5 Days in Lisbon: Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day Three

This is the third in a series of five posts.
Day One
Day  Two

Overview: On our third day we explored Chaido, a neighborhood that is adjacent to Bairro Alto. Lunch was at a traditional Portuguese restaurant two blocks from our apartment. An early dinner at the highly regarded Alma. A late night stroll through Alfama to discover fado.

We had perfect weather during our five-day June visit to Lisbon. Each day the skies were clear and blue with occasional wisps of clouds. Temperatures were warm and humidity low. Perfect walking weather. Day Three was the midway point in our five-day trip. By Day Three we were beginning to feel at home. We loved our street and our neighborhood. We were comfortable in our apartment.  The path to and from was now familiar. Day Three was our sweet spot. Day Four – the day before we have to leave — will likely be filled with anticipatory sadness of that accompanies endings.

By Day Three we were also clear that we enjoyed one an others traveling company. From an early age Noah and I had traveled extensively together from Bangkok to London, Jamaica and the Virgin Islands to Boston, LA and Seattle. And then there was Las Vegas — Noah’s favorite place  — where we visited many times including celebrating his twenty-first birthday. Christina traveled the world in her capacity as Managing Director of White Oak Dance Company. But our world travel together was limited. Because of my weight and the difficulty I had walking for hours on end, my mobility was more limited than either of us would have wished on our travels together. The loss of seventy pounds since Thanksgiving, coupled with five day-a-week travels to the gym has transformed my traveling life as it has so many other things. So the three of us were reasonably in sync with our walk, eat, sleep, repeat routine. Life is good.

Day Three Walk: Chaido

Our Day Three walk was mildly informed by some shopping goals. I say mildly because mostly what we wanted was a few destination to define our path rather than any compelling need for more stuff. Lisbon is more a walker’s paradise than a shopper’s paradise. Noah wanted a Portuguese cookbook — but not in Portuguese. I noted a shop that carried cutlery. Christina’s shopping interests included linens, china/silver and gloves. Using my iPad, I plotted a “shopping route” through Chaido and off we went.

Largo de Camoes (Camoes Square) is the transition point between our neighborhood of Bairro Alto and Chaido, the adjacent neighborhood.

Across Largo Square on Rua Garrett, a pedestrian only thoroughfare, are several cafes with outdoor seating. Rua Garrett is Chaido’s main street.

Among the cafes is A Brasileira, one of Lisbon’s oldest. This was were Christina and Noah had their late morning coffee. Rua Garrett crosses Rua do Alcecim, the street that leads down to the river to the Cais do Sodre transportation hub and the Ribeira Food Market that is across the street from Cais do Sodre.

Chaido is noted in guidebooks as Lisbon’s most chic neighborhood. “Most chic” is a relative term. One of the things I like most about Lisbon is its general lack of pretense. While there are places that would qualify as chic nearly anywhere such as Largo, last night’s restaurant, in general I would not characterize Lisbon, including Chaido, as chic.

Flower stalls do not line Lisbon’s sidewalks, but here is a lovely flower shop.

Ourivesaria Alianca is a fine jewelry shop on Rua Garrett that called out to Christina.

Many shop windows displayed the signature “sardine” of the Festival of Lisbon

Walking a new city is a process of exploration and discovery. What’s over this hill?

And what awaits around the corner?

Or up those stairs?

Chaido runs from high on a hill…

…down to the waterfront and Cais do Sodre, an important transportation hub. The hills add immeasurably to Lisbon’s interest.

This building is not typical. Most of the buildings are far simpler with mostly stucco facades painted in neutral colors.

Occasionally you see buildings painted with vivid colors.

When I began walking with my camera’s eye, I thought I would focus on Lisbon’s wall tiles. I did this, but I began to be visually intrigued by the ubiquitous graffiti. Day Five’s post will focus on Lisbon’s wall tiles and graffiti.

Our walk down through Chaida lead us down to the edge of Baixa.

Returning to Chaido on the way back to our apartment in Bairro Alto, we came upon this cafe dramatically positioned in a courtyard. You just can’t do it all, so after a brief peek, we headed home to rest for dinner. As for our shopping goals, not too successful, but that hardly mattered.

Day Two Eat: Lunch at 1 de Maio, a traditional neighborhood restaurant in Bairro Alto and dinner at Alma, a high style in the Santos neighborhood.

The rhythm of our days and evenings placed walking in the afternoon. Mornings were about sleeping…at least for some of us. It was rare we made it out of our apartment before late morning. Breakfast was mostly just coffee and maybe some fruit so we could have lunch early enough in the day to have a big block of time to walk and explore.

On our third day we wanted a light, local and inexpensive lunch. We settled on 1 de Maio, a few blocks from our apartment. Bairro Alto’s back streets are filled with small restaurants, bars and fado clubs.

1 de Maio offers simple, traditional Portuguese fare and was exactly what we had in mind.

Part of the joy of dining is sampling wines unlikely to be available in your own neighborhood restaurant. Here we enjoyed an inexpensive Portuguese red blend with the curious name of .com. The wine’s producer is Tiago Cabaco, from Estremoz, in the Alentejo region. Its principal grape is the local Touriga Nacional. Just right for lunch.

1 de Maio, Rua da Atalia, 8, Bairro Alto

Dinner at ALMA
Lisbon has no shortage of restaurant choices. We had narrowed our focus to non-traditional, high style restaurants offering modern interpretations of Portuguese food. That still left us with more options than our five-day schedule allowed and since we had decided to return to 100 Maneiras on our final evening, we were down to two dinners. As we had not made a decision before starting our day, it was not until we returned from our afternoon walk that we began to identify our dinner destination. We settled on Alma, on most lists of “Best Restaurants.” When we called for a reservation, we learned that the only time available was relatively early in the evening. After our fairly light lunch and long walk, early seemed OK. As it turned out, early also enabled us to have a post-dinner fado adventure.

Alma’s chef-owner is Henrique Sa Pessoa, one of a small band of young Lisbon chef’s who have updated Lisbon’s traditional restaurant scene. Trip Advisor ranks Alma #9 of 584 restaurants. (100 Maneiras is ranked #2.) It is one of a handful of restaurants that gets mentioned in multiple Lisbon guides and articles. We sat directly under the cloud in the photo — the cloud slowly rotates. Alma is sleek, but combined the best qualities of chic that we experienced the previous evening in Largo, with more of the intimacy of 100 Maneiras.

While 100 Maneiras served their excellent bread in a homey burlap satchel, Alma’s bread service was more elegant and elaborate and included salt-dusted flatbreads, herb-topped focaccia and a crusty white bread along with an excellent olive oil. Alma offers two prix fixe menus. One is a “traditional” menu by Almas standards — a sort of “best of” menu — and the other more avant-garde. Christina and I opted for the former and Noah the latter. At dinner’s end, we all agreed we preferred the more traditional Alma menu.

Everyone began with an amuse bouche of seared scallop, cauliflower puree and salmon roe. An amuse bouche — literally “amuses or entertains the mouth” – is a small sort of pre-dinner course, plated and more substantial than an hors d’oeuvre and less substantial than a “first course.” Our amuse-bouche set the tone for the artful and delicious meal that followed. It did occur to me that as lovely and delicious as this was, I think of cauliflower as a distinctively winter vegetable though here we were in early June. To me, serving food that is in sync with the season is fundamental to fine dining.

With our amuse bouche we greatly enjoyed a crisp Filipa Pato 3B Sparkling Rose. Filipa Pato is a premium Portuguese wine maker. The 3B stands for Barraida, the region the wine is produced that sits just south of the famous Douro region and the mix of Bical white grapes and Barga red grapes that make up the wine. It was an elegant start to an elegant meal.

I loved our first course. A small piece of pan-seared cod filet was nestled on a chickpeas puree, spinach and roasted tomato and surrounded by chickpeas with just the barest amount of broth at the bottom of the pool. Partly what made this dish so enjoyable was that the chickpeas puree, spinach and roasted tomato are hidden by the cod filet and you only discover them once you have started eating. Food can be fun when not everything is revealed from the beginning.

I know very little about Portuguese wine. I simply asked the wine waiter to pick local wines for us that were neither the least or most expensive and that worked with what we ordered. With this course we had a 2010Reisling from Qunita de Sant’Ana, Marfa. 

Sous-vide cooking is all the rage in the exalted world of gastronomy. Sous-vide translates in French to “under vacuum.” The food to be cooked is vacuum sealed in a plastic bag. It is then submerged in a temperature controlled water bath at relatively low constant temperature for a long period. The goal is to evenly cook the food throughout while retaining all the food’s essential moisture and flavor. The pork loin was held at 154 degrees Farenheit for 24 hours. Before serving it was quickly finished in 400 degree oven to create a slight crust. The result was a tender piece of meat uniformly pink throughout but for its dark outer robe. Our pork loin, served on slate, was accompanied by sweet potato puree complete with dramatic sweep, bok choy, orange segments and roasted squash. All very good. Not great.

The wine was a red blend: 2007 Lima Mayer Red Blend from Alentejano  includes Syrah, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon

The highlight of Noah more avant-garde entrée was a stylish take on stuffed rigatoni, standing guard around a beef filet. There is an aspect of fine dining for me that is scouting for ideas. I loved how they served the rigatoni and made a mental note to try to use it or some upcoming Frog Commissary catered event.

Following our “entrée,” we were served a tangerine sorbet with fresh tangerine segments in bottom.

Our choice of dessert was a warm pear tart with goat cheese ice cream, raspberry, blueberry sliced in half, micro purple and green mint. The pear tart was perfectly executed, though seemed more appropriate for fall or winter. As an at-home ice cream maker, I was thrilled with the goat cheese ice cream.

But the detail I loved most was the severed blueberry that leaned against the raspberry. Yes, a bit precious, but it worked for me. I never thought to cut a blueberry in half to serve it. Something else to remember.

Dinner ended with chocolate truffles and a tiny chocolate cake. Overall it was a wonderful dinner. The second best we had during our Lisbon holiday. It was not quite up to the calvalcade of flavors we experienced at 100 Manieras, nor did it have the same warmth and slightly frantic enthusiasm. In fairness, that was not Alma’s goal. 100 Maneiras provides a 10 course tasting menu and several of the course had multiple tastes. Because it was all well-paced and the food at a uniform high level, the experience was not overwhelming. Alma provided refined dining in a comfortably elegant setting.

Alma
Calcada Marques de Abrantes, 92, Phone: 213 96 3527

What do Lisbon restaurants cost?
You can eat inexpensively in Lisbon. That was not our objective. Christina and Noah enjoy and appreciate great food.  Of course, so do I. It is a core pleasure of traveling. When we dine out we do not focus on price — except when it comes to wine. I suspect that expensive dining in Lisbon is less expensive than comparable restaurants in other European capitals or New York and comparable to Philadelphia. Certainly a part of the cost is the US Dollar to Euro exchange rate at about $1.40US to the Euro. Thanks to Christina’s careful record keeping, here are the per person prices of our Lisbon dinners. Remember, much of this is a result of prodigious amounts of food and wine and we tip well. You can dine at any of these places for less. And I would say that 100 Maneiras 10 course tasting menu (the only menu they offer) was a bargain at 35 Euros — about $50.

Per person with all amounts in US dollars. Day One: 100 Maneiras $142 Day Two: Mercado do Peixe $72 and Largo $78 Day Three: Alma $91 Day 4: SeMe $76 Day Five: 100 Maneiras $120

A Fado Adventure

Fado is to Lisbon’s music what sardines are to Lisbon’s food. Fado, which dates back to the early 1800’s, is a traditional form of music linked to the Portuguese word saudade which is a feeling of loss. Its lyrics and melodies are mournful. Throughout Bairro Alto and Alfama are fado clubs and bars. Some of the larger venues incorporate full restaurants and you can make an evening of fado and dinner. These tend to be more directed to tourists though may feature leading fado performers. We opted for something more authentic.

Because we had to make an early dinner reserevation, the night was still reasonably young when we departed Alma. And since fado does not really heat up until round 11 PM, the time was right. We had asked at 1 de Miao where to find fado, explaining that we did not want a large, touristy venue. He suggested a small fado bar in Bairro Alto named A Tasca do Chico. (I had previously reported that this advice came from 100 Maneiras, but looking at my notes suggests otherwise. You probably don’t care about this correction but I like to keep the record straight.) A tasca is an inexpensive bar. So we took a cab from the Santos neighborhood of Alma back to Bairro Alto to hunt for Tasca do Chico. When we found a nearly empty tasca, we discovered that they offer fado on Monday and Wednesday evenings. And since this was Thursday evening, no fado. They did suggest we visit their “sister” establishment in Alfama where there was Thursday night fado.

We took a cab to the lower reaches of Alfama. It turned out that the Feast of St. Anthony celebration began in earnest this evening — Thursday. As we drove along the river through Baixa and into Alfama, we passed expanses of amusement rides and the other trappings of celebration. The cab suggested we get out at a small square at the base of Alfama that included a series of food stands as driving up into Alfama is difficult.

This is the view as we walked past the square and began the trek up the narrow streets of Alfama in search of fado.

Wherever you turned, people were celebrating.

Naturally, grilled sardines featured prominently.

A ten minute walk brought us to Alfama’s Tasca do Chico. It was a small, dark, packed and friendly bar. We arrived around 10:30 PM. Apparently there are different levels of fado singers ranging from highly regarded and well-paid professionals who work in the large fado venues to less established professionals and serious amateurs. Fado bars like the one we were in had several of whom we assume were the less established professionals. It turned out they also provided a sort of “open mike” for amateurs.

Sharing tables is apparently a fado ethic. We found three seats at a table in the rear across from the service bar. Our table mates were a dad, mom and 13-year-old daughter — spending a night out with her parents because Friday was a national holiday. And thus began our fado adventure. Dad was especially friendly and though he spoke little to no English and we spoke little to no Portuguese (despite my Peace Corps training in Brazil some 43 years ago), he engaged us — and especially Christina in long and animated conversation. First, he loved fado. He grew up in Alfama and though he no longer lives here, he returns often…for fado. His wife was no less friendly, but was less willing to engage in the succession of words and hand signals that were the basis of his conversation with Christina. They invited us to share their food – delicious fresh cooked spicy sausage. We bought them drinks. We learned of his life, that his wife’s name was also Christina,and about his grown children. Our conversation took place between fado sets. Though the photo above is not great, perhaps you can make out the gentleman standing in the center. He was both the emcee and prime singer. For us, the most exciting part of the evening was when our table mate and new friend arose and took center stage and sang. You just never know what’s going to happen when you walk into a fado bar.

Tasca do Chico
Rua dos Remedios, 83, Alfama
Also, Rua do Diario de Notecias, 39, Bairro Alto

By day, our Bairro Alto neighborhood was sleepy. Night was quite another story. And especially Thursday night at the start of the Festival of St. Anthony. Upon returning home around 12:30AM, I stood on our small second floor balcony overlooking the narrow street and watched a continuous wave of mostly young people pour into Bairro Alto — attracted by the one another and the neighborhood’s bars, restaurants. On our block alone there were more than a thousand people. It was interesting to get up in the morning, return to the balcony to see the street littered with abundant debris from the night’s revelry and then the efficient crew of blue-clad street cleaners sweep and wash down the street. By mid-morning Rua do Norte was returned to its quiet and tidy self.

Coming on Day Four: A trip to Cascais and Sintra and dinner at Sea Me.

Thank you visiting,

Steve
Your At Home Coach

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5 Days in Lisbon: Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day Two.

This is the second of five posts. View Day One.

Overview: After a good night’s sleep, lunch at Mercado do Peixe, a traditional Portuguese fish restaurant, a long walk through Baixa and Alfma and dinner at Largo, a modern Portuguese restaurant in Chaido.

We arrived in Lisbon Tuesday morning after our overnight flight from Philadelphia. Day 1 was active, but “close to home” and ended with a wonderful dinner a few blocks from our apartment. By 11PM — that’s 4AM Philadelphia time, we were ready for a good night’s sleep. Wednesday morning — Day 2 — greeted our rested trio with bright blue skies and mild temperatures. The earliest riser, I made myself coffee in the apartment. On a chair that straddled our living room and the narrow balcony that overlooked the street, I alternately read the New York Times on my iPad and watched the neighborhood wake from slumber.

Sleepy heads Noah and Christina held out for their late morning repast at a local bar. All coffee comes from the espresso machine and espresso is the default coffee. What Americans consider “regular coffee” is an Americano — a double espresso diluted with hot water. Here Noah goes for a straight double espresso.

Day 2 Walk: Baixa and Alfama

We set out on Day 2 to conquer the Citadel that overlooks Lisbon across the lower city from Bairro Alto — and stroll through Alfama, the neighborhood that sits stretched from the base of the citadel down to the waterfront. St. George’s Castle was the Moor’s fortress until conquered by the Second Crusade in 1147.

Despite a long gaze by Noah, Christina and myself, we were confounded by how this street performer — one of many — stayed suspended in the air. We began our post-lunch march through Baixa or the lower city — a flat area that sits between the hilltop neighborhoods of Bairro Alto and Alfama. Baixa is Lisbon’s commercial “downtown” shopping district and includes a mix of offices, shops, restaurants, some residential. It also is the principal transportation hub. Baixa is the area of the highest concentration of tourists.

The central avenue — Rua Augusta — is for pedestrians only and leads down to the river. It is paved with patterned black and white stones that often give a distinctive feel to Lisbon’s walkways.

As in cities around the world, streets are shared with pigeons.

The terminus of Rua da Prata is punctuated by massive arches that lead to a wide plaza and the river beyond. A left turn headed us up a long hill toward Alfama.

As we climbed ever higher glimpses of the the wide river on which Lisbon sits peak between buildings.

We wound our way up narrow and winding streets. Here we came across a small neighborhood plaza where we rested with cold beverages at a neighborhood watering hole..

Looking down from the massive walls of the Castle of St. George to Baixa, where we began our walk, we had a sense of how high we traveled and could imagine the sense of domination felt by 12th Century rulers of Lisbon in the Middle Ages.

Admission to The Castle is 5 Euro (about $7 US). The above photo taken within The Castle…priceless. There is a white tablecloth restaurant housed within the walls of the castle that would make for a nice lunch — though better would be to have lunch at one of the restaurants that dot the streets of Alfama.

At the foot of The Castle sits the core of Alfama — Lisbon’s oldest and most picturesque neighborhood. It was historically home to fisherman and the poor. In 1755, Lisbon experienced one of the most destructive earthquakes in world history. The quake was followed by a tsunami and fire claiming the lives of nearly 900,000 people. Much of Alfama was spared. As a result, Alfama retains its character of compact winding streets punctuated by small public squares.

What is most wonderful about neighborhoods like Bairro Alto and Alfama is that they are extraordinarily lively by virtue of the people who live there and not the people who visit there. Unlike lots of tourist-centric areas where it feels like a show is being created for tourists, here you feel that you a bearing witness to the day-to-day life of people who live here. And they are perfectly happy to share.

Our visit to Lisbon coincided with the annual July festival of St. Anthony. This festival sits in the middle of a two month-long Festas de Lisboa. For that festival, the sardine was embraced as its symbol.

Throughout the city were a series of sardine-inspired images created by local artists.

A small convenience market is nestled beneath apartments.

The Alfama neighborhood is the heart of the St. Anthony’s festival that begins in earnest on Thursday evening and runs through the weekend.

Lisbon wears its patina of age with grace. It was the general lack of glitz that I enjoyed most about Lisbon.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My eye found this all quite beautiful.

After nearly four hours of walking from Baixa, up a long hill to The Castle and up and down the hilltop of Alfama, we opted for public transport home. The No. 28 tram — shared by residents and tourists — connects Alfama on the north, down the hill through the edge of Baixa and back up the hill to Chaido and Bairro Alto and neighborhoods beyond. Note the “sardines” on the front of the tram.

We got off in Bairro Alto and walked a few short block to our Lisbon home. Above is the balcony of our second floor apartment. Time to rest before dinner.

A note about our apartment rental
As mentioned in Day 1’s post, I identified the apartment and rented it entirely over the internet including paying a small deposit. The few questions that I had were promptly answered via email. Upon our arrival at the airport in Lisbon we called a number and spoke to the person who would later meet us at the address, provide access to the apartment as well as a brief orientation to the neighborhood and Lisbon. The balance of our rent was due and payable in cash. A security deposit was accepted on a credit card. This person was also our contact should we have any questions or problems. While linens were included, we called our contact to inquire how to secure more towels without a response. We didn’t try very hard as it was not an urgent problem, but it was of some concern that we did not get a response. There was adequate kitchen paraphernalia and we could have cooked, but we choose not to. Overall, we loved our apartment. While an apartment does not come with the same level of daily making the bed and bed-turn down that a hotel would offer — no mints on the pillow, its benefits including cost far outweighed the sybaritic pleasures of a hotel.

Day 2 Eat: Mercado do Peixe and Largo
Our daily plan was a light breakfast, a modest lunch and then dinner as the evening’s entertainment. But my life’s motto is: Have a plan and be flexible. Since we wanted to “save” our dinners for modern Portuguese restaurants, in order to accommodate a recommended traditional restaurant we “upgraded” Day 2’s lunch plan. Our lunch turned out to be the culinary highlight of our day.

Mercado do Peixe
We had asked our friendly waitress at 100 Maneiras for her suggestions as to where to dine and where to listen to Fado, the traditional Portuguese songs of melancholy. (More about Fado in Day 4’s post.)  One of the places she suggested was Mercado do Peixe for traditionally prepared seafood. Mercado do Peixe translates as Market of Fish.

Our expectation was an informal place set in a fish market. After a long cab ride (about $15 US) we were surprised to find a somewhat formal though unpretentious restaurant. The restaurant is located adjacent to a forest area call Monsanto, located on the outskirts of central Lisbon. A comfortable dining room was half filled with customers who appeared to be local business folks — mostly male. The windows that line the dining room look out on to the parking lot. So, the view outdoors isn’t so great.

The view was all about the fish. While it was not the informal fish market with stalls, fresh fish and seafood on ice were the centerpiece. Lunch began with a casual walk-by of the day’s catch.

There is a hierarchy of waiters. The guys in blue take the orders and the guys in white bring the food. The guys in blue speak English.

A large tank hold live spiny lobsters was not just for show.

We quickly abandoned our light lunch plan and since we had totally skipped breakfast, this beginning was a sort of breakfast for us. We started with a local cured ham. Noah went for a local beer and Christina went of the wine. I was holding off on my “alcohol calories” until dinner…but for a glass of port at the end of lunch.

The ham sat in the traditional stand and sliced paper-thin by hand.

We also went for the Amanteigado, a local semi-soft raw sheep’s milk cheese. To eat the Amanteigado, you pry off the top “crust” and dig in. It is accompanied by excellent rolls.

This is not fancy food. There is nothing stacked high on slate or on gigantic plates with lots of white space. Mercado do Piexe simply offers fresh seafood. Nearly everything is grilled over charcoal — a touch of olive oil, salt and peppers and an optional squeeze of lemon.

To get started we shared a plate of small local butter-poached u-peel shrimp. Then we got down to serious eating with langoustine.

Onward to platter after platter — grilled sardines, squid, octopus and a local cousin to red snapper pictured above. Yes, of course we would like a mixed salad with tomatoes and onion. Christina and Noah often feign displeasure at the quantity of food I order for us…and then dig in leaving nary a morsel.

The real show is the central grill with all male cooks. Off to the side is the “prep kitchen” — apparently a women’s place.

Portugal is famous for its pastries and the main streets are lined with pastry shops. We ended our meal at Mercado do Peixe with a Pastel de Nata, a traditional Portuguese pastry that is offered in pastry shops and coffee bars throughout Lisbon. The Pastel de Nata is a small baked tart made with a flaky dough resembling puff pastry and filled with an egg custard. It traces its origins to the late 18th Century and Catholic nuns in Belem, a Lisbon neighborhood .

Mercado do Peixe
Estrada Prado Teixeira, 78

21.361.60.70

We are what you might call “food troopers.” Despite a prodigious lunch, after our long walk and rest, we were ready for dinner! But where to eat? Included on our list of internet and guidebook generated restaurant possibilities was Largo. It is located in Chaido. Chaido is a neighborhood that shares the hill occupied by Bairro Alto and about a five-minute walk from our apartment. Its proximity moved it to the top of our list as our daily quota of walking was nearly full.  Chaido is considered Lisbon’s most chic neighborhood. We can handle a little chic. We called to see if we could get a table in 15 minutes and were told yes so off we went.

Largo occupies a former cloister. By any standard, it’s chic in that sort of international language of chic-dom. The space is architecturally dramatic — more so than any of the other restaurants we visited. Largo’s food was fine. The experience not unpleasant. But it is interesting to contrast our experience in this chic Chaido boite with the prior night’s experience at 100 Maneiras.

The two spaces could not have been more different. 100 Maneiras is pictured above. The modesty of 100 Maneiras contributed to its warmth and intimacy. By contrast, instead of warmth, Largo provided a cool elegance. At 100 Maneiras, the diner is central and the setting a pleasant backdrop. At Largo, the setting is central. My first restaurant job was in 1971 for Peter von Starck at La Panetiere, an elegant French restaurant here in Philadelphia. It was forty years ago and I was the busboy. Peter loved his restaurant most before the guests arrived. He loved the large crystal chandelier that dominated the center of his dining room. He loved that the walls were painted with subtle variations of greys and taupes. He loved the abundant flowers (Peter taught me to arrange the flowers) and the sparkling silverware and glassware (both of which I polished) and the fine china. Customers…not so much. The heart and soul of the restaurant business is hospitality by which I mean creating a sense of welcome and warmth. Yes, in fine dining style counts…artful design to compliment artful food. But in the careful balancing act of fashioning a restaurant, the sizzle can overwhelm the steak. For me, such was the case with Largo.

Sitting at my desk in Philadelphia some weeks after visiting Lisbon it is of note that I seem to not have any photographs of Largo including the food. The image of the restaurant I took from their website.

Largo
Rua Serpa Pinto 10, Chaido
21.347.7225

Coming on Day 3: Walk: Chaido. Eat: Lunch at 1 de Maio, a modest traditional Portuguese restaurant in Bairro Alto and dinner at Alma, an excellent modern Portuguese restaurant. Fado in Alfama.

Thank you for visiting,

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach (and occasional travel advisor)

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5 Days in Lisbon: Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day One.

This is the first post in a series of five.

World travel is among life’s great joys. In early June, Christina, my son Noah and I spent five wonderful days in Lisbon. I visited Lisbon some forty plus years ago with vague fond memories deep in the recesses of my mind. Christina had been there far more recently and identified it as an “under-rated,”  friendly and accessible city that provided relative travel value despite its Euro-based currency.

I consider myself a “good enough” traveler. I like to cover a fair amount of ground, but am not obsessive about it. I am more interested in getting a walking sense of place and people than in site-hopping. I prefer doing too little to too much. I understand that there is always one more site to see, neighborhood to visit, meal to enjoy. And naturally, my primary way to understand a place and people is through food. Eating is central to my travels.

My early interest in cooking was kindled by the remarkable Time-Life Foods of the World series published in the late 1960’s. Far more than just cookbooks, this series placed a people’s food in the context of place and culture. The books were carefully curated including recipes developed by some of the world’s great chef-journalists. You subscribed to the series and every now and then a new volume would arrive and with it, a ticket to another country. Well, not an actual ticket but you get my point. Before I ever got on to a plane, this is how I traveled. Though long out of print, the series can be found in used book stores and online. I strongly recommend these books.

In advance of our Lisbon trip I bought four Lisbon guidebooks and began internet research. My information goal was to just get a general lay of the land… and identify where to eat. The problem with guidebooks is that they tend to be too comprehensive for me. Though they compensate for this with “Top 10’s” and “Best of’s,” I still find them overwhelming. Trip Advisor leads the internet and is useful in separating the wheat from the chaff. However, the internet’s “the wisdom of crowds” can become mob rule. Who is it that writes these individual reviews? And as you peel deeper into the opinion-laden internet you often find contradictory “reviews.” The New York Times travel section includes a recent 36 Hours in Lisbon and we found that useful…though 36 hours represented just 30% of our total trip. What I ideally want are well-curated choices from a friend whose taste I trust who has been there and done that. That’s what I hope the these posts about visiting Lisbon accomplishes.

Naturally, this series will be most interesting to folks planning a Lisbon trip. If that’s not you, I hope you pass it along to others you know who may be planning a trip. The posts will be a series of five, one for each day.

Day 1

Overview: Settling into our apartment in Bairro Alto, walking through our “home neighborhood” and an unexpectedly great dinner at 100 Maneiras.

An overnight flight from Philadelphia landed us at Lisbon’s Portela Airport in the morning. The airport is fairly close to central Lisbon and after a customs crawl, a 15 minute cab ride delivered us near our apartment in Bairro Alto. I say near our apartment because Bairro Alto is an old neighborhood of narrow streets — many of which provide only limited access to vehicles including our cab. Because there were three of us, a hotel would have required two rooms with the associated cost. An apartment was less expensive, more comfortable and much more “family-friendly” with its living room and kitchen.

This is the front door of our building. There are a number of internet-based apartment rental sites. My guidebook research helped me identify our “ideal neighborhood” and the sites provide search by neighborhood as well as cost, number of bedrooms and amenities. We booked online through www.rent4days.com/Lisbon-apartments.

By the time we got through customs, collected our bags, arrived at our apartment and got settled, it was late morning. After a long flight though five time zones, first days can be a challenge. I got only a few hours sleep on the plane so the temptation is to sleep first. Seasoned travel advisors suggest this is a mistake and set as the goal switching to life on local time as quickly as possible…when in Lisbon, sleep when the Lisboetas sleep! Fortunately, the excitement of arrival offsets the fatigue of travel. I was the first of our group to venture out to a nearby produce shop for some fruit for  breakfast — pictured above in our spacious and comfortable living room.

Walk — Day One
On our first day’s walk prudence and fatigue lead us to stay close to home. Fortunately, home was the lively neighborhood of Bairro Alto.  Bairro is the Portuguese word for neighborhood and alto refers to high. Lisbon is built on a series of serious hills.

Here is the panorama from from a small park at the edge of Bairro Alto — essentially a cliff overlooking Baixa with a view of hills across the way and “The Castle” perched on the distant hill. Baixa — Lower — refers to the neighborhood that sits at the center of central Lisbon — a sort of flat basin between hills that leads down to the River Tejo. Lisbon’s hills and valleys serve to create a series of distinctive neighborhoods and provide central Lisbon its particular urban street character. The primary areas we encountered over our five days included Bairro Alto, Chaido, Baixa and Alfama. We also took a day trip to seaside town of Cascais and hilltop town of Sintra.

Chaido is a modestly chic shopping district adjacent to Bairro Alto. Chaido starts high up on a hill and leads down to Baixa and the river. Baixa is the broad expanse of “downtown” Lisbon. Alfama is the old neighborhood of narrow streets that sits at the base of the ancient Moorish castle. While it takes some serious endurance, you can stroll from Barrio Alto, down to Baixa and up to Alfama in a few hours.

These hills are so steep that neighborhoods are connected by elevators and trams though the intrepid walk.

We mostly were intrepid. We walked for hours each day and though we ate very well, I actually lost a pound during our trip.

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal is a city of about a half million people within Lisbon proper. The streets and neighborhoods of Lisbon are incredibly vibrant. It has an old world, low-rise character with only the rare building more than four or five stories.

For a short time in my life I spoke Portuguese. In the late 60’s I trained for a Peace Corps assignment to Brazil in Brattleboro, Vermont and in Brazil.  I learned to speak in three months of training through total immersion in Brattleboro at Peace Corps “camp” and with my Brazilian “family” in Fierra de Santana, a small city not far from Salvador, the capital of Bahia. Deciding to pass on the Peace Corps at the end of training in favor of returning to the U.S. and working in the anti-war movement, I forgot my Portuguese nearly as quickly as I learned it. What’s more, Portuguese as it is spoken in Brazil sounds quite different than Portuguese in Portugal. The few phases of Portuguese that I retained was just enough to get me in trouble when I uttered them as people assumed that I actually could speak Portuguese. Fortunately, many Portuguese speak English  and getting around was not a problem.

Lisbon is a decidedly unpretentious place and has a very lived-in character.

I walk with camera in hand. I find that “looking for photographs” helps me to focus on what’s around me.  My camera is a pocket-friendly point-and-shoot Canon.

Frequently building’s are festooned with tiles.

Graffiti is also ubiquitous. Throughout our five days my camera sought out wall surfaces — traditional tiles and very modern graffiti.

Heading home after a few hours stroll, we passed the restaurant 100 Maneiras a few blocks from our apartment. I recalled that it was on our list of possibilities. By now it was 6:30 PM which meant it was 11:30 PM for our tired selves. We checked out the posted menu and decided this was a good place for our first dinner. But it seemed closed. We opened the door into the small restaurant and encountered a friendly and English-speaking fellow in the empty dining room who turned out to be the chef.  We confirmed that the restaurant was indeed open, but not until later as no one eats at 6:30. We made a reservation to return at 8:30 and returned home for a well deserved rest.

Eat — Day One.
100 Maneiras
100 Maneiras offers one very reasonably-priced 10 course tasting menu each night for about 35 Euros — about $50 US. That’s it. No a la carte dining. I know 10 courses sound like a lot of food, but the course are all small and well-paced. We had among our best and most memorable dining experiences here, not just in Lisbon, but anywhere.

On our initial walk we had become familiar with the clothes lines that hang from apartments throughout the streets and alleys of Bairro Alto. Our first course — Estendal do Bairro or Cod fish clothesline was an homage to Lisbon. It featured crisp dehydrated salted cod – aka bacalao, stretched along wires secured with tiny clothes pins and served with a spicy mayonnaise seasoned with Piri Piri, a traditional Lisbon condiment. It provided a perfect welcome to 100 Maneiras’s.

Before getting into the balance of the dining experience at 100 Maneiras, I want to be clear that as wonderfully artful as the food was, the restaurant was utterly devoid of pretense. The food and wine was served with a professional enthusiasm and warmth in a comfortable setting conducive to conversation – the hallmarks of great hospitality. The lighting was subdued, but adequate to clearly see the food.

Small warm rolls were presented in a burlap pouch accompanied by a shallow bowl of olive oil with a few leaves of thyme. The bread was good enough to be enjoyed without being so good that you felt compelled to consume vast quantities.

Rather than order a bottle of wine, we opted to let the wine waiter select wines by the glass for us that flowed with the courses — at total of six wines including a late-harvest dessert wine and a port. In recent years Portugal’s Vinho Verde has found its way to world wine shelves — housed with other inexpensive white imports. But the best of these notoriously “light and refreshing” wines are excellent white wines that are light and refreshing but contain a richness and complexity that makes them distinctive of the genre. The best are made from the local Alvarihno grape. Ours was produced by Soalheiro — a bottle of which we brought home.

The nightly menu is printed in both Portuguese and English. With each course the staff further explains in English what they have brought. Our next course was a Potato foam with corn bread crumble and herb oil, skewered bread, Nisa cheese and smoked ham. The warm earthy thick-thin potato was perfectly set-off by the sweet crunchy crumble of “bruleed” cornbread. But it was the skwered bread that turned out the be the best “grilled cheese” I ever had. So good, in fact, that I re-created and served it at a small Frog Commissary event two days after returning home.

This was followed by Sauteed and marinated scallop, pea puree and ham crunch. The scallop was sauced with a honey-bacon reduction and the strip of bacon to the right was crisp by virtue of dehydration. This “course” — as with several others — actually included a medley of small, distinct flavor vignettes.

With this course we switch to an Aneto white wine from the Douro region made with a variety of local grapes. It was appropriately drier and more complex that our first white wine.

This next course — Tuna with foie gras caramelized apple in molasses and wakame salad — combined an extraordinary set of flavors and textures  that had us wetting the tips of our fingers so that we could pick-up the wasabi sesame seeds that dotted the black slate “plate.” The restaurant is small — maybe fifty seats. White table linen and a mix of modernist white china, black slate keep the focus firmly on the food.

In preparation for our next course, our wine waiter poured a white Palpite from Alentejo.

Tartar with quail egg — finely chopped beef seasoned with Dijon mustard — was topped with a quail egg yolk that we blended into the tartar along with the hazelnut “dust” that sat on the wide rim of the plate. As I have eating pretty carefully lately, I rarely have red meat. The beef had a deep, rich flavor and was fantastic.

The pace of the courses was leisurely with time between treats to sip wine, talk and savor the lingering taste of the course gone by. Above is Sauteed pamplo with lime rice and salmon roe topped with a wisp of kaffir-lime foam. Pamplo is a cousin of snapper. Luscious, tart, salty and ethereal — all at once.

A palette cleanser followed: Coriander and ginger sorbet with champagne foam.This is coriander as in cilantro and not the spice coriander.

Our next wine was Palpite Alentejo 2006 — another fine and fruity red with 70% cabernet sauvignon. This was served with a Black pork entrecote with carrot puree, crispy Parmesan and mackerel mousse.  The entrecote was actually a pork belly. It was a unexpected combination of flavors that worked perfectly on heir own and also as companions. The mackerel mousse was smoked mackerel nestled in a boat-shaped Parmesan tuille. Regretfully we all finished this dish before I remembered to stop for a photo. Likewise the Foie-gras ice cream with roasted almonds and chocolate. You read that correctly — fois-gras ice cream. Who would have thought? One word: great. Somewhere in here we began sipping a Late Harvest Aneto made from semillion grapes. Luscious.

Our final offering was a Fake framboise cheesecake And since we were in Portugal, it seemed only right to finish this culinary tour de force with a port — a Nieport 2007 Vintage. It was an unexpected and incredibly fine dinner – a gastronomic tour de force.

Here is Noah talking to the chef after dinner. Noah is currently manning the tempura station at Morimoto. He wears the burns that line his forearm proudly. The bar counter is used by the restaurants staff to turn out each course as it is relayed to the counter from the adjoining kitchen. Everyone in the dining room is served each course more or less at the same time. We were so enthralled with our opening night’s dinner that after checking that the menu would change by Saturday, we reserved to return on our closing night. We also resolved to more or less pass on “traditional Portuguese food” in favor of seeking out each night Lisbon’s most interesting contemporary dining experiences.

100 Maneiras
Rua do Teixeira, 35
Bairro Alto
21 099 04 75

A post-dinner walk of a few short blocks returned us home to our apartment. An apartment feels like home in a way that a hotel never does. Our Bairro Alto neighborhood, while pleasantly sleepy by day, is lined with restaurants, bars and clubs and bursts with activity into the night.

Coming on Day Two. Walk: Baixa, Alfama and St. George’s Caste. Eat: Mercado de Peixe and Largo.

Thank you for visiting,

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

Postscript
On June 30th, to celebrate my 70th pound of weight loss, I walked from my home on Rittenhouse Square to Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies. When I began this weight-loss journey around Thanksgiving, I had to think twice about walking to my local CVS at 19th & Chestnut — two blocks from my home.

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Making Asparagus Better

In my new way of eating, unlimited vegetables are a cornerstone of my diet — along with unlimited fruit, modest amounts of protein and a maximum of two tablespoons oil daily.  (No white carbs!) An important part of dieting is maximizing the pleasure of what you eat. That sometimes means extra effort to prepare it very well. Though asparagus can be pricey, they make a welcome between meal treat, a start to a dinner in lieu of a salad or an accompaniment to dinner protein.  I have been enjoying asparagus from distant lands for months as they are usually available from somewhere much of the year. As asparagus is a cool weather crop, April into mid-June is peak asparagus season in the northeast. Local Jersey and Pennsylvania asparagus made an appearance about three weeks ago.

The simple step of peeling asparagus prior to blanching greatly enhances your enjoyment of your asparagus.

Here is a simple step-by-step guide to making asparagus better.

Snap off fibrous end
I prefer thick, substantial asparagus over thin asparagus. It’s not a matter of taste. Thick and thin asparagus taste pretty much the same. It’s the “character” of the asparagus. For me, “meaty” thick asparagus simply have more character.

Thick or thin, asparagus have a tough and fibrous bottom. Begin your asparagus prep by snapping the end off the asparagus and discarding. To do this, hold the asparagus at its bottom and bend. The asparagus will naturally snap at the point where the fibrous part ends. This will likely be about one quarter to one third of the asparagus. Discard the fibrous end.

Peel!
Next, using a vegetable peeler, gently peel the asparagus beginning about an inch below the very scaly tip portion as pictured above. Peeling is easiest with thick asparagus, but even moderately thin asparagus benefits from peeling. For thinner asparagus, lay the spear flat on the counter as you peel to avoid breaking the stalk. You will periodically need to unclog your peeler as the asparagus peel tends to clog the peeler. Peeling under running water also helps prevent peeler clog. Regardless, rinse peeled asparagus to help remove any clinging peel.

Blanch…and shock.
Blanch asparagus in a generous amount of boiling water. Asparagus should be cooked al dente. Asparagus should not feel raw, but have a pleasant firm “toothiness.” Thick asparagus take four to six minutes to cook. Cooking time depends significantly on the amount of boiling water you have relative to the amount of asparagus. More water means shorter cooking time as the water retains more of its heat when you drop in the asparagus. Thin asparagus cook in as little as about a minute. As I cook my thick asparagus I periodically remove one from the boiling water, cut off a little bit of the end and check for whether they are cooked to my liking.

After blanching, I like to “shock” my asparagus. (This is a common practice in cooking many vegetables.) Shocking involves immersing just cooked asparagus in an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking and set the emerald  green color. If you get really cold water from your sink, you can drain cooked asparagus in a colander and run under lots of cold running water. Ice water does a better job, but is a bit of a bother.

Here are my beautiful asparagus, moved from boiling pot to adjacent ice water with a skimmer. You could also use tongs for this or go from pot to colander to ice bath.

If you are going to serve hot and right away, you can skip “shocking” and go directly from blanching to serving. However, especially if you are cooking a large quantity for guests, by blanching and shocking and then re-heating, you get maximum control and are most likely to serve al dente asparagus. Given my diet, I just eat my asparagus au natural —  topped with salt. Delicious. If I want them hot, I re-heat either in the microwave or by dunking in a pot of boiling water for about a minute until hot. Drain well.

For Easter I made a large batch of asparagus for the eight of us having dinner. A goal of home entertaining is to reduce the number of things you have to worry about once guests have arrived. In my case, for Easter I was taking asparagus to Christina’s mother’s and I wanted to reduce the complexity of what I had to do in her kitchen. I cooked and shocked the asparagus on Saturday. The pre-cooking got the blanching out of the way and ensured my focus on keeping them al dente. I was not cooking the asparagus while trying to pull together other parts of Easter dinner. On Sunday I simply warmed my pre-cooked asparagus in a pan with some butter, salt and pepper.

Check the recipe from At Home for Asparagus Three Ways, an interesting salad showing off the varied aspects of asparagus. Also, check out Mark Bitman’s NY Times blog about asparagus.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

P.S. As of today I have lost 52 pounds.

Asparagus Recipes from At Home

The following is a recipe from At Home: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining by Steve Poses. Other asparagus recipes included in the book are Grilled Asparagus, Bacon & Egg Sandwich (P.353), Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus (P.70), Lemon-Scented Asparagus Risotto (P.337), Shaved Fennel & Asparagus Salad (P.132), Salad of Asparagus, Mushrooms, Goat Cheese & Pinenuts (P.146), Asparagus Soup (P.111), Stir-fried Asparagus & Shitake Mushrooms (P.310)

Asparagus Three Ways
Preparing a versatile vegetable multiple ways—in this case, grilled, blanched and thinly shaved asparagus—makes a beautiful first course presentation. If it’s too time-consuming to make all three, simply eliminate one.

do ahead Ingredients can be prepared up to six hours ahead and stored
in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 ounces Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
1⁄2 cup lemon juice
2 pounds asparagus
11⁄2 tablespoons olive oil
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 Gently bend each asparagus spear a few inches from the bottom of the stalk until the end snaps off. Then, using a peeler, gently strip the ends to remove the tough outer layer. Divide asparagus into three equal portions.
2 Shave a third of the asparagus: Hold the tip pointing toward you and use a peeler to strip away thin lengths from each spear, avoiding the tip and working until most of the spear has been shaved. Continue with remaining spears and reserve tips for blanching. Prepare a bowl of ice water and set shavings
in the water.
3 Blanch the second third of the asparagus: Prepare a bowl of ice water. Fill a pot wide enough to accommodate asparagus with salted water and bring to a boil. Add asparagus plus reserved tips and cook for 2 minutes. It should be firm, but not raw. Transfer to a strainer and immediately run asparagus
under cold water. When cooled, drain and cut into thirds. Set aside.
4 Grill the remaining asparagus: Heat a grill pan or backyard grill. Combine garlic and olive oil. Dip and coat asparagus in the mixture. Reserve mixture and transfer coated asparagus to grill. Grill until charred, turning to cook all sides, about 5 minutes. Cut into thirds and set aside.
5 Scrape remaining garlic into a medium bowl. Whisk in honey, mustard,lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Add olive oil and whisk to combine; then add heavy cream and whisk to combine.
6 Drain shaved asparagus well, then blot with a paper towel. Toss shaved asparagus with 1⁄3 cup of dressing until well coated.
7 Mound shaved asparagus in the center of each plate. Arrange blanched and grilled asparagus on top, with tips pointing in. Drizzle each plate with dressing. Finish with Parmesan and more salt and pepper to taste.

serves 6

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Spring Awakening

This is my first post since wishing you a Happy New Year as 2010 ticked into 2011. No, I have not been hibernating. I have been busy. Just not busy writing posts.

For me 2010 was an interesting year that included the death of my mother, my beloved dog Izzy and Christina’s dear friend Stuart. During the year I produced about one hundred At Home posts — nearly all requiring hours of travel, recipe development and writing. I loved doing my farm stand and farmers’ market series. But as the holiday season approached I found that I had run out of the energy and inspiration to again produce posts about holiday entertaining that I found entertaining to produce. For a variety of reasons including feeling a bit of blog burn-out, as the year came to an end I found myself doing some long-overdue reflection.

One very important issue for me has been finally dealing with my life-long struggle with weight. I decided it was time to re-focus my energy on my health and seek a new balance between my love of food and cooking and my desire to live a long and healthy life. A serial dieter, I had come to understand that getting healthier was not a matter of will power. I have lost weight before. As with most people who struggle with weight, weight loss was followed by weight gain. I came to believe unless I dealt with the underlying reasons for eating too much, I would never keep it off.

I spent time developing a personal support system that began with excellent and on-going therapy to better understand the emotional role food played for me. Though weight was an underlying issue and weight loss a key goal, I understood there were more fundamental things I had to deal with if I was going to be successful with weight loss. Being overweight is a symptom of other issues.

After expressing despair one day about how much weight I had to lose, I was counseled to make a plan that focused on what I was going to do to get started rather than on some end point. (There really is no end point.) I wrote a plan for myself. On the plan was an appointment with a nutritionist. That  lead to a date certain to get on the scale and face how much I really weighed. It was worse than I thought, but it felt good to finally confront how much I weighed. That was just before Thanksgiving. As of this morning, I have lost 46 pounds. I go to the gym five to six times a week including once a week with my nutritionist/trainer. Many weeks my son Noah tortures me at his gym. (Last Friday I took a careless step off a treadmill and in breaking my fall I broke a bone in my hand. With a cast on my hand, no dumbbells for a while — though I bought a heavy pair of ankle weights to strap on my wrists.) I cook well most nights for Christina and myself — moderate protein, unlimited fruits and vegetables, maximum 3-4 tablespoons oil daily. We occasionally dine out and I always manage fine. I eat well and am rarely hungry. I weigh less and feel better than I have for years. I have lots more weight to lose and I need to eat differently than I had forever. But that’s fine.

I am still figuring out my relationship with food and cooking and not entirely clear about how that will effect my At Home blog. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I offer a recipe from At Home for a spring fruit salad of roasted rhubarb and strawberries and links to past blogs about Passover and Easter that I hope you re-visit and enjoy — including Mr. T’s Balls! As always, the illustrations are by my friend, Pascal Lemaitre from At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

Some previous posts about Passover & Easter:

Plan to Entertain At Home – Passover & Easter
Chopped Chicken Livers & Mock Chicken Livers
Matzo Brei
Asparagus with Mustard Butter
Mr. T’s Balls
Sephardic Charoset
Matzo Toffee Crunch

Spring Fruit Salad: Roasted Rhubarb & Strawberries
Robins. Cherry Blossoms. Rhubarb. Each is a harbinger of spring. Rhubarb is one of those greatly under-used items. I recently served it at a Frog Commissary catering event on top of pan-seared fois gras on a parsnip crisp. Here is a recipe from At Home that is part of The Four Seasons of Fruit Salad. You can add some grated fresh ginger for some extra kick.

do ahead Roasted fruit may be fully made up to three days ahead and
refrigerated.
2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 2-inch lengths
3 pints strawberries, hulled and halved
zest and juice of 1 orange (preferably a blood orange, if available)
1⁄2 cup sugar

1 Preheat oven to 325°.
2 Place rhubarb and strawberries in large, ovenproof baking dish. Toss with
orange zest and juice and spread into a single layer. Sprinkle sugar on top.
Bake until rhubarb is tender, but not collapsed, about 30 minutes. Allow
rhubarb to cool.
serves 6

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…and Happy New Year

My mother had several life-explaining sayings including: Nothing is ever as good as it seems or as bad as it seems. Perhaps she was referring to New Year’s Eve? For most of us, New Year’s Eve is loaded with both celebratory anticipation and the ghost of disappointing New Years past. As a result, some of us become New Year’s Deniers — oh, it’s just another day. Others reject the possibility the night could possibly be anything less than the most festive of the year — the veritable night they invented champagne.

Like most things in life, New Year’s Eve is a matter of what we make of it.

Some Simple Suggestions for a Successful New Year’s Eve
So, what to make of New Year’s Eve?

First and foremost, find some personal time to reflect, notice and take account. Really. Whatever else it is, New Year’s eve is a moment of transition from what was to what will be. At the stroke of midnight 2010 is gone and 2011 is here.

What was
What was includes people we leave behind. For me, this year meant leaving behind my mother…and Izzy, my black lab of thirteen years…and Stuart, Christina’s and my dear friend. 2010 will forever be a year of loss. The passing of another year also means a step closer to the end than the beginning. Nothing imminent. But closer. It seems altogether right and proper that I spend some time being sad.

What will be?
Each new year begins with challenges and opportunities. Make some commitments. You might think of a commitment as a New Year’s resolution with a plan. Every year for as long as I can remember I have had the challenge and opportunity to get healthier…lose weight and get more fit. For me, the commitment to weight loss and fitness actually began this year. I have been spending considerable time over the past several months “positioning myself” to finally succeed with this. I have come to recognize that I cannot be successful without setting the pre-conditions including better understanding the emotional underpinnings and setting up a support system. Events during the year seem to have a opened a door to success here that somehow previously seemed closed. I feel very excited about finally doing this. I have other challenges and opportunities but this is the most important.

Spend New Year’s Eve at home.
Not necessarily at your home. Years ago a great Philadelphia food writer named Jim Quinn wrote a restaurant book called Never Eat Out on Saturday Night. His notion was that a hectic Saturday night is the worst time to visit a restaurant. Well, New Year’s Eve at most restaurants is Saturday night squared. There are great advantages to entertaining at home rather than dining out ranging from cost to the warmth of a home and the ability to actually talk and hear others talk. You could say that the disadvantage is the work involved. If you are a regular reader, you know my entertaining prescription for planning, spreading tasks over time and resources, doing less…making sure it’s fun for you. But I am fine with bowls of nuts and olives, a great salad that you make, take-out pizza, a bakery-bought dessert and box of excellent chocolates and champagne if that’s what it takes. Or maybe it’s not too late to organize an impromptu pot luck…let it be an International Take-out Pot Luck if you are really last minute. A little Chinese/Vietnamese, some Italian, maybe some Greek. Just assign meal categories and provide the home, plates and glasses. Enjoy.

A Meaningful Toast to the New Year
My dear mother — a home entertainer nearly to the end — would gather “Henny’s girls” around the table and provide some personal focus to the dinner conversation. It was always something that encouraged sharing and promoted connection and intimacy. Your New Year’s toast…started some time before the clock strikes twelve is the perfect opportunity to make the transition from what was is to what will be a moment of real meaning. I think my mother would suggest something like this: Each person, one at a time, address something they will miss about 2010 and something they look forward to in 2011? Don’t be shy about initiating this. My mother never was. You’ll be glad that you did.

Christmas at Larry’s

Christina and I — along with Noah and his new puppy — set out on our annual Christmas pilgrimage to Larry and Susan’s home in Tuxedo Park with our trunk loaded (over-loaded?) with gifts and the makings of  Deconstructed Seafood Gumbo, my small contribution to our Christmas Eve dinner…with a minimum of seven fishes.

Larry always provides a printed menu of the evening’s offerings — a table of contents and souvenir. Dinner begins in the kitchen as guests gather with mostly room temperature hors’doeuvres. Beverage choices included champagne or the Tangerine Kumquat Martini that I brought — a durable refrigerator left-over from Thanksgiving.

Spanish white anchovies – boquerones — have become a Christmas staple. Here they are on crostini with roasted pepper and garlic aioli.

This year’s gravlax — another staple — included a long bath in herb-filled olive oil after the traditional salt, sugar and dill cure. The accompaniments include honey mustard and sprigs of dill.

Regina’s, a guest at most of our Christmas eve dinners, provided little salmon tarts with caviar — an homage to her Russian heritage.

Deep-fried panko-crusted calamari with lemongrass chili sauce was our only hot hors d’oeuvres that made for a relatively stress free service for host and hostess.

Once everyone has gathered and sufficiently feasted on hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen, guests shift to the dining room and and adjacent living room, beckoned by the balance of dinner that Larry lays out as a buffet.

Confit of octopus with saffron potatoes on arugula. The octopus was slowly cooked in olive oil.

Tuna and beet tartare with golden beets.

Baccala — salt cod — is traditional Christmas fare. Here Larry served it with a wonderfully rich garlic tomato sauce topped with creme fraiche, heated and finished under the broiler. Delicious. It was Larry’s only other hot dish.

The final item was my Deconstructed Seafood Gumbo. Deconstructed means taking the elements of a dish, pulling them apart and re-organizing them. Here is the mis en place for the gumbo. The gumbo itself is in the pot on the stove. Ready to go is the crab meat and chopped shrimp in the containers in the foreground and the pickled okra and remoulade  in the background. Waiting in the refrigerator were the breaded oysters ready for the deep-fryer.

Here are the andouille risotto cakes ready to the re-heated in the oven.

Noah helped me turn out the finished product served in bowls — the andouille risotto cake on the bottom, covered with a ladle of the brown roux-thickened gumbo replete with shrimp, crab, okra, green pepper and onion, topped with a fried oyster and a dollop of remoulade with a pickled okra on the side. My verdict: I think the concept was sound. But in the name of making a very authentic Cajun-style gumbo I think I took the brown roux too far — it went over to the dark side — so that the gumbo itself tasted too much of the roux and not enough of the seafood and vegetables. If I were doing this for a restaurant I would re-work it, but this was just Christmas dinner and it was Good Enough. Good, but not great.

Christmas Morning

In past years Larry has served a substantial Christmas day mid-afternoon dinner. This year, after present exchange and opening, we sat down to an earlier and decidedly lighter Christmas brunch. This was a welcome change.

Our first course was a beet and blood orange salad with goat cheese and mint.

Served family style was a Spanish tortilla — aka fritatta — loaded with chanterelles and potatoes and scented with white truffle oil.

The piece de resistance was the slowly braised fat-laden pork belly — a stand-in for bacon — scented with star anise. Pork belly is one of life’s great guilty pleasures.

Dessert included a bread pudding made with torn croissants and a bourbon caramel custard along with a raspberry tart left for us by Regina.

It was altogether satisfying meal and the perfect follow-up to Christmas eve with nary a fish in site.

It is clear that Larry — with able assistance from his wife Susan — puts great effort into our annual holiday gathering. But he is the model of the ideal home entertainer. Larry plans carefully and spreads his tasks over time. His food is not simple, but he “invests” his efforts in things that can be done ahead with reliance on room temperature food — plattered and ready to go and/or food that can be popped in the oven and served. The only item that actually required careful last minute cooking was the calamari and even that was fully prepared requiring only a little dredging and frying. There is never a time that I am entertained in Larry’s home that I don’t learn something about how to enjoy being a home entertainer. Most importantly, Larry and Susan’s efforts bring together the family to share the warmth of their home.

Cliff Lee and Metropolitan Bakery
I have here lauded my brother-in-law Larry for his fine culinary sense. Larry can tell you the best place to get tempura in Tokyo. He guided us to the best tapas in Madrid. Larry is a New Yorker. He lives in Tuxedo Park — near West Point and works in Manhattan. He will travel far in search of an ingredient. But each Christmas Larry requests that we bring bread from our neighborhood Metropolitan Bakery because, he says, ” It’s just better than any bread I can buy in New York.” So, Philadelphia has at least two things that New York does not…Cliff Lee and Metropolitan Bakery.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year…At Home.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Merry Christmas

Christina, Noah and I are off to Larry’s — my brother-in-law and cook extraordinaire — where on Christmas Eve we will enjoy an ocean-full of fishes. The warmth of a family Christmas is relatively new to this Jewish kid from Yonkers — a result of my union with Christina. Our apartment is joyfully aglow with lighted tree and ornaments. My personal contribution to our Christmas eve fishes is a Deconstructed Seafood Gumbo. (I still have to pickle the okra today for this.) Look for a post next week on details. While there is great joy in being a host, it is certainly easier being a guest.

Merry Christmas to all

…and for holiday hosts, best wishes for for one relaxed hour prior to guest arrival!

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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A Dozen Entertaining Holiday Stocking Stuffers Redux

This is a re-post of my suggestions for stocking stuffers — every bit as useful this year as last.

Everything on this list makes an excellent stocking stuffer and welcome addition to the kitchens of home entertainers. (Well, the grill press would need a very sturdy stocking and the Repositonable Labels a very wide stocking.) The side margins of At Home by Steve Poses are filled with advice like this on equipment as well lots of other advice designed to inform and inspire.

1. Dough Scraper
I use my dough scraper to scoop up and transfers chopped vegetables from my cutting board to bowl or pan. I also use it keep my prep area clean and tidy. It is an invaluable assistant. I would not think about prepping vegetables without it. See my Setting Up for Prep on Page 21 of At Home or see the dough scraper in action on my Setting Up For Prep video. View Video.

2. Stainless Kitchen Tongs (Spring-Action)
Everyone needs a pair of stainless steel spring-loaded kitchen tongs. Kitchen tongs are an extension of my hands when handling anything hot. Much more handy than a kitchen fork or spatula. Read more about how I use Kitchen Tongs on page 182 of At Home.

3. Microplanes
These super-sharp graters come in a variety of sizes. They are perfect lemon zesters — removing only the zest and leaving behind the bitter white pithe. I use my microplane to grating a little nutmeg or big hunk Reggiano Parmesan. Read more about Microplanes on page 129 of At Home.

4. Instant Read Thermometer
Thermometers are your x-ray vision. They enable you to see inside anything you can poke and tell you the temperature. Use them to tell if your premium sirloin steak on the grill is medium rare and if your Mac ‘n Cheese heating in the oven is sizzling hot inside. Read more about X-ray Vision: Instant Read Thermometers on page 167 of At Home.

5. Electric Spice Grinder
The best way to extract maximum flavor from spices is to toast whole seeds and pods in a dry pan over moderate heat until they release their fragrance, allow to cool and then grind in an electric spice grinder. (These are commonly sold as coffee grinders.) I regularly grind small batches of black peppercorns and keep a small wooden box of fresh ground pepper next to my stove. I strongly advise against ever using pre-ground pepper!

6. Juice Reamer
A juice reamer – typically wood – is about 5 inches long with a pointed end with grooves along its sides. This turns out to be the ideal shape to extract juice from a lemon or lime — much more effective than squeezing.

7. Repositionable Labels
Repositionable Labels are Post-It’s for Kitchen Professionals and an indispensable tool for the Organized Entertainer. I use them for everything from making and arranging my prep tasks, arranging (and re-arranging) my work schedule — allayed on my refrigerator or kitchen cabinets — to labeling my platters and bowls so I know what goes in what. Make sure you get the removable type. Pictured here are Avery #6460. For a fuller explanation see Page 12 of At Home. In addition to a pretty bow, you may need to include some explanation as to why in the world you would give these as a gift. But trust me, they will revolutionize the life of an entertainer.

8. Flexible Fish Spatula
People unnecessarily fear cooking fish. Turning a fish filet in a pan can be a challenge — unless you have one of these flexible fish spatulas.

9. Silcone Pastry/Basting Brush
Silicone pastry brushes are ideal for basting as they remain pliable while holding up to heat. They also are simple to wash in the dishwasher.

10. Grill Press
This weight with a stay-cool wooden handle improves and speeds your grilling by pressing against the top of whatever you are grilling, increasing contact of the underside with the grill and helping form a better grill marks and crust. Also excellent for cooking burgers in a pan or grilled cheese.

11. Remote Oven Thermometer with Alarm
The only infallible way to know whether a roast is done is to know its internal temperature. Using a guide of minutes per pound is just not reliable because oven temperatures are often not true and roasting time depends on the starting temperature of what you are roasting. (Ideally you should bring a roast to room temperature before roasting.) Certainly you can use a simple meat thermometer and check often, but these useful gadgets have a probe that goes inside the roast and an external thermometer that sounds the alarm when you have reached your programmed temperature.

12. Timer
The less you have to think about and remember when cooking the better. Read about The Value of a Timer of Timer on Page 159 of At Home.

At Home – The Perfect Gift f
Of course, the best gift you could give would be At Home — the book with the companion website. But at 500 pages and three plus pounds, it surely would not fit in a stocking. At Home is not available in bookstores but only at our on line store or at Coopermarket at 302 Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd and the Joseph Fox Bookshop at 1728 Sansom Street in Philadelphia.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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My Favorite Online Gift Sources

At Home at Reading Terminal Market
Reminder: I will be signing books this Saturday, December 11th at Reading Terminal Market from 11 AM to 4 PM. Look for me in Center Court. Bring your old copy of The Frog Commissary Cookbook and purchase a second copy of At Home at half price.

1. korin.com Knife Porn!!!

In the early 1980’s I spent several weeks in Japan. Since that time I have had a deep appreciation of the Japanese aesthetic based upon the Tea Ceremony. What I so admire about this Japanese aesthetic is that it is based on on an exquisite harmony with nature. It is a very small step from that aesthetic to my summer’s worth of visits to farm stands and farmers’ markets and commitment to cooking seasonally. Among the great meals of my life was at Kitcho, just outside Kyoto. Kitcho is kaiseki restaurant — the highest form of Japanese cuisine that is modeled on the Tea Ceremony — but with lots more food. See my little story about this memorable meal on Page 182 of At Home. While in Kyoto I visited a knife shop with a legacy of samurai sword-making that continues to make knives as they have for hundreds of years. I purchased several fine Japanese knives that still serve me well.

Korin features fine Japanese Tableware and Chef Knives. They have a small jewel of a shop in Tribeca, but you can spend lots of time with your nose pressed against the window by visiting their website. They have both Western and Japanese style knives. For most of the cooking we do, a Western style knife is best. I generally use Shun knives that are available at fine kitchenware store like Kitchen Kapers or Fante’s. But Korin is a whole other thing with some hand-crafted knives costing over a thousand dollars. The selection of knives is overwhelming, but decide on a price your willing to pay — there are many fine knives for vastly less than a thousand dollars! — the style of knife you want and take a leap. You can certainly give them a call and they would be happy to guide your choice. A fine knife taken care of will last a lifetime and makes for an extravagant gift to someone who loves to cook…including to yourself. For the sushi-lover who has everything, you can buy them a “sushi-robot.” At the other end of the Korin spectrum is a little scrubber that I will talk about in an upcoming “Stocking Stuffers” post. It’s fun to just visit their site and fantasize.

2. bridgekitchenware.com Professional

As a young and aspiring cook, even before I opened my first restaurant in 1973, I made a pilgrimage to Bridge Kitchenware on East 52nd Street in New York. It was a slightly forbidding retail store stacked from floor to ceiling with all manner of copper pots and “professional” kitchenware. It felt like entering a rarefied world of chefs and I was not clear I was allowed. In recent years Bridge “family” made the decision to withdraw from the New York hustle and bustle. Today they have a store in Roseland, New Jersey, but you can shop where professional chefs shop by visiting online. Need a fish poacher, Bridge has a variety to select from. Want a pro’s tool to finish the top of your creme brulee, no problem. Their website is not easy to navigate — nor was the 52nd Street store, but they have the goods.

3. snakeriverfarms.com Premium Pork

Several years ago I ordered a ham from Snake River Farms made from Kurobuta pork — a pork breed also known as Berkshire. It was the best ham I ever ate. Pork generally available today in supermarkets has had much of its character breed out in favor of its “other white meat” status. Snake River supplies restaurants, but anyone can order their heritage pork or Wagyu Beef from their online store. You can now sometimes find Berkshire pork and grass-fed beef from local farms and at farmers markets, but its hard to find locally this time of year. You go to so much effort to make a special holiday meal — why not go the extra step and serve something very memorable.

4. latienda.com Spanish Specialties

La Tienda specializes in Spanish food-stuffs including paella pans and paella kits. These “gift kits” include the pan and paella makings. Paella is a wonderful special occasion “one-dish” entree — think New Year’s Eve. You can make paella in any large, flat flame-proof pan — in a pinch I use a cast iron skillet, but a paella pan is made for this dish — wide with low slopping side. One of my favorite cooking activities is making paella over a round Weber kettle grill. Once you get the hang of making paella — it’s not difficult — there are lots of different paellas you can make. At Home features a recipe for Seafood Paella on Page 236. Don’t be put off by the long list on ingredients — it’s just shopping and part of what makes it special. And it’s not like you’re going to make this weekly. La Tienda also sells smoked paprika, used in At Home’s Little Lamb Meatballs with Smoked Paprika Cream on Page 97. These small gems were inspired by a Madrid trip that occurred when I was developing recipes for At Home.

5. artisinalcheese.com Say Cheese

If I had to pick a single food to eat the rest of my life, it would probably be sushi. Reasonably healthy. The other is cheese. I am always amazed at the complex world of fine cheese flavors. Unfortunately, cheese is not so healthy so I try to limit my cheese consumption. So when I have cheese, I like it to be something special. Among the recent changes in the local food scene is the development locally produced world class cheese from cheese-makers like Princeton’s Cherry Grove Farm and Elverson’s Amazing Acres. Great local cheeses can be found at local cheese shops and at the Fair Food Farmstand at Reading Terminal. For the Cheese Lover on your gift list, I suggest you consider Artisinal Cheese’s Cheese of the Month Club. It’s like Harry & David’s Fruit of the Month — but more special and delicious.

6. chefshop.com Wild Italian Fennel Pollen and Other Hard to Find Ingredients

It’s so hard to figure out what to give as a gift. Closets are filled with gifts slated for re-gifting. Maybe Pixar will do a follow-up to Toy Story 3 about the fate of such gifts. Do you want your gift to suffer this fate? Well, the gift of food is not likely to have such a fate. Which brings me to Wild Italian Fennel Pollen. OK, not everyone loves the taste of fennel. But I do. The White Bean & Caramelized Fennel Dip on Page 78 of At Home has been my book-signing lure and give-away this year. The ultimate fennel is Wild Italian Fennel Pollen. Just saying it is transportative. Before conforming to the reality of available ingredients, the Fennel-scented Strips Bass on Page 260 was made with fennel pollen. Go to Chef Shop for special ingredients that you need for a special meal or a to give as a gift unlikely to be slated for re-gifting.

7.recchiuti.com Chocolate Heaven


Michael Recchiuti is Chocolate Royalty. A former Philadelphian – who spent some time in The Commissary’s Bakery in the early 80’s — Michael is based in San Francisco. The two table chocolates Christina and I served at our wedding were Michael’s and Marcolini’s from Brussels. Michael makes simply extraordinary chocolates and other confections. His Key Lime Pears are a personal favorite and a perfect house gift to bring to a holiday party.

Previn – Philadelphia’s Own Professional Kitchenware Source

While you can’t buy online, Philadelphia’s own Previn has a website that offers an array of unusual and sophisticated kitchenware. You browse their online catalog and call to discuss price and place your order.

Purchase At Home Online

If you live within a few hundred miles of Philadelphia, it typically takes two days to deliver At Home to your door using standard shipping. However, to make sure you have At Home by Christmas, ideally order by Monday, December 20th. After that date, consider expedited shipping.

Ardmore Farmers’ Market on Thursday Thursday, December 16th
I will be at the Ardmore Farmers’ Market on Thursday, December 16th from 11 AM to 4 PM.

Other Places to Purchase At Home
Green Aisle Grocery
The pioneering Green Aisle is located at 1618 E. Passyunk Avenue, between Tasker and Morris. It is also a wonderful place for locally sourced foodstuffs for home and holiday giving.

Coopermarket
Coopermarket’s proprietor is Beth Cooper, a long-time friend. In addition to purchasing At Home, it’s a great place to bring home delicious prepared foods for the holidays. Coopermarket is located at 302 Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd.

Joseph Fox Bookshop
For many years while I operated The Commissary on the 1700 block of Sansom Street, the Joseph Fox Bookshop was a neighbor. It is Center City’s great independent bookshop and the only bookshop carrying At Home. A book makes a perfect holiday gift because your selection of a particular book for someone you love is an indication that you know and understand who they are. You can count on the books at Joseph Fox to be lovingly curated by the Fox family. The Joseph Fox Bookshop is located at 1724 Sansom Street in Philadelphia.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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At Home’s Top 5 Serious Holiday Gifts for Home Entertainers: Redux

If you are planning to entertain for the holidays, I hope you are planning ahead and spreading your tasks over time and resources (ie. other people). A fundamental At Home Principle is to do as many entertaining tasks as far in advance as possible because, as I say: If you leave everything to the last minute, you’ll only have a minute to do everything.

This is a re-post of suggestions from last holiday season. They are classics and worth re-posting. I also plan on re-posting my suggestions for stocking stuffers.  See dates and locations of upcoming book signings below post about holiday gifts.

What to get the home entertainer you love? Or what a much-loved home entertainer might suggest to those who love them. Use this list as a guide to your shopping or pass it along as a not so subtle suggestion to those who love you.

#5. Ice Cream Maker

You can store-buy excellent super-premium ice cream, but nothing in stores compares to what you can proudly make at home with an ice cream maker. Making ice cream is easy. Once you master the basic technique of making a custard base, your only limit is your imagination. My first at-home dinner date with Christina concluded with my homemade lavender ice cream — lavender picked from my garden. I guess it worked. A big batch  of my homemade lavender ice cream was dessert at our wedding last November. Another  favorite is my Thanksgiving-perfect Pumpkin Pecan Praline Ice Cream. And for the Christmas holidays, I love my Peppermint Ice Cream.  See the recipe below. At Home features a Mastering Ice Cream lesson, recipes for the above referenced ice creams plus Bing Cherry Vanilla and Sour Cream ice creams.There are also recipes for Pink Grapefruit, Pomegranate, Pineapple-Coconut and Wine-Poached Peach Sorbet.

I use a large electric Cuisinart ice cream maker that retails for about $250. I see that Cuisinart has since introduced a less expensive version that retails for less than $100 and makes two quarts — as much as my more expensive version. I have also been perfectly successfully making ice cream with the inexpensive variety that does not have an electric compressor, but does have an electric motor to turn the ice cream. You simply pre-chill the ice cream’s freezing container in your freezer and it’s ready to go. It’s limitation is that you can only make one or one and a half quarts — depending on the brand — and you cannot make successive batches.

Peppermint Ice Cream Sundaes
A word of caution: Serve this special ice cream treat one Christmas and folks will want it from you every Christmas. It’s the gift that you’ll have to keep on giving. Crushed candy canes provide a festive look and crunch to the ice cream. Garnish your sundaes with miniature candy canes stuck into the ice cream, hooked ends up. The ice cream is very rich, so keep servings small.

do ahead Ice cream can be made up to two weeks ahead. Sauce can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated. Microwave briefly to loosen before serving.
11⁄2 cups crushed candy canes (about 15 51⁄2 -inch canes), divided
milk chocolate sauce (see p. 420)
8 egg yolks
11⁄2 cups sugar
pinch of table salt
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint half and half

1 In a mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar and salt. Whisk until pale and creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in peppermint extract.
2 In a small saucepan, combine heavy cream and half and half over moderate heat and simmer until nearly boiling. Remove immediately from heat.
3 Add cream mixture in a slow, steady stream to yolk-sugar mixture, using a whisk to stir continuously. Transfer combined base mixture to a large measuring cup and reserve the bowl for the following step.
4 Slowly pour base mixture back into the pot over low heat. Stir constantly until lightly thickened. Do not boil. If using a thermometer, bring to 170º, about 10-12 minutes. Otherwise, heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. To check, put spoon in mixture, remove and run your finger down the back of spoon. It should leave a distinct, clean line for a moment. Remove from heat at once and pour into the reserved bowl to stop cooking.
5 Chill custard completely, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
6 Freeze ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once it is ready, turn frozen mixture into a bowl and fold in 1 cup crushed candy canes. Place in freezer for at least 4 hours for final freezing.
7 Top ice cream with chocolate sauce and remaining crushed candy canes.
serves 12

#4. Enamel Over Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Braising is a cook’s great pleasure. And a heavy enamel over cast iron Dutch oven is the perfect pot to braise.

To paraphrase a maxim: Give a man a fish and he has food for a day. Teach a man to fish and he has food for a lifetime. That’s my approach to much of At Home where I aim to teach you how to cook or improve your technique and not simply provide you with recipes — though there are 432 of those. At Home’s Chapter 10: Braises, Casseroles & One-Dish Entrees includes Mastering Braises, an primer that will give you all you need to braise for a lifetime. Braising recipes include Beef Bourguignon, Lamb with Fava Beans, Pearl Onions & Minted Creme Fraiche, Black Beans with Smoked Ham Hocks and Soy & Honey-Braised Pork Belly.

My favorite braising pot is my 9-quart orange Le Creuset enamel over cast iron. I also have one about 2/3rd the size, but braised dishes freeze so well that I never fear making too much. The 9 quart costs close to $300 as a list price. Pricey, but lasts a lifetime.

An At Home margin note than runs alongside Mastering Braises.

Technique
Braising Tips From the Babe Ruth of Braising
Here’s a quote from Richard Olney’s Simple French Food that I find helpful: “But the magic word in the magical phrase is mijoter. It describes the condition of near suspension in which there is, nonetheless, a whispering movement, a tiny bubble rising here and there to break the stew’s surface— and it means, at the same time, a slow ripening. The comfortable satisfaction felt upon lifting the lid and glancing at the stew’s surface—a sense that, merely because a liquid’s surface is sustained at precisely the right point of hardly perceptible movement, all is well, the stew’s progress out of one’s hands and its success assured— is familiar to all cooks.”

#3. Cast Iron Grill Pan

About four years ago I moved into Christina’s Center City apartment. Lots of benefits came with the move, but not included was the benefit of a yard and outdoor grill. I was an all-season griller and I still am — thanks to my cast iron grill pan. Let it sit over heat for ten minutes and it gets searingly hot. A grill pan produces grilled foods equal to what you would do over the outdoor grill — minus a little all-weather cooking romance. Like the enamel over cast iron pots above, a grill pan will last a lifetime. Cleaning occasionally requires a screwdriver to scrape between the ridges to remove the garlic bits from the marinade that feel away and became encrusted. A 12-inch square Lodge Cast Iron pan costs only about $40.

At Home has an entire chapter devoted to Easy Entrees: From the Grill. Here’s a favorite:

Thai Thighs
Chicken thighs pack far more flavor than breasts and are much more forgiving of overcooking. They take to the grill particularly well. Given their low price and myriad assets, they’re pitifully underutilized. The sugar in this marinade makes for an extra level of caramelization—and a messy grill. You can also use any of the marinades in this chapter and follow the marinating and grilling procedure below.

do ahead Thighs can be marinated up to three days ahead. It’s best to cook them the day you are serving them.

2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 bird’s-eye chiles or 1 jalapeño, seeded, ribbed and sliced
1⁄3 cup lime juice
1 stalk lemongrass
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
salt and pepper
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
leaves from 5-6 fresh cilantro sprigs (optional)
1 lime, cut into 6 or 8 wedges, for garnish

1 Cut the root tip and dry end of the lemongrass stalk, leaving a length of about 8-10 inches. Peel away the outer leaves, leaving the tender core. Finely chop.
2 Combine lemongrass with ginger, garlic, chiles, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, oil, salt and pepper and mix well. Add chicken. Toss well and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
3 Just before grilling, add oil to marinade. Preheat grill to medium-high. Remove chicken from marinade, and allow marinade to drain off, but don’t wipe it dry. Place chicken on grill, smooth side up, and grill until nicely charred, about 4 minutes. Turn and grill the other side, about 4-5 minutes.
Serve whole or thinly sliced, either hot or at room temperature. Serve with lime wedges. Tear cilantro and sprinkle it over the chicken.
serves 6-8

#2. Large Wooden Cutting Board

I am a lucky guy. My entire kitchen counter is wooden cutting board. Absent having wooden counters, there is nothing like a large, thick, hard maple cutting board. Checking the internet, I found an ample 18-inch by 24-inch by 2 1/4-inch hard maple cutting board from Butcher Block for $138. Look for it locally as shipping is probably pretty steep for this heavy sucker.

#1. Shun Classic Knives

Excellent knives comes right after excellent organization as the key to turning prep work from a chore to a pleasure. My recommendation is to buy the best knives you can afford. I have used many different knives in my forty plus years doing what I do. My all-time favorite are Shun Knives. I much prefer these Japanese knives, that trace their origin to the ancient samurai tradition, to the heavier German premium knives. Razor sharp, Shun knives hold their blade well and a few strokes of a honing steel restores their sharpness. And their sculpted wooden handle fits comfortably in your hand.

Basics are the 10-inch Shun Classic Chef’s Knife and that’s the first knife I would give to a cook you love. This lists for about $169, but is typically on sale. Next, a Shun Classic Paring Knife listed for $75. Any cook will love these for a long, long time.

My favorite knives — the Shun Classic Chef’s Knife and Paring Knife

Give the Gift of At Home

Of course, I would be remiss in not suggesting the gift of At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining. Many blog subscribers already have At Home so already know how good a gift it is. And since it is not generally available in book stores, you can have reasonable confidence that it is a gift that is not already on the shelf. It is also the ideal “guide” to guide you through the holiday entertaining season.

At Home is available on line. Click here.

Upcoming Book Signings
You can also purchase At Home, get it personally inscribed and save shipping by coming to a book signing.

Reading Terminal Market this Saturday, December 11th
I will be at Reading Terminal Market this Saturday from 11 AM to 4 PM signing books in the Center Court. If you have not been to Reading Terminal Market lately your are missing the single best food destination in Philadelphia. I will also be sampling White Bean and Caramelized Fennel Dip from At Home (Page 78). If you bring your copy of The Frog Commissary Cookbook, you can purchase two copies of At Home and get the second copy for half price. That way you can buy one for a gift and keep the second one for yourself or just get a deal on buying two gifts! I am working on a possible additional date at Reading Terminal so check back here.

Ardmore Farmers’ Market on Thursday Thursday, December 16th
I will be at the Ardmore Farmers’ Market on Thursday, December 16th from 11 AM to 4 PM.

Other Places to Purchase At Home
Green Aisle Grocery
The pioneering Green Aisle is located at 1618 E. Passyunk Avenue, between Tasker and Morris. It is also a wonderful place for locally sourced foodstuffs for home and holiday giving.

Coopermarket
Coopermarket’s proprietor is Beth Cooper, a long-time friend. In addition to purchasing At Home, it’s a great place to bring home delicious prepared foods for the holidays. Coopermarket is located at 302 Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd.

Joseph Fox Bookshop
For many years while I operated The Commissary on the 1700 block of Sansom Street, the Joseph Fox Bookshop was a neighbor. It is Center City’s great independent bookshop and the only bookshop carrying At Home. A book makes a perfect holiday gift because your selection of a particular book for someone you love is an indication that you know and understand who they are. You can count on the books at Joseph Fox to be lovingly curated by the Fox family. The Joseph Fox Bookshop is located at 1724 Sansom Street in Philadelphia.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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