December 14, 2008

We've moved!

Blogger's alright, but we like Wordpress a lot better. Check out the Gourmetro 2.0 over at It's got the same great writing, delicious photos, and tasteful comments, just a different url.

January 27, 2008

Personal Discoveries lead to Splendid Hotdogs

There is such a thing as a magnificent hot dog. Strangely enough, finding it at Liebman’s Deli in Riverdale has outweighed every other personal insight I’ve had lately. In the months since my girlfriend broke up with me, I’ve learned a couple things about how I deal with what I don’t like, and even more importantly, about what I like to eat. The breakup sent me on a journey of discovery, and I woke up living in Riverdale. Don’t believe me? Come on up to Liebman’s and see for yourself.

Liebman’s comes off as an inauspicious place at first. It’s a glatt kosher deli tucked onto 236th street off Johnson Avenue, right between Mother’s Bakery and an Italian restaurant I’ve not yet braved. There are two categories of things at Liebman’s: things you have to try, and things you just really should.

First off, focus for a second on Kasha. Not “Kashi”, mind you. Kasha is a grain that old Jewish people eat. It’s sort of like rice, but a little grainier, and a bit nuttier. That brings us to the first thing you have to try: Kasha Varnishkas. Basically, they take a big bowl of boiled Kasha and noodles and serve it with brown gravy. It sounds simple. It is simple. It is simply amazing.

Now let’s talk about the focus of this piece: hotdogs. These guys have revived the fine art of spinning hotdogs on a really hot surface for an entire day. They use plain old Hebrew National beef franks, but there’s something about how they cook them all day that just makes them awesome. The hotdogs are a little tough on the outside, so when you bite into them, you know you’ve just bitten through the skin. I know that I just made it sound gross, but it’s fantastic. I like to order them with onions and mustard. They have these onions, and they sauté them also for like, the entire day. Once they get on that hotdog, they’re god damn perfect. They’re some of the sweetest, most flavorful damn onions I’ve ever had, and when you put a dash of mustard on it, it’s like God came down and put junk food on your plate.

They’ve made me change the way I make hotdogs at home. I can’t simulate the all day spinning, so when I’m at home, the hotdogs are boiled, but the onions are a go. Half a medium onion is enough for two hotdogs. They don’t have to be diced, they’ll probably be better if they’re not. Cut the onions long and thin, sauté them in some olive oil until they’re nice and transparent. You can then have them sit for probably ten minutes or so, so there’s no need to get nervous or do everything at once, making sure that you ruin the whole dish.

There’s such a thing as a regular hotdog, there’s such a thing as a Grey’s Papaya hotdog, and there’s such a thing as an awesome hotdog. You’ll be amazed to see what the difference is.

January 23, 2008

Thinking about food, all the time.

In no particular order, allow me to disgorge some thoughts and links:

- Pre-made pesto from Costco is kind of my personal lazy-dinner lifesaver. Add more garlic, add some heavy cream, pour it over chicken, put in some lemon and spoon it over some fish...whatever! All is within the realm of possibiity! I'M LAZY ADDICTED.

- I love bakeries and baking, and I could never do a diet that didn't let me eat a ton of bread. Appalling idea. Take all the fun out of life along with the fat from your thighs. Near my new place, I have Buzz (which I haven't tried yet but fully intend to), and the Shirlington outpost of CakeLove, which I visited the other day before seeing Juno. More pricey than I remembered, but if you're in the area, grabbing a Crunchy Feet ain't so bad as you walk. I know there's a Great Harvest somewhere, but unfortunately haven't had much of a chance to find it, and oh man, a Krispy Kreme naught but four miles down Route 1.

- In baking news, I have been making mad amounts of banana bread, since an entire hand doesn't seem to get consumed before the last three or so get irrevocably brown. Not banana NUT bread, mind you - nuts feel like a dilution of the pure banana derriciousness.

Quick and dirty recipe:

- 4 redonkulously ripe bananas (what can brown do for you? ::snerk)

- 1.5 c. flour (I usually do half wheat, half white. No idea why. I think my brain thinks it's vaguely "healthy." No science backing that one up what-so-ever.)

- 8 tsp. butter (one stick...butterstick...PANDA!)

- 1 c. sugar

- 1 tsp. baking soda

- 1 tsp. baking power

- 2 eggs

- pinch of salt

- cinnamon to taste if so desired

Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes for a loaf, 10-13 minutes for mini muffins, and like...25-30 for normal human-sized muffins. Or until a toothpick, knife, letter opener, some variety of pointy thing comes out clean.

- On the DC Restaurant list, I hit TenPenh (on 10th and Pennsylvannia Ave...GET IT??? ha.) and Southside 815 in Alexandria on S. Washington Street recently. TenPenh was actually pretty good, despite the inconsistency of reviews on ChowHound. I had the Lumpia, the Beef Tenderloin, and the Saigon pumpkin bread for dessert. We can't forget the Mangolian Mist martini, either - derricious! And during Restaurant Week, it's a pretty decent deal at $30 for three courses.

On the other hand, I wasn't particularly impressed by Southside 815. Solid, but not impressive. I prefer Old Hickory Grille on Route 50 by FAR for my comfortable, Southernish-cookin' fix. On Fridays and Saturdays, Hickory's crawfish bisque is fucking amazing. For serious. As in, I have a semi-regular appointment with this restaurant for cornbread knots and bisque. Oh man. Have I mentioned this place before?

- On the eco-fooding front, I've been giving serious consideration to joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture). I'm not ever going to be giving up meat, cheese, or milk, so I've been thinking about what I can do to make my eating habits more earth-friendly and healthy within my parameters. This is one strategy I'm considering - adding more local and seasonal:

Basically, you sign up for a share of what an area farm produces, and you can either pick it up at a drop-off point nearby, or have it delivered. Generally, the share lasts through the growing season, approximately 22 weeks from May-ish to October-ish, and you get whatever's growing on that particular farm at that particular time. It runs around $20-30 a week for a share big enough for two people who cook at home most of the week. Sites like Future Harvest and LocalHarvest can help you find a farm. There are also meat, milk, egg, fruit, and winter veggie shares available. There are general caveats though; this isn't really for the unadventurous eater, as there aren't really guaranteed lists for what you'll get every week. You have to be willing to experiment.

- And finally, a request: If you've had any experience with Anson Mills, TELL ME ALL ABOUT IT. I'm about to buy some, but I want more details about the baking/cooking process than the (pretty gorgeous) website supplies.

There, I've probably overwhelmed you with my scatterbrained-ness, so I'll save some for next time.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

December 3, 2007

Lemon-scented Thumbprint Cookies

Cooking for people still terrifies me. When my editor asked me to bring dessert to a small gathering the other night, I was momentarily paralyzed. Should I bring out the old show stopper poached pears? No. She has a favorite recipe of her own, and I probably shouldn't challenge it. Something with chocolate? Maybe. But what? But what.

I only had a few hours, so that killed the [amazing] chocolate ganache tarte [picture]. After a few minutes, I remembered a conversation we'd had a few weeks before about thumbprint cookies. I bought one from the Continental Bakery for a dollar apiece, was rightly annoyed and vowed to make some myself. [Don't get me wrong, I think Continental and Chez Lulu do some great stuff but their prices are highway robbery].

Bingo. Thumbprint cookies. I figured it would be better to totally rock a simple recipe, so I found one from Bon Appetit. The lemon peels and incredibly short procedure helped it stand out from the rest.

Assembly was easy but would have been better if I'd let the butter soften more. Ingredients went everywhere when I creamed the butter and sugar. I filled half of the cookies with peach-raspberry jam, my favorite from Long Island's Briermere Farms, and the rest with Favorit apricot jam. I'm not sure what it was about the apricot jam, but I wasn't crazy about it. I opted for the chewier filling and jammed the cookies before baking.

They were a total hit: buttery, lemony, and as-sweet-as-you-like (depending on your jam). The reactions were almost over-the-top; it took me a few seconds to decide whether the other guests were being sincere. I knew for sure when they'd each eaten about six cookies a piece.

November 7, 2007

Joanie's Pastry Adventure: the beginning

For those of you who don't know, I recently moved to New York - not only to get away from my dull corporate job, but to finally realize my dream of going to pastry school and becoming a real pastry chef! (cue triumphant music) And because I know all of you are checking this blog not just because you love food, but in order to procrastinate from working for the man or studying, I'm going to blog about my experience as a pastry student!

I have a full-time job working as an administrator/office manager at a small artisanal bakery in SoHo. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings I hop on over to the French Culinary Institute for 5 hours of class. The FCI is an intense program aimed mainly at those who do not have a lot of restaurant experience. Most people in my class have worked in bakeries or in food service and are avid home bakers, which is my experience as well.

Wednesday my classmates and I all arrived super-early to get our ID cards & get dressed. Our uniforms consist of houndstooth MC Hammer pants (complete with elastic waistband...tres chic) a neckerchief, chef's jacket, long apron, and side towel. Class starts quickly, with Chef Rebecca & Chef Kir introducing themselves and all of us eager students doing the same.

Day 1 is apple tart day, so appropriately, we start off with apples for an apple compote. Chef Rebecca does a quick demo and then we're off! The demo is informative, but very basic - she doesn't spend time going over every minute detail. My table partner and I grab some apples, get our mis en place ready, and start peeling. The peeler we are given is abominable, so I resort the ubersharp paring knife. Unfortunately, I don't peel apples that often - I'm lazy and like peels - so I was rather slow and ugly in my peeling. My knife skills also left much to be desired, but that could have been the slightly squishy Golden Delicious apples I had to work with. Then again, it wasn't like my entire class was schooling me in perfect dicing - you just feel pressure to be totally awesome in a class environment where there's a professional chef eyeing your knife technique.

After the dicing part, we concocted a simple apple compote with our diced apples, sugar, lemon juice, & vanilla paste (more concentrated than vanilla extract, not quite as good - or as expensive - as vanilla beans). It cooked til it was a chunky applesaucey consistency and then was spread out on a sheet pan to cool.

Next was pate sucree. Francophiles and foodies will know that this means "sugared pastry" and is a very simple dough to make. We creamed butter & powdered sugar together and gradually added eggs to make an emulsification. Then cake flour was slowly added to make the dough. Pate sucree is similar to a shortbread dough, and not nearly as temperamental as pate brisee or a traditional pie crust.

For our own tart shells, we used pate sucree made by a previous class, because dough needs time to chill and rest before shaping. We started by hammering out our dough circles with rolling pins. With 18 students on stainless steel tables, it was a bit loud. We brushed off all the extra flour from the crust (more flour = more gluten = tough dough) and rolled it into a prepared tart ring.

Post-dinner, the tart shells came back out and were filled with the cooled apple compote - which looked kind of like canned crushed pineapple, oddly enough. We had to peel more apples and slice them ever-so-thinly to spiral around the top. Never have I appreciated granny smith apples more - they are so nice and firm, so perfect for cutting into thin fancy slices! Golden delicious apples, not so much. Many of my thin little apple slices came apart, but I managed to salvage enough so that they appeared pretty. I spiraled my apples and then we sprinkled them with vanilla sugar, then into the ovens!

While we were finishing our tarts, Chef Rebecca told us a little about the philosophy of French pastry. For apple tarts, cinnamon is a major faux-pas. The French believe that the pastry to be about showcasing the fruit, with only a limited number of other ingredients just added to enhance the natural flavor. So for the apple tart, only some lemon juice, vanilla & sugar, et voila! another class.

One apple tart may not sound like a huge undertaking for a 4-hour class, but it went quickly and we were rushing around using every moment. Even having made pies and tarts before, it was a bit stressful. None of us quite know where everything is yet, but are all trying to impress and make our tarts as beautiful and as tasty as possible.

Once I stumbled home late at night, my roommates peeped out of their rooms for some apple tart enjoyment. It was still warm and quite tasty, with a thick crispy crust and sweet filling.

Stay tuned for more adventures in tart-making....

Technorati Tags: ,