The backstory on the three ambitious, talented men that created Barolo Joe, a catering company and dinner club, is that they all work in the “business,” meaning food. Such a breath of fresh Southern California air – they’re not peddling scripts. The driving force behind it, Joseph Baker, originally from Vancouver, made friends with Abraham Lukaczer, born and raised in Seattle, about ten years ago. Then, through Tar and Roses, they met and pitched their idea to a third partner, Eric Grant, born and raised in Maine, who had been touring with a band for years, but had also done stints in food in San Francisco and Nantucket. These three food and wine enthusiasts teamed up. Barolo Joe was born.
Serendipity is my middle name.
All right, not legally. I don’t have a middle name. My parents were too lazy to give me one. But I do have many serendipitous moments. I had a big one a few weeks ago. Huge. I’m sitting at my favorite restaurant -- at least it’s my favorite when they keep balsamic glazed ribs on the menu.
Digression. This happens to me a lot, so I’m pretty certain it’s a plot: when I love something on a menu, the restaurant invariably removes it. Tar & Roses in Santa Monica will usually have the ribs, but then they won’t. Once, when they took it off the menu, I freaked out. They put it back -- briefly -– then scratched it one more time -- and now it’s back. Finally, I can safely order my favorite dish whenever I want. I probably just jinxed it.
So... I sit down at the bar one night -– not a table -- because I was being spontaneous and forgot to book a proper reservation.
1) A glass of champagne.
2) A ripe juicy heirloom tomato during summer.
3) Anchovies or Sardines, In Any Format, Any Time Of The Year, No Matter Where
About number three, yep, it’s true. My lifelong love affair with those salty, powerfully fishy flavors of the sea no doubt originated with my dad, who was happy to keep tins of sardines in the house, and when I think back we kids must’ve been a sight to see, eagerly inhaling sardines in mustard or sardines in olive oil with crackers, toast, or just by themselves.
As an adult I was happy to learn that there’s actually a whole world of variety when it comes to anchovies and sardines (two completely separate fish), but it’s a group I’m quick to lump together just because, well, they belong in THAT category. To me, at least.
If they’re on a menu — FRESH — forgettuaboutit. If I’m in Spain, they will be consumed daily. If they’re layered on a pizza (we’re talking anchovies here), I’m in. And my eyes eagerly seek the fine print of menus for the “Our Caesar Is Made With Anchovies, Please Inform Your Server If”, which, of course, I never seem to finish that last sentence. I am so down.
With grilling season about to begin in earnest, I was looking for a cookbook that could help freshen up our usual party fare. Sure you can buy salsa and hummus and already pre-marinated meat, but where's the fun – and bragging rights – in that? And though I love true BBQ, there is no grill master in our household. So as much as I yearn for tender, long-smoked ribs or sweet & saucy chicken, what I really needed was a book with simple, impressive, quick recipes to get the party started without days of effort.
Food Network Magazine 1,000 Easy Recipes definitely fits the bill. It covers everything from Breakfast through Dessert (even Cocktails) with clear instructions – some are so short they could be tweeted – utilizing easy-to-find, inexpnsive ingredients. The book is strewn with a fair share of lovely photographs, usually of the more colorful, "labor-intensive" recipes. Seriously though, I don't think many of them take more than a half an hour of prep or cook time. The first recipe I made was Hash-Brown Eggs. I'm a Breakfast whore. It wasn't complicated – I had everything on-hand already – but man did it hit the spot.
Developing new and enticing recipes that will bring out the best in a variety of wines is a challenge I relish. I have a huge collection of
food and wine pairing books, not only because I am fascinated by it but
also because for several years I developed recipes for MyWinesDirect,
an online wine retailer. Coming up with new recipes to go with yet
another Cabernet or Chardonnay required not only creativity but also a
deeper understanding of how food and wine interact.
I have only written about a few of the books in my wine pairing collection because frankly, not very many of them are worth telling you about. The bible is of course What to Drink with What You Eat. It's where I go first for inspiration. But I also love the 100 Perfect Pairings books by Jill Silverman Hough. The first was 100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy with Wines You Love and the second out now is 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love. She not only provides recipes, but really digs into how to pair and the tricks to making matches that sing.
The format of the two 100 Perfect Pairings books are the same, as is the general overview information about each wine. Each chapter features a different wine, and dishes that pair well with it. There are six white wines and six red wines (ok one is rose). They are the most common wine varieties you're likely to find.
The cookbook in question, which is much more than a cookbook, is called I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, and is written by Amy Sedaris. Amy Sedaris, in addition to being the sister of my idol David Sedaris, is an actress best known for her role in “Strangers with Candy.” She is unnaturally funny, has a keen grasp of pop culture past and present, and even if one does not cook, this book is worth reading just for the “helpful suggestions,” the photographs and the illustrations. In the first chapter, “what a Party Means to Me,” Sedaris gives the following pointers for being a “Self-Realized” person:
-Be unique in a way that is pleasing to everybody.
-Accentuate the positives - medicate the negatives.
-Have a hairstyle that is flattering to some and offensive to few.
-Have access to money.
-Never cry yourself to sleep in front of others.
Would you like to know what I have in common with Cher? Other than the fact that I own a box of wigs, well not much really. But I do love her movies, which brings me to her 1990 film Mermaids. In the movie she played this wacky mom who only cooked appetizers for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I remember seeing it and thinking “Ok, now if I ever became an Armenian American celebrity with her own variety show and doll who wins Grammys and Golden Globes and Oscars with hit singles in the Top 10 for the past 40 years who sometimes plays a Lesbian from Texas, then damnit, I’d want to be Cher.” But really, that’s about as far as my Cherinterest goes.
After Mermaids I kept thinking how fabulous a world of appetizers would really be. Perhaps I’m fickle, perhaps I become bored too easily, but a world of smaller bites and various nibbles would truly keep me happy. It’d be like tapas twentyfourseven and I challenge you to find a problem with that. See? Ya can’t. Because there really is nothing wrong with small servings of flavorful foods meant to be shared with people. And if you need further convincing I’ll give you my home address and you can see my cookbook collection.
On the TV show Top Chef, contestants create dishes to impress the judges often with limited resources of time or money or ingredients. From a viewer's perspective, the biggest problem with the show is that you can't taste the food. Still I love it. Perhaps it's because I enjoy the challenging aspects of cooking--like every other home cook, I am challenged to use what ingredients I have and the techniques I know, to cook something delicious, day after day, night after night.
Sometimes I wonder if I would agree with the judges. And I wonder how good those cooked-in-a-flash dishes with barely any ingredients really taste. I may never bother cooking something sous vide, break down an entire side of beef or serve 200 guests in one evening, but I'm happy to say I can now duplicate various dishes presented in the quickfire challenges on Top Chef thanks to Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook. Top Chef: The Quickfire Challenge Cookbook features mostly recipes that home cooks can easily duplicate.
With the holiday party season about to hit full swing we though we'd give you a hand with your preparations. Whether you're a first-time host, experienced party thrower or a guest who can't stand to show up empty-handed, you need the perfect cookbook for entertaining – On a Stick! by Matt Armendariz.
He covers every course from cocktails (Jello Shots and Sangria Pops) to dessert, delivering 80 delicious, fork and plate-free recipes your guests will quickly devour. That is if you can make them look as good as he does. Not only a chef, Armendariz is a food photographer par excellence, so each recipe comes with a gorgeous photo for you to attempt to imitate, which shouldn't be too hard. Some of the nibbles have more ingredients than others, but all of the recipes are clear and easy to follow.
He's a comfort food junkie and these recipes reflect that. Can you say Deep-Fried Mac N' Cheese? But, hey, when has anything you're ever eaten that comes on a stick been particularly good for you? This book is about eating tasty, full-flavored food and having fun doing it.
Like most modern day, self-taught chef's I have, of course, heard of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. First published in 1896, it's currently in its' 13th Edition, which is pretty impressive since Fannie Farmer died in 1915. Granted cooking has changed a lot in the century since she first began inspiring young wives and mothers to create lovely meals at home.
She ran the original "test kitchen" at The Boston Cooking School, constantly reworking recipes until they were just right and eventually included in the cookbook. Who knows what she would make of all our fancy gadgets and time-saving devices, but after reading Fannie's Last Supper, I have a feeling she would have enjoyed the relative ease of cooking in a more modern time.
God knows delivering dinner in the Victorian-era was no small task, as was discovered by the book's author Chris Kimball, the founder of Cook's Magazine and host of America's Test Kitchen.
Nothing says New England like a good old-fashioned clambake. This is a modern clambake, with lobster rolls substituting for the classic clams (and clam chowder on the side). And it's versatile: this party can be thrown indoors or outdoors, and almost every dish can be made ahead.
The best clambake I ever attended was on Temperance Island, a private island in Connecticut owned by my sister Molly's in-laws, Susan and Sandy Kellogg, affectionately known as Su-Su and Pops. The Kelloggs grew up on the water, and they open their house from April to November. The first time I visited, I felt as if I were in a Norman Rockwell painting. Sitting on the big, wide porches, digging steamers outside the front door at low tide, and living without electricity sends you back in time. We pulled our own lobster traps and had a feast of fresh lobster, clam chowder, and fresh corn.