Besos Prohibidos

At Miss New York week in 2011, we heard from a couple other families that there was a terrific tapas place right close to the St. George Theater in Staten Island, where the pageant is held. We are notoriously short on time for leisurely dinners while we’re down there, because we’re chasing around pageant girls at appearances and so forth, so we never made it to the spot to test it out. This year, I knew Big Hungry Jill was joining us for the Friday night preliminary pageant, so we made sure to set aside enough time to find it and enjoy. It’s called Beso Restaurant, and it is absolutely a hidden gem in the forgotten borough.

Let’s not forget that SI is not the spot on which most folks focus when visiting New York City. It’s primarily residential, congested, and there aren’t many tourist attractions. That said, I’m told the ferry ride is the best way to see the Statue of Liberty save for going to Ellis Island. We had intended to ride the ferry ourselves this trip, but parking and traffic conspired against us that day. Once on SI, see a show at the St. George or make your way to the South Beach area, but make sure to grab a meal at Beso.

One charming corner of Beso
The interior of the space is an immediate relief from the exterior, which is on a grimy little side street perpendicular to the main drag of the neighborhood immediately adjacent to the ferry. The theme is, predictably, Spanish, with cozy vignettes here and there, and rustic, wooden tables arranged well in the small space. Over the bar hangs a naked lady print that made me laugh because the first time I ever ate at a tapas joint, my Mom thought I said “topless,” and was shocked I would go there with co-workers.

As one does at a tapas restaurant, we ordered an opening round of drinks and eats and got down to business: caipirinha (yes, I know that’s Barzilian) for me, jalapeno margarita for Jill, and I think Dad had a beer. We loaded up the table for the first time with fried goat cheese, guacamole and chips, and coconut shrimp. But first, some bread and olives were brought out that looked innocuous but tasted like so much more. The olives, in a garlic-laced oil bath, were fantastic – not too salty, intensely garlicky and almost cheesy in their consistency. Tiny cornichons, or sour pickles, in the oil bath also packed a garlic punch and I could have eaten at least three more of these. The oil provided a delicious dipper for the bread, which was a bland backdrop, but hearty in texture.

The queso frito, or fried goat cheese, was a big hit, with murmurs of appreciation all around the table. The little fried balls of creamy, tangy cheese were very lightly battered and served with pickled red onions and a honey lemon sauce. The onions were an integral component instead of a simple garnish – they added the acid and snap the rich lusciousness of the cheese demanded.

Mom went nuts over the guacamole, which I thought was OK. It was good, but not extraordinary; I like the lime and cilantro flavors more predominate in mine. The tortilla chips, however, were made in house, which is always a bonus. They were flour, not corn, which was a crunchy, light switch from the norm, and they made a substantial and satisfying base for the creamy guac.

We ordered the coconut shrimp because it’s one of Mom’s favorite things. I wouldn’t normally opt for something like that at a Spanish restaurant, but one must appease the parentals. They were OK, the coconut-studded breading light and not over-sweet. But the standout on this plate was the dipping sauce – a mango mayonnaise that was fatty and provided a heavenly mouth feel to the dish, elevating it, if only slightly, from an Outback Steakhouse-echoing appy.

The next round of food was larger because we were joined by Stan and Deltra, who are loyal and vital members of our pageant board. Our expanded table of six next ordered: ajillo, chorizo with manchego, sashimi tuna with sundried tomato salsa, maduro, sueos, pollo montadito, and bistek cobrales.

Ready for Round Two(seriously, how cute is Jill?)

So, the first time I ever ate tapas was back in 2005, at Jaleo in Bethesda, MD. Thud. Because Jaleo is a Chef Jose Andreas-owned affair, it’s just about the best tapas in the country. And it may have ruined me for fully enjoying a lovely meal such as this. I know it ruined me for the garlic shrimp (ajillo), which at Beso were served in a smoked paprika and sherry sauce that did absolutely nothing for me. At Jaleo, they were terrifically garlicky and buttery. Beso’s version of the Spanish classic just couldn’t live up to those few magical bites I tried way back when.

The sashimi tuna, whose place in traditional Spanish cuisine may be dubious, was much more successful for me. The beautifully rare fish was smothered in a piquant and earthy sundried and fresh tomato and olive relish. I had more than one small serving of this clean dish that still felt indulgent.

My other favorite, and this should be no surprise, was the sueos, which I kept thinking of as bacon pizza. I mean, come on. Was this dish designed for me? Did they know I was coming? Grilled bacon, olive tapenade and manchego cheese, which is the parmesan of Spain, topped a flatbread with a sprinkling of shredded romaine, lightly dressed with a pungent vinaigrette. This combination seemed odd, but hit the palate on all levels: crispy, airy bread, rich, salty bacon and earthy black olives, nutty, mellow cheese, and the acidic tang and fresh crunch of the romaine and pico de gallo salad on top. If you like a little arugula on your prosciutto pizza, you’ll like this stunner.

My Dad’s two top picks are next: grilled skewers of spicy, paprika-laced chorizo sausage with bell peppers, onions and tetilla cheese. Tetilla cheese originates in the Galicia region of Spain – I looked it up so you don’t have to! – and was melted down over each little nugget of sausage. I’m usually a fab of chorizo, but it didn’t sing, for me, in this presentation. The dish needed a dipping sauce or a drizzle of something sweet and spicy; it needed some zing. The bistek cobrales, or beef medallions topped with melted Spanish bleu cheese, were equally simple, though much tastier. The cobrales bleu cheese packed huge flavor and set off all the umami flavor of the tender steak. These slender slices may have been little, but they were mighty.

Last but not least, Mom’s two favs from round two: pollo motadito and maduro. The pollo montadito, chicken medallions pan-fried and served with creamy mushroom sauce and cheese, were a safe bet for a conservative palate. These were savory and earthy, very tasty, but not dramatic. The maduro, a whole plantain stuffed with shredded chicken and chipotle sour cream, was another questionable dish in a traditional Spanish joint – aren’t chipotle and plantain more Meixcan and Peurto Rican than Spanish? – but fine. I wished the plantain, which is the consistency of a banana crossed with a sweet potato, but more savory, had been given a little spice, a little more care. The dish came off a little flat for me. While it was plentiful and satisfactory, I didn’t get much zing from the supposed chipotle, the chicken wasn’t overly well seasoned, and the plantain itself was too mild. It’s all about what you like, though, correct? My Mom liked these two dishes, while the more flavorful choices were my favorites.

When all the dishes had been cleared and we were ready to move on to night two of preliminary competition at Miss New York, I took a poll on everyone’s dinners. The vote put us at an eight on the BHS scale, while my personal opinion was a seven. I thought the service could have been a little more attentive, and that there were definite weak and strong dishes, while others at the table felt it was good all around, and that the warm, festive décor pushed the score higher. No matter the score, this IS a strong contender for great dinners in Staten Island, a corner of the state that’s growing in my esteem due to positive food experiences, even if the traffic makes me crazy.

I think I have one more review in me before I leave for a vacation in Hilton Head, Big Hungries. I can’t tell you how excited I am to get to the beach with my besties from the St. Andrews College days. Meantime, you’ll be glad to know I did survive the Jimmy Buffett extravaganza without any of the following unseemly things happening: vomit, injury, passing out, dying, falling down or being grievously hung over. A good time was had by all, in fact, until a good bit after the show, just as we were finishing up post-Buffett burgers in paradise, when an ornery bicycle cop decided to take his day-long aggressions towards much more intoxicated people out on us, yelling and screaming and beginning Miranda rights in our general direction. But still, we emerged victorious without having to bail any of our party out of jail. Hallelujah. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Fins up, bitches!

PS: I’m almost to 10,000 readers on Blogspot. It’s madness, and it’s wonderful. Thank you so much for reading. I appreciate you, and I hope you have some fun eating around the state and the globe with me. I’m humbled.

Beso on Urbanspoon


Mish Mash

Who doesn’t love a mish-mash in the summer? You might call it a mash-up, a potpourri, a clusterf**k, or any other colorful phraseology (name the musical the word phraseology came from, and I’ll give you a dollar), but what it amounts to in this instance is the fact that I’ve sampled some small eats at a bunch of places recently and don’t have a big, long, full-scale, thought-out, prettied-up review in me right now. What can I say? Miss New York was last weekend, so I’m tired; I’m dealing with some politicos at work this week and I have three news releases in process that came out of nowhere, so I’m addled; and I’ve been off my diet for five days, so I’m puffy. Gimme a break. It doesn’t mean this post won’t make your mouth water, it just means I may not be up for words like “unctuous,” or “bodacious.” Here we go.

You stay up partying hard with young things this pretty all weekend, and tell me if you could write a coherent blog afterwards!

Bandwagon Brew Pub – Ithaca, NY

Back in May, the morning after some enthusiastic imbibing in and around Binghamton, I took Melinda to Ithaca for some pampering at August Moon Spa followed by lunch at Bandwagon Brew Pub. The pub had just begun weekend lunch service, and I had read good things about it online and heard it was a Central NY standout by word of mouth. We were seated in the “grotto” space, which was noisy and sparse, but still warm.

This is pretty spot-on quote, wouldn’t you say?
 As I mentioned, a good time was had by all the previous evening, so ordering food of any sort was a dicey prospect, but we settled on the potato and cheese wontons, because yum, as well as bacon cheeseburgers for the pair of us. As Bandwagon’s website sports a fairly hilarious blog of its own about the inventive burger creations its chef creates for his kitchen staff after hours, I couldn’t pass up this hearty staple. First off, the wontons, which were a hungover girl’s delight and a pretty spectacular way to cheat on my limited carbohydrate diet: super creamy mashed potatoes laced with mild cheddar cheese, crammed into light-but-toothsome wonton wrappers and deep fried. They were lightly salted and peppered as soon as they were out of the oil, which is a clutch move. The dipping sauce alongside was pretty boring. They need to add some bacon, green onions, sriracha and worchestershire sauce to the sour cream and jazz it up.

Boring sauce be damned, I would like a plate of these right now
 Incidentally, in case you’re concentrating on how damaged we were from the eight bottles of wine, sake bombs, plum wine, sparkling sake, and God knows what else we consumed the night before, here is an illustrative view of Melinda after attempting to eat a potato wonton:

She couldn’t even finish one. Thank heavens one of us knows how to rally!
Burger time! I loved it – it was so juicy, it actually squirted all over my hand when I bit into it. Please do not copy and paste that sentence into a non sequitor – I might need to run for office one day. The buns here are terrific and just slightly crunchy on the outside; the bacon is cut so thick, it’s actually hard to get a clean bite. The piece de resistance is the beer mustard, all smoky and pungent and full-on mustard-seedy. Ever since I ate this burger, I’ve been patrolling the international food aisle at Wegmans, contemplating buying the Guinness mustard from Ireland in hopes it can hold a candle to BWB’s mustard.

The mess of fries could have been crispier, for my taste

In the state I was in, just moderately better off than Moaning Myrtle up there, that’s all I could try out at Bandwagon, but I’m comfortable pronouncing this place a pub you should visit. I know I’ll be back to explore the menu a bit more. I’m not sure this spot can diminish my allegiance to its rival Ithaca Ale House, across the Commons, but it seems to be throwing its hat in the ring.

Nhuy Vietnamese Restaurant – Vestal, NY

This is a new little pho spot in a strip mall on the Vestal Parkway, catering mostly I suspect to Binghamton University students. I became obsessed with the elusive soup called pho through Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show No Reservations, which has run many episodes featuring Tony waxing poetic about this beef/noodle/chile concoction. When I heard a pho place had opened in Vestal, I didn’t waste any time scooting into the clean, cheerful, restaurant to try a taste.

Sugar, sriracha and hoisin to amp up your vittles

I ordered my big bowl of pho (pronounced fuh, for those of you who don’t obsessively watch Food Network) with eye round steak, fatty brisket and a meatball. What arrived was a wimpy-looking (but super flavorful) broth with a bit of meat and a lot of silky rice noodles. The complex broth was further jazzed up with the plate of condiments served alongside: thai basil, mung bean sprouts, lime wedges and sliced chiles. The tender brisket was my favorite of the meat trio. It had a nice textural contrast to the rest of the bowl, even though it hadn’t retained much beefy flavor. The meatballs were finely ground and tightly packed, sort of like those tiny little ones that used to come in the Chef Boyardee canned spaghetti, but tastier. The eye round, predictably, was tough and chewy.

The basil and sriracha added much-need depth and fire to the overall works, and the huge portion was satisfying. It wasn’t my favorite soup ever, nor was this, most likely, the best bowl of pho available in a tri-state region, but I liked it. I will be back to Nhuy to try other combos, and I consider this a positive introduction to Vietnamese food.

The surface bubbles kind of freak me out
 South Fin Grill – Staten Island, NY

While at the Miss New York Pageant last weekend, my parents and I had intended to hop the SI Ferry over to Manhattan’s Financial District, get some grub, and see the sights. Instead, stymied by traffic, we ended up at Staten Island’s South Beach, where we had so enjoyed lunch last year. This time, I tried the lobster roll/lobster corn chowder combo Mom had sop cherished last year, and I wasn’t disappointed. Seriously, if you’re ever stranded in Staten Island and looking for an oasis, you’ll find it here. South Fin’s deck setting is idyllic, even in the heart of the forgotten borough. I’ll have another recommendation for SI nearer the ferry next week, but for now, consider this spot and Carol’s Café your best bets on the Island.

The roll is small in stature and supermegahuge in taste
 The best part of the lobster roll is that it tasted completely like lobster and not at all like mayonnaise. The tiny little bun, small enough to fit in my palm, dense and chewy, was absolutely jammed with fresh, barely adorned lobster. The chowder was brothy enough to enjoy in the hot sun, but salty, sweet, and savory enough to linger on the palate. This dish gets two thumbs up, plus a bunch of other phalanges.

That’s about all I have to share from my food world this week, but I also would like to announce what we brought home from Miss New York: two fantastic awards, that’s what! My parents won Volunteers of the Year from the Miss New York Organization for their work as executive director and board member of the Miss Thousand Islands Pageant. In addition, the Miss Thousand Islands Pageant was awarded Best Local Production of 2012. That means, out of all the local pageants in New York, our little dog and pony show at the Clayton Opera House was recognized as the best. I just knew using Akon for opening number was a good idea;)

Award winnERs

Congratulations to my Mom and Dad on their volunteer honors, and thank you to the folks who help us with our production every year: Ann, Brian, Corri, Barry, Heather, Myron, Ticia, Morgan, Allison, Deltra, Stan, Steve, Bill, Audrey, Mary Jo, Leslie, Debbie, Russ, Laurie, et al. Volunteerism is a precious commodity, and we appreciate ours, prize or no prize. Having a shiny trophy just sweetens the deal. I also would like to toss a congrats in here for my girls: Allison, Maggie, Joelle and Sarah. I don’t think any of your read my blog, because you are ungrateful little scamps. BUT, you were all beautiful, talented, poised, gracious, hilarious, tall, skinny, blingy and floaty last weekend when it counted most, and I couldn’t ask for more. Love you!

I feel like summer is in full swing. Do we agree? Good, because I want some corn on the cob. Please comment below and let us know where you’re going for vacation this summer, and if you’ve been to Hilton Head, and where I should eat there. Or where I should eat somewhere in Upstate NY. Or comment to Melinda that she should wake up and get our psychic reservations made for Cooperstown. Or comment that my hair looks dumb like that. Whatever. Just comment! Sometimes my Wednesday afternoons are boring. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

PS: Oh Lord, I almost forgot to tell you that I am going to Boston this weekend with Melinda, Derek, and an assortment of wayward youths from Derek’s St. Bonaventure days to see…wait for it…Jimmy Buffet. You guys, I am 34 years old. I’m fairly certain I might die this weekend. Please offer up a prayer for me to whatever deity you call God, and for his/her/its sake, tell me where we should get brunch in Worcester, Mass on Sunday morning! I am certain I’ll look like Melinda in the above photo by then, but I may need a good bloody mary to get things right.

Bandwagon Brew Pub on Urbanspoon

Nhu Y on Urbanspoon


The Blather: Pavlov’s Blog

The headquarters for my sector of my company is located in Nashua, NH, which requires me to visit that part of the country a fair bit these days. On the occasion of my first visit there, in March, I reviewed one location of a notable chain in the NH dining scene. To prepare for the blog post I new I would write based on that dinner, I started following the chain on Twitter and tweeted that I was eating there that night. A NH-based food blogger picked up on that, read some of my stuff, and we struck up a little friendship via the interwebs. That blogger’s name is Micheal Therieau, author of Pavlov's Blog,  and we’ve been retweeting each other’s blog posts and ruminating on our varied tastes in food and culinary culture ever since. In my second edition of The Blather, I asked Pav five important questions, and he gave up the answers from the darkest recesses of his mind.

1. BHS: How did you become interested in a career in food?

Pav: I like to think of myself as a non-conformist… I’ve been called an A-hole by more than a few, but my mother, who thinks I’m confused, still loves me and The Cat has yet to kill me in my sleep, so all is good. What is the source of all this consternation? Recipes, or should I say lack of recipes…I have some, somewhere….if only I could remember where they are?

I worked in a professional kitchen my junior and senior years in high school, initially as a prep cook and part time on the salad station. There was a guy who worked grill station who had just gotten out of the Marines; he called himself Crash. Crash got out of the Corps and turned into a punk rocker of sorts… complete with a mohawk and dirty Sex Pistols t-shirts. He scared the hell out of me, and I was a squared away in shape guy…anyway I got to work the fry station a couple of times with the crew, and it was like being in concert… we were on center stage and for the first time, I found out a couple of the waitresses actually knew my name! The food and pay were crap, but I learned a lot (then learned later on it was mostly all wrong) and had a lot of fun doing it.

I’m not in food service anymore, but when I was it was thankless, filthy, smelly, repetitious, hot, sweaty, poor pay and at times….maddening. But when you have a good crew of cooks that you respect around you, and you pull off several hundred covers in a night flawlessly…it’s a hell of a rush.

2. BHS: What is your favorite ingredient?

Pav: Butter…lots and lots of butter. I always buy unsalted.

3. BHS: What was a foundational culinary memory from your childhood?

Pav: Incinerating two of my mom’s sauce pans attempting to make the old fashioned cook-and-stir chocolate pudding, and instead of getting upset at me… my mother got out another sauce pan and showed me how to make it. It makes me get all misty just thinking about it to this day! The other would be watching Julia Child on TV with my dad before he’d go into work each day. Without both, I’m sure I wouldn’t care nearly as much as I do now about food.

I have been cooking since I was maybe eight or nine years old and was hanging in the kitchen watching mom cook since I could remember. Mom wasn’t a great meat cook unless you like your meat black and tasting like chimney soot, but she was an absolute natural with nearly everything else. From soups to casseroles and everything else in between she was fairly adept at knowing what went with what.

So from the time I cooked my first dish, I knew food was a very powerful thing. I wanted to do more in the kitchen, but didn’t have the skill set; until one day, I came upon my mother’s unused cookbooks. She only had two, but they were amazing, and I read them from cover to cover several times. Every time I cooked, they gave me the ability to do bring something new to the table.

I must have cooked maybe fifteen or twenty things out of that book and each time, one or two things in that particular dish would not be quite right. I started to buy my own books, and the first one I bought was because of the show I would watch with my father when I was a kid, Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I thought surely this was going to rocket me to stardom in the culinary world….um….yeah…more problems.

4. BHS: What is your favorite restaurant?

Pav: Per Se….insanely good. Best meal I’ve ever had aside from any holiday with my family would have to be The Cedar Tree in Dublin, Ireland. It was super good, super tasty and just a lot of fun.

5. BHS: Death row meal…go!

Pav: A well-made lobster roll, pate de foie gras, steamers and plenty of melted butter, pan-seared scallops and filet mignon cooked medium-rare with a side of fries cooked in duck fat, and for dessert a ton of super-premium French vanilla ice cream and my Aunt Dodie’s blueberry pie.

And then, of course, I asked him for a recipe to share with my Big Hungries. He not only supplied one, but also some narrative, which I will dutifully hand over for you greedy bastards:

I thought maybe cuisine was the issue by the time I moved away from home and spent my Saturdays watching any cooking show I could find. I watched everything from Jeff Smith to Jacques Pepin and everything in between. Still making odd errors, it dawned on me it was obviously not the cuisine’s fault, but rather the awful equipment I was using.

Let’s be honest, if you see an 18 year old boy with a full set of Wusthof knives, Le Creuset enameled cast iron and All-Clad pots and pans…call the police because he’s either taken up thievery, or is being seduced by a cougar with exceptional taste in cookware and little knowledge of college boys’ cooking predilections.

Well as it turns out, it wasn’t equipment either! Over the years my cooking got better, but I’d still cook something once in a while that would make me look sideways. Figuring out how something I had made many times before suddenly went bad one time drove me to fits. This would plague me over the course of my young adult life, until many years later, when I went to culinary school.

Turns out technique and a little knowledge trumps all else, and after culinary school, aside from restaurant work, I never used cookbooks or recipes for much other than inspiration. In school, you start with what a knife is and how to hold it, you buy Harold McGee’s book, “On Food and Cooking- the science and lore of the kitchen,” and read it through several times. At home you can get a copy of Jacques Pepin “La Technique,” and practice knife cuts on some potatoes (do yourself a favor and skip tourné and brunoise cuts unless you’re studying to also become a neurologist).

They don’t teach you how to cook like a cook, they teach you to think like a cook. If you make a hollandaise sauce and it breaks, what went wrong and how do you fix it? Or better yet, what is hollandaise sauce and what are emulsified sauces? What’s the difference between a mousse and a mousseline? You learn how to cook a green bean properly, pan fry a pork chop, and hard boil an egg without making a mess out of them, and then you cook things again and again, and again…until it becomes second nature.

This is what separates a good cook from a bad one in the restaurant industry: mind numbing repetition. Nobody wants a creative genius, but rather a fastidious obsessive compulsive with the I.Q. of a squirrel and creativity of a slug to turn out plate after plate of the chef’s vision of perfection….which is to say, his own, and most certainly not yours.

So culinary school liberated me from cookbooks, or it did for the most part anyway. I can make a goodly number of dishes from memory, and most things I’m trying to figure out are usually in the form of a ratio and easily Googled. I can still find “The Professional Chef 8th Edition,” for a little inspiration from time to time. But a bulk of my cooking is just what looks feels and tastes right when I hit the market daily.

Do what I do and don’t get hung up on recipes so much and it’ll make you a happier, less frustrated cook. As for you aspiring bakers and pâtissier (pastry chefs - which I believe Anthony Bourdain called the brain surgeons of the culinary world) out there, I can’t help you…you need recipes, or at the very least ratios and percentages and something about gut feelings if I remember correctly… whatever it was I forgot because I don’t have what it takes to be either.

Let me give you a recipe that you can make at home and after you make it, your friends, family, your cocker spaniel or whoever it is you’re cooking for… will think this is amazing and only you will know that you barely broke a sweat throwing a few simple things together.

This is Pavlov’s take on “Caldo Verde”

  • 1 onion (preferably sweet, but white or yellow will work as well) diced
  • 1.5 lb. (I use 3lb.) of linguica sausage (chorizo or Anduille can be subbed) and cut into coins or half-moons
  • 1 large bunch of kale taken off the stems, chopped and rinsed
  • 1 lb of Cannellini beans soaked overnight in salted water (or two cans of cooked cannellini or great northern beans, not drained)
  • 32-64 ozs chicken stock…yeah most of you aren’t making that, so two boxes of Kitchen Basics chicken stock
  • 4 Roma tomatoes seeded, peeled, and diced (also known as tomato concassé) then roasted. (or) 1 can of Muir glen diced fire roasted tomato
  • 1 good wedge of manchego cheese or comte or heck, even that evil green can of parmesan flavored foot powder will do fine, seriously any dry tasty well aged cheese will do
  • A crusty loaf of bread of any variety you like… I like sourdough… if you like wonder bread, it’s your picnic so enjoy

1. In a large soup pot or 7 qt. Le Creuset over medium heat, sauté the diced onion and sausage together until the sausage starts to take on a bit of color and releasing that beautiful red fat…yeah I said fat, don’t worry about it…..diet tomorrow

2. Add the kale and let it wilt down for three to four minutes

3. Add the tomato and beans, then add the chicken stock until it just covers the beans (if you long soaked the beans drain them and add them, then enough chicken stock to cover them by a good inch or so and then check later as you may need to add more)

4. When the whole thing comes to a lazy bubble, or barely simmering, turn it down to way low and let it cook a minimum of an hour if you used canned beans or a minimum of three hours if you used soaked beans

5. Grate fresh cheese over (or shake on your cheese green Kraft can guy….it’s ok….I been there!) just before serving and tear off a good hunk of bread for yourself…. Don’t worry, it’s a big loaf….there will be more!

Truth be told I almost always use canned tomato cause it’s more tomatoey, I’ve also used the canned beans and Kitchen Basics or Pacific stock and they were fine….don’t get caught up in the details…. Do what you can, and don’t be bullied into always doing everything from scratch… but give it a shot at least once in a while. It’s an easy recipe to do, and it’s good for warming the place that gives you the inspiration to cook….your soul.

Don’t you love Pav’s easy-peasy stance on cuisine? Skip on over to his blog for a soupcon of culinary counter-culture, some loud-mouth points of view on foie gras and its attendant animal cruelty issues, and lots of other commentary. As for me, I’m off to Staten Island this weekend for a large dose of pageantry and hopefully some tapas and seafood. I’ll be tweeting and Facebooking and all that other good junk, so follow along there. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


Special Edition: I'm a Pageant Girl

I know the fact that I am a long-time volunteer in the Miss America Organization is not actually coming as a big surprise. One of the reasons I started Big Hungry Shelby was that my parents and I were eating in so many fantastic mom-and-pop restaurants while attending local pageants all over the state, and I wanted to promote them.

Well, this week is Miss New York week. For you sports fans, it's like the World Series, except my team makes the championship every year. The added bonus this year is that a very dear friend of mine since high school, Hunt Ethridge, is co-hosting the pageant. So I get to cheer for my girls and catch up with my friend all in one. Our Miss contestants are all arriving in Staten Island today to meet with borough president Molinaro and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, and rehearsals, appearances and preliminary competitions will continue all week. I will obsessively be watching the interwebs for photos and tidbits of info to share over on our Miss Thousand Islands Pageant page on Facebook.

Here are my girls:

Allison Carlos, 20, is Miss Thousand Islands 2012. She lives in Watertown and owns Dance Alley, the best dance shop in town. She just graduated from JCC and plans to attend Syracuse University in the fall to major in communications and rhetorical studies. Her talent at this week's pageant is a contemporary ballet to Elisa's Rock Your Soul. If you like the look of her, you might want to help out in her journey to the Miss New York crown by voting for her as your favorite contestant. The winner of this contest will be guaranteed a spot in the Top 10 at this Saturday's Miss NY Pageant. It's only $1 per vote and very easy to pay through PayPal.
This is Maggie Ackerman, Miss Thousand Islands Outstanding Teen 2012. She is 17, and attends Watertown High School. She is a dancer, an artist, and a tiny wisp of a girl, with a soft voice and a stunning intellect. She could win a substantial scholarship to help continue her education if you vote her as favorite contestant among the teens. Just click here to vote for only $1.  
The two cute little ones in the middle are our Miss Thousand Islands Star Princesses, Sarah Roux and Joelle Leek. This picture is from a fun day last month when they were awarded official Miss America princess crowns for all their hard work for our organization, and had the priviledge of being crowned not only by Allison, but also Miss New York Kaitlin Monte. Sarah is sprightly and silly, and loves American Girl dolls. Joelle is tall and elegant, 12 going on 22. When I asked her recently if she preferred The Beiber or Selena Gomez, she just rolled her eyes at me. There's no voting you can do for them, but if you see them in a parade in the Northcountry this summer, say hi!

I am so proud to volunteer in this organization and have the chance I do to work with young women in our community to increase their self esteem, poise, interview skills, marketing ability and scoial media awareness. OK, yeah, the gowns and crowns are fun, too, but what my parents and I try to drive home is that the crown isn't a prize, it's a committment. I hope you'll get as swept up in the fever of Miss New York week as I do, and cast your vote to support these young ladies.

In other news, the subject of BHS's first The Blather, Gabe Aubertine, applied to be on Food Network's Chopped! How cool is that? One of our own might be on national TV, competing in a show that, if he wins, could allow him his dream of running his own kitchen! This Wednesday on BHS, stay tuned for the second installment of The Blather, in which I bring you a profile of and recipe from a blogging friend of mine who calls New Hampshire home. I can't wait for you to read his thoughts on food and food writing.

I should also probably give you an update on this whole diet thing, which is going smashingly. Following Dr. Gomez's EatRightFitness plan, I have dropped 11.5 lbs since I started in late April. If you're trying to shape up for bikini season, it's not too late! Call Roger, and he can get you on track and on plan. Just be ready to kiss carbs goodbye after 1 p.m., my loves. My hunger is big, my personality is bigger!


Dispatch from New Hampshire: Firefly

I was back up in New Hampshire a few weeks ago for a work conference that I already explained a bit in my diatribe You Say You Want a Revolution? Amid my struggles to stay on my EatRightFitness plan while away for the better part of a week was a bright spot: a meal with a few of my department-mates at Firefly in Manchester. Locals call Manchester Manch-Vegas, which I’m assuming is tongue-in-cheek, as it mirrored Johnson City more than Sin City, to my practiced eye.
But Firefly is pretty cool: a modern American bistro, a diamond in the rough. If you find yourself visiting Manchester for business this summer, or pleasure – it’s pretty close to Boston – it’s a safe bet for a fine meal.

We started with two appetizers, the seared ahi tuna and baked brie. The just-barely-seared tuna was gorgeous; sliced a little thicker than I’m accustomed to or expected, and served with a nice, crunchy seaweed salad. The combo was terrifically zingy and clean-tasting, exactly my favorite flavors of late.

The most in-focus photo I took all night. Did somebody slip me a mickey?
The brie was a bit lackluster for me, if only because the triple-crème cheese itself was so very mild. I think, in all my endeavors to expand my own culinary boundaries, I’ve begun to embrace the funk of cheese with more personality. This was presented beautifully, however, with roasted shallots and apples in addition to crackers to hold all the raspberry-sauce-topped, ooey, gooey cheesy goodness.

As ever, my photography skills are impressive, I know.
 I chose the lamb shank entrée, and was so glad I did, even though I knew the risotto that came with it would be a hard temptation to resist. It was fabulous, redolent with dark, earthy flavors. The red wine-based gravy and root vegetables complimented the bone-in, tender, luscious lamb with its slightly crispy exterior. The broccoli – a lifesaver for me – was cooked perfectly, crisp/tender. The two to three small bites of risotto blew me away. So often, too often, restaurant risottos lack punch and come across gluey and bland. This exception to that rule was very cheesy and full-flavored, and while it had a tight consistency, it wasn’t overly starchy or heavy. A thoroughly successful dish.

Proud to say I managed to eat all of the broccoli and just a small bit of the cheesy risotto

Fortunately, my colleagues were willing to share bites. My boss K ordered something I probably should have gone for: eggplant napoleon with balsamic and spinach. Again, this was a stunner. The eggplant discs were breaded lightly and satisfyingly sweet, and the savory roasted tomatoes, steamed spinach, funky asiago and balsamic drizzle made this vegetarian delight an umami-packed feast.

Check out that badass parmesan frico up on top. Who doesn’t like a fried disc of cheese?

J went with the grilled chicken farfalle pasta dish, which I dismissed right away from the menu because A), Dr. Gomez says No Carbs at Dinner! And B) pesto cream sauce on restaurant menus almost always equals gloppy, gross, dried-herb overload. How wrong I was. I mean, yes, this dish had plenty of carbs, but the sauce? It was made with real pesto! Land sakes alive, Bell Ruth, I think there’s some dag gum fresh basil in that there sauce! There’s also pancetta and artichokes in that there sauce, so yeah, it was pretty tasty.

I’m Big Hungry Shelby. I eat food, and take really horrible photographs of it. Please help me.
Colleague A, who is lovely and always orders seafood, did not disappoint; she chose the pan seared scallops for her entrée. This dish was as lovely as its master, lush with thick-cut quality bacon and just wilted spinach and studded with large, perfectly-cooked scallops. The roasted garlic cream sauce was subtly garlicky and velvety, but not too rich. The steamed jasmine rice served alongside was, in my opinion, utterly superfluous.

Our table graded Firefly a solid, delicious eight on the BHS scale. This place is trendy enough to guarantee a posh ambiance without being so full of hipsters you want to stab yourself in the eye with your fork, and someone who cares about and knows food is working back in the kitchen. I suspect its somewhat modern take on bistro cuisine is somewhat refreshing and unique to the Manch-Vegas scene, which seems as dominated by mom and pop Italian shops and fast casual chains as many of our Upstate NY towns. When and if I’m back at Firefly, I’m eager to try the crispy half duckling and the poor man’s pie, because you know I can’t resist pot pie for long.

Next week, I’ve got more from the woodland state of New Hampshire, in the form of the second installment of The Blather. I promise, this guy’s quite the character, and you’re going to love it, so please check back. Meantime, I should probably keep you up to date with my diet progress? I’ve reached my first goal of losing 10 lbs! Now the hard work of toning begins in earnest, as I turn my legs to jelly three times a week with Dr. Gomez’s carefully constructed plan of torture. Stay tuned. My hunger is big, my personality is bigger!

Firefly American Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon