Friday, November 27, 2009

Brunch at Radegast Beer Hall



A friend of mine recently had her birthday brunch at the Radegast Beer Hall in Wlliamsburg. Upon hearing about this, I thought it was a really great idea: what could be better after a night of dancing and drinking in Manhattan than a filling, satisfying beer and a sausage? Despite driving the wrong way down one of Greenpoint's sudden and pointless one way streets and almost being killed by the B43, we arrived in high spirits.

As soon as we sat down, our waitress--who by the way was totally, miraculously pulling off the biermaid outfit--informed us that the brunch menu over which we had been drooling was not really available because they were slammed by a wedding party. She said that the wait would be 40 minutes for anything off the menu, but we could go up and order from the sausage bar right away. We ordered cucumber bloody marys, beer, coffee and a water (for our wrong way driver) from her and began to deliberate on whether we wanted sausage bar or menu.

There were a number of things on the menu that we wanted to order, by which I mean basically everything except "Crispy Dumpling Cubes" which appear on that link, but I don't remember being there, because surely I would have made fun of them for being from the future or something (run-on!). Anyway, because we were super hungry we decided to share a few things from the sausage bar now and then share the menu items whenever they arrived. Beers and bloody marys (and, yes, that is the correct pluralization--I googled it) appeared with only moderate delay. No coffees or water though. Our waitress was gone before we could either ask about the missing beverages or order Gypsy Toast.

Well, we had booze anyway. Four sausages were procured from the grill--two bratwursts and two kielbasas--each coming with sauerkraut and fries. This little snack came to $35, or $8.75 a piece, which I thought was a little steep but more knowledgeable friends tell me is pretty much on par for similar establishments in Germany. I wasn't too crazy about the brat--it was a little dry, but the kielbasa was good and I discovered that fries soaked in sauerkraut is the new cheese fries with gravy/disco fries/poutin. For realz. I loved it. We started to look around for our waitress to either ask about the still AWOL coffees or about ordering from the menu (at this point, it had already been 40 minutes...so...uh...I guess we could have ordered off the menu). When what do we see behind us, but our waitress outside kissing and then walking off with her boyfriend!!! It was just like Grease!!! OMMGGG!! Wait. Where is my coffee?

Perhaps noticing our prolonged distress, another waitress came over and asked if we needed any more drinks. We ordered another round of whatever and FINALLY two Gypsy Toasts (half for the name alone, obviously) since we weren't really hungry enough anymore to each have a full German brunch. ($35 well spent then?). We also mentioned that we had been waiting for coffee, to which she replied, crankily, "Yeah, we're working on it." Ok...what kind of coffee takes 45 minutes? Must be really good.

She came back with more beer and no coffee but with an orange juice. Huh? Apparently orange juice is water in Germany. At this point I was losing interest in getting caffeinated, but still wanted coffee on principle. Anyway, I'll put you out of your misery. Yes, after AN HOUR a totally different waitress arrived with our coffee. And it was INSTANT. Not even drinkable instant. Not even with sugar and milk. Not by anyone. For christ's sake, I used to drink coffee in Ireland. I know about bad (but drinkable) coffee. This was not drinkable. I don't know how these people made their instant coffee taste so bad, or what took them an hour, but after all that fuss, no one even touched their coffee. I'm sure that pissed off waitress number three, but who cares. We were beginning to realize that the only way to deal with the situation was to laugh.

The Gypsy toast arrived, thankfully without stealing anyone's wallet or murdering any farmers. Apparently Gypsy just means...French? Who knew. It was actually very good--though by then I was way too full of beer and Kraut Fries to care. We actually had a pretty good brunch overall, perhaps because the only thing the waitresses seemed to be capable of paying attention to was the levels of our beer, but that's fine for a bier hall, I guess. All the food I tasted was really good (other than the dry brat) and the space had a really nice communal atmosphere. However, I took umbrage at the automatic 18% gratuity added on to our bill (we were 7 people). Now, I usually NEVER complain about that. Having been a waitress I know how much brunch sucks, and how often big groups of people will screw you over. I am totally in favor of this practice. This was the first time I would have considered leaving less than 18%. We were waited on by three different people, none of who seemed to give a crap how our meal was going, and no one apologized for the coffee taking an hour. There were always glasses all over the place, since we seemed to be seated in some sort of black hole of neglect. Seriously: if the service had been even moderately acceptable I would be back there every Sunday for brunch (with maybe some toast already in my belly to tide me over), but the service was so mind-numbingly awful that I just cannot recommend it to anyone or knowingly subject myself to that again. Sorry, Radegast.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Red Beet Risotto with Collard Greens and Goat Cheese



Back when I was a vegetarian, I came to love risotto because it was a nice reprise from all the nasty canned roasted red pepper and feta cheese (which I no long despise) smothered Boca burgers or whatever else passed for vegetarian food on menus. It was also the first dish I was able to conquer to the point of experimentation, purely because of its simplicity as a base. Just throw whatever the hell veggies and seasonings taste good on something else in a risotto and you've got a dish that's at least 75% new! Of course, now that I'm an omnivore one of my favorite risottos is chorizo--both because I love chorizo and because it turns the whole dish orange! Fun! Well beets are another way to turn your risotto (and your hands and countertops) a new color. It's like dyeing Easter Eggs! Hooray!



I based this recipe off of this one from Epicurious. I couldn't find mustard greens at my local market (but they had turnip greens...which seems more random) so I used collard greens because they remind me of that Decemberists song about the mom prostituting herself to sailors--and now I have it in my head. Otherwise, the ingredients are pretty much the same, but my method is a little different, the main divergences being that I toasted the risotto in the butter and also cooked it for longer. I know that risotto is supposed to be al dente just like pasta....but I kind of like mine mushy. Feel free to cook it until you like it, baby. You can also add about 1/2 c. white wine right before you add the broth if you have some hanging out or want an excuse to drink.



Oh, and P.S. I apologize for the return crappy photo quality. Some #$*@ stole my camera AT MY BIRTHDAY PARTY.

Red Beet Risotto with Collard Greens and Goat Cheese

1/4 c. butter
2 ( 2.5-3 inch diameter--remember your geometry!) red beets
1.5 c. chopped white onion
1 c. arborio rice
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I used chicken)
1 1/2 c. chopped collard greens, stems removed and chopped separately
1 5oz package of goat cheese, crumbled

Melt butter in heavy saucepan over med heat. Add beets, onion and collard green stems. Cover and cook until the onion is just about to go soft, then add arborio rice and toast. Put the broth in a saucepan and keep on low (really low) heat. Stirring fairly often to make sure it doesn't burn. Add enough broth to cover the mixture, and throw the lid on and stir occasionally. Once that broth has been absorbed, add half of the remaining broth, repeating with the last bit once that is absorbed. When you add the last measure of broth also add the chopped collard greens. When the rice is to your desired tenderness, turn off the heat and add in the goat cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tomato and Corn Pie



The Tomato and Corn Pie from August's Gourmet has been all over the internet with people freaking out about how awesome it is. It's a great, timely recipe for late summer (tomatoes AND corn, y'all!) and people like pies...I don't know. Anyway, I, too, was swept up in this whirl of excitement. However, one ingredient left me somewhere between hesitant and grossed out:


MAYONNAISE
Ew. Why is this in the pie?

Deb at Smitten Kitchen already covered this pie, and used the mayo. She also noted that Gourmet's original pie ended up a little soggy, so suggested coring the tomatoes. I didn't really want to loose the pretty tomato shape, so I decided to dry out the tomatoes on paper towels (believe me, this is coming back to the mayo problem, I promise).



Because of this, I figured that my pie would already be a little drier, and didn't want it to veer into stuck-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth territory. So I was wary of taking away any of the other wet elements and decided to look for a substitute. In the comments section of her post Deb recommended using sour cream instead. Ok, I thought, that's about 25% less gross. Keep in mind, I was making this for my two friends who are in the Women Who Are Uneasy About Creamy White Foods Club with me (we're looking at you whipped cream, mayo, yoghurt, and sour cream) so I was not only concerned for myself. Anyway, the solution was to sort of hide the sour cream from everyone (including me) until it was time to use it.

Putting the pie together was fun. I got to use my brand new pastry cutter (from the helpful people at Brooklyn Kitchen) to make the biscuity dough, and I also got to make pretty layers which indulged my inner aesthete. (Club slogan: Not much of an athlete? Become an aesthete.)



Anyway, here's the pie when it's done:



All in all it was pretty fabulous, especially with the farmer's market corn and tomatoes that I picked up that morning. I felt good about making something so seasonal and fresh. However, if I were to make it again, I would forget the creamy white substance all together. Even with drying out the tomatoes there was still enough moisture in the pie so that if you took out the sour cream/mayo you'd be well within the range of delicious. I'm not sure it adds anything, and it's guaranteed to gross out at least one person at your table.

I served this with some roasted salmon with herbs made by the wonderful Kate:



Tomato and Corn Pie
Gourmet August 2009
(slightly adapted)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 teaspoons melted
3/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 3/4 pounds beefsteak tomatoes, peeled and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick, divided
1 1/2 cups corn (from about 3 ears), coarsely puréed in a food processor, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil, divided
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
7 ounces coarsely grated sharp Cheddar (1 3/4 cups), divided
Equipment: a 9-inch glass pie plate

To peel the tomatoes, slice an x in the bottom of each one and blanch in boiling water for ten seconds. Immediately plunge into an ice bath. Peel.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl, then blend in cold butter (3/4 stick) with your fingertips or a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk, stirring until mixture just forms a dough, then gather into a ball.

Divide dough in half and roll out 1 piece between 2 sheets of plastic wrap into a 12-inch round (1/8 inch thick). Remove top sheet of plastic wrap, then lift dough using bottom sheet of plastic wrap and invert into pie plate, patting with your fingers to fit (trim any overhang). Discard plastic wrap.

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.

Arrange half of tomatoes in crust, overlapping, and sprinkle with half of corn, 1 tablespoon basil, 1/2 tablespoon chives, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Repeat layering with remaining tomatoes, corn, basil, chives, salt, and pepper, then sprinkle with 1 cup cheese.

Roll out remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round in same manner, then fit over filling, folding overhang under edge of bottom crust and pinching edge to seal.

Cut 4 steam vents in top crust and brush crust with melted butter (2 teaspoons).

Bake pie until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes, then cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Triple Chocolate Brownies with Fleur de Sel



I love really good chocolate and I love salt, so it is only natural that I seek out recipes that can satisfy both these cravings. It all began with a giant chocolate cake I made last fall with salted caramel. This thing was so good, I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

These brownies are along the same theme--lots of dark chocolate and a sprinkling of salt. My friend Erin (one of the lucky eaters of the aforementioned cake) gets credit for them. She busted out these brownies as part of sundaes at a dinner party she threw a few weeks ago. She used Gourmet's recipe for Triple-Chocolate Fudge Brownies and spread a good layer of kosher salt on top. My version uses a light sprinkling of Fleur de Sel (French sea salt), which is much stronger (hence the light sprinkling--as I recognize that not everyone loves salt as much as I do).

I made these for my friend Rose's recent backyard party, so I sliced them up pretty small. They're so rich that you don't really need much more than a bite or two, so these are great for large parties.

Triple Chocolate Brownies with Fleur de Sel

6oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
4 large eggs
1 tsp. salt (regular kosher or table)
1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 1/2 TB Fleur de Sel or other fancy salt

You'll notice right away how little flour these is in these things, which is what makes them so good. Flour is a great binder of ingredients, but doesn't contribute much in taste. The best dessert recipes often have just enough flour to make things not resemble soup.

In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (your ad hoc double-boiler), melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate with the butter, stirring the mixture until smooth. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool until it's lukewarm. (Very important since if it's still hot you'll have scrambled eggs in chocolate.)


I didn't set up the double-boiler, I know. If you don't either just be very, very vigilant with your stirring or else you'll burn the chocolate.

Stir in the vanilla and add the eggs, 1 at a time, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the regular salt and the flour until just combined, then add in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into a buttered and floured 13 x 9 inch baking pan and sprinkle the Fleur de Sel evenly over the top.



Smooth out the top and bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out with crumbs suck to it. Let cool completely on an oven rack and cut into bars.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Motorino

Last Friday some friends and I visited newly-liquor-licensed pizza place Motorino in Williamsburg. I had been meaning to give it a shot for a while, and the combined factors of finally being able to get a beer and a mini-review by, as Eater sometimes calls him, Frank the Tank Bruni, finally gave me the push I needed.

I was terrified that there was going to be a long wait, not only because of the recent review, but also because usually you have to wait for anything good in Billysburg. Magically, there wasn't, and we were seated promptly right next to a giant ad hoc air conditioner. Although I am usually complaining about restaurants being too cold, this thing was a blessing. The decor was nice: a giant brick oven in the back and cool (in temperature) marble tables throughout the dining room. There was also a tiny cup of moss on every table, which we thought was a nice touch.


via Nick Sherman on Flickr

Billie ordered the Prosciutto de Parma pizza which I just spent ages trying to find a picture of (no luck)because you will not believe how generous they were with the toppings. This stuff was falling off the edges--amazing.

I had an anchovy pizza because I knew that since they're personally sized I could indulge in this gross liking of mine. It also made me remember a time when my mom and a waitress ganged up on poor anemic vegetarian me and made me eat an anchovy. I remember being horrified, but somewhere along the lines I picked up a liking for these guys. They just taste like salt. I love salt.

Anyway, the pizza was really wonderful. Not soggy at all and the crust had that wonderful Neapolitan crackle without turning into a cracker. I know I should be sophisticated and like that sort of crunchy pizza, but I just don't. I love pizza crust, and this stuff delivered. (Ha! Get it! Motorino does deliver, btw.) All the toppings tasted fresh and wonderful and the sauce was a perfect consistency of thick enough to keep your toppings in place without tasting like tomato paste.


via Jeffrey Allen on Flickr

Kate had a seasonal pizza, of which there were a few. The brussels sprouts and speck pie was tempting, but ultimately she went with the "basil, garlic, some kind of meat, and some other weird thing i don't remember the name of
and red onion" Pizza. Later conversation revealed the meat to probably be mortadella. Anyway, it was good.

All three of us polished off our pizzas, only offering bites--not slices--to our table-mates. Our waitress was friendly and more attentive than almost any other waiter I've had in Brooklyn. Unfortunately for her, the people at the table next to us were a little obnoxious. The guy was complaining that there was no cheese on his pizza and sent it back, urging her to give it to someone else "so that it doesn't go to waste." Dear Sir, no one wants your rejected pizza. Also, read the menu before you order. This isn't Pizza Hut (or Slut, as we called it in high school), and your pizza doesn't automatically come with half a pound of processed cheese product.

To conclude: Motorino: go there. Oh and P.S. They're opening one in Manhattan.

Motorino
319 Graham Ave.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
http://www.motorinopizza.com/

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Gazpacho

DISCLAIMER: Apparently, gazpacho is one of those dishes where everyone gets VERY defensive about how you make it. Therefore, I just want everyone to know that this is just a gazpacho I happened to make, not how I recommend you make gazpacho every summer for the rest of your life. K? K.

So it recently, finally, started to feel like summer in NYC, which means that when you live in a 4th Floor walk-up, you don't want a panini or something else hot for lunch because it's too humid for that. Also, I've developed an all-of-a-sudden aversion to sandwich bread. So I needed something for lunch that didn't involve heat or sandwiches.

Enter, gazpacho. I LOVE gazpacho: it's one of my "sucker dishes," like pulled pork or anything with pistachios where, if it's on the menu, I'll order it. I'd never made gazpacho myself, so I thought I would give it a try. After a precursory search of Epicurious (which I like even better now that it has an iPhone app) and perusing some very scary comments about every single recipe sucking, I settled on Chunky Gazpacho from Bon Appetit, April 1993. People seemed to hate it the least and it didn't have MAYO in it, like other recipes I've seen. So here's what you need:

1/2 small onion, sliced (I used red because it's a little spicier, I think)
2 large garlic cloves
3 TB olive oil
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
2 pounds tomatoes
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, diced (I used yellow because I'm not huge on green peppers)
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
2 TB tomato paste
Tabasco sauce
Tomato Juice (optional...I didn't option)

And here's what you do:

Puree first four ingredients in the food processor, which makes a really nice color:



Ok then there's this weird step where you take 1/2 cup of the chopped tomatoes, cukes and pepper and stick them in a bowl. This is so you can serve it all pretty with a pile of this stuff on top...honestly...I did it, but it's sort of a waste of time unless you're serving this at a dinner. Despite that, I do want to take a moment to say that seeding cucumbers by slicing them in half and then scooping the seeds out with a spoon is totally the way to go. Once you do that you can chop them however you like, especially if they're just going in the food processor.



Ok once everyone's in there, blend until chunky puree forms. Season to taste with hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl and cover soup (if you did the chopping thing reserve those separately for aforementioned presentational brownie points). Chill at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours.



So, here's the thing. When I was little, there was this fruit stand a mile from my house that sold the best salsa fresca ever. It was all tomatoes and garlic and spice, and it was just perfect. I miss it very much. This gazpacho kind of reminded me of eating a less awesome version of that salsa fresca...only a whole bowl of it...which is not really the point of gazpacho. I don't think thinning it with tomato juice would have helped, either. I have to say that, while I'm not sure what the key difference between salsa fresca and gazpacho is, whatever it is, this gazpacho did not have it. All I can say is, please, god, don't let that difference be mayo.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Grrrraaiiinnnssss (get it? Brains? Like a Zombie? ok fine)

Lately, I've been trying to learn about some of the funky grains you can find in the organic (marketing speak for "heath-conscious yuppie") isle at the supermarket. It all started with a Farro salad I found buried in cooking magazine, then I moved onto a recipe with a bulgur salad that was an instant hit (with me anyway.) The recipe, Bulgar Salad with Grilled Chicken and Parsley Pesto, is here, and if you grill the chicken inside, it's a great way to test your smoke detectors. Kate and I also made the Bulgur Salad portion again and added roasted zucchini, broccoli, and maybe asparagus to it; it made a pretty satisfying pre-vacation, clean out the fridge, meal.

Last night, I moved onto Barley, via Didi Emmons fabulous cookbook, Entertaining for a Veggie Planet. My mom bought me this book way back when I was a vegetarian, but, even though I've been omnivorous for a while now, I still pull this off the shelf more than any other book when I need something healthy and easy. So here, without further delay is:

Barley Salad with Dill and Lemon (plus asparagus and tofu)

Seriously, can you get any hippy-dippy than that? P.S. Yes, it's vegan.

1 2/3 cups dried pearl barley (available at the Garden for you Greenpointers)
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1 large Granny Smith, Fugi or Gala Apple (I used Gala, and the red is nice)
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup raisins or currants
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 cup lemon juice plus 1 tsp. grated lemon rind (remember to get the rind before you juice it...I always forget)
3 TBs extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 bunch skinny asparagus, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1/2 block extra-firm tofu

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the barley and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. My package of barley said to cook for an hour, but the 40 recommended here was fine--with the barley still having some texture to it. I think after an hour you'd have porridge. Drain and rinse the barley under tepid water. Drain well; the barley should still be warm.

2. In a large bowl, combine the scallions, apple, dill, currants or raisins, coriander, lemon juice and rind, and olive oil.


Those things minus the dill (Kate the Sous Chef was still chopping it)

Add the warm barley and mix well. Let stand for 20 minutes to give the barley a chance to absorb the seasonings.

This is the basic recipe, but I decided to add in another veggie and some protein. First I squished the weird tofu water out of the tofu, using paper towels. Then I chopped it into bite-sized pieces. Even though I was a veggie for 12 years, this was only my second time cooking tofu. The first time I couldn't get the nice brown crust on the tofu, but with more oil and patience I did it this time. So: Add enough olive oil to coat to a non-non stick pan (with a metal bottom). As you'll see, I don't actually have one of those (half-birthday present? anyone?), so you can use a non-stick pan, if it's all you have. Drop the tofu in, giving each piece enough room to breathe/brown and then wait. Don't touch it! Just let it brown up for a few minutes (this is where I went wrong the first time). Once you have one side of the soy-cubes browned, flip them over and throw in the asparagus. Throw in some salt and pepper.



Sautee the asparagus and tofu until the asparagus is bright green, but still a little firm. Then toss these buggers into the barley salad and stir everything together, adjusting the seasoning with salt, pepper and maybe a little more lemon juice if you have it. This can either be served at room temperature, or cold from the fridge.


Barley Salad with dill and lemon, plus asparagus and tofu

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sober Restaurant Review: Anella

Anella is a new restaurant that opened up in the old "Queen's Hideaway" space on Franklin ave. in Greenpoint. I was anxious to try it since they advertised that they were committed to seasonal cooking and would be trying to grow most of their produce in the backyard (currently made of concrete). Now I'm a sucker for "seasonal" cooking, and I know it's really trendy right now, but I was on this bandwagon in 2004, people, so I have some cred, OK?

Anyway, FREEWilliamsburg has already reviewed this place, and I agree with their assessment. Overall, it's going to be a good neighborhood spot, but they need to work out a few kinks.

Unlike whoever went for FREEWilliamsburg my friends and I were not treated to an amuse-bouche. However, you could chalk that up to the possibility that the server/owner knew who they were. Also, be forewarned that Anella does not have their liquor license yet, and, because of a recent crack down on places like La Superior and Motorino, new restaurants in North Brooklyn are no longer allowing BYOB while they wait for their liquor license. Le Sigh. My friends and I drank a lot of water at this dinner.

We started with the Terrine of the Day, a pork terrine with one of my favorite things ever (I'm just like Oprah!), pistachios. This was really great--except for the pieces of plastic wrap we found along the sides. Whoops. We just took them off and set them aside. No need to scream bloody murder. It's not a snake head. This stuff was producing such praise from the two of us that ordered it that even our minorly-sketched-out-by-terrine friend decided to have a taste, or four.



Pork Terrine with delicious fruit jam.

For our mains we all ordered fish. Pan-seared wild salmon with roasted pepper relish, oven roasted halibut with salsa verde, and I ordered the monkfish osso bucco in white wine, tomato and preserved lemon and thyme sauce. I guess they couldn't get the monkfish or something, so instead they asked if I would take scallops in the same sauce.



This picture of my scallops is kind of crappy. Kate has promised to be my photographer from now on.

The salmon was tasty..though I'm not so sure about the "pan seared" part...it looked a little baked to me. The halibut was good as well, though we remember the salsa as "kind of meh," (i.e. a little too mild on the very mild halibut) but I really think I scored with the scallops. They were cooked just perfectly: crispy outside, just barely cooked center. The tomato sauce was just a hint spicy and I did get a taste of thyme at one point. I'm not sure about the "preserved lemon and thyme" description, since I didn't really taste anything more than a really good tomato sauce with some thyme and possibly lemon in it, but whatever. I also am unsure what it means that this was osso bucco--something the waiter claimed still applied to the scallop dish--I mean, osso bucco is usually veal in a tomato sauce with bone marrow...so maybe there was some veal marrow in the sauce? I don't really think scallops have marrow...or marrow that would be usable, anyway. I could be totally ignorant though, so let me know if you have any ideas.

Now, here's my real beef. The entrees were, technically, pretty reasonably priced, all at around $15 (so actually quite cheap). They are served ala carte, so you need to order a side to go with them ($5). Ok, so we're at $20. That's fine. Here's the thing. There are two ways to do ala carte. Either the sides are family sized and served in a separate dish (which is usually the case at restaurants with a similar price point to Anella) OR really fancy restaurants will do ala carte the way it's done at Anella, where your side comes right on your plate and everyone needs to order one or two to complete the meal. If this is what Anella is going for, fine, then they should charge $40 for entrees, dress up their waiters, and essentially cue the diner in that it is that kind of place. As is, the prospective clientele might be off-put enough by the need to order sides at all (not that the $20 total is any more expensive than anywhere else), and is certainly not expecting to have them be so puny when they do order them. (And also, not especially good). My advice to Anella would be for them to ditch the ala carte, decide for us what side we get, and crank up the prices to reflect this.

In terms of service, it was a little awkward having the back waiter refill our waters every four seconds, but I think this will even out once they have a liquor license. Also, they kept bringing the dishes out one by one, for which the owner (?) apologized. I think it was just a matter of the kitchen learning timing. Our waiter was really friendly, and seemed to have a good grasp on the menu, especially for the second day.

I'll end by saying something nice: the desserts at Anella were AMAZING, especially the cheesecake. It was so soft and light, and the crust was just heavenly. We ordered all three that were available, Cheesecake, Panna Cotta, and a thick fudgy chocolate...something...and wow. Really, really good.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies that Don't Suck

I've been taking on some cooking demons recently: for example, cooking an entire chicken. Next on the list was something I have tried at many times, and failed at many times: Chocolate Chip Cookies. I know, I know-- "They're the easiest!" "WTF!" "What is wrong with you!" Well, fine. But I have fucked them up every time. I feel like cookies have a pretty small window when you should take them out, and maybe I never got the hang of that, but, in addition to burned bottomed cookies, I've also had batches that just ectoplasmed all over the cookie sheet--retaining no shape whatsoever and being, ultimately, inedible--or not easily edible without a fork. To get to the point, I was consoled recently by a piece in Cook's Illustrated wherein someone on their staff laments the difficulty of making truly good chocolate cookies. I am not alone in my failure and frustration! Well, naturally, I decided to give the ensuing recipe a shot, and here it is:

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cook's Illustrated May & June 2009 (adapted with some minor commentary by me)

1 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
14 TB (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips (I used the recommended Ghirardelli semisweet)
3/4 c. chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional, thank god.)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. (I never do this right away because I feel like it wastes gas, and also I am slow at getting everything together. Do this whenever you feel like you're about 10 minutes away from baking and you should be fine). Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. I recently discovered the joys of parchment paper. JOYS.
Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 TB of butter in a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Don't use a non-stick or otherwise darkly bottomed pan for this...it will be harder to tell when the butter is browned and things will get burney very quickly.


Butter in the pan (not really a ten-inch skillet, I know)



Continue cooking, swirling pan CONSTANTLY[,] until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. (Ok your spatula would have to be pretty bad to melt on contact with browned butter...)



Here's my browned butter. It should probably be a shade or two darker, but I was getting dizzy staring into the swirls of butter.

Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds (cue Black Eyed Peas song to be stuck in your head for days, sorry). Let mixture stand three minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking two more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Ok I know this part sounds obnoxious, but they explained with Science in the magazine how it makes the cookies chewier or something. Just do it.


See? Look how shiny!

Using rubber spatula, or the remnants of the one you melted into the butter because you bought it from a street cart and it was made out of hemp, or wooden spoon if your spatula totally disintegrated, stir in the flour mixture from way back at the start of this thing until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using...bleh), giving dough a final stir to ensure no sneaky flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop...whatever that is, I just used a smallish ice cream scoop.) Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.



5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until [they] are golden brown, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes (I think I ended up at 11 minutes per...but it depends on your oven, etc.), rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before eating all of them before anyone else can.


My first foray into food porn.

These are pretty darn good, I have to say. Just the right ratio of chewy to crispy and browning the butter added a nice depth to the flavor. This is going to be my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe from now on.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Chicken

I was riding in the elevator at work the other day when I was suddenly seized with embarrassment: "I have never roasted a chicken!" Now maybe this is just indicative of my strange combination of uncontrollable and random guilt and my desire for culinary excellence, but no matter. I quickly sent off an email to friends offering the usual exchange of free food for copious amounts of wine and headed off to Bed, Bath and Beyond for supplies. (Anecdote: A friend of mine claims that the aforementioned chain never took off in his native England because a Bed-Bath is something you give to the elderly and infirm--and no one wants to imagine what the "Beyond" might mean in that scenario).

Anyway, I bought a meat thermometer and a baster (both of which I think I had owned previously but were tragically lost during my move...or they belonged to my old roommates...who knows) and a GIANT roasting pan. After lugging the roasting pan (measuring almost the entire length of my leg, and therefore difficult to carry)home I realized it was definitely for a turkey, and that my poor little chicken would be really awkward in it. So I just shoved it back in the box and returned it to the store later on.

Not really finding a suitably basic recipe for roast chicken in any of the usual suspects of magazines and cookbooks, I decided on a recipe that was recently on Amateur Gourmet . I haven't been able to steal the perfectly "seasoned" cast-iron skillet from my parents yet, so I just instead of using one, I just used a glass casserole dish. Otherwise, out of utter lack of confidence with the task at hand, I just stayed pretty close to the recipe.

Et viola!



I stuck some chopped celery, carrots and onions underneath the little guy just to keep him (or her, I guess, I didn't check) from getting too saturated with fat and also basted s/him occasionally. Seriously, this was super easy, and after the suggested 30 minutes the chicken was really at the perfect temp. I couldn't believe it! It also seemed to have cooked pretty evenly from thighs to breasts...something I was nervous about after reading some fear-mongering articles in Cook's Illustrated about unevenly cooked roast chickens.

Anyway, the last hurdle was carving, which also turned out to be completely fine. There's some sort of weird joint in the chicken's...pelvic socket I guess?...where if you hit it just right you can easily separate the thighs from the body, and from there it's smooth sailing as long as your knife is sharp enough.

To complete the meal a friend of mine whipped up some delicious biscuits, and I also sauteed some chard (stems and leaves people!) and made a risotto for my veggie friend who graciously endured the dead bird and also mixed up a pitcher of Tom Collins. Here are the biscuits:



Anyway, I forgot to take pictures while I was cooking...but I'm going to try and be better about that and also use my real camera for optimum quality.

To conclude, roasting a chicken is dead easy, and I completely recommend trying it to everyone...unless you're an utter moron like this guy who somehow blamed the failure of his oven to work properly on poor Amateur Gourmet guy's recipe.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Restaurant Review: Brookvin

OK, I wrote this for another site, but they never ended up posting it and then I moved out of that neighborhood anyway. Whatevs.
Brookvin: A Drunken Review

I finally had a chance to stop by new South Slope hot spot Brookvin this weekend. It only took me so long because I live in North Slope and am lazy, not because I’ve been busy with anything else except Netflix. So anyway, Saturday night I corralled some friends and took the bus (the bus!) over to seventh and twelfth. One friend had already arrived and had put our name on the list for what was supposed to be a 20 minute wait. We settled in and bought a bottle of wine (Syrah, if you must know) at the bar for the five of us and began to wait for one of the three larger tables to free up.



After about thirty minutes, we had finished off the bottle, my one friend had apparently scolded the hostess (unnecessarily, in my eyes—it’s difficult for a hostess to gauge how long people will linger over cheese plates!), and we moved down to the other end of the bar to wait some more and avoid the hostess. At this point we dove into the cocktail menu, assisted by our lovely bartender, who I think was either part owner or at least largely responsible for the drink menu. He was extremely helpful and poured us a generous taste of their house-infused bacon bourbon. Now, bacon and bourbon are two of my favorite things, so, naturally, I was excited about what was in that glass, and it certainly did not disappoint. Some maple syrup added to the infusion (which, I was informed, is actually just bacon fat and not any of the meat itself) nicely balances the saltiness of the bacon (fat) and the fiery quality of the bourbon. The whiskey sours were quite popular with the friends, as was the cucumber martini (vodka, muddled cucumber). I was steered away from the raspberry? Lemonade, as it is apparently quite sweet (but maybe you’re into that).



After eagerly downing our delicious whiskey sours, etc., things got a little fuzzy. We were seated at a comfy booth next to the bar (at least 40 minutes after we had arrived) and were attended to by a really great, enthusiastic server (not creepily enthused though—she just wasn’t too cool to remember our order unlike a certain growing class of servers who wear their sunglasses at night—I think you know who I mean). Anyway, she was great, we ordered all three cheese plates—a goat, a sheep, and a cow—all came with accompaniments of some sort of jam-like substance and a good amount of crusty (sometimes a little too crusty/toasted) bread. I was really into the rose petal(?) jam that came with the sheep’s(?) milk cheese—it was sweet and gooey but not cloying at all, and didn’t overpower the cheese.

We also ordered a plate of proscuitto and two tartines—onion jam, tallegio and radicchio (which was good the first round, but the radicchio took over a little too much on the second round, making it bitter) and house-cured bacon with something else gooey and nice.



I think there was another round of whiskey sours at some point—maybe a red wine? Dessert, my friends, is really blurry:

me: do you remember what that dessert was at brookvin?

either one?

Friend: oooh

we had the caremelized apple bread pudding

with salted caramel sauce

and then, um... malted something?

i don't know, i was pretty drunk

me: was the apple bread pudding the thing that was really good?

or was that a chocolate malted something pudding?

Friend: BOTH

it was a custard thing with... chocolate stuff on top

cocoa powder?

i have no idea

we were all dying over the custard, but i personally was really into the apple thing because it was lighter

So….yeah….desserts were great. Order both of them; let me know what they are. Here’s a blurry phone picture of what the chocolate malted something pudding looked like before I devoured it:



I really enjoyed my dinner/small plates/whatever and will certainly go back. I’d like to explore the wine list a little more—it looked like there were some great selections by both the glass, bottle and even half bottle (who needs that?), with helpful descriptions—always a plus. I kind of hope they start offering some options beyond the small plates. There is obviously someone with an interesting palate behind the line, and I’d love to see what else they can do! Brookvin is, however, probably not the best place to go in a group of five on a Saturday—there are only a few tables big enough to accommodate you, the place is pretty busy, and you’ll probably be wasted by the time they seat you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Recipe Review: Chicken Stew

Ny Mag recently ran an article that asked three chefs to give recipes for better brown-bag lunches. As a dedicated lunch-bringer/cafeteria conversation-avoider I was interested to see what they would come up with.

First up was Floyd Cardoz of Tabla, a restaurant on Madison and 24th I've never eaten at, but now that I look at their tasting menu ($59 for three courses, awesome! Have I lived in NYC too long when that sounds cheap?) I would like to. Anyway, he offered up a curryish chicken stew that he recommended as good over rice or in sandwiches.



Second up was Ryan Skeen of Irving Mill with a chicken sandwich with horseradish mayo and tomato relish. Now. I love tomato relish, but am not huge on mayo so already this option is looking meh. Add into it the fact that you essentially have to make two things all you get out of it is a sandwich, well forget it.



Option three is from Ilene Rosen at City Bakery. Basically, a tin of smoked oysters (ew?) some stale bread and home-made slaw. Well I'm prejudiced against bakeries anyway for their crimes against desserts, and also this lunch looks lame.



So, Floyd, you are the winner. Let's see how it turned out:

Spiced Chicken Stew
Floyd Cardoz, Tabla
“This warms up well in the microwave with some rice, or makes a great filling for a sandwich or wrap. This recipe makes six servings—enough to get you through the week.”

4 tablespoons canola oil (I used vegetable oil.)
1 cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs curry leaves (I don't know what these are, so I added curry powder)
6 shallots sliced (I never really know how much "one" shallot is...so I think I only ended up using two bulbs of one shallot)
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 cloves minced garlic
Chiles, with seeds, quartered (I used both jalapenos and some dried ones I always have hanging around)
1 teaspoon turmeric (I think the point of this spice is just to make everything in your kitchen yellow)
4 tablespoons semolina (uh...all purpose flour....seemed to work ok)
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 pounds boneless chicken, cubed (leg meat is preferable) (cubing chicken is really annoying, chickens are not square)
2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup baby turnips (I couldn't find any turnip, let along baby ones, so I left this out)
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups chicken stock
Juice of 2 limes (Limes are hard to juice if you don't have a juice and are a wuss like me)
10 ounce can coconut milk

Salt the chicken and let it stand for 1 hour. In a pot, heat the canola oil and add the cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves; stir until the spices are fragrant (this seemed to not happen, even though all my spices were new. Maybe I have a cold I don't know about). Strain out the spices and tie them in a sachet. (I guess this is cheese cloth? That's what I used.) Pour the canola oil back into the pot, then add the mustard seeds and bay leaves. Add the curry leaves (or not), shallots, ginger, chiles (sic), and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the spice sachet and semolina (flour); cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add chicken, vegetables, and stock, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the lime juice and season. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 5 more minutes (I ended up simmering it a lot longer than this, maybe 15 minutes, before the veggies were actually cooked).

(And, oh, hey, when I am supposed to take out the spice satchel? And those bay leaves? Can't people choke on those? Nothing to say? Recipe over? All right.)

Rough Cost: $4.12 (yeah right! where are you shopping, Floyd? Wisconsin? The chicken alone was 3.25, then all the spices--which, since I just moved, I had to buy all of, then coconut milk, and veggies...sheesh. More like $15.)

Verdict: Ok, all bitching and veering from the recipe aside, this turned out really well. I've been eating it all week for lunch over rice, turning all my tupperware yellow, and really enjoying it. It's pretty quick to assemble if you subtract all the time I spent being grossed out while "cubing" chicken thighs. I want to try it in a toasted pita, but I think I'm too lazy to to go the store tonight and get one before I happily eat the final serving of this for lunch tomorrow. Oh, also, his estimate of six servings was surprisingly accurate!

Grade A-
Points taken off for lack of spiciness (maybe it was those missing curry leaves and shallots?) and some annoying things with the recipe, such as choking on bay leaves.


My lunch. I know it looks kind of unappetizing, but blame my phone's camera. You can see how yellow the tupperware is, though!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Weekend of Eating: Part the Last

For this post, I'm skipping over a disappointing brunch at one of my FORMERLY favorite spots in the Slope, since it basically involved dry eggs and almost an hour of waiting for them. At one point my dad jokingly proposed asking the waiter if they needed any help in the kitchen--he was the breakfast cook at a priory a long, long time ago.

Yeah, so, we're ignoring that blemish on my weekend of eating, and jumping right into Meghan Presents: Dinner for Unpredictably Picky Parents.

My parents are, for the most part, adventurous eaters, but, like me, they both have their random things that they won't eat. Because of this, I submitted my menu ahead of time for approval from both parties.

Here it is:

The I'm Too Lazy to Make Appetizers Before Dinner Cheese Plate
Pork Chops with Sugar Snap Peas and Mint Julep Glaze
Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Corn Bread
Oh Shit I Forgot to Buy Ingredients for Dessert Chocolate Mousse

Initially when I sent my dad the menu he wasn't sure that corn bread would go, so I changed it to my Gruyere Mashed Potatoes with Tons of Garlic. However, he called me back two days later and changed his order back to cornbread.

I'm not super comfortable cooking meat, since I mainly learned to cook during my vegetarian years, and also because I rarely cook meat unless it's for a special occasion of some sort. Because of this, pork is one of my favorites to cook when I need to impress. Pork has a pretty wide range of doneness that you can get away with--from still pretty pink to cooked all the way through but still moist--before people start complaining, unlike beef or fish which can go from underdone to perfect to inedible in almost seconds.

I also thought my parents would appreciate the mint julep glaze since our house is a bourbon house and we also like horses--mint julep, Kentucky Derby, get it?

Anyway, so I started in on the goat cheese corn bread first, since that seemed pretty involved. It was the first recipe I had tried from Smitten Kitchen and I have to say I was impressed. The recipe was pretty specific, and had a few unnecessary or odd steps, but I thought I'd try being faithful for once, and it paid off. (Although I have to say that heating butter in the pan in the oven and then spreading it around with a pasty brush to coat the pan is pointless when you can just coat the thing with cold butter, but what do I know.)

The corn bread came out very nicely and was not dry at all. It does, however, involve a lot of time and a lot of ingredients, so be prepared.

I was also pleased with the pork chops: I'm always a fan of glazes instead of sauces, and you can't really go wrong with something made from bourbon and brown sugar. The snap peas cook right in this mixture (it has some beef broth in it for bulk), and so they soak in a lot of the great flavors. The snap peas, though they were perhaps a bit premature for truly seasonal cooking, were pretty crunchy, green, and flavorful, even when I snagged a few before dousing them in bourbon.

The mousse was not entirely....a mousse. It kind of ended up somewhere between a pudding and a mousse, I think because my chocolate was too cold when I was folding the egg whites in, and so no enough air ended up getting into it. It was however pretty delicious for something I scrounged up from the cupboards--random chocolate bar and left over eggs from something else--and I would totally recommend it for those times when too much day drinking makes you forget to buy the ingredients for an entire course.

All in all, I was happy with the way the meal turned out, and I think my parents were, too. I also think I did a good job of convincing them that staying out of midtown and, especially, eating in Brooklyn, is a non-Applebee's-loving tourist's best friend.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Weekend of Eating: Part Two

My dad somehow has got it into his head that Brooklyn is filled with mobsters. I mean, I guess it used to be in the 80s--which was the last time he was here. Apart from an incident involving him saying "Bada Bing" over and over in a cab and, I think, almost getting shot by the cabbie who menacingly kept asking him to repeat it, with which he complied jovially now matter how many times my mom and I told him to shut up, these illusions of me living in mobster-ville are fine. The point is, he was really intent on eating some Italian food while in WASPy Brooklyn.

I was happy to comply, since one of my favorite restaurants in New York just happens to be Italian and within "tourist walking distance" from my house (i.e. two blocks). Convivium Osteria is a weird little place on Fifth Ave. in North Slope. The front windows have a bunch of crap in them (wine barrels, wooden somethings, fake plants) so you can't really see in. While at first I was mystified by this, I get it now. Going to Convivium Osteria is like leaving Park Slope Brooklyn completely and entering some sort of Pan-Mediterranean paradise, and you really wouldn't want to spoil that by seeing some Park Slope mom roll by in Yoga pants.


Crap in the windows

First off, the host will speak Italian to you, whether you understand it or not. The waiter will joke with you in Portuguese, whether you understand it or not. Luckily, I have a vague grasp of both of these languages, but, even if you don't, you'll be fine. Just pretend they're saying whatever a waiter speaking in English would at that time in service.

There are three separate rooms in Convivium: the one by the door, the back room which is like a barn or something, and the wine cellar. The only room I don't like is the one by the door. But that's a thing I have. I've sat in the back before, and it was really cool--very rustic. However, we have a barn at home that my parents can go sit in whenever, so I figured the wine cellar was best.


The front room

Anyway, the food at this place is ridiculous. For an appetizer we had a huge pot of clams (cherry stone according to my mother) with chorizo (a family favorite). The broth was pleasantly spicy, and very buttery (I suspect) and supremely delicious. We were sad that we had acted like idiot Americans and eaten all our damn bread so we didn't have anything with which to sop up that glorious broth (in our defense, the olive oil was really good).


Good olive oil

For wine we had a Spanish Rioja that was around $37, I think. Basically, mom said "let's get a Rioja" and I said "ok" and the waiter just brought whatever with nothing more than an "I will get you wine." And then he laughed at my dad because he obviously had no choice in the matter. This is a great place if you are clueless with wine or even good with it, but trusting: just order your mains or whatever and tell the waiter you don't know what to get. With the endearing brusqueness of Europeans, they will just bring you something. And it will rule.

For said mains, I had Braised rabbit with prosciutto, olives and capers over polenta triangles (I'd never had rabbit before), my mother had Braised Berkshire pork baby back ribs with polenta (she's never had polenta before! what to they eat up in the great white north?), and dad had braised duck leg with black cherries over potatoes (they're big on braising here, and so am I). Sounds great, right? They were.


Ribs.

For dessert we had flourless chocolate cake (gooey and so good) but the real stars were the dessert wines. Yet again we just asked for dessert wines and they came back with something great. I had a port of some kind that was wonderfully full of stone fruits, and mom had...well...she went nuts over this: a 1927 dessert wine that seriously tasted so richly of raisins I couldn't believe there were any grapes in it. She (a raving raisin fanatic, apparently) kept the bottle (not that she drank the whole thing, just that her glass happened to be the last one out of it) after asking, of course. Dad just chilled out, extremely happy with the Rioja that he had no hand in picking.

We left happy and full, and I really cannot recommend this restaurant more. I know it looks weird and stodgy from the outside, but it honestly provides one of the best experiences I have had dining in NYC. Seriously.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Weekend of Eating: Part One

My parents were in town to visit me this weekend, and, since they certainly contributed to my passion for eating and drinking, I thought I would share some of what we had.

They rolled in at about 12:30 on Saturday afternoon after driving down from Massachusetts. Immediately, they asked me "what do you got?"--family code for "surrender your booze." Anyway, by 1:30 we had polished off a bottle of chardonnay that I just happened to have chilling in the fridge (and thank goodness--I was otherwise out of anything to drink except vermouth and tap water).

Our first meal was at this cute French place called Le Gamin in Prospect Heights--we settled on this after being turned away from a few other lunch spots on Vanderbuilt that were too busy. Now that I look at the website, it looks like there are three locations of this thing. They must be doing something right! Anyway, we had to wait a bit, as is to be expected on a Saturday afternoon, but not too long. We had a bottle of Muscadet that we all enjoyed (wines were the miracle of the weekend since we usually vehemently disagree on them, but we kept getting lucky). I had a tuna sandwich on baguette which was nothing to go crazy over, but the baguette was pleasantly sweet and was perfectly crusty. My mom had eggs Le Gamin, which was eggs in ratatouille over a shredded potato cake. She liked the ratatouille, but was disappointed with how dry the potato thing was. On a more enthusiastic note, my dad had Croque Madame....and damn, it was amazing. The bread was Texas toast sized and very soft, the ham was perfectly salty, and instead of putting the egg inside the sandwich, as I have usually seen it, the fried egg was on top of the sandwich over a bonus slice of cheese. This made the whole thing ooey gooey and wonderful when you cut into the still runny yolk. All in all, the waiters, etc. were all very friendly and the food was solidy good. I had never been to this place before, but certainly took note of it as a place to recommend to friends.

Le Gamin:


My short attention span is making the task of writing all this out at once, so stay tuned for more eating, drinking and swearing with the parents.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Irish Food

Let's be serious, people, St. Patrick's Day is pretty horrendous. I had sort of forgotten how bad it really is since I have spent almost all of my Paddy's Days either at home or in Ireland--where at least the drunken idiots are Irish.

The reason I usually go home is because my father's birthday is the day before St. Patrick's. His birthday occurs on this day because my grandmother drove to the hospital and demanded induced labor on March 16th because she was afraid that if she had her child on March 17th she would be forced by the Pope or Michael Collins or someone to name her child Patrick. Apparently, she hates the name Patrick. Enough to have induced labor. Yes, everyone in my family is crazy.

Anyway! So I had the utter joy this year of spending Paddy's Day in New York. Luckily, for most of the day I was hidden away in my office with no window. However, around seven o'clock a friend of mine and I decided to see if we could somehow defy logic and have a few drinks in a moderately crowded bar to celebrate her not having to go to Jury Duty that day. Long story short, everywhere was awful and crowded with Irish Americans celebrating whatever scrap of their DNA is Irish and wearing weird hats and left over Mardi Gras beads. We did find a place that was I guess vaguely Irish and had a table or two open, and I sat down to have two (bad, watery) Guinnesses and (here's where we get to the food part) a tuna wrap (also bad).

A Tuna Wrap?! On Paddy's Day? Yes. The truth is, and I know this is a shocker: Irish food is bad. Irish food is bad in America, and even worse in Ireland (well, except for full Irish Breakfast--delicious). And some of the stuff isn't even Irish:

Exhibit One and Only that I can think of off the top of my head: Every year, at some point, I get a lecture from my dad about how corned beef isn't Irish, and as far as I know he's right: the only place I know of that they serve it in Ireland is in Temple Bar in Dublin (tourist trap hell) and probably in some terrible place next to the Blarney Stone. Corned beef is, at best, Irish American. As in, when the Irish came to America, lived in slums and didn't have fridges, they ate corned beef because it was cheap. Newsflash, most people have electricity now. We don't have to eat that kind of thing anymore.

From my experience, on Paddy's Day, the tradition Irish meal is either fried chicken or lamb shawarma, or bad pizza, or nothing (Guinness is pretty filling...and it reminds us of how our ancestors starved in the famine--zing!)

Now, if you want to be genteel about it, Ireland really does have some wonderful food (see Anthony Bourdain's Ireland episode) and to celebrate you could have a salmon fillet, or a rack of lamb (lamb tastes way better in Ireland, btw. If you think you don't like it...try a grass-fed guy) as my grandmother recommends. Along with the traditional Manhattan cocktail taken directly after church. It is a religious holiday, you know.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Make Bittman: Cassoulet

I have a soft spot for the stew-y, rustic foods of Italy and France (sorry Spain--but paella? ew). There's something very comforting about these foods, though, believe me, it has nothing to do with childhood memories (we ate mostly Mexican food at my house...don't ask). I was excited to see, then, a recipe from Mark Bittman for cassoulet--a rustic dish with beans and meat and veggies--that didn't require the purchase of 800 kinds of meat. This is a economic crisis, people, and I am lazy and had already gone to the butcher once that weekend. In any event, here is my report on how my attempt at making it went.

First up, here's the original recipe.

Ignore the part about helping kids. I didn't do any of that.

Ingredients:
I used just a pound of sweet Italian sausage since I don't have duck confit sitting around, leeks not onions, garlic, carrots, celery (though now I have a ton left over...grr), zucchinis not cabbage, a can of crushed tomatoes (I can never find chopped for some reason), parsley, thyme, bay leaves, canned cannelloni beans (I am not yet converted to this "cook your own beans" thing), some wine and stock, red pepper flakes and ground red pepper (I didn't have cayenne for some reason--shocking).

Here are all my ingredients in a pile:



Ok step one was to brown the meat, which I started to do, realized that they would probably stick to the pot if there wasn't some fat in it, added olive oil, and then smoke went everywhere. Of course. Good thing my roommates and I took all the smoke detectors down for just this reason. Always practice fire safety! Anyway, the sausages were nice and brown and the air was nice and smoky so I took them out and laid them aside. Then I added butter to the pan, just for fun.

Ok so I chopped everything up, exhibiting some wicked Jacques Pepin knife skills which you can't tell from this, but I swear it took all of a minute to do.




Then I threw everything in the pan and added more olive oil, salt and pepper, and stirred it for a while, added the parsley, thyme and tomatoes...and eventually the bay leaves once I remembered them. Whoops. I added the beans and sausages and set it to boiling. You can tell I'm kind of making a mess.




So, I guess I was supposed to add broth or wine or something at some point...it wasn't entirely clear...I just kinda added some wine and stock when things started to look a little thick. Not too much wine though since I wanted some for me. Then, I took out the sausages and the bay leaves, which took a while because one of the bay leaves was hiding from me even though it was the size of my head. I chopped the sausage into bite-size pieces and proceeded to try and give this thing some heat. Well, after all of the ground red pepper I had left AND a good douse of red pepper flakes went in and it STILL wasn't spicy, I just gave up and realized I should have just bought some freakin' cayenne. Whatever. So here it is! I even made it pretty for it's close-up and used my real camera:




Incredibly, this somehow only took me an hour to make. I have no idea how since I usually add another 45 minutes to whatever cooking time is given (40 mins here) for wandering around and getting distracted by various things.

Verdict: Success with a few caveats that are entirely my fault. 1) Do make the effort to get a variety of meats. Don't feel too embarrassed to buy one pork chop from the cute butcher guy. 2) Buy cayenne. 3) Sausages don't really need olive oil poured on them to brown up. I'm just crazy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cooking Magazines

While I know there are more pressing things to worry about in the current economic shitshow, one of the ones that keeps me up at night is the possible (probable?) demise of cooking magazines. I mean, I love the internet as much--if not more--than anyone, but there's something about a cooking magazine that makes its presence, as a complete thing you can purchase, have delivered, hold in your hand and cart around with you, special. While I have New York Times piling up in my entryway--nothing in there that isn't just as well on the web (except the crossword)--I eagerly await the arrival of my cooking magazines. In proof: earlier this month I was, probably inordinately, angry with myself because I thought I had drunkenly discovered and subsequently lost my newest issue of Bon Appetit. Turns out that was just a bad dream, and it arrived safe and sound a week later. Phew!

I mean, sure, you can get all the recipes you want on epicurious.com and other, less trustworthy sites (I don't care how Mary from Montana makes chicken, bigoven.com), and, sure, you can even print them out for that real world effect, but there's nothing like a couple of pages of Gourmet stuck together with tomato sauce to let you know that, if you can manage to pry the pages apart, there's a good recipe waiting for you on one of those pages. And, of course, who can ignore the joys of editorial food photography spreads: pies on chairs in the middle of a field or a pork loin inexplicably balanced on a porch railing. Sure the pictures might be online, but somehow, it's just not the same.

When I'm home, I love going through my mother's collection of these magazines from the eighties--if only for the abundance of ads for cigarettes (shocking!) and booze, and all the big hair. But I also like to see what she dogeared: Did she really intend to make that ridiculous cheese ball? Or was she just marking it to show to dad later for a laugh? More philosophically, they provide a more immediate and detailed account of what foods we ate and how--the minutiae of which is something that cookbooks cannot capture in the same way.

So please, oh captains of industry, though I know print media is allegedly going the way of the telegraph, dodo bird and marrying someone from your town, please keep cooking magazines alive--if only for future generations' amusement in our current cultural obsession with all things edible--and so they can laugh and ask themselves if we ever really made a tongue steak for valentines day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bussaco: Premature Review

A new restaurant has moved in across the street from the Park Slope Food Coop (an organization of which I am a member, and yes, I know, they should have a hyphen: co-op =hippy sharing organization, coop=chickens). Previously in its space was The Black Pearl, a sort of vaguely Irish (maybe?) vaguely bistro-y place where I had bad mimosas once. Anyway, it's great to have something else there, and it was getting a little press, so I decided to make the SEVEN BLOCK trip to Union and check it out.

I read somewhere that they changed chefs about two weeks in and are going to "gradually transition the menu," or some such rhetoric. The point is, because the restaurant is new and in the middle of a shake up, I'm going to wager that experiences in the next few weeks will vary widely.

First things first, the cocktails are fab, AND the wine list/cocktail menu has a helpful graph in place of a table of contents. Everyone loves a graph. I had a Marconi (kind of like a Negroni but with prosecco and a Campari cousin) v. good; one of my friends had a cider martini which was good as far as girly drinks go, and another friend had a Rye Manhattan that I REALLY recommend.

This place takes drinking seriously, as evidenced by a picture of their bar.



The chef change became readily apparent when we heard the specials from our lovely waiter. He described something called "Testa" that was a pork puree--now anyone with Italian 101 knows "testa" means "head." When I called him out on trying to cover up the fact that he was describing "head cheese" (I'm a bitch, I know), he came back with the spiel that it's respectful to eat the whole animal or some coop/foodie bull. Anyway, I ordered it, and it was wonderful--a little crispy, healthily salted, and the lightly poached egg on top was just the right simple accompaniment. Other, more "normal" firsts came from the regular (old?) menu, but all were equally delicious, if less "adventurous."

The entrees, all from the menu, were generally simple affairs: thinly sliced duck with spaetzel and brussels sprouts (which google just told me there's an "s" on), steak with mustard greens and scallops in a white pepper--pear "gastrique" (ok, that's kinda fancy). All of these dishes were really very nice and well executed, but seemed a little too simple after the fireworks show that the appetizers put on. One friend, a vegetarian-ish person, was disappointed with her pappardelle and beets. I think it needed lemon...or something. Anyway, it was obviously a throwaway, obligatory vegetarian dish, and I'm not sure you can get away with that in the Slope, guys.

Desserts were rather lackluster, but maybe new chefie hasn't got around to it yet. For the time being, I recommend you let the sommelier guide you to an after-dinner scotch or one of their good selection of dessert wines.

As an added bonus, the restaurant was baby-free when I went (yess!), but the squishy booths could be seen as kid friendly...maybe...kids like that shit right?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gadgets: Immersion Blender

I think Mario Batali said that any chef worth his or her weight in flour could make any dish with a basic stove, pan and spoon--or something to that effect. Well, sure, Mario, if I had all freakin' day and someone was paying me millions to endorse their pan, I probably could cook pretty much anything with those things. But really, why would I? And, more philosophically, why is it somehow more "pure" or "worthy" or impressive if I spend an hour and all of my energy hand-whisking egg whites? Mario, this is the future: we don't have to work so hard anymore! People in the future are busy! There are blogs to read, reality tv to watch, segues to ride. We do not have time for your grandmother's methods.

I love kitchen gadgets. And, as you can tell, I've got their back in this fight. I collect them like precious moments dolls collect dust. One of my favorites is the Immersion Blender. This guy is especially useful for making soups. Lots of recipes tell you to smooth out your soup by pouring it into the regular blender in batches. Um, guys, that is messy! And soup is hot! Bad idea. When pureeing soup, this guy is your friend:



Right there I am making "Azteca Butternut Squash Soup" which is basically butternut squash soup with black beans and red pepper in it. The base of the soup is the squash and tons of onion and celery. After that softens up, those three ingredients get blended. Now, I don't think the Aztecs had blenders, immersion or otherwise, but they were pretty smart, so they probably just programmed a sundial to do it or whatever. Or else, the name of the soup is just something made up by Bon Appetit to make it sound better. Shocking. Anyway, here's the soup post-blend:




Looks awesome, right? It was. And I didn't even have to spray soup all over my counter tops and myself to get it that way. Or squash it with my feet, like Mr. Batali would apparently have me do. Jerk.

Oh and here's a tip: My mom got one of these and immediately decided she hated it because it sprayed tomato sauce all over her sweater. It's called an IMMERSION blender. You have to IMMERSE it in the soup/sauce if you want it to work. K?