Let’s Hear it For New York (Or How to Make a Manhattan)

It’s hard not to think about where you were on September 11, 2001. I had just moved across the country for grad school 22 days earlier, and I was only half awake when I heard the caller on a morning radio show say, “When the second plane hit the tower…”.

I had close friends in Manhattan that day, and I won’t pretend to understand the magnitude of the loss or terror they experienced. I didn’t lose anyone dear to me. I only lost a sense of security, a sense that my country was too powerful to be vulnerable. Yet, still it haunts me.

In the days and months that followed, I will admit I questioned what I was doing so far away from my family. Today I find myself reflecting on that same question and thinking about my friends in New York. Thinking about the time I have spent in that city, and the experiences I’ve had there.

Here I am at a cafe somewhere between midtown and the east village on my 30th birthday. Let’s pretend I just turned 30 this year, K?

I find myself at a crossroads of sorts today. My career has been a wild ride, complete with some truly unexpected turns, and my relationship with Los Angeles has been a tumultuous one at times.

So tonight while I reflect on the past and look ahead to an uncertain future, I will do it while sipping a Manhattan. It seems only right.

If you find yourself in an Empire State of Mind, here are two variations on the Manhattan recipe.

This is a “Perfect” Manhattan, and I’m not saying because I’m an amazing bartender or anything. I’m saying it because that’s what you call the drink when you have equal parts sweet and dry vermouth.

Perfect Manhattan

2 oz whiskey
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz dry vermouth
dash of Angostura bitters
orange zest, to garnish

Stir alcohol with ice before straining into a chilled martini glass. Add the garnish and serve. (I must admit I sometimes skip the orange zest because I don’t always have oranges in the house.)

This version? With the cherry? It’s the sweet kind.

Sweet Manhattan

1 ½ oz whiskey
¾ oz sweet vermouth
dash of orange bitters
maraschino cherry, to garnish

Stir alcohol with ice before straining into a chilled martini glass. Add the garnish and serve.

Tonight, I’m going with the Perfect Manhattan, and I just might crank up Sinatra’s New York, New York while I’m making it.

I’m Feeling Nostalgic (Or How to Make Orso’s Seafood Saffron Risotto)

Seafood Saffron Risotto with Parsley Garnish Inspired by Orso’s Dish.

It was January 2004, and Brett Favre was still known as the Packers’ Super Bowl-winning QB instead of a grandfather accused of sexting with a Maxim model on the Jets sidelines. For some reason I was feeling cocky (pardon the pun) during the NFC playoffs, and I placed two bets on the Eagles/Packers matchup with two of my best guy friends.

Needless to say I lost both of those bets after the Eagles got a first down on fourth and 26 (devastating clip below). Not only did I lose a case of Heineken to Neil, but I also owed Josh $50. Never mind that my team also lost the game…. It was kind of a bad Sunday.

I’m not going to lie: handing over a dozen Heinekens to a diehard Eagles fan hurt a little, but I’m not one to bilk my buddies on a bet. I was also prepared to fork over 50 bucks to Josh (even if he only bet against my team to antagonize me), but he decided it would be more fun if I took him out to dinner instead. I never pass up an excuse to go out to eat, even if I am paying, so obviously I agreed.

How we ended up at Orso, an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills, at 10 pm is a very long story that involves a Brett Ratner movie wrapping late, Dick Cheney’s fleet of black Suburbans backing up traffic all over LA, and Nozawa, the Sushi Nazi of the San Fernando Valley, refusing to let us in when we arrived five minutes late.

So, anyway, there we were on the Orso patio, absolutely famished. Everything that could have gone wrong with our dinner plan had gone wrong thus far. Our luck changed when I surveyed the offerings and saw that the rotating menu included seafood saffron risotto.

“Sweet salvation by carbs!” I cried. (It was my favorite dish at the restaurant, and it was not always available.)

Even if Dick Cheney’s cavalcade of cars had kept us from our fancy raw fish, I was still able to have some seafood, and the dish was divine.

After salads, entrees, pinot grigio, moscato, and biscotti, I think my $50 bet ended up costing me more like $150, but we had a blast, and it did make me forget about the end of the Packers’ playoff run, if only for the night.

Sadly, the restaurant (named after a Venetian dog) closed years ago.

So, here I am eight years later, unable to name a dog “Brett” as I had once planned (see earlier sexting scandal), and feeling a bit nostalgic about football and the seafood saffron risotto at an LA restaurant that is no more.

I created my own version of the dish as best I could from memory, and I intend to eat it tonight while watching Michigan’s overtime win in the 2012 Sugar Bowl that is still saved on my DVR. You might want to pair your meal with something more soothing like, say, Chet Baker, but I need more football in my life.

My version of the recipe is below:

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Seafood Saffron Risotto

5 Cups chicken broth
¾ Cup dry white wine
6 Tablespoons butter
4 Garlic cloves
½ Teaspoon saffron threads
1 Pound of Trader Joe’s mixed seafood (shrimp, calamari and mini scallops)*
2 Shallots
1 1/2 C Arborio rice
Chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Bring broth, saffron threads, and ¼ C of wine to simmer in a saucepan. Reduce the heat; keep mixture warm.

Place the frozen seafood in a colander and run hot water over to slightly thaw it. Drain completely.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add 3 cloves of minced garlic and the seafood mixture. Sautee the seafood until the shrimp begin to turn pink. This should take about 2 minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup of wine and simmer until the seafood is cooked. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Set aside the seafood and cooking liquid.

Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped shallots and 1 remaining clove of minced garlic. Sautee until the shallot is cooked, about 4 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat, about 2 minutes.

Add 2 cups of the broth mixture. Simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, stirring frequently. Continue adding the broth mixture, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently, and simmering until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. This will take about 20 minutes. Stir in reserved seafood liquid and the seafood. Cook until the rice is slightly tender, and the mixture is creamy. This will take about 5 additional minutes.

Season the risotto to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and serve.

*You can obviously use fresh seafood, which will improve the taste. I was looking to cut costs a little. The dish is still very tasty even with the frozen fare.