When a Stranger Cooks Your Food

I lost my virginity to Ron Leal. It happened recently, in the waning weeks of my fourth decade. The One was there, watching every move, every nuance on my face, as were four others, including Joseph Montebello, Ron’s partner. It wasn’t weird or freaky. In fact, it was one of the sweetest moments in memory: It was the first time someone—a virtual stranger, no less—cooked my food and served it to me and others at a dinner party.

Well, that’s not exactly true. There have been a few times that chefs have cooked from my book—most notably at the Quail Valley Country Club, in Vero Beach, FL. Chef Joe Faria whipped up a three-course dinner from The New Portuguese Table for 70 people. And it was exceptional, extraordinary. But the thing is: I expected it to be exceptional and extraordinary. He’s a chef, after all. But Ron is an ordinary guy of Portuguese descent whom I’ve met just once before, and he had the cojones to invited us over for an intimate evening of food, fun, gossip—all based upon my book.

From what I’ve been told, this is, without a doubt, an experience a cookbook author assiduously wants to avoid. Think about it: What if the cook can’t cook? What if there isn’t a dog I can surreptitiously feed my food to—or there is, but I do so too quickly and unwittingly encourage a heaping pile of seconds? What if the food just plain sucks? I’m no good at lying—blame it on Momma and Poppa Leite. In fact, I’m pathologically predisposed to creating astoundingly awkward moments as I tell you you’re falling out of your dress, you’re marrying the wrong woman, or you have a booger hanging from your nose—all of which I’ve done. (Note to self: Maybe that’s why we have so few friends.) No, this is a situation best avoided. Read more »

Chipotle Maple Barbecue Sauce

Chipotle Maple Barbecue Sauce Recipe

Every year I make Sarah Foster’s  Fall-Off-the-Bone Baby Back Ribs, and they’re always a hit. But the weird thing is I always opted for bottled barbecue sauce. With so many bbq sauces out there, I reasoned, why the hell add more stress to my already stressed-out afternoon? (Can you tell I get stressed a lot when I cook?)

This year, though, I decided to put on my big boy pants and make her chipotle maple barbecue sauce from scratch–the sauce that she recommends for her ribs. It was a dump-and-stir recipe. Simple, easy, fast. The flavors were terrific—the slap of the vinegar, the smoky heat from the chipotle, and the sweetness of the brown sugar and maple syrup. Everything blended together quite well. There’s also a big wallop of tomato due to a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. You can soften that, if you want, with a squirt or two of ketchup.

A few additions we made to this, which I think improved it mightily:  We added a big glug of bourbon to the sauce as well as about 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate. (Personally, I think a bit more bourbon wouldn’t have hurt—and I’m not even a bourbon lover!) Then I reduced by a little more than a quarter as I prefer a thicker sauce. It was excellent. The problem: I was cavalier and took a nap while the ribs cooked, so they were far more tender than they should have been. It gave new meaning to “falling-off-the-bone tender.” Next time, I’ll make sure to be all rested before I tackle Foster’s ribs. But cut me some slack: Those Fourth of July gin and tonics were calling my name all afternoon. Damn sirens. Read more »

Mussel Bound

It’s not my custom to contemplate mussels. In fact, I don’t think about them at all, except when I see them on a menu, preferably steamed in a light white-wine broth. So on a recent trip to Nova Scotia, I was surprised to find myself so seduced and intrigued by these ancient bivalves as I followed them from a National Geographic-perfect inlet to my empty plate, in fewer than eight hours.

It began when The One and I boarded the “barge with no name,” the crown jewel of the one-vessel Indian Point Marine Farms fleet, co-owned by Peter Darnell. “We tried to name her,” Darnell said offhandedly, “but it didn’t take.” Wasn’t it tempting fate to ride in an unchristened boat, I wondered. To be on the safe side, I silently baptized her Nova Lox, a tribute to my morning breakfast. Read more »

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