Shaved asparagus, fava beans, grana padano and mint salad

Shaved asparagus, favas, mint, dry jack

A year ago, I traveled to New York with my mother, who was nominated for a Louie award for one of her cards at the annual Greeting Card Association powwow. She didn't win, alas, but it was an honor nevertheless, and it afforded me the opportunity to socialize with a few of my favorite folks in the city that I love perhaps second only to my home in San Francisco. While nearly every meal I ate was in the company of others, I had one solo meal at the bar at Boqueria, where I had a charming salad of snap peas, shaved radish, chevre and mint, which I promptly ripped off. 

In that post, I implored readers to take a light hand with seasoning, so as not to overwhelm the delicate fresh spring flavor of the snap peas. I suggested they savor the peaness. A few of my cohorts on Twitter took the joke and ran with it, and the hashtag #peaness still manages to rear its, uh, head from time to time. It's a joke that never, EVER gets old. Now, I've taken it to the next logical step and fashioned some #peaness men's underwear. (They then made a cameo in an auto-populated CafePress ad, heh.) They may not be quite worthy of the runway, but surely they make a charmingly cheeky gift.  

Earlier this month I had the cause to return to New York. DPaul had to go for business, and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to take advantage of a free hotel room and subsidized meals. Again, I was able to schmooze with a number of my favorite peeps — but since having launched Punk Domestics last July, I've acquired a few new chums with whom I was able to break bread. I met with Sean Sullivan, who aside from penning the delightfully quirky blog Spectacularly Delicious (a regular contributor to Punk Domestics with his unusual jams and other concoctions), is also associate publisher at House Beautiful. Sean toured me through the very impressive Hearst Tower, including the impressive Good Housekeeping test labs. Truly, I was awe-struck. 

(In case you haven't heard me blather on about it enough already, Punk Domestics is a community and content aggregation site for the DIY food set — you know, those of us who like to make jams and pickles, and can them, or maybe cure meat in a year-long challenge, or brew our own beer. Are you a DIY devotee? Come check us out!)  

Since my visits to New York are infrequent and brief, I try to do some strategic eating (and drinking) while I'm in town. This does not necessarily mean I built a rigid schedule of reservations; in fact many of our best meals were spontaneous. Rather it meant having a mental checklist of places to hit, and ticking them off when and as appropriate. Some highlights: 

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Chicken Scallopine

Chicken scallopine

In observation of Mother’s Day, here’s a little something from the archives. Perhaps it’s time to bottle and sell my mother’s magic seasoning? 

Emeril has his Essence™. Paul Prudhomme has his Magic™. My mother, too, has her own special seasoning. It’s called Saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano™.

It’s always the same four ingredients — salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano — recited in the same run-on order, in more or less the same proportions, measured in the palm of the hand, and it works for everything. Sauce? Brown the meat, cook the garlic, add tomatoes and saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano. Salad dressing? Olive oil, red wine vinegar and saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano.

But here’s the thing: Each of these things ends up tasting distinct and different. Perhaps there’s a little Magic in my mother’s seasoning after all.

A greater mystery, perhaps, is understanding why and how the dish called scallopine in my family in no way resembles scallopine as it is served in Italy or anywhere else on the globe. Traditional scallopine is a thin cutlet of meat, usually veal but sometimes chicken, dredged in flour, pan-fried and served with peperonata or some kind of sauce like piccata. In my family, it’s cubes of meat, browned and then stewed in tomato puree with sautéed peppers and peas (and, of course, saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano).

What I do know is that it is good, and absolutely must be eaten with a piece or two of good, crusty Italian bread. I have yet to find a bread out here that resembles what was generically referred to as Italian bread in my hometown of Schenectady. It always had a flaky, crisp crust and a light, fluffy crumb. Out here on the west coast, there’s a propensity for hardier, more rustic breads. A ciabatta or pugliese will do, but the fluffier the crumb, the better for sopping up all that good stew.

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Duck prosciutto: Charcutepalooza month one

Duck prosciutto

After last year's relatively easily-gotten success making guanciale, I've been fairly obsessed with the idea of dabbling deeper into charcuterie. I mean, if it's as easy as salting, hanging and waiting, what's not to love? And so, as the winter cool descended upon us, I began to fantasize about setting up a more serious curing chamber in our basement, looking at different options, developing madcap ideas about how to hack something together that would serve the purpose. 

And then, Cathy Barrow from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen and Kim Foster of The Yummy Mummy hatched a genius plan: Charcutepalooza! A charcuterie project for each month during the year 2011, all inspired by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's book "Charcuterie." It was like a sign from the heavens, a booming voice in my ear encouraging me to embrace the art of curing meat. And it was good. 

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Hoshigaki, realized

They said it couldn't be done. Or maybe they said it shouldn't be done. Perhaps they said they had never done it. Whatever they said and whoever they are, I did it.  Several weeks ago, I hung several peeled hachiya…

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Island eats: St. Maarten

Simpson Bay

Despite being a reasonably well-traveled person, I'd never see so much as one Caribbean island. The siren song of sun, sable sand and sea breezes doesn't hold the same sway over me as some others, and so I've more often channeled my wanderlust toward more urban — and food-driven — destinations. But then I found myself in possession of a timeshare in St. Maarten, the final detail to shake out of my father's estate. When the universe hands you a ticket, you take it. 

The timeshare is in the sprawling Pelican resort in Simpson Bay, the largest resort on the island. It's a simple one-bedroom affair, but we upgraded to a suite in the newer Pelican Marina Residences so our friends Nick and Russ could join us. Bonus prize: All the rooms are waterfront. That's our view, above.  Not shown: Pelicans and terns diving for fish immediately in front, and frigatebirds swooping overhead. Oh, and airplanes. That's the airport across the bay. 

For the unitiated, St. Martin/Sint Maarten is unique among the West Indies in that it is occupied by two countries: St. Martin is an overseas collectivity of France, and Sint Maarten is one of the Netherlands Antilles. There's no real crossing between the sides, just a border market with flags and a marked change in road quality. The roads on the Dutch side are alarming even by San Francisco standards. There are spots where there isn't anything but potholes. 

We'd been repeatedly told that there was no good food on the Dutch side. I am here to tell you that is a lie. In a structure literally surrounded by, but not technically part of, Pelican are two small restaurants. On the ground floor is a  more-than-serviceable French bakery and patisserie called, unimaginitively, Bon Appetit, whose croque monsieurs became a mainstay of Russ's diet. But the real attraction here is upstairs, the humble little Alexander's. At the top of the stairs, you walk through a kitchen devoid of character but full of good aromas, out onto the open-air patio dining area that maybe seats maybe 20. Alexander's serves authentic, home-style island food. My one lunch there netted a chicken curry that was fragrant and delicious, but breakfast is where it's at, especially for a real West Indies delicacy, salt fish and johnny cakes. 

Salt fish and Johnny cakes

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Lambchops with minted cucumber

Somewhat recently, we went in with two other couples and invested in a lamb from Stemple Creek in Marin County. It's a great way to get farm-direct protein from a sustainable, grass-fed facility. It's also economical; our third of the…

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