Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

buttermeltingLast Sunday evening, in an apartment on the Upper West Side, I turned off the burner, dropped a knob of butter into the pan, and swirled it into the red wine, caramelized shallots, chicken stock, and filet drippings. This is my favorite moment in cooking. It’s called “mounting” (a great technique deserves a great name) and is the final thickening of a sauce by adding butter.

Everything becomes richer at that point. Every taste becomes a million times more delicious. It’s magic. I held my breath as I plated the roasted rosemary potatoes, sugar snap peas/ snow peas/ pea shoots in lemon sauté, beef tenderloin, and spooned the sauce on top. These were new clients I was cooking for and, yes, I still get nervous.

I was suddenly transported back to a client I hadn’t thought of in years. He was some bigwig but not famous producer whose name I don’t recall. It must have been a decade ago in Beverly Hills. I had just made the decision to leave the acting profession and pursue a career in the cooking industry. I had been cooking off and on for years but never really thought of myself as a chef. This was that moment of leaping and hoping a net would appear. I enrolled in a cooking school to make sure I knew what I was talking about and started working professionally about a month after class had begun. Thank you, net.

“He would like for you to come in next Tuesday to cook his dinner. This will be a test run. He’s been through a lot of chefs.” The client’s personal assistant had found my name and number through another chef, Monica, that I worked with in a busy Los Angeles catering company. Monica had tried and failed to satisfy him – a fact which terrified me, as she was much more experienced than I. She had said one thing to me, “He has a very rich appetite. Be prepared for anything.” I didn’t know if that meant he was wealthy or liked fattening things, so I assumed both were true.

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colatura-bottle-blog.jpgWhen you live, breathe, eat and sleep food, it can sometimes be hard to muster excitement. This doesn’t mean I’ve grown weary of food and all it involves, it just means that it takes a little extra or a tiny bit of sumthin’ sumthin’ to really knock my socks off. Not that they need constant knocking off. They don’t. I’m happy with plain most of the time.

The pleasures of food and discovery happen when you least expect it. I can remember a moment 20 years ago when I had my first Meyer lemon and I thought the earth would swallow itself. My mind was expanding with each taste of that glorious citrus and I knew life would never be the same. The same can be said of having Jamon Iberico de bellota, a proper supplì, even Wisconsin cheese curds for the very first time. I can count those moments on one hand.

Last month in Italy I had another one of those moments at dinner. It was a fish dish with a very simple aioli––or so I thought. It turns out that the aioli was made with Colatura, an extremely flavorful Italian condiment made from fish and salt. My eyes must have given my excitement away as our dinner neighbor Fabio looked at me and said “It’s Colatura. There’s Colatura in here.” He explained how it’s made, telling me fish sauce has been used for thousands of years in Italy.

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pitcherdrinks1.jpgPicture this: you’re enjoying a wonderful outdoor party. Great food and libations are flowing freely, laughter spills through the air, things are good. You notice one of your guests in need of a refresher, so you run back to the kitchen for another round.

Fast forward about 40 minutes. You’ve just burned 3,000 calories, your neatly pressed party outfit is covered in booze and sweat, and all of a sudden this party you’re hosting doesn’t feel like much to celebrate. A major reason for summer get-togethers is to well, get together, not to spend time in the kitchen playing bartender.  That’s why pitcher drinks are the perfect solution.

I love a good martini, a freshly muddled mojito or caipirinha, a perfectly proportioned mint julep, but when it comes to quantity it’s just easier to subscribe to the "make-ahead-in-batches" school of thought. It works, it’s just as tasty, and more importantly  it keeps you out of the kitchen and with your guests.

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sparklingpunch.jpgTired of being the host and the bartender at your party? This is the perfect solution...a festive drink your guests can serve themselves.

When's the last time you brought out the punch bowl? They are hip now and back in style....very retro and not to mention look beautiful on a table. If you don't have one, get yourself over to Goodwill...they have shelves and shelves of vintage ones they are dying for you to take home.

This drink is a very fun way to start of your party. This punch along with some bottles of wine will keep you concentrating on the meal while your guests help themselves to some cheer!

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manlydrinkA few months ago I was at a bar where the hip, mustachioed bartenders were touting their selection of superlative old-school cocktails. So I ordered a Manhattan. My husband turned to me and said, “You know a Manhattan is a guy’s drink, right?”

“No, man, that’s fine,” the bartender interrupted. “You’ve got a woman who knows what she wants.”

Yup, I do. Sure, I like a refreshing mint mojito and a champagne sparkler just like the next gal, but there are times when I crave something stronger, more muscular, like scotch or bourbon.

Since that night I've ordered many a manly drink. I've also asked many a manly man what he thinks of women who imbibe traditional men’s drinks. Everyone I spoke with was OK with it, and many thought it was sexy. But most were quick to add this caveat: “Just not on the first date. You might scare us off.”

They also agreed: Don’t go too masculine too quickly. Want to order an Old-Fashioned? Don’t. Too Don Draper. A Rusty Nail? Too Bob Villa. A Godfather? Too Michael Corleone.

If your current drink of choice is a fruity Cosmopolitan, then don't switch to a bitter Negroni. You might not recover from the shock.

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