Your Every Playlist Song

This picture has nothing to do with anything.

Besides Ween’s “Your Party” (a song worthy of its own post, really) and the almighty “Sledgehammer,” another tune that merits its 4 minutes and 22 seconds on your playlist is Allen Toussaint’s version of “Blue Drag 07.”

Allen Toussaint – Blue Drag (Audio HQ) by STARDUST72

It’s equally superb over a summer thunderstorm, issuing static-flecked from those crummy portable speakers you use while painting the bedroom (mine plug into a 1999-era yellow “sporty” discman that has white specks from when I painted a barn and a bazillion feet of fence on the alpaca farm), as dinner prep company to chopping onions barefoot in a hot kitchen, or at the end of it all, harmonizing with the clink of fat wine glasses and cheese-plate chatter. At my parents’ house, it would probably elicit some twirlies and slow knee sways in the kitchen. This scene, basically.  We have a lot of neighbors.

You can put it on just about every playlist except “Sisters Work Out Mix 2011” (reserved for such classics as “Barbra Streisand” and the entire Daft Punk “Alive 2007” album) and “Mad & Hyper Mix” (Prodigy’s “Breathe” on repeat, obviously).


Back to the Chill, but Warmly

Last week many of us pale Bostonians emerged from our winter dwellings to squint and blink and meander happily in the warm sunshine.  We didn’t have much of a winter but even so, feeling those rays on skin meant a lighter mood felt city-wide.  Now we’re back to 40 and overcast, but that hint of spring was enough to get us looking towards summer. After the trees flower and tulips claim every patch of outdoor space, the Commons will be packed with locals and tourists, the playground behind our apartment will resound with kid-clatter late into the evening, and the tiny restaurant on the corner** will overflow with patrons splitting mouth time between chatter and sweating glasses of sangria.

Special summer menus? Try grilling your choice of steak and eat with a spill of good olive oil and lemon juice and flaky salt – a close friend advised this simple preparation that proved so good that we never, ever stray from it.  Toss thick cut sweet potato pieces with oil, coriander, cumin, hot paprika, salt and pepper and roast, turning once or twice, until the edges are brown and crispy. Another side might be chunky tomato slices, or quickly steamed green beans with butter, lemon, and dill. For dessert, perhaps some watermelon brushed with honey and lime juice slightly charred on the grill, or some drippy  peaches, or soft ice cream. To go with all that food, make a summer playlist. Here’s a great one to start it off:


**That tiny restaurant is Orinoco, and it’s worth a trip to one of their locations. Can’t go wrong with pretty much anything on the menu, but bacon-wrapped dates are especially a no-brainer, along with the empanada mechada, any of the arepas, and the pabellon criollo.

From Zero to En Papillote – Flounder, King Oyster Mushrooms, and Bok Choy Packet

Cooking motivation has been at an all time low for the past three weeks, with the exception of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Somehow they always seem to escape the culinary doldrums, probably because in our apartment (and this is scientifically proven) dessert is a nutritional need rather than a measly want.

All this means that the most recent dinner menus I’ve half-heartedly assembled have consisted of spaghetti and meatballs (a relatively recent Ikea trip resulted in a toddler-sized bag of ’em so we’ll be subsisting off those for about 7 months), Thai takeout, lots of frozen broccoli, frozen matzoh ball soup, half a leftover sandwich that barely survived a roadtrip in my bag from New Haven to Boston, and the lonely egg here and there. And ice cream, obviously.

But last night I shot through the rut, skyrocketing so far away from it that I actually made up a dish without heavily consulting internet, cookbook, or mother, while trying a new-to-me method of cooking and type of fish.  I call it “From Zero to En Papillote” and it was pre-tty yummy. The shallot, butter, fresh thyme, and splash of beef (beef and fish?!, I know, but somehow it worked) broth worked some magic on the flounder, mushrooms, and bok choy. If you’re interested, I’m sure a glug or two of white wine wouldn’t hurt.  Savory and filling but not overly heavy – this is a good dish for those of us that are trying to stick to New Years Resolutions. Which doesn’t include me but I’ve got to make the occasional last-gasp attempt.

From Zero to En Papillote – Flounder with King Oyster Mushrooms and Bok Choy in Parchment
Serves 2

2-3 flounder fillets (eyeball them at the fish counter, you may want more if they are teeny)
1 tablespoon of butter, cut into little chunks
1 shallot, cut into slivers
6 thin slices of lemon, plus a little extra lemon juice
3 sprigs of thyme
2 baby bok choy, roughly chopped
1-2 bunches of king oyster or other wild mushrooms, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons beef broth (I had an open carton so this is what I used, but if it makes you nervous to mix beef and fish, chicken or vegetable broth is a good substitute)
Salt and pepper
Parchment paper (a generous piece – enough left over on the sides after the food is sitting on it that you can fold and wrap the ends, creating a pouch)**

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pat the filets dry, dust with salt and pepper on both sides, then place them in the center of the parchment paper, which should be atop a rimmed baking sheet. Lay the thyme sprigs, butter, and lemon slices across the filets. Add the chopped mushrooms and bok choy on top, then sprinkle on the beef broth and extra lemon juice, to taste.

Gather the longer edges of the parchment paper and fold the edges together, rolling once or twice so that it is sealed but not too tight around the food inside. Do the same with the shorter edges. (Some en papillote recipes say you can staple the edges of the paper together – I would have tried this if I had a home stapler. I covet staplers. My work stapler has a label with my name on it so people can’t steal it).

Bake at 400 degrees for 12-14 minutes – mine was finished at 12 but if your filets are on the thicker side they may need a bit longer. Use caution when opening the pouch because you’ll be releasing a bit of steam.

**Another option would be to make two individual packets, but I went with one bigger packet to hold everything and it worked well.

Crushed rocks and beef blood?

Yesterday, my sister sent along a newsletter from her favorite wine store Schneider’s in Washington, DC.  Aside from one magical and hazy Napa trip, my forays into really getting wine have been brief and shallow, and yes, I occasionally buy a bottle based on its label decoration.

People who can really taste and appreciate wine are awesome.  People who can aptly describe the nuances of the wine they taste have my utmost respect.  Because of this, the newsletter from my sister wasn’t intended so much as to introduce me to new vintages as it was to feed a love of food descriptions.  There’s nothing quite like a good wine description –where else can you compare something to tire rubber and dirt and be giving a favorable review? — and Schneider’s Has. Got. It. (Read that last bit like Martin Short as Ned Nederlander in The Three Amigos.  The aforementioned sister, aka my sole reader, should understand the reference).

Here’s a sampling lovingly remixed and with many inserts and edits, pulled from Schneider’s/the winemakers’ descriptions of a few different wines:

Opulent yet fresh, with cherry, raspberry and blackberry up front and tar and licorice lurking behind, this stuff is haunted by notions of crushed rocks, spring flowers, blueberries and black currants. Like a good T-bone savored with dessert in a collegedorm room, it’s beefy and the richness is mouthcoating with lavender, incense and white chocolate notes.  Quite honestly, there is not a hard edge to be found. It’s voluminous, multilayered with super racy (dolla dolla bill$ y’all) fig fruit liberally laced with graphite and black tea.  The complex aromas continue into the coffee, earth, and game flavors with just a touch of soft oak. It made me nostalgic, reminiscent as it was of a cedar spice box coated in leather. Bravo!

Just when you’ve muddled through the yeasty strawberry and ripe earth aromas, you’ll run headlong into the toasty pear, spice, anise and butter notes that are plagued by persistent bubbles.  One might call it vivid, with its abundant notes of grilled herbs, beef blood, currants, sweet kirsch, plums and Asian spices.  Like a pinafored maiden at a worldly farmers market, it possesses a huge bouquet of lychee nuts, white peaches and honeysuckle with outstanding ripeness as well as texture and a heady finish. Round and opulent, intermixed with notions of forest floor and tobacco leaf, a latent iron note leaves a tangy, mouthwatering finish. Delicious!

The flavors abound with fresh fruit, crisp apple and a hint of lime (Tostitos©). A fat, rich palate impression waits to smack you upside the head with a big, spicy, earthy, peppery nose that is broad, totally seductive and disarming. Wink, wink. You might even allow that it reveals abundant aromas of crushed rocks in its darker, more cool climate style!  But that’s only if you can get beyond its complex melange of yellow apple, melon and pear.  The long, crisp finish goes on and on. And believe me, you can’tmiss the spice cake notes and complex meaty flavors that build a briary edge framing the tangy finish. It’s like gnawing on a good velvet – quite sophisticated, ripe and plush in the mouth with a long (and I mean long) finish.

Serve this voluptuous beauty with shellfish and you’ll forget all about white Burgundy. But as LeVar Burton says, “you don’t have to take my word for it.”