Friday, January 18, 2013

Proper Proportions, Please

As I sit here and enjoy a Bombay Sapphire East martini I am thinking of the currently outdated concept of the ‘Three Martini Lunch’.  This was something that was in vogue for a long time but fell out of favor in the 1970’s and is pretty much unheard of today.  The idea was that business lunches between executives would be leisurely affairs that would take the better part of an afternoon while consuming at least three martinis.  This time would allow deals to be made while executives could have indulgent lunches they could write off as business expenses.  

My question is how could any person, let alone a business executive, have three martinis and still function in a professional manner.  One answer is maybe they didn’t act in a professional manner.  However, I think the answer may lie in a different direction.  

I have quite a large collection of martini glasses.  Most of them are similar to what you might find in any bar or store.  They are big.  We’re talking glasses that hold about 6 -8 oz of martini.  Mind you, a martini is pure booze.  No mixer, no juice, no ice in that glass.  Just booze.  Three martinis at 6 - 8 oz each is a pretty hefty haul of alcohol.  You have a tiny bit of lower proof vermouth and then the rest is all high octane alcohol - I’m not talking about frou frou martinis here, by the way, I’m talking about a real martini.    If you’re drinking a traditional gin martini, you’re most likely looking at 96 proof.  Over 20 ounces of 96 proof alcohol over the course of a lunch, even a leisurely lunch, and you’re going to be feeling no pain.  

And that is where the modern martini glass and idea of portion control comes in.  I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I’m pretty sure the martini glasses in days of yore were not the behemoths they are today.  They are probably more similar to what I am drinking my martinis out of tonight - a glass that comfortably holds about 3 - 4 oz of cocktail.  There are several positives to having this size of a glass.   One is that the drink is small enough that it should stay cold and not get all warm and room temperature on you by the time you are swilling the last drops.   Secondly, you can have two martinis and still function in a somewhat responsible manner.   I have always believed that two martinis is just about right - it means relaxing and unwinding, either after a hard day or before a good meal.  Three or more martinis means you just want to get really drunk - not that there is anything wrong with that.  Just sayin’.

People tend eat whatever is on their plate.  The brain is hardwired to finish the meal.  That is why portion control helps in weight loss.  Big plates, big bellies.  Small plates, healthy people.  I think the same applies to cocktails.  Can I have three 4 oz martinis and feel as satisfied as if I had three 8 oz martinis?  I think so.   

So what’s the motto of this story?  In the words of the immortal Steve Martin - Let’s Get Small.  Keep the drinks reasonably sized and cold.  You’ll feel better in the morning.  And if you really, really want to get shit-faced, just make twice as many.  


Monday, January 14, 2013

When God Give You Lemons, Enjoy!

Things have been quiet here in The Brown Kitchen lately.  Between post holiday recuperation and a busy travel schedule for hockey this month there hasn’t been any entertaining, or kitchen dancing, going on.  Things will get cranking back up here in the next few months but in the meantime here’s a simple dish I love making that you may want to try - Lemon Puttanesca.  

I love pasta and I love simple sauces, the kind I can make while the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking.  Puttanesca fits the bill perfectly.  Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (which translate’s as ‘Whore’s Spaghetti’) is an earthy, salty dish that is hearty and easy to make.  It’s made with olives, capers, anchovies and crushed tomatoes.  Here’s a recipe if you want to try it the traditional way (which I whole heartedly encourage you to do) - 

While I have made puttanesca many times and love it for it’s taste and simplicity, I often make it with lemons instead of tomatoes.  I’m crazy about lemons and will use any excuse I can to cook with them.  I love the bright flavor and acidity they bring to dishes.  I also use linguine or fettucine instead of spaghetti.  Pasta is all about texture and shape.  I’ve never been a big fan of spaghetti, preferring the flatter shape of linguine to the rounder shape of spaghetti, but use whatever pasta you prefer!


While you’re water is boiling and cooking pour yourself a glass of wine and make the sauce - 
Saute chopped or crushed garlic and some crushed red pepper in some good olive oil.  In the meantime drain some capers and chop up some kalamata olives - you can use other types of black olives if you want, I just prefer the taste and saltiness of the kalamatas.  Once the oil gets hot and the garlic starts to simmer add some flat anchovy fillets.  You want to add them well before the garlic gets going good - the key is to have them break up and dissolve in the hot oil, but you want them to do so before the garlic would burn.  Once the garlic is going good and the anchovies are dissolving add the capers and chopped olives.  Let this go for a bit.  Normally you would season here but with this dish I don’t - between the anchovies, capers and olives there are so many salty ingredients I often don’t add any salt at all.  If I do it’s at the very end.  Once everything in the pan is cooking away nicely add some fresh squeezed lemon juice and a splash of dry white wine (which you hopefully are already enjoying as you stand at the stove cooking).  You also want to take some of the lemon and grate lemon zest from the rind into the dish.  Let this bubble away and simmer down as the pasta finishes cooking.  When the pasta is done drain it, pour the sauce over, add some freshly chopped basil, season if needed and serve with lots of freshly grated cheese and some good crusty bread.  Wash it all down with the dry white wine you have been drinking - I prefer a sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio.


PS - Forgive me if I don’t give you any measurements of how much of each ingredient to add.  I don’t ever measure when cooking unless absolutely necessary.  I almost never make a dish exactly the same way twice as a result, but I find it’s more fun to go with the flow and wing it each time, maybe change things up as the feeling strikes me during the cooking process.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Best Laid Plans

The best laid schemes of mice and men often go astray.  
That’s a translation of the opening lines of the Robert Burns poem ‘To A Mouse’.  
Unfortunately, the best laid plans to bring in the 2013 along with ‘the crew’ here at La Cucina Castano were waylaid by a nasty little stomach virus that swept through our household and caused us to cancel the New Year’s Eve festivities last night.  Therefore I cannot regale you with tales of food, cocktails and kitchen dancing on this first day of January.  
But while 2013 didn’t get off to the start we had hoped for, there will be plenty of good times ahead in the coming year, which will be documented here on these pages so check back often.  
Have a healthy and happy new year and try to follow these simples rules:
Always eat and drink well
Sing like no one is listening
Dance like no one is watching
Life is too short, enjoy it while you can.