Tag Archive: Sauces

What’s sauce for the veal is sauce for the eggplant

Eggplant tonnato

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Around the world, anywhere there are Italians, you’re likely to find Vitello tonnato, that classic dish of slices of cold poached veal topped with a creamy tuna sauce. It’s one of those dishes that seems like it must go back in history to some far distant, early epoch. Different regions of Italy claim it as their own. Italian cooking authority (in English), Ada Boni, asserts it as a Lombardian dish but doesn’t delve into it. As best anyone seems to have researched it, the dish goes back to the late 19th century and although it likely graced the tables of fine restaurants in Milan, it also graced those of other regions.

Beyond the combination of veal (and traditionally, we’re talking unweaned calf, milk fed veal, not naturally raised veal) and tuna, all is fair game in both presentation and condiments. Oh, there are traditions, but they are often bent, stretched or ignored – egg yolk, capers or caper berries, lemons, chilies, and more come into play. Some insist the veal be roasted, others braised. Some cook the veal with all its condiments and then turn the juices into the sauce, others keep them separate. Some assert that the sauce be ladled over the veal well in advance to mingle the flavours, others prefer to keep them separate, even to serving them side by side.

Here in Argentina the dish is known as Vitel thoné, (also “toné or tonné”) I’ve found no history as to why it’s called this. Neither word is Spanish, neither word is Italian (where tonno would be the spelling, or tonni in plural). If anything it vaguely stretches to Latin, where “vitel” is the diminutive form the word for “yolk” and is sometimes used to refer to a very young calf; and thoné and its variations, well, your guess is as good as mine. In various languages it could refer to a unit of weight or a clap of thunder.

Having just toddled our way through the holidays, many of us have eaten our fill, not just of this particular dish, but of more meat than we probably should have, despite the carnivorous traditions of this country’s cuisine. One of the nice things about the development of cuisine is that over time, classic sauces, like a tonnato sauce, come to be used for other dishes. And, today, I’ll hit you up with a cold salad that makes a great starter to a light dinner.

If you really want to do this up right, make your own mayonnaise with olive oil, or to go more traditional, blend all the sauce ingredients together with a yolk and then slowly whisk in olive oil until you get the texture you want. It’s summertime, we want quick and easy. Use some olive oil mayo – there are some perfectly good commercial brands available.

Eggplant “Tonnato”

1 large eggplant
16 cherry tomatoes
small baguette, 1-2 days old is best
olive oil

1 170gm can tuna, drained (roughly 120 gm tuna)
100 ml olive oil mayonnaise
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed
2 anchovies
1-2 teaspoons of chili sauce (a sambal or sriracha would be best)
1 green lemon, cut in quarters
chives, chopped
parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Slice the eggplant into 1 cm thick slices, salt and leave to drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse, pat dry. In a skillet over high heat brown the lemon quarters on both exposed sides. Set aside. Add olive oil to the pan and brown the eggplant slices until cooked through.

Meanwhile, place the cherry tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in the oven and cook until they just start to burst (you can also do this on the stovetop).

Cut the crust off the baguette and cut the bread in cubes, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake in the oven until crisp and golden brown. Let all the ingredients cool to room temperature.

Put the tuna, mayo, capers, anchovies, chili sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for about an hour to let the flavors meld.

Toss the eggplant with the chopped parsley and divide up between four serving bowls. Distribute the cherry tomatoes around to look pretty. Spoon the sauce over the top, sprinkle with chives, add in a couple of croutons for some crunch, garnish with the charred lemon wedge. Dig in!

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.


Shimmy the Chimi


Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

There’s no question that there is more than one “national” sauce in Argentina. For some it’s salsa golf, the ubiquitous blend of mayonnaise and ketchup – yes, yes, I know, everyone likes to pretend it’s really something else, but it’s not – is it any wonder that we love it on things like fries? Some might claim salsa criolla, a vinegary mix of onions, tomatoes and bell peppers, sometimes with a little parsley or cilantro, but it’s not unique to Argentina – think pico de gallo. And I have more than one friend who would probably claim dulce de leche…. But to me, the sauce that defines the national character in Argentina is the chimichurri.

Green or red. That’s the question when it comes to chimichurri. If you were to review the overseas’ press you’d think that the sauce was little more than parsley or cilantro, garlic, and some oil and vinegar. From there chefs from Bangkok to Boston seem enamored of Argentina’s national condiment. But do they have any idea what they’re talking about?

There’s also the strange misperception that it’s the “national hot sauce”, a view that anyone who’s sampled the sauce from Ushuaia to Salta knows only counts as hot if you think paprika burns on the tongue. Neither viewpoint is correct.

First off, those of us here in the land of chimi know that there are two completely different kinds of the sauce – the first is, indeed, green, though tends to have a bit more going on than just being an herbal vinaigrette. It tends to be served with bread, fish and chicken, though there’s certainly no requirement that it be limited to that. The second is red. Well, sort of rust. And this one gets a whole lot more intricate – it’s our version of steak sauce, and it knocks A1 or HP right off the shelf.

The name of the sauce is a mystery, lost to history. More authorities than I’d care to name have speculated on everything from pidgin English to Basque to one or another indigenous languages. There’s no translation for it, it’s just what it is, and it’s delicious on just about anything. Give this version a try – you’ll never go back to the bottled stuff.


60 ml extra virgin olive oil
60 ml dry red wine
60 ml red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 green onion or scallion, chopped
1 small tomato, broiled, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, broiled, peeled, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika (you can use hot if you like, though it’s not traditional)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon marjoram (or oregano) leaves
2 fresh bay leaves

Mix all the ingredients together and shake well in a closed container. Then let the whole thing steep for at least a couple of hours to meld the flavors – shake it up or stir it every now and again. Use within a few days to preserve the freshness. Not that that will be a problem once you taste this!

If you’re not into the whole chopping thing, stick it all in the blender except the bay leaves and process it to either a coarse or smooth texture, as you prefer, then add the bay leaves and leave to steep.

You can scale this up in direct proportions – for example just double all the quantities and it will work just fine if you need a bigger quantity. This recipe makes around 300 ml of sauce though, so it’s generally enough to last for a short time.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.


Vice forgiven

Semolina gnocchi with mushroom sugo

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

I’ve heard it said that the difference between French and Italian cooking is that for the former, it’s all about sauces, and the latter, it’s all about the main ingredient. While there’s ostensibly some truth to that, when it comes down to it, both cuisines have sauces – albeit that France’s are codified into vast tomes that detail “correct” methods and Italy’s are passed around by word of mouth or carried to the grave without ever having been spoken aloud or written down. And both cuisines rely on the best of ingredients – as does any culinary tradition out there – otherwise we may as well toss a TV dinner into the toaster oven and call it quits.

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, noted American author and satirist, is quite possibly best remembered in the latter category for his tongue-in-cheek The Devil’s Dictionary, which basically makes fun of everything sacred to politicians, self-important people, and, well, pretty much the rest of humanity. I like to keep his definition of sauces handy, just to remind myself how important they can be to a cuisine:

“SAUCE, n. The one infallible sign of civilization and enlightenment. A people with no sauces has one thousand vices; a people with one sauce has only nine hundred and ninety-nine. For every sauce invented and accepted a vice is renounced and forgiven.”

Within the Italian canon, beyond the ubiquitous marinera, the tomato sauce often referred to by descendants of Italian expats as either red sauce or gravy, neither of which truly captures it – there are a vast number of others, particularly for pasta. One of my all time favorites is the classic roast pork sugo, an amazingly delicious combination of roast pork, white beans, aromatic vegetables, herbs and wine that, rustic or not, tends to bring tears of joy to the eyes of those dipping into it.

Recently I was asked to come up with a version of the same for a vegetarian dinner, and while I could have played around with something as off-putting, but commonly used, as seitan, or cooked wheat gluten, or perhaps tofu, I decided against it. Instead, I went for a combination of mushrooms that could be cooked in different ways to emphasize their depth of flavor. My favorite pairing for this being Roman semolina gnocchi – completely different from potato gnocchi. It’s also delicious over ricotta filled manicotti, canelloni, or ravioli.

Mushroom Sugo

1 can of white beans (roughly 210gm drained weight), rinsed
2 ribs of celery, leaves included, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of dried oregano (or 2 tablespoons of fresh leaves)
1½ tablespoons tomato paste
220 ml of dry white wine
500 gm of white button mushrooms, sliced in half
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
440 ml of mushroom or vegetable stock
200 gm small portobello mushrooms, sliced
100 ml olive oil
salt and pepper

In a saucepan cook the onion, celery and garlic in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent. In a separate frying pan, over high heat, bring the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil to just the point where it’s starting to smoke, add the mushroom halves, a little salt and pepper, and cook, stirring regularly, until they’re nicely browned on the outside.

Add the tomato paste, wine, vinegar, and oregano to the vegetable mixture and cook until about half the liquid is absorbed. Add the beans and the browned mushrooms to the pot along with the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low and let simmer for 45 minutes, occasionally stirring it.

Back in the frying pan, heat up the 100ml of olive oil, again to just the point where it’s starting to smoke, and add the portobello slices to it. Here you’re going to cook them until they’re golden brown and a just getting crisp – more or less deep-frying them. When they’re all brown, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and let them drain on some paper towel. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Ladle the sauce over pasta or gnocchi and then top with a scattering of the crispy portobello “chips”. Dig in!

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.



Outlet Radio Network
January 12, 2005


Visions of whirling women in bright colored skirts, men dancing their way across the floor, dressed to the nines. Not that kind.

Salsa is simply a Spanish word for sauce. Now, in our nortamericano daily parlance, we usually use it to denote a somewhat fiery red or green sauce for dipping tortilla chips into. Often we see it on restaurant menus to refer to some chopped blend of vegetables, fruits and spices that accompany a dish. But we keep going back to that dipping sauce in our minds.

For me, however, as a chef, I tend to think of salsas in terms of what a Mexican chef might call a salsa cruda. That is, a chopped blend of raw or barely cooked ingredients that is used as the sauce on a dish. And the couple of recipes I’m going to give you aren’t going to relate to Latin American cooking. They’re just a couple of my current favorites that I hope you’ll try out and enjoy!

I was reading my favorite cooking magazine, Australian Gourmet Traveller (one of the best written consumer food magazines out there, even if the vocabulary takes some getting used to), and came across a reference to a fascinating sounding veal dish. No recipe was provided, so I experimented and came up with this little gem that we all fell in love with.

Veal Scallops with Meyer Lemon Salsa
Serves 4

1½ pounds of thinly sliced veal scallopini
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large seedless cucumber
3 Meyer lemons (not regular lemons, Meyers are sweet lemons from Florida)
2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped fresh oregano
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Peel and dice the cucumber. Remove the peel from the lemons and carefully cut out the individual segments of the lemons, then cut each segment in half. Add the oregano and the extra virgin olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let it sit for at least an hour.

Season the veal scallops with salt and pepper. Saute them in a mix of the butter and olive oil (or just use one of the new “butter flavored” olive oil spreads), until lightly browned. Serve topped with the salsa, which can be left room temperature or slightly warmed. If you’re not into veal, this salsa works just as well on thinly pounded chicken breasts, or even a sauteed slice of tempeh!

Beef Fillet with Radish Salsa
Serves 4

Okay, it sounds strange, but it is oh, so good!

4 beef fillets, each about 6 ounces
2-3 limes
1 bunch of icicle radishes (these are pure white and sort of long and skinny radishes)
a dozen or so fresh mint leaves
2 serrano peppers
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Peel the limes and coarsely chop the peel. Mix the peel, the juice of the limes, and a bit of salt and pepper to make a marinade. Rub the beef all over with this and let it stand in the refrigerator, occasionally turning it to recoat, for at least 2 hours.

In a food processor, pulse the radishes (greens removed), the serranos (seeds and stems removed), and the mint leaves, until you have a coarse mixture. Add olive oil, and the salt and pepper to taste, and let sit for at least an hour.

In a very hot pan, sear the beef fillets on both sides, and then put the whole pan into a hot (500°F) oven. Let it cook for about 5-10 minutes depending on how done you like your beef. You can always stick the pan back in if you check a fillet and it isn’t done enough.

I like to serve this one by slicing the fillets and fanning them out on the plate and then topping with the salsa.

For the non-beef folk, try this one with portabello mushroom caps, just don’t over cook the caps in the oven, five minutes is usually plenty of time.

I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.


Blue, Blue, My World is Blue

Outlet Radio Network
June 2004

Blue, Blue, My World is Blue

They fight aging, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s, they fight bad cholesterol, infection, cure the common cough, prevent blindness (and improve night vision) and strokes, improve your motor skills, and improve your memory. In fact, if I’m reading the USDA’s study correctly, they apparently helped laboratory mice remember just where they left their car keys. Bears will travel fifteen miles on an empty stomach just to find them.

You can eat them. They have vitamins, fiber, and free-radical antioxidants. They are not, however, a cure-all, I found no listings for eliminating hang-nails, regrowing hair, or making your teeth whiter. They are low in carbohydrates, and approved, I believe, by all appropriate low-carb diet plans – since all of us are on one of those these days. They are, by the way, blue.

Blueberries in fact.

There are entire websites devoted to them. “Googling” on the health benefits of blueberries yields up a serving of over 26,000 websites. Blueberries all by their lonesome manage nearly half a million sites. According to these various sites, blueberries are the oldest known plant still living, with evidence of their existence from over 13,000 years ago! They are one of the few native foods indigenous to North America, or so these websites proclaim. In fact, they are so All-American that when they first appear on their bush, they are white, then turn red, and finally blue!

E-Bay, as of today, has 1145 blueberry related items for sale (well, okay, a few of those are Macintosh computers in blueberry color, but…)

The Maine Wild Blueberry Association is sponsoring research into Blueberry Burgers.

They come in lowbush and highbush varieties, they are known by aliases such as Bilberries, Whortleberries, and Hurtleberries. They are not, however, and this is emphasized in many places, the same thing as Huckleberries. Confusing the two is apparently a major Berry Faux-Pas. They are the state berry of the state of Maine. And, for nearly two centuries, there has been a special tool, the Blueberry Rake, dedicated to their harvest.

Next month, July, will be the fifth annual National Blueberry Month. Really and truly.

In preparation for the festivities, my team and I set out to provide you with all the tools you need to make sure you can have the best of the summer blueberry soirees.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

Let’s face it, most of us only eat blueberries in muffins, so we had to start there. These are not your average, day-to-day, blueberry muffins. These will bring tears to your eyes. And your car keys will magically appear in your hand immediately after consuming one.

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
3 large eggs, beaten
3 cups milk
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup molasses
1 cup melted shortening or butter
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Take about a tablespoon of the flour and toss the blueberries in them to lightly coat, this will help prevent them all sinking to the bottom of your muffins as they bake. Sift together the dry ingredients, and in a separate bowl, combine the wet ones. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and then stir in the blueberries. Grease a muffin tin and divide the muffin mixture evenly. Bake at 400F for 25 minutes. Makes 12 large muffins.

Savory Blueberry Sauce

Anyone can open a can of sweetened blueberry sauce to pour over cheesecake, onto blintzes, or just to eat with a big spoon. We wanted a sauce that could be used for savory dishes – a delicious fruit sauce for meats – game, ham, turkey, use your imagination!

2 tablespoons chopped shallots or onions
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
½ cup dry red wine
½ cup water
1 pint of fresh blueberries

Saute shallots in butter in small saucepan. Add flour, thyme and rosemary, cook and stir until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Add wine and water and stir in the blueberries. Cook and stir until mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes until it thickens.

Makes 2 cups.

Our last task was to set out to explore the world of Blueberry Spirits. Nothing you might worship, light incense for, or perform any particular rituals on behalf of. Wine and liqueur. There is a thriving industry in the production of Blueberry Wine, and a fair amount in world of sweet cordials. They are not always easy to find unless you live in a Blueberry-centric part of the world, but we managed to scrounge up a few to taste and review.

I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.


Cooking with Spring Vegetables

Q San Francisco
May 2002
Pages 46-47

Cooking with Spring Vegetables

Vegetables are the Elaine Stritch of the food world – delightfully crunchy raw, but even better when just a bit fried. When spring arrives, the markets fill with a riot of colorful gems from local farmers. Where meat basically covers a color palate that runs from white through pink to red, vegetables provide a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

Beyond the rainbow visual effects, vegetables also give new meaning to depth of flavor. Cooking method has a radical impact on the final flavors of the simplest veggies. Quick methods lock in bright, fresh flavors, while slow cooking draws out complex, intense tastes. Mixing very different vegetables together creates surprising harmonies, proving that the sum of parts is indeed greater than the whole.

Fava beans, English peas, white eggplant, Vidalia onions, radishes, fennel, squash blossoms, rhubarb, fiddlehead ferns and ramps. These are few of my favorite spring things. Being from Michigan though, for me the two things that signal our return to warmth and sunshine are asparagus and morel mushrooms.

asparagustipsAsparagus Custard with Morel & Spring Onion Sauce

6 stalks trimmed asparagus stems (reserve tips)
2 teaspoons chervil
½ teaspoon finely chopped garlic
14 ounces heavy cream
4 eggs
salt & white pepper

Simmer the cream with the garlic, allowing to reduce by one quarter. Finely slice the asparagus stems and boil in water until just soft (2-3 minutes). Drain. Blanch the asparagus tips separately, remove and set aside. Puree with the garlic cream and chervil until very smooth. Allow to cool slightly. Beat eggs and combine with puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into custard molds and bake in a water bath at 325 degrees until just set. Allow to rest in the water bath for 5 minutes to firm and then unmold onto plates.

1 vidalia onion
6 ramps (baby wild leeks)
1 small bundle fresh chives
1 small carrot
1 sweet yellow bell pepper
1 cup heavy cream
½ pound fresh morels
2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon chervil
salt & white pepper

Finely chop the three types of onion, carrot and pepper. Add to cream with a little salt and cook very slowly over low heat until reduced by one-third. Strain, pressing on vegetables to draw out all flavor. Saute the morels in butter with salt and white pepper. Add to cream and simmer for five more minutes. Pool the sauce around the custards and garnish each custard with an asparagus tip. Sprinkle dishes with finely chopped chervil.

Another spring vegetable favorite is a light and simple take on the traditional Pasta Primavera. Most of the time we tend to think about radishes as a raw ingredient, but cooked slowly in a little butter draws out amazing delicate flavors.

Farfalle with Peas & Radishes

1 pound package of dry farfalle (bowtie pasta)
4 ounces fresh green peas
4 ounces french breakfast radishes with greens
1 teaspoon chopped mint
salt & black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Follow package directions for cooking farfalle to “al dente” texture. Simmer peas in water with one tablespoon of the butter until tender. Drain. Thinly slice the radishes, salt lightly and cook slowly in the other tablespoon of butter. Rinse the green thoroughly and roughly chop. Quickly saute in the olive oil. Add peas and radishes and season to taste. Add drained pasta to vegetables. Toss with the mint, adjust seasoning and add additional olive oil if needed to coat pasta.

Wine and vegetable pairing follows an entirely different pattern from wine and meat. With meat, much of what makes a match work is to balance the fats and proteins in the meat with the tannins and acidity of the wine. The less intense fat and protein content of vegetable dishes requires less of this type of balance. Instead, I opt for complementing the flavors of the sauces with the flavors of the wine. Treat the wine as if it was a seasoning.

Asparagus is often considered a difficult match with wine. Naturally, it contains high levels of phosphorus and mercaptans, components that if found in a wine, would render it unpalatable. But tempered by slow cooking and matched with a rich sauce, it becomes a perfect foil for a rich, citrusy white. I recommend several California Sauvignon blancs: Franus “Farella-Park Vineyard”, Artesa Reserve, or Selene “Hyde Park Vineyard” Sauvignon blancs are all great choices.

Radishes and peas when cooked as outlined above are very delicate in flavor. I look instead at the sauce made with butter and mint as key flavoring components. A favorite grape variety with this dish is the Albariño, a native grape of Spain & Portugal. Three great choices are: Havens Albariño from Carneros in California, Martin Codax “Organistrum” from Rias Baixas in Spain, and Portal do Fidalgo Alvarinho, a vinho verde from Portugal.

Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.


Summer Parties

Q San Francisco
April/May 1996
Pages 44-45

Summer Parties

You have an incredible terrace with the best view in the city. It is modest, however, limited to accommodating no more than forty of your closest, dearest friends. Your budget will not allow for any more than a few kilos of caviar and certainly no more than three cases of Dom Perignon – in magnums.

From my fire escape (comfortably seating two) overlooking the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels parking strip, I will, however, try to advise. My delightfully spacious studio apartment makes a swell place for a gathering of eight close friends, or six casual acquaintances. For my last summer party I invited fifty. Many of them brought dates. It was a raging success.

Summer parties en appartement are based on the well-known economic principle “KYSSS” — Keep Your Soiree Simple, Sweetheart! You need a theme. It doesn’t have to be something exotic like requiring everyone wear red or tropical fruit hats, or serving Hawaiian barbecue from a pit dug in your very own windowbox.

At my last party I chose Italian wine and cheese. I sent out incredibly witty invitations with Dante’s inscription from over the gates of Hell (in both the original Latin and an English translation) and a sketch of the leaning tower. I served Italian wine, beer, cheese, olives and those great hot cherry peppers stuffed with parmesan and prosciutto. There were still hangers-on when the sun broke the horizon.

Select your food and wine in keeping with your theme. There are, in my view, a few “musts.” A crudite plate: raw vegetables, fruit, and some kind of dip. Cheese: even though I have to pop lactase pills to eat the stuff, I love it. Bready, crackery, chippy kinds of things with dip. And, of course, something sweet like cookies or brownies.

You’ll have to figure out decorations, party favors, and your own ensemble yourself. I’ve been wearing black since the late 1970s. Not because I was anticipating its trendiness in the 1990s, but because I don’t have to worry about coordinating anything with anything else. I saw a picture of someone wearing a striped tie with an identically striped shirt the other day. My boyfriend, a designer, said it was okay. I don’t know, it looked awfully complicated to me.

Enough rambling. Let’s get onto some food and wine favorites for summer partying.

tomatoesYou have an incredible terrace with the best view in the city. It is modest, however, limited to accommodating no more than forty of your closest, dearest friends. Your budget will not allow for any more than a few kilos of caviar and certainly no more than three cases of Dom Perignon – in magnums.

Aioli Dip

Been there, done that, bought a t-shirt. It’s a classic — no one ever turns it down. A favorite for dipping those veggies.

8 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
2 cups extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor whip yolks, salt and lemon juice until pale and thick.
Slowly drizzle oil in through the top.
Don’t pour too quickly or it will separate.
When all the oil is in, you should have a thick sauce – hey, you’ve just made your first homemade mayonnaise!
Continue processing and drop in the garlic and parsley.
Blend thoroughly and then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to combine flavors.
Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

Smoky Yellow Salsa Dip

This one is a favorite at our parties – it’s just different enough to stop those chip-dippers in their tracks.

3 large yellow tomatoes
1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple
1 or 2 yellow habanero peppers
1 yellow bell pepper
1 large Spanish onion
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pink peppercorns

Roast bell and hot peppers over an open flame (hopefully you don’t have an electric stove) and rotate until skin blisters.
Cool and peel.
Meanwhile, peel and seed tomatoes.
Finely dice tomatoes, pineapple, peppers and onion.
Add lime juice, olive oil, mint leaves and liquid smoke
(okay, it’s cheating, but are you going to buy a food smoker just to make salsa?).
Season with salt and pepper (if you can’t find pink peppercorns, use black or white but only 1/4 teaspoon).
Makes about 3 cups.

Chocolate-Lemon Squares

Since we’ve got this sort of yellow thing going, I thought I’d go with a favorite that bolsters the theme.

1 stick of butter
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups flour
1 egg
1 teaspoon powdered cocoa

Chocolate Filling:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup half-and-half or cream
1 egg
pinch of salt

Lemon Filling:
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
Juice and grated zest of 2 lemons

For crust, cream butter and sugar together (food processor is fine for this), add flour, egg and cocoa and process or mix until blended.
Grease and flour 9-inch square baking pan.
Press crust into pan and bake at 375¡F for 10-15 minutes until firm and lightly golden.
For chocolate filling, bring half-and-half to boil and pour over chopped chocolate. Let sit for five minutes.
Whisk together thoroughly. Beat egg lightly with salt and quickly mix into chocolate cream. It will immediately begin to thicken.
Pour over crust.

For lemon filling, beat two eggs with sugar and lemon juice.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together.
Stir in egg mixture and add lemon zest.
Pour carefully and slowly over chocolate layer.
Layers will swirl a little bit together, but won’t completely mix up.
Reduce heat in oven to 325°F and bake for 25-30 minutes until firm and lightly golden on top.
Cool, cut into squares (6×6 gives 36 good-sized squares) and serve.

Summer Wine Picks

corkscrewSummer is a time for crisp, light wines with lots of zip and character. Well-chilled Sauvignon blancs are my favorites for hot day drinking. Choices should be “as young as possible,” with wines from the southern hemisphere being 1995 vintage and from the northern, generally the 1994s. Here are my round-the-world picks for this year

Starting in the down-under part of the globe, Cloudy Bay in New Zealand makes a ripe, rich Sauvignon that is best described as “raspberries climbing out of the glass.” Nearby Stoneleigh is similar but a little leaner with a more “green” character. A good part of the way around the world, from South Africa, the unpronounceable, but basically unbeatable, Buitenverwachting Sauvignon blanc is minerally, grassy, and perfect for summer drinking. Running a close second is the entry from Mulderbosch. Also from the deep south, Chile delivers up the tart and tasty Santa Rita Reserva. The runner-up, Miguel Torres, a top Spanish producer who was one of the earliest investors in the rejuvenation of the Chilean wine industry.

Moving north and way east, the French entries that grabbed my attention most recently were the Domaine Fernand Girard Sancerre “La Garenne” and the Domaine de la Charmoise Touraine “Cuvee M.” Unfortunately, my top choice for California Sauvignon blanc is not available on the market — the Araujo Estate “Eisele Vineyard” may just be one of the best to come out of the state. But coming in close behind, latch onto the latest offerings from Sanford if you love that herbal, lean style, or, if you prefer a richer, fuller style, try the new release of the Peter Michael “L’Apres Midi.”

Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.


Mariachi Meals

September 1994

Hungry Man
Mariachi Meals

More Than a Hill of Beans

It’s that dreaded phrase: “Let’s go out for Mexican.” Visions of Taco Bell alternate with visions of greasy chimichangas, nachos, tacos and refried beans. A nightmarishly oversized lime-and-tequila Sno-Cone excuse for a marguerita flashes through my brain. Mariachi music plays in the background. In a cold sweat, I suggest we order pizza.

It is unfortunate that we folk up here in the U.S. of A. have managed to convert the rich and varied cuisine of the U.S. of M. into a hill of mashed beans – with jalapeños on top and corn chips below. With 29 states, two territories and a federal district, settlement by Spaniards, Portuguese, Frenchmen, Germans, Danes, Lebanese and Chinese, and native cooking that includes Aztec, Yaqui, Mayan, and Olmec, Mexican cuisine is far more interesting than that. It is mestizo, “of mixed blood,” a core ancestral fusion, not only of food, but of the entire Mexican culture.

Okay, yes, Mexicans do eat tacos. A lot of them. And enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, and frijoles refritos. They also eat fish and seafood, turkey and chicken, and an incredible array of vegetables and fruits, from the familiar, like celery, tomatoes and squash, to the unusual – jicama, tomatillos, nopal cacti and cactus pears, and sour oranges. Seasonings – Mexican cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, and oregano – taste elusively different from their counterparts we know in the U.S., and others, achiote, epazote, and hoja santa, are nearly unknown outside Mexican and Central American cuisine.

Corn is the staple grain of the Mexican diet, generally softened and cooked with lime (the alkali, not the fruit), and used whole in pozole or ground to produce masa, or dough, for tortillas and tamales. If corn is the heart of Mexican cuisine, chilies are its soul. There are dozens if not hundreds of varieties, from mild poblanos to smoky chipotles to hot jalapeños and serranos to the scorching habaneros.

We’re all familiar with the ubiquitous salsa and chips, but salsas and other sauces go far beyond chopped tomatoes, onions and chilies. There are recados, dry herb and spice mixtures, adobos, with chilies and vinegar, pepianes, thick, rich sauces thickened with ground seeds or nuts, and moles, spiced and thickened with ground chilies.

Let’s take a look at two simple dishes that can add some zip to your next dinner party. The first is a basic green salsa, which uses tomatillos, or “husk tomatoes,” instead of the usual red tomatoes. If you can’t find them fresh in your area, it is possible to use canned ones, though I don’t recommend them. You could also try fresh green tomatoes, which will make a different, but tasty variation.

Salsa Verde

1½ pounds fresh tomatillos
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 fresh serrano or jalapeño chilies, seeded and minced
1 cup fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper
vegetable oil

Remove husks from tomatillos and place them in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and then simmer for about five minutes. Drain and chop coarsely, saving the juices. Sauté the onions and garlic in oil over low heat until just softened, but not browned. Add the chilies and continue cooking for one to two minutes to bring out the chili’s flavor. Combine tomatillos, cilantro, sugar, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chips or as a sauce over grilled fish. Makes four cups.

The second dish makes use of my favorite chili, the chipotle, which is dried and smoked jalapeño. Chipotles come in loose, dry form and also packed in a tomato sauce called adobo. This dish uses the dry form.

Cerdo con Crema Chipotle

1 pound pork tenderloin
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 chipotle chili
1 pint heavy cream
vegetable oil

Trim and cut the pork into one-inch cubes. Remove the seeds from the chipotle. Sauté the onion, garlic and chipotle in the oil over low heat until the onions are soft but not browned. Add the pork and continue cooking until golden brown. Remove the chipotle and purée in a blender with the cream. Pour the chipotle cream back over the pork and bring to a simmer over low heat. Let simmer for ten minutes to allow the pork to absorb the flavors and the sauce to thicken. Serve over pasta or rice. Serves two.

Genre is a gay “lifestyle” and travel magazine. It was launched in 1992 by three entrepreneurs, two of whom shortly thereafter left to found QSF magazine. I went with them…


The Festival of the Green Goddess

Outlet Radio Network
December 2003

The Festival of the Green Goddess

“Why, really Sir, a play requires so much attention,– it is scarce possible to keep awake if one listens; – for, indeed, by the time it is evening, one has been so fatigued with dining, – or wine, – or the house, – or studying, – that it is – it is perfectly an impossibility.” – Evelina, Letter XX

Thankfully for British actor George Arliss, this wasn’t the case when he appeared in the play “The Green Goddess” in San Francisco. In fact, the play was so wildly successful that it was made into a silent film in 1923 and a “talkie” in 1930. In fact Mr. Arliss played the antagonist, the Rajah of Rukh, in all three productions. It was such a popular story, and his performance so brilliant, that he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He did lose, but to himself, as he was also nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal of Disraeli in the eponymous film!

But back to the 1920-21 theater season, and George Arliss was staying at The Palace Hotel. Someone, and it has been suggested that it was Arliss himself, thought that the hotel should do something in honor of his success. The chef in the hotel’s exquisite kitchen, clearly influenced by suggestions of greenery and the like, created a crab and romaine salad in honor of the consummate actor. Green Goddess dressing was born.

Now, I remember Green Goddess dressing fondly from my childhood. It was the 60’s, and mothers across the country were swept up in the home economics trend. Packaged foods, premixed sauces and dressings were the rage. I have no doubt that the Green Goddess we were offered on many a night with our salad was from Kraft. We were all quite cosmopolitan feeling when we were allowed to choose our own salad topper from an array of bottles.

The basic premise of this culinary delight is a salad with some sort of seafood, and a dressing made of mayonnaise, anchovies, herbs and spices – heavy on the tarragon. Since the original this sauce has been used on other sorts of salads, as an accompaniment to broiled fish, and as a tasty topping for steamed artichokes. It is quite versatile, and much like Caesar dressing, for those of you who think you don’t like anchovies, you’ll never know they’re there.

There is a classic recipe, the one created by our aforementioned chef. There are also more variations on the theme than I care to count. A quick Google search revealed more than 2,400 recipes, no doubt many of them are repeats of each other, but clearly a rather large vat of salad dressing! I looked for some of the more interesting, though admittedly I did not wade through all the entries available. There are even more entries for the green lady when one includes that Green Goddess is also a euphemistic term for the hallucinogenic drink absinthe, some various druidic sorts, and even a character from the original Tarzan series.

I’m always fascinated by the evolution of recipes. Numerous chefs substituted for the classic mayonnaise – cream, cottage cheese, tofu, and buttermilk all made appearances. Fresh herbs versus dried herbs (not surprisingly, the main of these being from the McCormick spice company’s website). To anchovy or not? And if so, whole, chopped, or paste? There was even a recipe that was little more than pureed frozen peas with some herbs and soy sauce tossed in. My one constraint in selecting recipes to try was that they had to include at least some of the three primary flavors – tarragon, garlic and anchovies.

Being the intrepid sort in the kitchen, my plan was to whip up a few of these concoctions, toss in the bottled variety for comparison, and have some friends over for a taste test. It was a raving success, mostly accompanied by the good humor that my acquaintances have in assisting me with these bizarre whims that I shower on them. We even had a contest for who could pick out the original recipe (the first person to get it did it by deductive reasoning – 1920s, no blenders, so eliminated the blender versions; it was a hotel kitchen – had to be the one that tasted most like mayonnaise… he was right!).

We had an immediate setback. Despite scouring the shelves of grocery stores throughout the area, not one bottle of Green Goddess was found. A visit to Kraft’s website yielded no clues as to whether they make it anymore, but was quite scary in the discovery of the number of brands that they own. A morning was spent shopping, blending and mixing, veggies were cut (for dipping), the table was set, and the Open House Festival of the Green Goddess was on!

So, how did the half dozen entries fare?

The very 70s version based on yogurt, fresh herbs, and lime juice was quickly voted the Weakest Link and headed for the drain. We decided it might have made an okay dip for a steamed artichoke, but had little else to offer.

The evaporated milk based recipe had good flavor but was the consistency of, well, milk. It required a spoon to eat it as it ran right off of anything dipped into it. Not quite the Weakest Link, but headed down the tubes right behind the one that was.

Mixed reviews came in for a recipe from the Cook for Good Health cookbook. Some of us liked it, some didn’t – with its base of fat free cottage cheese and pureed cucumber. One thing was clear, it didn’t fit the Green Goddess mold in flavor, and it was relegated to the sidelines.

In third place, the entry from the spice company, McCormick. This was the only entry based on dried herbs and spices, so I was curious to see how it would fare, and it did well. I’m not totally surprised, my McCormick Spice Cookbook is still one of my most used tomes. The flavor of this one was quite good, and ran a very close third place to the second place winner…

…which was the original recipe from The Palace Hotel. Both of these were mixed versions based on mayonnaise and not pureed in the blender. Though it was clear that the original had more subtle flavors than the McCormick version, and the mayo showed through more clearly, most of us liked that. It fit the idea of a crab and romaine salad, stood the test of time, and showed why some recipes are classics.

However, the first place award went to the dressing recipe from the Velvet Turtle restaurant chain. This chain of no frills, no surprises restaurants is, I believe, no longer, but at one time operated in the southern California area. The recipe was the most complex of all the entries, and had some of the most intense flavors. The garlic and anchovy came through loud and clear, the tarragon was barely there, but we liked it, we really liked it!

So, I give you the top three recipes. Have fun with them!

McCormick’s Green Goddess Dressing – Bronze Whisk

Mix together in a bowl:

3 cups mayonnaise
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 can (2 oz) anchovy fillets, mashed
1 tablespoon dry minced onion
1 tablespoon dry parsley flakes
1 tablespoon dry tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon dry chopped chives
⅛ teaspoon onion powder
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder

Let stand for at least 30 minutes to blend the flavors and soften the dried ingredients (which, of course, McCormick’s specifies as their own brand).

The Palace Hotel’s Green Goddess Dressing – Silver Whisk

Mix together in a bowl:

2 cups mayonnaise
1 mashed garlic clove
4 minced anchovy fillets
1 chopped green onion
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar

Mix well and let stand to blend flavors. Classically, the garlic clove is just mashed on the inside of the serving bowl, much like a caesar salad – that way the garlic is much more subtle – I just used a smaller clove…

The Velvet Turtle’s Green Goddess Dressing – Gold Whisk

Place in a blender:

2 cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons anchovy paste
1 cup sour cream
1½ teaspoons seasoned salt (I used Lawry’s because it’s what I grew up on)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
5 garlic cloves
1½ medium onion
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
1½ teaspoon celery seed
1½ teaspoon thyme
1½ ripe avocado
1½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
a couple drops of green food coloring

Blend until very smooth and let sit for flavors to meld.

I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.

December 2003