Don’t Burn the Garlic

My last post was about making chili and while I don't intend to make this a food site, this one is about cooking too. It's just that I've become something of a foodie in recent years, because I'm fortunately surrounded by people who either love good food or who are great cooks. Or both, they tend to go hand in hand. I also really enjoy cooking when I have time and seem to do more of this in the winter, when things are slower and there's less to do outside and you don't worry about heating up the kitchen too much as during summer. Italian cuisine is surely one of the world's greatest and having a partner like Anna and getting to know her family has given me something of an insider's view of Italian cooking. Or at least an aspect of it, namely the cuisines of Sicily and southern Italy. That's the thing about Italian food, it's so diverse and regional, there's an almost endless variety of dishes and ingredients and flavours, rivalled perhaps only by Chinese food. You can go high-end and it's fabulous, or you can go low-end and it's great too. Anna's people are from Sicily (on her father's side) and Brindisi - the heel of Italy's boot - on her mother's. Because these are among the poorer areas of Italy, the food from these regions tends to be very simple and basic, more rustico, less fancy. Vegetables like zucchini, eggplant and peppers, onion and garlic, grains in the form of pasta or bread, lemon, olives, cheese, fish. Not a lot of red meat, because it generally wasn't available. more [...]

My Kick-Ass Chili

I wanted to post this a few days ago, but the web server for this site went down and then I was off to Mexico for a few days......... Given the Ice Station Zebra conditions outside, I think it's time for something to warm us up, in this case my recipe for chili. I wish the name sounded a little less like chilly but trust me, a bowl of this will heat your innards and stick to your ribs, ward off the cold. I've been fooling around with making chili for 20 or 30 years now and my good friend John Sumner is another enthusiast, we've been swapping tips and ideas for years now; it was John who first introduced me to the idea of making bacon a base and using several kinds of beans. Chili is to cooking what the blues or I Got Rhythm are to jazz, a simple form you can work on for years, adding new things and taking others away as your ideas and expectations evolve. This is not an exact or scientific recipe; the amounts, ratios and ingredients may change a little each time depending on my mood and what's available. The basic method and elements are here though, I've developed it to the point where it's fairly consistent. As I see it, chili is jazz food and I'm a jazz cook, so I want it to be a little different each time, life is too short for assembly line thinking. Despite its name my chili isn't particularly spicy; although there is some heat, it's kick-ass in other ways. It's rich and meaty, has a lot of flavour and body; it's not for the faint of heart, the diet-conscious more [...]

Happy New Year with Annie & Joe Hi and Happy New Year to everyone. A friend sent me the above YouTube clip and it knocked me out so much I wanted to share it with all of you. It seems to be from a 1959 Playboy jazz special, but fortunately that leering creep Hugh Hefner has limited screen time and there's a very young Tony Bennett among the guests, smoking away like everybody else. First off there's Annie Ross, who gets up and sings "Twisted", her signature tune. It was originally a blues solo by the great tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray and Annie put lyrics to the whole thing, having to do with psycho-analysis, because of the song's original title and the fact that visiting the shrink was all the rage back then. The words are really clever and her tongue-in-cheek delivery here is very funny. This practice of putting words to instrumental jazz solos became known as vocalese, and Annie was one of the pioneers of it, along with King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson, Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks, the last two of whom appear here later on. Years after this, Joni Mitchell recorded a version of Twisted and a lot of people think Joni wrote it, which drove her and Annie both nuts, me too. Ms. Ross is backed here by none other than one of my all-time music heroes, Count Basie. There are some great shots of him, looking for all the world like a kind of sly yet benign jazz chipmunk. At the time, Annie was part of the vocal jazz trio called Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, more [...]