Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Random acts of kindness, etc. etc..part 2

Meg had only been home for a week, and was already leaving for two weeks to attend an Urban Seminar at La Salle University in Philadelphia, PA.  It's right in the heart of Philly - and it had been a while since I've done any heavy duty city driving.  We get there in one piece (thanks to Daniel, our British GPS), park the car, find her dorm, and decide to get a bite to eat. The school is huge, and sprawling out over a few city blocks.  There's no real way to tell what is part of the University, and what's not, except for the 10 foot high pointy wrought iron fence that surrounds the residence halls.  There's not a lot around, and we notice a restaurant about a block away called The Point on Elkins Avenue. 

We go inside, and order a Margharita Pizza - for those that never had one - it's a simple pizza dough covered with tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella and basil.  Simple, lower fat than the other stuff you normally get.  There is a very friendly person at the counter.  She greeted everyone with a smile, and it seemed like a few regulars came in, and she remembered "their usual".  It took a while to get the pizza, but it was worth the wait.  Crispy yet tender crust, great sauce, just yummy.  I was amazed, because honestly, I was expecting some sort of run of the mill pizza.  We ate, got the leftovers in a box, and it was quiet then, so we talked a bit with the woman behind the counter and the chef who made the pizza.

I brought Meg back to her dorm, checked the time, then decided I would pick up a couple more pizzas from The Point and bring them back to MD for dinner because I'd be getting home around that time and good pizza is hard to come by here in MD unless you are in Baltimore - sorry ppl, NJ born and bred here, I am PICKY about my pizza.

I chatted more with Sharon behind the counter.  She was a doll.  Friendly, Christian, had a great story to tell - Took care of her mom until she passed away 5 years ago, and overcame some personal hurdles she should be damn proud of.  Sweet, friendly, unbelievably nice woman.  I then talk to the chef (whose name is Lenny) a bit more while the pizza is cooking.  He has a son that just graduated college (gah can't remember which one!) that's going into the Army, and a daughter at Albright with a dual major in business and Spanish.  Meg is minoring in Spanish, so a common bond there...his mom was a chef, and taught all her kids how to cook.  He loves cooking, but got a college degree in bio and became an autopsy tech, because it was something that always interested him (me too! which was another common bond) the next question was...how do you go from corpses to cooking??? His kids had grown up, he loved to cook, and retired from the autopsy business, but wanted to keep busy.  A friend got him a job as a cook supervisor at a prison, and he supervised the prison inmate cooks, then that segued into the job he had now with LaSalle which he loves.  And he makes THE BEST pizza -  this is from a Jersey girl, so you know it's da truth

A LaSalle security guard walks in on break - turns out he's a Jersey boy! He was a cop in Philly for years, retired, and is now a security guard.  He orders a salad because he has a heart condition and says he can't eat pizza.  I suggested the margharita one, MUCH less fat if he wants to treat himself.  Turns out he grew up in the same town I was born and spent the first six years of my life in - Englewood, NJ!!! We reminisced about Murray's Funereal Home (his family owned it!!!) the great Jewish deli near the monument, Palisade Avenue, and Dwight Morrow high school.  He gave me a shortcut to route 95 that will bypass most of the rush hour traffic - being a Philly cop for 25 years has its advantages!

A couple more people walk in, and get drawn in the conversation.  I didn't catch their names, but we showed off pictures of our kids, and if Meg is wondering why a strange woman said hi to her last night at dinner...you can blame me for that :-)  Plus, she came in with a guy that saw us pull into the lot, he has a 20 year old son, is 40, and dang, doesn't look a day over 30, and is more jacked than his 20 year old son!  I told him I was so surprised at how nice everyone one, especially since this is a city, and I haven't met any ppl this nice, even in the south, and he just chuckled, and said "yeah, everyone IS nice in Philly - it's our way"

By then, I felt like I was with old friends.  My pizzas were done though, and rush hour was coming.  I gave Sharon a big hug goodbye (what a sweetie!) waved to Lenny, the cop (lou I think?) and my other two new friends, and reluctantly left to hit the road.

Lou's directions were impeccable,  I didn't run into ANY traffic, and bypassed all the downtown rush hour crap by the airport.  Thanks!

If you are ever in Philly - stop at The Point and eat one of Lenny's pizzas.  It's part of LaSalle, and has the nicest people ever.  And for a cheesesteak sandwich my cop friend tells me THE place to go is Pat's King of Steaks - but only if your heart and arteries are in good shape :-)

I do have a question though...If people from Philly are so nice, what happens to them when they hit the stands in their sports arenas? 

Supposedly (and according to my husband who is an avid sports fan) they are the worst in the nation.  Any people from Philly care to comment? :-)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Et tu Brute? Caesar salad made easy.

I promise you...once you make Caesar Salad from scratch, you will NEVER buy bottled Caesar Salad dressing again.  And it's easy to make.  Very easy.  Insanely easy.  See...the more you eat fresh, unprocessed foods that don't come in a package/bottle/box, the more you eschew them in favor of home-made goodness

"eschew" - word of the day meaning to abstain or keep away from; shun; avoid - I always liked saying the word "eschew" - even though it reminds me of a sneeze - it's just one that gives me pleasure whenever it rolls off my tongue

"Bless you!"
"Oh, I didn't sneeze, I was trying to make a point"

Before we start - let me give you a quick lesson on crushing garlic. Don't bother trying to peel the cloves, just separate 3 of them and see the magic. You need a flat, broad, knife. like this one:

Then, you need a flat surface, preferably a cutting board. Put the garlic clove on the cutting board, cover it with the flat side of the knife, then bang your fist down on it.

Voila! the skin peels off the garlic like buttah, and it's already partly smooshed, making it easy for you to mince.

It's also a great way to get out some aggression on people you make an effort to eschew. Just pretend it's their head or something. The skin will peel off like magic. Poof! Gone! Voila! Now you have a lovely, partially smooshed clove of garlic ready for mincing by your verysharp knife.

Watch your fingers. The easiest way to do this, is hold onto the tip of your knife and move the blade in a 'chopping' motion around the garlic.  Now...on to the salad!


Ingredients: (printable recipe is HERE along with a recipe for home made croutons, if you get ambitious ) Serves 4-6

1 head of Romaine Lettuce
1 egg dropped in boiling water for ONE MINUTE ONLY then rinsed under cold water if you want to skip this step, you can just do it raw.  However, I would suggest using organic, free range, cage free eggs to reduce the risk of salmonella.
1/2 cup Olive Oil - Extra Virgin, Cold Pressed, first press. - don't ask why, just buy.
1/2 cup Parmesean cheese - grated (or you could buy a chunk and grate it yourself - tastier that way)
about 1 inch of Anchovy Paste I promise you will not taste fish - However, if you are too chicken, you can substitute a teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce - it tastes just as good
Fresh Ground Black Pepper Please, please PLEASE do NOT use "ground pepper" - ugh, especially when there are so many inexpensive disposable black pepper mills on the market.
3 cloves Garlic  "ESCHEW" the jarred, already minced crap.  It doesn't have half the flavor of fresh.
1 lemon

Once you smoosh the garlic, add the egg.  Whisk until blended.  Now, while whisking, add a thin stream of olive oil - Your dressing will thicken.  Pretty cool! 

Roll a lemon around on the counter (it helps get more juice out) cut it in half, and squeeeeeze both halves over your egg/oliveoil/garlic stuff.  Whisk some more.  Add your anchovy paste - I put about an inch in (I have a tube I keep in the fridge) - if you are too chicken to try the anchovy paste, then use about a tsp. of Worcestershire Sauce.  It's now ready to toss with your lettuce.  Break up your head of Romaine into generous bite size pieces, and throw into the bowl (or, you can just buy a bag or two of the already prepared stuff)  Toss the leaves until evenly coated with the dressing.  You may want to add more leaves if you don't like a lot of dressing on your salad. 

Add the parmesean cheese (1/2 cup in case you forgot) and PLENTY of fresh ground black pepper to taste.  Lastly, garnish with some croutons and a sprinkling of parm, and you're done.

If you want to get the garlic scent off your hands and cutting board, just rub the lemon halves over them both.  No more odor!  Then, toss it down your garbage disposal to freshen it up - or...squeeze what's left of juice in the lemon halves into a pyrex cup of water, put in your microwave for about 3-4 minutes (or until boiling) let sit for about 10 minutes, wipe clean - How easy is that?

Serve the salad with your favorite pasta dish, as lunch, or add some grilled chicken, a loaf of crusty bread, some white wine, and you have a nice summer dinner.

If you want to dispense with the fancy shmancy "hey, look at me, I can COOK" stuff, put the egg, garlic, olive oil, anchovy paste or Worcestershire Sauce in a jar and shake, shake, shake til' blended.  Pour over your lettuce leaves, then toss with parm cheese and fresh ground black pepper, and instead of humming "My milk shake brings all the boyz to the yard" you'll be humming "My Caesar salad brings all the boyz to the yard"  YEAH!

A very useful tool to have in your kitchen is a mortar and pestle.  You can smash avocados, garlic, bananas, spices, whatever with it.  I have two - a molcajete a Mexican friend got me - it's made from lava rock, and is great for making the rustic salsas, grinding spices, etc.  I also have a wooden mortar and pestle made by Imusa.  I use this one most often.  It's cheap - about $4-6.  Definitely worth it - You can find them in Latino/Hispanic markets, and some Kmarts have them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Random acts of kindness that have to do with food - sort of.

There are some very nice people in Pennsylvania.  I'm not sure why everyone I've ever met from there is so nice...perhaps it's some kind of "happy, happy, joy, joy" stuff they put in the water - but Pennsylvanians are incredibly nice, friendly, helpful.  In the past few weeks, I've had some great random encounters...

My first encounter was in Indiana, PA.  I was bringing Meg home from college.  We took hubby's truck, because it fits more "stuff" than the Subaru. 

Loaded it up - lots of construction driving to Indiana PA, and so I had to put the headlights on - It's the law.  After loading up the truck so full we couldn't possibly fit any more stuff, we headed off to a local place called The Grapevine Restaurant and Lounge.  They actually have good food there.  My brothers-in-laws Bill and Richard found it when they went up to visit Meg.  If you are ever in Indiana, please go there and get the Caesar Salad - it's a must have.  We had a very nice meal, went out to the car...dead battery. 

Turns out it's not a great idea to leave the lights on for 3-4 hours they were on the whole time we were loading Meg's dorm room into the back of the truck unbeknownst to me - the lights shut off with the engine on the car I drive, AND the one I used to drive before that, and the "DING DING" thingie that is supposed to warn  you not to make such a moronic move is very faint in hubby's car.  Just sayin'... I go in, ask if anyone has jumper cables.  Turns out the owner, Joe Medvetz, is there eating dinner, and HE has jumper cables.  He comes out, the car doesn't turn over.  Worse than that, the alarm starts going off, the windshield wipers start going on, and I look like one of those panicky women in a sitcom - trying to turn off the wipers (which were in the OFF position btw), stop the horn from its infernal BEEP BEEP BEEP, and turn the car over all at the same time.  Somehow with some wrangling, we get the horn to stop beeping and the wipers stop wiping imaginary rain off the windshield.  I turn the car over.  Nada.  Joe and I let it charge up a bit, I put Meg in the driver's seat, and we try again.  The horn goes off...This happens off and on (with the wipers making an occasional "Twilight Zone" guest appearance) and the damn engine still doesn't turn over for about a good 30 minutes.  I call hubby.  

Chef says you can't start the car without the remote (I didn't bring it - it was 200 miles away on Owen's keychain), because the alarm needs to be deactivated - hence the possessed windshield wipers and battery draining horn beeps.  Chef says call home, try and activate remote through phone, hence the call to hubby.  No luck.  Joe calls a local Nissan dealer, I explain situation to hubby who says it's BS that you need to start the car with the remote, he's jumped the car before, but then I pointed out to him, he HAD THE REMOTE.  Hubby calls a Nissan dealer.  It's over an hour now, Meg is gone (she had a dessert date) luckily there was a friend on campus with a car to pick her up.  Hubby calls back when Joe is on the phone with a local Nissan dealer, we compare notes.  Very similar, but a subtle difference from the Local Nissan Guy.  We have to charge the car, shut ALL the doors, lock them with the key, then unlock them, and that should shut the alarm off.  We do that...Success!!!  Right now, I am loving the local Nissan guy even though I never met him. Now the battery is even MORE drained from trying to protect the car from thievery like thieves could get it to GO anywhere at this point So we let the battery charge up for about 20 minutes.  I cross my fingers, say a prayer, and WALLAH!!!!!! WE have IGNITION!!!!!  Joe suggests getting a new battery, since the battery is 7 years old, hubby concurs.  He suggests Sears or Walmart.  Joe has me follow him to Sears, then to Walmart, which were both closed, because it is now just after 8 pm (2 hours into the ordeal)  He follows me BACK to my hotel to make sure I didn't get stuck, waits to see if the car will start up again (it did) and gives  me his phone number and says to call him in the morning if I had any problems. 

To say he's a sweetheart is an understatement.  Terri, you have a wonderful hubby, and Joe, you have a saint of a wife that let some strange broad from MD interrupt a family dinner.

I wrote them a thank you note, and sent them (of course) Salazon Chocolate for being so "sweet" - get it? Besides, I figured they enjoyed good food, and I better stop right here before this turns into another "OMG I LOVE SALAZON CHOCOLATE" post...

So Joe and Terri - I know you probably will not read this, nor the Chef at your restaurant, but thank you for being the kind, helpful people you are, and I am so happy to have met you, and so grateful for your time that you unselfishly gave to me. 

And if anyone is every visiting Indiana PA, again, stop at Joe and Terri's place - the Grapevine Restaurant and Lounge - it's a nondescript storefront on the outside, but cozy and classy on the inside - and the food is great! :)

I should really put a recipe in here...but this post is long enough - look for parts 2 and 3 - I'll give you a home made Caesar Salad recipe that ROCKS, and my adventures in Philly with yet more Pennsylvanians :-)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cosmos...part 2

Now that the weather is getting warmer (it was 91 here yesterday and hubby actually kicked the AC on "to see if it works") I am thinking about Cosmos.  My thoughts coincide with SATC part 2 coming out in May - yay!  I have mixed feelings about this movie though...On one hand, I'd love to see the girls together again, it looks like Carrie runs into Aiden, and something happens, cos she is calling Big and sayin' "Something happened" which is never good.  However, they are all WELL past the "single Cosmo girl" age, and somehow those extra wrinkles with the haute couture "young, hip" look, just don't seem to go together - and I should talk!

Well, I don't have many wrinkles, but when a woman starts to get to the age where she doesn't want to ADMIT her age, things start headin' south quickly, if you know what I mean.  Honey, you gonna have things saggin, that you never thought COULD sag.  You finally understand where the saying "over the shoulder boulder holder" came from, cos your boulders would just tumble down the mountain if there wasn't SOMETHING holdin' them puppies up.  Braless is no longer an option.  Even your face starts to creep south.  Thing is, so are all your friend's faces, so you are not alone.  You still feel young, you just don't LOOK young.  I for one am going to age gracefully.  I don't care if my lady parts want to fly south - let 'em.  So what if I get a few grey hairs, and start lookin' like my neighbor's beagle Buffy? I'm still ME on the inside, and I can still laugh with my friends, knock down a few shots and some beers (although I'll probably pay for it in the morning), and make double entendres til they are comin' out of my ears. 

Age is what you make it.  If you FEEL old, then you ARE old...but I don't want to see OLD SATC - Can you imagine if they made a SATC 7? Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda would probably be residents of a Dell Webb Sun City retirement community somewhere in the west, wearing floppy hats and teetering around on their 30 year old Manolos.  Samantha would be screwing all the widowers/divorced men in the community, Charlotte would be making scrapbooks of her grandkids, Miranda would be campaigning for elder rights, and Carrie would still be wearing her hair long and loose (although it would be grey) lots of turquoise jewelry, and she and Big would have the nicest house in the community.  Aiden would be living down the block to make things interesting, and Steve would open up a bar in the complex.  And they'd still be drinking Cosmos.

I love Cosmos.  I love making them, I love drinking them, I love the flavor.  I also feel wonderfully self indulgent when I make them.  I found these adorable martini glasses that make me feel special, and started a small collection.  I now have three.  One came from the UK, because they were sold out in the US, AND I paid LESS for it than I would have here (such the bargain hunter!) the other is courtesy of my darling daughter, and the third was the first in my collection.  The glasses are by Lolita , and they've branched out into wine, champagne flutes, etc..but I still think their martini glasses are the best. 

I have flip flops, (because I love flip-flops), "Music-tini" (because I love music - it's a major part of my life), and

"Grandma Got Run Over" (because it's incredibly silly, makes me laugh, and I love seeing her face at the bottom of the glass) and *update* I just obtained a fourth "Lolita" glass - this one is a retired "19th hole"  martini glass I got at a bah-gin on E-Bay dahlin' because I play golf, hubby is avid about golf, and we almost ended our engagement on a golf course - so...sentimental reasons :-P..I'm a happy camper.

I think every woman needs to have something that makes them feel special...indulged...and, oh, I don't know...bubbly?  Lolita Martini glasses do that for me.  I don't want a huge collection - I drink out of them, then wash them carefully and dry them before they go back in their boxes...but I don't mind getting ones that are part of the reflection that is ME, so it just goes to reason that I would not be content with just the original Cosmopolitan recipe.  I sort of made it my own, and I love the difference, and...I am willing to share it with you.  Here's hoping that YOU get YOUR favorite "Lolita" glass, shake up some Cosmos, put your feet up, and feel bubbly.

First, a decent vodka is a must.  It's the main ingredient in a Cosmo, and everyone seems to have a preference for vodka these days.  There's so many to choose from, all of them touting that they are the best, but I found the best, and it's cheaper than Diddy's, smoother than Smirnoff, and tastier than Stoli, and Tina-wina...guess what? It's made in Austin, TX! YeeeeeeeeeHAH!!!!  Tito's Handmade Vodka.  I love this stuff - not in an alcoholic sort of way, but I love it.  It's smooth, you could drink it straight, and very reasonably priced.  Read his story, it's kinda cool - It started out as a hobby, making flavored vodkas for friends, then he started trying to make his own vodka, succeeded, and the rest well, I'll let you read it :)  Best vodka I've ever had, and I've had a lot of vodka over the years I've been of legal drinkin' age.  Get it, nuff' said.  Besides, you'll be supporting a fellow Texan.  Hell, I'm an east coast gal, and I LOVE his vodka.  Tito hon, you got mah vote!

OK...you got the vodka.  Now, you need Limoncello, which is a lemon liqueur from Italy.  The original recipe calls for an orange liqueur like Cointreau, but I like Limoncello.   You will also need cranberry juice and orange juice, kapish? Good.  Here are the rough "parts" for my "Chris-tini":

2 parts vodka
1 part cranberry juice
1 part Limoncello
1 part orange juice.

Put in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice.  Shake it like a polaroid picture.  Strain and pour into your martini glass.  Enjoy.

This is easy to adapt.  If it's too strong for you, add more cranberry/orange juice.  If it's not sweet enough, add more juice.  If you like it sweet, I'd suggest getting the "Cosmopolitan" bottled drink mix, which has more sugar in it than plain cranberry juice.

For a variation, use Cointreau instead of Limoncello.  This is closer to the original "Cosmo" recipe, with the exception of the addition of OJ.

Further variations:

-Substitute Red Rum (which is Virgin Islands Rum infused with Tropical fruits) for vodka in either of the above recipes.   It's very good with Red Rum.  I had a bottle hanging around that I bought for some obscure recipe I made years ago, and decided to see how it would taste in a martini - yummy.

-Use Red Rum, pineapple juice, Cointreau with a splash of OJ for a "Tropi-cini"

Part 3 will be more alcohol, Sinclair Lewis' punch revamped for the 21st century.  I bought the peach brandy and dark rum yesterday, and I'm mulling about the possibilities in a cocktail shaker around 5 pm this afternoon :-)