Consider What’s at Steak.

Anderson Live!

I have respect for all people and all peoples’ stories” – Anderson Cooper.

Today I joined the audience at Anderson Live. Because my (ahem) schedule is somewhat flexible and I’m on the Anderson Live email list, I was able to attend at the last minute when the show’s audience coordinator sent an email begging for seat fillers. I like Anderson. He seems like a good guy. I’ve been to his show before and he’s approachable, interested and interesting and holds true to his statement of respecting people and their stories…no matter how bizarre those stories may be.

Today’s show was no exception. And the bizarre started from the get go. Anderson’s co-host was Howie Mandel – very funny guy, right? Right, but widely known for his intense germaphobia. So intense that when the production team set the desk with notes and drinks for Anderson and Howie, Howie’s water was unassembled. An Anderson logo Tervis tumbler was shrouded in a sterile plastic bag and next to it sat an unopened bottle of water. The Tervis tumbler and bottled water stayed undisturbed until Anderson hazed Howie about the hermetically sealed bag. Howie did at that point remove the plastic bag  but never touched or opened the water. He even joked that he couldn’t be sure who had handled the sterile plastic bag…too risky. Too much at stake.

In addition to attending the show, filling a seat, I volunteered to sit in the ‘Tweet Seats’ and tweet about the show while it was happening. There were about 10 of us there – designated ‘TweetSeat Tweeters’ and our tweets were scrolled on a screen during the show. The question wasn’t: how many tweets would a seat tweeter tweet if a seat tweeter could tweet tweets – But more of how do you tweet respecting all people and their stories when the stories were what they were today???

I tweeted a lot. Probably too many tweets for my follower. Yes, that’s right, I have a follower not a following. I’m working on the latter.

Anyway, Anderson’s first guest was the ‘Worst Mom in America‘ – a New York City mom who believes in free-range parenting – the opposite of today’s helicopter parenting. If the helicopter moms in the audience had decided to leap up in outrage, there would have been a lot I could have said. I could have mentioned that I find this helicopter-momming a bit too much. I would have mentioned that from the time my siblings and I were very young (maybe 8 or 10) my mother opened the front door at 8 in the morning and said; ‘Don’t come home until dinner’. This was par for our neighborhood…it was also, in the wake of the Etan Patz disappearance.

But the moms in the audience were surprisingly open to a happy medium between the helicopter hover and completely free-range parenting.

Ultimately, the free-range mom wasn’t half as difficult to tweet about as the second guest: a man who believes that a hair loss prevention drug caused him to be transgender.

Uhmmmm, OK. A veritable conundrum for the generally opinionated food/story/blogger/tweeter who doesn’t want to alienate her follower or the lovely team at Anderson Live.

As the interview started, ‘Mandy’ as she is known now, explained that she had even developed transgender and ‘physical feminization’ from hair loss prevention drugs. She bought these drugs online…from India…on the Internet.

There were so many groups to offend and I didn’t want to offend anyone – not transgender people, balding people, people from India, pharmacists.

I took a page out of Anderson’s book and tried to respect all people and all peoples’ stories. I tried to consider what was at stake: losing my follower? Alienating friends? Letting the Anderson Live team down? Regardless, I think I went pretty safe and hope I did ok.

With any decision, there’s always something at stake…And, at the risk of offending vegetarians, vegans and raw food eaters alike, I made this good, quick, easy and affordable skirt steak the other night.

Marinated Skirt Steak (serves 4)

Mise En Place1. In a small bowl, mix together:

1. In a small bowl, mix together:

  • 1 TBSP of brown sugar
  • The leaves from 4 sprigs of lemon thyme
  • 1 clove of garlic, smashed
  • 1 TSP Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt
  • 1/2 TSP of pepper
  • 2 TBSP Olive Oil

The mix should be a thick but not a totally pasty consistency.

2. Rub onto 1 1/2 – 2lbs of Skirt Steak. You can use flank steak, hanger steak or skirt steak.

3. Cover the meat and refrigerate any where from 2 hours to overnight

Skirt Steak post Rubbing

4. About :30 minutes before cooking, temporate the steak: to Temporate is to remove the steak from the fridge and bring it to room temperature.

5. Heat a non-stick grill pan on medium/high heat and spray lightly with Olive Oil spray.

6. Grill for 2-3 minutes per side. The meat will smoke up – so, apartment dwellers, open a window and door to keep your smoke alarms from going off!

Skirt Steak on the Grill Pan

Skirt Steak Grilled on one side

7. Remove from the grill pan, place on a cutting board and cover loosely with tin foil. Allow the meat to rest for :10minutes. This is a truly important step to ensure that the meat will be juicy. So plan for it.

8. Slice thinly against the grain and serve

I served this the other night with a side of Lemon Marscapone Gnocchi and Garlic Bread.

I enjoyed being one of the Tweeters in the Anderson Live Tweet Seats today – even when I had to hold my hands (that’s like biting your lip for a Tweeter/Blogger) a bit during hair loss transgender guest’s story.

Remembering what Anderson said about respecting all people and their stories helped me to select my words carefully and to consider what might truly be at stake.

I-Talian? I’ve had Gnocchi!

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi with Pesto – pic from La Scala in Boston. it was prettier than mine….

I have a long Italian last name. The kind that doesn’t always fit in the number of spaces provided. The kind that people constantly butcher when trying to pronounce. This means I have to spell it. A lot. Like all the time. I spell it in a sing-song manner with ‘as in’s for the tricky letters. (‘D’ as in ‘David’, ‘G’ as in ‘George’, ‘V’ like ‘Victor’ you get the point).

It also means everyone assumes I’m Italian. Right – not a big leap. And I am…But I’m also half Irish. Typical catholic combo.

Growing up I didn’t know that there were people who had never met Italians. I couldn’t fathom that since there were a lot of Italians in the town where I grew up.

In the 1990s I was dating someone from the South. This guy, let’s call him ‘Bill’ because that is his name, was well educated, read and traveled. He was from an academic family and, while he was raised in Baton Rouge and joined a southern fraternity in college, he had lived north of the Mason-Dixon for a long time.

That said, his mother’s family was from Kingstree, South Carolina – which when she was growing up was a “town of 6,500 people, 95% black” I was told.

Dr Moonlight Graham

Bill’s grandfather was the town ophthalmologist, and at the time we met, 83-years old. Wearing a black suit and somewhat wrinkled white shirt, Dr. Holmes stood about 5’4″ and spoke with a thick southern accent. He sort of looked like a miniature Burt Lancaster as Dr. Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams.

Very sweet man….but, didn’t know much about Italians.

So, when he looked up at me and with a quivering lip and a southern drawl stammered: ‘Now…Now…Now, Annie…Annie…Wh…Wh…What’s your l-ah-st name?’

Uh oh…I wanted to make a good impression. And I sensed that this might be tough once I revealed my half-Italian heritage. There aren’t a lot of us down south and even fewer I assumed in Kingstree.

‘It’s DiGiovanna’ I said apprehensively.

‘Hmm.’ He said…..and then…’Excuse me. Wh…Wh…What is it?’

‘DiGiovanna’ I repeated kindly and a little louder this time. Maybe he just hadn’t heard me.

‘Hmmm.’ He answered. And, we all went on with our meals.

Dr. Holmes looked up and around for a minute or so and then focused on his grandson and said: ‘William, Wh…What’s her l-ah-st name?’

The meal stopped and Bill looked at the Dr. and told him my name again.

At this point, I thought that we might be able to move on without further incident.

But, ah, no.

‘How do you spe-ell that?’ Dr.  Holmes drawled.

Poor thing. He was trying so hard to figure out what was going on – the southern way…He just needed to know where I was from and who my people were.

Bill spelled it for him – annunciated every letter and used my ‘as ins’ brilliantly. Dr. Holmes soaked in every letter. And I thought it might be over…

And then, the clincher. My never-to-be Grandfather-in-law quivered….’Now Now Now…Wh..Wh…What kind of name IS that?’.

He was trying so hard. And was really sweet. But I knew this was all throwing him a bit. I looked around for help, but then just proudly answered: ‘It’s Italian’.

Silence as Dr. Holmes thought about that for a few minutes. I could see the mental filofax in his head searching his 83 years for a point of reference.

Finally, a deep sigh. Relief appeared on his face as he exclaimed:

‘I-Talian!…. I’ve had pizza!’

And that was it.

So, in honor of my I-Talian heritage, for the first time I made Giada De Laurentis’ Marscapone and Lemon Gnocchi with Pesto Sauce.

Mascarpone and Lemon Gnocchi (Serves 4)

1. In a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine:

Mise en Place for the Gnocchi

Mise en Place for the Gnocchi

  • 1 Cup of Mascarpone Cheese
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • the zest of 2 large lemons
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp of kosher salt

2. Once combined and creamy, Slowly mix in 3/4 cup of All-Purpose Flour until it forms a dough.

Gnocchi Dough

3. Form small gnocchis and put them on a floured rimmed baking sheet. I used two spoons and traded bits of the dough between them until they were sort of quenelle shaped. Next time, I’d make them smaller…

Formed Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi

4. Shake the pan gently to cover the Gnocchis-to-be with flour.

5. Transfer to a floured plate, cover with plastic and put in the fridge for up to 2-3 hours. They can be frozen at this point as well and boiled off at a later date.

Floured Gnocchi going to rest in the fridge

6. Remove from the fridge and gently place into simmering water. The gnocchi will sink to the bottom and then float to the top. Once they are floating, continue to cook for 5-6 minutes then remove and place in a serving bowl.

Gnocchi Risen to the Top of Simmering Water

Pesto Sauce

1. In the bowl of a Cuisinart or blender, combine:

  • 2 Cups of Fresh Basil
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1/4 Cup of Pine Nuts
  • The zest of 1/2 lemon – most recipes don’t add the zest, but I wanted to layer in a little lemon to pair well with the lemon marscapone gnocchi.
Pesto Sauce

Pesto Ingredients in the Cuisinart

2. Once combined, slowly drizzle in 2/3 cup of Olive Oil, salt, pepper to taste. We’re adding a salty cheese next, so be careful not to over salt.

Pesto in Cuisinart

Pesto Sauce Blended in Cuisinart

3. Remove from the blender/food processor and stir in 1/2 cup of peccorino cheese

Stir in the Pecorino Cheese

Stirring in the Cheese

4. Gently fold about 1/2 of the pesto into the gnocchi and serve immediately.

I lost track of 1990s Bill and his sweet grandfather, Dr. Holmes. I doubt the good doctor came into contact with many more I-Talians after that night. But he reminded me of the values of a long Italian last name: Even though it often exceeds the spaces provided and in spite of the constant spelling and mispronunciation, it’s my name. It’s I-Talian and I made Gnocchi.

Pantry Raid: Baked Fried Fish

Fish Breading Prep

Fish Breading Prep

One of the greatest benefits to living in my apartment is the trash process. When the garbage is full, I take the bag to the tiny room down the hall, open the hatch and throw the bag down the chute. And it’s gone. Just like that. I can do this any day of the week, any time of the day. Sometimes, I do it in my pajamas – that’s right. In my pajamas.

Recently I was upstate at a friend’s country home. It’s an amazing 1830’s Federal Style home on a big piece of property with nature all around – it’s for sale, I can send you the details. The home is so inviting, in fact, that a giant skunk found its way into one of the window wells and decided to take a nap there…Once we discovered the snoozing skunk, we did what any good Manhattanites would do…we called the police. The officer who arrived kindly confirmed that it was, indeed, a skunk. And that there was nothing he could do to move it. Fortunately for us, country skunk made its own way out of the window well without spraying and well before morning.

Since my friend’s home is for sale, I thought we might want to do an emergency Pantry Raid: go through the kitchen and toss any food items that were expired.

Large Kitchen = Many Cabinets = A Lot of Foodstuff…

The moment I got started, I knew this would be no easy task. There were no fewer than 6 boxes of Chicken Stock (exp 11/11/2010), 2 boxes of Tomato Soup (exp 09/11/2011), 1 box Bisquick (exp 10/15/2010), Nuts, Chocolate, Expensive Cake and Cookie Mixes, crackers, breakfast bars, cereal, grated parmesan cheese from the last decade etc…All well past the expiration dates…

Then, we had to strategerize how to throw all the expired food away. See, trash pick up is once a week up there…and, on Thursdays. We were leaving on Sunday. It’s still pretty hot right now..even upstate. I think you understand the challenge. We couldn’t leave two large garbage bags of post-expiry perishables in a hot bag, in a hot trash bin, in a skunk infested land for a week…uhm gross. Much brainstorming and 3 phone calls later, we found a neighbor willing to come by and take everything out Wednesday night.

Another reminder that living in tiny spaces in NYC, has its benefits.

Regardless of how it happens, I hate throwing away food. As Melissa D’Arabian constantly reminds us: the most expensive ingredients are the ones you throw away.

In my house growing up, expiration dates were just directional information. If cheese or bread had mold, we cut the mold off – ‘It’s penicillin’ my mother would say. Or, ‘stale bread is halfway to toast’. And I turned out OK. I mean, right?

But, I’m not partial to eating penicillin and I’m a little nuts about going through my ‘pantry’.  And determining what is in danger of expiring and creating from there.

Kitchen Pantry

More of a pity than a pantry…but it’s NYC.

This past weekend, when doing my pantry raid I found some well-aged but not yet expired Panko Bread Crumbs and during the freezer-evaluation, some vacu-sealed frozen tilapia…Since there was like totally no mold on either I decided to make…

Baked Fried Fish (serves 2)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prepare a rimmed baking tray with rack insert lightly sprayed with nonstick spray

1. In a bowl combine 1 cup Panko bread crumbs, 1 tbsp Lemon Zest, 1 tsp Lemon Thyme, 1tsp Krazy Mixed Up Salt and 2 tbsp of melted butter.

Panko Lemon Thyme Breading Mix

Panko, Lovely Lemon Thyme, Butter KMUS Breading

2. In a second bowl, whisk one egg white until well frothed – do this by hand to build your arm strength.

NOTE: You can, apparently, freeze the unused yolk.., but I think that’s sort of gross and would opt to keep the yolk in the fridge overnight and jack up an omelet with an extra yolk in the morning.

3. One at a time – Coat 2 medium sized fish filets in the egg white froth (I used tilapia, but you can use any white, flaky fish…cod would work or haddock. Don’t spend a ton of money here.)

4. Put the egg white-d filet into the Panko mix and coat well. If the panko isn’t adhering well, there’s no shame in gently pressing more of the breading onto the top of the fish.

5. Transfer the breaded fish to the prepared rimmed baking tray. Using the rack helps the fish to cook evenly…or so it’s said. I lined the baking dish with aluminum foil for easier clean up.

Breaded fish pre oven

Lovely Tilapia Breaded and Ready for the Oven

6. Bake 15-20 minutes until the breading is golden brown and the fish is flaky and delicious

Baked Fried Fish

Baked Fried Fish post Oven

Eat.

That’s it. I served it with roasted asparagus and parmesan cous-cous.

While penicillin is derived from mold that develops on grains – I’m not really sure if the particular mold that developed on our bread or cheese from childhood really had penicillin benefits of any kind. And, I’m not sure eating just the ‘good parts’ is really a good idea.

And…even though trash disposal from my apartment is simple…throwing out unused, past expiration date food is expensive.

Best to avoid the penicillin predicament and do frequent Pantry Raids: check expiration dates on your food stock and cook from there.

Guerillas in the Midst of Shrimp Tacos

I’m a little bit of a homophone-ophobe. This is a real condition. Seriously. It describes a person who fears words that sound similar but have two entirely different meanings. Like it was so sweet of the hotel to give us this suite. And I loved the kind maid who made the bed. Just typing it makes me shutter.

In the ’70’s there were constant news reports about the Sandinista Guerillas in Nicaragua. In our house, once my father was home, we watched the news. Well, at least the news was on. I can’t say I really was watching it. It was more like background noise I had to endure until prime time programming (Dallas, Taxi, Different Strokes etc) was available. We had one TVone. So, everyone watched the same thing and the bigger people generally got to dictate what that one thing would be.

Anyway, the fighting in Nicaragua had been going on for years, but really heated up in 1979 after the formal unification of the Sandinista guerillas.

This was also around the time that you could find Planet of the Apes television series starring Roddy McDowall reruns on TV.

And, I was pretty young.

So, when the din of the news reported on the guerillas in Nicaragua, I was certain that they meant gorillas.

Yes, to answer the obvious question, the news rolled footage of the guerillas – but it was 1979 and the footage was grainy, not all high def like now. Even when I would watch the reports, I thought the soldiers could totally be gorillas – like the ones on Planet of the Apes.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned about guerillas and then even more time passed before I was able to admit to my mistake. I’ve had homophone-ophobia ever since.

Recently, I was taking my first stab at using tomatillos – which I was a little afraid of. See ‘Tomatillo’ sounds a lot like ‘Tomato’ (though not an exact homophone). But, just as guerillas are completely different than gorillas, – tomatillos not like tomatoes at all. If you’ve never used them and want to google ‘tomatillos’, you’ll be told that tomatillos are more like gooseberries. This information didn’t help to ease my fear as I’ve never used those either.

This is the recipe from FoodNetwork Kitchens that I used for reference and then tweaked. It’s for two pretty decent sized servings.

Shrimp Tacos with an Avocado/Tomatillo Salsa

Marinate 1/2 lb of large, cleaned and deveined raw shrimp in a mix of lemon and lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper for about an hour. I do use frozen ones and it’s fine. Just fine.

Put 1/2 of a small chopped onion, 1/2 a chopped and seeded jalapeno and 1/2 clove of garlic mashed in a food processor. I often sub shallot for garlic – but since the garlic is going to be processed, it won’t dominate the sauce. Finely chop.

Add in 2 peeled and rinsed chopped tomatillos, 1/2 an avocado chopped, 1/2 tsp of salt, the juice of 1/2 a lime and pulse the mixture until chopped but still chunky.

You can stir in a little bit of sour cream at this point. The sour cream is a nice juxtaposition to the spiciness of the jalapeno and garlic.

Transfer to a bowl and top with some fresh chopped cilantro. Set aside.

Pre-heat a grill pan to med/high. Spray with cooking spray.

Take the marinated shrimp and, if you want some spice,  toss with 1/2 tsp of chili powder and immediately place on the grill pan. The shrimp will cook quickly – about 2 minutes per side. I like a little char on my shrimp. Why? Because as per Anne Burrell: ‘brown food is good food’.

In a second pan, warm up 4 flour tortillas. Put a pan on medium and drop the tortillas in there for a minute or so per side. You just want them warmed, not toasted. You can use wheat or corn, but I really prefer flour.

Topped each warmed tortilla with a heathy schmear of the avocado/tomatillo salsa and 2-3, depending on size, shrimp. Garnish with some more cilantro (remembering that cilantro seems to be polarizing – you either love it or hate it) and a lime wedge.

The salsa makes this meal. And, helped me to overcome my fear of those tomato-sounding tomatillos.

You don’t hear a lot about the guerillas in Nicaragua anymore…or much about the original Planet of the Apes for that matter. Still, when I think back on my homophonic mistake, I know I can’t be the sole soul who made such an error. I mean, didn’t anyone think that Jane Goodall as played by Sigourney Weaver was In the Midst of Guerillas?