Sunday, March 27, 2011

El Floridita...The Cradle of the (Real) Daiquiri

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Hemingway and Errol Flynn at El Floridita in the '50s
 It's that time of the year when the warmer weather gets us thinking of switching from our usual winter libations to fun and refreshing cocktails, at least once in awhile.  To tell you the truth, this post has been in the archives for over a year waiting for me to find an old photo of my grandfather at one of his favorite jaunts, El Floridita in Old Havana.

In my house it was a name that was frequently mentioned when I was a child.  My father was often going to or coming from El Floridita when he had business downtown, although I never heard my mother's name mentioned in the mix.  Unlike La Bodeguita del Medio another of Havana's famous bars, the Floridita seemed to attract more of the Cuban elite and less of the tourists that frequented the city in those days.  Both were a short walk from the Hotel Ambos Mundos where Hemingway used to stay.  It is said that one day he stopped by to use the bathroom and when he came out he saw all these filled glasses lined up at the bar.  He asked what they were and asked for a sip and the rest is history.


Hemingway's room at the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana


History of Floridita

Founded on November 16, 1519, the township of San Cristobal de La Habana celebrated its 298th birthday in 1817. At that time Havana was a city of just over 84,000 inhabitants, protected by a system of fortresses and walls from the constant siege of corsairs and pirates.

The wall divided the city in two: the walled portion, where the rich Spaniards and Cuban-born whites resided: and the portion outside the wall, inhabited by poor blacks and country folk, who entered and exited the walled city every day.

One of the main access points to the walled city was the Monserrate gate, with it’s entrance on Obispo Street and it’s exit on O'Reilly Street. Like the other gates, it opened at a set time in the morning and closed at a set time at night, signalled by cannon blasts at the San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress.



Around that time, ice made its appearance in Havana. Although it had been landed for its medicinal benefits, it was put to its greatest use in this city to chill drinks, warding off the sweltering tropical climate.

Thus emerged, at the corner of Obispo and Monserrate Streets, an establishment named after the "queen" of fruits: La Pina de Plata (The Silver Pineapple). There, one could calm a terrible thirst with juices, milkshakes, an almond-flavoured drink called Chorchata, and soft drinks made from fruit. Also available were alcoholic beverages, and by the end of the nineteenth century the first combinations became fashionable: simple mixtures of rum, gin, vermouth or cognac which were the ancestors of classic international cocktails.

When it was close to 100 years old, La Pina de Plata changes its name to La Florida, with the goal of attracting the evermore numerous visitors from the United States, who passed through the Florida peninsula. The people gave the spot its definitive name with which it has achieved worldwide fame: EL FLORIDITA.





At that time there was an open bar from which it was possible to observe passers by. The 10-meter-long mahogany bar and the same Corinthian friezes remain today. In the 1910's it incorporated a restaurant area, headed by French chef Lapont.

In 1914, bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert arrived at El Floridita. A Spanish immigrant, he was known as "Constante" to his friends. In 1918 he took over from Salas Perera as the owner.


Hemingway with Constante tending bar

Constante was a master Cuban bartender, the very embodiment of professionalism, creativity and cleanliness. He devoted his whole life to his profession, preparing cocktails behind the bar, and converted El Floridita into the city's cathedral of cocktails. Indeed, he had numerous creations: Presidente, Habana Special and many more. But the Daiquiri is undoubtedly the cocktail that achieved the greatest international fame, and for that reason there is a phrase embossed in bronze on the ice chest over the bar: "The Cradle of the Daiquiri."





El Floridita became the most famous bar in Havana, and one of the most famous in the world. In 1953, “Esquire” magazine, called it one the world's seven best bars, along with, the Pied Piper bar in San Francisco, the Ritz in Paris and London, Raffles in Singapore, Club 21 in New York and the bar at the Shellbourne Hotel in Dublin.



One of the old timers

Since that time El Floridita has been frequented by distinguished visitors to Havana, ranging from artists to official guests of the government. But U.S. novelist, Ernest Hemingway, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, was the most assiduous of all. He became a personal friend of Constante and after the latter's death in 1953, Hemingway continued to consider El Floridita his favourite spot in Havana, during the more than 20 years he lived in the country. His favourite bar stool and a bronze bust unveiled in 1954, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his "Old Man and the Sea" are permanent witnesses to his presence.



El Floridita and it’s Daiquri have been immortalized in literature on more than one occasion. Perhaps the best description was written by Hemingway himself, in "Islands in the Stream".The British Regency style and décor that El Floridita bar/restaurant has today dates back to the 1950's, as does the carpentry work, lamps and the paintings on the walls.

In 1991 El Floridita was totally remodelled, respecting all the original elements, including the bust of Hemingway and the bar top.



Some of El Floridita's Customers

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Gene Tunney, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gary Cooper, Luis Miguel Dominguin, Tennessee Williams, Charles Scribner, Spencer Tracey, Rocky Marciano, Ava Gardner, Samuel Eliot Morison, Buck Lanham, Herbert Matthews.


Hemingway with his wife Mary and Spencer Tracy while filming The Old Man And The Sea 1958


Hemingway and Gary Cooper 1951

And more recently: Paco Rabanne, Joaquin Sabina, Pablo Milanes, Alicia Alonso, Silvio Rodriguez, Javier Sotomayor, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Matt Dillion, Danny Glover, Jack Nicholson, Giorgio Armani, Gianni Mina, Jean Michel Jarre, Fito Paez and others.

and, of course, my grandfather and his cronies way before Hemingway ever set foot!


My grandfather standing left in white suit, his brother seated left


El Floridita Daiquiri*


2 oz white rum
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
1 oz lime juice
2/3 oz sugar syrup


Shake briefly with a glassful of crushed.  Strain into a glass.
Serve in an open champagne or martini glass.  You can top with a maraschino cherry.

Note:  Use real lime juice.   When squeezing the limes extract only the juice and nothing else. You do not want oils from the skin to get into the drink.

Constante Ribalaigua Vert (known as Big Constante), who ran the El Floridita when Hemingway was a regular customer, was described by the contemporary cocktail writer David Embury as follows: His limes were gently squeezed with his fingers lest even a drop of the bitter oil from the peel get into the drink; the drinks were mixed (but not overmixed). . . The stinging cold drink was strained through a fine sieve into the glass so that not one tiny piece of ice remained in it. No smallest detail was overlooked in achieving the flawless perfection of the drink

*From the 1934 Bar La Florida Cocktails Guide




Floridita Daiquiri #2

2 oz rum
1 oz lime juice
¼ oz grapefruit juice
¼ oz maraschino liqueur
½ tsp sugar


This was the house Daiquiri at the El Floridita Bar in Havana. The grapefruit makes a really nice addition, working almost like an alternative to sugar in taking the edge of the lime. This version is excellent frozen.




Papa Doble (Hemingway Daiquiri)

4 oz rum
2 oz lime juice
½ oz grapefruit juice
½ oz maraschino liqueur


This was Hemingway’s usual drink at the El Floridita, and is basically a double sized Floridita Daiquiri without the sugar. Since Hemingway was diabetic he limited his sugar intake, and apparently simultaneously doubled his rum intake to compensate. Hemingway drank them frozen, and the freezing probably helps mellow the acidity a little. Some suggest making the maraschino a float on the final drink. It is worth noting that potent, acidic, minimally sweetened drinks were quite common in the first few decades of the 20th Century, so a sugar free Daiquiri was not such an odd idea for the time. Obviously you could (perhaps should) either cut this one in half or share it between two.

No matter which one you choose, at least have a real one!



The History part is from the Floridita website here
Daiquiri #2 3 and comments from here
Photos from Floridita website, Google and Lindaraxa Photo #12 



Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And Speaking of Yemen...Moka Gateau!

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How many times have you walked into a French pastry shop and bypassed all those beautifully sculpted slices of cake and gone straight for the eclairs or the macarons? It's like who needs jello when one can have ice cream!

Let's face it, if we had them around the corner perhaps eventually we would work ourselves to the gateaux but when it's a special treat, like it usually is, they are just not worth it, or so we think. Now making them at home is another matter...for there is nothing more delicious than a mocha gateau. 

The cake is basically very easy to make, don't be put out by the length of the recipe. I just broke down the ingredients by steps.  What also makes it look complicated is all the frou frou on top which is something that is up to you.  You start with a genoise which is the simplest of cakes, make a simple coffee syrup and top with a buttercream.  If you don't want to pipe the frosting and make fancy decorations, you can just spread the buttercream all over and just coat the sides with almonds.  Add a few chocolate shavings on top.

The cake does not come out as tall as the photo above.  What I did was double the buttercream frosting so I had enough to put about and inch between the layers and enough leftover to pipe some on tod edge as shown above.



As I was comparing my recipe to others on the net, I came across this interesting tidbit, most appropriate for the times we live in..

Mocha or Mokha (Arabic: المخا [al-Mukhā]) is a port city on the Red Sea coast of Yemen. Until it was eclipsed in the 19th century by Aden and Hodeida, Mocha was the principal port for Yemen's capital Sana'a.


Mocha is famous for being the major marketplace for coffee from the 15th century until the 17th century. Even after other sources of coffee were found, Mocha beans (also called Sanani or Mocha Sanani beans, meaning from Sana'a) continued to be prized for their distinctive flavor—and remain so even today. From this coffee the English language gained the word mocha, which is now used for combinations of chocolate and coffee flavors as cafe mocha.


It is commonly believed that the coffee bean that originated in the port city of Mocha was encountered by Marco Polo on his trip through the Arab World. After the month and a half of Polo's turbulent journey, his party were forced to go ashore at Ṣūr (modern-day Tyre, Lebanon) to resupply their stocks, because the captain, William Maurice, had provided insufficient room for food storage. In the marketplace there, Polo found a Yemenite salesman who had brought coffee beans from Mocha, purchased some and ultimately returned with them (among many other imports) to Europe. However, the bean was not widely known through Europe until the 17th century.


In 1595 Spanish Jesuit missionary Pedro Páez was the first European to taste Mocha's coffee in place.


Its importance as a port was also due to the Ottoman Empire law that required all ships entering the Red Sea to put in at Mocha and pay duty on their cargoes.


At present, Mocha is no longer utilized as a major trade route and the current local economy is largely based upon fishing and small amounts of tourism. The village of Mocha was officially relocated 3 kilometers west along the Red Sea shore to accommodate the building and demolition of several coastal highways.


The term "mocha" in relation to chocolate and coffee–chocolate blends is strictly as a result of European influence. Chocolate is not cultivated at Mocha nor imported into it.---From Wikipedia


Yemen Mocha 10 Oz.

Click here for more on the history of coffee and Yemeni coffee in particular




French Patisserie Moka Gateau

Ingredients

For the genoise or sponge cake:

4 eggs
225g /1 cup sugar
225g /1 cup  flour
15g / 1/2 oz butter
an 8 inch cake pan

For the coffee syrup

100g / 4ozs granulated sugar
75ml / 3 flozs water
2 tablespoons very strong black coffee
2 tablespoons rum

For the butter cream*

150g / 5 ozs granulated sugar
75ml / 3 ozs water
2 egg whites
225g / 8ozs unsalted butter
10g / 1/2 oz vanilla sugar
coffee extract
50g / 2 ozs toasted almonds.

Directions


To make the Genoise cake:

Heat the oven to 160c or 325f.
Butter the cake pan.
Place a bowl in a pan of warm water keep it on a low heat do not let it boil.
Place the eggs into the bowl. Add the sugar and beat until double in volume and warm to the touch.
Remove from the heat and beat until cold.
Beat in the sifted flour and place into a buttered tin.
Bake for 18 to 20 mins when cooked remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack

To make the sirop au cafe:

Boil the sugar and water together over a medium heat for 5 mins.
After boiling point is reached allow to cool a little and add the coffee and rum

To make the creme au beurre:

Cook the sugar and water until the syrup formed registers 220c on a sugar thermometer.
Or drop a little in cold water, a soft ball should be formed.
Beat the egg whites to a stiff peak. Slowly add the boiling syrup in a fine stream.
Beating constantly until the mixture is cold.
Soften the butter in a warm bowl work in the vanilla sugar.
Fold the egg whites in and add a few drops of coffee essence

*Double the buttercream recipe to have enough to pipe some decorative edges

Cut the cake across horizontally and sprinkle the cut side with the coffee syrup.  Let it absorb
Spread the bottom half with the creme au beurre and place the top of the other half.
Spread the top and the sides of the cake with the creme au beurre.
Reserve a little for the decoration.
Chop the almonds and press them thickly around the sides of the cake.
Pipe the remaining cream around the top of the cake.

Chill lightly for 12 hours before serving.

Photos: Google and A Taste of France




Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fried Oyster BLT Sliders

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One of the things I am most grateful to the South for is introducing me to fried oysters.  I have always been an oyster lover, particularly Bluepoints, something I used to have often when I lived in New York.   The Plaza Hotel's Oyster Bar was famous for their Bluepoints but you could really get a fresh dozen in most good restaurants..  Unfortunately raw oysters have to be at their freshest and I simply don't trust them when I am landlocked.  Fortunately for me this is fried oyster country and it's easy to find pints already shucked at your local supermarket.  How do I now they are fresh?  Simple, they can't keep them in stock.  By Sunday morning  they are gone until the next shipment on Tuesday afternoon. 

These oyster sliders are made with oysters, bacon, mayonnaise, tomatoes, lettuce, and horseradish.  Frankly, most of the time I skip the bacon.  It feels somewhat like gilding the lily but I guess I couldn't call this a BLT unless bacon was in the mix. 

To my Northern readers who are used to such fantastic fresh oyster (they know who they are) give fried oysters a try sometime.  You will not be sorry.


Ingredients:

* peanut or vegetable  oil

* 1/2 cup yellow or white cornmeal

* 1 teaspoon salt

* 1/8 teaspoon pepper

*dash of cayenne

* 1/2 pint of shucked oysters (figure on two or three per sandwich, depending on the bread)

* 1/2 cup mayonnaise

* 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

* 4 rolls, or 8 brioche or white bread toasted

* 4 thin slices tomatoes

* 4 slices crisp cooked bacon

* lettuce leaves


Preparation:

Melt about an inch of oil in a large heavy skillet. Combine cornmeal, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Coat oysters with the cornmeal mixture. Shake excess. Fry oysters in oil until lightly browned on all sides. Do not crowd.  Do them in batches if needed.  Mix mayonnaise with horseradish. Spread 4 buns with the mayonnaise mixture. Cover with tomato slices, and then bacon. Cover with lettuce leaves then arrange oysters over lettuce. Secure with wooden picks and trim crusts if using toast.

Alternatively, you can serve the oysters on a plate with everything served separately so that everyone can make their own.



Photo: Marx Foods via The Examiner

Friday, March 18, 2011

Avocado Shrimp Dressed Mexican Style

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We had a fairly warm day today and I took the opportunity of grilling outside for the third time this year.  Barbecued chicken, corn, pudding, green salad with Roquefort cheese and this marveous appetizer for starters.  An easy menu for the start of the weekend when you are having out of town guests.

I usually serve this with tostadas, purchased at the local taqueria. When summer comes and it's pool time, they make a delightful lunch served after or with cold bowls of gazpacho!

The recipe is from Rick Bayless owner of Frontera Grill and author of Fiesta at Rick's: Fabulous Food For Great Times With Friends.



Fiesta at Rick's: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends




Ingredients

12 oz. (about 2 1/2 cups) small-medium cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 medium white onion, cut into 1/4-in. pieces

1 large ripe tomato, cut into 1/4-in. pieces (about 1 cup)

1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh lime juice

Hot green chiles to taste (3 serranos, or 1 to 2 jalapeños), stemmed and roughly chopped

1 medium ripe avocado, pitted, skin removed, and flesh roughly chopped

1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro, loosely packed and thick bottom stems cut off, plus sprigs for garnish

Salt



Directions


In medium bowl, combine shrimp, onion, and tomato. Pour lime juice into food processor or blender. Cover and turn on. Drop in chiles and, when finely chopped, turn off and add avocado and cilantro. Process until smooth. Thin to creamy consistency with water, about 2 to 3 tbs. Taste and season with salt, about 1 tsp. You will have about 1 1/2 cups dressing.

Mix dressing with shrimp mixture. Cover with plastic wrap directly on surface of shrimp and refrigerate. When ready to serve, transfer to serving bowl and decorate with cilantro sprigs. Makes about 4 cups.

Note:This is best when eaten within an hour or two of being made. Keep refrigerated until just before serving.







Monday, March 14, 2011

Curried Chicken Salad

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Although this recipe is from Ina Garten, it is one we used to enjoy in the 80's and one I have been looking for since forever!  I don't know if it is exactly the same, but I remember the original had chutney as an ingredient as well as raisins.  A definite favorite of the Ladies Who Lunch!

I adore curry in chicken salad and everything else but unfortunately my daughter doesn't, so I have to be careful to serve it when she is away.  The problem started at the office, an Internet advertising group, where the back office is made up mostly of Indian techies who heat up their lunch in the same microwave as everyone else.  Thus, macaroni and cheese, pizzas and anything else that is heated have a strong flavor of curry, cumin and the like.  I've told them to get another microwave but to no avail.  Thus, curry and Indian food have been banned from this house, at least until she gets another job or they get another group of techies, both highly unlikely.

If I have chicken salad planned for a lunch, what I usually do is make a big roasted chicken the night before.  Anything to cut back on extra work and a great use of leftovers.

Yield:  6 servings

Ingredients

•3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on

•Olive oil

•Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

•1 1/2 cups good mayonnaise (recommended: Hellman's)

•1/3 cup dry white wine

•1/4 cup chutney (recommended: Major Grey's)

•3 tablespoons curry powder

•1 cup medium-diced celery (2 large stalks)

•1/4 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (2 scallions)

•1/4 cup raisins

•1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews*

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and dice the chicken into large bite-size pieces.

For the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until smooth. ( I don't use a food processor, but mix by hand)

Combine the chicken with enough dressing to moisten well. Add the celery, scallions, and raisins, and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Add the cashews and serve at room temperature.

*I think the original recipe had slivered almonds, a good substitution.


Photo: Food Newtwork





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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shirred Eggs with Cream And Smoked Salmon - Oeuf Cocotte A la Creme Et Au Saumon

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This is the perfect egg dish for a lazy Sunday afternoon.  No fuss, no mess and delish!

I prefer Norwegian salmon since it has less salt, but Scottish is fine also.


For 4 servings


Ingredients

- 4 large slices of Norwegian smoked salmon

- 8 eggs

- 200 ml (3/4 cup) cream

- 15 g (1 Tbsp.) butter

- 1 TB finely chopped chives

- 1 red pepper

- 1 green pepper

- salt and pepper


Directions

1.Line each individual ramekin with one large slice of smoked salmon, or two smaller slices laid crosswise.

2.Seed and finely dice the peppers and sauté them in butter for 2 minutes.

3.Preheat the oven to180° C (350° F).

4.Wash and drain the chives and dry in a cloth. Chop finely and mix into the cream.

5.Divide the cream among the ramekins, season with pepper and break 2 eggs into each ramekin. Sprinkle on the diced peppers and season with ground pepper. Salt lightly because the smoked salmon is already salted.

6.Fold the ends of the smoked salmon over the eggs.

7.Place the ramekins, uncovered, on a rack in the center of the oven and cook for about 10 minutes or until the whites are set and the yolks still runny.

8.Serve the eggs in the ramekins with toast fingers.


From Saveurs du Monde

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Garden Tour Lunch...Shrimp, Crabmeat and Artichoke Casserole

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Although it's been quite chilly this week here in North Georgia, the daffodils, the forsythias and the cherry trees are already in bloom.  Time to start thinking of getting out of the cave and joining civilization again!

Spring is the nicest time of the year to plan some sort of gathering, particularly if you have a beautiful garden in bloom. Although the nights are still cool, days are warm and perfect for an outdoor lunch with your friends, some of whom you haven't probably seen since Christmas.  All over the South, there are all kinds of house and garden tours and it's fun to gather a group of close friends to go and return to the house afterwards for lunch and some catching up on the latest gossip.  Whatever you make, though, has to be ready to eat on arrival so plan things that can be served room temperature, cold, or require a brief warming in the oven.

This casserole is perfect.  It comes from Susan Mason, the premier caterer of Savannah, Georgia, legendary for its garden tours in the Spring.  Warm it up while you are having drinks on the porch.

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

1 14 ounce can artichokes, drained
1 lbs medium shrimp, peeled, deveined with tails removed
1 lbs white backfin crabmeat, picked over for shells
4 1/2 TB butter
4 1/2 TB flour
1 1/2 Cup half and half
1 TB Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and white pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. paprika

White rice to accompany

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 and butter a 3 quart baking dish.

Cook shrimp in boiling water for about 3 minutes, until they turn pink.

Arrange the artichokes in the baking dish.  Spread shrimp and crabmeat over the artichokes.

In a large heavy saucepan melt butter and whisk in flour to a smooth paste.  Cook and stir for 3 minutes.  Add half and half slowly and stir until thickened and smooth.  Add Worcestershire sauce, sherry, lemon juice, salt, and peppers.  Pour over ingredients in the baking dish.  Sprinkle with cheese and paprika. 

Bake for 20 minutes and serve hot with rice

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chorizo, Mushroom, and Cheese Pizza

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I have never been a pizza lover until I moved to our house on the lake.  The idea of a greasy, cheesy, rubbery piece of dough with mediocre tomato sauce on top has never wet my appetite, that is, until I discovered two things.  One was the ready made pizza dough in the bakery department of the local Publix store and the other the Emile Henri pizza stone which I featured as a Christmas gift a couple of moths ago.

Emile Henry Flame Top Pizza Stone, Black


Eating a home baked pizza is unlike anything you have tasted before.  For one thing, you are in control of the ingredients and secondly, it is a lot cheaper.  Here innovation  and creativity is the name of the game.  Open your refrigerator and see what you have left over that needs to get put to use and go from there.  Mozzarella is a good standby but any of the cheeses I mentioned below are a good alternative.  Chorizo, ham, tiny meatballs, pancetta, bacon, chicken are great meats and as to vegetables. the sky's the limit.  Don't limit yourself to what you think is an adequate pizza ingredient.

The recipe below is an adaptation from no other than Jacques Pepin who makes pizza often for lunch or slices them for hors d'oeuvre.  There is always pizza dough in his freezer in case of unannounced guests.

I have made quite a few since I got my stone and have gotten quite good at it.  I even gave one to my son for his birthday just so we could compare strategies. This was the last one I made and it was a masterpiece!



It will take you a couple of times to get the dough to your liking.  The longer you leave it on the pan resting after it has cooked, the crispier your pizza will be.  Make sure the stone is preheated at 400 degrees for at least an hour and also take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it rise for and hour or two before filling and baking.  Punch it hard to get rid of the bubbles and work it with your hands around the edges, letting it drop and working quickly.  Put it on top of a lightly floured counter and roll it as thin as you want with a rolling pin.

Make sure you have all the ingredients ready to go before you take the stone out of the oven.  Work quickly when you add the ingredients so the stone doesn't get cold.

If I can make a great pizza, so can you.  It might take you a couple of times but you will be so glad you did!


4 servings

Ingredients

•1 ready-made 12-inch pizza crust

•2 tablespoons good olive oil

•2/3 cup sliced onion

•1 cup coarsely chopped (1/4-inch) chorizo sausage

•2/3 cup coarsely chopped white mushrooms (4–5 mushrooms)

•1 cup thinly sliced green bell pepper strips (or sliced tomatoes which is what I used)

•2 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic

•1/4 teaspoon salt

•1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

•About 1 1/2 cups sliced cheese, such as St. Albray, fontina, Camembert, mozzarella, Beaufort, or a mixture of these.  You can also use goat cheese!

Directions

Preheat the oven (and the stone if using) to 400 degrees. Brush the bottom of the pizza crust with a little of the oil. Place the crust on a cookie sheet (or stone), sprinkle the onion on top, and evenly distribute the chorizo, mushrooms, bell pepper (or tomatoes), and sliced garlic on the crust. I also added fresh basil.  Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and top with the cheese. Sprinkle on the remaining oil.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until well browned and crisp. Cut into wedges and serve.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Brunch Aboard The Concorde

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"Never has such a beautiful object been designed and built by man," Air France's chairman, Jean-Cyril Spinetta

Before the private jet there was another symbol of luxury travel called The Concorde.

For nearly three decades, the Concorde delivered rock stars, models and other members of the limousine fraternity across the Atlantic for a round-trip price of $13,500. It was clubby: Madonna flew it. So did Tyler Brûlé, and Heidi Klum. It was not unusual for passengers to visit the cockpit with glasses of champagne.


The cockpit

Flying at an average speed of Mach 2.02 (1,330 mph), it cut the flight time from Europe to New York and Washington by more than half (it’s record time: 2 hours, 52 minutes).

For a certain kind of passenger it marked the high tide of high-tech travel luxury. For the rest, it was the first in a series of technologies that would shrink the world.   For the first time it was possible to breakfast on croissants in the 16th arrondissements and catch lunch on Madison Avenue the same day, thanks in part to the time difference. Not only that, it meant avoiding fatigue and the nemesis of frequent business travellers, jet lag.

There were two components that made the Concorde look timelessly cool .  One was the delta wing, in the shape of a triangle, developed in Germany during WWII. It was much stronger than a conventional swept wing and made room for fuel and other storage. Most importantly, it stayed behind the supersonic shock wave precipitated by the long narrow aircraft nose, which hydraulically lowered itself, or "drooped," so that pilots could have an unobstructed view for landing and takeoff.





The second characteristic was the needle shaped nose to assure maximum air penetration. In order to provide clear visibility to the crew, the nose was mobile and could be lowered for takeoffs and landings.  It had also a retractable visor which maintained the aerodynamic profile of the aircraft in flight and also protected the windshield.

The Concorde’s fuselage flexed more than conventional jets, and as a result the pilots could see the floor bend as they looked back through the length of cabin. The cruising altitude of 60,000 feet exposed passengers to almost twice as much solar radiation as a normal flight, and for this reason the pilots had a radiometer. If they detected unusually high readings they descended below 47,000 feet.

The fuel transfer gravity system was another high tech characteristic of the Concorde.  This allowed for fuel to be transferred from forward tanks to trim tanks in the rear of the fuselage during the changeover from subsonic to supersonic flight.





For years, and like everyone else on Kennedy Airport's Terminal One, I watched the Concorde taxi down the runway around 9:45 a.m. prior to boarding my flight to London,  something I did quite often in those days.  It was a ritual to behold.  I am surprised the terminal didn't sink with the weight of all those people shifting to the windows to see it take off.  Once it flexed it's muscle and accelerated down the runway, the whole airport shook.  It was quite a show.

Then in 1997 my first chance came.  How would I like to accompany a client to Paris for a quick business meeting and a shopping spree? And since money was no object to said client, we would leave on Air France's Concorde!




Christy Brinkley boards last Concorde flight in May 2003
 
Oh my heavens, what to wear! In those days dressing cool was a pair of couture jeans, an expensive white long sleeved shirt, a very expensive blue blazer and an extremely expensive pair of Tod's or Gucci loafers.  Check!  An Hermes handbag was the rigueur...check! I had a great fake in the right color recently purchased  in Hong Kong! Oh, and don't forget the Hermes scarf! check.  Patek Phillipe gold watch, check. Gold Cartier bracelet, double check.  Pearl studs....All set!




Arriving at the airport you checked in at a special post and were directed to a special lounge just for Concorde passengers.  All I did was check everyone's handbags and shoes so I could get ideas before shopping in Paris.  This didn' t look like an airport lounge... I might as well have been at the Hermes boutique on the Rue St Honore!


The Hermes Concorde Lounge

Once aboard, I was surprised at the narrowness of the cabin and the simplicity of the whole thing.  The seats were like the ones on a Porsche, kind of bucket seats, nice leather and very comfortable, but nothing like the plushness of the ones found on first class.  The only disappointment, was the token celebrity in flight, Marvin Hamlisch, the composer.  I was really looking forward to someone of more stature, if you know what I mean. Everyone else looked quite normal.


Inside the cabin


I don't remember too many things for the flight was only a little over three hours.  I remember the taxing down the runway and thinking of all the poor people watching us from the terminal like I had done so many times, and I remember the noise as it took off.  As a matter of fact, I remember how noisy the flight was all the way to Paris.  It was quieter in the back so we moved half way into the flight.  Above all else, I remember when we broke the sound barrier.  A little push back and then zoom!  And, of course, I would remember the scrambled eggs and truffles!



Brunch is being served!



The bathrooms


A year later I took the Concorde back from London, this time courtesy of an upgrade from British Airways.  No big deal, by this time I was a seasoned Concorde traveller!  The food was not as good as in Air France, but the service much better.  Any surprises there?


Lindaraxa breaks the sound barrier!


Unfortunately, after the fatal crash in Paris and September 11, the Concorde was retired in 2003.  For those of us privileged to have flown it, it is a memory none of us will ever forget.


Takeoff...get out the earplugs!









Images courtesy of Google, Life Magazine and Lindaraxa

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thai Lemon Shrimp In A Sweet Chili Sauce

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This Thai Lemon Shrimp recipe (Goong Maa Now) features the flavors of lemon and sweet chili, one of my favorite combinations.  It is the perfect mid week recipe, easy and quick. The worst part is peeling the shrimp.  Grab a drink and turn on the news.  Before you know it, they are peeled!

Once the shrimp are shelled,  this baby is ready in 20 minutes and that includes marinading time.

If this is your first time cooking Thai, don't be afraid to go out and get some new ingredients.  Believe me, after you see how easy Asian recipes are to prepare, you will be making them more often.  I keep all my Asian sauces together in a basket in the garage where they are cool and out of the way but accessible when I need them.

Enjoy! 

SERVES 2-4 as an Entree


Ingredients


•15-18 raw large or jumbo shrimp/prawns (about 3/4 to 1 lb.)

•1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce (available at Asian food stores and some regular grocery stores)

•2 Tbsp. lemon juice

•3 kaffir lime leaves (available at Asian food stores), or substitute 1 tsp. grated lime zest

•1/4 to 1/2 tsp. or more cayenne pepper (according to how spicy you want it)

•1 Tbsp. fish sauce (available at grocery store)

•3 cloves garlic, minced

•1-2 tsp. palm or brown sugar (to taste)

•1/4 cup fresh coriander, chopped, plus a little more to garnish (cilantro)

•1/4 to 1/3 cup coconut milk

•a little oil for frying


Preparation:


1.Remove shells from the prawns but leave the tails on, if possible (this makes them easier to eat and also more attractive to serve).

2.Place prawns in a mixing bowl. Add the sweet chili sauce, lemon juice, kaffir lime leaves, cayenne pepper, fish sauce, garlic, and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir well to combine.

3.Allow to marinate for 5-10 minutes.

4.Place 1 Tbsp. oil in a frying pan or wok and set over medium to medium-high heat. Swirl the oil around the surface of the pan, then add the prawns and saute for a minute.  Add the marinade. Also add the coconut milk (up to 1/3 cup depending on how much sauce you want) and chopped cilantro. Stir well.

5.Keep stirring slowly as the dish comes to a simmer. Once the sauce begins to lightly bubble, the prawns will cook fast - in 2-3 minutes. Try not to "boil" this dish - simmer is the key word (medium heat works best).

7.When the sauce is of a consistently reddish color and all the prawns are plump and opaque, the dish is ready. Try not to overcook, or the prawns will turn tough.

8.Remove from heat and do a taste-test for salt, sugar, and spice. This dish should be spicy, tangy, and a little sweet. Add more fish sauce if not salty enough, or 1 more tsp. sugar if you prefer it sweeter. Also add more cayenne if you prefer it spicier. If it's too sweet or too salty for your taste, add another Tbsp. of lemon juice.

9.To serve, simply slide the shrimp and sauce into a serving bowl and top with fresh coriander. If desired, garnish with whole red chilies and lemon slices. This dish goes well with plain jasmine rice or coconut rice!

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