Antipasto, Please

30 Sep

Antipasto is a bit if a catch-all. Literally defined as ‘before the meal’ antipasto can and does include almost anything, depending on who is preparing it, and it can be served in a variety of ways… as a platter of unmixed items, as single items on a buffet or as hors d’oeuvre, or, my favorite way, combined all together for a mixture of divine goodness.

antipasto-ingredientsOlives, meats, cheeses, marinated vegetables, pickles, peppers… these are wonderful ingredients all that when combined create not only a terrific appetizer but a fast and delicious lunch or light supper.

Antipasto is also practical as you can also prepare it in a few minutes on a Sunday and then use it in a variety of ways during the week. This is a perfect excuse to use mostly jarred items so I almost always have in the pantry the ingredients I need.

It may not be the most attractive dish you’ve ever made but did I mention how incredible it tastes?

Another positive: it’s difficult to mess up! Just combine your favorite ingredients, equal amounts of everything, in a large bowl with a garlicky vinaigrette. (Make your own dressing, make your own!)

antipasto-tossed

My favorite combination is below but you can add or subtract depending on your taste and diet. Vegetarian? Eliminate the deli meats. Not doing dairy? Fuggedabout the cheese. You don’t like olives? No problem. (But, seriously, you don’t like olives? What’s the problem?)

antipasto-jar

I keep it in a large jar in the fridge. For an appetizer or snack, I simply scoop a little out and dig in. For a perfect lunch or light meal, toss the antipasto with some of your favorite lettuces for a terrific salad. 

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For people on the go or for people who love an incredibly tasty dish, antipasto is a winner.

INGREDIENTS FOR A PERFECT ANTIPASTO

Sliced salami (or any mixture of Italian deli meats)

Sliced provolone 

Cubed Mozzarella

Black and green olives, halved

Peperoncini

Marinated mushrooms, halved

Chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Diced Red Onion

Cherry Tomatoes, halved

Artichoke hearts, quartered

Roasted Red Peppers, sliced

Cornichons

Fresh or dried Oregano

Homemade vinaigrette

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Let sit in the fridge for an hour or so to let the flavors meld. You can keep this in the fridge for at least a week. Let sit a few minutes when you remove from the fridge, to let the oil in the dressing come back to liquid. Eat as is or toss with lettuces for a salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Movie for the Political Season Vol. I

10 Sep

As I noted a few weeks ago, when it comes to politics I tend to keep my big fat mouth shut. I’m not going to change my current habit. Instead, over the next eight weeks or so, in line with my previous posts about Great Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen (Volumes I, II and III), I’ll feature a few outstanding movies many haven’t seen that everyone should encounter. These films also have eye-opening parallels to our current season.

The first is the groundbreaking masterpiece, Children Of Men.

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Released at Christmas in 2006, Children Of Men is a dazzling thriller loosely based on a novel by the great P. D. James. James’ idea was a not too distant future where humankind has gone infertile. The movie takes place in 2027, 18 years after the birth of the last baby, Diego Ricardo. Opening with the death of Diego, which causes worldwide grief, Children of Men thrusts us into a dystopian society that is immediately unsettling given how similar much of this crumbling civilization is to our current world. Britain, where the movie takes place, is the only stable government remaining in the world though it too seems on the verge of collapse. The movie explores what happens when the first woman in 18 years becomes pregnant.

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While extremely relevant and compelling in 2006, what is most stunning about Children of Men is how shockingly prescient it is. Ten years later the movie is even more timely, even more relevant. Watching it today I think “How could they have known?” Humankind isn’t infertile, of course. But almost everything else depicted in the movie is becoming reality at a rapid pace. 

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Children of Men is remarkable cinematically. The director, Alfonso Cuaron, does things with the camera that is unmatched by his peers. From the incredible visuals that subtly comment on the themes, to the long single takes that thrust the audience into the action in an intensely visceral manner, the movie elevated the art of cinema. It’s worth seeing for the cinema language alone. Yet the movie is deep on thematic and emotional levels as well. 

 

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It also contains outstanding performances from every actor including Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Clare-Hope Ashley, Pam Ferris and Clive Owen in one of his best performances as Theo, an emotionally devastated man in a death spiral who is reawakened by the miracle of new life.

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As incredible as is Children of Men, it did not do well when first released. It was a difficult film to market. Christmastime was probably not the best season to release a movie that wrestles with such dark themes. Please don’t let that put you off, however. The movie also wrestles with, and embraces, faith, hope and redemption. I’m not going to say this is a Disney feel good family film, (um, no) but I do find it ultimately very uplifting, though in an appropriately somber manner.

So I encourage you: watch Children of Men!

If you’ve never seen it, you might be surprised how much a ten year old movie has to say about everything going on in the world today. And it certainly works as a gripping thriller. If you have seen it but it has been a while, trust me, Children Of Men is worth a re-watch. Like all great art, this is a movie that can change your perspective on our world.

Have you seen the movie? We’d love to know what you think. Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

When Friends Cook, Vol. II

4 Sep

I cook so often for people it’s always a treat when someone cooks for me. Case in point is my close friend Chris Boghosian. Chris is not only one of the best people I know, he’s also a wonderful cook. I’m lucky enough to have him drop by at least twice a month for dinner. About half the time I’m able to cajole him into doing the cooking.

I’m also lucky because while he loves my kitchen and loves cooking here, he’s often irritated I don’t have some utensil or device he wants to use. Which means he usually shows up with said utensil or device as a gift so he has them on hand when he works his magic in my kitchen.

(Yes, there is a method to my madness. I’ve even added three incredible knives to the kitchen this way, thank you Tiffiny, Tee and Dennis.)

When Chris cooks, I usually request his chicken thighs. They are, simply put, The. Best. Chicken. Thighs. Ever. Chris makes light of this in his recipe below, but don’t let him fool you. I am not being overly hyperbolic here. It’s the truth.

So without further rambling on my part, here is Chris (with a couple of italicized asides from me):

14242418_10208701104839425_3842473103720269941_oBest. Chicken. Thighs. Ever. 

So Tom, in his hyperbolic way, called my pan-fried chicken “Best. Chicken. Ever.” on Facebook today.

Not sure about Best. Ever., but I admit: it’s delicious. Even better, it’s super simple. And like all delicious, yet simple recipes, its goodness lies in a few vital details. Let’s begin…

1) Start with bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces. (Thighs, people… use thighs.) If using breasts, consider cutting in half if they are large, since the tapered side of chicken breast cooks much more quickly than its thickest part. Pat dry the chicken if overly moist and place in a bowl.

2) Generously salt and pepper the chicken.

Vital detail #1: use fresh ground black pepper, which imparts its oil and aroma.

Vital detail #2: use a lot of salt; I estimate about 1/2 teaspoon per piece, maybe more. The idea is to create a salty crust, a salty punch before each bite. 

Vital detail #3: use excellent salt. Remember: not all “sea salt” is high quality; I often joke that salt derived from the polluted waters off Los Angeles is still “sea salt.” Personally, I love “Real Salt,” “Celtic Sea Salt,” and “Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt,” the latter being very affordable. (Chris introduced me to the wonders of sea salt. It’s great.)

Vital detail #4: rub salt and pepper beneath the skin, perhaps needing to loosen the skin first. Then be sure to evenly spread out the skin, “ironing out” skin folds – the idea here is to be sure you have as much “skin surface area” as possible when cooking.

3) Optional: add 1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs per piece, any combo of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (like the song!) along with chopped garlic. (This isn’t really an option, it’s a must! The herbs go both on the skin and under.)

4) Heat a heavy-bottom skillet at medium-high.

Vital detail #5: the more dispersed the heat at the bottom of the pan, the better each and every piece will crisp up. Thus, I’m not a fan of a cast iron skillet for this recipe, since they tend not to evenly disperse heat. Also, consider using the largest gas/electric burner.

Vital detail #6: be certain the pan gets really hot before doing anything else! Most pans will take a few minutes to get really hot. Be patient. 

5) Add oil. I prefer a high quality olive oil for this recipe, though nearly any vegetable oil will work. And be sure to add enough to coat the entire pan.

Vital detail #7: because the pan is so hot, the oil will begin to smoke almost immediately; therefore, be sure to have your chicken nearby.

6) Immediately (and carefully!) add chicken, skin side down. The temperature of the pan will dramatically drop; therefore, keep the temp at medium-high.

Vital detail #8: don’t touch the chicken; be patient. Most people are tempted to poke, prod, and move meat around while it cooks, but not here. Like a moody teenager, leave the chicken alone, allowing the pan to regain a high heat and fry up that skin!

(This is always my biggest problem when cooking chicken or meat in a pan. I don’t have patience. Remember, the chicken will release when it is ready. If you try to turn it and the skin is sticking, leave it alone! Wait for it to release on it’s own.)

7) Monitor the chicken. This is where experience comes in and you’ll need a few attempts to master this recipe. In a nutshell, you want to keep an eye on the chicken, flipping it only a few times. Only after the skin is golden brown should you flip. In my experience, it takes about 15 – 17 minutes per side, sometimes more. Be patient. Don’t poke and prod. 

Vital detail #9: pans and ranges differ, so if your chicken is browning too fast, in under 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium. I suspect you’ll have to do this if cooking with an electric range, for example.

8) Test for doneness. It’s advised that chicken be cooked to 165-degrees. I prefer using a thermometer and if you don’t have one, I strongly recommend the Thermapen. And remember, meat will increase in temperature after removing from heat, so consider pulling the chicken off the pan at around 155-degrees.

(This means let the chicken sit a good 5 or 10 minutes before you eat it! Americans don’t like letting meat rest. So most meat is overcooked, because we pull it off right when it is ready. Even if you start eating right way, it is still going to keep cooking!)

Voila!!!

There are lots of details in this otherwise simple recipe, but all things good comes at the cost of a little extra effort. Hope you enjoy!!!

Christopher… Tom’s Best. Friend. Ever.

Tom’s note: Have some cooked white or brown rice on hand. While the chicken rests a few minutes, toss the rice into the pan and sauté it in the pan juices. Wow, what a great side. These chicken thighs, the rice, a green vegetable and a garlicky salad is an absolutely perfect meal! 

Thanks Chris!

 

 
 
 
 

Your Ultimate Green Salad

11 Aug

Oh my, do I love salad. Of all kinds. Cobb Salad, Antipasto Salad (coming soon), Cole Slaw, Greek Salad, Salad Nicoise, Panzanella (OMG), Tabbouleh, Caprese… I can’t get enough. And while my ‘last meal’ would probably include a Caesar Salad, ultimately my favorite salad is a green salad. Of a very specific kind.

Green Salad Ingredients

Green Salad ingredients

One reason I love green salad is that I love lettuce. Love. It. Basically, I’m a rabbit. Years ago I saw my dear friend Tanja eating lettuce out of a bag like potato chips and I thought, ‘Yep, that’s another reason why we are such good friends.” Crispy, crunchy heaven, that lettuce. The basis for all green salad.

The term green salad, however, can conjure an image of a pitiful scattering of withered lettuce served for free before something better arrives. As the late great comedian John Pinette said, “Salad is not food. Salad comes before food. Salad is a promissory note that food will soon arrive. If my brain sees a salad it says ‘Something good is going to happen soon, wait right here.'” This might be true at a low-rent diner but it misses the genius of an amazing green salad.
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Why Black Lives Matter Matters

12 Jul

For many years I was very ‘involved’ politically. During that time I had passionate experiences on both sides of the political aisle. It has been years, however, since I’ve posted anything publicly. A few years ago, a frustration and weariness set in, causing me to think “What’s the point?” I also realized I was doing more harm than good given my predilection for winning any argument no matter the cost or even whether I was on the right side of the debate. There was also my intense viewpoint, i.e a big fat mouth. So I’ve remained silent, for the most part happily so. 

Like everyone else, the events last week unnerved me. After a lot of thought, I decided to make a rare post on events more weighty than food and film. 

For those who don’t know me, a few declaratives are in order that relate to the title of this essay. Few people will agree with me on every one of these statements of belief. I humbly ask you to continue reading if you react negatively to any of them. Nor am I asking you to agree with me when you have finished. Just hear me out all the way.

As for my declarative statements:

Socially I have ended up fairly liberal, though I definitely have a few conservative positions as well. I am a believer in God, a person of faith. I cannot stomach either of our presidential candidates. I believe in the Second Amendment, but that does not include the right to automatic weapons. You could not find a more ardent, fierce supporter of the police, our amazing men and women in blue. And I believe the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ is of the utmost importance, though it took me a while to accept this last belief.

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A Killer “No-Cook” Summer Pasta

30 Jun
Summer Pasta Ingredients

Ingredients for a fresh summer pasta

My favorite season is Fall for a variety of reasons, not least of which is I look best in fall clothes and it’s all about me. Summer is wonderful, however, because summer means fresh vegetables everywhere. If a bounty of fresh veg doesn’t mean happiness to you, you haven’t been served vegetables the right way.

I have a good friend who refused to eat vegetables, no matter how I served them. Only after years of cajoling did I convince her to try some of mine. She is now a vegetable freak, she can’t get enough. One night she finally explained, “My mom used to take broccoli and boil it until it was white. That’s how she cooked all our vegetables. I thought that was how vegetables tasted!”

Makes me want to weep for vegetable haters everywhere.

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Summer’s Bounty

While we covered a great way to cook vegetables in an earlier post about roasting (Sunday Night Vegetable Roast) another of my favorite ways to eat fresh vegetables is with pasta. In the fall when not in season, roasted vegetables are a wonderful combination with pasta. But when you have vegetables fresh off the vine, there’s no need even to cook them! Trust me on this.

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Ruminations on Prince

22 Apr

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Desire

I find it silly when a famous person dies then people get upset and, well, lose it. Wail, moan, it’s all about me, the whole thing. It’s not like you knew the person, right? How do you think the family feels? How could you be so affected? 

Silly. 

Yet for the second time in my life, I heard of a death while driving my truck and was overcome. Understand, I don’t cry. Like, almost never. 4 or 5 years between a cry — if I’m lucky enough to release the emotion that often. Yet Thursday morning my good friend Lisa, knowing my love for a dazzlingly talented man, texted me as I was navigating the freeways of Los Angeles. Prince had died.  I had to pull over to the side of the road. 

Silly. 

Um, no. 

My friend Andie reposted a beautiful and accurate tweet about this phenomenon. @ElusiveJ wrote:

“Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met. We don’t cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.” 

This makes me ashamed I’ve secretly made fun of those who mourn artists. Yet I don’t think this is why Prince Rodgers Nelson’s death hits so hard.

When listening to Prince’s music, it’s less about coming to know ourselves than experiencing a deep sometimes dangerous revelation. His music and lyrics are filled with desire. Not his desire. But ours. At least for those of us who are dreamers, there may never have been an artist to speak so directly to us, connect so deeply with us. His music confronts us with our desires, our longings, our passions. As his music plays, something begins to bubble up from deep within.

It’s up to the individual listener what happens next. I guess there are people out there who can resist the call. I myself have never been able to suppress what happens inside when Prince’s music plays. Feelings I’ve buried emerge, emotions of all kinds, waves of joy, sadness, longing, sexuality, melancholy. And I feel a deep connection to the one artist I have never been able to resist.

Prince reaches down inside of us and pulls emotion out. Through his music he says, “Hear this? Feel this? You have this inside you, too. Let it out. Don’t be scared. Experience it. And live free.”

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