Jimmy’s Food Store

A while back, Candy had this wine at an Italian restaurant in Fort Worth. It was Lacryma de Christi del Vesuvio – which translates as “Tear of Christ.” It’s a type of wine produced on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. We had been looking for the stuff all over the Metroplex and nobody had it. They all said the same thing though, “have you looked at Jimmy’s? If anybody has it, they will.” I looked up Jimmy’s Food Store and found it was on the corner of Fitzhugh and Bryan in East Dallas. Today we had some time and drove down there.

I’m familiar with that area. For years I went through there twice a day on my way to work downtown – either driving or on a bus. It was always a poor area, pretty lively, but not the place you wanted to wander around after dark. Lately, though, a lot of the run down old apartments and crude homes have been torn down and the area is primed for redevelopment and gentrification.

Meat Case - Italian Sausage and more

Do you like Nutella? - here's an eleven pound jar for seventy dollars.

Jimmy’s Food Store is a fantastic place. It’s the motherlode of specialty Italian food and wine. I heard the owner talking – he’s been in the same location for forty-two years. The neighborhood has been through some serious changes over that time, but his store has stayed the same. It was crowded with people buying Italian groceries – about a quarter of them speaking Italian.

The store isn’t very big, but holds a lot of goodness, crammed in as tight as can be. The biggest area is dedicated to wine, a huge selection of Italian wines, arranged by region and type. You can learn a lot about wine simply walking the aisles and reading the little articles they have taped to each variety.

Sure enough, they had a couple Lachryma Christi whites (the one red they carry was sold out). There was a Mastroberardino and a Vini Nobilis. We bought one of each and a couple other bottles of wine. We picked up some pasta (Pastosa – imported from Brooklyn!) some cheese and a couple of sauces to go with the pasta.

A couple of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio

This is the kind of place you don’t want to go when you are hungry. You will buy too much stuff. In addition to the wine and groceries, back next to the meat counter, is a little place where you can order sandwiches. We bought a Cuban and a Muffaletta, some drinks, and took them out to a little table out by the street. The day had started out crisp, but the Texas sun was warming everything up quickly.

Mufalletta - big enough for about three meals

Cuban Sandwich

Seating out on the street.

It was really nice sitting out there on the street eating sandwiches and enjoying the day. There was even live music – a partly blind man, Vincent Van Buren,  playing harmonica and singing the blues (and a lot of old Beatles tunes).

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Vinnie Van Buren 1

Vinnie Van Buren 2

Vinnie Van Buren 3

Vinnie Van Buren 4

Video – Partially Blind Man Plays Harmonica at Local Food Store

Antonio Ramblés – Dallas’s Italian grocery

A lot of restaurants use Jimmy’s Sausage – Like Fireside Pies

What’s Worth Drinking – Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio

Cooking Pasta like Risotto

The other day I came across an expensive pot and a technique for making pasta that I had not heard of. You cook the pasta like risotto – sautéing it in a little olive oil and then adding liquid slowly, which it adsorbs as it cooks. The oil combines with the starch in the cooking water to make a thickened sauce, and the pasta adsorbs the flavors as it cooks. A quick, one pot meal, no hot boiling pasta water to throw away.

Learn here:

I can’t afford an Alain Ducasse pot, but I dug out a medium sized dutch oven.

I didn’t want to risk any expensive ingredients, so I made do with what we had on hand. The other day, Candy and I were waiting for Microcenter to open so we could look at netbooks and to kill time, we moseyed over to a Mexican Grocery store nearby. I bought a little packet of Mexican wagon wheel pasta – they have a whole slew of little shapes, all semolina pasta (high semolina content is important to keep the pasta from getting soggy), for thirty cents a bag. I also bought some Mexican cheese to go with it, and a can of chipotles.

I figured I’d use the technique of cooking pasta like risotto, but with a south-of-the-border twist. When looking at cooking stuff, it’s the techniques that you want to learn, not the recipes.

So I threw a little splash of olive oil into the dutch oven and cooked up some onion and garlic in it. For flavor I chopped in a chipotle pepper and its adobo sauce from the can. Be careful with this, I know from experience a small amount of chipotle adds a big kick. I dumped in the package of pasta and cooked it a bit. Then, in went a can of tomato sauce.

Pasta

I pour a can of tomato sauce over the pasta, garlic, one chipote pepper (only one!) and onions that I have been cooking in olive oil in a medium dutch oven.

I cooked this for twenty minutes, slowly adding water as needed. I ended up adding right at two tomato sauce cans full of water. Stir it constantly, add it slowly, and be careful. If you don’t add enough water, it will burn on the bottom. If you add too much, the pasta will get mushy. This seems hard, but if you pay attention, it’s a piece of cake.

Water

Add the water slowly, not too much, and don't stop stirring. It stuck a bit while I was taking this picture.

Right at the end of the twenty minutes I added some vegetables. One article suggested broccoli, and that would be good, but I have this big ol’ bag of frozen peas, carrots, and beans mixed… so I dumped about a cup and a half in. The article stresses out about how long to cook the broccoli – if I had been using fresh vegetables I would steam them a bit ahead of time and dump them in at the end – no problem. Since these were frozen, all I had to do is let them warm up.

Then, in with the cheese. I had bought the wrong kind of Mexican cheese and it didn’t melt. So I left the chunks in for protein and added some shredded mozzarella. That seems kind of a weird mixture, but it was delicious.

Cheese

In goes the cheese, Unfortunately I bought the wrong kind of Mexican cheese and it didn't melt. No problem, I pulled out some shredded mozzarella and it was all good.

To serve, you plop the dutch oven down on the table on a trivet, and dig in. It’s sort of a one-pot meal, but a salad is nice along side.

Done

Ready to serve. It tasted a lot better than it looks in this picture. The pasta was just right and adsorbs the flavor of the chipotle (only one!), the garlic, and the tomato sauce.

So now I have a new technique for cooking pasta. The only downside is that you have to stand there stirring while it cooks, but it’s only twenty minutes. Pasta sauce is almost as much trouble by itself, and this way there’s no boiling water.

I like it.

What I learned this week – August 5, 2011

I’ve been fighting through some nasty bouts of writer’s block and finding help where I can.

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

By SUSANNAH BRESLIN

From Forbes Magazine

Stuck on what to write?

Try something different.

The only way to beat writer’s block is to write your way through it.

TIP #1: Write anything.

A decade ago, a friend of mine told me I had to stop writing short stories and write a novel. I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to do just that. I’ve had agents, finished drafts I decided I didn’t like, and given up on more than one occasion.

TIP #2: Forget everything else.

A few years ago, based on the first 30 pages of my novel, I was signed by a big Hollywood talent agency. That led to me pitching an HBO drama sort of based on my novel to Mark Wahlberg’s production partner and ended not long after that.

Eventually, I decided to forget agents, publishers, and pretty much every dream I ever had related to the novel other than making it into something I liked.

TIP #3: Never give up.

I finished that draft earlier this year, but then I got stuck in the revisions.

One problem with writing is that it is a solitary act.

Also, writing a novel is a marathon, and I am a sprinter.

TIP #4: Do what scares you.

In order to deal with my rewriter’s block, I decided to revise my novel in public. This requires a daily act of bravery. Every day, I post a revised section of my novel on a blog I set up to do just that. (The blog is here. The novel starts here.)

TIP #5: Write what you know.

My novel is about a federal agent looking for a missing adult film star. (This is what I know.)

As far as overcoming a block, this is what’s working for me.


The battle over our constitutional protections has now reached the point where our god-given right to hang huge plastic bull testicles from our trailer hitches is being threatened.

Truck Nutz Hooters

Truck Nutz Hooters

From Fox News

On July 5, Virginia Tice, 65, from Bonneau, S.C. pulled her pickup truck into a local gas station with red, fake testicles dangling from the trailer hitch. The town’s police chief, Franco Fuda, pulled up and asked her to remove the plastic testicles.

When she refused, he wrote her a $445 ticket saying that she violated South Carolina’s obscene bumper sticker law.

David Hudson, a First Amendment attorney and scholar, says laws banning these types of decals, emblems or bumper stickers are problematic, but often someone just hasn’t challenged them.

Hudson believes Tice and her lawyer can make a good case the South Carolina law is “unconstitutionally vague and unconstitutionally broad, and it violates the First Amendment.”

Hudson detailed many cases where law enforcement officials cited individuals for the content of their bumper stickers, and in the majority of those cases, a judge tossed them out because “the First Amendment protects a great deal of offensive expression.”

Hudson also cites the Supreme Court’s opinion that “the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Read More

I’m not too happy this case is going to court … it is sure to result in a hung jury.

Here in Dallas, the question has been asked and answered.


I learned that there is a way to cook pasta that looks really good and really easy. Unfortunately, it takes a pot that I can’t afford.

Alain Ducasse - Pasta Pot

Alain Ducasse - Pasta Pot, by Alessi

From the New York Times:

Alain Ducasse and the designer Patrick Jouin have created a pasta pot for Alessi that perfectly shows off Mr. Ducasse’s pasta-cooking method.

First the pot: it is slope-sided stainless steel with a mirror finish. The well-balanced cast aluminum handle stays fairly cool and serves as a nesting place for the melamine spoon that fits it. The flat lid has a steam vent, and the set comes with a melamine trivet for stove-to-table service. A recipe booklet is included. It is $238 at the Alessi store in SoHo at 130 Greene Street (Prince Street) and at the new store that opened two weeks ago at 30 East 60th Street.

Now for the pasta: Mr. Ducasse said he learned this all-in-one technique from traditional olive oil makers in the Ligurian region of Italy. Instead of boiling pasta, making a sauce and combining them, he sautés aromatics, including garlic and onion, in the pot, stirs in the pasta, then slowly adds stock, so the pasta absorbs the liquid and softens. It is an effective method, like making a risotto, that takes about 20 minutes for delicious results. The starch in the pasta, which is not discarded in boiling water, thickens the stock, making a lush sauce. The process is for short macaroni cuts like penne, not spaghetti.

——–

But there is hope, my friends. I think I can make this recipe in a Dutch Oven. Man, looking at this is making me hungry.


More Pasta Information. From Malcolm Gladwell, the genius, via the TED network (which is chock-a-block with interesting lectures and… stuff, thanks, Carrie).

Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.


I think I know what’s wrong. We’re all stuck in an Army Ant Death Spiral.