A Moveable Feast…And, A Feast that Moved

Ernest Hemingway’s ability to say so much in so few words strikes a spot in my soul. His style isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always loved his words. His last book was A Moveable Feast. Published in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s suicide, the book is a compilation of autobiographical stories that his widow and fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, culled from the author’s personal notes. The book chronicals Hemingway’s time spent in Paris beginning in the ’20’s with  the likes of Gertrude Stein, F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, James Joyce and others. About the city of lights, he told his friend and later his biographer, AE Hotchner: ‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

I think everyone knows of such a place – a place that stays with them forever. This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be hosted by my friend, Sam, whose moveable feast is Nantucket. The tiny island off the elbow of Cape Cod isn’t everyone’s moveable feast…but, while up there, we did have a feast that moved. Sam’s sister who also has a home on the island arrived early Saturday morning after a 27 hour trek from Utah. With three friends coming to stay, she planned to host a barbecue at her home that night and invited us for dinner. Once settled in, Sam’s sister discovered her grill didn’t work…And at 4pm Saturday it was determined to move the dinner to Sam’s where we were happy to chef and host.

With only two hours and limited supplies, we created a truly impressive feast.

Flank Steak, marinated for two hours in a simple mix of garlic, soy sauce and olive oil. Grilled about 7 minutes per side on med/high heat and served sliced.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts – seven medium sized. Whisk together a combination of 1 tbsp whole grain and 1 tbsp dijon mustard with the juice of 1 1/5 lemons and the juice of 1 lime. Once completely combined, slowly whisk in 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Whisk until the mixture is emulsified and all bubbles disappear. Stir in about a tablespoon of dried thyme – crushed in your hands to release the flavor. Add my new favorite ingredient: Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt. Pour over the chicken. Chiffonade a few basil leaves and add to the tops of the chicken. Marinade covered in the fridge for two hours.

Grill chicken for 5-7 minutes per side over med/high heat.

Corn on the cob -We soaked seven corns in their husks in water for about :30 minutes and then grilled over medium heat for :15 minutes. Let cool. Shuck and serve.

Roasted potatoes. To speed things up, I cubed a medium bag of yellow potatoes. In a bowl, I combined 1/4 to 1/3 cup Olive Oil, 1 large Diced Shallot, about a tsp of dried rosemary (crushed in my palms) and…1 tbsp of Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt. This mixture was then tossed with the cubed potatoes and put on a baking sheet lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Into the oven at 450 for :45 minutes. Warning! Yellow potatoes have a higher moisture content than regular russet potatoes and will emit a good deal of steam in the oven. The steam will burst out and curl your eyelashes when you open the door – I know because it happened to me. Take caution.

Easy salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, avocado and a olive oil/balsamic/dijon vinaigrette.

It was a last minute move and a quickly prepared meal. The nature reserve that backs Sam’s property provided the perfect back drop on a cool and breezy but rainless Nantucket night. It’s nights like these that help us understand why, for many, Nantucket is a moveable feast. The guests had a great time and we came away looking like kitchen rock stars…Isn’t it pretty to think so?

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Good Friends, a Beautiful Garden and Veal Milanese

True friendships are rare treasures that withstand the test of time and distance. This past weekend, eight of my friends met for a girls’ weekend in New York.

The arrivals began as early as Thursday afternoon and the departures started at 6am Sunday morning.

Over several great meals, we caught up on now and reminisced on then. Mostly, there was a lot of laughing, a lot of drinking, a lot of eating and a little singing. Only two of us live in New York. The rest traveled from Los Angeles, Vermont, Boston. and Connecticut.

The restaurants ranged from uber chic to dirty diner. From downtown to the upper west side. And while not the trendiest, I was most happy to share with my friends my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, Bello Giardino. The place isn’t much to look at from the street – a small store front just east of Columbus Avenue on 71st Street. The Tuscan themed dining room is just down a few stairs. It’s clean and well-lit and unlike so many restaurants, the tables aren’t crammed together. The owner, Nick, is always there to greet his guests at the door.

None of that separates it from the 1,000 or so small Italian places in New York. But, when you pass through the restaurant, by the kitchen and the restrooms, there is a beautiful garden underneath a canopy of grapevines. It was about 1,000 degrees and muggy Saturday night, but the nine if us sat centerstage at a table in the secret back garden.

I always order the same thing….Veal Milanese. It comes with a side of Bow Tie pasta and instead of the traditional marinara sauce, I ask for the vodka sauce – best in town.

I’ve tried to mimic this at home…here’s what I do….

Veal Milanese

–     4 thinly pounded veal cutlets

·      Panko bread  crumbs – about 1 1/2 cups – 2 cups

·      1 tsp Italian Seasoning – or any combination of dried oregano, dried thyme, dried rosemary, dried sage
·      1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
·      2 Eggs
·      1 cup all purpose flour
·      Extra Virgin Olive Oil
·      2 tablespoons Butter
·      Two Roma or small tomatoes diced
·      Arugula – two handfuls
·      Lemon
·      Salt and Pepper
Directions:
 
1.   Heat a large skillet over Medium-High heat with a 3-count of good olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons of butter
2.   In three bowls, prepare your breading:
      a.   Bowl one – 1 cup of all purpose flour
      b.   Bowl two – mix together 2 eggs beaten + 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
      c.   Bowl three – mix together 2 cups of Panko breadcrumbs + 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
3.   Pat the veal cutlets dry and season both sides with salt and pepper
4.   Dredge each cutlet first in the flour, then in the egg/mustard mix, then in the panko/italian seasoning mix
5.   Once the Olive Oil is shimmering in your skillet, add the breaded veal cutlets and cook about 4 minutes on each side.
6.   While the cutlets are frying, chop the arugula and combine with the diced tomatoes and the juice of ½ lemon. Set aside
7.   Remove the fried cutlets from the skillet and plate with a generous serving of the arugula / tomato mixture served on top
Note:         If you like spicy foods….you can add a dash of hot sauce to the egg/mustard mixture or use a spicy mustard
         You can also add sliced red onion to the arugula/tomato mixture

Ultimately, it didn’t matter where or what my friends and I ate. Through a quiet restaurant, down a narrow hallway, there’s a door that leads to a beautiful, Tuscan garden. I have known these amazing women for 30+ years. Our friendships endure because each of us sees in the others her own Bello Giardino. Maybe Stephen King said it best, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Lessons Learned: Fry Failure and what kind of roach I would eat.

I believe strongly that I could eat anything if it was fried. After Titanic first came out in November of 1997 catapulting Leonardo DiCaprio to super stardom and teen heartthrob status, I was speaking with a sales guy from the now defunct magazine Teen People. Teen People put Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover for its debut issue in May of 1998 and immediately sold out at newsstand. I believe they even reprinted twice – unheard of for magazines even then. While the sales guy was happy to tell me that the magazine was amazing and far exceeded expectations, he was honest enough to tell me that at the time he could have put a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio on the back of a roach and sold it for $100.

I feel about fried food the way that teenagers felt about Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack in Titanic. And I totally understood his roach example. I hate bugs. All bugs. I even hate butterflies (let’s be honest, they’re really just dressed up moths) and I even hate Lady Bugs. I do not discriminate based on appearance. I just hate all bugs. BUT, I honestly believe that I could eat a roach…if I deep fried it. Seriously.

So the fact that I had never – until yesterday – made fried chicken, amazes me. There are some things about frying that make it a challenge…I live in a small apartment with a very sensitive smoke detector that screeches ‘There is a fire! There is a fire!’ when set off. My neighbors are somewhat used to this, but I don’t want to push it. And…the apartment sort of smells like fried after fying – go figure.

When I visit people with larger kitchens and a good cross draft, however, I try to fry at least one thing. Yesterday it was Ina Garten’s Oven-Fried Chicken. But, I must admit…not my best effort…

Here are the directions and my notes that might help should you give this recipe a go:

1. Place chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour 1 quart buttermilk over them. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

NOTE: Ina uses two whole chickens each cut into 8 pieces. I bought 4 thighs, 4 legs and 2 breasts w/rib meat at the Kroger – not expensive and easier – I’m not a butcher!

2.  The next day…….Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Combine 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper in a large bowl.

NOTE: When I tasted the finished product, I thought this was too salty – which I NEVER say – and also I added a pinch of Paprika – because the Neelys add ‘pap-a-rika’ and I like the Neelys…I don’t like a lot of heat, but the pinch was just right for a little southern kick. I mean, it’s fried chicken!

4. Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and coat each piece thoroughly with the flour mixture.

NOTE: If at all possible – do all of the chicken pieces in one step. In other words, if you have a large baking dish that can fit all of the flour mixture and all of the chicken, that would be best. Otherwise, if you dip in batches, the flour mixture gets all goopy and needs to be remixed. I know because it happened to me.

5. Pour vegetable oil into a large heavy-bottomed stockpot to a depth of 1-inch and heat to 360 degrees F on a thermometer.

NOTE: you can use a pretty deep (3 inches or more) sauce pan safely.

6. Working in batches, carefully place several pieces of chicken in the oil and fry for about 3 minutes on each side until the coating is a light golden brown (it will continue to brown in the oven). Don’t crowd the pieces.

NOTE: Unless you are magic, you must have a thermometer. I tried to do it without a thermometer – using some evaluating temp techniques – and just ended up disappointed in the first batch of chicken I dropped into the oil as the oil wasn’t hot enough and the chicken didn’t crisp up in 3 minutes. It absorbed too much oil and lost some of the coating. I served it anyway…but it wasn’t as pretty and had a bit of a flour taste to it.7. Remove the chicken from the oil and place each piece on a metal baking rack set on a sheet pan.

8. Allow the oil to return to 360 degrees F before frying the next batch. Repeat until all of the chicken is browned on both sides

9. When all the chicken is fried, bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink inside. Serve hot.

THIS is where my improvising totally failed…don’t tell my brother, but he didn’t have a sheet pan, so I used a wire rack on a cookie sheet and during the baking process of the preparation, the oil from the chicken ended up dripping all over the bottom of his oven…oops! I know, totally stupid. But it’s what happened.

All in all – much learned and I look forward to visiting a larger kitchen again so that I can get a second go at this recipe. And, while the 2012 domestic release of Titanic 3D only ‘met expectations’, I hope that my Ina Garten’s Oven-Fried Chicken reboot will far exceed! Because if I ever need to eat a roach, I want to make sure it’s fried to perfection.