Monday, June 25, 2012

'The Cooking" a recipe for living in the "NOW"

Sometimes you remember doing things that, at the time, when you were perhaps young and unexperienced, were life changing. Or were relevant to your relationship with a person, place or time. Marking it, as it were, with a stamp of memory. A mark so strong that even when it is pointed out to you later in life, that it was perhaps, "different than you remember it", you still hold onto the memory as truth. It has become your truth at least, and thus the will be way you remember a place a time a person or even a meal, forever.

Nostalgia is a funny thing in that way. It colors things with that rosy fuzzy hue and patina that makes the common and ordinary somehow sweet and magical. I think we do that as humans because we live so little in our present. Maybe because right now is scary, and real, and it demands we pay attention. We would rather bask in the glow of yester-year , or even dream about a magical tomorrow. Leaving today for dross and not realizing that the only time that is ever really ours and real to us is our Now. Not our yesterday or a tomorrow which may never come.

People who face life changing adversity, sickness or trauma know that "the Now" is real. It forces them to confront the Now and the HOW and the WHY in a way many of us thankfully may never have to until the end when all is done and life and time grow silent. But we live in the meanwhile. We often live in blissful ignorance of the beauty of our immediate NOW. It can be paralyzing a little, this looking back. I have oft thought that perhaps the story of Lot's wife in the Bible had another meaning. One which teaches us that life is meant to be lived looking forward, marching now. Not looking behind us at a yesterday which exists only in our memories and when focused on can stop our forward motion with it's soothing and yet paralyzing charm. Turning us into a pillar of salt as it were. Motionless and unable to go forward.

Am I saying that I think that Nostalgia is bad or silly. Absolutely not! Why what would life be without the basking in the afterglow of so many wonderful moments we have lived in and loved in. I am only saying that we should be careful not to let it get in the way of enjoying and being present in our NOW.

For the  Now can be a scary and difficult place to be even in the common life. That is one without high drama ( war, disease, pestilence). Just the everyday stresses of money, family, relationships, work etc. But even the common stresses of life and the everyday wear and tear can take a toll on our souls and with good measure push us into the space where dreaming or looking behind us is preferable to dealing with the problems of today. But we have to live in the NOW. no choice about it. Even if we long for tomorrow or yesterday the only way to get their is by going through the Now and the day upon us.

It's one of the reasons I like "The Cooking". Cooking can be an immersive experience which pushes us toward what will be another wonderful experience, "The Eating"! For it is done in the moment. And done with wonderful ingredients in the kitchen, and with people and fellowship around the table. The Cooking/Eating experience is one which we will repeat and enjoy and be present to all of our lives. I wish always to be able to prepare meals whether simple or complex and to enjoy them with people I love or whom I have just met and hope to love! That to me is living.

So if you find yourself overwhelmed in your life and there is too much on your plate. Resolve to find a way to take a moment and savor what life has brought you, bitter or sweet. And live in the moment. Live "it", whatever "it" is. If you have to rest do so fine. But don't "look Back" and get caught up on the yesterday, or get dreamy about tomorrow ignoring where you are.

My father had a great saying about those times when life was overwhelming and you thought you could go on, or move forward. He told a story about a Prince, who led his troops into battle. Struck down in the fray he was removed from the field by his men. When asked if he would withdraw from the battle he waved them off and declared, "I will lie here and bleed awhile, but then I will rise and fight again!". So let it be with us.

An Old School Charleston Seafood Dish

When I was younger, well about the of 1979 to be exact, my Mother took us on a beach trip to Florida. On our way back she decided that we were going to stop in Charleston  look around, have dinner, then drive on and visit our relatives in Columbia.

We found ourselves rolling into Charleston about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. We did some sight seeing and then, as my Mom wanted to go to dinner at an old established landmark restaurant called Perdita's, we drove down to where the place was located behind the old customs house on a narrow street.

It was very early. Probably 5pm and we saw from the sign that they were just about to open for dinner. We checked inside with the hostess and two things became clear. One, we were going to be the only people in the place that early. And Two, we would have to dress up to eat there as Coat and tie were required. So without any hesitation my Mom told us to dig out our shirts and ties and jackets from the luggage and we changed right there in the parking lot. My brother and I were not amused but got over it as soon as we entered the restaurant.

Now Perdita's was an old place. Dimly lit it had dark wood accents and dark wallpaper, velvet curtains and velvet seats. Crisp white table clothes greeted us as did a battalion of veteran ( aka. elderly) black servers in vests and starchy white shirts with bow ties. We ordered and had a full meal including appetizers, salads and delicious seafood dishes crafted in the old school Charleston style. I was resistant to the changing in the car, but was glad to have had the meal. It was good.

A few years later Perdita's closed it's doors a victim of time and changing tastes. Carolina's a new Charleston style reataurant opened several years later in the same space. They preserved the back dining room of the original restaurant calling it the "Perdita's Room". You can still get the dish that was most famous at Perdita's, the Fruit de Mer. And again it's a winner.

The chef there serves if up very nicely. ( seen here in a photo from Carolina's)

So I have collected information on how to make this dish which Chef Bacon at Carolina's describes as a Portuguese Bouillabaisse with seared seafood. The secret is in the sauce so once you have that just add in seafood you like. The recipe calls for Salmon and Scallops and Shrimp but you could vary that to your taste. It takes a little time but actually is very easy to prepare. The hardest thing is cleaning the mussels!  So enjoy cooking up a little SC. history Ya'll.

Seafood Fruit de Mer alla Perdita's of Charleston

For the Sauce

Start with  8 cups chicken stock held warm. Then saute in butter 4 car­rots, 2 large onions, 2 cups celery, 1 large bulb of fennel, add 1 star anise and 5 sprigs of thyme. When all the vegetables are cooked down and soft, deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup vermouth and 1/2 cup of white wine. Reduce this down by half and add all of the chicken stock and boil. Add 1/4 cup of whiskey and about ½ cup of tomato paste  and boil to reduce by 1/3. Then add 3 tablespoons grated garlic and 3 pounds of Prince Edward Island mussels which have been scrubbed and cook until they open up.

For the Dish

4 Salmon Filets
8 large scallops
8 large shrimp
After the thyme mussel broth is prepared hold warm, and just before serving stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley. 

Heat a saute pan till very hot. Add a little vegetable oil and then sear scallops, shrimp and salmon separately. Hold warm. When ready to serve compile the dish with the pre-cooked finger­ling potatoes cut long ways in half. Garnish with the celery heart leaves and chopped chives.­ Serve it with warm buttery garlic bread for dipping. So good!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wheel o' Dutch Brie, Summer Stock in Holland Michigan and Easy and Sumptuous Summer Pasta

Summer Stock is that time of year when all New York City theater actors try to get out of the big old smelly, sticky, hot, sweltering city and go into the hinterlands of America to bring culture and art to the hearths and hamlets of the old ole US of A. At least it used to be that, 15 years ago or so when I was starting out. There were almost 100 regional and stock companies looking for actors every season. Now years later there are so few left. So many theaters which employed the young up and coming talent and filled their rosters with those hungry for experience and the sheer desire to perform have vanished. They just ran out of money or patrons and are a lost part of our American landscape in my opinion.  And believe me there were masses of hopefuls in NYC vying for a chance to work long hours for little pay and live in sometimes really bad housing just to be doing what they came to the city to do, Perform!!! Summer Stock provided however, in my opinion some of the best experiences I ever had as a young aspiring broadway baby.  Both on and off the stage. And yes I was once an AUCKTOURRRR!  ( said in an elongated and continental accent).  Still am....or what's left of one!

Why was summer stock such a draw? Well let me explain. It goes something like this. You audition for places all over the US which are producing shows, you get a contract, you travel there, you live there for the duration of the summer normally, you work night and day rehearsing and performing and you love it! Because it's what you want to be doing and not some survival job waiting for the next gig. ( Would you like fries with that!)

I was lucky. I did stock every year I lived in New York as an actor for 15 years ( unless I was on tour and already employed). I did 6 years at Seaside Music Theatre in Daytona Beach Florida and I loved every moment down there and made some of the best friends I would ever have. But I also worked in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York State, and several other states. Now many of those theaters are gone and so is the opportunity for the young and new crop of actors to ply the boards in far flung places. Still theaters live on and some get that chance. Here's hoping they grow and prosper.

One of the things that was always really fun about living in a summer stock environment was entertaining ourselves on a shoestring budget. I mean looking back it was quite the gypsy life. We would roll into a town where the theater was. Find our usually meager quarters and the first thing we would do was decorate. This was usually done as much out of necessity as it was out of fun. The dollar store  and thrify stores were starting places and then it went up to  about the Target neuveau from there. Sheets, Blankets, Lamps, Hanging lights, throws, pillows, pots and pans, blenders, glasses, tupperware, wine racks and rugs, posters and art and even tiki torches were all things which might be acquired to make the hovel into a home for a couple of months
We were just as creative in entertaining and party making. Theme parties such as "White Trash party", "Christmas in July", "Twisted Prom Party", "TV and Movie Personality Party" or even a "Priscilla Queen of the Desert Party" were popular themes.

And dining in parties were of course popular as going out for dinner was not an everyday thing ( Not counting Midnight Taco Bell Runs!!). So we cooked. Some of us well, and some of us not so well, but it was the time together and the fun we had that made it great. Well that and the liquor! Just joking! Well, sort of.

Anyway, I have a couple of recipes from that time that I can share. but this particular recipe is a cross breed from my friend Fred Tessler of the Denver Tessler's ( As you might notice he is becoming a guest star on the blog!) He spends summers at Hope Summer Rep. in Holland Michigan where he and his fellow director types have fantastic dinners all Summer long. He shared this recipe with me which a woman who works with him makes every summer. At first I could not believe what is was or how it was prepared. But it's a dish originally from "The Silver Palette Cookbook", an old favorite of many folks ( I do not own it).
Well I tried it and wow is it good. So I thought I would pass it onto you.  The recipe was described to me this way. Basically you take a small wheel of brie. Soak it in olive oil for a few hours. Cook spaghetti or bucatini and toss it together with sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic. As rich as Brie cheese sounds he maintains that is is not a heavy dish but with a lovely taste and smooth consistency. Blessed with fresh garden herbs and tomatoes it sings summer but with a sumptuous twist.

So here's a recipe for the summer Ya'll give it a try and enjoy!

Pasta with Brie, Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil and Arugula ( Inspired by the Silver Palette)

serves 4-6 as an entree, 6-8 as a first course
4 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 pound Brie cheese, rind removed, torn into irregular pieces
1 cup cleaned fresh basil leaves, cut into strips and 1 cup baby arugula
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 cup best quality olive oil
salt to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti (sometimes I use bucatini, because it’s hearty)
freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Combine tomatoes, brie, basil, garlic, 1 cup olive oil, salt and pepper in a large serving bowl. Prepare at least 2 hours before serving and set aside, covered, at room temperature
2. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and boil until al dente, about 10 minutes.
3. Drain pasta and immediately toss with the tomato sauce and arugula. Serve immediately.

Better than Hillstone's Loaded Potato, Super Stuffed Twice Baked Potatoes with Attitude

As many of you who are reading this know I have a slight compulsion with starch. I mean I love it! It's the glue that ties all meals together. It's a safe bet to assume that where there's starch there's flavor. Which is what brings me to today's entry.

Another slight obsession of mine is dining at the Hillstone ( aka Houston's) restaurant chains. Not obsession, just a preference perhaps, but my love of their food, service and atmosphere is shared by many. They have in their repertoire an astoundingly good baked potato. Perfectly prepared and served up "loaded" with butter, sour cream, bacon, white vermont cheddar cheese, and scallions. Amazing. In fact I recently took a friend there and he commented that it might be the best baked potato he had ever had. This may be true for me as well. It is first off HUGE! Then perfectly baked, and perfectly topped and they give you double toppings if you want! Cause that's heathy! Well OK it's not but it sure as shooting is good once and awhile.

                                                  Loaded Potato at Hillstone in NYC

Well you know I like to take things a bit further than they are done elsewhere. So on with the story.

In my travels I came across the twice baked potato which was brought to my attention at a young age while eating at an Naval Officers Club in Hawaii (story for another day) and I thought it was the best idea in the world! Well, these potatoes were baked split in half and then stuffed with their loaded mashed insides and baked covered in cheese. Wow, were they were good. I have over the course of time made twice baked potatoes many times before. And I have always halved them like with the blue cheese stuffed baked potatoes I blogged about in an earlier entry.

However, the other day it occurred to me it might be tasty to serve them up stuffed but the whole thing, like a double stuffed loaded potato. So that's what I did. Taking the whole potato I baked it, spilt it open, scooped out the flesh, mashed it with all the "loaded" toppings, re-stuffed the potato and served it with a sprinkle of cheese and more scallions for color. And can I tell you it was da Bomb! So good.

So this Summer when you are serving up baked potatoes with your grilled deliciousness, try these decadent beauties. Enjoy Ya'll!!

Forrest's Double Stuffed Jacket Potatoes

4 giant Idaho Baking potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup non fat greek yogurt
1/2 cup dairy sour cream plus 1/2 cup for garnish reserved
4 tablespoons chopped bacon
1 cup shredded white extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 cup chopped green onion
plus 1/4 cup for garnish
2 teaspoons veg. oil
Sea course salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Wash and scrub potatoes till clean
Rub with the oil and sprinkle with the sea salt
Pierce with a folk several times
Place potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet
Bake in the oven for 50 to 60 mins until soft when pierce by a fork
Turn down oven to 300
Remove and cool
Once cool enough sliced the potato's very top off exposing the flesh inside.
Carefully scoop out the insides being careful not to break the skin
Mash the potato with all the remaining ingredients except for the garnish items ( yellow cheese and extra green onions)
Carefully re-stuff each potato till flowing over and puffed out on the top
Replace potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet
Bake for about 25 mins till warmed through
Remove sprinkle with the remaining  sour cream, yellow cheese and green onion, enjoy!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Super Southern One Stop Easy Mac N Cheese

It's not a super surprising thing for me to admit I suppose, but making great Mac n Cheese is something of an obsession of mine. I mean, I love Mac n Cheese like something a little crazy. I am obsessed with finding the best and making the best. I have my favorite restaurant versions here in NYC. For example, I think the Mac n Cheese at 44Xth or Forty Four and Tenth, on tenth ave and 44th street in Manhattan is one of the best mac N Cheeses in the city. My friend Fred Tessler of the Denver Tessler's thinks that French Roast on sixth Ave in the village has the best Mac n Cheese. And other's have their opionions. In my travels across the country I think the best Mac N Cheese I have had are the homemade varieties which crafted with love and caring are beyond what a restaurant can produce. Growing up in a big old southern family I can remember big casseroles of bubbling Mac N Cheese served up on family holiday feast tables, and on lazy Sunday afternoons for "supper". Baked Mac N Cheese seems to be the favorite of many. And there are as many methods and disputes as to what method delivers the best product as there are cooks. Should there be a white sauce base or no sauce base? What should be the topper or no topper? What kinds of cheese are best and what noodles are preferable are all discussion points people have about making Mac!

Everyone has their own version of Mac N Cheese which they remember, make or buy. I think everyone conjours up different visions of what Mac n Cheese looks like for them and how they envision the best Mac n Cheese. Regardless of your preference it all comes down four principles of Mac n Cheese I believe. Those four principles are creamy, crusty, tangy, cheesy. In probably conjours up an image like this...

I mean doesn't that look good? My view point is I want Mac and I don't want to have to wait for it. But what to do if you don't have time and you don't want to use the "Box"?

Well here's an easy way to get there. I sort of changed this to a 2 pot method of cooking from the original "one Pot" version. I was told about this cooking method by a friend I thought it sounded to good to be true but upon looking around online a found that the concept of a "One Pot" Mac n Cheese was definitely out there already. But like most things I wanted to put my own spin on it.  It's sort of gives you the feel of the baked Mac but the ease of doing it all in one pot. So here's this week's recipe. Super Easy Cheesy Mac N Cheese. Enjoy Ya'll.

Forrest's "Best Ever" Super Easy Cheesy Mac N Cheese!! ( Make this tonight it's so good and easy!)
Makes 8 to 10 servings

4 cups large elbow macaroni, uncooked (about 1 lb)
4 1/2 cups low fat milk
3 Teaspoons mustard powder
4 teaspoons salt
4 Tbsp butter
3 tsp garlic powder

dash of nutmeg
1 1/2 cup grated Yellow Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup grated Cotswold Cheese
Plus 1/2 cup grated Yellow Cheddar for the top
Salt and black pepper to taste

Place raw elbow macaroni in colander and quickly rinse under water to rinse off the excess starch and soften the noodles. Let drain.   In a large sauce pan, add milk, raw elbow macaroni, salt, butter, mustard powder and garlic powder.  On medium heat, slowly bring milk/macaroni mixture to a simmer, stirring the macaroni frequently as it comes up to a simmer. You will need to stir the macaroni to keep them from sticking together. Do not leave the pot unattended as milk will come to a boil very quickly and boil over.

Once the pasta and milk come to a high simmer, turn down  the heat to low. Stir frequently. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until milk is almost absorbed but still wet and creamy. If macaroni is not cooked fully, keep adding more milk until macaroni is fully cooked.

When milk has evaporated, stir in grated cheese of your choice. Stir the cheese evenly into the macaroni.  Turn off heat. Place lid on top of pan and cover for about 5 minutes and stir to mix well.

Place the hot contents in a oven to table serving bowl or individual baking dishes which can be placed under a broiler. Cover with the remaining cheddar and place under the broiler till the top in browned and beautiful and crunchy. Serve immediately.