Sunday, December 16, 2007

Vosges Haute Chocolat

OK, so Vosges Haute Chocolat is old news. Particularly if you are at all tapped into the food world... Even so, I've not yet had a chance to sample the unusual truffles that people have raving about . Today I happened to be in Soho doing some Christmas shopping and as I was aimlessly walking, waiting for something to catch my eye and draw me in, I happened to walk by Vosges. BINGO! Eye caught and officially sucked in!

This is no ordinary store. Naive little me decided what I wanted and then brought a box from the display into line with me. Oops! Just a dummy box. I'm sure I'm not the first, but come on... Wouldn't you assume that, just like any other store, you bring what you want to buy up to the register with you?

Anyway, I decided on a 16-pc dark chocolate truffle sampler made with 65% cacao chocolate. I prefer dark to milk chocolate (and so do most foodies...) and I would have gotten the 32-pc box, but it's $73. As it was, 16-pcs cost $39... Did I mention these are "haute" chocolates? (Merry Christmas to me!)

In the box are a selection of exotic truffles that, trust me, Hershey's could never dream of:

2-pc Tlan Nacu - Mexican vanilla bean
1-pc Balsamico - 12-year aged balsamic vinegar with Sicilian hazelnuts
2-pc Black Pearl - ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds
1-pc Absinthe - Chinese star anise, fennel and pastis
1-pc Polline di Finocchio - wild Tuscan fennel pollen and floral anise
2-pc Budapest - sweet Hungarian paprika
2-pc Red Fire - Mexican ancho chilies and Ceylon cinnamon
1-pc Chef Pascal - kirsch and dried Michigan cherry
1-pc Oaxaca - guajilla and pasilla chilies and organic pumpkin seeds
2-pc Rap - horseradish, lemon zest, praline and cocoa nibs
1-pc Jazz - Cafe du Monde chicory coffee

OK, I couldn't make that stuff up. Well, I could, but I'm not nearly skilled enough with my truffle making that I could replicate the quality. So far I've only tried the Tlan Nacu (vanilla). I figured it would be best to start with the most basic and work my way to something more adventurous. Honestly, it was pretty basic, but the chocolate shell had a nice crisp texture and the inner ganache was sinfully smooth. Vanilla isn't the most adventurous flavor, but it's a good baseline for the more adventurous combinations to come.

I also snagged one of their new chocolate bars: Mo's Bacon Bar.

Yeah, you read that right! Bacon! To be more specific: applewood smoked bacon, Alder wood smoked salt and 41% cacao milk chocolate. It was inspired by the founder's memory of eating chocolate chip pancakes and bacon as a child. I'll have to get back to you with my review of that one...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Creamed Fennel wih Scallops

Just a recipe this time...

Creamed Fennel with Scallops
(Serves 2)

8 oz. sea scallops (feet removed and sliced in half horizontally)
1 fennel bulb (cored and thinly sliced) (reserve a few fronds for garnish)
1 onion (thinly sliced)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
EVOO as needed to coat pan

- Add the butter to a hot saute pan with a tablespoon of EVOO to prevent it from burning. Immediately added sliced fennel, onion and a pinch of salt. Saute until caramelized and soft (about 10 minutes), then add cream and simmer for another 3-5 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

- In same pan (after removing the fennel and wiping clean-ish with a paper towel) or another clean pan, add EVOO to coat and place scallops in to sear. After caramelized on one side (about a minute), flip and repeat on the other side. The scallops will caramelize best if allowed to sit in the hot pan, unmoved aside from the one flip. Be careful not to overcook! Scallops are better undercooked than overcooked by a long shot.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Lamb with Pomegranate-Pistachio Farro

Looks good doesn't it?

That's because it was...

So, in a random burst of inspired cooking, I came up with this jewel of a dish. The lamb could have been cooked a bit longer, but otherwise this recipe is a keeper. I can think of three things that inspired this recipe, in no particular order:

  • Whole Foods - That store manages to make every single thing they sell absolutely enticing. It's also so fresh that I don't mind that the prices are a little inflated and that it's a mile away from my apartment. Yesterday I carried my three 10-pound canvas bags of groceries back that mile. It's hard work!
  • This Bulgur, Celery and Pomegranate Salad from 101Cookbooks. I originally thought about making this dish since I had some celery to use up, but before I got around to it I started getting crazy ideas in my head.
  • And finally, this recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini for Salade de Quinoa Rouge, Poivrons et Pignons. That's Red Quinoa, Bell Pepper and Walnut Salad for those of you who need to brush up on your French vocabulary. (Clotilde, the woman who writes the blog, is Parisian.) I actually bought the red quinoa at Whole Foods, but decided against using it for my recipe because I wanted the pomegranate seeds and pistachios (this recipe, though originally written to include walnuts, was noted to be even better with pistachios) to have something to contrast against.

So... All those things swam together in my head and my lamb dish is what I ended up with. Here you go:

Lamb with Pomegranate-Pistachio Farro
(Serves 4)

4 5 oz. lamb steaks
1-2 Tbsp. oil for sauteeing — I use Extra Light Olive Oil (ELOO), not Extra Virgin which is too delicate)
1 cup semi-pearled farro
1 whole pomegranate (set aside half the seeds and juice the remaining half)
1/2 cup raw shelled pistachios (roughly chopped and toasted)
1 shallot (thinly sliced)
6 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 sprig fresh mint (leaves cut into chiffonade)
salt and pepper to taste

- Cook farro in boiling, salted water until soft, but not mushy (about 20min), then drain and set aside.

- Prepare the pomegranate by quartering it with a knife and then working the seeds loose while holding the piecesunder water in a bowl. The seeds will sink while the pith floats for easier removal. Set aside half and juice the rest by pressing them with a spatula in a sieve set over a bowl. Use your hand or a piece of plastic wrap to guard against spraying juice.

- Dressing: To the pomegranate juice, add the shallot, EVOO, balsamic vinegar, half the mint, and salt and pepper to taste.

- Lamb: Season both sides with salt and pepper and cook to desired doneness in a hot saute pan with the ELOO. Rest on a cutting board while you finish the farro.

- Farro: While the lamb rests, combine the cooked farro, toasted pistachios and reserved pomegranate seeds with the dressing.

- Slice the lamb and serve atop a bed of farro using the remaining mint as a garnish.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

OMFG!!! So gross!!!

OK, normally I wouldn't call a restaurant and ask to speak to a manager, then call Seamless Web to get a a refund and follow-up with a call to the NYC gov't to file an official complaint, but my food had a freakin' roach in it!!


I know there are two sides to this story:
1. It's New York City. A city whose buildings are practically built on a foundation of roaches. So one got into the food... It's not the first time and it's certainly not the last. So the restaurant didn't have a watchful eye tonight. It happens. No reason to go screaming bloody murder to the Department of Health.
2. That's beyond revolting. There's no excuse and the restaurant should be immediately shut down for such gross negligence.
Granted, those are two extreme reactions, and most people's reactions would fall somewhere between the two, but tonight I was leaning toward option two and it was the manager's reaction to my phone call that pushed me over the edge.
FYI, the restaurant in question is Burritoville at 166 W 72nd St. in New York City.
I had ordered my dinner thrugh Seamless Web like I'd done on many other lazy nights when I either don't have actual food in the fridge or I'm just too lazy to cook. When the food arrived, I took a couple bites and decided that the jalepenos on my "unwrapped burrito" were too hot. Before I was able to pick them all off I saw the offending roach.
My first instinct was to take a photo. (Too many hours spent watching the various CSI and Law & Order franchises taught me to document the evidence.) Then I called the restaurant and asked to speak to the manager. I wasn't messing around!
I explained what I found and said I'd like a refund for the night's order, but the manager offered me a credit to use on my next visit. Honestly, did he really think I was going to eat there again!?!?! They served me a roach!! After explaining that to him (I shouldn't have needed to...) he said he'd do it, but he'd need proof. Fine. I have my photos. Where would you like me to send them? But hung up on me without giving me the address.
So I called Seamless Web. I figured that they'd perhaps honor my request for a refund (they did with no request for proof) and I wanted to file a complaint for the restaurant since a bug in their Website was not logging reviews properly. Score 1 for Seamless Web. Great customer service. I feel bad that they might have had to eat the cost of my meal instead of the restaurant, but they've made a loyal customer very happy. A lesson Burritoville could learn!
My next phone call was to the NYC gov't Department of Helath and Mental Health, the agency that is responsible for inspecting restaurants. I figured they should know. Normally, I wouldn't take his extra step if a restaurant was apologetic and left me with the impression that they actually cared, but the manager at this particular establishment pissed me off and then hung up on me. If you ask me, they deserve the extra scrutiny during their next inspection.
The gentleman who helped me was very polite and understading (not something you often get from government employees answering phones after hours). After he took my complaint and all my contact info to go along with it, he asked if there was anything else he could help me with. Jokingly I said, "Can you point me toward a clean restaurant?" I wasn't expecting an answer, but he gave one anyway. The Dept. of Health publishes online inspection results. Unfortunately, Burritoville wasn't listed, but I imagine they will be soonish (gov't never moves fast...).
Once I finally regained my appetite, I found I did have someting edible in the apartment: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But, unless you're a 7-year-old, they don't exactly fill you up like a meal or brown rice and black beans would... After a sandwich, I found some pesto sauce from the summer and some peas in the freezer. With some penne I found buried in the kitchen cabinets, it was much more satisfying than the sandwich!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Aftermath

I'm still at home in Missouri and in the handful of days since Thanksgiving several things have happened:
  • The Missouri Tigers beat KU (M-I-Z---Beat-K-U!) and are now ranked #1 in the AP and BCS polls after winning the Big 12 North Championship for their first conference title in 38 years. Next Saturday, they play Oklahoma in San Antonio for the Big 12 Championship. A win there puts them in the national championship game.

  • I've finally gotten over forgetting to cook the brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving. (I was so annoyed at myself for that one!)

  • I've eaten pie (One small slice each of pumpkin, pecan and buttermilk with a huge glob of Cool Whip) for breakfast every day since Thanksgiving. Yeah, I know it's not so healthy, but pumpkin is a vegetable...

  • And I've made a burn-your-face-off Southwest turkey and corn soup with some of the Turkey day leftovers:

Southwestern Turkey and Corn Soup

1 onion diced
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 cup cooked corn kernels (leftovers)
1 cup black beans (canned, rinsed)
2 cans (20 oz. total) Rotel or canned tomatoes with chilies (choose spiciness based on preference)
2 cups shredded turkey (leftover)
2 qts. chicken stock
salt to taste
juice from 1 lime
handful fresh cilantro (for garnish)
cotija or monterey jack cheese (crumbled for garnish)
tortilla chips (for garnish)

  1. Chop the onion and garlic and saute in the vegetable oil with a pinch of salt until soft and fragrant. Stir in cumin and chili powder to coat and cook a couple minutes longer to toast spices.
  2. Add corn, beans, tomatoes, turkey and chicken stock, and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Adjust seasoning with salt and add the lime juice.
  3. Serve and garnish with the cilantro, cheese and tortilla chips. I like to serve the chips on the side and add them as I eat so they don't get too soggy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Takeout (aka, pre-Thanksgiving laziness...)

Well, I got home for Thanksgiving yesterday and in preparation for the big day, we've been taking it easy in the kitchen. Tonight, that meant ordering Chinese takeout. In New York, I would have simple ordered online through Seamless Web where I have my credit card info conveniently stored in my profile for eazy ordering. But in Jefferson City, MO, that's not really an option. Imagine that... A city of less than 40,000 people, surrounded by even smaller towns. Yes, it's the state capital, but that's apparently not enough to get us an interstate highway. You have to drive 30 miles north to get to one of those...

I know you're probably wondering what all that has to do with takeout. Well, in a city this small, there isn't exactly a thriving food delivery culture. There's certainly no centralized, Web-based takeout "middleman" service like in out nation's larger metropolitan areas. When people in Jefferson City want takeout, odds are they'll have to get in the car and pick it up themselves. It's not that big of a deal since you can drive just about anywhere in less than 15 minutes. That is, it's not that big of a deal until you order dinner and then try to pick up that order from a different restaurant. Yeah, that's right...

It was just myself and my parents (my sister stayed in Chicago for the holiday) and we had decided to order from Happy Garden. After a discussion about what to order, my mom called in the order. Five minutes later, my dad left to pick it up. But when he got there they didn't have the order. Now, normally he would have called home to see if we had made a mistake, but his phone wasn't working so he reordered on the spot and waited for it to be cooked. Mom and I didn't realize what happened until he got home. Well, turns out the menu for Hunan's was still sitting out by the phone. So out headed mom to go pick up that order.

It's still unclear where the communication breakdown happened or if the wrong menu was simply grabbed inadvertently from the file, but now we had two identical orders from our two favorite Chinese restaurants. In the eyes of a food blogger that only means one thing: side-by- side taste test.

Well, Hunan's is on the left and Happy Garden is on the right. From the top there's egg drop soup, crab rangoon (why can't you get those in New York?), fried potstickers and, in the middle, happy family is on top and chicken with broccoli is at the bottom center of the plate. In ever case except the crab rangoon, Happy Garden was the clear winner.

The Hunan's crab rangoon, which is folded in a flatter shape, actually had a smoother filling with actual crab flavor. The other simple tasted like gritty cream cheese with scallions in it. The soups were drastically different, too. The Hunan's was a celery based broth with just the slightest hint of egg sitting at the bottom, while the Happy Garden soup was a thick, gelatinous base made with real chicken fat that, according to my mom, is good for arthritis, and large, obvious ribbons of egg. The happy family from Hunan's seemed like it had all been individually frozen and then tossed into a wok after it had been given sufficient time to develop freezer burn. The Happy Garden version was much fresher. It's only bad point was the use of obviously imitation crab meat. I would have preferred they had simply omitted the "crab."

The chicken and broccoli from both were acceptable, but Hunan's used chunked chicken with bits of fat and cartilage present, while Happy Garden went with thinly sliced, perfectly trimmed chicken breast. The potstickers were both OK, but side-by-side I preferred those from Happy Garden.

So, now there's a ton of Chinse food in the spare fridge and it might not survive the day with all the refrigeration needs of the Thanksgiving holiday. And now that I've sampled the restaurants off the same plate, I can honestly say I only care to eat half of them anyway...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Just 4 days to go...

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. You get family and good food without all of the crazy spending and gift-giving of Christmas (or Hannukah, if that's your tradition). The decorating is much more low-key and hassle-free, too. I realize that many people get stressed about the idea of hosting Thanksgiving and having to feed the multitudes. And do you stick with the same recipe every year, or try to vary it with some new ideas garnered from magazines? The same dilemma all those magazine editors face with every November issue... (Hire me! I'm up to the task!!)

Well, I absolutely love fixing Thanksgiving dinner. Granted, I say this after only technically hosting one such holiday—last year in the Manhattan apartment I shared with my sister and a friend with all of our parents sitting on the couch and floor around the coffee table. What the event lacked in furniture it made up for in good food and good times—even if the general concensus was I went a little too heavy on the lemon juice, which, coincidentally, might be the single most relevant event leading to the naming of this blog, but I digress...

I look forward to and thrive on the challenge of planning multiple dishes to be cooked with limited resources all timed so that everything is finished as close to the actual meal as possible. Some might call me a masochist, but I'm sure there are plenty others out there who get where I'm coming from. If it were up to me, I'd cook the entire meal myself or at least manage my brigade of family "staff" in whatever kitchen I happen to be in. I don't mind the responsibility. I love it, in fact. But I have to remember to balance my enthusiam with that o everyone else. Just because I recently graduated from culinary school doesn't mean that I have the right to take over (even if I want to).

This year I'm lucky. I'm flying home to Missouri and my parents are hosting the big event. And do you know what that means? I get to cook in a nice large kitchen and take advantage of two huge refrigerators, two large ovens, a 6-burner stove and a sink that's actuall big enough to wash pots in. New Yorkers, you know what a treat this will be! Oh, and bonus, my parents will be footing the bill! Does it get any better than this?

Now, I'm a member of Slow Food, but even if I weren't I'd still be cooking everything from scratch. This year I'll allow myself the exception of using store-bought chicken stock, but that's only becaue I'm not flying in early enough to make my own. There will be no powdered gravy mix, no just-add-water stuffing mix and no bakery-bought pies. Yes, a can or two of cranberry "sauce" will be opened, but I have to allow my family their traditions too. You can be sure, however, that I WILL NOT allow anything so utterly lazy and I-don't-care-enough-to-even-try as a Jenny-O Turkey In a Bag. "Goes directly from freezer to oven—no thawing!" Over my dead body! This product breaks just about every commandment of turkey cooking known to man and I want no part in it. (Although, I suppose it's at least a step above a Thanksgiving microwave meal....)

So what will we be cooking? Well, my mom bought an organic turkey of some sort and promises me she has it thawing in the fridge already. I'll probably stuff it with an orange, lemon and onion (all quartered) as well as some fresh sage. I'll rub the outside with olive oil and heavily season it with kosher or sea salt (no iodized table salt!) and start it in a 450°F oven for 30 minutes and then finish it at 350°F until it's ready. (This gives it a crispy skin without drying out the breast too much.) With that, we'll make a yet-to-be-determined bread "stuffing" that won't actually even be stuffed inside the turkey—it just slows down the cooking and greatly increases the chances of food poisoning. I'm also planning for brussels sprouts cooked with bacon and shallots, and maple roasted sweet potatoes. There will be pumpkin and pecan pies and cranberry-walnut biscuits. Probably a double batch of those since they'll be perfect for making next day turkey sandwiches. Of course, there'll be gravy too.

Other family members are bringing corn, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and an assortment of pre-dinner snacks. I'd be cooking more dishes and trying even more new recipes if the family let me, but it's a family holiday and the point isn't to cook a meal that pleases me, it's to cook a meal that pleases the family, and I'm happy to do that. I still manage to sneak in a new dish or two every year and, as long as the basics are covered, no one seems to mind. My hope is that eventually the fancier dishes will become the new family traditions, but until then, I simply have to get away with as much as I can. And it's not that I don't appreciate mashed potatoes, too, it's just that there are so many different things to try and only so much room on the buffet counter. (Or in my stomach...)

For now, I'm going to watch Iron Chef America: Battle Thanksgiving and see if I get any more ideas for the big day...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Farro with Italian Sausage

OK, so I didn't get home until 8:00 tonight and I was at work until 11:30 last night. Translation: It's a wonder I managed to cook at all when Seamless Web is so damn easy. So, I apologize (sorta) for this being more of a method than an actual recipe, but I'm sure you'll figure it out anyway. It's not rocket science (or baking) after all. Nothing's going to happen if you use a little less of one thing and more of another. Cooking without recipes is the most relaxing way for me to cook (why I don't bake much), so just give in and make this non-recipe work with whatever you have on hand.

Farro with Italian Sausage
(note: all amounts are very rough approximations)
1 cup farro (an Italian grain)
3 links spicy Italian sausage (sliced)
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
2 shallots (chopped)
1 Tbsp. extra light olive oil
1/2 giant horse carrot (about 3/4 cup chopped)
1 stalk celery (chopped)
1/2 small red bell pepper (seeded and chopped)
4 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine (I used a cabernet sauvignon)
2 cups chicken stock (use one with the lowest sodium possible)
2 Tbsp fresh thyme (stripped from stems)
salt (to taste)
OK, so I cooked the farro in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes and then drained it ina colander. While that was cooking, I sauteed the sausage. When it was fairly browned, I added the shallot and garlic as well as the oil since the sausage hadn't released enough fat. After a couple minutes, I added the carrot and celeryand then the red pepper after that. After another three to four minutes I cleared a space in the middle os the pan and added the tomato paste, which I smushed (yes, that's a technical term...) into the hot pan to get it caramelized. After that I poured in the wine and gave in a couple minutes to burn off the alcohol. (The pan was on a high flame this entire time.) Then I added the farro and chicken stock to cover. At this point I let everything bubble away while I sorted my mail, washed as much as I could and drank a glass of the wine that was in the dish. About 20 minutes later, most of the liquid had reduced down and I served myself.
Overall impressions... This dish was a little too salty (probably becase the sausage was so salty on its own) and my vegetable chopping was a litle too sloppy to go ver will in a restaurant, magazine or culinary school. Although, I guess you could just call it "country" and everything is forgiven.
Well, I'm here if you have questions. For the record, the technique I used here could be applied to any number of ingredients. Different meats, particularly ground meats, could be used. Other vegetables could be added. Beef or vegetable stock are fair game. You could use a white wine instead. And other grains could be used although not all need to be pre-cooked in wated bfore adding to the main dish. You get the picture...
Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lentils and Squash ~ a Veggie Main Course

I know I've writing a disproportionate amount of posts about bacon—so yummy!—but in all honesty, I eat a lot of vegetarian meals. No, I'm not a vegetarian. No, I don't limit my meat consumption out of hippy-inspired concern for the earth (they have a point, though...). And, no, I don't do it because steak is more expensive than lentils. I just like vegetables and beans. Yes, I said it. I LIKE BEANS!

Yeah, yeah... Lentils aren't beans, they're legumes. For the record, according to The Penguin Companion to Food (also published as The Oxford Companion to Food), by Alan Davidson, beans are "any legume not classified separately as a pea or lentil," but that's splitting hairs in much the same way people talk about a tomato being a fruit and not a vegetable. And something is what it is no matter how you prefer to categorize it.

Anyway, here's the eye candy with the recipe to follow:

Lentils with Butternut Squash and Walnuts
1 butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cut into half-inch cubes)
1 shallot (chopped)
4 Tbsp. extra light olive oil (not to be confused with extra virgin olive oil)
2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
1/2. tsp. salt
1 cup dried lentils
1/4 cup English walnuts, pecans or both (roughly chopped)
4 Tbsp. fresh cilantro (chopped)
Juice from half a lime
1. Preheat oven to 425°F and set a pot of unsalted water to boil.
2. Prepare the squash. In a bowl, combine the oil, salt and five-spice powder. Toss squash and chopped shallot in the mixture and then spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. (Line it with foil for easier cleanup, if you wish.) Roast for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. When the water reaches a boil, add the lentils and cook until they soften but still hold their shape. (About 20 minutes.) Drain then in a sieve and place in serving dish.
4. Add the walnuts to the squash and roast another 5-10 minutes. Remove when the squash is tender and walnuts are toasted.
5. Add squash to the lentils and add lime juice and cilantro. Stir to combine or toss with flick of the wrist if feeling confident. Adjust seasoning with additional lime juice, salt or five-spice powder if desired.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

WD~50 Made Me Obsess About Mayo and I Hate It!

OK, I didn't actually revisit WD~50, but I did come across a New York Times slide show—Nouvelle Chimie—that shed some light on a few of the techniques he uses. For instance, to fry mayonnaise, you have to make the mayo with gelatin instead of egg and basically create a Jell-O that can withstand the heat of frying. That's the basic concept anyway. It sounds simple in theory, but since I don't like mayo, I probably won't be experimenting too much with this idea.

You know, during culinary school making a mayonnaise from scratch was something we were tested on a couple times. Texture I could swing by touch, sight and the amount of resistance against my whisk, but the flavor was something I just guessed on. Somehow I always managed to drop just the right amount of salt into it without even tasting it. Not that it would have mattered. It tastes gross to me both under- and over-salted...

If you care to ty it yourself, here's the basic recipe we were taught at The Institute of Culinary Education. Honestly, it's pretty easy...

(Makes 1 cup)

1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1 cup canola oil
salt a needed

1. Whisk together the yolk, lemon juice and mustard.
2. While whisking, slowly stream in the oil until it is all incorporated.
3. Add salt to taste.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Pork Tenderloin: Bacon's healthier cousin

I usually don't have much protein on hand. And, yes, I called it protein, not meat, fish, beans or anything else. That's a relic from culinary school, but in all honesty, it's not a bad way to think of food. Our bodies don't need beef, pork or chicken (the midwest's three food groups?), they just need protein no matter how we get it. So, I have a lentil recipe I'll share another day, but tonight I'm going to show you the nice pork tenderloin I picked up at Fairway.

Now, pork tenderloin is not to be confused with pork loin. You wouldn't confuse filet mignon with strip steak, would you? I didn't think so... Generally, an animal's tenderloin is the leanest, purest cut of meat. It runs along the back unerneath the loin and is the cut most often used for tartare and other raw preparations. It's also usually the most expensive cut. Anyway....

Tonight I cheated and looked up a recipe to use for my pork tenderloin. I was looking for a recipe that incorporated miso paste since I had some of that on hand as well, but instead I came across this recipe for pork tenderloin with roased apples and onions. I fudged it and used macintosh apples instead of granny smith, balsamic mustard instead of whole grain dijon, and thyme and rosemary instead of fennel seed, but the technique was more or less the same.

I seared the pork in olive oil, took it out of the pan, sauteed the apple and onion slices and then placed the pork back on top with a smear of mustard and a healthy sprinkle of the dried herbs. Then I popped that into a 450°F oven until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the thickest point reached 150°F. Then I put the pork back on a clean cutting board to rest while I added some wine to the apple/onion mixture and cooked it down a bit on the stovetop. After a quick slice—I should have waited longer becuase I lost a lot of juices when I sliced it—I tossed it onto a plate and sat down to eat.

Overall, this recipe needs some revision. The apples cooked down into something resembling a savory applesauce. Granny smiths and thicker slices would have probably helped that. Also, the pork didn't have a lot of flavor, probably because it's hard to get a really good sear on a piece of meat in a home kitchen. (Home stoves often don't get near as hot as a commercial range and you have smoke detectors to deal with instead of a huge hood vent—not fun!) And then there's the splattering... The pros don't worry about this and just hose down the kitchen at the end of the night, but grease splatter in the home isn't so easy to deal with given the lack of stainless steel surfaces and waterproof floors with drains. My mom (the most frequent commenter on this site so far) hates it when I cook in her kitchen. Nevermind how the food turns out, it's the cleaning that she dreads. And I admit, I'm not able to clean as well as she'd like. Sorry mom!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A single, perfect apple

Today at work, someone had a bag of free apples outside his office. At first I wasn't going to take one, but then I saw how fresh they looked. And, bonus, they weren't waxed!! So, I picked one up, but it had a worm hole in it. Pass... By chance, the next one I touched still had its stem and a few leaves attached. That's the winner. Turns out that they were hand picked in New Hampshire. Nice!

I carried it home in my hand so that could photograph it before the leaves were ripped off or the apple bruised. I must have looked quite ridiculous on the 6 train and then the crosstown bus, apple in hand and all. On a rainy day, no less... At one point I felt like one of those women who carry around a tiny dog as a fashion accessory, only my fashion accessory was an apple.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Braised Greens with Scallops

Last night, after I engaged in the orgy at Whole Foods—What else would you call a bustling mass of people getting sucked in by the food porn and buying more than they can afford?—I got busy in my kitchen and made myself a yummy fall dinner.

In this season, more than any other, I'm a pro at combining vegetables and fruit into single dishes. My acorn squash soup had apples hidden in it. The meal I made last night contained raisins and a pear. It also had yummy bacon (an essential, in my mind, when cooking bitter greens) and pecans. This meal was so full of good flavors that, instead of eating at my desk while watching TV, I actually sat at the kitchen table and ate my dinner wiht a glass of wine and background music. (Have I mentioned I love fall?)

Braised Greens (with scallops)
(Serves 2)

The braised greens are a great fall/winter side dish on their own and would work well pork, chicken or other meats. I had them with scallops that I seasoned with salt and pepper and seared in a non-stick pan with a little EVOO. Just be careful not to over cook them!

1/4 lb bacon (use uncut bacon or thick slices)
1/2 ea red onion (chopped)
3/4 lb mixed braising greens* (washed and roughly
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup raisins (normal or golden)
1/4 cup pecans (roughly chopped)
1 ea pear (diced in 1/2" pieces - Do this while the greens are cooking so that it doesn't brown from sitting around too long.) salt to taste fresh ground nutmeg to taste (optional)

1. Cut the bacon into 1/2" pieces (if sliced) or into 1/4" dice (if using unsliced slab bacon). Place this in a high-sided saute pan over med-low heat and allow the fat to render, stirring occassionally.
2. Add the red onion and stir occassionally until it softens.
3. Add the chopped greens and stir to coat with the rendered fat. Then add the chicken stock and cover to trap the steam.
4. When the greens are wilted, but not mushy (3-5 minutes on heat), add the raisins and pecans and stir them in. Leave the lid off at this point to allow moisture to escape. (You aren't making a soup...) 5. When the greens are just about ready to eat, add the diced pear and stir in so that it just begins to soften. (If you want your pear softer, cut the pieces smaller or add them earlier.) Add the ground nutmeg at this time if using.
6. Make a final adjustment to the seasoning (i.e.
salt) and serve.

* I purchased mine from an open bin at Whole Foods. If this isn't available, use a combination of radicchio, chard, beet greens, kale, turnip greens, mustard, collard greens or any other tough leaf.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Now you can subscribe!!

I know a few of you (mom...) have asked if you can just get my blog by e-mail so that you don't have to keep checking back for new posts. Well, now you can! Just click on the link in the right-had side of the page. And for all you people who prefer RSS feeds (dad...), you can do that too.

I try to keep people happy...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Squash Soup - My favorite healthy fall indulgence

I subscribe to more food magazines than any non-obsessed person could fathom and I'm sometimes surprised by how often they mirror each other. Now, if pressed, I could give you a philosophical rundown of how each magazine is different from its competitors, but that's not the point. November issues always have a turkey on the cover. No surprise there. December is often cookie-focused. Again, duh. But what I really like is the almost certain inclusion of butternut sqush soup at least once a year. No, this isn't an actual fact, but a quick search of my favorite food magazines shows I'm onto something:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup Bisque - Bon Appetit, Feb. 2007
Gingerd Butterut Squash Soup with Spicy Pecan Cream - Food & Wine, Nov. 2007
Butternut Squash Soup with Apple and Smoked Cheddar - Food & Wine, Feb. 2007
Roasted Pear Buttenut Soup with Crumbled Stilton - Eating Well, Oct./Nov. 2006
Butternut Squash Soup with Apple and Bacon - Fine Cooking, Oct./Nov. 2005

And those are just from the last year or so... Now, there's a clear prejudice toward using butternut squash, but I have fond memories of acorn squash from my childhood and so that's the one that I keep coming back to. We normally ate it microwaved or baked with brown sugar. It was delicious, for sure, but always seemed like dessert to me. Now, even though I don't want to eat sugar for my vegetable, I still can't get used to eating the squash in more savory preparations, so I compromise and try to make a less sweet version.

My squash soup is a thick puree of roasted acorn squash and apple. I add a few other ingredients for balance, toss it in a blender—my trusty Vitamix—and call it a day. I didn't really keep a close eye on the ingredients I was using. (Still not in the habit of aithuflly logging everything I cook so that I can write about it here...) But here's a close approximation. I don't relal encourage strictly following a recipe anyway when cooking, so this is very fitting of my cooking style. E-mail me at
or just leave a comment if you have any questions.

Acorn Squash and Apple Soup

1 ea acorn squash (skin removed, seeds discarded and cut into 1" pieces
2 ea Macintosh apples (cored and cut into 1" pieces with skin left on)
1" slice red onion (cut into 1" pieces)
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 pinches salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
extra virgin olive oil as needed
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger (peeled and minced)
2 cups chicken stock

1. Preheat oven to 450°F
2. Place squash, apple and onion in a single layer on a 4-sided cookie sheet, roasting pan or jelly-roll pan, but keep all items separate. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle evenly with sugar, cinnamon and salt. Place in oven to roast.
3. Check every 5-10 minutes. Apples and onions will finish first. Remove the apples when they become soft, but before they lose their shape. Remove onion before they become too dry and papery. The squash will take up to 30 minutes. It should be soft and starting to darken in color. You'll save yourself cleaning, if you remove the vegetables directly to the blender.
4. When everything is out of the oven and in the blender, add the ginger and chicken broth and puree. The final thickness will vary depending on the size of your squash and apples. I suggest adding only part of the chicken stock at first and then adding more as desired to reach your preferred consistency.

- If desired, garnish with a couple thin apple slices. Cut them immediately prior to serving or, to work ahead, immerse them in a solution of water and lemon juice to prevent browning.
- Use more or less ginger and cinnamon to suit your taste. You could also omit the ginger and cinnamon and experiment with other spices like cumin or curry powder.
- Try adding additional roasted vegetables like sweet potato or carrot. Or, sub in pears for the apples.

Super Taco

Well, after a year living at 95th St. and Riverside Dr. and walking by the place several times a year, I finally tried Super Taco—a souped up street-food operation parked outside of Gristedes on 96th St. near Broadway. Why last night and not before? Well, my date (that's right, I was on a date) brought it up in conversation and we were reasonably close, so I suggested we walk over for a late night snack. Honestly, I never stopped by before because there was always a horde of Spanish-speaking customers and a long complicated menu that I didn't want to take the time to read, but last night I was feeling bold.

In true form, once I saw that the menu went beyond the usual Americanized "Mexican" food offerings, I resolved to order the most unfamiliar item on the menu. At first, I thought that meant the goat taco, but no, there was something even more unusual—the lengua taco. If your Spanish is up to snuff, you already know what I ate, but for the linguistically challenged (that was a clue) I had tongue.

"Eww... Gross!" you say? Well, honestly this isn't my first experiene with beef tongue. One of the courses at WD-50 was pickled beef tongue, and, although it was sliced very thinly and artfully piled on the plate, it's rubbery, spongy texture was still recognizeable as were the filiform papillae—the little hairlike projections on the top of the tongue. You and I have them too, but on a cow's tongue, they're much larger and noticeable.

Getting back to Super Taco, this tongue was chopped into small pieces roughly a quarter-inch square. This highlighted its texture without making it difficult to eat. You knew you were eating tongue, but you didn't have to chew on it forever before swallowing—an important quality for street food. Two soft flour tortillas formed the taco's shell and shredded lettuce, chopped onions were added. From the self-service condiments, I added just the red salsa, but sliced radishes, green salsa and jalepeños were also available.

So, the verdict... I'd definitely go back. I'd like to try the goat or some of the more elaborate specials. The $2 taco was a perfectly sized late-night snack and a couple of them will make a still-cheap meal. The truck is parked on the same block as a Salvation Army donation center, so it'll be a nice treat after dropping off the clothes I plan to clean out of my wardrobe. And my date? Well he deserves the respect of not being publicly analyzed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do I Smell Bacon?

So, I haven't subscribd to Everyday With Rachael Ray because I'm stupid. I've been buying it every month and spending more money than if I just subscribed. Anyway, that's not why I'm writing tonight. It's beause of something I saw when I was flipping through the last issue. A bacon scented candle... That's right...


OK, that's crazy, yes? Well, it comes as part of a three-candle set: bacon, lettuce and tomato. Theoretically, if you light all three at once , you're apartment, house, office or wherever, wil smell like a BLT.

Now, I'd love to try it out, but I'm don't exactly have the budget to spend $34 on a set of 3 candles from Mostly I'm curious about the bacon candle, because—let's face it—who doesn't love the smell of bacon? (That's a hint... send me the candles to try out...)

In my research, I did find another blogger who made her own bacon candle by sticking a wick in the frozen drippings from a pound of cooked bacon. There's also a Web site that sells bacon scented candles to hunters trying to attract bears. Some day, when I feel like cooking a pound of bacon and have various commercial bacon-scented candles, I'll do a comparative test, but that'll have to wait. Right now, I've spent so much time thinking about it that I can almost smell the bacon now...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ethanol and what it means to your ketchup

One of the benefits of actually having an office to go to rather than always working from home is that you get to overhear things. Now, I don't read the Wall Street Journal reguarly, but thanks to my cube neighbor at my current freelance job, I now know about an interesting chain of events linking alternative fuels to the stuff you dip your french fries into. (How dare you if mayo came to mind! Cultural obsession or not, that's just gross...) Since the WSJ isn't free, here's an article on the same topic from the San Francisco Chronicle: Heinz hopes sweeter ketchup tomatoes reduce need for corn syrup.

You can read the article yourself for all the juicy details on the economics of the corn syrup price bump. But to me the interesting thing is that the company is busy trying to create a new sweeter tomato variety.

Now, personal preferences aside, Heinz is considered by many—famous chefs included—to be the gold standard to which all other ketchups must be judged against. I wonder what might happen to the taste, texture or general quality of the ketchup once the new tomatoes are swapped in for some of the corn syrup. Will it be a noticeable difference in the same way that Mexican Coke tastes different from the Coke you and I buy in office vending machines?

Time will tell, but it's certainly amazing how something like alternative automobile fuels have a trickle down effect on our food supply. It's like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon only he has the day off and corn is standing in his stead....

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Alinea: Pretty Food, Strange Experience

Well, after years of looking at the food porn in countless articles on Alinea--named Best American Restaurant in the October 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine--I finally bit the bullet, plunked down my credit card and had the smaller of the two tasting menus. So strong is the restaurant's reputation, that it's name doesn't appear outside the space except for on a small sign advertising the restaurant's $10 valet parking. It's simply a non-descript, but clean and crisp, charcoal building.

When you walk in, you are in a long hallway with panels jutting out from the wall so that it looks like you are walking into a funnel. There's seemingly no place to go, but then a sliding door that looks like an elevator with no buttons opens and you are greeted by the staff. The first question I was asked was, "How did you arrive?" It threw me and I didn't answer right away, so she followed with, "Did you valet park a car?" "No..." "Did you come in a taxi?" "Yes..." "OK, then we'll have one waiting for you when you finish your meal." "OK, thanks..."

So, the first dish that came out was accompanied by very detailed instructions on not only how to eat the dish, but also how to hold the vessel it came in. "I'm going to ask for your help with this one. When I hand you the dish, pleas do not set it down on the table or on the monocle. The weight of the fork will cause the bowl to tip and spill," he said. "Please do not dip the fork into the soup below. Eat it as a single bite, set the fork down on the monocle, and them drink the soup. At that point, you can set the bowl down and it will not fall over." And that was all before he got to the description of the food in the dish. It was a surf clam with several garnishes and chilled nasturtium soup.

The rest of the evening progressed in much the same way. Everything was carefully scripted and orchestrated with perfect precision. I'm sure the staff had memorized the script and choreography much as I had done when I did musical theater during high school. Our silverware was replaced for each of the 14 courses we were served, but not in the normal way...

"As you can see, we designed the restaurant with mahogany tables and no cloths. I'm setting down this pillow so that we can rest clean silverware on it for you. We ask that as you use it, you do not replace any used silver back on the pillow so that we can keep reusing them. Please rest the used pieces on your plate and they will be removed."
Like at WD-50, I didn't enjoy every item served. The ones that failed, for me, were those that attempted too many complex treatments on a food that can be so good on its own. Specifically, the wagyu beef. It was a single bite on a pin with matsutake mushroom served in a bowl underneath a forest of cedar branches. Unfortunately, I thought the scent of the cedar was so strong that the beef and mushroom--both imported from Japan, no doubt--were overpowered.

On another occasion, though, scent was used more successfully. The tomato course, the fourth served, the plate of varied tomato preparations was placed on a pillow that had been filled with hardwood smoke. It smelled like campfire and added a pleasant dimension to the cold plate filled with several single bites, all prepared differently. The plate, balanced precariously on the pillow, caused the smoke to slowly waft out under its weight.

Chef/Owner Grant Achatz, formerly of Napa Valley's French Laundry among other top restaurants, apparently has a fondness for courses needing to be eaten as single bites, pulled off a pin or cinnamon stick with the mouth, and spheres that explode--sometimes violently--in the mouth. At least three times that I can remember, we were told to take an entire item in our mouth and then close it immediately so that nothing is spilled when it explodes.

One flavor combination, in particular, comes to mind as being unexpectedly delicious. The chocolate course, a long, winding tube of dark chocolate ganache, was served with soy sauce in three ways: as a jelly, a marshmallow and a powder. On it's own, soy sauce isn't a common dessert ingredient, but with the chocolate it worked. If you've ever had a dark chocolate covered pretzel, you already know what salt can do to chocolate. And what is soy sauce, if not a very salty ingredient?

I wish I could recount each of the dishes, but it would take far too long. Instead, be sure to look at the restaurant's photo gallery. For me, the presentation was almost more exciting than the food, anyway.

Monday, September 24, 2007

TONY's Eat Out 2007

Tonight I attended Time Out New York magazine's Eat Out 2007. It's an event to benefit the Food Bank for New York City while giving attendees an opportunity to sample food from 40 different New York restaurants. I tried my best, but I only managed to sample food from 17 of the restaurants. That's a 17 course tasting menu... And boy am I stuffed!

I think my favorite was the Spicy Beef and Pomelo Salad from Mai House Vietnamese. Another memorable dish was the Rabbit anticuchos from Palo Santo. Now, I've had rabbot before. Hell, I've even cut up a whole rabbit and cooked it. Multiple times... But I'd never had rabbit heart before. Luckily, I'd eaten various chicken organs growing up in the Midwest and the idea of eating an animal's heart doesn't horribly disgust me. Anyway, my point is that rabbit heart tastes just like chicken heart. In case you were curious...

For the record, anticuchos is a Quechuan word for kebab. And the Quechua people are an Andean ethnic group that lives throughout South America in places where the previous Incan Empire extended.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mayonnaise Kitchen -- My personal hell...

Honestly, Stephen Colbert said it so perfectly in the following video clip that I really don't have anything to add. You know I don't like mayo (unless it's fried by Wylie Dufresne) and Tokyo's Mayonnaise Kitchen restaurant isn't likely to change my mind!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wylie Dufresne, Mad Scientist

Last September, as a full-time student at the Institute for Culinary Education, I was given the opportunity to volunteer at the 1st Annual International Chef's Congress in NYC. Specifically, I was supposed to be helping out backstage in the staging area for the various chefs' demonstrations. It turned out that my most important job as a volunteer was to stay out of the way (every chef brought their own assistants). I didn't mind, though, since I did get to meet some really cool chefs and watch all their demos. Susur Lee was there—he was only one to engage me in conversation. And so was Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. I got a photo with him even though I hesitate to show it off since my culinary school uniform was an unflattering eight sizes too big for me. (Shaq could probably fit into it...) Among many other chefs that I got to meet was Wylie Dufresne, Chef/Owner of WD-50. And that is where I had dinner last night.

After Dufresne's name came up during a freelance project I was working on recently, my editor and I decided to try the restaurant's tasting menu since neither of us had been to the hot spot before. The tasting menu consisted of a dozen courses: eight savory and four sweet, but I'll spare you the play-by-play and stick to what was truly memorable a day later:

Pizza pebbles, pepperoni, shiitake
"These taste like Combos," said one of my dinner companions mere seconds after the plate was set down and before our server had left the table. "Many people say that," he admitted. Well, I wasn't about to argue. They did have a taste very reminiscent of the not-so-healthy, guilty-pleasure, gas station fare. Nevermind that the "pepperoni" component of the dish was a few small dollops of sauce, the "pizza pebbles" were loosely held-together spheres of bread and cheese flavored powder, and the shiitakes were paper-thin slices of dehydrated mushroom. A couple oregano leaves added a green touch to the plate which was resembled nothing even close to an actual pizza.

Knot Foie
This had to be my least favorite dish of the night. Now, I love foie gras and I don't plan on ever caving in to the claims that PETA and other save-the-animals types make about the "inhumane" treatment involved in foie gras production, but PLEASE don't reduce foie gras to something that could pass as the love child of bologna and Spam. I don't care if you have managed to take the normally fragile offal and shape it into a clean knot. Unfortunately this interpretation of foie gras smelled like "cat food" according to others at my table and, in my opinion, hardly had any of the rich flavor that I normally associate with the delicacy. Not even the quince sauce or cilantro stems could rescue the dish. Sorry, Wylie, but this one earns an F from me.

Beef tongue, fried mayo, tomato molasses
Again not a favorite of mine and it had nothing to do with the fact that I was eating pickled beef tongue. Those of you who know me, know that I have an aversion to mayonnaise. Plain and simple, I'll avoid it given the option. Now, I could have told our server that I didn't eat mayo or I could have left it untouched on my plate, but—if for no reason other than to satisfy my curiosity—I ate the fried mayo. I can happily report that the process of deep frying can make almost any food delicious. So, while I still may not care for cold, gloppy mayo from a jar or squeeze bottle, I am a fan of warm, fried mayo. Even if it does contain a secret ingredient or two from WD-50's famed wall of food-grade chemicals.

Lamb belly, black chickpea, cherried cucumber
Did you know that "lamb belly" is just a confusing way of saying "bacon"? Granted at least one of my many food reference books probably defines "bacon" as something uniquely porcine, but, for the sake of argument, if you take the fatty belly of an animal, cure it, slice it thinly and then fry it, it's going to resemble bacon. And bacon makes me happy. End of story.

Fried butterscotch pudding, mango, taro, smoked macadamia
Again with the frying. Frying, if done well, takes anything up at least one notch. (Several in the case of mayo.)

Soft chocolate, avocado, licorice, lime
Chocolate isn't my favorite (unless it's a nice piece of unadultered dark chocolate) and I tend to find it boring, but there's a photo of this dish on the restaurant's Web site, so I thought I'd include it so you can get a taste of how the various dishes are presented.

In such an experimental place, it's no surprise that even the restrooms are worth mentioning. We were lucky (smart?) enough to ask about them before embarking on an exploratory jaunt around the restaurant. The conversation went something like this: "Where is the women's room?" "Oh, they're downstairs." "They? There's more than one women's room?" "Well, just go downstairs and push on the wood panels." "OK..."

Turns out, the restroom is a set of unisex restrooms with communal sinks nestled in a basement nook. The doors to the stalls are flush with the wall and, aside from seams in the wood paneling, more or less hidden. Nice touch.

That's all folks. I've already rambled on for far too long.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Haute Barnyard, not Haute Couture

Today I had some time to kill while I waited in my doctor's waiting room. I had intended to do the crossword puzzle in my New York magazine, but I didn't have a pen and the receptionist was nowhere to be found. So I flipped to the restaurant reviews and started scanning. My eyes stopped at Perilla because it was one of the few review-worthy restaurants I've eaten at so far. New York only gave Top Chef Harold Dieterle's West Village restaurant one star out of five, but I can honestly say that my parents and I had an absolutely wonderful meal.

Anyway, part of the review reads, "The menu is dotted with the kind of pretentiously unpretentious specialties we've become accustomed to in the Haute Barnyard era." And it's this concept of "Haute Barnyard" that I'd like to talk about.

"Haute Barnyard" is, to me, a nice way to describe my love of pork products, fancy fowl, chicken pieces other than skinless chicken breast. To some, eating saturated fat-laden meats is considered to be a very masculine thing. Women should order salads and other dainty foods and leave the pork belly to the guys, right?

WRONG!! Certainly not now, when so much care is being taken by certain small-scale producers to build awareness of heritage breeds and to raise them in generally "greener" ways by using less or no antibiotics, giving them more room to roam and a more varied diet. To pass up a chance to taste something so lovingly created is blasphemous in my eyes. It has more calories, you say? Well, it also has a hell of a lot more taste, too! It costs too much? Fine, I'll brew my own coffee and lay off the venti, non-fat, sugar-free, vanilla lattes that also cost too much. Nothing is going to stand between me and a perfectly good opportunity to eat some good food. Not even a first date. And yes, I know that "pork belly" is just uncured, unsliced bacon. (Mmm... Bacon...)

And it's the higher-quality products that allow for simple recipes that shift the focus back to the ingredients themselves. And this is where Harold Dieterle's cooking is successful. Creamed corn? Doesn't sound special, but he uses only the best ingredients and takes the time to prepare them perfectly. He doesn't rely on some convoluted, experimental combination of ingredients to impress people and I appreciate that confidence and simplicity.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Delivering the Love

Today I did a good deed and volunteered at God's Love We Deliver. It's a non-profit organization that's been providing nutritious meals to New York's seriously ill for over 20 years. It started during the height of the AIDS epidemic, but has evolved as it's grown and now serves people with a variety of debilitating illnesses. Despite the name, it's not a religious organization--a common misconception.

So, I was there as the organizer of a group from the NU Club of Greater New York. (That's the Northwestern University Alumni Club, FYI.) It's my third time volunteering at the site with that group and my second as an organizer. I have to say, it feels good to be able to volunteer in a way that involves more than just cutting a check. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The money needed to buy all the food this organization feeds its clients has to come from somewhere, after all.

We spent the afternoon peeling and chopping two huge bags of carrots. Here's a little look into the kitchen:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Address!

FYI, you can now reach this blog by simply going to so update your bookmarks and check in often! Don't forget to leave comments to let me know what you think. I'm interested in answering your questions about cooking, but you have to ask them if you want me to answer. It's funny how that works...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mamajuana (not to be confused with the other Ma__juana!)

I'm a bit slow in posting this, but it required some research and I didn't want to leave anyone's curiosity unsatisfied. Anyway, this past weekend I attended a friend's roof-top housewarming party. I have a serious case apartment envy, but that's another story for another time. Rather than his 43rd floor panoramic view of New Jersey and the Upper West Side (or his glass-front Sub-Zero refrigerator), I'd like to tell you all about the mystery drink that he served.

It was called Mama Juana and he served the spicy-sweet pink alcohol out of a completely unmarked clear glass bottle. "Sip it, don't shoot it!" he ordered as he passed out the 1-ounce shot glasses. So adamant was his tone that it nearly warranted a hearty "yessir!" but I resisted.

The drink burned like a stiff martini, but had a complex flavor heavily influenced with rum and honey. So complex it was, that I drank shot after shot trying to figure it out. (Hey, it was research, people. Don't judge!) In one sip I noticed the honey, in another I thought I tasted cloves, or was it cinnamon, or both even? And was there vanilla? Maybe something from the citrus family? It was so mesmerizing that I kept "sampling" more, and the more I sampled, the more mesmerizing it became... Some people at the party hated it, but not me. I was intrigued more than anything else.

As it was explained to me, the drink came from St. Croix and was more or less a bootleg hooch made in the rainforest by a woman in a hut. The only way to buy it is to go there yourself and smuggle it back since its transport is not allowed. I was told you can get it a little more easily from the Dominican Republic, but that their version of the hooch isn't near as good. "Great..." I thought. "I have to fly my behind down to St. Croix and track down this woman in a hut in the rainforest to get the good stuff. That'll happen soon."

Or so I thought...

Further research (conducted completely sober, mind you) revealed that the Dominican Republic is actually much more widely known for the concoction. According to the (questionably reliable)
Wikipedia entry:

Mama Juana is a drink from the Dominican Republic that is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak into a bottle together with tree bark and herbs. The taste is quite similar to port wine and color is a deep red. It is seen and advertised as an aphrodisiac. Many Dominicans make homemade Mama Juana. Many Natives of the Dominican Republic claim that Mama Juana has similar effects to Viagra, stating that it increases sexual drive and desire and increases the Male Libido."

Hrmm... Libido increasing effects aside, did I do something stupid by consuming a drink infused with unidentified tree bark and herbs? Well, so far so good... It's now four days later and I've yet to hallucinate, convulse, experience heart palpitations or, worse, keel over and die.

So, my research has revealed that it's actually possible to purchase a bottle with a selection of the barks, herbs and other items for infusion. To be clear, the bottles are sold with just the dry infusion ingredients, but it's not difficult to follow the directions and prepare the brew yourself. Hopefully...

I'm ordering a bottle from Mamajuana Corp. Or, at least, I am once their Web site starts accepting payment again. As far as I can tell, this is the only option for acquiring the goods wthout a plane ticket and passport. Not that I'm opposed to traveling to the Dominican Republic or St. Croix, but I'm on a budget. Maybe if people start throwing money at me I'll be more inclined to hop on a plane in search of an authentic drunken experience. Until then, I'm going to have to be a little more conservative with my spending.

I'll keep you posted as I pursue my own Mama Juana "brewing" experience. Until then, I'll try to update this site more often.


Monday, August 27, 2007

What kind of beans are those?

"What kind of beans are those?" asked the scrub-clad guy picking out green beans next to me.

"Honestly, I don't know. But I plan to find out," I said as I picked out a generous handful.

"Well, you're braver than me," he said, to which I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed. (Note to self, this is how you meet people at the grocery store…)

Depending who you ask, those could be cranberry beans, or they could be Italian Borlotti beans. Given that my receipt from NYC's Fairway Market said cranberry, I'm going to go with that. Besides, my research (compliments of Larousse Gastronomique) says that even though they are Italy's most popular bean, many sold there are actually Cranberry beans imported from the U.S.

This was my first experience with fresh beans if you don't count the green varieties eaten in the pod. Identifying them was only part of my learning experience. I still needed to know how to prepare them. Improvising on a recipe I found at, I did the following:

~ 1 cup Shelled, fresh Borlotti/Cranberry beans
1 stalk Celery (in 2” pieces)
5-6 pcs. Baby Carrots (or 1 regular carrot cut into 2” pieces)
1/2 Onion (in two pieces)
4-5 Whole peeled garlic cloves
2 ea. Bay leaves
10-12 Whole black peppercorns
2-4 cups Chicken stock (enough to cover)
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/2 tsp. Dried thyme

This "recipe" is simple enough. I placed the shelled beans in my 1 1/2 qt saucepan and then placed the next 6 ingredients in a cheesecloth bundle that I set on top. I poured in chicken stock to cover everything and turned on the flame. I brought it up to a simmer and then turned the flame down to maintain the simmer until the beans were fork tender. The process took about 30 minutes, but it's more important to simply check the beans periodically than to rely on a timer. When the beans were almost finished, I added the salt. Adding it too early can cause the beans to toughen—blech! To serve, I strained the beans, removed the cheesecloth pouch and transferred them to a serving dish. A quick drizzle with a high quality olive oil and a toss with the dried thyme and I was ready to eat. To accompany them, I toasted some rosemary bread that I had rubbed with a split garlic clove.

Overall, the meal was very beige. Fresh thyme would have brightened the final dish, but I was working with what I had. Apparently, an addition of canned tuna to my spread would have rounded out a typical Italian summer meal.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Slow Food Cocktails at Flatbush Bar(n)

Today I had a lot of firsts: my first trip to Brooklyn, my first time drinking rye whiskey, my first Slow Food NYC event. I'm sure there were a few others, but those are the highlights. So, for starters, Slow Food NYC is a local chapter of Slow Food USA, which is an offshoot of the larger Slow Food International. Follow that? Anyway, I'm a card carrying member and this is what the group stands for:

Slow Food New York City, the NYC convivium of the international Slow Food movement, identifies the varied and authentic gustatory and cultural experiences that are unique to our city and preserves and cultivates them through education, activism, and enjoyment. We support and celebrate regional farmers, artisans, and professionals who fill our market baskets and dinner plates with fresh, seasonal, and sustainably produced foods and traditionally crafted food products and beverages. We recognize and protect the many varied cuisines and food traditions that represent the rich cultural mosaic that is our city. In a town renowned for its fast pace, Slow Food NYC takes the time to savor, promote, and defend the slow traditions that make our city unique.

So getting back to the event, it was a focus on greenmarket foods that were used in farmhouse-style hors d'oeuvres and served alongside cocktails that were also prepared with fresh greenmaret ingredients. The cocktails were prepred by Alan Katz who, among his other credentials, is President of the New York Chapter of the United States Bartender Guild and has a satellite radio show on cocktails on Martha Stewart Living Radio.

We had five cocktails as follows:
  • Cucumber & Mint Martini (muddled with gin and apple cider)
  • Peach Thyme (muddled peaches with thyme, pisco, Cointreau, lime juice and egg whites)
  • Black & Tan (muddled blackberries, lime juice, mint, rye whiskey and homemade ginger beer)
  • Deep Mountain Daiquiri (dark rum, lime juice and maple syrup)
  • Watermelon Smash (cahaca, homemade limoncello and watermelon
All were yummy, but my favorites were the Black & Tan and the Peach Thyme, which Katz sad would also work with figs. Now I have some ideas for the next time I get inspired to have liquor with my fruit.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tom Kha, take two

Look familiar? Well, as promised, I took my leftover Tom Kha soup and used it as a braising liquid for some skinless chicken thighs I had. (It baffles me that Zabar's sells them skinless since a good crispy piece of chicken skin is so devilishly delicious.)

Anyway, in a 2 qt. saute pan (high, straight sides) I sauteed a chopped shallot in olive oil. Yes, vegetable oil would have been more appropriate to the dish, but I use extra light tasting olive oil when I saute since it's higher in monounsaturated fat. Once they were soft, I scooped them out so they wouldn't burn. In the same pan, I seared my chicken thighs that I had sprinkled with ground cumin and kosher salt (sea salt is good too, but never iodized). After searing them on both sides, I poured my leftover soup into the pan via a fine mesh strainer. This removed the sad looking tomatoes, cilantro, green onions and stray fish bits from the soup's previous incarnation. Then I tossed the uncovered pan into the oven (400 degrees) and promptly forgot about it.

About an hour later I remembered what I had done. About half the liquid had evaporated and the chicken had browned on top. The chicken was falling off the bone and browned on top. This is when I really started to miss the skin, since it would have been crispy... To finish my dish, I took the chicken out of the liquid and started to boil the $#!t out of it. Because there was no thickening agent in it, it didn't turn into a sauce, but the flavor did concentrate as the water evaporated away. FYI, to thicken it, a cornstarch slurry would have been the best choice since it doesn't add flavor like other thickeners (a flour and butter paste, for example) do.

When I was just about ready to take it off the heat and serve, I tossed in some fresh chopped tomatoes with the seeds and excess juice squeezed out, chopped green onions, the shallot I'd sauteed earlier and some fresh cilantro. That all added a bright and fresh quality to a dish that is otherwise rich.

Overall, the dish was a success, although I would have thickened the braising liquid if I'd had cornstarch on hand. If you want to try turning leftovers into another meal, go for it. But remember that you can't keep extending the life of food forever. Yes, the rigorous cooking kills any stray bacteria, but spoiled food is still spoiled no matter how hot you get it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

And "Bam", you got'cha Tom Kha...

Lest any of you get the wrong idea, I don't cook everything with lemon juice and olive oil. In fact, just to prove my point, here's a little something in the gray area of what I find acceptable. Normally, I keep a safe distance from pre-packaged and processed foods (especially sauce mixes), but I picked up a few items from Curry Simple when I interned at Food & Wine.

The first one I tried was the Gourmet Coconut Soup or Tom Kha. The package is filled with the soup base and suggests adding chicken or shrimp as well as mushrooms (unspecified, but I would have chosen straw).

One thing you'll learn about me is that I almost never follow a recipe as it's written. No offense to the cook who wrote it, but I just have a habit of tweaking things to my personal taste. I'd probably make a horrible recipe tester... So, in that spirit, I decided to do a seafood medley. I bought a couple tiny squid, some raw shrimp and a white, supposedly mild, Vietnamese fish called
swai that I hadn't heard of before. I also bought some green onions, cilantro and tomatoes for it. Well, that's not entirely true. I bought the tomatoes for something else, but decided to toss them in for a little color and added vegetable-ness. (Yes, I know that's not a word...)

Unfortunately, by the time I got around to making the soup (two days after this shopping trip), the squid had gone bad. How did I know? You ask. The horrible smell. It hit me like a brick wall and I immediately wrapped them back up, tied them up in a plastic bag and dove for the can of air freshener. Luckily, the fish and shrimp passed the sniff test. And, yes, I got my nose up in it pretty well, just to be sure.

The process was simple enough: Add the soup base and an equal amount of water to a pot, bring it to a simmer and add the meats and vegetables. I added the chopped onions first so that they could soften and decided to double the amount of water since the base was fairly concentrated and I wanted a brothy soup. Then I added the chopped tomato sans seeds and the fish, which I cut into one-inch pieces. After a minute, I added the peeled raw shrimp, which need less time to cook. I tossed in the cilantro just before serving so that it stayed fresh.

In the end, the soup tasted good for a pre-packaged product. Now, had it been a powder mix, I might not be saying the same thing. It had the familiar burning in the back of my throat that I always get from Tom Kha soup and it was pleasantly balancd in flavor. I didn't need to adjust the seasoning at all. I did, however, decide I don't like swai fish... Maybe it didn't work with the soup, or maybe it was a little past its prime, but I ended up fishing it out and eating just the shrimp. Oh well. The one filet only cost me $2. Tomorrow, I'm going to try using the left-over broth as a braising liquid for chicken thighs. Don't worry, I'll let you know how it turns out!