Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day and Contest Winners Announced

There are a million Valentine's posts out there.  And I thought about how to put something here.  After all, it is an exciting romantic time for Charming Suitor and galore.  But frankly, that is just between us, and while I know you are all happy for my happiness, too much information is more than a little gag-inducing.  Especially since I remember all too well how much it irked to hear about anyone's snuggly love affair when I was alone on February 14.

And I know that every food blog in the universe is giving you oodles of romantic recipes for two, or sassy recipes for single girls nights. 

But do any of you need another one of those recipes today?

Instead, I thought I would share a couple of pieces of Valentine's Advice with you, slightly adapted from my book The Spinster Sisters, and I think a nice reminder for today...

"Let the Valentine’s Day thing go.  We know that in general, a day devoted to love and romance seems like a great idea.  And on paper, it is.  But many of us, not to mention our partners, feel manipulated by the holiday, and the pressure we put on it is the reason. 

For some of us, it is The Valentine’s Day Blues, the need to get drunk and bitter with other singles on the fateful day, or to stay home alone and wallow.  Putting too much weight on what it means to be alone on the day of hearts and flowers, ignoring all the blessings we do have, not to mention the freedom.

For others it is the overwhelming smothering of the love of the moment.  Rare indeed is the partner who really gets into the holiday the way we do, and often their best efforts are just not enough.  And which is worse, there is always some friend whose boyfriend or husband or girlfriend or wife is the world’s most romantic perfect person, who creates a Valentine’s experience that cannot be duplicated by our own merely mortal partners. 

For those of you who are partnered, take stock of your current inamorata, and if they are a keeper, then let  them choose how they want to be about V-Day, and if it doesn't entirely match your enthusiasm (or lack thereof) figure out how to be okay with that.   If it is a potential issue for you, talk about it with them a couple of weeks before, just to get on the same page about expectations.

If you are single, create a Valentine’s tradition with a girlfriend or close female relative or best gay boyfriend.  Put your energy into looking forward to that tradition, be it a spa afternoon, a museum visit, dinner at a favorite restaurant or another such thing.  Homeless shelters don’t just serve meals on Thanksgiving, you know. 

Most importantly,  give yourself and your partner the Valentine’s gift  everyone needs…permission to simply be yourselves, and a little bit Kevlar coated on the most mine-filled day of the year.

ongrats to our contest winners!
At the same time, we should all remember to support our friends, especially  single friends, on Valentine’s Day.  It’s a great time to send a treat or a card, make that phone call you’ve been putting off.  (E-card are free and quick, and sites like have hilarious versions for every occasion.)The day hits us all in different ways, but no one is ever sad to be acknowledged by someone.  Just remember not to call to regale them with how great your guy did at buying the right present, or how bitter and depressed you are about not having someone to be with.  Keep the conversation light and about being happy to know them, and you’ll bring a smile to their day."

Good advice, if I do say so myself! 

And now, c have won the Heat and Dry Dishrack


Erica have won the Buffet Heat Lamp!

Ladies:  Please e-mail me your shipping addresses at staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com

For the rest of you, don't forget that Bon Home is still running their promo through Feb. 20, just head over to their website and order either the dishrack or the heat lamp and get an electric wine opener free! 

I wish you all a very Happy Valentine's Day, however you choose to celebrate, or not. 

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Friday, February 11, 2011

New restaurant review, an exciting offer with a contest!

 Hello Chickens!  I'm back from a brief holiday southerly and I am inspired to do something I have not done in a a restaurant.

Sra. Martinez - Fresh Tapas - Design District

I'll start with full disclosure, I was predisposed to like Michy's.  Chef Michelle Bernstein has intrigued me ever since I first saw her judging onTop Chef.  She never seems to be there for the publicity but really for the food, Tony Bourdain loves her (and we know how I feel about Tony) and she isn't shy about her opinions, demanding the best from the cheftestants.  (Hmmm...strong, intelligent, curly-haired Jewish girl who happens to be a chef, wonder why I felt kinship?)  And when I watched her kick the almost unbeatable Bobby Flay's butt on Iron Chef?  Team Michelle all the way.

I recently had a girlfriend ask me which five women cooks/chefs I would want to have over for a potluck girls night.  Julia, 'natch, because she was unapologetic about eating with gusto for pleasure, and always wanted her guests happy.  Nigella, because she could call her toothpaste "unctuous" and I would probably want to eat it.  MFK Fisher, who made me first want to write about food and who still inspires me to eat thoughtfully.  Stephanie Izard, who I've met a couple of times and is sweet and sassy and hilarious, not to mention badass and fearless in the kitchen, and who I would desperately hope would bring her smoked goat pizza.  And Michelle, because she and I share  a cooking philosophy of taking the ultimate comfort food and elevating it without making it pretentious or fussy.  I realized I had only ever actually eaten anything cooked directly by one of these ladies, but I also realized that if you spend enough time cooking and eating and reading, you can tell by the cut of someone's recipes how good they are in the kitchen. 

Plus I think the six of us would have a hell of a good time, bolstered by some excellent quaffs rom Charming Suitor's cellar, despite two of us being all, you know, dead.

So when my Mom and Dad returned from a recent trip to Miami with a copy of Michelle's cookbook Cuisine A Latina, inscribed to me and Charming Suitor in honor of our engagement, nothing could have been more exciting. 

Until they described the meal. 

My parents have had the great good fortune of eating in incredible restaurants all over the world.  We live in CHICAGO, for the love of deliciousness.  So when they can't stop talking about a meal, they mean bizness.

You'd have thought her White Gazpacho bought my dad a car, that is how much he loved it.  My mom couldn't even find adjectives to describe how much they enjoyed the meal.  But she could find an adjective to describe the chef, whom they had the pleasure to meet.

"Darling.  Just darling."

So when my sister and I knew we were headed to Miami to visit my grandmother for a few days, we knew we wanted to go there for a special night out.  My grandmother, based on the descriptions from my parents, couldn't wait, so before we got there, she took my aunt and uncle there for dinner and they too had a very extraordinary meal. 

Michy's is on a very nondescript stretch of Biscayne Boulevard, the last place you'd expect to find a restaurant of this caliber.  The room is warm and welcoming, small but not close, and evokes both funky Floridian and a contemporary Latino flair.  When we arrived, Michelle was there, and was just as my parents had described, genuine, generous, wide honest smile, and a lively spirit.  It is always so gratifying for me when someone I have liked and respected from afar (and secretly thought I could be pals with) turns out to exceed who you would want them to be.  In fact, it has only really happened three times before... Carol Burnett, Arthur Miller, and Nigella.  And has often been the opposite. (not dishing on those, but sad and disappointing to lose admiration for an idol or icon)
My grandmother took the opportunity to tell the chef that she would rather cook for herself six nights a week just so she could go to Michy's on the seventh night.   Michelle was very gracious, heading out the door to check in on her other restaurant, but hugged my grandmother like family.  And frankly, I'm bound and determined to figure out that we are fourth cousins or something.

Personal gushing aside, you know that at the end of the day I can love you as a person and still not want to eat what you serve me, and you also know that I take the recommendations I make here very seriously, since I know I have to steer you right to keep you reading. 

The food? 


Everything on the menu can be ordered in half or full portions, so that you can sample and share and create a tasting menu if you want.  We ordered the White Gazpacho that had so entranced my dad, the beet salad, the fettucine carbonara, seared halibut, whole yellowtail snapper, and short ribs.  The gazpacho is quite simply one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.  EVER.  Full stop.  Creamy, clean, fresh, tart, with the buttery crunch of Marcona almonds, I am going to make it tonight for Charming Suitor, who very well may propose to me all over again, that is how good it is!  (The only thing lacking about the meal was not having him with me to share the experience,and I don't care if that makes me all schmoopy, I really missed him.) 

The beet salad was perfectly balanced, the carbonara with crispy proscuitto was rich without being cloying or mouth-coating.  The halibut was extraordinary, great crunchy sear giving way to moist delicate flaky fish, on top of a salsify (way underutilzed veg, and one of my faves) and wild mushroom ragout with a bright parsley sauce.  Hints of curry warmed the snapper, and the short ribs were like a hug, gorgeous meat candy topped with caramelized root veggies,  sitting on top of a parsnip potato puree that frankly I wanted to stick my face in and blow bubbles.  You'd not be shocked to know that we managed to find room for the Deep Fried Apple Pie, sanded with sugar, swimming in caramel sauce, and topped with toffee chip ice cream. 

My grandmother made a reservation for next week as we were leaving.

If you are going to be in Miami, don't miss it, you can snag reservations on Open Table  And while you are there, check out Michelle's other place, Sra. Martinez, which is the first place I'm going next time I'm in Miami.  Or maybe second, after I hit Michy's again. 

This particular experience reminded me that as much as I love cooking and developing new recipes for you, sometimes we don't want to cook, and often we find ourselves visiting new cities and wanting to know where to have the best time.  So I thought I would ask you all to share your fave places to eat out, either in your hometown or on vaca, and to encourage you with a contest!

Remember when I told you all about the cool new stuff from Bon Home?  The amazing heat and dry dishrack that Charming Suitor loves so much

and the heat lamp for your buffet table that actually keeps your food hot without drying it out? 

Well guess what?  I've got one of each to give away to you! 

That's right, Chickens, the Bon Home folks agreed to help me tempt you, so post your best mini restaurant review in the comments by 11:59 PM on Sunday Feb. 13, and I will let the random number generator pick two of you to win these fab prizes, and tell you on Monday, a little Valentine from me and Bon Home!

Even better, for the rest of you, Bon Home is currently running a special where you can get a free Electric Wine opener (a $40 value) if you order either the dishrack or the heatlamp before Feb. 20.  Click Here to check it out.

Share with the class, where will we find the meals that we won't be able to stop talking about?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Superbowl Seven Layer Dips

I'm fascinated by the seven-layer phenomenon.  Seven layer cookie bars have long been a fave, but frankly, the traditional seven layer dip does nothing for me.  Probably because I'm not a guacamole fan, nor salsa, so I start off uninterested.

thanks, wish I liked this stuff!

But I do love a challenge, so I thought, what would be some other seven layer dips I could dig into?

Here are the results.  Feel free to share yours!

Seven Layer Bacon Cheeseburger Dip

1 lb ground beef, cooked until browned and crumbled
1 lb Velveeta
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded very fine
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 lb bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 can French’s fried onions
1 pt sour cream blended with 4 T Dijon mustard and 1 t salt

Melt Velveeta in a large saucepan, and when fully melted, stir in cooked beef. Pour mixture into a large 9x13 pan. If you aren’t serving right away, wrap and transport to your party, and reheat till the cheeseburger mixture is gooey and hot.

Toppings: First sprinkle the tomatoes over the cheeseburger dip, followed by the bacon. Then the sour cream mustard sauce, followed by the lettuce. Top with the French’s fried onions, and serve with the large scoopable Fritos, or hearty pita chips.

Mediterranean Seven Layer Dip

2 large containers hummus
1 package crumbled feta cheese
1 c kalamata olives, chopped
1 tub tzatiki sauce of your choice
1 seedless cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 tomatoes, seeded and dices
3 scallions, sliced thinly
4 T toasted pine nuts
extra virgin olive oil
zest and juice of one lemon

Spread the hummus in the bottom of your serving dish.  Then spread the olives over the hummus, followed by the feta cheese.  Toss the cucumber with the lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper.   Toss the tomatoes with the scallions, a squeze of lemon juice, a splash of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Add the tomato scallion mixture to the dish, then the cucumber, then tzatiki sauce. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve with pita chips.

Antipasto Dip

2 lbs fresh ricotta
1/2 c grated parmesan
1 lb salami, julienned
1/4 lb prosciutto, cooked until crisp and crumbled
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 c oil cured black olives, pitted and chopped
1 c shredded smoked mozzarella
2 T chopped parsely
2 zucchini, diced
1 jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
dried oregano

Saute the zucchini in olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside to cool.  Mix the parmesan, parsley and smoked mozzarella into the ricotta, add a little olive oil to smooth the mixture, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spread in the bottom of your serving dish.  Top with the julienned salami, then the roasted peppers, then artichoke hearts, then zucchini.  Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with oregano.  Top with the olives and crispy prosciutto and serve with crostini made from good Italian bread, or foccacia.

Anyone have a great seven layer dip out there?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Well Chickens, we are all hunkered down here in Chicago, Charming Suitor is working away in the dining room with the pup, and I am in the living room taking a moment to say hello to you before I get back to work. 

My nephew doesn't mind the weather one bit!

The upside of working at home as a writer is that I don't have to battle the insanity of the daily commute, I don't have to keep regular hours, and my office can be wherever my laptop is.  The downside is that there really is no excuse to take a snow day.

But there is an excuse to make this pudding...

My brother from another mother Officer K has a birthday tomorrow, so we are all gathering to celebrate.  He isn't much of a cake guy, so I usually make him some kind of pudding or mousse dessert.  This is a new one, a chocolate adaptation of the famous Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding.  Decadent, but delish. 

Chocolate Banana Pudding

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ c ice cold water
1 3.4 o package Jello Instant Chocolate Pudding mix
4 ½ c heavy cream
2 boxes Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
4 c sliced bananas (4 small, or 3 medium)
1 ½ T sugar

Beat sweetened condensed milk and water until smooth. Add pudding mix and beat 2 more minutes, cover and refrigerate 3-4 hours or overnight. Whip 3 c of the heavy cream to stiff peaks. Whisk pudding mixture to loosen and then fold pudding mixture into cream.

In a large wide 4-5 quart bowl or a deep glass baking dish, layer 1/3 of the wafers followed by 1/3 of the bananas followed by 1/3 of the pudding mix. Continue to layer the remaining ingredients.

Whip the remaining cream with the sugar to soft peaks and top the pudding with the whipped cream, and chocolate shavings.

Yours in Snowy Good Taste,
The Polymath