Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This little truffle pig is vacationing from blogland

Given the fact that my last post was in July, I think I've sadly realized I just can't keep up a regular blog posting schedule while the school year is in session (one of my "dayjobs" is in education). So, it looks like I'll keep my blogging to winter and summer recess.

Hope some of you will pay me a visit again in December!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Paris Round-up: Part 1

K and I have spent nearly two weeks in Paris thus far, literally hopping from cafe to tea house to bar to bistro to ice-cream shop to brasseries to creperie to lounge all day and all night long. There has scarcely been a moment that one of us has not been consuming something, but we haven't had an ounce of bad luck yet and we've been eating and drinking remarkably well. As anyone who's spent some time in Paris will realize when I begin listing our conquests, most of the places we've patronized are within a few doors of each other; K and I haven't really walked too far afield of the the 3 block radius or so of our apartment on the lovely Rue du Bourg Tibourg in the heart of the Marais.

Here are some of the trip's culinary highlights so far:
  • L'as du Falafel (Rue du Rossiers): If you happen to be lucky enough to grab your 4.50 euro falafel special when those creamy crunchy balls of deliciously herbed chickpea puree come sizzling out of the deep fryer, you'll understand why this place deserves all of the hype that's been heaped onto it over the years. Complementing your perfect pita is a great melange of fresh and grilled vegetables and zesty tahini sauce. The schwarma is also superb!
  • Mariage Freres (Rue du Bourg Tibourg): This is hands-down the world's best tea. The combined tea-house/shop's fragrance wafts down the entire block making it an irresistible pit-stop for those of us who are easily tempted by such heavily scents. Inside, the decor is colonial, drawing influences from all the great tea regions of the world, and service is white-suited and as delicate as it comes. You are seated with a 200 page book called The Art of Tea, which serves as both an informative dossier on the experience and a detailed catalogue (with tasting notes) of the hundreds of teas they offer. Although some of my favorite teas there are the Marco Polo, French Blue, Bal Masque, Casablanca, and The des Impressionists, I haven't had a dud yet. And the food is as good as the tea, with brilliant brunch platters and high-class afternoon tea sandwiches. My favorite combo (this week): K and I share the Pondicherry Afternoon Tea (30 euros) which comes with a pot of tea (we choose the Impressionists), a platter of tea sandwiches (featuring fabulous ingredients fois gras and smoked magret and shrimp and smoked salmon!), and a dessert (we always choose the coup du soleil, which is more or less a creme brulee pie with fresh raspberries tucked away inside the custard).
  • La Belle Hortense (Rue Vieille du Temple): This is a combination wine bar/literary cafe/book shop that embodies most of what I love about Paris. Trilingual academic discussions fill the air with the haze of cigarettes and seemingly endless clink of glasses filled with gorgeous (and cheap!) wine. They make some of the best cafe in Paris--by my reckoning at least--and have some unique items like an aperitif made of truffles. If you work up an appetite with all of your yammering, you can order from the menu from Les Philosophes, the bar's sister-restaurant across the street (they have great steak tartar and excellent duck confit with honey, available as the main course in a 3-course fixed price meal available for 26 euros--if you, however, want to sample the most delightfully Gallic restaurant service ever, you should really head over to the restaurant itself and spend the evening attempting to catch the attention of the playfully surly servers!).
  • Creperie Suzette (Rue du Franc Bourgeois): In the past 5 years, K and I have probably spent a weeks-worth of our cumulative vacation time gobbling down this simple but adorable creperie's fine fare. From the simple sugar & butter crepes to savory offerings like the Franc Bourgeois (spinach, emmenthal, tomato coulis, and basil oil) and unique sweet treats like the Creme du Marron (chestnut cream and creme fraiche), this place is always good for a quick to-go fix or for a leisurely lunch or dinner in their air-conditioned interior. Dinner for two can be kept under 22 euros and they offer continuous service throughout the day.
  • Cafe de Medicis (Luxembourg Gardens): K and I visited this cafe (overlooking the stunning Luxembourg Gardens and adjacent to the always-interesting Luxembourg Museum) before taking in the delightful marionette show in the gardens. While I can't really speak for most of the items on the menu, it's always a great place to sit-down with a cafe and they Club Sandwich Fois Gras is really something else: several geese worth of buttery fois gras is arranged, in a deconstructed presentation, with some slices of brioche, grilled pineapple, caramelized onions, and port glaze. I forced so much (albeit delicious and amusingly paired) fois gras down my gullet that I began to feel a little bit like the poor geese they make the stuff with!
  • Le Nemrod (Rue du Cherch Midi): Just a few blocks south of the incomparable boulangerie of the late Lionel Poilane (which is thankfully still baking up his intoxicating sourdough-started loaves) is a great little spot where you can get Paris' best Croque Madame. Nemrod's version features not only the standard fine ham and cheese topped with bechamel and a perfectly fried sunnyside-up egg, but the entire thing is on a slab of Poilane's finest and it makes a tremendous difference. Oh, and they put tomato wedges on the sandwich when they put it through the broiler! It's a little out of way but it is definitely worth the trek...
  • Pont Louis Phillipe (on the Ile St. Louis side): Best picnic location ever. Grab your bottle of wine, your smelly cheese, some baguette, prosciutto, and couscous and enjoy the acoustic strummings of nearby troubadors as you watch the Bateaux Mouche tourboats drive by and light up the City of Lights.
Okay, off to La Belle Hortense.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

40 pounds a day

So, in honor of the overexposed Rachel Ray, K & I tried to do London on 40 pounds a day. One would think, given the exchange rate that $40 a person for 3 meals & tea wouldn't be that hard, but London is such an expensive city that we were much closer to gaining 40 pounds of fat than we were to keeping our wallets in check.

Our Zoom Airlines flight got in roughly 4 hours late (or right on time, as Zoom fully discloses that all of their departure and arrival times are approximate) so we arrived in London proper by noon, a little wary of mass transit given the recent bombings. We hit the streets from Waterloo station after stowing our baggage. I wanted to head right for fish & chips but K hadn't had any breakfast yet and wanted something resembling coffee and a pastry. We tried to find the nearest cafe (avoiding the 2 Starbucks we passed) and settled on the Charles Dickens Cafe because it accepted Euros and we hadn't gone to a cash machine yet. Big mistake. No iced coffee (which was all K really wanted), uninspiring pastries, and I don't know what sort of fuzzy math they used to convert the Euros, but we got a pound back from a 10 euro note after buying an espresso and juice.

More than a little bit frustrated, we moved on to find what we heard was the best fish & chips joint in London, Rock and Sole Plaice. The take-away menu was very reasonable (at least it would have been if those were dollar signs in front of the numbers) but there was a treat tempting us only on the sit-down menu so we decided it was worth the tripled prices. On one of Alton Brown's Good Eats episodes (Flat is Beautiful III: Flounder), whilst shopping for flat fish at a Georgia Whole Foods, the man himself asserted that if one ever has the opportunity to try Dover Sole, often very very expensive, one simply had to. With this declaration in mind, I had no choice other than to order the market priced (gasp!) Dover Sole, fried whole. I doused it in lemon and malt vinegar and began picking away at it. Great crispy and flavorful fried crust, doing exactly what a fried crust should do, keeping the delicate and buttery Dover Sole moist and tender on the inside. Even K, who is the first admit she doesn't have much of a palette for white fish and even less of one for fried foods found the subtle flavors very complex and satisfying. Since I wanted to nibble on an authentic version of a dish I've tried at home, I asked K to order the Cornish Pasty for herself. That was quite something, too, with the root vegetables tasting rooty, moist and flavorful (as opposed to starchy and dry, that is) and the ground beef very well-seasoned. The pasty's texture itself was as flaky as a puff pastry. Overall, a great fattening meal, which, unfortunately, cost nearly as much as the tasting menu I described in my last post about JLOB.

We headed over to the National Gallery and took in its stunning permanent collection and then meandered over to the National Cafe where we took in a Cream Tea service. A pot of tea, a scone, and a dish full of Jersey clotted cream for roughly $8 American. The tea itself was mediocre, certainly no Mariage Freres, but the raisin scone was quite something; I told K it was all of the pleasure of muffin tops without any of that pesky cakey muffin middle! Said scone was even further improved by the decadent Jersey cream (which, neophyte as I am, I mistook for butter as its color is hued more towards the caramel than the milk end of the spectrum) and divine raspberry preserves (the jar of which seemed to be reduced from a 1-ton vat of raspberries and yes that is a very good thing!). I'm not supposed to say anything about this but someone who happened to be sitting at my table (who certainly couldn't be K!) liked the preserves and cream so much that she actually started eating it by the spoonful whenever she could be sure that the waitress wasn't eyeing her. :)

We decided it was highly inappropriate to follow tea immediately with dinner, but we were on a tight schedule with a chunnel ride to Paris awaiting us at 7:43pm. We killed about 90 minutes wandering around the Leicester Square area, trying to squeeze the clotted cream through our by then surely clotted arteries, and then settled on a noodle-house chain called Wagamama. We were little bit concerned about the time, but our host reminded us that it was technically fast food so it shouldn't take too long. I ordered a delightful and refreshing pressed juice blend with cucumber, pomegranate and apple and layered like a parfait. K and I shared an app and an entree, opting for the deep-fried duck and leek gyoza and the seafood ramen. The duck was tasty though I realized that, with the exception of the occasional pork potsticker at Dumping House in NYC, I tend to prefer my dumplings steamed. That said, it was crispy while staying definitively un-greasy! After the day's delicious fried goods and other fatty indulgences, the main course was so clean and light: a very delicate vegetable broth with healthy-tasting ramen noodles (were they whole wheat?) and generous helpings of grilled shrimp, calamari, and dory. One rarely feels cleansed after a giant bowl of soup but this certainly did the trick!

We miraculously caught the Eurostar and, as first class was in this case cheaper than economy, we were treated to a second dinner, though K preferred to sleep through it and I was too stuffed to eat anything besides the 5 steamed shrimp on a skewer. I did help myself to the free wine though!

Okay, more updates in coming days as we eat our way through Paris.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What a week!

So it's been a little while since my last post, primarily because I've been so busy eating. K and I discovered a great new restaurant near our theatre company's rehearsal space and the harvest has started heating up with our new CSA so I've had some great fresh produce to work with (this newsletter details what our weekly take was).

Let's talk about this restaurant first. It's called Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar, located on 2nd Avenue in the East Village and wow is this place a gem: service like you'd find only in the world's most elegant restaurants, jaw-droppingly stunning presentation, complex unique flavor pairings, and quite a lot of bang for one's buck.

I got the tasting menu and here is what I tasted:
  • Fruit de Mer Sampler: 1 East Coast Oyster, 1 West Coast Oyster, 1 Littleneck Clam, and a Toast Point with Caviar. Served simply, each with a little flavor-enhancing garnish. Possibly the freshest raw seafood I've had and certainly the best I've had outside of Poke.
  • Torchon of Tuna and Foie Gras with Blood Orange and Cilantro: Imagine the texture of creme brulee, rich, creamy and crispy (with a caramelized ginger glaze), but instead of a custard inside, there's a delicately mixed blend of tuna tartar and foie gras. The side salad was the perfect complement, with bright fruity acidic flavors to cut through any of the torchon's fattiness.
  • Duck Liver Pate with Port Gelee and Truffle: An arresting deconstructed preparation which, when mixed, provided one of the most decadent savory treats I've had in my life. The creamy pate had a light whipped consistency and was topped with the sweet gelee. The waiter instructed me to mix the hefty spoon full of chopped black truffles into the pate, and then spread the mixture on toast points, garnishing it with the accompanying ancient mustard, pickled onions, and cornichon. A-mazing!
  • Butter Poached Lobster with Pistachios, Haricot Vert, Mushrooms, and Lobster Jus: All of the pleasure of cracking open a steamed lobster and dipping it in melted butter, except someone has already done the work for you, pulling out the lobster's meatiest bits and infusing them with a deep butter flavor for you. They were tossed with the jus and the vegetables, with the haricot vert's crunch providing a nice counterpoint to the melt-in-your-mouth lobster and chewy mushrooms. The pistachios were ground in a line on the side of the plate, allowing me to coat each bite in the perfect amount of nutty texture.
  • Pear Sorbet with Greek Yogurt and Vanilla: Simple and delicious. The pear and vanilla are a natural pair (pun definitely intended!) but the tartness of the greek yogurt really woke up my palette and let me taste the full round flavors of the the sorbet.
  • "S'More" Chocolate-Pistachio Nougat and Toasted Marshmallow: Above and beyond the best S'mores experience of my life. The marshmallows were homemade and luxuriously textured, each caramelized to perfection like a very small creme brulee.
Not bad for $50 right? Yep, I said FIFTY DOLLARS!!! That's insanely cheap for such quantities of food this good. JLOB was the first (non-Japanese) restaurant I've visited since Babbo that I've said to myself, "My god I could never cook this myself!" I mean, it's not like I walk into every restaurant and say, "Oh, this is so easy I could have whipped it up in just a few minutes." That said, I can usually figure out a way to create a dumbed-down and simplified version of most things I eat at restaurants. Not so with JLOB; the techniques, the flavors, the presentation, the ingredients were all lightyears beyond my meager abilities. Reason enough to go to cooking school if I ever tasted one!

...And now a meal I cooked later in the week:


Gorgonzola Salad with Sundried Tomato Dressing
:

A simple mixed salad with romaine, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, roasted red peppers, red onions, and slices of gorgonzola, topped with a (thick) dressing made from pureed rehydrated sundried tomatoes, lemon juice, and pistachio oil.

Grilled Figs Wrapped in Serrano Ham and Stuffed with Gorgonzola
:

As simple as it sounds. Slice fresh figs open enough to cram them full of the (chilled) smelly fromage. Wrap them in Serrano or prosciutto and give them a good rub down to make sure the ham is going to stay on. Pop them onto a hot grill and turn every 90 seconds or so. Serve immediately while the ham is still warm. Hot and cold. Salty and sweet. A party in your mouth.

Gnocchi with Chanterelles & Crispy Sage in a Brown Butter and Truffle Oil Sauce
:

This picture looks pretty gnarly but the dish itself was one of my best gnocchi preparations. As you're boiling up the gnocchi, saute the fresh sage and chanterelles in butter. Pour in a glug or two of truffle oil and some starch pasta water to thicken. Toss with gnocchi and garnish with crushed red pepper and shaved parmesan.

Had enough?

Tough. It's my foodblog and I'll back log as many posts as I like :) ! You can be sure I've spared you from the details of most of the fabulous meals I've consumed this past week, like the great stir fry I made with the mizuna and chinese cabbage that came from my CSA this week, or my intoxicating trip to Poke with E & K. But there are two more recipes I want to keep in my little virtual recipe box, both from last night:

Grilled Seafood Salad with Grilled Tomatoes and Grilled Citrus Vinaigrette:

The perfect summer salad. Get your grill (or your grill pan) hot and keep it hot. Halve a lemon and a lime and grill them till they're striped. Squeeze half of the lemon and half of the lime into a bowl, reserving the other halves for garnish. Whisk in some olive oil, honey, salt, and black pepper until you have a nice emulsion. Put that dressing aside for a bit and work on the salad itself. Grill a medley of halved small heirloom tomatoes until they're striped and put them on a bed of chopped greens (I used the mizuna and red sail lettuce from my CSA). I happened to have some garlic scape on hand so I chopped that up and threw it on top of the greens and tomatoes. Now, with a hot grill, char up any mixture of small shrimp, calimari, and tiny bay scallops (at those sizes you can cook them all together without overcooking either of the elements...Trader Joes makes a frozen bag of the stuff!). Toss them on top of the salad, drizzle the dressing on, and garnish with the grilled citrus fruits and summer savory (also came with CSA but wow that was a great discovery!).

Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce:

It's true, I had a box of gnocchi I've slowly been working my way through; it's a great way to turn a skimpy meal into hearty fare and takes to a wide variety of flavors very well. Simmer some light cream and melt gorgonzola in to taste. Stir in some dried sage and a dash of white pepper. Toss the gnocchi in the sauce, drain of excess cream with slotted spoon, plate, and garnish with summer savory and shaved parmesan (as cheesy as the sauce is, the parmesan still cuts through and adds some nice treble flavors).

Saturday, June 2, 2007

My Big Fat Low-Fat Burritos

The quandary: I wanted big and bold Mexican flavors but it was just too disgusting out to yearn for standard Mexican fare.

The solution:

I'll be honest, I've never cooked a burrito before. I've made quite a few quesadillas in my day and I make a mean chipotle chocolate chile, but I've never braved burritoville, as it were. I have made wraps, though, and that's pretty much all a burrito is. So, on to the components:
  • Rice: I just used Trader Joe's microwaveable brown rice. It's moist and crunchy and ready from the nuke in just 3 min.
  • Beans: I heated up some canned organic black beans and fat free canned organic refried beans (which I had to hydrate a little bit).
  • Salad: Just shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes.
  • Cheese: What's better than cheddar? Okay, pepper jack probably would have been fine...
  • Beef: I had my last bag of frozen (humane) lean ground beef from last season's CSA to use up so I mixed about half a pound up with some grill seasoning, cumin, and cinnamon and browned it with some garlic in some olive oil in my cast iron. Once the meat started caramelizing, I stirred in a big ol' spoon of tomato paste and 2 chipotle peppers (canned in adobo). A little more cumin and cinnamon and then I took the heat down and let it all stew together for a bit.
  • Toppings: Fat-free sour cream, guacamole, salsa, diced tomatoes, more cheddar, and a few slices of lime.
  • Beverage: Corona. Lime.
Done and delicious. It was nice to control every single ingredient that went into a meal that I'm accustomed to ordering from the likes of Taco Bell and Chipotle, and it obviously tasted much better. It wasn't really the sort of burrito that you can eat with your hands, though--I got a bit greedy while stuffing it!

And for dessert...

Sweet Plantains
Slice 2 ripe plantains up on diagonals so they have more surface area than the usual disc cuts. Melt some butter in a cast iron and brown them on one side. Flip them and sprinkle some brown sugar and white sugar on, as well as a healthy dousing of real vanilla extract (off the heat if you have a gas stove). Make the plantains dance for you in the air as you toss them to coat with the vanilla caramelly mixture. Plate them with a lime wedge to cut through the sweetness a bit.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mango Madness

I seem somehow to have lifted my food curse. Dinner was really pretty great tonight. With tropical humidity here in NYC this weekend (YUCK!!!) I decided to purchase a bunch of mangoes and see what I could come up with.

Mango Gazpacho with Shrimp
This is actually much easier than it sounds because if you can dig up all of the ingredients and a blender, it's pretty hard to screw it up. Take about 8 vine-ripened tomatoes and peel them (much simpler if you cut an "x" at the bottom and blanch them for 1 minute before shocking them in an ice bath. ) Chop them up and throw them into a bowl along with half a cucumber diced, half of yellow onion diced, half of a red onion chopped, 2 pressed cloves of garlic, and 2 minced jalapenos. In a food processor, blend together the juice of 1 lemon and 3 or 4 glugs of good olive oil. Put it on pulse and pour in the bowl of veggies, chopping until it is "rustically" textured (soupy but chunky). Add the zest of one lemon, the zest of one lime, and about 4 inches of microplaned ginger, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a large bowl and stir in 2 roughly chopped mangoes and about a dozen small boiled or steamed shrimp (or you can chop up larger ones if that's all you can get). Garnish with cilantro and lime. Sweet, salty, spicy, scrumptious!

Mango and Brie Quesadillas
Do all of your prep ahead of time, with piles of mango, sliced brie, jalapenos, and cilantro ready to go so your tortillas don't burn. Get a cast-iron or nonstick toasty over medium heat. Place a tortilla on it and move quickly. On half of the tortilla, layer sliced mango, brie, minced jalapenos, and chopped cilantro and fold the other half of the tortilla over omelette style. Press down with a spatula until the top sticks to the bottom. Let it cook on that side for no more than 45 seconds and then flip. Serve it with a cool sauce made of non-fat sour cream, the juice of 1 lime, lime zest, and chopped cilantro and garnish with a few more slices of mango. This dish is both refreshing and decadent. (Oh, and you might have noticed my dog Ben hiding underneath the table; he LOVES mangoes!)

If you're looking for a wine pairing for all of this (or if you're too tired to blend up some margaritas or Cran-quilas!), I suggest Cambrago's Soave Classico 2005. As the wine store clerk said, if you can deal with the fact that it's got Soave written on the label, it's actually a really great wine, and a nice bargain at $13.95.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Food curse?

Oh, friends. Your resident truffle pig is going through a rough patch. As if my earlier post about osso bucco bungling and tiramisu trauma weren't enough, I had a veritable salt cod catastrophe this evening. Sure it looks good (see inlaid photo) and sure 70% of it tasted great, but the cod pieces themselves were practically inedible. Thing is: I can't figure out where I went wrong. I soaked the cod overnight and shredded it just like I have in the past. I think it might have just been a bad cut of salt-cod. From here on in, I'm sticking to fresh scrod for this recipe.

"Flaky Fish of Some Sort" Biscaino:
Heat up some olive oil over medium high heat with some red pepper flakes and anchovies. Once the anchovies melt, drop in diced carrots, celery, and onions and some sliced garlic, sauteing until they start to caramelize a bit. Deglaze with Vermouth and pour in a can of crushed roasted tomatoes. Stir it up and let it get a little bubbly before you stir in some saffron, cinnamon, and ground cloves. Lay the shredded fish in the mixture and cook until it gets flaky. Pour in some capers, green olives, and some boiled new potatoes. Once their warm, garnish with parsely and serve over rice.

Two Italian Meals

I think I've cooked (and dined out at) much more Italian this year than in years past. I have no idea why. The only reasons I could come up with happen to directly negate each other. Either (1) the presence of CSA produce in my life makes me want to cook and eat food that showcases freshness (which Italian does well) or (2) my inability, as of late, to go grocery shopping on a regular basis has forced me to rely heavily on pantry ingredients (which, with its dried pastas, canned tomatoes, etc, Italian cuisine naturally excels at).

At any rate, I cooked for K, E, and L for L's birthday schindig last week...the whole thing was sort of a culinary failure on my part but, with enough wine, few people complain about free food.

A list of my idiocy:
  • I made Giada's Osso Bucco and I FORGOT TO PUT IN THE BOUQUET GARNI THAT I PREPARED!!!
  • I made a mushroom ragout for some polenta patties and I FORGOT TO BUY CREAM TO THICKEN THE MUSHROOM SAUCE!!!
  • After whipping up the ingredients for this Tiramisu recipe, I delegated assembly to E and I FORGOT EXACTLY HOW LONG THE LADYFINGERS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE SOAKED!
There's more, but it just hurts to much to think back :)

I made up for my sins last night by cooking well for K.

Here's my Linguine alla Vongole:
Saute sliced garlic, minced anchovies, and a few red pepper flakes in a healthy amount of olive oil on a medium-high heat. Let it all get golden and yummy, taking it off the heat to make sure it doesn't burn. Deglaze with some white wine and lemon juice and then pour in a can of high-quality clams. Stir and give the ingredients some time to get to know each other under a lid and over some low heat. Boil up the pasta and drop a splash of the pasta water into the clam sauce. Mix the drained pasta into the sauce and pour on a glug on high quality olive oil off the heat. Garnish with parsley.

Preserved Salad: (see above picture!)
So, this simple salad is just mesclun, tomatoes, hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, anchovies, and parsely doused with a vinaigrette made from rustic mustard, balsamic vinegar, orange blossom honey, lemon juice, and pistachio oil. Yum.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Boston, Day 2: Rachel Ray saves the day?

The Neighborhood Restaurant
After spending a few morning hours in the hotel hot-tub, K, E, and I went to meet some of E's grad school friends for brunch. The Neighborhood Restaurant is known for serving hearty breakfast fare at student-friendly prices. The entrees (between $5 and $12) are all served with orange juice, coffee, cream of wheat, and a virtually unfinishable main course. I ordered the "Portuguese Breakfast," tempting it me as it was with a bevy of unorthodox breakfast items. It came with two poached eggs, linguiƧa sausages, 3 croquettes (shrimp, cod, and some sort of cheese), and some sort of dark entrail meat (blood sausage?). Oh yeah, AND rice and beans.

While the eggs were perfectly poached (runny yolk getting absorbed by the yummy rice and beans) and the linguiƧa was spicy and flavorful, I wasn't wild about the croquettes and I really had a hard time with the unidentified entrails. But such is the risk that accompanies my ordering antics. The real star here is the cream of wheat appetizer that precedes the whole meal. It's creamy, cinnamony, and just a little bit citrusy, warm and comforting without being sedating.

With our tummies stuffed to capacity, it was time to hit Boston proper. E had us walk the freedom trail to provide a very scenic route to our eventual dining destination in the North End. En route, I had to sample some fresh crab from a street market a block away from the Holocaust memorial. $2 for a large condiment cup worth of steamed crab. I hit it with some lime and hot sauce and yum.

Giacomo's
Seeing the line form outside Giacomo's an hour before the restaurant opens at 5pm makes one want to curse Rachel Ray for featuring this North End Italian Restaurant on her $40 a day. But here's the kicker: the lines were as long before the place became a Food Network celebrity. Don't worry about the line, though. If you can get there before opening I can't imagine you'd ever have to wait more than an hour, and I've waited at least that long just waiting to be taken to my reserved table at New York hotspots like Mesa Grill. And while I'm really not one for schmoozing with strangers, our incredibly friendly fellow line-mates made the time whizz by.

After waiting from 4:15-5pm (and seeing the line stretch around the block) until we were ushered in for the first seating, it was easy to see why the place was so popular: massive plates of delicious pasta at super-reasonable prices served up by hysterical no-nonsense waitresses who know their food and the neighborhood. I ordered the house specialty: the Frutti di Mare ($18). It is a plate of mussels, shrimp, calamari, clams, and scallops served on top of a bed of linguini and topped with the Fra Diavolo sauce (basically a spicy lobster-based marinara). It was simple and delicious. The seafood was all superfresh and pefectly steamed and the sauce was flavorful and just spicy enough (though I regretted not trying out their Scampiorgiacomo's sauce which is a lobster-based marinara with bechamel). The linguini itself was nothing to write home about, but the K's Butternut Squash Ravioli and E's Lobster Ravioli definitely impressed.

The meal for 4, with a bottle of wine, came to $80. It was a perfect way to end our fabulous 36-hour trip to Bah-ston (though I should warn all prospective Giacomo patrons: the lite fm they blast hovers in that delicate balance between comical and fully intolerable).

But you can't end a trip without dessert!!! Armed with our waitress's recommendation, we strolled over to Cafe Graffiti for some sweets. As I've mentioned here before, I don't have a dessert stomach so I certainly wasn't ready for the cannolis and cakes they had on display. I was, however, fully prepared for a cappuccino with a shot of amaretto.

And that, as they say, was that. Thanks E, C, and K for a great trip!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Boston, Day 1: Peanut-butter burgers?

I spent Friday and Saturday in Boston (and Cambridge) with E, K, and C. It was pretty much 36 hours worth of eating and drinking, with just a dash of sleep thrown in for good measure. Here's what we stuffed our stomachs with:

Darwin's
A cute little sandwich shop a few blocks from the mighty Charles. The place names its menu after the local streets (which I discovered shortly after lunch when we passed the intersection of the two sandwiches I was choosing between). I ended up going for the Gerry, a Reubenesque (come on, how good is that allusion!) sourdough treat with hot pastrami, melted swiss, cole slaw, and thousand island dressing. As someone who feels compelled to every last bit of food I order, I was glad to see the portion-size was reasonable. Enough to fill me up but not quite enough to make me rue the day I was born. I washed it all down with an organic all-natural Cream soda.

Burdick Chocolate
We stopped in here for some quick sweet treats. While I wasn't in love with the ultra-cute handmade chocolates themselves (I suppose I'm spoiled by NYC's Vosges with its exotic flavor combinations), the iced hot chocolate certainly earned a place on my top 5 chocolate beverages.

Boston Beer Works
shark, marinated in Beer Works® We came here to stuff ourselves with enough grub to keep our stomachs from pestering us during the show we were catching that night. We only ordered from the appetizer column but the portions were certainly entree-sized. I ordered the Maco Shark Skewers: Fresh Mako marinated in Raspbeery Ale, grilled with tomatoes, onions & served with jasmine rice & fruit salsa. The very fresh fruit salsa and grilled tomatoes were excellent, with the latter popping with flavor in the mouth, but I was torn on the shark itself. The pieces seemed to come from very different parts of the sharks, as some were juicy and tender (like swordfish at its best) and others were more cartilaginous and tough. For some reason, the marinade was a little vinegary for my taste, but when I let some of the rice absorb it, I got more of the berry and less of the vinegar. I also nibbled from E & K's obscenely large half-portion of nachos, with dips placed conventiently in side-dishes instead of slopped on top in a goey mess.

Bukowski Tavern
With a kitchen open very late and a spinnable beer wheel for the indecisive, Bukowski's made for the perfect post-show dinner. There was one item on the menu staring at me like a dare: the Peanut-Butter Burger. Just a simple burger with the usual trimmings, except the patty was covered in chunky peanut-butter. A-mazing! One of those so-wrong-it's-right dishes. And yes, I know, peanut-butter and beef are combined all the time in various Asian cuisines. But, as many beef satay skewers as I've downed in the past, I was still surprised and delighted by the improbable taste of medium-rare meat with the salty goodness of the peanut puree. The crunch of the peanuts also gave the dish a lot of textural pleasure. I washed it all down with an equally rich oatmeal stout. I'm eager to try this dish at home with some of our left over CSA ground beef, though I'd by lying if I said I wasn't tempted to try to squeeze some jam between those buns :)

That's it for day 1. Day 2, or "Rachel Ray saves the day!", will be posted in the next few days.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

No fresh food? No problem!

Even though it was quite the long day and the end of quite the long week, I knew I wanted to cook for K tonight, if only because it's been nearly two weeks since I prepared a dinner of any kind. Unfortunately, I also haven't purchased groceries in at least that long and last week was so hellish that I even forgot to pick-up the last CSA delivery of the season (and our last with Prince George CSA). Sure, I could have just gone downstairs and picked up some groceries, but K and I live in a 5th floor walk-up and I had already gone up and down to walk my dog (and couldn't pop in for groceries then because of draconian health department codes).

So, faced with the challenge of cooking a two-course meal from my pantry and freezer, here's what I came up with:

Seared Scallops with Saffron Anchovy Butter
I decided it was time to polish off the last 7 bivalves from Trader Joe's' frozen Wild Japanese Scallops, but I wanted to create a brand-new recipe for the sauce (and one which didn't use truffle butter, truffle salt, or truffles of any sort!). I made the sauce first so that I didn't overcook the scallops while rushing to finish the sauce. I melted some butter and dropped some warm-water softened saffron and finely chopped (jarred) anchovies in it, whisking until the anchovies dissolved (yes, Virginia, fish do dissolve!). I stirred in some dry Vermouth and let the alcohol cook out. I whisked in some horseradish cream and some capers (in their brine). I set it aside in a condiment cup under tin foil and seared the scallops (dredged in a li'l bit of flour, sea salt, and black pepper) in butter. After both sides were browned, I poured the sauce in the pot and sauteed the scallops in the rich fishy goodness for a few seconds before plating it.

Rotelle w/Sundried Tomato & Chicken Sausage Sauce
Forget authenticity! While I usually try approach Italian dishes from a fairly traditional stance, trying to use ingredients that I know (from my father's cooking, from visiting Italy, or from watching Mario Batali) have some history of being paired together, an empty fridge meant I'd have to get creative. So, I began my dad's standard tomato sauce the usual way: some olive oil, some red pepper flakes, some dried Italian seasoning, some garlic, and some onion. Sauteed for a bit and then threw in some rehydrated and chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Once they absorbed most of the fat, I deglazed with some Vermouth and let it cook off. I poured in a can of diced tomatoes and after they cooked for awhile, mashed some of the larger chunks. I warmed the pre-cooked chicken sausage in the sauce a few minutes before serving, and poured the smokey deep tomato flavors over some store-bought rotelle and topped it with shaved parmesan.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Birthday Bash

Spent the weekend eating and imbibing to commemorate my birth.

Day 1 w/fam:
  • Dinner at Grand Central Oyster Bar.
    • GCOB has what is arguably the best shrimp cocktail in New York. 5 lobster tail-sized shrimp cooked to perfection and a tangy cocktail sauce with just a bit of bite.
    • I had an oyster craving and what better place to satisfy it. For some reason I tend to prefer Canadian oysters, so I ordered one each of the Conway Cup (Prince Edward Island), Cortez Island (Cortez Island), Denman Island (British Columbia), Great White (Nova Scotia), Malaspina (British Columbia), Malpeque (Prince Edward Island), Nootka Sound (British Columbia), Ship's Point (British Columbia), and Snow Creek (British Columbia). The sweet and perfectly slurpable Malpeque is always my favorite, but the others were tasty too. I do wish that GCOB offered consumers some guidance with oyster selections...would it kill them to offer 4-6 word descriptions of the 15+ varieties they offer or at least arrange the oysters on the plate in such a way that the buyer can tie a name to a taste for future reference (when I open an oyster bar, each platter will come with a printed card like when you order the wine flights at Metrocafe)?
    • For my 8th raw item, I ordered a single sea urchin. Now, uni is definitively my favorite piece of nigiri sushi (when served at a high quality restaurant, otherwise they're too pungent to actually consume) and I've had raw sea urchin preparations at French restaurants, but I've never actually ordered urchin at a raw bar. I fished around for the tasty parts that looked like uni, but didn't know what to do with the rest of the organs floating around in the shell. Did I miss out on some rare delicacies here?
    • My mom was pleased with her gorgeously seared scallops in puttanesca sauce and my sister had the best fried calamari of her life (I guess it helps that this one was probably made from fresh calamari instead of the frozen stuff they deep fry at most restaurants).
  • Dessert at Chikalicious.
    • This microscopic East Village dessert bar is a must-have New York experience. Chef Chika stands behind her counter with a sous chef or two assembling stunning presentations of some of the tastiest sweets I've ever had. $12.95 buys you a 3-course dessert prix fixe (menu changes daily, but a sample can be found here) and $7 more pairs your choice with a perfect dessert wine (my prix fixe was paired with a sparkly red dessert wine: Les Clos De Paulilles Banyuls 2002 I think). Though the wait is often upwards of 45 minutes to get seated on weekend nights, the maitre'd is so calming that I've rarely grown impatient.
    • Course #1: Dessert Appetizer. Lime curd with Mojio sorbet. Delicate and tangy, just enough to get my taste buds primed for the main event.
    • Course #2: Dessert Entree. Strawberry soup with honey parfait. I've had this before: it's delicious and refreshing but I had my heart set on the lavender marinated kiwi that had sold-out. I actually think the dessert pictured above, the warm chocolate tart with red wine sauce and pink peppercorn icecream might be my favorite as it mingles three seemingly incongruous tastes.
    • Course #3: Dessert Dessert. Petit fours. Coconut covered marshmallows, a little cake, and shortbread cookies. The marshmallows are always the best on this plate, completely distinct creatures from the puffed sugar we roast at campfires.
Day 2 w/friends:
  • Brunch at Alice's Teacup.
    • With a party of 11, we were really gambling in our attempt to get seated as walk-ins when all 3 of their locations were booked solid from 8am-8pm. K and I arrived 90 minutes ahead of when the rest of the party was going to arrive and out our name on the list. The very accommodating staff found a way to seat us just a few minutes after my first 6 of guests arrived.
    • I ordered the "nibble," a tiered tea service that comes with a scone, a sandwich, a pot of tea, and cookies for $22.
    • I chose the fragrant and pleasant Mango Amazon tea, an Indian black tea with mango pieces.
    • The pumpkin scone, served warm with jam and fresh clotted cream, was easily the best baked good I've ever head.
    • The sandwich was simple but tasty, smoked salmon and dill butter on Russian black bread.
    • I ended up giving away most of my cookies, but the little peanut-butter one was heavenly (I am a sucker for all things with peanut butter. Hence, for the evening's proceedings, my friend A picked up a peanut butter pie!)
  • Dinner with delivered Brother Jimmy's BBQ.
    • I know, I know, NYC doesn't have real BBQ, but this comes very close. I don't usually step foot in any of the chain's frat-tastic locations for fear of getting trampled, but I'm happy to order delivery. But careful: it's always slow, very slow, and if you are ordering more than a few dishes, they usually forget one or two items.
    • I always order the same thing: Northern and Dry Rub ribs (the real ones, no babybacks here!), collard greens, and mac & cheese (sometimes I opt for the candied yams instead). The Dry Rub ribs are spicy and smoky and firm and just perfect drenched in Jimmy's house vinegar-based BBQ sauce. The Northern ribs don't need any extra sauces as the meat is so tender, it's practically liquid already (and that's a good thing!). Even my friend C, a Texan transplant, enjoyed them.
    • The collard greens are probably the least healthy possible preparation of what could be a very nutritious ingredient, but damn they're good. Always a bit saltier than I'd like to be, but if I keep some beer on hand, I'm usually fine...
    • There's nothing really special about the mac & cheese except that it's perfect for absorbing the fatty greasy salty saucy flavors from the ribs and greens. The candied yams are really quite good, though: you can actually distinguish 3 or 4 different types of sweetness, and it's a really nice mix of mashed and solid pieces.
    • Although it sounds like pregnancy-fare, E convinced me to go in on an order of fried pickles (frickles) with her and wow I'm happy I did. I think they have now joined the pantheon of my other two favorite friend offerings: Sicilian aroncini and British deep fried Mars Bars.
My birthday extravaganza finally wrapped up last night, over leftovers of Brother Jimmy's, with K's birthday gift: a Personal Wine Curator for my computer. I'm very excited to start using that.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Find a CSA near you

For those of you who have been wondering how you can find a CSA of your own, just go here.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Vroom vroom

Tonight, K and I had a late working dinner at our neighborhood Italian joint, Vespa. The inlaid picture really doesn't do the decor justice at all as the entire restaurant is fabulously decorated, with vintage movie posters in a variety of European languages and well-chosen works of art from local artists.

We've been to Vespa three or four times before and have always enjoyed their fresh, seasonal, and authentic Italian menu and attentive knowledgable service. (Important sidenote: as a first-generation American of Italian descent, it has always been incredibly difficult for me to shake my Calabrian father's general disdain for all Italian restaurants outside of Italy. I grew up watching my dad repeatedly send food back to the kitchen, and so disappointed was he by one London Italian restaurant's take on his native cuisine, he went so far as to demand that the chef come to the table and prove his Italian lineage.) Though there is an exorbitant difference in their respective prices and qualities, I will say that Mario Batali's Babbo and Vespa are the only Italian restaurants in New York with which I have had any luck (Falai had some nice dishes but was really overpriced and the service was a little too aloof for my taste). Since K and I have usually popped into Vespa just before their kitchen closes on weeknights, this Friday prime-time visit was the first time we were able to get a sense of the place's regular clientele. Despite the restaurant's frat-tastic 2nd avenue location, the other diners were refreshingly classy, hip, and international (but not intimidatingly so).

Though K might be happy to return just because the place is a Euro oasis in the 2nd avenue dessert, it's the food that keeps me coming back. And I tried to take pictures of the food, I really did, but I just couldn't stomach (pun definitely intended!) the idea of defiling the restaurant's great vibe with my definitively unslick camera-work. Next time I'll just ask if the chef can send me home with a CD-Rom filled with hi-res shots of his food :)

So, here's what we ordered (everything to share):

Grilled Octopus Salad with Chick Peas and Yellow Tomatoes
Oh, don't let anyone tell you that octopus and calamari have anything in common. When prepared well, calamari is light and refreshing, reminding one of a sweet sea breeze. Octopus, on the other hand, takes one down into the sea's depths with its rich meatiness. Vespa's chef manages to pull so many wonderful homie flavors from the magnificent mollusks, charring the outside and leaving the inside tender. The acidity of the tomatoes and the crunchiness of the chick peas worked wonders with the dish, as well.

Bressaola with aged meat, parmesan, palm hearts, and truffle oil
Has there ever been a menu entree with the word truffles that I haven't ordered? Probably not. (Full disclosure: I had my first truffles by accident while living in Orvieto, Italy one summer. I had never even heard of these fabulous fungi until I observed an Umbrian restaurant devote significant pomp and circumstance to the ritualized truffle-shaving on one of their diner's pasta courses. A la Meg Ryan, I simply ordered what he was having. Tasty and (pre-Euro) only about $10 for the pasta and wine.) This dish was nice, though I liked it much more than K did. For my own part, I would have liked a few more palm hearts and a little bit less parmesan as the dish was salty enough with the aged meat. Rather than eat it is as an appy, I might have preferred to have a couple bites of this as part of a larger antipasti platter.

Ravioacci with parmesan and celeriac, with leek cream sauce and pancetta
Great homemade pasta (small ravioli) in a delicate cream sauce with nice salty crunchy bites of pancetta. I couldn't distinctly taste the celeriac, but everything I could taste was yummy so I can't complain.

Pappardelle with Scallops, Mushrooms, and Asparagus

Wow! Outside of Italy (and Babbo), I don't think I've had a better pasta dish (sorry Dad!). The scallops were perfectly seared, the mushrooms (they weren't buttons, or baby bellos, but I couldn't put my finger on the species) were meaty, and the asparagus held its own with a great crunchy texture (though it was cut into narrow enough strips that the texture blended well with the rest of the dish). And the homemade pappardelle itself...I enjoyed that almost as much as the scallops (and I enjoy few things as much as well-cooked scallops). It was at once perfectly al-dente and melt-in-your-mouth creamy.

At the end of the day, I feel great about dining at Vespa if only because I've never left there saying, "Oh, I could have made that myself and it would have been much cheaper!" While it's true that 70% of the quality of an Italian meal is determined at the market itself (ingredients make the meal!), Vespa's certainly doing something very special with the last 30%. Their menu changes seasonally so we'll definitely be back to make our way through the rest of the early spring offerings before summer rolls around.

New CSA

After a season of trekking 60 blocks downtown for our ecofriendly CSA grub, K and I decided to go even more local with our food, and chose a CSA just a few blocks away. It's called the Carnegie Hill/Yorkville CSA, and it has a really great online presence, allowing us to order all of the CSA add-ons directly from their website, as well as download harvest reports, weekly share info, and recipes.

We're excited.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Anyone for the Anyway Cafe?

E, K, and I mixed business and pleasure at the East Village's Anyway Cafe tonight for some "French and Russian cuisine." I'm a sucker for any place that has horseradish-infused vodka and caviar on the menu!

We had a nice cozy corner table and shared a pitcher of said horseradish vodka and a really fabulous appetizer platter (the zakuski, a steal at $13!) which featured tasting portions of a carrot salad, beet salad, liver, eggs with caviar, house-marinated gravlax, some sort of trout pate, and a mesclun salad. Though neither K nor E cared for the liver, I was happy to have my April liver-fix. The horseradish vodka complemented the platter nicely.

For dinner, I ordered "Pelmeni Filled with Salmon & Caviar in a Light Cream Sauce," E had "Smoked Chicken & Mushroom Julienne with Mashed Potatoes," and K took the "Crepes with Wild Mushrooms & Ricotta Cheese." Though everyone was enthusiastic about their orders, as it often the case (either because I order brilliantly or because I decide to fully embrace my order with enthusiasm regardless of how successful it is), I liked my dish the best. Thin dumplings filled with delicate (and not overcooked!) salmon, resting in a light and buttery citrusy, creme fraiche sauce (with some dill, I believe), and topped with a generous serving of salmon caviar. While I much prefer raw salmon to cooked salmon (and the opposite with tuna, though by cooked I mean lightly seared) and while I'm never one to order ikura at a sushi bar, there's something about pairing poached salmon with those little squishy orange explosions of salty fishiness that makes me like both quite a bit.

While all in all, the meal came to about $30/head, one has to remember the total included about 8 shots of good vodka (so roughly 2.67 shots each, which we sipped like the dignified diners we are) and a fairly incredible variety of flavors courtesy of the tasting plate. The service was great and our waiter kept the baskets of Russian black bread (with dill butter!) coming to the table. (This does, however, beg the question: if I have a lukewarm or unpleasant dining experience, am I going to post it on the blog? I don't think so. I mean, the blog is a place for me to record positive memories, be they recipes or restaurants, so I can return to them when I get the urge; it wouldn't really help me to bash a restaurant, and anyone who's reading the blog can, I'm sure, find bashes of any truly bash-worthy restaurant on yelp.com and places like that.)

While I'm not quite ready to put Anyway Cafe on the sidebar yet, I will definitely come back here the next time we're trying to be adventurous and stray from our other East Village standards.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Truffles Five Ways...finally!

So, this was the dinner that sparked my desire to start a food blog. It's taken me about 10 days to actually write about it. While I could pretend that it took that long just to fully savor the delicate flavors and textures, the fact of the matter is that I've been busy cooking and eating other things. And while we're dealing the realm of "facts," I should probably make clear that I can't afford to cook with fresh truffles; I use a variety of high-quality black and white truffle oils and truffle salt.

With disclaimers done, on to the meal:

Green Apple, Celeriac, and Truffle Chilled Soup
When life (or a CSA) gives you celeriac, make celeriac soup. K and I went to Pure Food and Wine in early 2006 and a variant of this dish was on the tasting menu. It was delicious and, while I haven't jumped on the raw food wagon, it has since inspired me to occasionally dabble with a raw food palette. Here's the original recipe, picked up from Raw Food/Real World:
  • 4 cups peeled, chopped celeriac
  • 1 cup chopped green apple, plus 1/2 cup very small dice for garnish
  • 1 1/2 cups raw macadamia nuts, soaked for 1 hour or more
  • 1 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 2 tablespoons coconut butter
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup minced chives
  • 1 small fresh black truffle, shaved or julienned (optional)
  • 1/4 cup black truffle oil
  • Chervil leaves, or other herbs for garnish

In a Vita-Mix or high-speed blender, blend the celeriac and green apple until smooth. Pass through a fine strainer and discard the pulp. Pour the strained liquid back into the blender. Add the macadamia nuts, water, coconut butter, olive oil, and lemon juice and blend thoroughly At the restaurant, if the soup still tastes a bit grainy from the macadamia nuts, we strain it again, but then add back a bit of the pulp and reblend it to keep it creamy, yet smooth. This may not be necessary, just a matter of preference! Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste If not serving right away, store it in the refrigerator in a covered container. Be sure to bring it back to room temperature before serving (reblending can help speed this process along as the movement increases the temperature) and taste again and adjust seasoning.

Divide the soup among 4 bowls, and garnish with the diced apple, chives, and black truffle (if using). Drizzle with truffle oil and top with chervil leaves

Serves 4.
So, not one for following recipes, especially ones which call for tricky ingredients like coconut butter and raw macadamia nuts, I kind of forged my own way. I just chopped some apples and celeriac and threw them in a blender with enough water to make the thick mixture catch. I strained it and trashed the left-over pulp. I blended it again, this time time with some soaked walnuts, adding enough to give it a creamy texture (I also threw it a little bit of butter at this point). I blended in some chives for color. Strained it all again and then stirred in some black truffle oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I garnished with some very thinly sliced apple.

Smooth. Sweet. Earthy. Tastes both decadent and incredibly healthy.

Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Truffle Sauce
Riffing on Giada's sage brown butter sauce (excellent on butternut squash ravioli), I let some butter brown in a pan, threw in some sage leaves and let them crisp. Poured in a glug or two (small bottles so small glugs) of white truffle oil and mixed it. Add this all to store-bought gnocchi and life is good.

Seared Truffled Scallops with Truffled Greens
Doubling my truffle pleasure with this simple but elegant dish, I created a truffle balsamic vinaigrette:1 part balsamic, 1 part pistachio oil, 1 part white truffle oil, salt, and pepper. Pat some large scallops dry and rub them with truffle salt and black pepper and dust them with some flower. Sear them in a hot non-stick or cast-iron pan and while they're cooking (careful not to overcook or you'll have truffled rubber) coat the greens (I like baby arugula because it's strong enough to turn the truffle aroma into a subtle background player) in the vinaigrette. Off the heat, quickly toss the scallops in a mixture of white and black truffle oil and serve on top of the greens.

Truffle Aperitif
Shouldn't an aperitif be consumed before dinner? Yes, but not if you're so food-deprived (perhaps because you've been scouring your neighborhood grocers for decent scallops and searching in vain for coconut butter and raw macadamia nuts) that a few sips of the aperitif will get you too drunk to appreciate the other 3 courses of your high-falutin' truffle din-din. So, we turned the truffly libation into a digestive, and while it's not proofed high enough to actually aid digestion, it was certainly tasty and that's really all that matters. We picked up the aperitif at Belle Hortense, a wine-bar/bookstore in the Marais neighborhood of Paris. You can buy it online here.

So, did our palettes get exhausted after tasting truffles five ways? No. This wasn't Iron Chef: Battle Truffle, so I had no obligation to make sure truffle was the dominant flavor in each dish. In nearly all of them, truffle was just a background flavor, adding a nice earth or musk to the dish. I'd definitely cook all of these dishes again, and perhaps even cook them all together.

Now I have to go figure out how many different ways I can use up the veritable stockpile of white turnips we have from the CSA.

Oh, and incidentally, I will start posting pictures of the food I cook. I just need to make sure my camera/phone/mp3 player/pda is charged when I start cooking...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Not those sorts of pasties

I was looking for something to do with leftover ground beef and root vegetables, and started googling around. One of the first hits for "turnip and ground beef" was a recipe for a "pasties" Now I had never heard of such things and assumed that it was just a misspelling of "pastries". Nevertheless, I clicked through to the site, trying not to let my mind conjure up images of burlesque dancers rolling in ground beef.

Believe it or not, this was actually my first foray into baking (besides Duncan Hines mixes), so I was pretty nervous about making a dough of any sort. I also knew I didn't want 6 pasties so I tried to adjust the measures for a single pasty. I guess that would have been no problem at all if I actually did the math or measured with any semblance of accuracy. Further complicating the mix (pun definitely intended), I don't have a stand mixer or a rolling pin. Lots of improvisation.

As you can see from the inlaid picture, it turned out pretty well. What's that you say? That inlaid picture looks suspiciously professional? Okay: you got me, the pic is ripped from thepastyshack.com's website. Mine turned out well, though. Buttery beefy baked goodness. I wish the innards were a little moister, however. I couldn't figure out how to squeeze butter through the slits as the recipe suggests. I'm excited to revisit this and try messing around with flavors and spices a bit more.

Here's the original recipe, courtesy of http://www.hu.mtu.edu/vup/pasty/recipes.htm:
Original Pasty
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter (cold and cut into bits)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. water
In a large bowl, combine flour, butter and salt. Blend ingredients until well combined and add water, one tablespoon at a time to form a dough. Toss mixture until it forms a ball. Kneed dough lightly against a smooth surface with heel of the hand to distribute fat evenly. Form into a ball, dust with flour, wrap in wax paper and chill for 30 minutes.

Filling
  • 1 lb. round steak, coarsely ground
  • 1 lb. boneless pork loin, coarsely ground
  • 5 carrots, chopped
  • 2 lg. onions, chopped
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 c. rutabaga, chopped (can substitute turnip)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Divide the dough into 6 pieces, and roll one of the pieces into a 10-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Put 1 1/2 cups of filling on half of the round. Moisten the edges and fold the unfilled half over the filling to enclose it. Pinch the edges together to seal them and crimp them decoratively with a fork. Transfer pasty to lightly buttered baking sheet and cut several slits in the top. Roll out and fill the remaining dough in the same manner. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Put 1 tsp. butter through a slit in each pasty and continue baking for 30 minutes more. Remove from oven, cover with a damp tea towel, cool for 15 minutes.

Milwaukee Journal March 28, 1943 Welsh

Thursday, March 22, 2007

CSA Day

K and I belong to a great Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) run by Common Ground and farmed by the fine people up at Norwich Meadows. During the winter, we head down to the stunning Prince George building once a month for pounds upon pounds of fresh produce, dairy, and meat. It's all ecofriendly, organic, humane, dirt-cheap (and, for what it's worth, often still caked it dirt from the farm--but K and I think that's a very good thing!) and tasty. While right now it's mostly storage crops, from May-November we have weekly pick-ups of incredible fresh fruits, veggies, beef, cheeses, maple syrups, honeys, yogurts, eggs, poultry, hummus, and more, all for an annual fee that adds up to less than a few weekly trips to Whole Foods.

This week (for 1/5 of the winter share cost of $135), we picked up:
  • 2 lbs of potatoes
  • 1/2 gallon of milk
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1/2 a chicken
  • 2.5 lbs of carrots
  • 1/4 lb of mixed greens (some really crazy stuff in there!)
  • 1 pint of butter
  • 1.5 lbs of onions
  • 2 lbs of turnips
...and this was one of the skimpy weeks!

With farm fresh chicken, carrots, onions, greens, some garlic and defrosted ground beef from last month's pick-up, and some uncooked gnocchi and a few spoonfuls of truffle vinaigrette leftover from the big truffle meal (posting about that tomorrow), all I knew for certain was that K and I had a big meal ahead of us.

Gnocchi with Beef Ragu
Brown 1/2 lb ground beef in a little bit of oil. Season it. Remove it from pan and drain it a bit. Saute garlic, onions, carrots, celery, and red pepper flakes until they just start to caramelize. Add a can of organic fire-roasted crushed tomatoes. Stir. Throw in some salt, pepper, sugar, and dried Italian herbs. Let the sauce thicken up and then add the beef back in, simmering to let the flavors marry. Stir in some basil chiffonades and serve over gnocchi with heaps of Parmesano Reggiano on top.

Orange Braised Chicken
I just adapted this recipe from cdkitchen.com for chicken halves instead of chicken breast halves, removed the leeks, and switched out the breadcrumbs for flour. Given the size upgrade, I had to braise the demi-birds for about an hour. I also wanted even more orange flavor, so I squeezed in the juice of half the orange that I skinned alive for its zest. I was going to snap a picture and experiment with my ability to shoot hi-quality food porn, but my camera/phone/palm/mp3 player device's battery was too low to open the camera program. Alas.

Here's the original recipe:
1 cup chicken broth, fat-free, less-sodium
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 1/2 tablespoon Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil Cooking spray
1 cup matchstick-cut carrots
1 cup leeks, thinly sliced
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 tablespoons dry vermouth or vodka

Directions:

Combine first 7 ingredients in a bowl; stir with a whisk. Set aside.

Coat chicken with breadcrumbs.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove chicken.

Add carrot, leeks, celery, and vermouth to pan. Saute 3 minutes or until leeks are soft. Return chicken to pan. Pour broth mixture over chicken; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until chicken is done.
Dinner was altogether quite tasty, nice contrast of flavors and textures in the pasta course and finger-licking good super-tender chicken with a sauce that I literally had to pull K away from. Oh, and I just tossed the greens with what was left of the truffle vinaigrette. The meal's only real frustration was that 1/2 of chicken only means 1 drumstick...and, um, the obscene mess I made in the kitchen. Sadly, tonight I'm on dish duty since K is putting in some late-night work on some financial statements for our non-profit.

Off to clean...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Breakfast of Champions

Even before I became almost entirely nocturnal, I was never really a breakfast person. That said, while most dinners can serve double-duty as lunches, certain dishes just have to be called breakfast, no matter what time of day they're served.

While in Paris last week, my breakfasts (at 3pm, mind you) consisted of a fairly decadent (and entirely incongruous) spread of baguette, soft cheeses, fruit, caviar (the cheap black lumpfish stuff you can get at any grocery store), duck liver pate, nutella, and fig jam, washed down with a glass of blood orange juice and Mariage Freres' "Wedding Imperial" tea.

Back in the states, I've got a rotating repertory of "breakfast" dishes (usually served when most normal people are eating a late lunch):

Pancakes
I use Trader Joe's pancake mix and get pretty crazy with the add-ins. Two of my favorite recent creations: Lavender Chocolate Cherry and Matcha Chocolate. I treat pancake batter the way some people treat casseroles; it's an opportunity to use up any ingredients that have been sitting in the fridge or pantry for too long. No matter what I put in my pancakes (which are cooked on a cast iron skillet using cooking spray), I only put one thing on them and that's real maple syrup.

Fried Eggs on Grits
As simple as it sounds. I whip up some grits and then toss a fried egg on top. I either put a little truffle oil on the grits or a little tabasco on the egg.

Dutch Babies
Since this involves baking, a skillset which will forever elude me, I stick to this recipe, courtesy of whatscookingamerica.net:

3 eggs room temperature
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
1/2 cup sifted bread flour or all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 teaspoons butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a large, heavy ovenproof frying pan or a cast-iron skillet in the oven until hot and sizzling. While pan is heating, prepare your batter.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until light and frothy; add milk, flour, vanilla extract, and cinnamon; beat for 5 minutes more. The batter will be thin, but very smooth and creamy.

Using a pot holder, remove the hot skillet from the oven; add the butter; tilting the pan to melt the butter and coat the skillet. Pour the prepared batter into the hot skillet, all at once, and immediately return the skillet to the oven.

Bake approximately 20 to 25 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

Remove from oven and serve immediately.
Well, I suppose I fudge the recipe a bit...I kind of go heavy on the vanilla, go light on the butter, and I throw in a dash of nutmeg for good measure. Now that I think of it, I also cook mine for about half the suggested time. I really stink at following recipes. Ah well, it always turns out tasty. Top it with whatever fresh fruit you have, powdered sugar, lemon juice, and/or maple syrup.

Maple Egg Cheddar Sausage Thing
I stole this idea from a Dunkin' Donuts morning muffin. Before that I had no idea one could mix meat, cheese, eggs, and maple syrup. I brown up some of the Gimme Lean Sausage (fat free, meat free, cholesterol free...and it really tastes like sausage!) and as the second side is browning, top it with some cheddar cheese. Once the cheese is melted, I stack the sausage on top of a dollop of maple syrup on a plate. Fry up an egg to top the whole thing off. Salt. Pepper. Tasty.

And that's basically what breakfast at my house looks like, though I'd be lying if I didn't admit to the occasional eggie-in-a-hole, frozen waffle, or (get ready to start hurling stones) poptart. If I'm choosing between cereal and no breakfast at all, I'll usually choose the latter, but if I go with cereal, it pretty much has to be with soy or rice milk as my lactose intolerance gets ugliest with cereal & milk for some reason (and yes, I've tried Lactaid and it only helps a little). I guess when all is said and done, I probably don't have the requisite sweet tooth that breakfast requires (and this means, to my dining companions' laments, that I also don't really have a "dessert stomach"...when I'm full, I'm full). So while I'll occasionally indulge in a syrup smothered dutch baby, I'll be much happier with Eggs Benedict (over smoked salmon and covered with cream spinach, like they do over at Popover Cafe). And speaking of Eggs Benedict, there's a recipe for Eggs Tomavo that caught my eye on Giada's Weekend Getaway (yes yes, guilty as charged!) that I'll have to try out at some point in the future.

Duck duck goose

Although my memory is already fuzzy, let's just say the below happened on March 13, 2007:

After accidentally wandering into a Parisian market in the middle of a parking lot (just a block away from Mariage Freres, the best tea in the world), K and I couldn't pass up a gorgeous fatty duck breast and some grade A fois gras from a little vendor who was busily beheading cornish hens when I stepped up to order. We grabbed some organic produce from another vendor and then hustled to the closest grocery store to pick up essentials since the Paris apartment's cupboards and fridge were completely bare. We stood blankly staring at starches trying to figure out what would best accompany a few fruity fowl preparations and ending up settling on a box of rather awful saffron risotto.

Back at the apartment, I doffed my shirt, donned an apron, and pretended to sharpen the kitchen's only blade of any consequence (though I'm fairly sure it's just an over-sized letter opener styled to look like a chef's knife). I set up whatever mise-en-place I could on the tiny counter and got cooking:

Seared Duck Breast and Poached Apples with a Raspberry Fig Reduction
Since I often have trouble getting duck breast past rare, I decided to borrow a technique from Emeril. I scored the breast as best as I could with my blunt instruments. Salt, pepper, herbes de provence patted all over. On to a hot oven-friendly skillet, skin side down. Searing both sides until they're crispy and then off into a 350-degree oven for a few minutes while I work on the reduction.

For the reduction, I poured some Bordeaux, raspberry vinegar, and fig jam into a small pot. Bring it to a boil and then simmer. Once the alcohol and vinegar fumes had cooked out and the jam was fully dissolved, I tossed some apple 1/8ths into the pot and let them soak up all the goodness. Just before serving, I dropped a few little slabs of butter into the pot to thicken it up a bit.

Take the duck out of the oven and let it rest before slicing and pouring the reduction over it.

Seared Fois Gras Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette
This one is pretty self-explanatory. It's a basic salad: lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Sear up a li'l bit of grade A fois gras (after patting it down with some salt, pepper, and sugar) and throw it on top. Dress the whole thing up with an emulsification of raspberry vinegar, mustard, herbes de provence, honey, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

That's that. The faux risotto turned out pretty rotten, and though K liked the artichoke (dressed in melted Camembert and butter) I was disappointed by it and will try to pretend it never happened.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Oink oink!

Hello there in blogland!

After losing my entire collection of 3"x5" recipe cards half a dozen times and nearing capacity on my foodnetwork.com "Saved Recipes" page, I figured it was time to start a food blog, if only to have a quasi-permanent repository to help me remember what I cook and consume.

I'm not a chef and the closest I've come to working in the food service industry was as a "Concessions Attendant" at a mom'n'pop movie theatre while I was in high school. My "recipes," therefore, are going to be pretty informal, prose descriptions with a few notes to jog my memory when I try to recreate a dish at a later date. As I do occasionally pretend I've got presentation-chops, I'll post pictures of the food when I can, but I usually inhale the food before I remember to snap a camera-phone photo.

While tonight's dinner (truffle essence used 5 ways) was the one that inspired me to finally start the blog, I feel like I'm already behind schedule and I'll have to record some notes on a few of last week's meals before I can start with a clean slate/plate...and speaking of cleaning plates: that's a task usually performed by K, my dining (and business and life) partner.

Most of the restaurants I write about will be in the New York-area, though I'll probably kick these "reviews" off with a summary of some of the great places I patronized on a recent trip to Paris.

Finally, I'm sure I'll inevitably post on the various chefs and programs on the Food Network. I watch about 3 hours of the channel daily, finding few things more comforting than a living room siesta accompanied by the hum of one of my favorite chef's slicing-and-dicing.

Okay. Time to sort through the apocalyptic nightmare that is my (frustratingly shallow) kitchen sink after a busy evening of cooking...