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!