steak Drip it into guacamole Dash it into scrambled eggs

Merci, Bon Appétit

This month's Bon Appétit magazine, March 2011, has a cover story with lots of appeal.  On the upper left are big letters that spell out everyone's favorite comfort dish:  MAC & CHEESE.  "Hands down the tastiest version we've ever made" -- the editors agreed to comment on the cover.  "And other remarkably sumptuous baked pastas," it goes on to say.  Those are great headlines, I have to admit, especially because that story is mine!  More than five months ago I was asked to write an article featuring baked pasta recipes.  I struggled with it more than most and even complained to my best friend, pasta-maven Arthur Schwartz, that it was difficult to put a new spin on not one, but five such recipes. The reasons were plentiful: pasta continues to absorb liquid and tends to "grow" in the dish; there can be a "sameness" about the flavors of most baked pastas, and there are far fewer recipes for baked pastas in the Italian repertoire than you would imagine except for lasagna, baked ziti and cannelloni (when was the last time you saw that on a menu?).   It occurred to me that macaroni and cheese might fit the bill, and so I "amp-ed" up the classic by tossing pasta with my version of pimiento cheese!, then stirred three cheeses into its coral creaminess, and added a flourish of parmesan crumbs on top.  Simply baked until the topping gets crisp and the sauce is bubbling, this slyly named Pimiento Mac & Cheese is rather good.  Are you perchance thinking of making it tonight?  (Recipe below).  The four other featured recipes are Moroccan-Spiced Pastitsio with Lamb & Feta -- perfumed with ras el hanout and dried mint; Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch; a lusty Lasagna with Turkey Sausage Bolognese, flavored with fennel seed, white wine and basil; and Tortellini Gratinati with Mushrooms & Parsnip "Bechamel." That one may, in fact, be my favorite -- flavored with fresh rosemary and grated nutmeg, I'm rather certain no one has ever made a parsnip bechamel before.  The root vegetable, cooked and pureed, takes the place of the butter and flour in the classic sauce, and adds a sweet earthiness of its own.  Hey, maybe the March 2011 issue should be named Buon Appetito!  Enjoy!

Rozanne Gold's Pimiento Mac & Cheese The mix of Parmesan, cheddar, bell pepper and sweet-tangy Peppadew peppers coats the pasta perfectly -- and the panko topping adds great texture.

1 large red bell pepper, 7 to 8 ounces, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 3/4 cup drained Peppadew peppers in brine, 1 tablespoon brine reserved 1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chiles 1-1/4 cups packed shredded extra-sharp yellow cheddar cheese 1 packed cup shredded whole-milk mozzarella 8 ounces medium shell pasta or gemelli

Bring 1/2 cup water, bell pepper, and 1-1/2 garlic cloves to a boil in a small saucepan.  Cover; reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until pepper is soft, about 15 minutes. Toast panko in a skillet over medium-high heat until golden, stirring often, 5 minutes.  Transfer to bowl; cool to lukewarm.  Rub 1 tablespoon butter into crumbs to coat.  Mix in 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Transfer bell pepper mixture to processor.  Add Peppadews and 1 tablespoon brine, 2 tablespoons butter, ground chiles, and 1/2 garlic clove.  Then add cheddar and 1/4 cup parmesan.  Process until sauce is smooth; season with salt and pepper.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter an 8-cup baking dish,  Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite.  Drain; return to pot.  Stir sauce and mozzarella into pasta.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spoon pasta into dish.  Sprinkle with crumb topping.  Bake until topping is crispy and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.  Let rest 10 minutes and serve.  Serves 6