When you think of Jamaica, what's the first thing that comes to mind?
Besides beautiful beaches and vacation spots, Jamaica offers amazing
food and culture. One of their most popular imports is the method of
jerk, which can be applied to everything from seafood to meat. It
produces the most succulent and tender meat, not to mention hot and
spicy! You'll find jerk stands throughout the Caribbean—as it's
practically their form of fast food. That's the best part about
jerk—once you've made the rub and marinated the meat overnight, it's
ready for grilling. There couldn't be an easier dish for feeding a
ravenous crowd this upcoming Memorial day weekend.
Barbecuing is synonymous with Memorial day as well as jerk. Traditionally it's either smoked in open pits or barbecued in steel drum grills. Here in the States, where jerk has been popular for many years, it's either oven-roasted or grilled over charcoal or gas. What sets jerk apart from any other type of barbecue is its particular blend of spices, including the essential allspice, which is called pimento in Jamaica. There they not only grind the dried berries for the jerk rub, but they also use the pimento wood and leaves for smoking the meat. The next most important ingredient is Scotch bonnet pepper. As you can imagine it provides a lot of heat. Jerk wouldn't be jerk without some form of heat, making you sweat and cool down in a hot Caribbean climate.
As most people imbibe one, okay two margaritas in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, I hope they take a moment to give thanks to Bing Crosby.
The crooner with the liquid voice loved Mexico, and he more than anyone else, was responsible for bringing the margarita north of the border and making it wildly popular in Hollywood during his heyday. Bing also had a soft spot for San Diego, which because of its proximity to Mexico, may be the most margarita-friendly city in the country. Our chicest mall, Fashion Valley, has a Bing Crosby's Restaurant and Piano Lounge, a modern-day supper club with live music, deep, cozy booths, and delicious cocktails.
So in honor of Bing, who also happens to have made my favorite Christmas movie, White Christmas, I'm making sweet and spicy banana margaritas for Cinco de Mayo.
“Now, I go on a diet.”
It is eight days into the new year when my temporary house dad in Rome has turned to me and said this. I look at his wife and I joke, “That is possible in Italy?”
Both laughing, “Yes it is.”
I think to myself, ‘Diet…in Italy. Maybe.’ Then I think, ‘Maybe if I don’t eat along my tour of the north which I will be leaving for in a day, I can do an Italian diet—on both my calories and my wallet.’
Not possible. I repeat—Not possible, especially when Torino, Italy, home of the best chocolate in the world is on the list—especially when the 12th day of the 2011 means being barricaded by city walls of chocolate, cream, pastries, and gelato, especially when I have a sweet tooth that I don’t think the tooth fairy will ever collect from me…and especially when the city of Torino even has something called a chocolate pass which allows you to tour all the chocolate of the city within two days. Keeping to my wallet diet, I avoided the chocolate pass…but still didn’t avoid the chocolate. This is how I broke every basic New Years Resolution in the first fifteen days of the year.
One of the simplest yet most rewarding pastry doughs in French cuisine is pâte à choux. Invented by an Italian chef who accompanied Catherine de' Medici to the French court on her marriage to the king, the recipe for pâte à choux has transformed many times over the centuries, but it now consists of milk or water, butter, flour, and eggs. The resulting multipurpose paste-like dough can be turned into many different treats, such as cream-filled profiteroles and eclairs, fried beignets, and gougères among many others. Gougères are the savory version made with cheese, traditionally gruyère. So it's simply a very French cheese puff that's light and airy-hollow on the inside and crisp and cheesy on the outside.
The best part about gougères, and pâte à choux in general, is that the dough can be made in just a few minutes. The key is to have a strong arm to beat the dough into a paste-like consistency. A food processor or mixer fitted with the paddle attachment can be used if preferred. The dough is then piped onto baking sheets using a pastry bag and tip, but if unavailable, a resealable plastic bag with a corner snipped off works just as well. The puffs are perfect for large gatherings and parties. I made them ahead of time for this New Year's Eve and will rewarm them in the oven once the evening festivities begin. The puffs are a very nice hors d'oeuvre before a holiday meal or a New Year's cocktail party. You will want to bake up many batches, because they disappear too quickly.
If you looking for something fun to serve for the holidays this year, you just found it. This is a quick and simple cocktail to shake up as guests arrive for the festivities. While I always enjoy wine with appetizers, a holiday inspired drink is the perfect way to get your party buzzing.
Serve these up and offer an old Irish toast, "May your home always be too small to hold all of your friends."
In an ice-filled shaker combine all ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a spear of maraschino cherries.
Probably one of the best ways to sample Italian wines is in a pairing with Italian cucina especially when chefs of note are involved in the preparation and choices, and so it was one evening. To celebrate the Holiday season this very special event took place at Market City Café in Burbank, California. Together the Executive Chefs from the MCC Hospitality Group joined forces to produce a superb repast – seven courses of fabulous Italian food paired with Italian wines from Tuscany, Umbria, Asti and Friuli Venezia Guilia near the Slovenian Border. The bustling restaurant on the edge of the Burbank Mall was bright and shiny with Christmas decorations and sparkling lights, and a lot of excited and happy people, all looking forward to a very eventful evening and willing to forget all their dietary conditions and the no-nos that many nutritionists and doctors want to place on food loving folks!
The opening course was a delightful array of three cheeses, a pressed goat’s milk Garroxta produced in the Catalonia region of northern Spain, a creamy white New York Camembert and a lovely Fourme d’Ambert which is one of France's oldest cheeses dating as far back as Roman times. Slices of bread, grapes and the slightly sweet pochettes of date preserve and onion marmalade offset the cheeses perfectly. Servers came round pouring a subtle Santa Marina Pinot Noir from Venezia and if I had not known there were many more different wines to be poured, I would have spent the evening with this!
In many European cultures, it's tradition to eat seafood on Christmas Eve. My family's Hungarian traditions always had us eating some sort of fried fish or stew. Italians particularly hold this tradition to the
extreme, eating anywhere from 7 to 13 different types of seafood dishes
for dinner. It's called the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The odd numbers
have symbolic meaning in both Catholicism and numerology. Seven
represents the seven sacraments—and sins. In numerology, seven
represents perfection. I find that seafood stews are some of the most
hearty and satisfying of all the fish dishes. One seafood stew that I
find most special is Cioppino, a true Italian-American invention.
Created by Italian immigrants in San Francisco, Cioppino was first made out of necessity. The Italian fisherman made it for lunch on their boats with whatever catch of that day. Now Cioppino has become so famous that it can be found on restaurant menus throughout San Francisco and beyond. Supposedly the word Cioppino comes from the word ciuppin, which in the Ligurian dialect means "to chop," since the seafood that goes into the stew is typically cut into manageable pieces. But the soup/stew can contain more than just chopped fish. Clams, mussels, and other shellfish make great additions, rounding out the wonderful sea flavor of this tomato-based soup.
Europeans do it better. Not the wine, beer, and cheese, which are all great, but the holidays and vacations. A holiday in Europe occupies at least two weeks. Summer vacation is six to eight. With that much time off from work, one’s internal clock resets. The mind and body slow down to take in the pleasures of the moment.
Just when we should be relaxing, kicked back on the couch or taking a long walk at the beach, we find ourselves in front of the stove cooking for guests coming over for dinner or making a dish we need to bring to a potluck.
I used to have a fear of doing things on my own. This included going shopping, going to the movies, and going to sporting events. Now walking into a coffee shop in Rome, at age 22, I am completely void of that fear, and I am as thankful as ever for overcoming it.
I have just walked into Caffe Della Pace, placed behind one of the most beautiful piazzas in all of Rome—Piazza Navona. With the option of sitting outside or in, I choose in, as the air on this December morning is brisk. I am told that I not only have the choice to sit inside or outside, but that I can pick any table in the entire cafe—which is composed of two large rooms. The front room, which I have just walked into, is full, and so I venture into the back room. ‘This is perfect,’ I think to myself. ‘No one is back here.’ I spot a table on a lower level of the room next to a backdoor. The table has three seats, but I don’t mind because there is a statue placed to the side of the table that can keep me company.
The waitress follows me as I sit down and hands me a menu. Quickly, I say, “Pronto,” which means “I am ready,” in Italian “Un cappuccino e cornetta con cioccolato per favore,” I say, which translates to “A cappuccino and a chocolate croissant, please.” She smiles at me and says, “Si,” before walking away with my menu.
The festiveness of the holidays is upon us and it's time to make a plan of attack. What to serve? How to serve it? What I am bringing where? And how the heck am I going to feed all these people?
Anyway, I'm hardly the first one who thought of this but it's a staple around here during the holiday season. This is one of those great, quick appetizers you make in a moments notice. Stock your fridge with a few logs of goat cheese (it lasts a long time), some dried cranberries and shelled pistachios.
The sweet cranberries, salty nuts and earthy taste of the goat cheese are a great combination.
If you have unexpected guests, or have to work late before a party and don't want to show up empty handed...this is perfect. Also, if you have to travel a long way and need something to hold up in the car....this works well. Even if you have planned every detail down to the millisecond, this is still the perfect appetizer to put out for your guests.