Sunday, November 13, 2011

The D.R.: breakfasts at The Peninsula House, and other food

I'd been talking to Cary about the breakfast fruit arrangements at his and Marie-Claude's
The Peninsula House for a few years before I actually witnessed them - and then, of course, ate them.  The fruit was as delicious as it was beautifully set, on different china each morning.  At  least it was for the five mornings that it was served to me.

Grapefuit, Watermelon, Papaya, Mango, Pineapple, Grapes, Melon

Gonzalo Tizon, the chef at both The Peninsula House and its Beach Restaurant, created the delicious caper hors d'oeuvre to go with cocktails on the veranda one particularly sultry evening.  The flowers on the plate are REAL bouganvilla.  Gonzalo is a native of Argentina and coincidentally worked with Marcelo Raitelli  (see December 4th 2010 blog, "And then I went to Patagonia") at a hotel in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia.  What are the odds - it's not as if I travel that often anymore -  but - Argentina and the DR, and two chefs who know each other?  And two, young talented chefs.  Wow.

Plantains and batatas at a market in Las Terrenas


Paco Mer is a restaurant smack on the beach behind the cemetary in "downtown" Las Terrenas.  Its rustic, slapped-together appearance defies its rather sophiscated offerings.  Paco, pictured in a T-shirt the color of his eyes, and the sea, is a Frenchman who's lived in the DR longer than he can remember.  We ate avocado tartare (avocadoes were in season, highly flavored and incredibly creamy), fried, freshly-caught sardines, mai mai -  white fish similar to mahi mahi - with spinach sauce and chofan, an island staple that is more or less a Domincan version of fried rice.  It can be a main course filled with pieces of chicken and pork as well as chopped vegetables and plently of soy sauce - or as  a side with green onions, sweet corn and whatever else might be in season.  It's very tasty.

Just down the Playa Coson from the Beach Resturant is Restaurant Luis.  It's been on that spot, at the edge of the water for the past two years.  But Luis has had his restaurant for years - he just squats in the most hospitable location and when asked to leave he hitches his bar to a trailer, packs up his grill, and tables and chairs and moves to another welcoming place.  The first time we tried to eat there it was so busy - his reputation is far-flung and the highway that facilitates the trip to the Samana peninsula had just opened, so hungry patrons were crowding the beach to get a table and a chance at his grilled langoustines, chicken, fish and shrimp.  We went back the next day and were easily seated and fed the most scrumptious selection of garlicky grilled shrimp and fish, fried plantains, and potatoes, rice and beans, and avocado salad.   I had a fresh coconut to drink.

Happiness is all that tasty food, under a palm tree, at the edge of the sea with a dear old friend.
Gracias querido amigo.

Bedtime snack at The Peninsula House. Chocolate chip cookies.  These buttery, densely sweet, slightly salty cookies will insure heavenly dreams.

adapted from Jacques Torres

makes about a dozen and a half 5-inch cookies

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1//4 pounds bittersweet chocolate discs or feves . at least 60 % cacao content
sea salt

1.   Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Set aside.
2.   Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in the vanilla.  Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combine, 5 to 10 seconds (Cary says, "Do not overmix").  Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them.  Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.  Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
3.   When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.  Set aside.
4.   Scoop 6  3 1/2 mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto a baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally and chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes.  Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another sheet to cool a bit more.  Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day.

my note:  you can make smaller cookies - just bake for 12 - 15 minutes.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

On the road to La Samana, D.R.

After a few false starts - "I'm coming, yes, I'm coming" and "Thank you so much for your gracious invitation, but I don't think I can come right now".  I went.  Oh boy, did I ever go.  Whooshed away directly by Jetblue from JFK to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I was met at the airport by the charming Victor and driven straight through the navy blue tropical sky, fringed by silhouettes of palm trees to The Peninsula House located at the north-western top of the Samana Peninsula.   The Peninsula House ,owned by a dear, old friend, Cary Guy, and his partner, Marie-Claude Thibault, calls itself an "exclusive guesthouse".   In fact, when you step foot into the luxurious Caribbean-style house, you feel as if you are arriving at the home of a 19th century French planter who made a fortune in sugar cane products then sent his new-found fortune  back to Europe to purchase the most exquisite furniture, rugs, paintings, sculptures, crystal and china that those rum pesos could buy. You are comforted by the formal setting - not overwhelmed by it.
Actually, before you are allowed inside the house, you are obliged to coo coo and caress the house's two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Dallas and Jake - and to tickle  the tummy of the Dominican mutt, Bill - who's a girl.

There's so much to say about this award-winning spot (for 3 years in a row the readers of
Conde Nast Traveler have chosen it the number ONE hotel in the Caribbean and number TWO in the entire world.  I'm breathless) that I think that I'll divide information and observations into a few entries.

China used for breakfast service.  It was previously owned by the Aga Khan.

Jake & Dallas


Pool and the Atlantic Ocean

The Beach House.  It's a few minutes away from the main house.  Here, you can take the sun from a a comfy chaise lounge parked in the powder sugar sand and swim in the tepid, turquoise ocean.   Lunch at the Beach always begins with a dish of warm coconut chips.
Make with shaved, fresh coconut meat, place on a baking sheet, toss with sea salt and cook at 350 degrees F until deep gold - a few minutes.  Watch carefully or they'll burn.

Consume with a drink, invented on the spot, and made to order by Luca: fresh pineapple juice, a splash of campari and topped with sparkling water.  Divine.

It didn't get much better than my stay at The Peninsula House.
Coming - breakfasts and other food, and pink and green dwellings. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Celebrating Friends with Food and Enjoying Food with Friends

Last Sunday I drove up to Kingston, NY - more specifically to the mid-century home of my friends, Mark & James.  They call their place Ringtop Ranch.   On that particular Sunday they hosted a party for their friend, John.  John had lived in  the Hudson Valley for many years, beginning his association with the area while studying at the CIA (not that one - the Culinary Institute of America, instead, in nearby Hyde Park).  Last spring he left upstate New York for  sunny Florida and an exploration of life in warmer climes.  While he was on a recent trip to the Hudson Valley he organized a party and invited all his "foodie" friends in the area.  Our mutual friends, Mark & James kindly opened their stunning  ranch for the big event.   John's food, wine and CIA friends rose to the directive to contribute one their specialty foods or beverages to the feast that he prepared.    The result of the "call out" was an extraordinary variety of clever - and delicious - food and drink.

Among my favorites - a salmon and tuna tartar covered with creme fraiche and garnished  with globs of salmon roe and fields  of chopped chives that made the presentation looked like a design for Marimekko.    I don't have a recipe for it but I can guess that equal amounts of fresh salmon and tuna were coarsely chopped and flavored with lemon juice and grated zest and something spicey.  The mixture was added to an oiled 8-inch springform pan and then garnished as described.  I'm sure it was well-chilled before released onto a platter to serve - with thick, crunchy potato chips.  Rose Leblanc, the maker of the dish told me that she usually serves it with homemade waffled potato chips - but didn't have time to make them for the party.

I liked the crostini topped with white bean puree and roasted 'til limp, broccoli rabe.

I liked the lamb meatballs served with spicy mustard.

I liked seeing James, relaxing for a moment with the Ranch's guard-dog, Cicero.

And, Mark doing the same.  Even although Ciciero enviously eyed that glass of champagne - HE DID NOT IMBIBE.  Whew.

I went asolutely nuts (yes, pun intended)with Kingston's The Elephant's sweet, savory, and salty maple-bacon cracker jacks.  I couldn't stop eating it.

I thought that whole grilled snapper were a great dinner choice.  They were served with roast chicken, mouthwateringly good, macaroni and cheese with cauliflower from Red Hook's Flatiron, spinach and mushroom lasagne from John, James' roast brussels sprouts and potatoes and oher things too numberable to mention - much less remember.

Dessert choices included various flavored cupcakes; pumpkin, carrot, zucchini, and chocolate maple, all frosted with cream cheese icing, made by a local baker.  And crispy ginger snaps made by me from my mother's recipe.   She would make them for every special ocassion that our family celebrated - and then some.  There were years that she would make them as Halloween treats.  Oh, those lucky ghosts and goblins.


makes about 5 dozen 2 -3 -inch cookies or 14 dozen 1 1/2-inch cookies

1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
2 cups sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 cup dark molasses

1.   Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.   In a large bowl cream the shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs well.
2.   Sift the flour, baking soda, and spices together.   Add the molasses and dry ingredients to the shortening mixture.   Beat to combine.
3.   Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets.  Sprinkle with sugar.  HOWEVER - here's what I do; I make small - about 3/4-inch - balls which I roll in sugar then finish with an extra sprinkle on top.  I don't grease the baking sheets but instead line them with parchment paper.  Place the dough about 1 1/2-inches apart.  I bake my version for 12 minutes to achieve crispy cookies.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.    If you follow my mother's recipe - to make larger, chewier cookies - bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until the outside edge  begins to crisp  and turns slightly darker and the middle is still soft.   Transfer to a rack to cool.

These are Kermit's Brownies.    They were just about the best brownies I've ever eaten.  Part cake, part fudge.  Light, chocolatey.  Too bad - you can't stop eating them, they slip down that easily.  Geez.   Kermit doesn't have a link yet but his brownies are for sale at various Joe coffee shop locations around NYC. 

Wait.  Did that party really happen?   Is this the same spot where 40+ people drank, ate and gossiped less than 24 hours before?   hmmmm- Allegra's wondering where those bits of cheese, lamb meatballs, frito pie, artichoke dip, and oh so many other edibles have gone.   And, the comfy chaise lounges - they're what she's really missing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hurricane Relief Dinner

I know, I know - I said that I'd post news of the dinner that my friend Roy & I put on to benefit NY state farmers who were so devastated by Hurricane Irene.   The delay is pure sloth on my part. 
 I keep telling myself that the photos are too ugly to publish, because they were taken with a flash, to make a proper story.  That's a pretty weak excuse.

It had threatened to rain on the Sunday of our dinner, but it didn't.  It was coolish and quite humid and we were able to eat outside.  Whew.  I have more room for entertaining outside than in.
Guests were invited for 6 and they all arrived in and around that time.

Here's what we served:

.    Tunisian Swiss chard tagine cut into little squares
.    Pizza with heirloom tomatoes, feta cheese, and pesto

.    Roasted and faintly smoked (with cherry wood) chickens who were called Mr. Henry and Charlotte before they were sacrificed for our meal.

      This is my go-to roast chicken.  The method - it's not really a recipe - comes from Thomas Keller.  He explains how to do to make "Mon Poulet Roti" - "My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken" on page xii, in the introduction to his book, "Bouchon" (Artisan, 2004).  
one 2- to 3- pound farm-raised chicken
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (I never put pepper on the chicken)
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)

unsalted butter
Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out.  The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.
Salt (and pepper) the cavity, then truss the bird.   When you truss the bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out.  Trussing helps the chicken cook evenly, and it also makes for a more beautiful roasted bird.
Now salt the chicken - I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon).
Place the chicken in a saute pan or roasting pan and, when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven.  I leave it alone - I don't baste it, I don't add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don't want.  Roast until it's done, 50 - 60 minutes.  Remove from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan.  Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Keller goes on to wax rhapsodic about how delicious the chicken is served - after carved - slathered with fresh butter and mustard and how "you'll start using a knife and fork, but finish with your fingers, because it's so good."

He's so right.  The recipe was worth the price of the book.    I use only salt. When I use the oven, I roast the chicken on a cast iron skillet.   When I roast it on the grill - a gas grill - I push the lava rocks to the side and top them with thoroughly soaked fragrant wood. I place a pan, fitted with a rack in the empty space.  Keep a bit of water in the pan (just enough to keep the bottom from burning) - roast until golden and the the thigh temperature is 165 degrees F.   I rarely serve it with butter and mustard.  It really doesn't need much more than a few good side dishes.

.    Sicilian-style potato gratin
.    Ratatouille
.    Stir-fried baby bok choy

.    Cornmeal Cake with early Autumn red wine poached fruits
.    Almond biscotti

Yes, there were leftovers - but not a lot.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  We raised a nice amount of money for GrowNYC 's Hurricane relief fund.  We  ate well and had a nice time.   You can do this too.