Saturday, June 29, 2013

Fish & Chips at Paia Fish Market

Our friend and business partner, Massi, is in town to finalize the fundamentals for our new restaurant in Lahaina. It's not all business, though. How could it be in Maui? Every day, we make time for fun. 

On this day we drove out to Paia, my second favorite town on the island. It is small and quaint and communal. A bona fide beach town, it feels like you've slowed down and stepped back in to a much simpler time. 

The Paia Fish Market is a must for lunch. Fresh fish is available in all facets here, fried, sautéed with butter and white wine, grilled, in tacos, whatever floats your boat.

We always opt for the fish & chips. With a couple of ice cold Bikini Blonds, you can't go wrong. Table side malt vinegar, Tabasco and ketchup only enhance the crisp mahi mahi crust and its meaty center. 

It was enthusiastically approved by the very particular Italian men...

...and one very happy Italian-American baby. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dinner With Daikon

So this food club that we belong to? Awesome. Except that every week we get a massive daikon that equally impresses and stumps us. How to use it?

In the spirit of keeping it simple, I decided to pair and pickle it, with carrot and rice wine vinegar. 

First, I match-sticked both vegetables. 

Then, I mixed a half cup of rice wine vinegar with a quarter cup of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. I whisked it all together until the sugar dissolved and then dumped the carrots and daikon in to the mixture and tossed them until they were well coated with the vinegar. 

We put the bowl in the fridge and then left to see the sunset, came back about an hour later, put some soy-marinated shrimp on the grill and tossed the now pickled daikon again before we set it on the table. 

We nestled the shrimp in some Boston lettuce and put the vegetables on top. 

Nice contrasts of hot and cold, crisp and soft, savory and acidic- even a touch of sweet. A fantastic dinner with daikon, on the fly. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Best Whole, Grilled BBQ Chicken Ever

I knew that I wanted to buy Michele a grill for Father's Day. I also knew he'd want to choose it himself. So, as soon as we got to Maui, I began badgering him about picking one up before the Father's Day rush. Granted, we were very busy settling in and closing the deal for our new restaurant space, so I only bristled a little when he brushed me off.

So Saturday morning rolls around and I'm like, "Look. We need to get this grill. I want to barbecue tomorrow. We'll be lucky if they even deliver it to us today." 

We head to Home Depot. The grills are lined up in shiny rows outside. Michele jumps out of the car, "I'll be quick! You guys wait here." 

About fifteen minutes go by. I'm thinking he's found something he likes. But he walks back to the car and slumps in to his seat. 

"What's wrong? Did you find one?" 

He shook his head, "No. The lady in front of me literally bought the last one that I wanted." 

This is a bummer and I had to bite my lip to stop myself from saying, "I told you so..." 

Anyway, to make a long story short, we circled the area and stopped at Lowe's and Costco. No luck. Nothing was a beautiful as the five-burner, gas Char-Broil grill that he'd seen at Home Depot and he didn't want to settle. 

Still holding on to my dream of a Father's Day barbecue, I suggested that we go back to Home Depot. There had to be someone we could talk to or some way to get this grill. I was going in with him this time, baby in tow.

A nice woman greeted us in the grill department as Michele glared gloomily at the three and four burner grills. "How can I help you?" she asked. 

She couldn't work wonders, it turned out. The grill that he wanted was indeed sold out and she did not know when it would be re-stocked or if it would be sold for the same special, Father's Day price.  So, we chose a smaller model and kept it moving. I wandered in to the gardening section while Michele waited for her to process our order. 

A few minutes later, while I was hovering over the orchids, she sped by me and yelled over her shoulder, "I found the grill he wanted!" 

Turns out there was a lone box in the stock area that everyone had overlooked- and it was all ours. They couldn't get it to us in time for Father's Day but was of no consequence. Michele was smiling from ear to ear. 

Here's what we made when we got it home: 

We took a whole chicken and stuffed it with herbs on hand, thyme and rosemary. Then we rubbed it with salt and pepper and slathered a bottle of barbecue sauce all over it. We lit burners on either side of the grill at 300 degrees and placed the bird in the center of the grill, over the dormant burners, to let it cook slow and low with ambient heat. (Michele's brilliant idea.) 

We left to take a dip in the pool and this is what we found two hours later: 

It was the most beautiful chicken we had ever seen. It almost looked like duck. The skin was a tight seal of deep flavor that held in the succulent, flavorful meat. 

It fell off the bone as soon as we opened it up. And it was gone, just as quickly. The best chicken ever, hands down, home cooked or otherwise, in Italy or America or anywhere else in the world. Make this and you will not be disappointed.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sometimes Food Tastes Better In Solitude

No offense to my husband or baby, but when I woke up from putting her down for a nap and realized that that he'd taken a walk to the grocery store a mile away, I knew I was about to have the best meal of the day. Even if it was only the lame day five lunch of the "Shred" diet, soup and salad, the sustained silence that I would enjoy as I ate would be a dream come true.

And it was. Sometimes food tastes better in solitude, especially when it's simple. Romaine with cherry tomatoes and cucumber and a silky spike of red-wine vinaigrette. Tomato soup bodied with puréed cannellini beans. A good read. The most luxurious experience I've had in months. You have to take the moments where you can find them when you're a mom. Sometimes they just fall in your lap. This one was not lost on me. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kale Salad

So, we have been fortunate enough to make fast friends with another couple who are members of one of those secret, coveted farm-to-table cliques. You know, the ones where you have to know someone who knows someone or be invited in with a discreet email from an unseen source who tells you where to drop off your cash and directs you to another location to pick up your stash. 

It was really like that. But it was also really worth it. After circling an open garage on a suburban street a couple of times, Michele and I walked in to find a huge ice box with our names on it and a giant bag of the most beautiful, organic produce we had ever seen stuffed inside. It was a feast of seasonal produce. All kinds of lettuce, a hefty daikon, pristine beets, perfectly sealed and sweet corn on the cob, bok choy. 

And beautiful, beautiful kale. 

Inspired by its depth of color and it's rich leaves, I didn't want to tamper with it too much. So I decided to make my favorite salad. So simple, it elevates any meal and the true flavors of the veggie soar. 

If you want to try this recipe, you will need five minutes and: 

Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 shallot, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 bunches kale, stems removed, leaves shredded or finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
grated Parmesan, to taste 

In a bowl, whisk juice, shallot, oil, salt and pepper flakes. Add kale; toss well. 

That's it. 

Let the salad sit 20 minutes. Refrigerate for up to 1 day, or serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day One's Kale and Cannellini Bean Crostini

You can imagine how fit everyone is here on Maui. It's exactly like what you see on TV. No gyms in sight but lean, tight bodies abound, everyone a bona-fide, surf board carrying member of the sea. Kids, adults, moms, grandparents are all strong and slick, just from playing in the waves. Makes me kinda sick. I'm carrying a heavier load what with the recent winter in New York, wine and pasta galore. It's going to take some time to look like a local, but I am determined to start. And by start, I mean a regular exercise regimen of swimming and yoga, as well as a revised diet.

In this spirit, I picked up a copy of the diet book du jour, "Shred". Day One's dinner called for a cup of beans. Seriously. Here's what I whipped up:

Kale and Cannellini Bean Crostini

Rip the leaves from the stems of a bunch of kale and clean thoroughly. You can dice the stems, as well, and throw them in with the leaves. 

Heat 2tbsp. of olive oil in a ten inch skillet. 

Add one, small finely chopped chopped onion and 2 tsp. of finely chopped rosemary

Cook until the onions begin to brown and soften, about three minutes on a medium-high flame. 

Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and a pinch of chili flakes, to taste, and cook for another minute. 

Deglaze the pan with a 1/4 cup white wine. Stir one minute. 

Add the kale and 1/2 cup of water, stirring until semi-wilted. 

Add one cup of cooked, dry cannellini beans or canned cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained. 

Stir and cook for another three to five minutes. 

Salt and pepper, to taste. 

To prepare the crostini: 

Slice a baguette in to thick slices. 

Toast them in a non-stick sautee pan, two minutes each side on medium heat. 

Rub each, one side only, with a raw clove of garlic. 

Heap the kale and beans on each slice. 

Drizzle with a good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon

Finish with a crostini with some shaved parmesan

Done! You've had a healthy serving of beans for the day!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Michele's Father's Day Salt and Pepper Steak

Our first Father's Day in Maui was quiet, a far cry from the rowdy gathering of extended friends and family that round up every year in my mom's backyard for barbecue. Of course, I had to try to keep the tradition going in some small way. So, we set out to find a grill on Saturday and scored a five burner on sale at Home Depot. But they couldn't deliver it to us in time for Sunday's festivities.

We didn't let the delivery hiccup hamper our plans, though. We had two big rib-eye steaks set aside and we were determined to put them to good use. My dry-rub recipe falls flat without a grill so Michele decided to keep it simple with his salt and pepper, olive oil and herb marinaded recipe.

It went a little something like this:

Take your steak out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature before you do anything. 

Preheat your oven, 500 degrees. 

Season the steak, both sides with salt and pepper, to taste. 

Place three or four crushed garlic cloves in three tablespoons of olive oil and warm over a low flame, infusing the oil with the garlic's flavor, three minutes. 

Increase the temperature to high. 

Place your steak in to the the pan.

Add a sprig of thyme or rosemary or any other herbs that you have on hand. 

Sear for three minutes and flip to the other side. 

After three minutes, Michele says: 

If you like your steak cooked medium, like we do, take it out of the oven after four minutes. It should be be perfect. 

Let the meat rest for at least four minutes before you cut it, against the grain.

And serve. 

With a side of sauteed Maui onions, a simple green salad and a bottle of champagne, our first Father's Day in Maui was more subdued but more than satisfying. We hope that yours was, too. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Even Before I Left I Was Craving All of My Favorite NY Foods

Even before I left I was craving all of my favorite New York foods, the stuff that I wouldn't be able to find in Maui like heroes, and Nathan's hot dogs and Junior's cheesecake, fried chicken and Italian ices, $2 slices of my favorite pizza and banana pudding. So, a few days before my flight, I asked my dad to bring me a throwback from our Red Hook days. I sent him to the glorified deli on Lorraine Street, the place where I had my very first hero, and asked him to bring back what I called the "classic": a ham and cheese with lettuce, tomato and mayo on both sides. For old time's sake.

He walked in to my house early the next morning, holding out the the tightly wrapped sandwich, smiling from ear to ear, pride in his eyes. "Here you go. I have one, too. When you're ready, meet me upstairs."

Needless to say, enjoying that sandwich with my dad was memory material. It was everything that I remembered it to be, probably better. Soft bread, flaky crust, salty ham wrapped lovingly around the cheese in folds and mellowed out by the mayo and tomatoes, all coming together in harmony.

Michele unwittingly made another wish come true by bringing Junior's cheesecake home a few days later. It is the only cheesecake that I have ever loved. Another throwback, I have been enjoying the dessert since the 1980's, making a bee line for the restaurant with the family after church service at the old Brooklyn Tabernacle on Flatbush Avenue. It's the texture, smooth and consistent throughout, whipped but firm, not too sweet. Most importantly, it is not cheesy in the way that some ricotta cakes can be and is somehow light and rich at the same time. I relished my last strawberry slice, slowly and systematically, knowing that it would be a long time before I would have another.

I had some momentum here. What was stopping me from having a private little reunion with all of my old food favorites? What was next? Two nights before we left, Michele and I made a spontaneous decision to stop at Uncle Louie's, on Union Street, for an Italian ice. Now, there's something called "shave ice" here in Hawaii but it is a different thing entirely. A mound of shaved iced is drizzled with flavored syrup and it's consistency is more in sync with a granita than the fine and uniform flavor of the ices that speak to summer in New York.

I didn't get to Nathan's. I'll have to take a trip to Coney Island when I get back. There is a particular bite and pop and temperature and flavor that cannot be recreated now matter how many of their branded hot dogs you buy at the supermarket. The sharp, grainy mustard, the buns...are as unique to the experience of eating the dog as the sounds of the Cyclone rumbling in the distance.

Bagels and lox will have to wait too. They did not cross my path. But I did get a couple of slices on a couple of different days from Smiling Pizza in Park Slope. I have been wanting this stuff from the womb, no exaggeration. My young, pregnant mom would walk an hour, in the cold and snow, to fix her craving for their pies. Strangely enough, I wanted it every day of my own pregnancy. So there's a history here. It felt right to go back more than once for the memories and for the simple comfort of enjoying something that has not changed in almost forty years.

I can make fried chicken any time I want. But it's not the same without my family. It's crackle and pop fall flat when eaten alone and I can't do it. Makes me sad. But I have Jada as motivation. I can pass on our specific standards (Each black family has it's own version of bird). Still, it makes me homesick and I will probably not make much of it until I return to my family in the fall.

On a sweeter note, my brother Dave brought me a big bowl of home made banana pudding the night before we left for Maui. The ultimate taste of home and a perfect farewell to all of my favorite New York foods, it was bittersweet to share this traditional dessert with everyone at the dinner table.

It's probably hard to have pity on me. I am writing this from paradise, where mango trees heavy with fruit sway above me and avocados and coconuts abound. Fresh fish and meat and beautiful vegetables grow so wild they are not even labeled. Still, there is nothing like the taste of home. Here's to hoping that absence will make it all better next time.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

...and it's not all good...

Leaving home was hard this time. Felt final, more permanent. The plan is to come back to New York in October to visit, a one month reconnect with family and friends, but every day our roots feel more firmly rooted in Hawaii and it's not all good. The ties that bind us to our loved ones are taut with these changes. It's hard to be so far away. So much is lost in not being home for the day to day. Still, we are moving forward on faith and on an intuition that, in the long term, we have more to gain than we have to lose. 

That said, I'm happy to report that we have secured a space for our next restaurant. I will share the experience here, as well as the day to day moments worth noting. And I am re-dedicating this space to my family and friends, my team, who cheer me on and keep me lifted up. Although we are far apart, I want to share this new chapter of my life, every step of the way. It goes a long way in making me feel this close to you all. 


Friday, June 7, 2013

Change As A Constant State

Things are never boring for la famiglia Di Bari. Sometimes, it seems like change is our constant state. As our latest trip to New York wraps up, we are knee-deep in the details of preparing for our summer stay in Maui and readying our home here for rental.

Packing it all up and getting ready to ship out (again) leaves little time for blogging but I am doing my best. In the midst of all this, and since my last entry, we've celebrated Michele's birthday, first at Brooklyn Crab with the kids and then out at Pok Pok without. An outing to Staten Island's "Touch A Truck" occupied us last Saturday. Our first Sunday shopping at Red Hook's Fairway since Hurricane Sandy was fun. And, there was another food truck rally in Park Slope. I even squeezed in some "me" time at D'Mai and did a "write-in" with Gotham. We also made some incredible meals and shared some great moments with our family and friends in the month that we have been home.

Each of these moments deserves its own post and I will double back soon to share more. Thanks for checking in.