My father was a restaurateur and we spent every Sunday traveling up and down the East coast, sometimes driving 2 or 3 hundred miles to reach a restaurant of note and sample its offerings. One of my first memorable restaurant experiences occured when I was about 6 or 7 years old. We were first seated at a table that was too drafty for my father, then at a table by the fireplace that was too warm and finally we settled at a four top by the window with a view of the bay. Nothing out of the ordinary so far. The Maitre ‘d walked off in a huff while the most beautiful waitress I’d ever seen emerged from the kitchen. The light from the fireplace bounced off her voluminous, dark curls as she effortlessly glided up to the table, put her arm around my shoulder and asked if she might bring us an aperitif. I stared into her blue black eyes and with my deepest prepubescent voice said, “Sprite on the rocks, hold the cherry.” I received the usual laughs and she rubbed my head. I took this opportunity to lean into her bosom and inhaled her delicious scents of wildflower, citrus and olive oil. She hugged me tight – it worked everytime.

When I ordered my usual shrimp and crab cocktail, the Mediterranean beauty suggested I start with a Caesar Salad. I thought this a bold move to suggest a salad to a 7 year old, so I called her bluff. This brought more hugs and bosom so I was instantly happy with my decision. She came back wheeling a cart packed with bottles, bowls, ramekins and began crushing garlic, whipping olive oil into egg yolk. As I watched her weave the spell, I was mesmerized. She topped the pale green leaves with a few paper thin shavings of Parmiggiano, gave me a big kiss on the cheek – which I turned into with my lips just in time – and wheeled around, her locks trailing behind.

David, this was one of the most amazing plates of greens I’ve ever experienced. The hearts of romaine so crisp, the dressing velvety smooth and salty with the flavor of aged cheese and just a touch of something I later learned was anchovy. Since then, I’ve had a few good Caesar Salads, but most of the wilted humps of lettuce that people call Caesar are blasphemy! I’ve even heard rumor of Caesar Salad flavored potato chips.

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Rule 1: Salad dressing does not come from a bottle or jar
There are rumors that Chef Caesar Cardini — the restaurateur who allegedly created this magnificent salad at his prohibition dodging Tijuana playground for Hollywood Stars — did eventually bottle his dressing after it was made famous by the Glitterati. I can find no hard evidence of this, but if it did occur, it might explain the atrocities found in just about every restaurant from New York to LA and back. In order to whip up this spell, you have to do it from scratch and if you have one of those little carts, start planning your inaugural ball.

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 anchovy filet, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Small pinch of cayenne pepper or small piece of a seeded fresh red chile
Pinch of salt

Coddle the egg in simmering water for 1 minute. In your molcajete, crush the garlic with the anchovy filet and cayenne. Separate the egg yolk and place in a large bowl, preferably wooden. Add the mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire and crushed anchovy garlic mixture. Mix thoroughly and whisk in the olive oil. Add the salt and taste for acidic balance. Add more lemon juice for brightness if necessary. Go easy on the salt as the parmesan will add quite a bit of saltiness.

The Croutons
Preheat the oven to 250. Cut a stale baguette into cubes, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 20 – 30 minutes until crispy and golden. Remove from the oven and store in a warm place until you’re ready to whip up the dressing.

The Greens
Remove the outer leaves of the head of romaine and set aside for a mixed green salad tomorrow. Wash, spin and dry the pale green hearts and tear them by hand into goodly sized chunks. There’s nothing more saltpeter than tiny pieces of lettuce.

The Toss
Now that you’ve weilded the bottles in your cart like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, add the romaine and a handful of croutons to the bowl. Toss the whole affair with your long, wooden salad utensils and heap the glistening leaves on a large plate. Wield your cheese shaver and top with 2 or 3 paper thin slices of pamesan. I would suggest a glass of Ciro instead of Sprite on the rocks.

More history on the infamous Caesar Salad

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I had to bring them back. Just look at them David. Sexier than Kate Moss’ posterier in the new David Yurman ad. And, farmers’ markets all over the country are teeming with ladies young and old bent over wooden crates picking the ripest, juiciest specimens. That’s a good sign. The peaches are so delightful this year Nicole Richie might have a nibble. While she’s preoccupied with the peach, hold her down and force feed her plate fulls of pasta.

The Glaze
2 ripe peaches, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 serrano chiles
1 Tbs lime juice
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
pinch of cumin
couple pinches of salt

Toast the coriander seeds and crush in a mortar and pestle.  Put the peaches and garlic in a blender and puree until smooth. Combine the remaining ingredients, cover and store in the fridge for 30 minutes to 4 hours.

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The Scallops

Pat the scallops dry and brush them on both sides with the glaze. Cover and store in the fridge for 30 mins to 2 hours. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. They should be barely opaque in the center. Don’t overcook them or they’ll turn to little hockey pucks. Garnish with a dollop of the glaze and serve as an appetizer with Vinho Verde.

Ripe Peaches

September 11, 2006

When you bite into a ripe peach, the gush of sweet juice and soft flesh conjure delightful sensations from head to toe. Of course peaches are delicious in pie, with ice cream and poached in champagne. But paired with tomatoes, Bufala di Mozzarella (Fidel’s aphrodesiac of choice), and pesto, they transcend all fruit/sex symbolism. The salty herbaceous flavors mix with the sweet peach and make magic.

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Mozzarella di Buffala con Pomodori e Pesche

The dish always sounds sexier when you say it in Italian.
1 bufala di mozzarella
2 ripe yellow peaches peeled and diced
1 brandywine or black krim heirloom tomato diced
2 heaping tablespoons of fresh basil pesto (see previous Mortar and Pestle posting)
1 Tbs extra extra virgin olive oil
Scant squeeze of lemon
1 turn of the peppermill filled with green or white peppercorns
Salt to taste

Combine ingredients, adding the additional olive oil and salt as needed. Slice the bufala into 3/4″ slices. Plate one slice of the creamy white goodness, topping with the tomato, peach mixture. Sandwich with a second slice of Bufala and top with more of the tomato, peach mixture.

You can serve this with a little side of arugula salad tossed with olive oil and lemon juice and a glass of prosecco, but it’s most important where you serve it, David. The best place to serve this is in bed. You can unfold a red and white checked napkin on top of the duvet and have a bed picnic. Chill the prosecco in your standing acrylic ice bucket next to the bed so you don’t have to get up to refill the glasses.

Finger Food

September 4, 2006

The rustic romance of the Southern Yucatan awakens some kind of primal instincts that are embedded in our fiber. Under the heat of the noonday sun, the hormone production increases 10-fold and activities like paddling through the mangroves and cenotes in a wooden canoe are sure to stimulate the appetite.

With my stomach growling, I took off down the beach road on the only working bicycle I could find – a 20″ bmx. My knees reaching the height of my shoulders with each pedal stroke, I spied 2 boats coming in through the cut and I pedalled faster to reach their fishing camp. They made it first and by the time I arrived, I found a fire smouldering a table full of whole roasted fish. One fisherman was feeding bits of the succulent flesh to a topless woman stretched out in a hammock. I averted my eyes in embarrasment, but couldn’t help sneaking another peak at the not so vaguely sexual act. I was able to buy a small yellowtail before they sent me away laughing as I high-pedalled up the sandy road.

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Salt Crusted, Whole Roasted Yellow Tail
with Papaya Habanero Salsa Fresca


The Salsa
1 cup diced papaya
1 cup diced plum tomatoes
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 habaneros seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbs olive oil
Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients, cover and store in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. I prefer this salsa to be really fresh. It begins to wilt slightly after a few hours.

The Fish
A 2 to 3lb whole yellowtail, cleaned and degilled
1/2 cup course sea salt
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbs olive oil
3 limes sliced
3 cloves garlic
1 small bunch of cilantro, whole

Preheat the oven to 400. Stuff the cavity of the fish with lime, cilantro and garlic. Brush both sides of the fish with the beaten egg and coat with the course sea salt. Bake for 20 – 35 minutes depending on the size of your fish until cooked through. I usually estimate 10-12 minutes per pound. Cut a slit in center of one side of the fish to check doneness. When it’s ready, cut 2 or 3 additional slits in the side of the fish, drizzle with olive oil and squeeze lime. Serve on a platter with additional lime.

Now, the fun part David. I know you’re ambidextrous, so she’ll be squirming in her rough hewn wooden chair in short order. Pick up a fresh, warm tortilla in your left hand and with your right, pull back the salt crusted skin to reveal the succulent, juicy flesh. Pull a piece off the fish and put it in the tortilla. Spoon just a bit of the salsa on the fish and wrap the tortilla into a delicious little present. Hold it up to her mouth for a bite and then take a bite yourself. Serve this with a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc or a cold beer poured into a tall glass.

For further effect you could try a few words of Mayan like “Bin in tz’uutz’ a chi, tut yam x cohl” or if that puts you out too much, just raise your brows a few times and make noises that say delicious.

Ancient Maya

September 1, 2006

Along the coast of the pre-colonial Yucatan, Mayan men would bring live lobsters and fresh, ripe fruits to the young ladies who weren’t yet spoken for in hopes of impressing them and their fathers. The young men would paddle up to the beach in canoes toting the biggest lobsters they could find. If the courted prepared a meal that pleased both the father and the suitor, the party was on!

Imagine the reaction I expected, David, when I came trotting down the beach with a 3 pound crustacean and two big cantelopes. Jennifer gasped in mock shock, broke out in a hearty round of laughter and said, “make me lunch baby, I’m starved.” I guess times have changed. I scurried off to rub 2 sticks and start a fire.

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Lobster Salad with Melon and Lime Aioli

Lime Aioli
Zest of one lime
Juice of half of said lime
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon mustard
Pinch of salt
1 Tbs chopped cilantro

Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle. Put the crushed garlic in a mixing bowl, add the salt, egg yolks, lime juice and whisk until combined well.

While your whisking with one hand, add the olive oil in a thin, steady stream with the other. Make sure all the oil is incorporated with each stroke or the sauce will break and the party’s over. When you’ve added all the oil and the sauce has thickened, stir in chopped cilantro. Store in the fridge for about 30 mins.

The Lobster
Thank the Gods for the gift of food and be a sympathetic warrior. With your large chef’s knife, bring the lobster to a swift end by plunging it into the head and cutting the head in half. The lobster won’t like this much and will make quite a fuss, but it’s much like the headless chicken. The God’s will reward you justly for your brave sensitivity.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and submerge the lobster for about 2 minutes. Remove the lobster from the pot and rinse in cold water. Remove the meat from the exoskeleton with your kitchen shears or your bare hands and teeth. I prefer gloves.

The lobster will not be completely cooked through. Cut into chunks that are managable for a modern gal. Sautee shallot for 2 or 3 minutes in clarified butter, then add the lobster and sautee until just set. Set aside to cool while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

The Salade
The cooked meat from your 3lb. spiny lobster
1/4 cup of aioli, you can add more as necessary
1 ripe cantelope or musk melon cut into small cubes
3 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt to taste
1 avocado
cilantro garnish

Cut the avocado into thin slices, rub with lime juice and arrange on the plate or cut the avocado in half and mound the lobster salad into the depression. Garnish the plate with lime and green olives. Serve the salad with a chelada sin hielo.

Jennifer and I just celebrated our 13th anniversary and the party is still on.