City Gay and Country Gay

Monday, December 31, 2007

Spritz Cookies

Sorry, City Gay. This entry isn't directed to you.

Dear Girl with a Blog:

Here is the recipe for the spritz cookies you requested. It's really simple, but for some reason, I am the only one in my family who can/will make them. They can be a bit frustrating to make because the dough won't stay on a hot baking sheet when you send them out of the cookie press. I've read that a way to resolve this is to run the cookie sheet under cold water before preparing the next batch.

Spritz Cookies
Yields 5 dozen

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Sift flour and baking powder. (I don't actually sift them; I just stir them together.) Gradually add this to the creamed mixture. Do not chill the dough. (A challenge here is to not eat all of the raw dough because it tastes damn good.)

(At this point, I separate the dough into three different bowls and add red or green food coloring to color the dough. This isn't a necessary step, but it does add something for the holidays.)

Force the dough through a cookie press on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes and cool on wire racks.

(My grandma used to frost these and put sprinkles on them. I skip that part so I can just enjoy the cookies, which have a sweet almond flavor because of the almond extract.)

The nice thing about this recipe is it makes enough cookies to enjoy yourself and to give to people around the holidays. It's also fun to experiment with the different disks that create different cookies. I find the tree shape is the easiest to make. The less complicated the cookie design, the easier the cookie will take shape. The good thing is if the cookie doesn't come out of the press well, you just put the dough back in and try again.

Happy baking!
Country Gay

R.I.P. Lambchop

Dear City Gay:

Happy New Year's Eve!

I know you are basking in the glow of sunny Hawaii right now, while I am basking in the reflection of snow and a temperature of about 25 degrees. Not that I'm jealous or anything. (Maybe the locale for a future Gayest Trip Ever should be Hawaii...)

I decided to put the America's Test Kitchen cookbook you gave me to use and made the following meal centered around lamb chops.


Not that lamb chop...


Two parts of the meal were pretty basic.

The mashed potatoes, which you will notice look runny in the picture of the complete meal, were easy. (I used half and half and butter, which made them kind of rich, but I wasn't paying attention and put in too much half and half. They still tasted okay, though.)

The salad was inspired by a suggestion in the cookbook: romaine hearts, balsamic vinaigrette, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and feta cheese. The recipe called for radicchio, but I left it out to avoid the bitter flavor. I mixed everything together (except for the cheese) and refrigerated until right before the meal. I tossed the cheese with the salad right before we ate. I think what really makes the salad good are the chickpeas, but the combination of ingredients gives the salad a simple but great taste.

The lamb was pretty easy to make, but it took longer than I thought. I only have a few pictures because I forgot to document some of the recipe. Bill acted as photographer for the meal, lest you think I have constructed some impressive set up that allows me to take pictures of myself cooking.

The recipe for the lamb chops follows the pictures.

After preparing and frying the lamb chops, the chops rest under a foil tent for five minutes.


A red wine sauce is made with any browned bits after frying the lamb, red wine, chicken broth, shallots, butter, and rosemary. The sauce is pretty mild tasting, and the rosemary keeps the sauce from tasting too sweet.

Note the subtle gay images in the background: magnets with a near-naked man, a butch-femme magnet, Brad on the bar. Just keeping it gay real, City Gay.

The meal was satisfying, but it's probably not something I would make often for the basic reason that lamb chops are kind of expensive. However, when I do get a craving for lamb, this will be a recipe I know I can make easily. Out of the three parts of the meal, the salad will be thing I probably come back to in the future.

So, City Gay, while you are drinking fancy drinks out of pineapples and eating poi, I am making my way through the cookbook. Only a kabillion recipes to go.

May the new year bring you plenty of good eats!
Country Gay

Pan-seared Lamb Chops with Red Wine Rosemary Sauce
Serves 4
Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Chops:
8 lamb loin or rib chops (4 oz each), 3/4 to 1 inch thick, trimmed
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Red Wine Sauce:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 shallots, minced
1 cup dry red wine
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into three pieces and chilled
2 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried
salt and pepper

1. For the chops: Pat the chops dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown the chops on the first side, about 4 minutes.

2. Flip the chops over and continue to cook until the desired doneness, 4-6 minutes. Transfer the chops to a clean plate, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes.

3. For the sauce: Meanwhile, add the oil to the skillet and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and broth, scraping up any browned bits, and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.

4. Stir in any accumulated meat juice. Turn the heat to low and which in the butter, one piece at a time. Off the heat, stir in the rosemary and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the chops before serving.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Culinary Christmas prizes!

Happy post-Christmas, Mr. Country Gay!

I may or may not have remembered to document at least one of the things (stuffed mushrooms) I made for Christmas dinner, so I may or may not be posting about that a bit later.

But first, I thought I would quickly share my kitchen goodies from this year's Christmas haul.


In my stocking, I got a couple of mini silicone spatulas from Williams-Sonoma. I didn't realize it until looking for the picture, but you can get your Williams-Sonoma spatulas personalized if you order them online (i.e. where they usually print "Williams-Sonoma" at the end of the handle, it could say "City Gay is the hottness").



Also in my stocking was a little slate cheese board and a hard-cheese knife and soft-cheese knife from Crate & Barrel. Cute!

But the pièce de résistance was this stunning Le Creuset kiwi green French oven round (ou "la cocotte" pour les francophones).


Ooh la la! It is huge and super heavy and GORGEOUS. I'm currently reading Julia Child's autobiography "My Life in France," so I'm feeling very inspired to use this thing as soon as possible. Which won't be for awhile since I'm hauling my gay ass off to Hawaii soon (I'm trying to mention that as much as possible this week).

Dost thou or thine readers have any Christmas kitchen goodies to show off?

Love always,

Ms. City Gay

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Snackies

Dear City Gay:

Now that I'm on Christmas Break, I have some time to share with you a gift I put together for a lunch table Secret Santa gift exchange. Our price limit was $5, and I knew there was no way I would be able to buy something suitable for my chosen colleague with only $5. Since Christmas is the season of eating too much unhealthy food, I thought I would spread the joy with a tray of (mostly homemade) goodies.


As you can see, this is no ordinary tray. To keep with the lunchtime idea, I bought an inexpensive (under $5) lunch tray from Target. I thought this would be much more interesting than a typical, cheap, plastic holiday tray.

The treats are also simple to make: (clockwise from the top left) Giada de Laurentiis's Holiday Biscotti, basic chocolate chip cookies (look on the back of a Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip bag for the recipe), Peppermint Hershey's White Chocolate Kisses, sour cream sugar cookies with cream cheese frosting, the famous balls, and spritz (or press) cookies from my grandmother's recipe.

If only holiday lunches had looked like this in elementary school!

Cheers,
Country Gay

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cheap wine for poor snobs: 2006 Tres Picos Borsao - Garnacha



Country Gay, we're back!

So, I recently discovered an affordable earthy, red wines from Europe that has delighted my palate to no end and decided it was time to revisit Cheap Wine for Poor Snobs.

The last time we took a look at an Italian Barbera D'Asti wine. This time, it's an $11 bottle of Spanish Garnacha by Tres Picos.

Here's what you need to know about Garnacha (Grenache), from the fine folks who populate Wikipedia:

"Grenache (pronounced gren-ash) (in Spanish, Garnacha) is probably the most widely planted variety of red wine grape in the world. It ripens late, so needs hot, dry conditions such as those found in Spain and in the south of France. It is generally spicy, berry-flavoured and soft on the palate with a relatively high alcohol content, but it needs careful control of yields for best results."

The wine is an impressive dark cherry and deep plum color and it may very well be the most fragrant red I've encountered at this price. I mean, it smelled GOOD. Inexpensive wine tends to have an overpowering smell of alcohol, but this was so much more.

The taste is just as complex as the fragrance and takes about two or three sips before the smoothness kicks in. The first sip or two was slightly overpowered by a distinct peppery spiciness that lingered in my throat for a minute or so.

I don't recommend drinking the Garnacha with super flavorful foods because of how complex the wine itself is. It's fantastic on its own or with mild foods. I imagine it would be great with a hearty steak. I started drinking it with a very flavorful pesto and pimento pasta dish and ended up ditching the wine until I was just down to some nice toasted Italian bread with a basic marinara sauce. It complimented those very basic flavors perfectly.

It's been rated 90-91 by the major wine publications, which is quite an accomplishment for a bottle of wine that sells for less than $15 in most stores that carry it. Unfortunately, I don't think it it's as widely distributed as it should be, so you might have a hard time finding it. But, if you do come across the label at a reasonable price... grab it, stat!

One interesting note: The foil on this bottle is thick as hell! Pick up a foil cutter if you don't already have one as this foil will likely slice your finger off. You've been warned.

Now let's get hammered,
City Gay

Nice balls

Dear City Gay:

I had grandiose plans of posting a whole series of holiday baking recipes, but with a week until Christmas, I only have one recipe to share (even though my counters are covered with cookies).

Many people who know my family look forward to Christmas because it's the only time of year peanut butter bon bons are made. This recipe is the perfect, rich holiday treat, and it also leads to plenty of jokes about balls, much like the cherished SNL skit below:



The recipe is incredibly easy and can be a nice thing to add to any holiday goodie trays.

Peanut Butter Bon Bons
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 12 squares, but boxed crumbs can be found in the baking aisle)
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 6 oz. package milk chocolate chips

Directions:
Mix powdered sugar and cracker crumbs. Heat butter and peanut butter until melted. (I use the microwave for this.) Stir into crumb mixture. Shape mixture into 1 inch balls.

Heat chocolate chips with 1 tbsp. shortening. (You can do this in the microwave. Heat and stir in intervals of 15-20 seconds to make sure the chocolate doesn't burn.) Dip balls into melted chocolate with tongs (or special dipping tools found in cooking stores) and place on wax paper. Refrigerate until firm.

Yields: 3 dozen


As you can see, I also dip some balls into white chocolate. I also tend to swish a bit of white chocolate onto some of the milk chocolate balls, which makes things look a bit fancier.

So, City Gay, some of these balls are en route from the country to the city, and I hope they arrive safely, so you can enjoy my balls. (See? The jokes can already begin!)

Happy Holidays,
Country Gay

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Here a shmear, there a shmear

Dear City Gay:

We have a new bagel and coffee place that could become part of my new weekend routine. The new place is an offshoot of Java Jungle, but the new Java Jungle not only has the usual coffee selections, but it has bagels and shmear galore. There are also plenty of sandwich options (for breakfast and lunch), and I look forward to trying some of those in the future. The cinnamon and sugar bagel with honey butter was definitely a nice way to start a day full of holiday shopping.

Yay for new places in the country!

Loves,
Country Gay

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Won't you take me to Chinatown?

Dear City Gay:

My sincerest apologies to you and our (4) readers. I have seriously fallen off the blog wagon. In fact, I think I have seriously fallen off the cooking wagon in the last month. I did bake cookies a couple of weeks ago, but that was just the recipe from the back of the Nestle chocolate chips package. I hope that as the holiday baking season approaches, I will be able to get some things on the blog.

For your entertainment, though, I present an embarrassing picture of me trying to eat a pork soup dumpling at Joe's Shanghai while I was in New York City last week.


Joe's Shanghai, located in Chinatown, is famous for steamed dumplings that have soup in them. The question, of course, is how does one get soup in the dumpling? I found out the soup is frozen then put ina dumpling to be steamed. The real challenge comes in eating the dumpling. A diner puts soy sauce in a soup spoon, gently places the dumpling on the spoon, tears or bites a hole into the dumpling, gets some soy sauce into the dumpling, and then tries to eat the dumpling without burning the mouth or making a complete mess. I was successful in eating the dumpling without burning myself, but I made a terrible mess.

The dumplings were a great appetizer from a menu that has 149 choices. The main part of the meal included beef with broccoli, sesame chicken, shrimp pan fried noodles, and eggplant with garlic (with pork). (There were five of us eating, so I didn't snarf all of this by myself.)

There were other amazing restaurants during the trip, but Joe's Shanghai (and the journey through Chinatown) was certainly one of the best.

Happy belated Thanksgiving.

Love always,
Country Gay

Monday, October 29, 2007

Guest Gay: Dueling flans

Courtesy of our Guest Gay, Clay

“You had your choice of any dessert on the menu, and you chose flan? What were you thinking?!?”

That was my friend Laura’s response after I chose my free birthday dessert at Superior Grill. To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure if I had made a mistake by ordering the flan. I’d only had it at Superior Grill in New Orleans, and the last time was pre-Katrina. Would it be the same delicious dessert that I remembered? My choice was confirmed after she had her first bite and said, “Wow, this IS good!”

I’ve been meaning to attempt this for awhile. I like to challenge myself and expand my skills in the kitchen, so this seemed like the perfect dish for that. Since I was pretty sure that this was the type of dish that could be maligned by the wrong recipe, I decided to try 2 different recipes and then compare the outcomes, hence the dueling flans. In one corner, we have a Saffron flan that is billed as “traditional.” In the other corner, we have a Tres Leches flan that sounded delish. Which one will win the contest, or will they both be losers?

I’ve included the recipes at the bottom of the post, so skip down if you want the exact steps. To begin both recipes, you have to make caramel and pour it into your cake pan. I failed miserably the last time I tried to make caramel for an ice cream, so this was my chance to tackle it again. As it turns out, I didn’t have the heat on high enough last time. This is what it should look like as it starts to melt.



Once it’s completely melted, you pour it into your 9” cake pan. This was a little tricky because I guess my pans were too cold so it didn’t really spread as much as I would have liked. Fortunately, this had no effect on the final dish.



While I let the caramel pans cool in the fridge, I prepared the mix for each flan. Since they called for being baked at different temps, I started with the Saffron flan first. Once it was finished, I put in the Tres Leches flan. The key to this step is the water bath. I use a broiler pan (without the top grate) because it’s the deepest tray I have that can fit a cake pan in it and still hold enough water. Here is how they turned out after baking:

Pre-flip leches


Pre-flip saffron


Now let them cool for several hours, the longer the better. If you’ve ever made cheesecake and tried to eat it too soon after baking, then you know what a mess custard desserts can turn into if you don’t let them set up. Once they cooled, I inverted them onto plates. Apparently the fat in the batter mixes with the caramel in the oven and turns it into a permanent liquid state. That’s how you get that delicious caramel sauce on top of the finished product!

Post-flip leches


Post-flip saffron


They basically look the same at this point, although the Tres Leches turned out a little better (maybe I improved with practice). The Saffron made a nice slice, but I botched the Tres Leches while removing it; you’ll have to see the remaining flan instead:

Missing slice of leches


Slice of saffron


The textures were similar, so I was pleased with that. But in the end, it all comes down to taste. The saffron flavor was a little overpowering to me, so I did not enjoy it as much compared to the flan at Superior Grill. The Tres Leches flan, however, tasted exactly like the one at Superior Grill! It was just sweet enough and very pleasing to the palate. This is now my official go-to recipe for flan.

Tres Leches wins!

Recipes:

Saffron Flan (click the link for the recipe)

Tres Leches Flan (recipe follows)

Ingredients

1/2 cup sugar
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-oz.) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

1. Cook sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes or until melted and medium-brown in color. Quickly pour into a 9-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides. Using oven mitts, tilt cake pan to evenly coat bottom and seal edges.

2. Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer in a large bowl 1 minute. Reduce speed to low; add eggs and egg yolks, and beat until well blended. Add sweetened condensed milk and next 3 ingredients, beating at low speed 1 minute. Pour milk mixture over sugar in pan. Place cake pan in a roasting pan; add hot water halfway up sides of cake pan.

3. Bake at 325° for 1 hour or until edges are set. (The middle will not be set.) Remove from oven; remove cake pan from water, and place on a wire rack. Let cool completely. Cover and chill at least 8 hours. Run a knife around edges to loosen, and invert onto a serving platter.

Southern Living, NOVEMBER 2006

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Reader service: City Gay researches your needs

Howdy Country Gay!

I've noticed several of our site visitors have been brought here by Google or other search services while clearly looking for content we don't provide.

Here's an abbreviated list of the search terms our visitors are hoping to find. I'll point them in the right direction when I can.

"gay fish"
• Are you wanting to go on a gay fishing expedition?
• Wonder if there is such a thing as a gay fish?
• Curious if eating fish makes you gay?

"gay hors"
I'm really hoping that wasn't "gay horse" misspelled. "Gay whores" I'll accept.

"old bitches"
I'm turning 30 this week, so you've found one.

"labels about pigs insides"
You're really bad at Googling. I don't even know what you're looking for. Try this or this.

"the pig gay"
Sure.

"sausage friend"
Okay.

"sausage gay"
Redundant. Next!

"was vincent price gay"
He was married three times, to a woman each time. He had a child, so he's at least had sex with one of them.

"is anthony bordaine gay"
My gaydar says no and his books seem to be written from a very hetero perspective. Also, he is married and has a child.

"bananas gay"
I'm not researching that for you.

"gay banana"
Alright, fine.

"gay battle"
Now THAT is a good idea. I'll see what I can do to make this happen.

"gay booty"
Here.

"gay gnome"
You've met Brad, yes?

That concludes my reader services for today. You're welcome.

- City Gay out.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Catchy Food Title

I think Disneyland wore out the gay owners of this blog. I seriously don't think I've cooked one thing since I returned, but I've been eating a lot of yogurt and drinking coffee in the morning. The country finally has a standalone Starbucks with a drive-thru, which means I've become their number one fan.

I did make taco soup tonight, which was filling. I also have enough to last through the winter.

I believe City Gay and I could be starting a weekly cheese feature. For me to participate, I would have to actually by an interesting cheese. While the smoked cheddar I bought the other day is delightful, there really isn't anything special about it. Look for something cheesy in the future though.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Disney Cuisine

You can imagine how amazing the cuisine is at Disneyland. While the hot dog and chips in Toontown didn't exactly excite, they did help calm a growling stomach.


Other meals included kabobs from the Bengal something-or-other. This was a messy meal, but the asparagus wrapped in bacon helped make up for the messiness and tasteless bread. For dinner, City Gay and I found ourselves standing in line for ages at the French Market. The fried chicken and rice and beans was filling and plentiful. City Gay will have to fill you in, dear reader(s), on her meal.

Country Gay Fabulous

In sharp contrast to the French meal from a couple of weeks ago, I made something extremely down home for dinner tonight. I had to improvise slightly since I haven't been to the grocery store for about a month.


While Brad was enjoying cocktail hour with a gin and tonic, I was frying potatoes and a pork chop. The meal was easy and quick. The potato was fried in vegetable oil with some fresh garlic, minced onions, and salt and pepper. (I would have used a real onion, but I didn't have any.) After flattening the pork chop with the flat side of a meat tenderizer, the pork chop was coated in a generic meat breading (that can be used for pork, chicken, or beef) seasoned with garlic salt, minced onions, and paprika. After frying and removing the potatoes to drain on a paper towel, I added the pork chop to the skillet. The chop was fried on both sides for about four to five minutes (or until the meat was fully cooked).

The meal was, I'm sure, not the healthiest thing since it was all fried, but it certainly had a down home flavor to it. While the picture doesn't show it, this is a meal that is helped with the very country condiment: ketchup. There is nothing fancy about this dish, but it certainly screams country gay fabulousness.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More on the meal

I was sent the recipes for the rest of the French meal from Sunday. Try your hand at these tasty treats.

Apple and Truffle Salad
1. Combine 1 apple, peeled and diced, 1 large truffle, thinly sliced, 1 heart romaine lettuce, shredded, salt, pepper, and the juice of ½ lemon.
2. Mix: ½ cup sour cream and ¼ cup cream. Pour over the salad and toss lightly.

(This doesn't actually make much, so you would want to add to the recipe if making for more than a couple of people.)

Noisettes des Tournelles
(serves 4)

Onion Sauce
1. Mince: 4 large onions or enough to measure 2 cups. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain.
2. In a saucepan melt: 4 tablespoons butter. Add onions and cook slowly for 10 minutes without letting them brown.
3. Stir in: ¾ cup béchamel sauce, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon white pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Blend in an electric blender on high speed for 15 seconds and strain through a fine sieve, or puree in a food mill.
4. Combine into a paste: 2 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons soft butter, and 2 egg yolks. Beat a little of the hot sauce into this mixture, then add mixture to sauce and cook, stirring rapidly, until thick and almost boiling.
5. Set aside.
Heat in simmering water: 8 cooked artichoke bottoms, fresh or canned.

Noisettes
1. preheat broiler.
2. remove bone and fat from 8 small rib lamb chops.
3. In a skillet heat: 1 tablespoon butter and in it sauté the chops over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until brown. Remove from skillet and keep hot.

Madeira sauce
Pour off fat remaining in skillet and add: ½ cup Madeira and ¼ chicken stock. Cook over high heat for 4 minutes, or until liquid is reduced by half. Swirl in 2 tablespoons butter and season with a little salt and pepper.

Presentation
Arrange artichoke bottoms on a heat-proof platter and fill with onion sauce, reserving about ½ cup. Place a lamb noisette on top of each artichoke bottom, and top with 1 tablespoon of the onion sauce.

Put the dish under the broiler for a few minutes, or until sauce is hot and tinged with brown. Serve the Madeira sauce on the side.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A meal in three courses

The wine has worn off, so I think I can give a fuller review of my meal last night. The meal was originally supposed to be a Frenchie affair with a viewing of Jean de Florette, but it ended up just being a dinner and conversation kind of evening, which, peut-etre, was even better. The meal is best described broken down into the three courses, and all recipes come from Vincent Price's A Treasury of Great Recipes.

Course One - soupe a l'oignon
When I was first introduced to the menu for the evening and saw onion soup, I immediately flashed to the beefy, oniony, cheesy soup I had one evening in Paris. I absolutely adore onion soup, but I do find it difficult to eat sometimes because of the amount of cheese and onions found in just one small bowl. How interesting, then, to notice this onion soup wouldn't look anything like the typical onion soup.

There are a variety of steps to the soup, but it really wasn't too complicated. The recipe (magically found online) follows at the end of the post. We didn't follow the last steps exactly as written. Instead, we simply put a piece of French bread in a bowl, sprinkled parmesan cheese over it, and then added the soup. We could have done some broiling, but we opted to skip it.

Course Two - apple and truffle salad
While the soup was cooking, we made a simple salad that tasted much better than I anticipated. The salad is supposed to be made up of apples and truffles, but it's hard to find truffles in the country, so we used some kind of mushroom that was reddish and natural looking. I have no idea what kind of shroom it was, but it added the necessary earthy flavor to the salad. The salad basically contains: four apples peeled, cored, and diced; some mushrooms; chopped hearts of romaine. These ingredients are tossed together with salt and pepper and the juice of half of a lemon. The dressing is made up of cream and sour cream, but I have no idea how much of each. This is mixed and then tossed with the salad. Add salt and pepper to taste.

We paused to have these two parts of the meal before making the main course. (However, there were parts of the main course recipe we did in conjunction with the onion soup because we had to make an onion paste.) The soup was oniony but had a peppery garlic kick to it that helped tone down the onion. The parmesan and bread also help temper the onion. The beef broth of a typical French onion soup was certainly lacking but not necessarily missed. The salad was surprising. The sour cream dressing added some tang, the apples added tartness, the mushrooms added hardiness, and the lemon added some sourness. The combination of flavors basically made for a refreshing follow up to the onion soup.

Course Three - noisettes de something
I'm going to have to be fairly vague about some of the parts of the main course. The basic ingredient was lamb chops (boned with the fat trimmed). Side note: there was much giggling over the idea of boning the lamb. While the onion soup was cooking, two large, diced onions were put into a pot of simmering water. I don't know if anything was added to this because I was too busy boning the lamb chops. Also simmering on the back of the stove were the bottoms of artichokes. I had no idea these even existed, but they can be found in the canned food aisle at the grocery store.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is creating an onion sauce/paste that resembles mashed potatoes. While the onions were simmering, we made a bechamel sauce, which is basically a white sauce. A blender was used, egg yolks figured in somewhere, and then part of the bechamel sauce was combined with the drained onions and blended again. This was set aside to cook the lamb.

I had never cooked lamb before, and it's rare that I actually eat it. We fried the lamb in butter for about three minutes on each side then removed to a plate. The next step was to make a Madeira sauce, so we added port and a touch of butter to the pan we fried the lamb in and simmered and stirred until the sauce had reduced by half.

It was then time to put it all together. The final step is to layer ingredients and broil for a few minutes. We placed some of the onion sauce on one of the artichoke bottoms, then stacked lamb on the sauce, and finally topped the lamb with a little more sauce. This was a little challenging since the artichoke bottoms kept sliding around. At this point I was still slightly wary of the artichoke bottoms since I'm not a huge fan of artichokes. The pan went under the broiler for a few minutes or until the top sauce was slightly browned. To serve, we put each collection o' lamb on a plate and put a bit of Madeira sauce over the top.

The best part came next. With a slightly chilled chardonnay, we began the main course. There was a moment of silence followed by a round of "Ummmm, oh my God." The slight sauce on the lamb added sweetness to the distinct lamb taste, which was an amazing complement to the artichoke and onion flavors. Everything just melted in our mouths. I thought the petit serving wouldn't be enough, but it actually ended up being the perfect amount. We were satisfied but not overly stuffed.

What was so lovely about this meal was the time it took to make it all. We started at about 3:30 and were eating the main course at around 6:30. Delightful conversation peppered the time spent prepping or enjoying the early courses. Because the courses were slightly spread out, there was time to digest and enjoy and imbibe. So often I am looking for a quick meal because I don't have time to cook, but this was a prime example of what amazing food can be made by setting aside the time to make something.

***
Vincent Price's Soupe a l'oignon
1 hour 15 min prep
Ingredients:

3 tablespoons bacon drippings (you can substitute butter, if you have no drippings)
4 large onions, chopped fine
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 sprig parsley
1 pinch thyme
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon cognac
6 slices toasted French bread

olive oil
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided, for garnish (or more, to taste or according to recipe see below)

Preparation:
  1. (Also needed: 6 oven-proof soup bowls.).
  2. Over medium temperature, heat a deep skillet with the bacon drippings or butter.
  3. Add the chopped onions and sauté until just soft.
  4. Add the flour, salt, pepper, and garlic and cook until it is golden brown (careful not to burn).
  5. Add the parsley sprig, thyme, chicken stock, wine, and simmer for 45 minutes, then remove from heat and add the Cognac.
  6. To serve: divide the servings between the six oven-proof bowls, placing the bowls on a baking sheet, with 1 slice of toasted French bread in each bowl.
  7. To make it Soupe à L'Oignon Gratinée: preheat your oven's broiler setting; you're going to make three layers of thinly sliced bread and Parmesan cheese in the bowl, pouring soup into the bowls, topping each layer with Parmesan and a little melted butter, then placing the bowls on a baking sheet under the broiler until the cheese melts and forms a golden brown crust.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I love Vincent Price

I just got home from a small dinner party I helped with, and while I have drunk too much to put together a clear picture of the menu, I will say it was one of the best meals I've had... hands down. The recipes came from a 1965 cookbook Vincent Price put together with his wife. I'll give more details later, but the basic meal consisted of onion soup, an apple and mushroom salad, and lamb chops with an onion sauce and port gravy on an artichoke bottom. As the food was being made I really didn't think it would taste as good as it did, but everything literally melted in my mouth.

Plus, I helped polish off three bottles of wine, which complemented the meal nicely.

More to come when my fingers aren't numb.

Hors d'oeurves anyone?
Here, try my Tater Pig Puffs!

First, and most importantly, let's discuss the inspiration for this dish. While we all know that this site is inherently gay, it hasn't been nearly gay enough for me lately, so I thought I'd toss some sprinkles of fabulous on this bitch and tip my metaphorical hat to my personal deity:

Cher.

For this challenge, I channeled not just any incarnation of Cher. I channeled Cher as Ms. Rachel Flax of the grossly under-appreciated film Mermaids.



If you've ever seen the movie, you may recall that Rachel Flax's sole cooking style consists of hors d'oeurves.

With that inspiration, I set forth to create the Tater Pig Puff.

Ingredients:

1 package (consists of 2 sheets) of puff pastry
1 large (or 2 medium) Idaho russet potatoes
3 good sized sausage links (for you size queens)
1 cup medium or sharp shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sour cream
1 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. finely chopped chives
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Makes approximately 30 Tater Pig Puffs

Directions:

Puff pastry needs to thaw for approximately 40 minutes on a counter top before you can start working with it, so prepare for that wait time accordingly. Then preheat your oven to 400 degrees, set some water up for boiling on the stove top and get ready to have an inappropriate amount of fun!

I started out by peeling the potato, chopping it into thick pieces and tossing them into a pot of boiling water. The idea here is to make a good, basic mashed potato. I didn't take a picture of this because I was drunk at the time.



After the potato gets going, chop up the sausage into fairly small pieces and throw into a skillet with a bit of salt and pepper. I used Falls Brand sausage to make this an extra authentic experience. Go Idaho! Anyhoo, fry the sausage bits on medium to medium-high heat for about 7 minutes. After it's done cooking, drain it on a paper towel-lined plate.

While the sausage is cooking, you can cut up your pieces of puff pastry to the desired size - about 1 1/2 inches square each. Put the puff pastry squares on an ungreased baking sheet and cook in a 400 degree oven for 8 minutes. They will come out of the oven looking comically puffy like this:



After letting those cool down for a minute, you can smoosh them down with your (clean) fingers.

Your potato should be done by now (about 18 minutes), so it's time to mash it up with 1 Tbsp. of butter, 1/2 cup of heavy cream and a lot of salt and pepper. Best to do this with a handheld mixer, but manually will work too.

After your potato is mashed and your sausage is cooked and drained, it's time to start piling the ingredients onto your smooshed down puff pastry squares. Like so:



You'll start with a sprinkling of cheese, then a tablespoon of mashed potato, then a sprinkling of little sausage bites. Put the baking sheet back into the 400 degree oven for another 4 to 5 minutes.

Top off with a dollop of sour cream and a few finely chopped chives and VOILA!



I have to say, I wasn't expecting these appetizers to actually be as good as they were. I was going for funny, but I accidentally ended up with delicious! And they look good too!

In closing, I would like to thank Cher. For everything. Amen.

Soy una patata del taco! Muy bueno!


This Tater Pig Challenge entry comes to us via a very Claymazing med student. He, like Country Gay, ran with the twice-baked potato idea, but gave it a Mexican flair. Olé!

Twice-Baked Taco Potatoes

Ingredients

5 baking potatoes

4 links of chorizo sausage (~1 lb)*

½ large white onion, diced

1 jalapeno, diced, seeds removed

1 poblano pepper, diced, seeds removed

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup sour cream (I used light)

1 1/2 cups shredded cheese, divided (I used a Mexican blend)

Chives, chopped for garnish

* Chorizo is made with different amounts of spices depending on where you get it from. You may have to increase or decrease the suggested amounts of other spices for the taco mix to account for this.

Preheat oven to 400°. Scrub potatoes and place them on a baking sheet. Do not wrap in foil. Bake for about 1 hr 15 min, or until fork tender.

While potatoes are baking, prepare taco mixture. Brown chorizo in a skillet, then add onion, peppers, and spices. Once the onions have softened, add tomato paste and chicken broth. Mix well. Allow the mixture to simmer uncovered until it is the consistency of taco meat (i.e. not soupy). Set aside until potatoes are baked.

Remove baked potatoes from the oven. Let them cool for about 5 minutes, but slice them in half while still warm. Holding them with a towel works pretty well. Scoop out the insides of the potatoes into a bowl, leaving just enough on the outer skin for it to support being stuffed.

Set oven to 350°.

Mash the potatoes to desired consistency. Add taco mixture, sour cream, and 1 cup of shredded cheese. Mix well. Use a spoon to fill each of the potato halves with generous amounts of the taco stuffing. Place stuffed potatoes back on the baking sheet. Cover potatoes with remaining shredded cheese, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes or until heated through. Garnish with chives.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Eat me. I'm an Irish tater pig.

Because of my exceptionally busy social life, I'm not going to be home when the deadline hits, so I'm delivering my post now. (And I drafted this yesterday, so the post date makes it look like I'm super early.) Enjoy.

Before I went to the grocery store to buy ingredients for my reinvented tater pig, the biggest question in my mind was, "What kind of cheese should I use?"

It's no surprise that I am a fan of all cheeses, and for a moment I thought something like a bleu cheese or gorgonzola could be interesting. However, I quickly ruled these out because I feared the taste would be too overwhelming. While shopping the cheese area of Fred Meyer, I saw one of my new favorites: Dubliner. It has a sharp taste and a flaky consistency. It has just enough of a bite to make it interesting but not overpowering. I knew that would be what I needed for my cosmopolitanized - and slightly Irish - tater pig.


I had also made a decision to make the tater pig a twice-baked tater pig. In my family, twice-baked potatoes are a holiday favorite. They're rich and stuffed with sour cream, bacon, butter, and cheese. I decided to play off of my mom's recipe for twice-baked potatoes and hoped I'd come out with something more sophisticated than the fair's tater pig.


The beginning is simple: prepare a baked potato. Because I knew my week would be busy, I did this a couple of days ahead of time and refrigerated the potato until I was ready to use it. When I was ready, I split the potato down the middle and did my best to scoop out the innards. This is unlike a normal twice-baked potato where one would cut the potato in half, scoop out the inside, and then refill the halves. I liked that I was going to be putting the potato back into a full-sized potato; however, this also proved slightly difficult (but manageable).


After I had scooped out the insides, I mashed the potato with a spoon, shredded about 1/4 cup of cheese into it, and added a large dollop of sour cream. I also added just a bit of salt and pepper, though in retrospect I think there was enough seasoning in the sausage to take care of that.

As for the sausage, I went with an unexciting Jimmy Dean sausage patty for my sausage choice. Actually, I thought it would be unexciting, but there was a bit of a spicy kick to the sausage, which was a surprise in a good way. I fried four of the patties, knowing I'd only use two in the recipe. I used the other two as an appetizer, which made me excited to get to the sausage actually in the tater pig.


When the sausage was done, I simply patted the grease out with paper towels and tore one of the patties into the potato, sour cream, and cheese mixture. I placed one patty in the bottom of the potato and then stuffed the mixture back into the potato skin. This, again, was a bit challenging because I didn't want to tear the potato, and because of the added ingredients, the space wasn't really big enough for the filling. However, this allowed the filling to be piled high on the skin.


The potato went into a preheated 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes, just enough to heat everything through. In retrospect, I should have sprinkled some cheese on the top and let it bake a bit longer to give a crunchier top.

Brad eyed the potato, but I wasn't going to let that little gnome eat all of my hard work. Unfortunately, my digital camera has problems taking close-ups of food, so the photos of the finished product turned out terribly. You'll just have to look past Brad's head for an idea of the finished Irish tater pig.


The potato was tasty, and the Dubliner cheese added a different taste than what one gets with the regular spicy nacho cheese. The sour cream was a bit much, so I would probably put in a little bit less in the future. But the sour cream also causes the dish to be extremely rich, which helps makes this its own meal.

The most exciting part of my reinvented pig was the way the sausage was spread throughout the potato. At the fair, an eater gets one sausage link (which I'm sure is plenty for some). Because of the patty in the bottom of the potato and the sausage sprinkled throughout the mixture, there was a bit of sausage in every bite. This helped feed my love for the sausage.

The potato was filling on its own, but it is a time consuming concoction. Baking the potato takes about 80 minutes in a 350 degree oven, preparation time takes about 15 minutes (which is mostly cooking the sausage), and reheating time is about 35 minutes. While I might not make this often, I can see me using it as a side dish in the more traditional twice-baked potato way but with the reinvented filling.

The tater pig seems like such an Idaho county fair stand by, but by adding a bit of an Irish twist, the fair guilty pleasure becomes a slightly refined and filling meal. However, even with the refinement, there is still a very country feel to the new and improved pig.

City Gay, can you hear me?

I'm afraid this blog has turned into Country Gay. I'll just assume that City Gay has been busy experimenting with various tater pigs and is overwhelmed with planning for the Gayest Trip Ever.

Pita Pizazz

I ate at the Pita Pit for lunch today. Even though I'm completely broke and will be charging every aspect of The Gayest Trip Ever next week, I decided to spend $8 on a Black Forrest ham pita.

I hadn't eaten at a Pita Pit since I was in college, and I'm pretty sure the only reason I ate there is because I was walking home in a drunken stupor. The only thing I really remember from the Pita Pit college experience is that there were lots of vegetables on the pita, and there were large fiberglass vegetables smiling all over the restaurant. They kind of freaked me out, but again, I was drunk.

My experience at the local Pita Pit was good. While expensive, the pita was tasty, slightly warm, and I requested just enough fixin's to make it a nice, full meal. I also felt like it was a healthier option than stopping at Arby's for a roast beef and cheddar sandwich with curly fries and mozzarella sticks.

Challenge Countdown

In only 25 short hours, the first City Gay/Country Gay challenge will conclude. If you haven't bought your taters and slaughtered your pigs yet, get on it!

Oh wait. That's 25 hours in my time zone. If you are in City Gay's time zone, you have more time. Tricky!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Hello, sausage my old friend...

The challenge is on, bitches.

I made my new tater pig tonight, and it was tasty. Full details to come upon the deadline.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Banana Bread - Or How I Hope I Didn't Poison Myself

Dear City Gay,

I was inspired by your determination to make zucchini bread, so I thought I would try my hand at the bread business. I didn't have any zukes on hand, nor did I even have a bread loaf pan, but that didn't matter. I wanted to be just like you, except without the zucchini.

Quite awhile ago, I had bananas that started going bad, so I decided to freeze them with the intent of making banana bread. I honestly don't know when exactly I put them in the freezer, but I decided to put them in the fridge to thaw yesterday. I admit the bananas looks really gross when I took them out of the fridge this evening.

I decided to use a simple, Paula Deen recipe. Even though wary of the bananas I was using, I forged ahead. (Seriously, when I peeled the bananas, it looked a bit more like fly larvae or some sort of pupa.) There really isn't much to the recipe, which I can't find online but really is a basic banana bread recipe, I promise.*

My recipe book told me to bake the bread for 50 minutes, and I trusted my oven to not burn the bread. I was a fool. I know that things bake faster in my oven, but I apparently forgot that. The bread wasn't exactly burned, but it was darker than I would have liked. I tried to take a picture, but it looked less than appetizing. I decided I should put a slice with bread in front of Brad. I think he has a look of disgust on his face.


The bread tastes fine, but I am afraid the bananas were too old. This is probably all in my head, but if I throw up in awhile, I'm totally throwing the bread out. I can't say I'm truly pleased with the final product, but it was a nice foray into the bread baking business.

Yours,
Country Gay

*For the readers, here is the recipe taken from Paula Deen's The Lady and Sons Too!
1/2 cup (one stick) butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon basking powder
3 ripe bananas

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar; mix well. (You don't need a hand mixer; just use your muscles and a spoon.) Add the salt, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and bananas, and mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes.

By the way, be careful with your eggs. I decided to waste one and throw it on the floor. Egg shell can fly quite far.

Challenge Numero Uno

In light of my recent devouring of a tater pig at the fair, City Gay and I have decided on the first challenge - for ourselves and our reader(s).

Your assignment, should you wish to accept it, is to put a new spin on the classic tater pig. For those still unschooled in what a classic tater pig is (or who are too lazy to scroll down and read what I said about it), a tater pig is simply a baked potato stuffed with a sausage link and cheese whiz. (There is a variation in which chili is used; this is something you might want to consider.) One usually adds butter and sour cream to the tater pig to finish it off.

Here are the guidelines:

  • You must use the main ingredients: potato, sausage, cheese (does not have to be "whizzy"), and sour cream.
  • The sausage does not necessarily have to be placed inside the potato, but it does need to be part of the dish.
  • If you are one of those vegetarian-types, you may use some sort of soy sausage
The deadline for this competition is Sunday, September 16 at 5:00 p.m. If you would like to participate, submit a photo/recipe to me (CountryGay@gmail.com) or City Gay (CityGay@gmail.com). All submissions will be posted at the same time to thwart cheating. (Of course, City Gay and I could steal everyone's ideas, so take your chances.)

If you have any questions, ask... or make up your own answers.

Love always,
Country Gay

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Vive la Limonade!

Country Gay! Welcome back to our online home! Please see my email regarding our plans for world domination and cooking challenges. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on this bad boy:

Rième Blood Orange Limonade Artisanale
Rième Blood Orange Limonade Artisanale

I had seen these fantastic bottles of Frenchy beverage in Metropolitan Market for two or three weeks before finally caving. I don't know what the hell took me so long. I'm a sucker for fancy bottles and an even bigger sucker for Frenchy things.

There was a choice of classic limonade, pamplemousse (grapefruit) and blood orange. I know it seems like blasphemy that I didn't get the pamplemousse (to two of you reading at least), but I ended up walking away with the blood orange instead. Mostly because it seemed more exotic and I liked the color.

I'm trying to give up soda (and have been mostly successful for a month now) and I think I may have found a beautiful, fizzy replacement in the Rième. The tiny bubbles are delightful. Don Ho would be pleased. The flavor is subtle and not too sweet. It's a great summer drink in a delicate glass chock full of ice. But, most excitingly, the cap makes a big POPPING sound when you open it like a bottle of champagne. And not just the first time. EVERY time!

It's good on its own, but it's fantastic with pasta or rice dishes on days when you don't feel like drinking wine with dinner. I'm not sure what days those would be, but you get the idea.

If you want to try a bottle of your very own and you don't have a retailer that will deliver the goods, you can buy it online from some place called Bavaria Sausage. Or you can suck up to me and I'll send you a bottle.

Rieme Blood Orange Limonade Artisanale

DRINK UP!

- City Gay

Tater wha'?

Dear City Gay,

What is more country than the county fair? The carnies, the sheep with jackets, the people who come out of hiding twice a year - it's a beautiful event. But, as everyone knows, the real reason to go the fair isn't for the $30 unlimited ride pass, it's for the food.

I was camera-less at the fair, so I can't provide documentation of my food forays. I wish I could say I struck out and tried something new, but I stuck with the basics. The day started with a corn dog, that I snarfed so fast that the price probably came down to $1 per minute of enjoyment. After wandering through smelly barns and trying to escape the heat, it was time for the annual tater pig.

(Someone else's hands holding a random tater pig somewhere in the world)

Most people react with shock and disgust at the tater pig, but it is an Idaho specialty. I'm not sure what it is about a simple baked potato with a sausage link covered in spicy nacho cheese whiz that is appealing, but it is just ridiculously fair-y... yet most fairies wouldn't be caught eating it.

My goal some time soon is to make my own tater pig but "cosmopolitanize" it. There has got to be a better way to make a tater pig that tastes just as good but has a more sophisticated flavor.

Country Gay out.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Zucchini bread -- or -- WTF is wrong with me?


Yes, it's zucchini time already and a friend who grows it in her backyard was kind enough to lend me some for my SECOND attempt at this Paula Deen (God bless her) recipe.

The first time I tried to make this bread was last fall. The recipe makes two loaves and BOTH of them collapsed in the middle. It was a scarring experience and I didn't try again until this last week.

After a lot of reading and a lot of soul-searching, I discovered my original problem was that I had used a zucchini that was way too big. The problem with giant zucchini is it contains a lot of moisture, making the foundation of the bread somewhat fragile and, as a result, causes collapsing.

So this time, after grating the zucchini, I squeezed it with my hands before putting it in the mixing bowl to eliminate the excess moisture. Problem is, I wasn't using a very big zucchini and eliminated TOO MUCH moisture, resulting in dry bread. I also ran out of sugar, which left me a quarter cup shy of what I needed, so the cinnamon/nutmeg combo was a little stronger than it should have been.

Despite all of my problems, I will say, this recipe is DELICIOUS when all the right measurements of ingredients are present, so I refuse to give up.

I will make this bread again (before next year even) and I WILL PREVAIL, GOD DAMNIT!

What other people eat: Volume 1

Awhile back, the New York Times published a Minimalist column with the headline "Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less."

Annoyingly, I didn't get a chance to read the story before it got stuck behind their paid-archive wall (I'm debating whether or not to pay five bucks for it), but I DID get a chance to read a follow-up story based on the hundreds of comments the column received. It was a collection of what other people do when they're crunched for time and hungry.

I have to admit, not a lot of the reader suggestions appealed to me, but I thought I'd try a couple out just out of curiousity. Also, it will give me some new ideas for when I REALLY don't feel like cooking. Currently, my ten minute meals go something like this: 1) Get two pieces of bread. 2) Spread peanut butter on one piece. 3) Spread strawberry jam on the other. 4) Combine the two pieces of bread to make a sandwich. 5) Pour glass of milk. 6) Enjoy.

ANYHOW!


I went ahead and made that strange concoction up there (*points to the picture*) and it was actually pretty decent. It's one of those very simple dishes that, if you like each of the ingredients, you'll like the dish. It's very fast and filling.

Overall, I'm not sure I'd eat it all the time or even remember to make it again (remember, the sodium benzoate), but I enjoyed it enough to pass along to my adoring readers in case you're in need of a quick protein fix.



The recipe/ingredient list is as follows:


Bean-and-tuna salad: Good, olive-oil packed tuna is a must here: Combine two cups of cannellini beans, drained, with a minced red onion, a can of tuna, olive oil and salt and pepper as needed. Chopped sage is great in this, as are rosemary and basil.


I picked basil since that's the plant I have in my window, used Genova Tonna tuna in olive oil and kosher salt instead of table salt (which I really recommend in a dish like this). I was thinking it could use a little bit of sweetness and crunch, so if I were to try it again, I'd add some chopped celery to it.

City Gay out!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wanted: Personal Chef

Dear City Gay,

I apparently exhausted myself when I made shrimp fettuccine alfredo. I have fallen back into the hell of eating hot dogs and fast food during the last two weeks. The only thing I made today was coffee, and there was nothing exciting about brewing it. I could take a picture of my Jack in the Box cup that came with my meal tonight, but that would just make me feel worse about myself.

However, I do have an idea kicking around that I should be able to execute in the next couple of weeks. I hope that getting back into a routine at work will bring some sort of cooking routine, too.

Love always,
Country Gay

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More on olive oil


There was a piece in last week's New Yorker about the "adulterated" olive oil industry that was pretty interesting. I think a lot of people assume there's some question as to the purity of product in an industry like this. Here's some proof for the skeptics:

...Investigators discovered that seed and hazelnut oil had reached Riolio’s refinery by tanker truck and by train, as well as by ship, and they found stocks of hazelnut oil waiting in Rotterdam for delivery to Riolio and other olive-oil companies.

The investigators also discovered where Ribatti’s adulterated oil had gone: to some of the largest producers of Italian olive oil, among them Nestlé, Unilever, Bertolli, and Oleifici Fasanesi, who sold it to consumers as olive oil, and collected about twelve million dollars in E.U. subsidies intended to support the olive-oil industry. (These companies claimed that they had been swindled by Ribatti, and prosecutors were unable to prove complicity on their part.)

And this...

In February, 2006, federal marshals seized about sixty-one thousand litres of what was supposedly extra-virgin olive oil and twenty-six thousand litres of a lower-grade olive oil from a New Jersey warehouse. Some of the oil, which consisted almost entirely of soybean oil, was destined for a company called Krinos Foods, a member of the North American Olive Oil Association.

Battle Caprese: Olive oil vs. balsamic vinegar

Hey Country Gay,

Long time, no blog. My latest experiment in the kitchen flies right in the face of your tomato hatred. Sorry about that.

To me, a good quality Insalata Caprese is one of the most balanced dishes in all of the land. I've purchased a few pre-made versions lately from different store deli aisles and noticed them putting a spin on my most favoritest of salads. Instead of the classic use of olive oil, they're dousing their red, white and green in brown instead of yellow. Balsamic vinegar instead of olive oil, I mean.

I haven't been able to formulate an opinion on the substitution (until now) because it's not exactly fair to formulate one based on the grocery store deli-made version of a classic Italian salad that should be served fresh. I decided to take the matter into my own hands and settle the battle once in for all in the City Gay Kitchen.



To start, I restocked my olive oil and balsamic vinegar supply with a couple of new bottles of "decent" quality. There are a LOT of oil and vinegar purists out there, but those people are either filthy rich or filthy insane about their dressing of choice. I grabbed a bottle of "flavorful" (there's also a "delicate") Masserie diSant’eramo olive oil -- about ten bucks for 8.5 oz -- and a bottle of Monari Federzoni balsamic vinegar -- about eight and some change for the same size.

I know even that sometimes seems like a lot to spend on glorified condiments, but it really does make all the difference in flavor to spend a little more.

We (Gus was my helper again) sliced up some fresh mozzarella and tomato and pulled a few leaves from my new basil plant.

It's worth noting here that the popularity of big round slices of mozzarella must be skyrocketing because it comes pre-packaged that way now in a tub full of water. I opted instead for the traditional big ball of cheese and that suited me just fine. We served up two healthy servings of those three ingredients, sprinkled some salt and pepper on each and then splashed a little vinegar on one and a little olive oil on the other.

So let's start with the traditional:


I'll start off first by saying that the Masserie diSant’eramo olive oil has a great flavor for the price. Up until a few months ago, I was totally ignorant to what a good, quality olive oil tastes like. But I stopped by our O & Co. here in the city (they're a worldwide company with ten locations in North America) and got schooled on what real olive oil tastes like. I won't go into the whole spiel, but I will say that olive oil is very similar to wine in that there are all sorts of price points and flavor profiles, so you should understand what kind of quality you're getting at each price point.

A good way to size up your olive oil is to pour a little on a spoon and taste it by itself first. If you're not experiencing flavor in its lone state, that's essentially what it's doing for your dish -- nothing.

The Masserie has a very soft, buttery taste and feel to it, but it also has a tiny subtle kick of spice in the after taste (you'll feel it at the back of your throat). For ten bucks, I'm not sure you'll get an oil as complex as this. If anybody knows of any inexpensive kick ass brands, give City Gay a heads up.

But enough about the oil. The dish itself was quite good, but it actually lacked something. Gus put her finger on it right away (not literally thank God) and pointed out that the tomatoes were fairly flavorless. I'll say this for all the world: Hot House tomatoes you find in grocery stores routinely disappoint me. Farmers markets are really the way to go for good tomatoes. Had the tomatoes been meaty and sweet, this would have been nearly the perfect salad.

Now onto the balsamic:


Let's get the big pink (gay) elephant out of the room right away. That's not a pretty dish. There's something slightly vile about covering beautiful, fresh ingredients with a muddy-colored substance. Alright, there, I said it.

But how did it taste? Gus used phrases like "flavor explosion" (because I asked her for a sound byte) and she asked if that could be her salad after the taste test was done. I will say, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the flavor. But one thing I realized right away is the purpose of the olive oil in a traditional Caprese is to soften up the acidity of the tomato. Balsamic just adds to the acidity and does overwhelm the senses, but in a good way sort of.

Again, had the tomato been up to snuff, I think I would have preferred the traditional use of oil in the salad because I like how you can enjoy each ingredient as a separate entity, but they create such a harmonic balance together. The balsamic is overwhelming and the tomato and mozzarella end up serving more as texture than as flavors. Still, I won't deny enjoying it.

In the end, for me, good olive oil still wins the battle. For Gus, I think balsamic vinegar has a new life-long fan.

Now if I could only find a place here that makes good Caprese pizza, my life would be complete.

- City Gay

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pasta with a woman who smells naturally of roses

Dear City Gay,

Here is my first recipe/meal from the country. When I have a hankering for pasta, or when I'm at an Italian restaurant, I often go for the fettuccine alfredo. I know it is less than healthy, but I can't help loving the richness and creaminess of a good alfredo.

I've stolen my recipe from a Barnes and Noble cookbook that contains recipes that only require four ingredients. In my fast-paced country gay life, I don't have time for a lot of ingredients in recipes, but I also want to be able to do more than open up a jar of alfredo sauce when I make pasta. With the few ingredients in the recipe (heavy cream, butter, parmesan cheese, and pasta), I can make a fast dinner without needing to rely on fast food.


The sauce is quite easy. One only needs to melt 1/4 cup of butter then add one cup of heavy cream. When the cream and butter comes to a boil, reduce and simmer for five minutes stirring constantly. This is where I learned how tricky it can be to stir boiling milk and take pictures at the same time. (You are lucky, City Gay, to have Gus be your hand model in pictures!)


After simmering for five minutes, stir in 2/3 cup of parmesan cheese, add salt and pepper to taste, and turn off the heat. In the meantime, of course, you by now have boiling water and can add your pasta. I used non-dried fettuccine to make the cooking go faster, but you do whatever you want. I did have a problem here. I started boiling water too soon, and by the time I got to it, the water had boiled down. However, I pulled through, and the pasta was done in only five minutes.

One could stop there, drain the pasta, and mix in the sauce and serve. I decided to add a bit of shrimp to shake it up a bit. Again to save time, I bought pre-cooked shrimp, and tossed it with a bit of lemon juice and wine while warming it up before adding it to the alfredo sauce. To plate the dish, simply toss the pasta and sauce together and then serve with grated parmesan cheese.


Part of the reason for cooking alfredo tonight was to try a bottle of wine I bought while wandering through Oregon wine country last week. I stopped at the Montazi vineyard where I tried several wines, but the one that I bought was the Maysara Roseena, an Oregon rose wine. I don't often go for pink wines, even though they are du jour, but I couldn't resist the cold, fruity, crispness. According to the label, roseena is an "ancient Persian term for 'a woman who smells naturally of roses.'" I don't know much about how women smell, and usually women who smell like roses are old, but I thought this pink wine would be a nice complement to a shrimp alfredo sauce.


The fettuccine was creamy and rich, and the extra parmesan added an earthy flavor that made me want to gnaw on chunks of parmesan cheese. The wine's sweetness helped tone down the richness of the pasta, and after two servings of pasta, and two glasses of wine, I feel like I could probably bathe in both.

One downside to this recipe is that it is kind of a pain to make when the house is hot. Standing over the stove for 15 minutes doesn't sound like much, but I was pouring sweat, which I hope didn't make it into the sauce.

(Brad stole the camera for a self portrait.)

So, City Gay, if you feel like having a pasta that is fat enough to clog your arteries immediately, go with the homemade alfredo. And, in your search for good wines, I found it's good to not snub the pinks. Pink wines help create la vie en rose.