“Consider the eggplant, shiny purple, tight skin. Like something Prince would wear.”
Aaaah, it seems like yesterday we uttered those words. They ring with the poignancy of Edison’s “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.” It may just as well as been yesterday as it was three years, and four kitchens ago that we shot our first episode of DIO! Where does the thyme go, I tell you. It goes in the pantry, you know that.
Sista Sal and I lived together in a tiny little cottage on the sleepy CT Shoreline. Yes, Yankee Key West as I liked to call it. And I maintained the outdoors for she and I. We had hanging baskets, decorative barrels, pots, cans and window sills. There was a festive Perennial Love Garden chock filled with hasta, Allium and black-eyed susan’s. I grew giant-sized sunflowers that stopped traffic. There was bamboo. Side note, the bamboo grows spreads like, well you know, it spreads crazy like. It spread under the neighbors fence who thought he might harvest it. He was sure it was asparagus. Oh, Yankee Key West. My point was around here and I know it will resurface. Like bamboo.
The size of our vegetable garden grew each year. It was lined with brick (we’re Italian) and subject to many trips by Ma (The Tomato Thief). Eventually a fence was put around it to prevent rabbits, deer and
yes, Ma. Every fall I buried fish breakdowns in the native american traditions to fertilize the soil. Our bounty was always amazing. The tomatillo plants and the eggplant plants were the most amazing. Their leaves and branches had a jaunty raconteur nature to them. These plants were the “Zoot Suit Riot” of my 90’s garden life. Take a moment and smell the Seattle Coffee. Such a fun time.
Sista Sal asked recently if there was a great recipe for her bounty of eggplant and if it could be kid friendly. Sista Sal speaks, Li’l Bro listens.
- 2 medium eggplants, peeled and cubed
- 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend (I like Tillamook)
- 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped onion
- 3 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup oil for frying
- Salt and Pepper to taste.
- Place eggplant in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on medium-high 3 minutes. Turn eggplant over and microwave another 2 minutes. Eggplant should be tender, cook another 2 minutes if the eggplants are not tender. Drain any liquid from the eggplants and mash.
- Combine cheese, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley, onion, garlic and salt with the mashed eggplant. Mix well.
- Shape the eggplant mixture into Patties. Heat oil in a large skillet. Drop eggplant Patties one at a time into skillet. Fry each side of the Patties until golden brown, approximately 5 minutes on each side. Freezing Patties for half hour prior to frying help with keeping their shape.
It’s a meaty day, prime for celebration! It’s National Prime Rib Day!!!! Usually the stuff of proms and weddings prime rib is the most easily recognized celebrity meat.
The enormity of the entrée is the stuff of wonder. The tenderness of the meat is due to the amount of the fat in the cut’s area and the slow roasting cooking technique. As does the deliciousness, and some simple seasonings applied don’t suck.
I worked in an establishment that had the tastiest prime rib. It operated under different names over the years. Eileen’s and LL Chapman’s were staples on the Boston Post Road in Old Saybrook. The chef was an old autocrat. Maurice Davies Blake was rumored to have cooked for the Truman Administration in the White House. He was very active in the CT Chef’s Association. The CT Chef’s Association’s membership also included my very dear Godmother Mary Marino (Their FIRST woman president) and her husband Joseph Marino. Maurice was a pain in the ass, and his food was the stuff of magic. The CT Shoreline (Yankee Key West) was eating Yankee Pot Roast, Hamsteak Hawaiian, Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, and Chicken Caesar Salad in the mid Eighties until their belts moved open a notch. These staples of his cuisine were so popular throng of the same people lined up every Friday and Saturday to get some. Chef Blake told great tales of his former restaurant ‘Maurice’s, and Peggy’s too’ in East Haddam. He had a throne reserved for him in the lounge. He could see the entire goings on of his restaurant, and fans could line up to kiss his ring. He didn’t work the line in the evening, his talents best used in saucing and seasoning the prep for the night cooks. Things had to be as he wanted. Exactly.
Young Tony: (writing special board) Chef, what’s the soup of the day?
Chef Blake: Old Fashioned New England Corn Chowder.
Young Tony: (writes) Corn Chowder.
Chef Blake: OLD FASHIONED. NEW ENGLAND. CORN CHOWDER. Write it like I told you or I’ll cut your god damned fingers off.
To be savored, Maurice in the above exchange needs to be read in a very thick Maine accent.
His prime rib would run out every weekend night. It was that good, and the source of the expression, “While it lasts”. That last part may or may not be true. Maurice was so full of stories that you couldn’t discern bullshit from bouillabaisse. You would want to listen anyway as his Maine-iac accent was earcandy, like Tom Bosley’s in ‘Murder She Wrote’. The prime rib was in two sizes; King 16 oz, Queen 12 oz. You could almost cut it with a fork, it was so tender. The color was perfect red on the medium rares, pink on the medium cooking temperatures. The au jus was so amazingly perfect for it’s seasonings, we would consume it with loaf after loaf of fresh french bread. So what if our tables needed anything at that moment, we were in church. It’s twenty five years later and you can ask any long time Shoreline Resident if they know of this prime rib and they’ll smile broad and say, “oh, yes….”. Sigggghhhh. That was some good eating.
Go find some good prime rib tonight, you deserve it. Make your night a banquet you deserve.
DISH IT OUT EXTRA:
My favorite picture of Aunty Mary.
Today, April 16th there are two overlapping holidays; National Eggs Benedict Day & Day Of The Mushroom. While the second appears suspect, we embrace it. We choose Joy here. We understand that the fungus has a National day October 16 but sympathize in that maybe it deserves two? Mushrooms have lousy cred if you think about it. It takes pigs to find them in France. They have symbolized nuclear destruction. The growing process involves keeping them in the dark & feeding them manure. We welcome their day!
National Eggs Benedict Day is a little treasure too. Such a luxurious way to start the day. Poached eggs, English muffin, hollandaise, and ham are the traditional ingredients. But this recipe continues to evolve. Sometimes there will be spinach or asparagus added. It can be fantastic with crab or lobster in place of ham. A favorite from a long gone breakfast temple on The CT Shoreline, was the Martha’s Vineyard Eggs. Two perfect poached egged atop fresh picked lobster claw meat with crisp asparagus. Generously sauced in hollandaise, the MV Eggs came on a fresh baked English muffin that was flaky heaven sent yumminess. We came back often for plates of Martha’s Vineyard Eggs, not even blinking that it was the only thing we had ever eaten there. This Temple Of Breakfast actually boasted one of my first head shots on the wall.
Obviously a talisman to “Come Hungry”, hopefully not a reason the place closed two years later.
Today in recognition of both holidays DIO! salutes two favorite foods with a tribute from Marmalade Cafe in Los Angeles! Marmalade’s Portobello Benedict is a new obsession of ours. The shroom has seized position from the English and there is spinach aplenty, Popeye. The sauce is always delicious, the cocktails are too. Marmalade has many locations to find your Bennie at, so there’s no need for the Le cochon francaise mentioned afore. (Dish! You spoke French…) We frequent the Sherman Oaks location and usually order the same thing every time. Funny what becomes a creature of habit most. We should probably send them a headshot.
Sherman Oaks, CA
14910 VENTURA BOULEVARD
Located at the corner of Ventura Blvd and Kester
For years the Portuguese Fishing community lived in peace
with the throngs (you read that right) of LGBT community that flocked to Provincetown MA. PTown, as it’s called, is the furthest point on Cape Cod. It was a haven for those wanting a peaceful life. Gays, artists and fishermen made PTown their year round home despite the cold wintry blows. It’s surrounded by water on three sides, a serene shore community fragrances with pine and jasmine. In the summer tourists cue up to take in the tonic that the beach brings.
Before tourism the Cape’s number one commerce for many years was fishing. Swordfish, lobster, bluefish and cod were in abundance. With gays, artists and fishermen is residence the food consumed in PTown has long
been incredible. Do you think any of them would eat anything but?? Portuguese cuisine is a rustic flavor trip with notes of cinnamon, spice, pepper and sweet. The families of the fishermen made great use of wonderful fresh fish and shellfish. Clam boils, roasted fish and amazing soups had wonderful earthy notes that tucked the appetite away, wrapped in a soulful way. Portuguese seafood chowder can be found on almost every menu in restaurants that line Route 6 all the way to the heart of PTown. Important elements of the soup were fresh shellfish and or fish, delicious broth flavored with saffron garlic and herbs, kale, potatoes, and spicy chorizo sausage. It was a great opportunity to clean out the fridge of leftover veggies. The magical broth and seafood bounty were a great welcome to the table.
Recently DIO! Producer Michael Vinton (Michael’s Funny Or Die Rihanna Parody here)
had a birthday that gathered his nears and dears. Family flew in to Los Angeles and guests were invited to #ComeHungry as you can imagine. A great New England Shore Dinner was planned to feed the thirty coming to celebrate the arrival of Michael’s next decade. His Mom and I rocked CostCo for the bounty needed. It being Easter Weekend, you can imagine the crowds. A late-hour snafu was discovered as the 32 gallon fryer/steamer was not going to participate in the ‘great New England Shore Dinner’. Normally the machine performs admirably, but it seems to be holding onto a grudge since Thanksgiving. With guests two hours away, a mad dash was made to assemble dinner IN BATCHES in three stock pots, keeping the catch warm in cater trays in the stove. Of course this led to some shellfish overcooking (Thanks Eric, we heard you) and a thirty minute delay for serving but all in all dinner was amazing for all to pick at.
So, why are we telling you this? Well there were bound to be leftovers. There is seldom an event that the food was plentiful and delicious. Plentiful leftovers and what was to make of our catch???? Of course the natural thing to be done was Portuguese Seafood Chowder (PSFC) A fair amount of the Shore Dinner Broth was reserved. Extra Manila clams were steamed in sautéed leeks, celery and bay leaf with the magic broth. Then came the separating the clam from their shells. EVERYONE INTO THE POOL!!!! Leftover potatoes, corn, artichokes, asparagus hopped in. Next came sausage, andouille in this case. My inner Cajun falls out on occasion, deal with it. In went fresh kale to keep it from going to mush. Finally cracked lobster claws and knuckles and shrimpies. The end result was epic, and had to be mobilized to good homes.
This PSFC may be an episode one day on the show,
but for now we hope this post inspires your love for seafood, kale, purple potatoes and Portuguese food. It’s a recipe of inclusiveness, everyone’s welcome in the bowl.
Much like PTown at the end of Cape Cod.
You heard me.
It’s March 16th and you better be loving all things green. Like artichoke hearts. Maybe they’re yellowish beige, for our content here today they’re pale green, from a green plant. For those who are green. We heart these hearts.
We first met a 1000 years ago in Yankee Key West (The CT Shoreline). We both had more hair then, me in a bi-level with a rat’s tail, Arty with a fibrous leafy covering. The chef at LL Chapman’s (more on LL another time) took three little hearts and put them in an oval ramekin. Splashed with white wine they then got a scoop of creamy italian dressing, creamy bleu cheese dressing and two pieces of swiss cheese on top. In that little Love Boat went to the oven. Ten minutes later you had Artichoke Hearts Roman (chef name) my favorite appetizer of the Summer of 1987. I couldn’t believe how easy they were to assemble, how easily they went down. Tasty tasty. The melted cheese on the side of the dish was crusty and delicious. The entire ramekin was sponge cleaned with loaves of hot Italian bread. This was of course back when carbs were something completely different. It was there we first met, in 1987. There went my heart.
Subsequently we’ve dallied together in saute with chicken, we’ve fried in a tasty breading. Arty Choke and I maintain our mutual admiration society to this day. Arty’s and mine latest spin is a great Gluten Free hors d’ oveur. In lieu of a cracker a halved artichoke heart makes a great base for tapenade or hummus or even a grilled shrimp.
Sometimes when I eat one of these little yummies I hear Celine Dion in the background crooning “……my heart will go on, and on……” and I smile about my rat’s tail.
Food For Thought:
“Almost every artichoke produced in the United States comes from California. Did you know that the town of Castroville, California crowned its first “Artichoke Queen” in 1947? The winner was a young actress named Norma Jean Mortenson who later changed her name to Marilyn Monroe!” National Artichoke Heart Day, punchbowl.com
Not that we’re ever in need to celebrate, the holidays just seem to find us. And look here, buns!! Desert served at breakfast! A great way to feel like you’ve stepped over the drudgery and gone directly to sweetcity. Put a smile on your face, and probably a little sugar residue. Make the time to treat yourself on this cold February day and bun-ish the blues, get a sticky bun. (photo via Food Network)
Our favorite to the date was one we had at the little Whistle Stop Cafe in Deep River, CT. Owner/Chef/Magician Hedy Watrous fresh bakes her buns and if she’s sweet on you, she’ll drop it french toast batter and griddle you up a slice of heaven. It was a time-stand-still kind of moment. It was Christmas in 2011 but we’re still tasting heaven. Thanks Hedy! Go see her and read about Whistle Stop Cafe here…
The Whistle Stop Cafe
108 N. Main Street
Deep River CT 06417
Where we’ve been and where we’re going is a matter of Grace. We’ve had amazing meals and events for which we are extremely grateful. We are looking to the future with great friends and loyal family, Thank-you to All!!! Hopefully our next season will be filled with brioche, ganache and the panache we relished last year. Dish It Out! experienced such great reception, we count ourselves blessed in its creation. People came hungry and are ready for seconds.
It should also make mention that both halves of the creative team mounted their weddings Season One’s inception, gracefully. Director Christopher Gregson and the lovely Operations Manager (muse) Marie Pettit
tied the knot in the great state of Texas among family and friends. Chris’s guiding eye has made DIO! a treat to the eye as well to the tummy. And the poor many has to hear Tony’s damn laugh ad nauseam in post production. Marie wears many hats in the studio, all of them in grande style. You also know Marie from her juggling garlic in Episode 5. Planning weddings long distance can be trying from the logistical stance, planning a wedding period is trying. The happy couple showed amazing verve on their first to day to taste a better life. Gracefully their exeunt flourish from the church was to the coronation music played at the end of first ‘Star Wars’ movie. Their humor resulted in a fantastic day of joy (Chosen) and jam sessions.
Producer Michael Vinton and Tony Spatafora gained a hyphen in the Blue state of Connecticut. Michael keeps all the visiting talent craftily entertained (Red Vines and Pellegrino) and the crew on schedule. Tony keeps getting in the way of the camera, for better or for worse. They married out doors by the CT River. The autumnal beauty behind them. Also not far behind them was a massive down pour driving guest to flee for shelter under tarps, gazebos and suit jackets. The happy grooms and invited loved ones accepted the blessing from above gracefully, and laughed all the way to the “I do’s”.
It’s pretty terrific to be able to do what you love, with people you love. It’s a blessing really. And for this especially we say thanks. We are coming back to you full force in Season Two. Guests, Goblets and Elves will be filling your monitors as lustful as an episode of ‘Game Of Thrones’. Okay, maybe not that lustful, we’ve dumbed down the inbreeding, and still cook on natural gas. DIO! has been on a great journey, mostly tasteful. We’ve married, we’ve tarried. We’ve tried, and fried and plied. We’ve catered, belabored. and tailored many wonderful food events that we’re gonna share with you, oh are there some great stories to share. Sound good? Well than pull up a chair we saved you a spot for you and your friend. Glad to see you, we hope you came hungry…..
Grace. I said it.
Happy Happy, and nice nice.
If you haven’t already, we are so likeable on FB https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dish-It-Out-With-Tony-Spatafora/136142373142982?fref=ts
, and followable on Twitter, @GetDish
Our lives are open, so burn up those lines like a Baked Alaska……..operators are standing by.
A couple lifetimes and botox appointments ago, I was a gardener. I did it for the gladiolus, not as a source of income. Situated in sleepy Westbrook, CT (Yankee Key West) There was this little cottage by the sea with knotty pine. I lived there with Sista Sal in my, ha- ha, salad days. I was an ideal tenant with christmas flaire and a penchant for landscaping. The seasons were (ivy) covered in great style. My gardening included maintaining containers, bulb planting, vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennials. I had this mad idea that the lawn should be covered in daffodils every spring. Each year the lawn got a little closer to Holland. It was great recreation to bring color and produce to our table.
Every year the “Perenial Love Garden” running the length of the property was introduced to new and inspired cast members. Hosta, bleeding hearts, anemone, phlox, allium; we had them all. One magical day friend Robin asked if I wanted some bamboo. Sharing ‘starts’ of new plants is common practice in Yankee Key West. She brought me a couple innocent looking pots. The Garden was going to look so cool. The bamboo turned out to be a last straw (as it were). I didn’t realize it was so virile. So agro. Bamboo spreads like a, well, like a bad idea in your early twenties. And it popped up everywhere. The Love Garden, the lawn, the adjacent driveway. The second season it made it’s way into the neighbors yard who assumed it was free white asparagus and served it with lamb one night. 86 the bamboo from the Perennial Love Garden Sista Sal asked. DIO READERS: I moved it to the far corner of my folks yard, thinking the shade would keep it dwarfish. It’s proximity to the marsh brought it a new life. Here’s a pic from a recent visit.
Twelve years later it looks like a location shot for “Crouching Tiger, Sleeping Dragon”.
I would continue to experiment in my Garden Of Good and Evil. I had a corn period, fail. I got fascinated with castor bean plants, also known as mamones. They were freaky leaved tropicals that grew wicked gnarly (remember, it’s New England) flower buds resembling blackberries. We had to say “No to Mamones”. Mile high sunflowers and morning glories were a triumph. I planted broken down fish remnants in the steps of our New England forefathers as an amazing fertilizer. My garden beds came to be the stuff of Johnny Appleseed legends. They could turn it out.
Now I told you that story to tell you this one. Every year the veggie garden got a little bigger, a little more daring. There would always be a featured guest star for each growing season. After Habanero-Hot Summer circa 1977 I thought to cool it down with planting tomatillos. Tomatillos are little fruit popular in mexican cooking.
Tomatillos grow in this charming little husk that splits open as the fruit ripens. The husks resemble chinese lanterns that I thought would match the bleeding hearts and bamboo in nearby garden beds. They produce a lot of fruit in charming little lanterns. So much so that at you can’t keep up with them as they ripen. So they may have fallen into the soil and rotten. There was so much fruit. I didn’t even think it would matter. Until the next year.
I had moved to new digs a mile away but retained liberal visitation with the Gardens. Sista Sal calls me to come over and see the fruits of my labors. All that fruit seeded the veggie garden, now in her care. Tomatillo plants were popping up all over her well appointed vegetable garden. Bamboo Redux! Almost overnight they spread like crazy. For the remainder of the growing season, there were tomatillos for everyone. Sista Sal, the neighbors, friend Robin, Uno and Due all got there fill of the tasty fruit popular in Mexican cooking. We’d leave them on doorsteps with notes saying “Freshly grown, not to be thrown”. We had to get up on what to do with this bounty, actually I had to get up on what to do with it as Sista Sal had organized a mutiny on the bounty. I had left the garden beds better than I had found them and my fruit needed to be dealt with.
I pickled tomatillos. I fried tomatillos. I baked tomatillos. I made beautiful sauces for enchiladas.
My most successful recipe for the tomatillos was for salsa. People seemed to eat it up. It was easy to assemble and always thought of as a nice gift and not “here comes Tony again with his GD tomatillos”. I thought you might like to give this a try for your summer snacking.
When you take your first taste please think of a tiny cottage surrounded by little flowers and a madman burying fish carcasses in the backyard. You’ll understand what Sista Sal got to live with and some very special summers.
Taste a Better Life!!!!