Garlic Salad, My Most Requested Dish

10 Aug
GS Ingredients

Ingredients for Garlic Salad

Given all the food I cook, it should be annoying that something so ridiculously simple as my garlic salad would be the dish people currently request the most. Annoying, that is, if I didn’t love it myself and could eat it every night.

And often do.

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Garlic Salad

I say its “my” garlic salad because I landed on this recipe after many, many attempts and variations. But to be honest, it’s my attempt at recreating a favorite dish from growing up, Mama Colichia’s House Salad. Colichia’s Italian Village was opened by Mama Colichia in 1935 in Port Arthur, Texas. I’m not sure the original location but when our family was going, which was often (same for much of my hometown), the restaurant was in the Colichia’s house on Proctor Street. The tables were set up in the living room and dining room and Mama Colichia worked out of her kitchen. 

The food was pure old fashioned Sicily and absolutely wonderful. I always ordered either the Veal Parmigiana (mostly) and the lasagna (on special occasions). The Spaghetti and Meatballs were also a town favorite. But the most remarkable dish that came out of that kitchen was the house salad Mama Colichia served with every meal. She made each salad by hand right before it came out of the kitchen. She used — and pardon my Texas-French — a shitload of garlic and distilled white vinegar. Good Lord, that salad. You can live on it.  We would talk about it as a family, obsessing on it. My dad, whom Mama Colichia loved, thought for years she put a dash of Dr. Pepper in the salad, because she used a Dr. Pepper bottle to hold her vinegar. (It works great!) You could see her making the salad when the swinging door dividing the kitchen from the dining room would swing back and forth when the waiters walked through the door. 

While Mama Colichia passed years ago and the house on Procter is no longer an Italian Village, her children and grandchildren still run updated versions at home and I always slide in to have the salad. 

Over the years, I’ve tried different variations to see if I could get close. I’ve finally ‘mastered it’, if you can call the rather ramshackle recipe below mastering. No matter. I will in no way claim this is a good as Mama Coilichia’s, but if/when I ask people what they want for dinner, I hear this the most. And so I give it to you.

Don’t be scared of the garlic. It’s good for you and you will love this.

Oh, and when I made this salad to take the pictures for the blog, I ate the whole bowl. It’s all I ate for dinner, with a martini, so don’t think I’m a pig. And I’m a rabbit, I love all salad in general. But yes I ate the whole bowl. It’s that good.

GS garlic salad

My dinner

GARLIC SALAD (makes 4 small appetizer salads- I double this frequently)

INGREDIENTS 

(use this as a general guideline, I never make it quite the same each time)

4 hearts of romaine, sliced horizontally into 1 inch pieces

6 large cloves of garlic, pressed (see Note below)

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (get the real thing, not out of a canister)

1/4 t salt (I use double, but use 1/4 your first time and taste to your liking)

1/2 t cracked black pepper (same here, I use more but taste as you toss)

NOTE: There is no science to back this up, but I’ve come to believe pressing garlic gives you more garlic flavor than mincing… when using garlic raw, at least. Mincing is great for many uses, cooking and raw, but if you want garlic, I think a pressed garlic clove releases more oil and gives more of a garlic kick. I’ve done side by side taste tests. So, you know, it’s kind of scientific. 

DIRECTIONS 

Put the pressed garlic in a large bowl (if you like salad, get a large wooden salad bowl… yes, it makes a big difference) and pour in the oil. Stir it up, making sure all the garlic is covered by the oil and let it sit 15-30 minutes.

GS garlic and oil

Garlic and olive oil

Pour in the vinegar. Whisk very well to mix.

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Dressing mixed

Throw in your romaine. Toss well to coat. This is a wet salad. If you have dressing at the bottom, no worries. People will be happy (see photos at bottom).

Add the salt, pepper and pecorino. Toss again. Taste. Toss again. You may want more salt, pepper and/or cheese. It should be have a wonderful kick from the vinegar and garlic. Be careful not to face plant into the bowl at this moment. Serve.

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Garlic Salad tossed

NOTE: You can do all different sizes here. Just remember 1:1:1 oil, distilled white vinegar, pecorino romano. You can’t go wrong.

Here is a photo of the dressing remaining in the bowl after all the salad is eaten. And then a friend, who was embarrassed and asked to remain nameless, spooning the remaining dressing out of the bottom of the bowl. I’ve never had dressing left. People use bread or spoons to get the dressing out, once the salad is gone. 

You will, too.

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Leftover dressing

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We will not waste any dressing

Killer Easy Soft Tacos

4 Aug
Soft Taco Ingredients

ingredients for soft tacos

I may be of Cajun heritage but growing up in Texas, Tex-Mex was easily the most consistent staple of my diet.  Our family ate Tex-Mex all the time: at least twice a week at restaurants (El Charro, I miss you so much) and ground beef crispy tacos frequently at home. Cheese Enchiladas with Chili Gravy remain one of my favorite foods in all the world, something I cannot seem to find anywhere but Texas, a version worth eating, at least.

In college, I ate these amazing enchiladas at least three times a week. I always had them as part of the “Deluxe Platter”, a standard on any Tex-Mex menu. The “Deluxe Platter” consists of a first course which is a large plate consisting of one Crispy Beef Taco, one Bean Chalupa, some Chili Con Queso and a Guacamole Salad. Then comes the second plate of two Cheese Enchiladas with Chili Gravy, a Beef Tamale and Rice & Beans. With flour tortillas on the side.

Deluxe platter

A Tex Mex Deluxe Platter

Yes, three times a week. Minimum. Seriously. And I loved putting the enchiladas into a flour tortilla, which I would imagine to some is a terrible faux pas but who cares when you can be this happy.

I was a bit shocked when I moved to California after college. While there’s just as much Mexican food in Los Angeles, it’s very different than Tex-Mex. Shredded beef tacos instead of ground beef? Red Sauce on enchiladas not chili gravy? Corn tortillas with soft tacos, not flour? Black beans instead of pinto peans?

What on earth were these people thinking?

I was quite grumpy about a new type of Mexican my first few years here… although the side effect of not eating a Deluxe Platter at least three times a week was that I lost 25 lbs in my first two months in Los Angeles without even trying. And I’ve come to love the more interior Mexican food of California but I still love Tex-Mex the most.

Another great Tex-Mex dish is soft tacos, which are always made with flour tortillas, not corn. Breakfast tacos – a flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, pico de gallo and bacon or sausage – are heaven and easy to make. We consumed mass quantities of breakfast tacos in college at 3 AM, usually at The Lazy Daisy on Guadalupe which was conveniently located a block from our fraternity house. (Lazy Daisy, I miss you so much.) But I love grilled steak and fish soft tacos as well.

Steak Tacos

Steak Soft Tacos

Let me give you, then, an easy and wonderful dinner you can make quickly when you have all the ingredients on hand. Even better, if you live near a Trader Joe’s, you can get most everything you need in one shop, save canned Chipotles, which you should always have in your pantry anyway.

Take my word for it, people go nuts over these soft tacos.

For the recipe, click here to  Continue reading

No Cook Farmers’ Market Pasta

25 Jul

If you follow the blog, you know how much I love vegetables. Which means you know how much I love a good farmers’ market. And while I love farmers’ markets all year round, it’s hard to beat a farmers’ market in the summer, bursting with the best of fresh vegetables, tomatoes in particular.

Given all these stated loves – and to avoid cooking too much on a hot summer day – I came up with a ‘raw’ pasta sauce that, all humility aside, will blow your mind. After a few variant experiments, I landed on a recipe that is just about perfect. It’s pretty easy too, even though it involves a little dicing and chopping.

FM Pasta ingredients

Ingredients for Farmers Market Pasta

While I like to let the ‘sauce’ sit for 30 minutes to an hour before tossing with the pasta,  to get really flavorful, if you are in a hurry you can start your water boiling, then start prepping the “sauce” and by the time the pasta is finished, the “sauce” will be ready.  Quick, easy and delicious. The recipe is very forgiving, too – have a little more tomato, corn or chili on hand? All good. In fact, the more of the vegetables the better.

You can also vary it, depending on the vegetables you like. Do you have a ton of zucchini or squash? Not a problem, dice it up and add it in. Same for just about any of your favorite vegetables. But the first time you try it – and you must – make it as written below. Be sure to include the herbs, the mint in particular. The mint makes a big difference. Be sure also to use the goat cheese, even if you think you don’t like it. You’ll never know this has goat cheese – people who swear to me they can’t stand goat cheese love this pasta – and the small amount of goat cheese adds a delirious creaminess, particularly when it melds with the juices from the tomatoes. (If you don’t like tomatoes, there’s no helping you, it’s beyond my significant gifts.)

I’ve made this dish a few times the past couple of weeks to prep for the blog post and each time I made it, everyone who tried it raved. 

Trust me. This is a keeper.

For the recipe, click here to Continue reading

A Killer Southern Supper

7 Apr
Chicken Thigh dinner

Pan roasted chicken thighs with long simmered green beans, Lady Cream peas, and rice & gravy.

Like most true Southerners, I was raised on fresh peas and fresh beans. To this day, one of my favorite meals is a big ol’ pot of either one. (A big ol’ pot of greens, too, of course, but that’s another post altogether.) In our house growing up, a pot of peas or beans and some cornbread was all we needed for a very satisfying meal.

Given my obsession with chicken thighs, however (well documented on this blog… here and here, for instance), I figure beans and peas can only be improved upon by a genius new chicken thigh preparation. Add in maybe my favorite food in all the world, rice & gravy (yes it is a single entity), and you have a killer southern supper like no other. So I give you:

Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs in a Mustard Tarragon Cream Sauce, with Long Simmered Green Beans, Lady Cream Peas and Rice & Gravy.

I must note that most cooks wouldn’t serve peas and beans on the same plate. Too much! Overdoing it!

Whatever.

I will admit that when I first starting serving this meal, it was only the chicken, peas and rice & gravy on the plate:

Chicken Dinner 2

A divine plate of food for sure. But a little color on the plate is nice, as is a green vegetable.  I certainly could choose broccoli or spinach or even greens of any type. But can there be too much of a good thing? In a word, no. Thus, I couldn’t resist going full bore southern and adding my long simmered green beans. 

If you’re looking for heaven on a plate, this is it.

Below you will find the recipe for the chicken thighs I’ve developed the last few months, as well as links to recipes for the Lady Cream peas and the green beans.

As for the rice & gravy, just make some white rice (yes, for this, it must be white rice) and cover it with the pan sauce from the chicken.

Did I mention this was heaven on a plate??

Click here for the recipe and to Continue reading

A Food In Film Event

21 Feb

Love food? Love film? Love food in film?

For my Texas readers, I’ll be in Fredericksburg on Friday, March 3rd at the gorgeous Hoffman Haus hosting a “Food In Film” charitable event for The Hill Country Film Festival and a wonderful Film Camp for children HCFF presents every summer.

hoffman-haus

Hoffman Haus Great Room

Food In Film Event

I’ll be showing and discussing many movie clips about food, including scenes from Annie Hall, Moonstruck, The Godfather, Big Night, Julie and Julia and Lady and the Tramp. 

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The Godfather

Executive Chef Judd Wood of Otto’s German Bistro has created a wonderful 5-course meal, aligned with the clips, that will be served as we discuss food in film.

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Big Night

The event is hosted at the beautiful Hoffman Haus Bed and Breakfast, a truly wonderful location.

If you’re in the area, please come out. This is our second year running, it’s for a good cause and it is a lot of fun.

Click here for more info and to get tickets: Food In Film Event

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Lady and the Tramp

breakfast

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Lobsters in “Annie Hall”

 

Spaghetti Squash Amatriciana

3 Feb

I love me some pasta but lately I’ve fallen in love with Spaghetti Squash. A quick roast in the oven turns the insides of this amazing gourd into strands pretty close to the real thing. Depending on your diet, spaghetti squash is healthier than pasta. Once you start using it, there are an almost infinite number of ways you can use the ‘noodles’. And except for pesto, every pasta sauce I’ve tried with it sings. 

spaghetti-squash

Spaghetti Squash noodles

I fell in love with Spaghetti Squash making a marvelous Cacio e Pepe version. Cacio e Pepe, made with pecorino cheese and fresh ground black pepper, is a pasta dish I could eat every night of my life. After making the spaghetti squash version dozens of times, I decided to branch out and invented an oven roasted version of another classic pasta sauce, Amatriciana. The name comes from the Italian town Amatrice, recently in the news as the town was hit badly by a number of earthquakes in 2016.

A spicy tomato sauce made with red and black pepper, red onions and guanciale, I first tried Pasta Amatriciana at a wonderful neighborhood Italian restaurant in New York City, Lupa. That dish blew me away so much I ordered a second bowl at the same sitting. More please. In the years since I’ve made various versions at home, usually substituting pancetta for the guanciale. I still love the pasta version, made entirely on the stove top, but lately it’s this oven roasted version, tossed with spaghetti squash, I eat all the time. 

Don’t just trust me. A great friend of mine, Rob, who is Italian, says he loves the spaghetti squash version better than with regular pasta. (Don’t tell his mother he said that.) Trust me or trust Rob, you will love this version of the classic dish. It might not be the most beautiful plate you’ve ever served, but when it tastes this terrific, who cares?

And you can eat it guilt free!

spagsquashamatingredients

Ingredients for Spaghetti Squash Amaticiana

Click for the recipe Continue reading

Best Films of 2016

31 Dec

(With a little TV included!)

Most exciting to me about the films on this ‘best of’ list are the directors, none of whom are old guard. I should state that while I very much believe diversity of all kinds is of the utmost importance in the arts, I myself don’t think about the age, race, sexual identity or gender of an artist when I view a work. Is this a dichotomy? Some would say yes. I think not. A work of art is great or it isn’t no matter who creates or guides it, at least by my own judgement. 

A debate for another post.

Something wonderful is happening in movies, though. Only after I compiled this list did I realize all the directors were younger or less established than the directors we usually find on year-end lists. A very diverse collection of artists were involved in the movies I found worthy of note in 2016. I didn’t compile the list with this in mind, it just happened. Which fired me up.  

Agree with my list or not, the directing (and writing!) talent found here bodes well for the future of my favorite art form.

ARRIVAL

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Denis Villeneuve is my favorite director working today. As evidenced previously in two incredible thrillers, Prisoners and Sicario, Villeneuve builds tension and dread better than anyone. In Arrival he does the same, brilliantly, but for very different effect. A thought-provoking work of science fiction with a dazzling emotional payoff, I’ve seen the movie three times. It gets better and richer with each viewing.

Along with stunning cinematography by Bradford Young and an innovative score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, Villeneuve creates an atmospheric movie that somehow is simultaneously majestic and intimate. All of the actors shine, even in the smallest parts. Jeremy Renner does some of his warmest, most charming work ever. And Amy Adams is my pick for best actor of the year, male or female. Her understated performance is filled with great emotion and depth. She grounds the movie with a quiet power that makes the last twenty minutes even more thrilling and eye opening. A second viewing only elevates her work, given the final revelations. I’m not ashamed to say I wept the first time I saw ArrivalIt’s a masterpiece.

For the rest of the picks, click here to  Continue reading