Summer Dinner Diaries and Same Restaurant, Different Disaster

Dinner Diary                                                                         June 26, 1988

 

Another example of a nicely restrained menu.  How about that!  Florence was a very dear friend of ours, a realtor who got Bonnie and me into our first house by convincing the people that were selling it to trust us enough to give us a second mortgage.  And pay it back before it was due, we did.  Florence is a character, but regardless we will always love her for getting us into that first house.   

Mayonnaise as a base sauce for things on the grill, or the stovetop is perfect.  It kinda crisps up nicely, takes on any seasoning or breading and I love it!   I don’t know that I’d change one thing on this menu.  Even though the grilled zucchini was not loved – it should have been. 

Well, there is one thing that I would change.  You can’t FORCE anything nowhere, no how, for nothing and have it turn out well.  That includes peach sorbet with unripe peaches.  No matter how long those unripe peaches were in the blender with my finger digging into the ‘puree’ button they were still not ripe, hard and  with little flavor.  And that’s after a lot of effort to make this into something palatable – sugar, whipping cream and peach brandy.  Of course, if we’re talking about things being ‘not ready’ we’ll ignore the ‘seedless’ grapes for the Sole Veronique. 

Big lesson here, if it ain’t ready it ain’t going to taste its best, it will in fact taste BAD – I don’t care what you do to it.  Cook what’s ready, cook what’s in season, cook what makes sense, cook what you love.  Follow those rules and it will turn into a wonderful dish.  If you’re in a restaurant and it’s offering a special of strawberries in January get up and run, don’t even walk to the door, get in your car and drive away to a restaurant that has no spring/summer fruits on its menu.  I don’t care that it’s summer in Argentina; your meal will be many times more enjoyable without the strawberries.  

Dessert – Part I

You really should try making your own mayonnaise; if not for everyday than for special occasion uses.  All it takes is egg yolks, oil and seasonings and a blender or handheld mixer.

As for seasonings I always add salt and depending on the dish that it going with: herbs, saffron, mustard, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and on and on and on.  As for the oil: olive, peanut, corn or oils like walnut.  Again, it depends on what it’s going with, what you want the taste to be.  Do it once and you’ll understand how much better and different (smoother and richer) than the store bought.  I knew that you’d want to know – I can’t stand Miracle Whip.  To me it taste like poor quality mayo with a ton of sugar added – iiiiiccccckkkkk.

  

                                                                                             

EXCEPT IT’S BETTER

  

  Same Restaurant, Different Disaster 

On our vacation journeys up to the Cape Bonnie and me sometimes spent a night at one of my brothers homes before continuing to the Cape the next morning.  This particular year found my brother and his family would be away that night, but they invited us to spend the night there despite the fact that they wouldn’t be able to join us.

We decided to have dinner at ‘that restaurant’ – the very same restaurant where the ‘incident’ occurred wherein my mother decided to tell me what she really thought about the woman that I had divorced.  Perhaps you recall my writing about that.  I myself still recall the actual ‘incident’.   I had called the restaurant to make the reservation, made the reservation in my real name and was actually told that they would look forward to seeing Bonnie and me. 

The car was packed and I was ready to drive away to a wonderful dinner and a vacation on the Cape, as soon as Bonnie arrived home from work.  And arrive home from work Bonnie did – with almost uncontrolled sobbing and river size torrents of tears pouring from her eyes.  Bonnie’s boss was a certified Cee U Next Tuesday kind of girl.  The kind of girl whose philosophy is: if I hate my life and I ain’t having any fun, ain’t nobody going to have any fun.  She had berated Bonnie throughout the day until Bonnie, feeling her most miserable, broke down in tears and left.  Heartsick and depressed to the point where it wasn’t going to be over quickly. 

Hey!  All you bosses, supervisors, directors, et al that are like this ….. We know where you live and payback is a bitch, a long painful bitch.  How’s your children’s puppy doing?  Does it run into the street?  Brakes OK on the spouse’s car?  Might those envelopes addressed to you, but mistakenly delivered to your co-workers and neighbors with the ‘Board of Health’ return address and the ‘CONFIDENTIAL – S.T.D. TEST RESULTS’ label be a little embarrassing?  Next time you want to act like an asshole think about the payback.

So, we drove up the four hours to my brother’s house with Bonnie in tears the whole way.  An unsettling thought slowly began to worm its way into my mind.  The restaurant, as I’ve previously written, is very good and it is not cheap (sometimes the two can be mutually exclusive).  It does, in fact, deserve one’s undivided attention. 

The staff works hard, they do an excellent job, the chef works hard, and his food is superb.  You do not want to just walk into that wonderful setting, partake, and leave without having seen or savored all of it.  With all of this in mind I said to Bonnie, “Uh, honey, you’re pretty upset.  Why don’t we just cancel at the restaurant and get some takeout?”  Bonnie replied that she’d be fine.  That she just wanted to lie down when we got to the house and rest up before dinner.  That’s what she said in between sobs with tears still pouring from her eyes.  All of a sudden I’m getting those restaurant vibes.  The Grunwald restaurant vibes.  The holy shit, how am I going to deal with this – again – vibes.  One more time, “No, really honey, you’re still pretty upset.  Let’s not have to worry about getting dressed and having to spend a few hours at the restaurant.”

Bonnie continued, through the tears, to insist that she’d be fine.  I, meanwhile, was hoping against hope that this would in fact be the case.  But my guts were twisting; don’t the witches perceive the future by divining the entrails?  My cause was lost, my powers of persuasion gone.  We got to the house, cleaned up and rested and Bonnie’s tears were in fact down to the smallest trickle.  One more shot at staying in and one more time, the last time, the suggestions was turned down.

We arrived at the restaurant and – NO TEARS!  Maybe we would get through this OK.  Maybe the sun does revolve around the earth.  I, with wife beside me, once again sat on the deck, looking over the pond and the setting summer sun, peach daiquiris in our hands – several peach daiquiris each.  The unpleasantness of Bonnie’s day faded more and more with each sip of those daiquiris.   We went in to dinner and with glasses of wine in hand perused the wondrous menu. 

At some point in our menu perusal I looked up, looked with love at my wife’s face and noticed that her complexion had the faintest hint of the color green.  New makeup?  What do I know about that?   Ah, those Grunwald restaurant ‘vibes’.  “Honey, how are you doing?  If you’re tired we can leave now.”  Slightly slurred exhortations that she was just fine, the green tint, to my eye, deepening and spreading. 

We decided to share a Chateaubriand – a wonderful, beautiful, large and expensive cut of prime beef.  Oh! And  another good bottle of wine to accompany it.  The meal progressed as did Bonnie’s green complexion and slurred speech.  The Chateaubriand arrived in all of its glory cooked perfectly.  Bonnie, to my amazement, took a bite, swallowed and said, not to my amazement, “I don’t feel well”.  Well just color me surprised!

I have to say about this restaurant – we actually have had meals here without histrionics that were in fact finished and appreciated without incident.  Really.

Tears started again, the waiter wrapped up our uneaten dinner, I paid the very large tab for the uneaten dinner and we were on our way back to the house before you can say, “pull over quick!  I’m going to be sick!”  I didn’t yell at Bonnie, why would I, OK I won’t take the opportunity to go there.  Her explanation the next day: the hellish day at work and nothing to eat all day, and then the peach daiquiris was fine with me and I told her that I loved her.  I waited at least one day before the following words poured from my mouth, “I KEPT TELLING YOU THAT WE SHOULDN’T GO.  I SAID IT TWENTY TIMES.  WHY THE HELL DIDN’T YOU BELIEVE ME?”  Her charming answer, “I know that you really like that restaurant.   I didn’t want to let you down by canceling out.”  No, I didn’t reply.  I could have, but I love her too much.  What did frost my nuts was the call the next day from the brother whose house we had stayed in, “Gee! Thanks for leaving all that food (damn, we had forgotten to take the leftovers!) they were great!  I can’t believe that you ate so little of the Chateaubriand.  I loved it!  How was dinner?”

 

SAME RESTAURANT, DIFFERENT DISASTER

 

Dessert – Part II

I wish that everyone has the chance to have a properly done Chateaubriand at some time in their life.  Well, maybe not everyone.  Chef.com had some good info about it.  Châteaubriand is a small roast extravagantly cut from the center of the beef tenderloin.  This dish was first prepared 200 years ago by Vicomte de Châteaubriand’s chef, Montmireil.  This is not a tenderloin steak.  It has a very recognizable almost loaf shape to it.  Because of its thickness cooking it requires care so as not to overcook it.  Legend has it that Montmireil placed the chateaubriand between two other cuts of tenderloin, burnt both outside meats to a crisp and threw them away, leaving the Vicomte’s portion evenly pink through and through.  Would that I could be so extravagant!  As with all history, including culinary history, there are differing versions of the story.  Some contend that the dish itself is not based on the particular cut of meat, but the sauce that should accompany it or even taking its name from the cattle bred around the town of Châteaubriant in the Loire-Atlantique, France.

Châteaubriand

 The Châteaubriand cut comes from the tenderloin, piece #4

 

Dinner Diary                                                                                     May 13, 1990

 

 Bonnie’s family with us again for a nice simple dinner.  Mom & Dad-In-Law are not ‘adventurous’ eaters so I keep the menu on the easy side.  I really do try to make things that my guests will enjoy.  I usually ask new invitees their likes and dislikes, what they positively or even possibly will not eat.  And of course, what they like to drink – alcoholic or not – but never Tak-A-Boost.  Our friends include vegetarians and teetotalers and people like me whose gustatory universe knows few limits.  I mean, these are your guests – it’s your job and privilege to make them happy. 

The Silver Palette Lemon Chicken!  The Silver Palette cookbooks have provided fabulous recipes since their inception.  Maybe there are a few idiots out there who will argue that but I love these recipes.   I have served the Lemon Chicken many times.  It has become a staple summertime dish – at home, picnics, leftover.  Always great.  Making it is a lot like playing a musical instrument in that most people can play it, but you have to work at it to play it very well.  You can screw up this recipe – fake pre-squeezed lemon juice, no lemon zest, overcooked chicken – but if you follow the recipe you can’t go too far wrong.  To do it really well – select nice looking pieces of chicken, slice the lemon topping just the right thickness so that it doesn’t burn in the oven, but is translucent, make sure that you have enough lemon zest, spread the brown sugar and zest just right, cook it till it’s done – wonderful.  Let’s not forget Chicken Marbella either.  Folks these days are making jokes about it being such an 80’s dish, but it is a good dish and worth revisiting. 

Buttermilk Rhubarb Cobbler with vanilla ice cream – also perfect.  I’m one of those people that drink buttermilk right from the container – better, tastier, than regular milk and a must have for baking.  It makes everything taste better.  After all, it is the Vin Ordinaire of Hot Dog Johnny’s.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GODDESS OF LEMON MOUSE and THE GODDESS OF JAMS AND JELLIES

Dinner Diary                                                                         July 18, 1987

 

SEE!   I can be restrained.  Of course I can be restrained, and sometimes like it that way; Let me rephrase – I can act in a restrained manner in regards to the menu.  Well, there’s that too.  Nice menu!  Good seasonal timing with all the food.  I’m certain that the pasta portions were sized appropriately for their order in the courses.  Nice use of the tomato coulis in parchment for the shrimp sauce.  Alas, too many people don’t like bluefish (the same people that don’t like shad).  Sure it really tastes like FISH.  As I’ve stated previously, if you don’t like fish eat tilapia.  Bluefish taste of the sea, you look at it and it looks like a classic fish.  The fragrance is – FISH.  How could you not love that!  Get it on the grill, rubbed with salt and pepper, I’ve rubbed it with garlic on occasion.  Get it nicely grilled, a little “crusty” and serve it sprinkled with chopped parsley and lemon wedges to drizzle over it as you eat it.  Smoke it yourself, very easy to do on the grill.  Low, low heat and a smoke box.  Sublime, much of the oil goes, you don’t want too much going, leave enough so that it’s still got moistness.  Eat it as the best appetizer you’ve ever had, put it in pasta with fresh tomatoes, mix it with cream cheese, sour cream and a little horseradish for spread.  And for heaven’s sake don’t forget the’ blue fish en papilotte nicoise’.   Another truly great fish.   

Maida Heatter’s Lemon Mousse.  Listen up!  I’ve been told that this is so good that folks had the “BIG O” while eating it.  Swear to God I’m not lying!  Yes, it takes a little while to make, but not that long and it’s not that hard to make.  Simple ingredients of course: lemon juice and zest, sugar, water, a little gelatin, egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and heavy cream.  It is so light, so BOOMIN’ with flavor.  A gift from a Goddess. 

Eating it is like lying on your back in the soft green grass on a warm, but not hot, summer day.  The sun isn’t blinding and hot, it’s lemon yellow, warm, and luminescent.  Soft, soft breeze blowing.  There are clouds in the sky, puffy and white, washed the lemon yellow of the sun in the folds and shadow edges.  You reach up a hand, gently pull one of the clouds to you, bring it to your mouth and let it flow into you.  It’s cool and sun lemon yellow at the same time.  You glow.  You are at absolute peace.  You’ve been transformed by Maida Heatter’s Lemon Mousse.  OK, Maida says, “it is like eating a sweet, lemon-flavored cloud”.  I wax a little more rhapsodic.  Maida Heatter and her creation deserve it.    

 

Dinner Diary                                                                         November 17, 1996

 

I really enjoy canning and preserving food.  I like it so much that I’m trying to make a business out of it, but more on that later.  Mom had a small garden behind our house and I remember her canning tomatoes in the 1950’s.  As a matter of fact I got, and still use, her canning kettle.  I don’t know how much that influenced me, but I certainly remember it.    I didn’t have much interest in food at that time, with the exception of eating it.  Hence the husky boy section at the clothing stores. 

I don’t recall what got Bonnie and me going on canning.  Maybe the fact that, when the corn is in season, tons of it can be had for little money.  Maybe the fact that I love fresh corn.   I have always cut the kernels from the cobs and frozen it for later times (like November!).  And I have to scream to the heavens that New Jersey’s corn, along with its tomatoes are superb – top of the ladder – beats all comers.  Good corn relish really hits the spot with me, so maybe it was one of those things that I had to do to satisfy myself.  It’s wonderful when, months later, I get a jar of sweets or savories open it and all wonderful the memories of having made it come to mind.  Maybe it’s a looking to the future kind of thing.  It has never been a chore; so far, it has always been a lot of fun.   And then there is ‘The Goddess of the Jams and Jellies’ on the Cape.  We shall soon learn more about her. 

 

 

ROSE HIP JELLY

 

Dinner Diary                                                                         November 20, 1996

 

 

Canning, preserving food, is like so many things in that it’s easy enough to do but, to do it really well takes a lot of practice and work.  Always finding the best, freshest, in season ingredients (yes, I know, I froze the corn – it’s still fresh) taking the time to bring the mixture to the point where it aches to set up, to gel.  I love creating the new recipes and flavor combinations.  Trying for the unique without being contrived. 

Our 2006 vacation on the Cape really kicked the canning and preserving into high gear for Bonnie and me.   Beach plums grow on the Cape.  The crop, yes, a small plumish fruit with something of a distinct flavor – the salt air and huge light filled sky –  like much of the local produce has bountiful seasons and thin seasons.  2006 was bountiful and, as Bonnie and I love beach plum jelly, we decided that we’d make ‘some’. We aren’t always lucky enough to find a good crop.  2006 was a bumper crop, but none were to found in 2009 – I’ll have to depend on the wisdom of Al Gore for an answer to that puzzle.  The crafting of the jelly was a magic time for us, perfect huge blue sky, cooling breezes and walking along the roadsides and through hidden groves gathering the fruit.  Then back to the house and start canning.  You don’t need much in the way of implements to do this: big pot for the hot water bath, canning jars, cooking pot, sugar, pectin, fruit, colander, canning funnel, cheesecloth. 

The resulting beach plum jelly was very, very good.  It took some time; a few batches had to be redone before they set up.  But the end result approached the perfection of my jams and jelly goddess.  Its flavor was just beyond delicate, clean; the texture was absolutely smooth and did melt in your mouth and the color – a wonderful dark purple almost touching black that you could just see the light through.  We were very pleased. 

But, there was a problem.  The problem being that we had a few canning jars unfilled.  The solution was simple enough, more time outside on a beautiful day to pick more beach plums.  Another batch of superb jelly was made. 

But, there was another problem.  The problem being that we still had an abundance of beach plums and no canning jars.  The solution was simple enough, a ride in to the local hardware store to pick up more canning jars.  The problem of this imbalance continued until we had put up 3 dozen jars of beach plum jellies and we finally decided to call it quits.  But we had really been hooked, got a heavy Jones for this whole canning thing.  But look!  Lo and behold as they say.  The hillside around the Cape house that we had rented was a dense jumble of ‘Rosa Rugosa’.  This is a wonderfully hardy ‘wild’ rose that is a classic Cape Cod flower.  Not only does the plant produce a flower, but also, of course, a seed pod as well- the ‘rose hips’ of the plant.  These are large berry- like fruits containing lots seeds and lots of juice.  As thorny as the plants are, they are not as thorny as a bramble, they’re pickable, and so Bonnie and I picked and picked and picked.  Actually, Bonnie did most of the picking.  We again dealt with the ongoing imbalance of canning jars to rose hips, eventually ending up with 4 dozen jars of rose hip jelly.  A jelly the color of orange/red/yellow autumn leaves, clear enough to see through, melting in your mouth with a taste of citrus, hint of tomato, honey, salt breezes and sun.   What did you do on your summer vacation? Oh, we went to the Cape and spent several days putting up 7 dozen jars of beach plum and rose hip jellies.  A perfect vacation. 

 

BEACH PLUM JELLY

 

My Goddess Of Jams And Jellies 

One of my great joys and constants has been the existence of a woman who sells jams, jellies and chutneys from what is literally a wooden shack alongside the two lane highway.  My Goddess of Jams and Jellies. The fruits (no pun intended) of her labors are in fact the nectar of the Gods.  They are full of pure flavor. The texture of each is absolutely perfect, her jellies are so clear that, if you dare, you can see the depths of your soul through them.  The combinations are inspired and the singular flavors of such ones as blueberry, strawberry and peach are unmatched by anything that I have ever tasted on heaven and earth.    The jars of jellies, jams and chutneys are set on wood planks that form the outside walls of a shack by the road.  The shack is painted white, fading, looking old and weather beaten; it’s been there as long as I can remember, as has my Jam and Jelly Goddess.  She is in much better shape than the shack, but has been around long enough for her face to show her Cape character: wrinkles darkened by the sun, a picture of life lived, she’s beautiful.  The shack does have a wonderful up to date kitchen – I want it.  Aside from the kitchen there’s not much else to it.  Usually, in season, it’s open.  Sometimes the shutters are down, covering the shelves and she’s gone somewhere to do whatever needs to be done.  She has been kind enough, and I have been bold enough, that she accepted my offering of one of my preserves, giving me one from her ‘special stock’ in return.  I sometimes think on the fact that, on her passing, I will cry as I have for few others, because she is truly unique, absolutely wonderful and her talent raises her craft to the level of sublime perfection. 

When we were talking with her last summer, she told us that her husband had died.  We knew that he had been ill on and off for a long while and we expressed our condolences.  But in telling this story she did bring a big grin to my face by saying, “You brought me the spicy tomato chutney last year, right?  Well, my husband got to that before I did and ate the whole jar – said to me that it was one of the best things that he ever tasted, he loved it!”   Yeah, and I asked, it was long before he passed away.

I also love her, because, as she told Bonnie and me, “this damn woman from NEW YORK was here the other day.  Kept asking if all of this (Marge’s jams, jellies and chutneys) was fresh and complaining that the jars were dirty.  She was picking jars off the shelf and putting them back out of order.  ASKED FOR A PAPER TOWEL TO WASH HER HANDS!  KEPT asking if my stuff were fresh and KEPT saying that the jars were dirty.  So when she finally picked up a jar to buy I grabbed it back from her and said, I’m not selling this to you, you get the hell out of here!” 

I want to be the equal of my Goddess of Jams and Jellies.  Hell, I’m unemployed, why don’t I try to make a living out canning?  And so Dave’s Sweets & Savories was born.  To say that the enterprise is up and running would not be correct.  At present I am fighting my way through the State of New Jersey regulations that make it impossible for anyone to make and sell preserved foods such as jams, jellies and chutneys unless they are a company on the scale of Archer Daniels Midland or General Foods.  In addition to the ‘certified kitchen’, no cooking in an inspected home kitchen and selling the products made there, they’ve got you jumping through more hopes than a circus tiger and expecting you to spend money on the kitchen equipment  and administrative fees that are beyond the reach of normal, or unemployed folks, such as myself.  Well, I ain’t giving up on this and will continue to work to get the delicious results of Dave’s Sweets & Savories into your hands.

Back at home from the Cape I went through a variety of recipes, some old, some new.  The list of comestibles, to date, is shown below.

Beach Plum Jelly                                            Rose Hip Jelly

Peach Syrup                                                    Yellow Peach Jam

White Peach Jam                                            Cranberry Apple & Pear Chutney

Apple & Pear Chutney                                    Grape Jelly

Grape & Thyme Jelly                                      New Jersey Blueberry Jam

Pear Butter                                                      Apple Butter

Corn Relish                                                     Mango & Lime Jam

Tangerine Lemon Lime Marmalade               Earl Grey Jelly

 Mango Tea Jelly                                             Spicy Tomato Chutney

Port Wine with Bay Leaf Jelly             Peach & Raspberry Jam

                   Meyer’s Lemon & Vanilla Bean Marmalade

          Cranberry Chutney with Pear &Ginger         Spicy Cranberry & Dried Fruit Chutney

      Pickled Watermelon Rinds

                                Hang On To Your Seats – I’m Just Getting Started!

I worked throughout the fall and eventually put up more than 140 jars of wonderment. My goal is to craft something more than just the jelly to accompany the peanut butter.  I want these used as an ingredient or accompaniment to dishes that are their equal.  I want them to be indispensable as the cake filling, the glaze on the pork tenderloin, replacing the tomato coulis in the Bluefish en Papilotte and, yes, spread on the scone or muffin at breakfast.

Which am I most proud of, or partial to?  That’s easy to answer.  That would be the Beach Plum and Rose Hip Jellies that Bonnie and I put up while we’re vacationing on the Cape.  

It’s been our custom to give presents to our guests at our Christmas Brunches and in 2006 we gave out gift boxes of 3 or 4 jars each to our guests.  I asked for honest criticism of my efforts and got it.  Primarily suggestions, I’ve found that I’m my own toughest critic.  But all absolutely loved the efforts of Dave’s Sweets & Savories.  The comment that made me the happiest, and I heard it from several folks, was.

“IT WAS SO GOOD THAT I JUST STOOD THERE EATING IT WITH A SPOON UNTIL IT WAS ALL GONE!”

                    To that I say, “My most humble thanks.”