14 February 2013

My Valentines

Happy Valentine's Day, the day devoted to love.  Here's what I'm loving this Valentine's Day . . .

 
From the cellar:
 
Lately I'm crazy about manzanilla.  I recall drinking plenty of it during the Feria de Abril in Seville, but somehow forgot about it over the last decade.  This very dry sherry perfectly pairs with salty foods such as olives and jamon serrano.  And if you need to drink something trendy, sherry is 'in'.  Check out the article on page 66 of the February issue of Food & Wine, Sherry on Top, which states that 'sherry is having its moment' and lists the top Sherry Bars in London.

a little spread we put together in Brooklyn from some nearby shops

 
I've also been enjoying  Bordeaux Whites.  My heart belongs to robust reds, but I need something more subtle and crisp with a plate of escargots swimming in garlic butter, which is exactly how we enjoyed this bottle at La Creperie in Chicago.
 




In my kitchen:

Cast-iron lamb chops.  The half lamb we ordered from a local farm last summer has made for some pretty spectacular meals, especially the lamb chops seared on a hot cast iron skillet for three minutes on each side.  The outside gets a nice crust while the inside remains perfectly medium rare.  Add a side of cous cous and nice Zinfandel and it's a fantastic quick meal.

 


 
Pickled vegetables.  The one jar of spicy pickled snap peas I put by is such a tease.  We had a poor crop due to last year's drought and have been really taking our time with the one prized jar.  They're savory, sweet, spicy, and managed to retain some good crunch.  Luckily we have several jars of the sweet pickled beets that are sublime with blue cheese and crusty bread.

pickles, smoked paprika tomato jam, goat cheese, spicy snap peas, sweet pickled beets, Roquefort
 
 
From the professional kitchen:

Pizza.  Yeah, yeah, everyone likes pizza, but I'm not just talking about any pizza here.  I'm talking about pizzas that transcend New York versus Chicago style. Pizzas as art!   For instance, we ventured into the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn for a slice from Di Fara's.  Domenico DeMarco has been making all his pizzas himself, by hand since 1964.  Almost fifty years of practice in making the perfect (and I think it is) pie.  Di Fara's has won numerous awards, which is why people wait hours.   We arrived fifteen minutes before it opened, waited twenty minutes to order, another thirty minutes for a seat, and more than thirty after that to eat (don't worry, it's byob).  Yes, it's a little high maintenance and yes, it's very, very worth it. 

Dom making the pie

   
putting it in the oven

et, voila!
 
I hate to say it, but I'm partial to New York style pizza.  As a former Chicagoan, this is almost as blasphemous a statement as revealing my lack of a preferred baseball team. Ok, I prefer the team with the better looking players. I found The Cubs far more interesting when Ryan Theriot was manning second base. Back to pizza:  Chicago style pizza is just too much--too much cheese, too much sauce. New York style is thinner, crispier, with good chew. We did plenty of 'research' a few weeks ago on a long weekend trip.

I'm tellin' ya, I even liked Ray's.

My assessment of Chicago style pizza doesn't mean that there isn't good pizza in Chicago.  There's GREAT pizza in Chicago.  Thank goodness because getting to Midwood from the Midwest is really a hike.  Case in point: Coalfire Pizza.  Over New Year's, we stopped in our old near west neighborhood to try the only pizza in the city made in a coal-burning oven.  The 800+ degree oven makes for a truly memorable pie.  We enjoyed several, but The Coppa, topped with high-quality coppacola, was outstanding.  My husband felt the same about the 'Nduja.   One bite and he said, "Oh man, that tastes like Italy."  And it did, but I'm a sucker for cured pork.  Great pizza, good beer and wine, and great service made for a wonderful night with friends.  The handsome, buff, straight-out-of-The-Sopranos-looking manager didn't detract from the experience either.

There's The Coppa, down front
 

The 'Nduja with perfect crust


The nicest server gave Viv a private tour of the oven while her special order (I want sausage!) was cooking
 
Brulee Desserts.  Creme brulee is the quintessential dessert.  It's a multi-sensory eating experience: the elegant dessert, the crack of the caramelized sugar, the rich custard. I love when pastry chefs extend the torch beyond this classic favorite. In the past several months I've had two instances that were profoundly good:

Gingersnap Banana Pudding at Butcher and the Boar, Minneapolis: homemade gingersnap crust, decadent banana pudding, and some sort of fluffy merengue-y topping finished with a caramelized crust.  There is no photo.  It was gone before it even occurred to me.

Caramalized Banana Ricotta Tart at Balthazar, New York: creamy ricotta tart topped with sliced bananas and caramelized under a shellacked, crunchy layer of sugar. 



The tart at Balthazar was so good, I had to try my hand at one.  Not bad for a first attempt with the broiler, but it's time for my very own culinary torch. 



The glass of manzanilla, the trek through Brooklyn, the caramelized tart experiments are all the more complete with my real Valentine, the man who brought me to the country.  The one who plants the tomatoes that I harvest, slaughters the chickens that I butcher, and gets stung by the swarm of bees for the homegrown honey that I put in my coffee.  He's the one that patiently loves his sassy wife and equally sassy daughter.  He's the one with the beard, and more importantly, he's the one with the heart.  He's the one that makes life taste all the better.