I was just in London – there is a 6 hour time difference. I’m still confused. When I go to dinner, I feel sexy. When I go to bed, I feel hungry.”
– Henny Youngman, Comedian
Buenos Aires – A little while back I got an e-mail from Maya. She was new to the city, liked my blog (so I liked her already), and she didn’t want to learn Spanish…not the “traditional way”. She was busy organizing the Sexy Spanish Club – a group of expat women, with a young gay man for a teacher, who will get together weekly to learn Spanish via “assignments” that includes things like “writing steamy letters to their imaginary lovers”. We stayed in touch as the process developed, and then about a week or two ago, she decided she’d like to have a sort of launch event – a dinner – and she wanted me to host it. Her blog is definitely making the rounds, because as soon as she posted the news I started getting e-mails from expat guys telling me what they were looking for and to keep an eye out…
The evening came, and so did the women – mostly. They decided for their first event to allow husbands and boyfriends to join them, plus of course their teacher, so these three men found themselves surrounded by a bevy of, well, sexy, bold women, openly talking about sex, sexual exploits, encounters, venues (I learned more about telos, the local hourly hotels, during a twenty minute discussion than I’ve heard about them during a year and a half here). Their teacher joined right in to the conversation. The two other men, one a husband, one a boyfriend, didn’t always look quite so comfortable, but gamely tried to contribute. All clearly had fun, and it was also great fun for us – even though he couldn’t understand most of the conversation, Henry loved the energy and spark that these women brought to the table.
I was given no instructions other than they wanted dinner (and one request for gluten-free)… the menu was left a secret to them until each course was served. Maya asked me for a “teaser” on the food, so I gave her: “Well, for me, sexy food is alot about the textures and the way they interplay with each other and on the tongue – but also flavors that surprise – unexpected combinations or ingredients – things that aren’t quite what they seem…”
It’s definitely moving in to summer weather here, so it’s time to move my soups towards the cold side of the palate. An obvious first choice for me was gazpacho – it’s cold, it’s satisfying, it’s got vibrant, lively flavors – but I wanted one with a bit of a twist. Definitely going with a red style gazpacho, but taking a page from a Tuscan chef friend of mine back in New York, who makes a “tomato” and red onion salad from… watermelon. It’s incredibly good by the way, and depending on the ripeness of the watermelons, sometimes people don’t even pick it up. The soup is a mix of diced watermelon, Japanese cucumbers, and red bell pepper, with finely chopped shishito peppers, celery, garlic chives, and shiso leaves. A bit of red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and white pepper is added, and just enough water to supplement the natural juices of the vegetables. This soup has to sit for at least several hours in the refrigerator to let the flavors blend and the vegetables soften slightly – recheck the seasoning just before serving – I added a touch more salt and vinegar.
It’s the height of asparagus season and I’ve been wanting to incorporate some into a menu for the last week or two. And, of course, one could claim a phallic symbolism… I decided to grill the asparagus – most sturdy vegetables taste amazing when grilled – I peeled the asparagus, trimmed off any thicker ends, and grilled them with a little olive oil, salt, and black pepper. My initial thought was to make them into a sort of summer roll – simply wrapped in moistened rice paper with a bit of cilantro and toasted pinenuts, and then served with an appropriate sauce. With the gazpacho as a cold course, I switched to sauteeing them in a little oil more like a springroll – which wasn’t as successful “looks-wise” as I would have liked – though it added a nice crunch to the dish. I tried one my original way, at room temperature, and I think I liked it better like that – so next time. Or perhaps steaming the rolls to warm them. The sauce was a simple orange-wasabi hollandaise – egg yolks, orange juice, wasabi powder, salt, and hot butter.
The combination of shrimp and sweet potato has been on my mind as I get ready for this weekend’s dinner which will include a Vietnamese favorite, banh tom. I wanted to go with a spicy dish here in the middle of the dinner, to make sure that things stayed perked up – important in a five course meal. I started off with the firecracker prawns that I’d made a couple of months ago, with the intention to serve them in a sort of pasta rather than sushi course. With the gluten restriction, I was off and looking for sweet potato vermicelli, a staple of Korean cooking. They also have this really cool slithery, slightly gelatinous texture to them that played off well against the shrimp, the sweetness of the noodles balances the spice in the sauce, and we had one sexy little bowl of pasta… the garnish is just a sprinkle of toasted flax seeds.
Okay, there, that’s a more or less phallic image… a Chicken Roulade filled with a Brazil Nut stuffing. I wanted to keep this uncomplicated, but with a lot of interplaying flavors. Chicken is great for that – “everyone” likes chicken, right? And you can completely change its image by doing all sorts of things to it. The filling was a mix of finely chopped brazil nuts (castañas de para as I found out they’re called here), shiitake mushrooms, and dried Chinese sweet sausage. Those things by themselves had more than enough flavor – a touch of salt to brighten it up a bit, then pounding the chicken breasts flat and rolling them around the filling. For baking, I rubbed them with olive oil and sprinkled them with mushroom salt and a bit of shichimi (seven-spice) powder. The sauce is a mix of a little bit of stock made from pancetta, cream cheese, and lots of chopped parsley. When they came out of the oven, I sliced the roulades and spooned the sauce around them on the plate.
After lamenting the fact just a few days earlier that no fresh figs were yet available in the market, the first ones started arriving on Monday. As I said then, I immediately decided on a fresh fig cheesecake. I mean, figs are pretty sexy in their own right. So, my classic cheesecake, with a slightly altered crust – using sweetened rice cookies and finely ground almonds; then topping that with a warmed compote of diced fresh figs, honey, and brandy. The freshly whipped cream was just a touch of overkill…
Based on the responses, I’d say the dinner was a sexy success!