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Red & Pink

Red Peeps. This year has seen the advent of the Peep making machine and Peep in a chocolate egg. But it’s new color, not contraptions that catch my attention and red Peeps scream “look at me, eat me.” These new un-Easter shaded treats are being called Target red, and I guess they’re only being sold at Target (duh). A lot of clout, that Target.

Not exclusive to any particular store, and probably not even all that new, but in the same color family is Strawberry Cool Whip. (Ah, it’s seasonal for Spring and Summer. The cooler months get french vanilla flavored whip.) Cool Whip is hard for me to abide in any state—I’ve become a whip cream purist with age—but pink is an endearing color for the fluff (speaking of, I picked up a jar of strawberry marshmallow fluff at Jack’s the great, but perpetually crowded 99-cent store near work). And look what can be made with Strawberry Cool Whip and three additional Kraft products: scary tiramisu.

Tapas Party

Sometimes it seems that 90% of the food I make is Asian in some way. I just can’t help myself, it’s what I love. But recently I gave into the Spanish/Basque bug that seems to have bitten every food editor, aficionado and amateur on the planet (It has always kind of bummed me out that I was raised so white bread suburban, no culinary lineage to speak of, unless you count tossing frozen Banquet chicken into a baking dish as cooking. But I am Basque. Sure, only a negligible amount, somewhere in the 1/8-1/4 range, but it’s a pretty cool heritage to claim if you’re going to adopt one as an adult–especially, seeing as how it’s a current culinary darling. And now that my dad is gone I wish I had learned more about those Mexican and Basque roots, though admittedly his Applebee’s ways probably wouldn’t have shed much light on the matter.) and threw a birthday bash, complete with plenty of tapas, traditional and nuevo.

It was a little risky considering many of my friends are either vegetarian or carnivores who might still shy away from blood sausage and anchovies. But it’s impossible to please everyone. I stuck to my guns and made things I’d like to eat (never mind the birthday boy), which is the best route sometimes.

Around the beginning of the year The New York Times, Food & Wine, and Gourmet all did tapas features. It was kind of bizarre, the barrage. I didn’t want to be a direct copycat, but I did draw from these sources as well as a few books.

My menu included:
Cheese: Cabrales, Queso de Murcia, Idiazabal, Mahon, Manchego
Snacks: Spanish olives, Marcona almonds, Serrano ham, quince paste


And the following:

Anchovy and Pepper Roll-Ups

1 7.6-ounce jar Spanish piquillo peppers
1/2 pound white anchovies.

Slice peppers into 1/2-inch strips. You should be able to make 60. Place an anchovy on each pepper strip, roll up and skewer with a toothpick. Serve.

Yield: About 60 pieces

Take a Cup Of Tapas Yet For Auld Lang Syne, by Florence Fabricant. New York Times. December 29, 2004

I had lots of these left over–not many anchovy fans in the house. I ended up mashing the remains and tossing the resulting chunky paste with pasta. A nice second life.

Pear and Cabrales Canapés

5 ounces Cabrales or other blue-veined cheese
20 dried pear halves.

Mash cheese until smooth. Carve away cores of pears. Spread half the pears with cheese, top with remaining pear halves, and cut each into fourths. Serve.

Yield: 40 canapés

Take a Cup Of Tapas Yet For Auld Lang Syne, by Florence Fabricant. New York Times. December 29, 2004

These weren’t bad, but a little tangier and chewier than I’d prefer.


Chickpeas with Blood Sausage in Garlic and Parsley
Garbanzos con Butifarra negra

From Bar Pinotxo, Barcelona

olive oil
½ large onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 oz. golden raisins, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes and drained
sprinkling of pine nuts
5 1/2 ounces. blood sausage, fried and coarsely chopped
14-ounce can chickpeas, drained
salt and pepper to taste

Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over a low heat, then sauté the onion until it is just tender. Add the garlic, parsley, raisins, and pine nuts, and mix well.

Add the blood sausage and chickpeas and heat through, stirring all the time. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle with olive oil, and serve at once.

New Tapas: Today’s Best Bar Food from Spain, by Fiona Dunlop. Laurel Glen Publishing (2002)

I absolutely love the flavors in this salad. It might’ve been one of the least eaten dishes, but that only meant more for me later. I’ve since made it with chorizo, mainly because blood sausage isn’t always on hand or nearby, and the result was still pleasing.

Chorizo With Sherry Finish

2 whole chorizo sausages, about 9 ounces each
Leaves from 2 branches fresh rosemary
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup fino sherry.

Peel casing from chorizo, and slice sausage 1/2-inch thick. Place rosemary on a cutting board, and lightly bruise with a rolling pin.Place chorizo, rosemary, wine and 3/8 cup sherry in a skillet that will hold chorizo in a single layer. Bring to a simmer and cook, turning chorizo once or twice, over medium-low heat until wine has evaporated, leaving bright red fat in the pan, about 15 minutes. Remove chorizo from pan and discard fat.

Return chorizo to pan. Just before serving, add remaining sherry, briefly reheat chorizo, and transfer, with pan juices, to a dish. Serve, with toothpicks or wooden skewers.

Yield: 60 pieces

Take a Cup Of Tapas Yet For Auld Lang Syne, by Florence Fabricant. New York Times. December 29, 2004

I used the small chorizo from d’Espana Foods (they have a website and I can’t re-find it for the life of me) and neglected to peel the casings. I was spared the fiddly work and it turned out fine.


Minted Lamb Meatballs
Albóndigas de Cordero a la Hierbabuena

From Enrique Becerra, Seville

1 pound, 2 ounces lamb, ground or finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons soft bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh mint
2 small eggs, beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon olive oil, for sauteeing

2 onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil, for sauteeing
1 cup thick tomato paste
1 tablespoon dry sherry
water, for thinning

Combine all the meatball ingredients, except the olive oil, in a large bowl and mix well. Form the meat into one-inch balls and saute in oil until lightly browned on all sides. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

In the same pan, saute the onions and garlic for the sauce in olive oil until soft. add the tomato paste and sherry and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

In a blender, puree the sauce until smooth, andding a little water if it’s too thick. Return the sauce to the saute pan and add the meatballs. Bring to a boil and cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes about 32 meatballs

New Tapas: Today’s Best Bar Food from Spain, by Fiona Dunlop. Laurel Glen Publishing (2002)

These were a hit, though there was a minor trauma with under done centers. They took longer to cook through than expected. Luckily, this was rectified before the bulk of the guests arrived.

Garlic Paprika Shrimp

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons hot smoked Spanish paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
salt, to taste
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 cloves garlic, sliced
3 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Juice of 2 lemons.

Pour oil into large pan. Add paprika, cumin, salt, cayenne and garlic. Cook just until garlic starts to brown. Raise heat to medium-high and add shrimp. Cook until pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Toss with lemon juice.

Will serve about 15 people if part of a larger spread.

Minted Eggplant

1/4 cup Sherry vinegar
3 medium eggplants (2 lb total), trimmed and each cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Special equipment: a 12-inch collapsible steamer basket or a pasta pot with a shallow perforated colander-steamer insert

Bring 1 inch water and 2 tablespoons vinegar to a boil in a large pot (or a deep skillet with a lid). Arrange eggplant, skin sides down, in steamer basket and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, then steam, covered, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer basket to sink and let eggplant drain 5 minutes.

Transfer eggplant to a deep platter. Whisk together garlic, oregano, pepper, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar in a small bowl, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined. Pour dressing over eggplant while still warm and let marinate at room temperature, basting with dressing several times, 2 hours. Sprinkle with mint and parsley just before serving.

Makes 12 servings

Sketches of Spain, by Ruth Cousineau. Gourmet. January 2005

Lock ‘Em Up & Toss the Key

"Your Neighborhood Store and So Much More,?" as the Key Food slogan goes. It's that so much more bit  that gives me pause. I'm not the mellowest person to begin with, but this Key Food makes me violent. When I've lived in raggedy neighborhoods like Sunset Park, I kind of accepted the fact that grocery stores were few and far between, and the ones that did exist were pretty shitty (and even the Fifth Ave. Sunset Park location resembles a normal grocery store, complete with wide aisles and semi-decent produce. Heck, they even have those bottle deposit machines. The Fifth Ave. Park Slope location is actually kind of swank).

I can't figure out what Carroll Gardens' excuse is. I can't see all the demanding high standards mommies putting up with the lameness on Court St. My guess is that all the SUVs lining the streets aren't just for looks and that families are navigating the rough terrain to "real" grocery stores, or judging from the boxes tidily tied on recycling day that there's heavy Fresh Direct usage in the area, or gauging from the number of black nannies carting around whiny white kids that many residents don't do their own shopping and as long as their tykes get YoBaby (that's probably not good enough–YoYo's contain yummy Nutraflora).

I do everything possible to avoid this store, which is difficult because it's the only shop on my way to other thing like the subway (that's not even true, I still have to go a block out of my way. How about some courtesy south of 4th Pl.?). I'm not a Met lover by any means, but I think it's a tiny notch above the KF, it's just more of a haul. Yes, I know the neighborhood (for now) rife with old school purveyors like Esposito's and Caputo's, but I'm suburban, I want one stop shopping. And honestly, if you want anything non-Italian (which in my case is almost always) you're kind of screwed. Serrano ham and gruyere (which is hardly exotic) have both proven to be tough finds.

I can't decide which component of Key Food is the most irksome. Sometimes I think it's their selection. If there's anything I need they're sure to not have it. Basic things like coffee filters, like I said cucumbers, mint, those stupid long Italian peppers that are everywhere and that I normally have no use for. And if they do have what you're looking for it will be way expensive, in bad shape, or needlessly organic. Once all I wanted was run of the mill half and half, not like $10 special half and half. I was thwarted. Same with that cucumber, I desired a nondescript 50-cent cuke, not a $2.99 seedless hothouse version.  It's about choice, and the fact that there's not a lot to be had in the neighborhood (don't even get me started on the countless mediocre Thai restaurants popping up like lemongrass weeds).

Sometimes I think the people (customers and staff) are the painful part of the KF experience. Like I said, there are a lot of strollers. Narrow aisles combined with clueless new moms, cranky seniors using walkers and those wheeled carts, and shelves continuously in mid-stocked states, boxes piled into roadblocks make for unpleasantness. The cashiers consist of teenage Brooklyn girls who never seem to actually be doing any cashiering. If their back isn't to you because they?re talking to other cashiers or they're not sucking on lollipops, the top of the register is open and there's a problem with the receipt tape.

What I do love about this Key Food is how developmentally disabled folks always seem to find me. I wonder if there is a group home nearby. The other day a large older woman with a gray monchichi haircut accosted me near the yogurt, complimented me on my blouse and then recommended custard-style Yoplait. A little crazy, but at least pleasant. My favorite encounter was the time I was in my usual no holds barred hurry. I started bolting down an aisle only to be blocked by a weird little man that looked like a short pre-op Al Roker, with a giant brought-from-home cart. I started to bust a gasket, but stopped, calmed down, put a smile on my face, and politely waited for him to reach the end of the row so I could head down. He stops, looks at me, then says, "I like your hairstyle. Did you go to the beauty shop recently?" He totally caught me off guard and instead of indignantly huffing off I answered truthfully, "well, about a month ago" to which he added "you're a very pretty lady." Ha, that was a good one. But weirdo complement or not, it totally cracked me up. More of these types please, they made Key Food bearable.

Key Food * 395 Court St., Brooklyn, NY


While everyone and their pet pug now know that Di Fara is the shit, its not
always a wise move on a Saturday night. Youve got to have patience and
sometimes youre willing to take good enough over good when waiting for good
things can mean an hours wait.

We were on a terrorizing unfruitful journey to Brooklyns bowels, trying
the Starrett City Target instead of the Elmhurst location and testing out
the Kings Plaza H&M rather than heading into Manhattan. Next time well
bypass Brooklyn, thank you. But dealing with Flatbush Ave. and Belt Parkway
traffic works up an appetite.

Totonnos is cute, particularly for its lackluster location on Neptune
Ave. I was initially put off by the young Italian toughs rapping out front,
but it was ok once inside (where I was then put off by the table with a
classic loud Brooklyn construction worker type. He was with two quiet
Mexican men and a woman, maybe he was their boss, maybe they were friends,
but he was barking out everything he wanted, “Hot
peppers!”  “another pie—pepperoni.” He wasn't
addressing anyone in particular, like this is how he gets served at home or
something, but of course none of the staff found it odd. I'm always freaky
the other way, too namby-pamby  when I should just be “gimme
this, gimme that”).

The menu is bare bones with toppings youd expect. We chose pepperoni and
mushroom, and in less time than expected our charred on the edges, crispy
pizza arrived at our booth. Good stuff, though perhaps a touch too blacked
around parts of the perimeter. But hey, think of all the calories avoided by
leaving the crusts behind (Glamour magazine actually advocates this
practice as a weight loss tip).

Totonno’s * 1524
Neptune Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Cubana Cafe

Cute but cramped, and in a more claustrophobic way than most elbow-to-elbow NYC eateries. We bailed on our first attempt to dine here a few months ago. It was freezing and the only open tables were in the heated, but still off-putting front room addition. This time we managed to avoid the annex, but our table was one of three in a row that are barely bigger than barstools. Good for cocktails, not so good for dinner

The food, however, is reasonably priced, most entrees stay under $10. My empanadas were flavorful, the drinks were interesting, but the mains were kind of so-so. Not that they werent well prepared, its just my bias against this kind of rice, beans and a meat cuisine. I don't get enthusiastic over rice and beans, I've never understood the big deal. So, my inclination would be to return on a weeknight and get a Cuban sandwich, appetizers, sides, whatever, and split a pitcher of sangria. Maybe in another couple months.

Cubana Caf * 272 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY

TGI Friday’s Springfield

I'd been drawn to this Route 22 Friday's because of its funky '60s-style sign and lack of their usual red and white barber pole stripes and yellow lettering. But what's not noticeable on stress-filled drive bys (James and I always get into a fight on Rt. 22, it's the lamest traffic pattern ever with weird u turns, no traffic lights and relentlessly speeding cars. I'm always afraid we're going to get killed and we always end up pissed off at each other) is that they aren't original signs but crafted to look old. The whole restaurant is weird, stylistically different and very '90s with distressed metal, though all the same crappy memorabilia glued to the walls. Sizzling platters may sound like a good idea in corporate test kitchens, but they're not so great in practice. I'm always fascinated by the propensity to cheese smother every thing at chain restaurants. I'm so not a seasonal, market menu purist, but a few unadorned items wouldn't kill anyone. Nevertheless, I went for the bruschetta shrimp and parmesan potato wedges adorned with "Mexican cheese" (at least it wasn't nacho topping). The so-called Mexican cheese was out of control, not merely pleasantly bubbling, but popping and burning on the bottom. I know some people intentionally create cheese crisps and call them frico, but this is Fridays' not a classy Italian joint (like the Olive Garden down the highway). I tried to stir the white lake of cheese that was becoming a cracker but I only half preserved the cheese's original integrity. And yet strangely, the entree was still more appetizing than the Yoda puppet glued on the wall above our booth.

TGI Friday's * 40 Route 22 W., Springfield, NJ