For the second time in as many years, Mr. S-P and I went to Smoque in the Bailey’s Corner arcade for Thanksgiving dinner.
When this American-style BBQ restaurant opened in 2011, I was crazy excited. Finally, no more waiting for my annual trip to my homeland to load up on regional foods! There were growing pains, to be sure. On that first visit, the cornbread was too salty and the macaroni and cheese was not salty enough. But I had absolutely no quibbles about the quality of the meat: the ribs, brisket and pulled pork were stellar, smokey and richly flavored, without the overly-soft texture that comes from meat improperly cooked (not authentic Southern bbq, in other words).
On this trip, we decided to up the ante, and instead of the smallest combination platter, we got the medium: beef ribs, pork ribs, chicken, pulled pork, brisket and sides. I ordered an extra portion of stuffing because it was Thanksgiving after all. I needn’t have bothered: it was revolting, tasting more like cat food than any traditional accompaniment (and no, you shouldn’t ask me how I know that.)
The ribs are still sensational, but in the Canberra restaurant scene they now rank a notch below Soulfood Kitchen‘s. I have no qualms about wholeheartedly recommending the pulled pork–juicy and chewy even without generous shakes of the house-made BBQ sauce, but dreamlike with it. The brisket was a little fatty but extremely tasty. The chicken was…not exactly disappointing, but nothing extraordinary to speak of. It was a decent roasted chicken without much smoke or BBQ flavor. The beef ribs were an almost alarmingly huge hunk of meat on the bone with a superbly concentrated, almost gamy flavor. I’d return just for this.
The cornbread, although extremely dry, at least no longer tasted like a salt lick. For drinks, a well-priced and generous pitcher of “Floradoras” was had for $26. It’s a combination of gin, raspberry liqueur, and lime juice, and you bet I’ll be learning to make these at home.
An American food pedant would find several things to quibble with at Smoque. Newcomers and homesick expats however, find it blissfully satisfying.
New York-style soft pretzels. For when I get homesick.
Pita bread. Shockingly easy.
A chocolate thing that is not really brownies, not cheesecake either, but it’s awesome and impresses people to no end.
Bread for the time deprived.
Pasta with four cheeses. Fattening and delicious in the extreme.
Another simple-but-impressive breadstuff: Foccacia.
Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, one of my dad’s signature recipes.
If chicken paprikash married mole poblano and had a baby, this might result.
Latkes, also known as potato pancakes.
Meringue mushrooms. For when you want to get fancy.
As long as I’m on the topic of food, let me reveal some of my not-always-logical food preferences.
Things I like cooked but not raw: Onions, tomatoes
Things I like raw but not cooked: Capsicum (bell peppers), carrots, cabbage
Things I like pureed but not whole: Mushrooms (I like the flavor but the spongy texture bothers me)
Things I like on their own but not mixed in with other things: Sultanas (raisins), and most other dried fruit
Things I absolutely refused to eat until an epiphany a few months ago: Offal
Things I still refuse to eat and cannot forsee any circumstances that will change that: Insects
Things I will eat if the only other choice is starving or offending someone, but I won’t be happy about it: Seafood, spinach, brussels sprouts
Flavors that make me gag: Anise, caraway, marzipan
Maggie McNeill’s recipe post inspired me to dig up this Classic Sasha post from November 2003. More recipes to come.
For a good part of my childhood, my mother was a gourmet caterer. By herself, in the kitchen of our Upper West Side apartment,she would plan and cook meals for upper-class New Yorkers. I would help sometimes, although admittedly my assistance would more often than not be of the bowl-licking variety.
One of Mom’s signature dishes was chicken Marengo in a hollowed-out brioche. She used it frequently for last-minute events because she only needed to make the brioche. The chicken was prepared, sealed in portion sizes in double-Ziploc bags, and frozen (in our extra-large standing freezer, the only one in our building). All she needed to do at the last minute was grab as many portions as she needed, thaw them, and fill the brioche. Instant showstopper that never failed to impress.
Unfortunately, I got Marengo-ed out at a young age. Not only would Mom use the frozen chicken for her clients, but also for me when she was too busy to cook dinner. Unfrozen chicken Marengo became the default meal of my childhood. It wasn’t long before I point-blank refused to eat it anymore. I reacted to the mere mention of the word “Marengo” much as General Melas must have in his later years.
So why do I give you the recipe here? Well, just because I loathe it and am traumatized by it doesn’t mean it’s not good. Not to mention it’s easy to freeze and reheat.
5 boneless chicken breasts, cut up
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon thyme
3 tablespoons tomato paste (you can use the kind in the squeezy tube)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound mushrooms, chopped (optional: I don’t use them)
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1. Heat oil in a large frying pan or Dutch oven. Add chicken saute until golden.
2. Add onions and cook until onions are just translucent, not yet brown. Sprinkle with flour and cook for 3 minutes stirring constantly.
3. Add the garlic, thyme, salt, water, wine, tomato paste, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
4. Set chicken aside. Cover with tinfoil if you plan to serve it immediately.
5. (Optional) Cook mushrooms in the same pan for 15 minutes. Add to chicken, mix thoroughly, sprinkle with parsley and serve with toast points for that authentic Napoleonic campfire touch. Or freeze. Or fill a hollowed-out brioche.
Radley Balko tells the sad story of the Uglyripe tomato, a beast so revolutionary the food fascists have banned it.
So you want to make soap.
It’s a great hobby, fairly cheap, and not nearly as difficult as you think it is. It’s the only hobby I”ve ever had in my life, and I got so good at it that I actually set up a short-lived soap boutique out of my studio apartment. But you needn’t go that far: it’s quite satisfying to be able to make one of life’s necessities in your kitchen. And once you use your own, you’ll never go back. And neither will the friends and family who will be on the receiving end of your creations.
Astonishingly, corn breads and muffins are a rarity in Australia. Cornmeal is not available on supermarket shelves, and can in fact only be found in healthfood stores. Three people, from different parts of the country, have confessed to never eating corn bread in their lives. This is shocking. I’ve made these muffins, tweaked for sweet Australian teeth, for several people who have subsequently told me they are the best muffins they’ve ever eaten. They are moist and sweet, with delectably crunchy tops. Maybe I’ll start a trend.