May 2004

Katy Bakes a Nectarine Pie

Katy makes the best pie you’ll ever taste and here’s the movie that shows how she does it. Nectarines seem a strange filling for a pie, sure, but take my word: they work incredibly well.

Incidentally, I’m up now at 3:26 am because halfway through editing the film my computer froze and I had to start all over again. So forgive the hasty production values and focus on the pie: it was crazy delicious.

Scallops Roasted on an Open Fire: Grilling with Josh

If this website is the theory of gravity and I’m Isaac Newton, Josh is the apple that fell on my head. He’s the one who pushed me, way back when, to start a food blog. “You really should do it,” he said in October, walking with me through a Chili Festival. “Well,” I said, “we’ll see.”

And now here we are. The day before Memorial Day, and I’m standing in Whole Foods searching for website content. Well, that’s not true: the website content is in my pocket. I have a recipe for scallops on rosemary skewers that I found by simply typing “scallops” into Google. That led me to Steven Raichlen’s BBQ University. You can find the recipe there.

Anyway, I called Josh and his wife Katy to see if they wanted to join. They did. In fact, they offered up their grill since theirs is quality charcoal and mine is gas. I was over there in a jiffy.

Josh had already gotten the fire started:


Amazingly, he did it using only his mind. He’s like Drew Barrymore in Firestarter.

Now I wish I could say these are my hands pushing the rosemary through the scallop, but they are Josh’s.


I was busy in the kitchen shooting a pie movie (to be posted shortly). Well–no–I took this picture, but only ’cause Josh called me in. My point is that Josh did all the work.

See, this is him squeezing a lemon over the scallops. I did nothing!


Now, back to the grill. We threw some corn (still in their husks) on to the flame:


Then the scallops:


The scallops cooked quickly. We turned them over after two minutes:


Oh, and they’re supposed to be wrapped in bacon, but Josh and Katy don’t eat mammal. Little do they know, scallops are warm-blooded.

Now then, here are the finished scallops:


Katy set the table quite brilliantly:


Dinner is served:


And let me tell you, my friends, this was DELICIOUS. Scallops cooked on rosemary? Does life get any better? So easy and so tasty. Plus the rosemary gets all crispy and you can eat it. Josh really liked eating the burnt rosemary.

Here are my contented hosts:


A lovely dinner indeed.

Master of Disguise

Now that I’m a big star, I’m starting to worry that my visage at restaurants is so recognizable that my ability to evaluate might be compromised. So today I went disguise shopping. I didn’t buy any of these things, but I might…

A mustache, perhaps?


Redneck teeth?


Or, my personal favorite, a mullet?


A sound investment for a serious diner. Watch out Thomas Kellar, next time I do Per Se you totally won’t see me coming!

Fascism and Food: Take It Easy, Brother

Today I met my friend Brock for lunch at a place that shall remain nameless, and as I came through the door and saw him standing in line he looked disturbed.

“Look,” he said, “there’s a fight going on there.”

I turned and saw a man with a baby on his back and a wife next to him getting yelled at by a red-faced manager.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well,” said Brock, “you’re not supposed to get a table until you order your food, and this guy sat down because he had the baby and the manager came over and yelled at him. And the guy said: ‘I’m sorry, but I have this baby on my back.’ And the manager was a real dick about it.”

I looked back up and I heard the manager saying: “I’m gonna call the cops if you don’t get your ass out of here, you shmuck.”

Now call me crazy, but this is not great “managing” on any level. All the customers standing in line were crazy freaked out. The man with the baby and his wife were surprisingly calm and they left in disbelief. The manager stormed off to the back.

Policies are important, I understand. And places with turnover as great as this place must make rules to keep everyone satisfied. But the place wasn’t so crowded today. And the way the manager handled himself was just wrong. I give him a big thumbs down.

Up Up and Away at The Floataway Cafe

The Floataway Cafe is (well, was) my favorite Atlanta restaurant. Maybe it still is. I’m undecided. Last night’s meal did not work well in its favor.

At least the Floataway is conveniently located: it is literally down the street from where I live. If Atlanta is an alphabet and I live in A, the Floataway is in B. Actually it’s closer than that: it’s A.3.

So last night Lauren and I ventured over after our reservation at Nam was cancelled due to a broken water mane. The Nam people were very aplogetic.

After the short 40 second drive, we pulled up to the Floataway building:

The complex is a warehouse complex that contains, among other things, a theater (Push Push), a quilting store and The Floataway Cafe. We made our way to the door:


Once inside the hostess kindly told us that it would only be a moment. Would we like to wait at the bar? The bar looked crowded. So we went back outside and told her to find us there.

She founds us there moments later and led us to our table.

The following picture is my favorite of the bunch, it really captures the Floataway aesthetic:


Milk bottle laterns hang over every table and giant sepia pictures of clouds adorn the walls. Unfortunately, most of the tables are banquettes and so when you begin taking pictures of all your food the people next to you start asking questions.

“Why are you taking pictures of your food?” they ask.

“He has a website,” said Lauren.

“Oh,” they responded uneasily.

“It’s about food.”

“We see,” they said and returned to their plates.

Soon a waitress appeared.

“Would you like bottled or filtered water?” she asked. This is the dining question of the new millenium. Every fine dining spot I’ve fine dined at now asks this question at the start of the meal. Bottled water is as much a fad as the low carb thing. And, of course, it’s a great way for restaurants to upsell their customers. In fact, I watched some show—now I forget what it was—where they sent a water sommelier to these people’s tables and he pretended to be a water expert and helped them match their courses to the proper water. Then they showed him going to the kitchen, filling up their glasses with a garden hose, returning to the table, serving it to them and then shooting their reactions. They ooohed and ahhhed. Rather funny.

“Tap water’s fine,” we said.

“Very well,” she replied cheerily.

She returned with a pitcher and began filling my glass. A stream of water spilled on my menu.

“Let me get you a new menu,” she said.

What good service, I thought.

Then she asked for our drink orders. I had been gazing at the eclectic cocktail list—fresh mint julips, lemon drop martinis—and I asked her which was best.

“They’re all great,” she said.

“But is there any one that you recommend?” I pressed.

“I like them all,” she said flatly.

Another complaint to register: SERVER AS AUTOMATON. This was the Charlie Trotter’s phenomenon: servers that are so accomodating they become completely inhuman. I wanted a little splash of personality, a little hint of individuality to guide our choices. None was forthcoming.

“I’ll have the orange blossom,” I said picking at random.

Lauren ordered white wine.

Actually, Lauren’s wine was really enjoyable. I love sweet drinks (hence the orange blossom) and Lauren’s Riseling (a German wine?) was incredibly sweet. I liked it.

My drink was so sweet as to almost be unpleasant:


Let’s see: it was orange vodka, triple sec, and simple syrup. I mean, I liked it, but I wouldn’t get it again.

Now then: the food.

The Floataway theory (as conceived by John Kessler) is that you go there for the appetizers, the pasta and the pizza. The entrees are to be left alone.

So Lauren and I each chose an appetizer.

I chose (rather controversially, since Lauren thought it was gross) white anchovies:


Lauren chose the fritto misto with prawns and fiddlehead ferns:


As you can see, the anchovies had a great presentation. And they tasted great: you really haven’t had an anchovy until you’ve had a fresh one, as opposed to the ones from the can. Salty, yet not overwhelmingly so, and the celery and other greens offered a nice green contrast.

Lauren was unhappy with hers: they fried her prawns with the shells on. She had to dissect each one before she could eat it. I suggested that she eat the shells and she was not happy with this suggestion. I attempted one of her prawns and as I cut into it, brown sludgy juice oozed out. Not particularly appetizing. The batter was quite good, though.

Now, as for the pasta and pizza:

I ordered Enlgish pea lune, a kind of moon-shaped ravioli:


Lauren ordered pizza with mushrooms and garlic:


The pasta was fine, very fresh tasting but nothing exemplary.

The pizza, on the other hand, was exemplary. This is it folks: the best pizza in Atlanta. The crust is perfectly charred, the toppings and cheese perfectly balanced. It’s a truly perfect pizza.

With the pizza, our Floataway meal redeemed itself.

Don’t you hate when you love a place, though, and you go there to relive your love and the love doesn’t happen? Like meeting an old flame for coffee?

Speaking of coffee, Floatway serves theirs in a french press:


Very strong, but good.

And as for dessert, Lauren was quite thrilled with their flourless chocolate cake:


After dessert, I journeyed to the bathroom. Thought I would photograph the Vespa in the hallway, because how often do you see a Vespa in a hallway?


Soon our check came. We got up to go. Here’s what the place looks like, so you get a better idea of the feel:


We walked out full and contended. Not thrilled, though. It was definitely an off night at The Floatway. Later on, our friend Meg told us that the owner/chef (I forget her name) who also owns Bacchanalia no longer does the cooking at The Floatway. Maybe that’s why it went downhill? Ah well. To quote Earth Wind and Fire: “After the love has gone / what used to be right is wrong.”

Oy! Meets Grill: Basil-Garlic Chicken Breasts with Grilled Balsamic Peaches

Last week, I asked for your help in my help-seeking post: How Do I Use This Barbeque?.

You offered your help. I appreciate that.

And so tonight I decided to use the advice you gave to conquer my fear of grilling. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, your Amateur Gourmet conquered the barbeque.

It began with a book. A marvelous book, in fact: “License To Grill” by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby. I bought this book last summer when I bought a kitchen-counter grill from Williams Sonoma. This is a gas grill that looks like an open-face George Foreman. I used it to prepare chicken once and it tasted fine. But there wasn’t that “open flame” quality. That’s what I was seeking tonight.

In any case*, “License To Grill” is marvelous because it offers gourmet recipes that you can prepare right in your backyard, just like Tony Soprano make sausages. And by “gourmet” I simply mean recipes that your eaters will say: “Wow this tastes like nothing I’ve ever had before!” Not gourmet like you serve slivers of horse meat in a martini glass.

[* = I think “in any case” is my most overused expression.]

In any case, I was so excited about my decision to tackle the grill that I couldn’t choose upon a recipe. I sat in my car outside of Whole Foods (after several hours of fake studying and 20 minutes of fake exercising) and flipped through the book over and over again. And then I made a bold decison: “I will bring the book into the store!”

Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Oh, I know. I thought they would think I was shoplifting a book when I left the store with it under my arm. These are the sort of worries a neurotic person like my experiences throughout the day.

So here I am pushing my cart with the cookbook in the basket:

“Daddy! Daddy!” whined the cookbook. “Can I have lucky charms?”

“No!” I yelled. That’s all he needs is MORE SUGAR.

Now I studied the fish case and saw scallops. I looked up the scallops recipe. I thought to myself: “Eh, ok, scallops, that could work.”

I explored the meat department. Also the vegetables.

And then it dawned on me. [CUE ANGELIC CHOIR.] Chicken! I’ll make chicken!

I flipped to the poultry section of the book. I found a glorious recipe: “Basil-Garlic Chicken Breasts with Grilled Balsamic Peaches.” Perfect!

I paid and made my way out of the store.

“Sir!” yelled a manager. “You have to pay for that book!”

Once home, I began my preparations.

First of all, the basil they were selling at Whole Foods was hydroponic. I suppose that’s because “real basil” hasn’t burst through the soil yet. Here’s what hydroponic basil looks like:


I think hydroponic should become a new hip word.

“Dude! That’s so hydroponic! You totally aced your SATS!”

“Umm, Marvin, a 700 combined score isn’t really acing your SATs.”


Next I poured one cup of balsamic vinegar into a measuring cup:


Only there wasn’t one cup of vinegar in the bottle I had. But I proceeded anyway. Who said details were important?

I poured the vinegar into a small sauce pan and began boiling it:


I did this for 20 minutes until half of it evaporated. Then I added molasses:


This was my first experience with molasses. I enjoyed it. I am frustrated because a while ago I encountered a recipe I wanted to make that required molasses and now that I have it I can’t remember what recipe that was. If I found it that would be so hydroponic.

So I mixed the molasses in with the vinegar and added some black pepper. Set that aside. We won’t be using that again until later.

Now, in other news, I combined olive oil, garlic and basil in a bowl:


I stupidly used Nigella Lawson’s spring whisk into which the garlic and basil got caught. I spent 20 minutes picking it out.

Put my two chicken breasts (not skinless! not boneless! although the recipe does call for boneless, the store didn’t have boneless without it also having to be skinless) into Tupperware and added the garlic, oil and basil mixture:


Now the peaches. Aren’t they lovely?


I sliced them in half and removed their pits. I contemplated eating one with some basil but Peaches and Herb don’t go together.

“GO together?” says Peaches. “Why honey we used to date… Hit it Herb!”


Quiet Herb.

Anyway I stacked everything up for carrying out:


I carried it out:


Now the barbeque (as Ross conjectured) had a self-igniting feature but, alas, it was broken. So I had to go the alternate route. I had to light with a flame:


Am I just a pervert or does that look dirty?

Don’t answer that.

Whooooooosh! THE HEAT IS ON! [Quiet Condoleezza.]

On goes the chicken:


Ah a nice sizzle. I sat back and relaxed, meditated, wrote a psychic letter to my spiritual penpal Dion. It came back Return to Sender.

After 10 minutes, I flipped the chicken over:


The skin looked brown, though not as brown as I should have let it become. These were thick cuts of chicken and I would soon learn my lesson the hard way. [DUN DUN DUN!]

Soon I added my peaches:


How pretty is that picture? That should be on the cover of my acid rock album “Sizzling Peaches.”

But, they weren’t getting charred enough on that top shelf, so I moved them down a floor to Apartment A:


Now we’re cooking. Two minutes later I flipped them over and brushed them with that balsamic molasses solution from before:


Don’t they look yum?

But now we’re on the chicken. The peaches are done. And the chicken?

It’s so hard to tell. I cut into one (after the requisite cooking time) and it’s raw inside. I move to the back of the fire so it will get more heat:


I close the lid. I let it cook. I take it off. I cut into it. Still raw. I put it back. This goes on for a while.

And so this was the most challenging aspect of my BBQ adventure. How do know when it’s done. I was far beyond the suggested cooking time from the cookbook, yet it was definitely not cooked enough.

I followed my gut. Sometimes you gotta do that. Eventually (probably 20 minutes longer than anticipated) I took it off the flame, cut into it, and it looked perfect:


And doesn’t that skin look wonderful?

Here’s the final plate:


And trust me, it tasted as good as it looks. And it looks fiiiiine mama. Hydroponic! Back to you, Rod.

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