Port Fonda/Maza Azul Collaboration Dinner

Patrick Ryan of Port Fonda and Jonathan Zaragoza of Masa Azul in Chicago recently teamed up to prepare a goat and mezcal dinner at Port Fonda.

And what a dinner it was. Each course was an adventure in itself, made more so because we got a little education about  mezcal.  Beforehand I didn’t even know the difference between mezcal and tequila; now at least I have a working knowledge of mezcal…including the fact that crema de mezcal doesn’t have cream in it!

Here’s the menu:Aguachile

Aguachile– camarones y chicharron, with del maguey vida;

Sopes– goat carnitas, frijoles charros, salsa cacahuate, with del maguey san luis de rio azul;Sopes with goat carnitas

Ensalada Port Fonda– frisee, bacon, fried tripe, poached egg, honey-pasilla dressing, with a mezcal shandy made with Boulevard Tank 7;Mezcal shandyIMG_0589Pork belly with pineapple butter

   Al pastor– pork belly, grilled bread, pineapple butter, with pua lina, del maguey vida;

Birria estilo la barca–roasted goat, ancho mole, tomato consome, tortillas a mano, with a negroni that had been made with del maguey chichicapa;Roasted goat with ancho mole and handmade tortillasMezcal negroni

Ahogada–mexican wedding cookie semifreddo, christopher elbow spiced chocolate, del maguey creama de mezcal;Semifreddo with spiced chocolate and mezcal

The six courses were perfectly sized–not too little, not so much that we waddled out the door at the end of the evening. But that’s not to say I didn’t want seconds of everything! I’d be very happy if all of the dishes found their way on to the Port Fonda menu, especially the pork belly (awesome sauce) and the roasted goat with ancho mole. The semifreddo with Christopher Elbow spiced chocolate would be a good spoon-licking addition, too.

$65 for all six courses and the drink pairings. As much as I love the standard Port Fonda menu, this was a fun change of pace, one which I hope Patrick repeats with another chef and another concept.


Best Dishes of 2013

I love pulling together this annual post. It gives me the opportunity to relive special moments from the past year, most of which revolve around food. Not because of the food itself, though my readers may find that hard to believe, but rather because of who I was with and what occasion we may have been celebrating. All of the photos below were taken when I was dining with friends or family, and in most instances the occasion was simply that we were together. To me, there’s nothing better. Enjoy the holidays and being with the ones you love.

Octopus–Extra Virgin

Tomatoes--my house

Tomatoes with burrata–my house

Roast Chicken–The Nomad in New York City

Beet “sandwich”–Mintwood Place in Washington D.C.

Cauliflower and snake beans at Voltaire

Porchetta—From Dario the butcher in Panzano, Italy

Burger and cottage fries–Rye

Seafood Pasta at La Pineta in Italy

Reuben–Webster House

Fresh pea soup–Bluestem

Corn soup with chiles, clams and seaweed–Novel

Cheeseburger–Husk in Charleston

Brussels Sprouts–Zaytinya in Washington, DC

Bistecca Florentine in Tuscany

Grilled Broccoli with Smokey blue cheese–The Girl and The Goat in Chicago

Chile rellenos–Port Fonda


Broccoli Rabe with Cavatelli and Harissa

Pasta doesn’t have to be bad for you.  There are plenty of recipes that don’t include cream or meat, and if you buy wheat or rice pasta instead of one made with white flour, you can partake without guilt.

A new pasta dish I just discovered is for veggie lovers, and those who enjoy spice. Using both harissa and smoked paprika, it’s packed with flavor and quite easy to pull together. This particular recipe does call for cheese, but if you use it in moderation, it’s still going to be a lighter dish than those rich holiday meals which we all indulge in at this time of year!

Here’s the recipe from Food & Wine, let me know what you think!

Broccoli rabe in the sauce after roasting

1 1/4 pounds broccoli rabe, ends trimmed

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Freshly ground pepper

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 Fresno or jalapeño chile, seeded and thinly sliced

2 teaspoons harissa

1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

1 pound cavatelli (or other short shape)

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

1/2 cup packed mint leaves, chopped

1/2 cup packed parsley leaves, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In a bowl, toss the broccoli rabe with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the broccoli rabe on 2 baking sheets and roast for 15 minutes, until crisp-tender, then chop.
  2. In a deep skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic, chile and harissa and cook over moderate heat, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and smoked paprika and cook until tender, 2 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta, cooking water and 1/4 cup of Parmigiano to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the pasta is coated in a thick sauce, 2 minutes. Stir in the herbs and serve with more cheese.Orchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and harissa

Pecan, Caramel and Fudge Pie

Are you panicked that you don’t have time to make a Thanksgiving dessert? Help is on the way in the form of one of the easiest pies you will ever make. All you need are some chocolate wafer cookies, pecans, chocolate, and a few other ingredients like whipping cream and corn syrup. You can make the whole dessert in 30 minutes and it might be the dish that gets the most compliments on Thanksgiving. Chocolate wafer crust

The recipe calls for a 9 inch pie pan, and you can see from the pictures that mine, at 10 inches, was too large. Using an 8 x8 square pan and cutting the “pie” into bars is another option. Just improvise; it’s hard to mess this up!IMG_0166Adding chocolate to the pecan mixtureIMG_0171



Despite recent pieces in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Chef Alex Pope is not about to rest on his laurels. Last month he rolled out a new food truck called Pigwich, that will be permanently parked behind his Local Pig butcher shop. Located in a secluded part of the East Bottoms, you would not think this is a hot destination…but you would be wrong.Pigwich

Since opening a year ago, the Local Pig has attracted carnivores in droves; it’s rare for there not to be a line to buy cuts of beef, pork, duck, rabbit, lamb or chicken, as well as eggs, a wide range of homemade sausages, and even tamales. All meats are hormone, steroid and antibiotic free, the quality of which is reflected in every bite. Purchases are attractively boxed and come with cooking instructions if requested.P1010205

Now Pope has parlayed this success into a sandwich shop on wheels (or a pedestal to be more precise), putting his mouth-watering products between slices of fabulous bread in innovative and delicious ways. Staples on the menu include a double cheeseburger (the truffle aioli kills it), cheesesteak, a Banh Mi with Thai meatballs, and even falafel for non-meat eaters. Daily specials run the gamut from a pastrami reuben and porchetta to a cuban sandwich.P1010208P1010207P1010209

Courtyard seating is available for those who can’t wait to dig into one of Pope’s luxurious creations, or who just want to enjoy some fresh air before hightailing it back to the office.
Pigwich on Urbanspoon

Greek Salad

A Greek salad would go beautifully with chicken, beef or fish, and features ingredients that are plentiful in farmers’ markets around the area. Not only is it still peak tomato season, but cucumbers are available by the bushel as well.

Greek salad

Most greek salads don’t call for any lettuce, but my sister made one last month with a touch of arugula, giving it a bit more heft and adding a nice bite.Greek salad

I don’t follow a recipe but a traditional Greek salad has chopped cucumbers, tomatoes (if you find cherry tomatoes, halving them is best), Kalamata olives, sliced or diced red onion, chunks of red, orange and green peppers (the more colors the more visually appealing), and feta. If you’re feeling adventurous you could add roasted red pepper (mild or piquillo), quartered artichoke hearts and fresh oregano. (In the picture you can see I skipped the peppers, but only because I was long on tomatoes and cukes.)

This dressing is from Bobby Flay. Just whisk the ingredients together or throw everything into a jar and shake vigorously. Pour over the vegetables, and arugula if desired, toss and serve.

For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your chef’s knife
1 teaspoon dried or fresh oregano
3 pinches salt
10 to 15 grinds black pepper

The Butcher of Panzano

If you are in Tuscany, make whatever detour necessary to get to Panzano. A tiny town in the middle of Chianti, it’s home to a world-renowned butcher–Dario Cecchini.Dario, the butcher of Panzano

Dario ought to be in the movies. He’s a huge presence; full of charisma and warmth, holding court as he does from behind the counter. Walking into the shop, a staff member immediately greets customers and offers up a glass of house Chianti. He then points to a long table laden with a lovely spread of antipasto–cheese, lardo on toast, salami and fettunata (grilled bread drenched in olive oil.) It may have been 10 am when we visited, but we happily sampled their offerings.P1010554Porchetta with red pepper jam--Panzano

I had read quite a bit about Dario before our trip. He’s been featured in several national magazines and the New York Times. He’d also participated in a special dinner at Michael Smith a few years ago, and Michael suggested I look him up and use his name. The minute I mentioned Michael’s name, Dario broke out into a huge grin and yelled that his wife should come out to say hello. He urged us to eat, eat, eat, and quickly cut up some chunks of the most gorgeous porchetta I’ve ever seen. He spooned some red pepper jam onto a plate, stuck toothpicks in the bite-sized pieces of pork and gestured to us to please sample it. It tasted as good as it looked, which isn’t always the case with porchetta. This was moist, tender, meaty and, except for the outer ring, not at all fatty. The jam, which I’d had before because my nephew brought me a jar after visiting Dario a couple of years ago, was the perfect condiment.

We bought a hunk of porchetta to take back to our rental house and, of course, a jar of that pepper jam. Dario asked us to stay for lunch at his restaurant next door, but since it’s an all meat affair (he does run a butcher shop after all) and we had too many non-meat eaters in the group, we regretfully declined. It undoubtedly would have been a lively experience and I’m sorry we didn’t stay no matter the fare.Dario's butcher shop--Panzano

There are actually two butchers in Panzano. The other one is in the old section of town, but ask anyone for Dario’s shop and they can direct you to his doorstep. It’s one of those memorable experiences you won’t want to miss.