June 29, 2006

Like a hot new crush.

Sooooooooooooo, last Saturday, Aaron, Debbie, and I hit up the National Building Museum to check out the Green Homes Exhibit (because I am ridiculously pro-eco-design = pretty), and in the GlideHouse they'd built in the beginning of the exhibit, there were some beautiful, beautiful things. I mean, seriously, can you have food porn without cookware/kitchenporn? I think not. After all, that's why places like Williams Sonoma exist. But I digress! For those eco-conscious foodies out there, take a look at these babies: Bambu Veneerware Plates. They have sturdier, dishwasher-safe versions for everyday use as well.

Or perhaps knives are your thing? The Schaschlik might just be what the doctor ordered (although on a funnier note, I found this while I was googling the aforementioned).

After we were done at the museum, a brisk walk past the International Spy Museum brought us to the newly-opened Cowgirl Creamery. Between the three of us, we purchased a pound of medium-aged gouda, a 1/4-lb of SUPER-aged gouda (for me! for me!), a round of Cowgirl's own Mt. Tam, (so. so. good. triple-creamy deliciousness..., and some kind of lamby-gouda-thingie that I can't remember the name of. Add some Apple Scrapple and Gouda & Guinness bread from Great Harvest, and some organic strawberries, and you have us gorging ourselves on cheese! All I needed was some beer.

The weekend previous, on a different expedition to DC, Debbie and I met up with Kimberly at CakeLove/LoveCafe for cake. What I learned from the experience: Crunchy Feet are delectable (and by that token, all tarts are to be eaten immediately as they are built on top of Crunchy Feet), Neil's Hat Trick is amazing, and yes, if you are a single girl buying $30 dollars worth of pastry, you will get a funny look from the cashier. While the hype for CakeLove is to a certain extent accurate (owner Warren Brown now has his own show on Food Network - Sugar Rush), watch out for floods of hipsters patronizing either portion of the establishment. They're there, and you can tell by how they're dressed. I mean, it is on U Street after all...

So, with many linkages and scattered foodfare, I bid you adieu until the next time I gorge myself and feel like you should know about it!

P.S. Joanie, so, this Cheesetique gig...:P

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June 22, 2006

This cheese will kick your ass

I am no stranger to offensive cheese. Sometimes I welcome it, but this 14 oz. wheel of Coulommiers definitely took me by surprise. It was, and may still be, on sale at Fairway for $6.99, and was within my budget so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Coulommiers is from Brie. On first sight, I got the idea that this cheese would not be quite as mild as I'm used to--instead of the usual mostly-white Brie rind, there was a lot more grey, and even some yellow (yes, a little yellow).

The meat, as it were, of the cheese is not out of the ordinary by any standards, but the rind is some of the most odiferous and terrifying stuff I've ever eaten. The innards are wonderfully smooth and creamy (note fat contents on the picture), but the rind was often distracting. I felt bad when I ate the stuff in the break room the other day and the entire room started smelling like cheese.

The taste, minus the rind, which is more-or-less indescribable, was slightly nutty and very tart. If you ignore the texture, you might have a taste experience similar to goat cheese, in its tanginess.

Did this cheese deserve its own post? Definitely.

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June 20, 2006

From Recipe Development: Strawberry Frittata

This has a weird story behind it, so I may as well get it out of the way.

There's a subway performer that I talk to in the 14th Street traverse - that hot, awful, uphill, block-long tunnel from 6th to 7th Avenues. Richard plays the flugelhorn, which is basically a mellower-sounding trumpet, and he started talking to me one time when I stopped to listen to him (while that traverse might not be good for much, the echoes make a trumpet sound awesome).

Anyway, since then I've had a couple of interesting conversations with him. During one of them, I mentioned that I loved trying (and writing about) new and interesting foodstuffs, so he told me a story about how he and his bandmates were instantly and ravenously hungry this one time and they made a strawberry frittata with ricotta cheese in it.

That was a few months ago, right after I made the bacon and mustard greens frittata, actually, and the idea of developing a strawberry frittata has been kicking around in my mind since then.

After taking a trip out to see my dad in the Hamptons, I got some strawberries from the local farm stand that made me want to try the recipe out. I'm not going to give specifics until it's good enough to share with our general readership, but the first attempt came out reasonably well. I purposely made it quite bland so I could see what I had to work with, only adding eggs, whole-milk ricotta, and chopped and macerated strawberries.

I might take it in a South American/ Spanish direction by making some kind of fruit salsa.

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June 14, 2006

Dispatches from the Monger, vol. II

What, praytell, is a quince?

The question has plagued me for ages. Or maybe just whenever I go into the fancy produce section of Whole Foods. The quince is a foodstuff, like jicama, that I really want to incorporate into my cooking somehow, but am sort of freaked out how to go about doing so (and if anyone has any jicama recipe suggestions, let me know).

But the latest reason the quince question has come up again is because of membrillo, a quince paste that is (so they tell me) a part of Spanish cuisine.

In my Adventures in Cheesemonging, I come across many people who a) love cheese, and b) know new ways to consume cheese. And trust me, they let you know what the best way to consume it is, whether you want to know or not.

One of our most popular cheeses is a rosemary manchego - the loverlyness of the 'chego, rolled into all sorts of herby goodness. MMM. A lady came in the other day and asked me if I had tried said manchego with the membrillo and she GUSHED that it was absolutely the most amazing thing she had ever had, that's how they eat the stuff in Spain, and that I MUST try it. Fine lady, yeesh, I'll try it already! But really, I spend half my paycheck there anyway, so I picked up some manchego and membrillo and went on my merry way.

And what did I discover?

a) A quince is in fact a sort of a pear/apple hybrid.
b) Quince paste, though it may conjure up images of some gross glue-eating kindergartener, is not paste-like at all, but looks more like a firm jelly. However, it is not quite as spreadable as jelly and is more sliceable, which makes it quite convenient to slice and place on top of the 'chego or whatever else you enjoy. But if you don't like the slightly grainy texture of pears, quinces are probably not for you, nor is their paste.
c) The paste on its own? Too sweet. It definitely needs something savory to balance out the flavor. Even if you like sweet jams, this might be a little too much (on its own) for your morning toast or PB&J.
d) But the membrillo and manchego together? Delicious. The sweet slipperiness of the quince paste was perfect paired with the creamy zing of the manchego, and was even more delicious on top of a piece of raisin walnut bread. Could be breakfast (with the bread), could be dessert on its own. I've heard that Italians do a similar thing, drizzling honey over their peccorino for dessert, but I have yet to try that.

Why don't we Americans incorporate cheese into our desserts more often? Are we freaked out by combinations of the sweet & savory? Or does our gluttonous nature only allow us to think of seven-layer chocolate cakes as dessert?

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Special thanks to Scoobymoo over at Flickr for this awesome photo of quinces.

June 13, 2006

Failed Doughnut Plant Trip Ends at Schiller's

Doughnuts are one of my other obsessions, and I'd been dying to try out the Doughnut Plant for months now. With all the mild spring (?) weather we've been having Marc and I decided it was time to give it a shot.

The Lower East Side still fascinates me. It's so small but takes so long to get to where you want to be. The Doughnut Plant neighborhood reminded me a lot of Brooklyn in its dirtiness (but places like Thor and Teany kept me from forgetting which borough I was in).

During the half-hour walk, one of us wondered whether or not the plant would be sold out of their precious doughy wares by 5 p.m. on a Monday. "A Monday? Who eats doughnuts on a Monday?" Turns out I was right. The Plant is open every day of the week except Monday. We were a bit tired from the walk, so we weren't too upset. We'll be back, Doughnut Plant.

But in the meantime, Marc was beginning to complain of hunger. I'd seen that we passed Schiller's Liquor Bar, so we started back North for some drinks and food. Schiller's is a pretty awesome place - a look in-between a barber shop and an old timey soda fountain place. The prices for food and drinks, standard and specialty, were about average for the hipness.

After bread and olive oil was served, Marc, Derek and I made our orders - a Pimm's Cup with a mozzarella and tomato sandwich on toasted country bread for me, a Raspberry Bramble and a decent burger for Marc, and a frozen margarita with a Cuban sandwich for Derek.

First, the drinks. The Pimm's Cup tasted similar to the Strawberry Fields Meg got at Barmarche, which is to say it was summery in its sweet cucumber-ness. I forget what exactly was in this pimms cup, but I could taste the vegetal notes of the cucumber and mint as well as some sweetness or lemon flavor. Marc's Raspberry Bramble surprised me. I fully expected a overpoweringly sweet/tart girly raspberry drink, but the bramble was subtle and nuanced. It came layered with a combination of gin, chamboard, and something that made the gin cloudy. Oh, and it had the obligatory frozen raspberry. And, finally, Derek's cheap[er] frozen margarita tasted like it was supposed to.

The food was similarly good. Marc's burger wasn't anything terribly special, but my tomato/mozzarella sandwich and Derek's Cuban were quite good. The highlights of mine were the freshness of the ingredients (basil pesto sauce nearly dripped on me a number of times, but that's forgivable) and the lightly toasted country bread - I hate when toast rips the roof of my mouth apart. Marc said his fries tasted homemade, and Derek enjoyed the spicy pickles on his sandwich.

To top it off, a waiter came by and offered us some free doughnuts (they must have been getting ready for dinner). The cinnamon-sugar doughnuts were medium-light in density and temporarily satisfied my doughnut desire.

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Special thanks to dgphilli over at Flickr for the photo.

June 7, 2006

Burgers & Cupcakes (aaand more cupcakes)

Burgers and cupcakes.

Cupcakes and burgers.

I occasionally try to think about how obsessed I've gotten with those two foods since I moved here last fall. In a city with thousands of restaurants and hundreds of cuisines and styles, I keep gravitating back to these embarrassingly basic items. What it comes down to, I think, is that I'd had my share of both before I came here and that makes it easier to set a benchmark. When I have Vietnamese food, it usually tastes like the best Vietnamese food I've ever had (since I've had so little Vietnamese). Give me a cupcake and I can talk about it until I'm as blue as the buttercream icing. (I couldn't help myself. It was better than anything I could think of for a burger)

So this past weekend, Meg, her brother, and I went to Burgers & Cupcakes for some, um, well, burgers. and cupcakes. (As a side note, it's somewhat frustrating that The Girl Who Ate Everything gets to these places before I do. I mean, she eats everything, I know, but sometimes I wish I could eat something somewhere before she does. One day I could be The Guy Who Ate Somewhere First. It's a good aspiration, I'll add it to my list.)

The space looks more like a bakery than a diner, with metallic tables and fun artwork. The painting of the dude eating an onion-topped hamburger and breathing on his, visibly distressed, dog is my favorite. The menu had a bunch of interesting options, including salmon burgers, but the coolest part may have been the topping choices. A bit pricey, but how often can you have a salmon burger with avocado, goat cheese and vegetarian chili (ok, that sounds pretty awful to me, but you could have it). Meg and I got classic cheeseburgers (mine medium, hers medium-well) and her brother went all crazy and added double-thick bacon. And they weren't lying. That bacon was really thick.

B&C offers solid but not outstanding, restaurant-style burgers (as defined in this Augieland post). The size was appropriate and there were moderate levels of juiciness, but they all came more or less grey. Juicy, but grey (which still receives a passing grade in my book; in most cases I could care less about the color as long as it's not desiccated). The fries were a bit soggy.

And the cupcakes. We tried a bunch. The blueberry with vanilla icing, vanilla with chocolate, and a few regular vanilla buttercreams (they were out of pretty much everything else). They were interesting, but inconsistent and DRY! Is there anyplace in this enormous, apparently godforsaken city that makes moist cupcakes? The vanilla with chocolate icing was probably my favorite; the icing was more like ganache than regular icing and matched the density of the cake very well. The buttercreams were quite standard. Bleh. Three inches of buttercream atop a bland cupcake does nothing for me.

The burgers were good, the vanilla/chocolate cupcake was also good, and service was bad; I would go back.

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Special thanks to kendiala over at flickr for the cupcake.

June 5, 2006

Review: Pala

I'd been reading about Pala's pizza since it opened up this past winter. After some mixed reviews (Eater said Pala is "the newest best thing to happen to NY pizza" and The Girl Who Ate Everything gave it an enthusiastic review). So, needless to say I was excited about eating there.

My dad and stepmother came into the city to belatedly celebrate my birthday and after walking around for 7 or 8 hours, it was 10pm and we needed to eat. In my food blog readings, I'd seen a lot of ink on the Rivington/Stanton area, so we took the J (oh god) up to Essex.

The area around this stop isn't merely unphotogenic and almost completely devoid of food, the whole place smelled like dead fish. We were happy to leave it as we got closer to Riv/Stanton. I kept trying to pry out preferences from them, so we'd know what we wanted when we got there, but they finally told me that because it was my special day, I could choose whatever restaurant I wanted. Thirty seconds later, we came upon Pala.

They were surprised and, audibly disappointed that I'd chosen a pizza place. We were seated immediately and ordered some antipasti: marinated eggplant, artichokes, and baked fennel. Each of us were excited about one particular antipasti, mine was the artichokes, but the marinated eggplant was the overall, phenomenal, winner. Eggplant is a hard sell with me, but these guys made the most tender, pleasant eggplant I've ever eaten. The fennel was much better than I'd expected, as the cooking reduced the intensity if its black licorice taste. Aand the artichokes were dry and uninspiring.

Then on to the pizza. The pizza at Pala comes by the foot and is made to order, with a 20- to 40- minute wait. One foot per person is about right for most normal people - we had to leave one lonely piece at the end. Our orders were the Bufala Cruda (buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato sauce, fresh basil, and olive oil), Mediolanum (gorgonzola cheese, asparagus, fior di latte mozzarella, and tomato sauce), and the Ubriaca (ubriaca cheese, pancetta, fior di latte mozzarella, parsley).

Bufala - standard, needed more cheese
Mediolanum - great but a bit dry
Ubriaca - nearly perfect in every way. The saltiness of the pancetta really added a punch.

The best part of these pizzas, as most reviewers will tell you, is the crust. It's apparently made with 12 different flours and is left to stand for 24 to 60 hours to develop the flavors. It comes out tasting wheaty and yeasty; excellent mouthfeel, which to me means tender with a moderate amount of chewiness; and about twice as thick as the standard, thin, New York crust (which is to say up to a 1-inch thickness).

The wines, we got an Albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain, hit an awesome price point, with most bottles going for under $40 (low end was mid-$20s, I think).

Overall, Pala is an amazing place, though not somewhere to go if you're in a hurry.

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June 2, 2006

7.5 Kagillion Stars for Augieland

I don't want people to think we're being stingy about putting other food blogs on our Links. We call it being selective. Today we added one, Augieland, which totally rocks (in terms of voice, photography, selection, etc.). Go and read it. All the time. Authenticity in all things is what we're looking for, too.

June 1, 2006

SHARK! (and pasta and chicken, but they aren't nearly as exciting)

Before we start, I'll admit that I've been sucking at my $5/day diet. Completely sucking. Great food has been gotten and made, but for much, much more money than I have. These recipes represent my attempts to get back into the austerity diet I so desperately need to follow.

First, an easy one. A month or so, when Meg and I ate at Al Dente, she ate a absolutely delightful dish involving a spicily sauced penne with asparagus. Since then, the combination hadn't left my mind. That April asparagus, was most likely South American, or at least from the Southwest United States, and it was good but since we're starting to get Jersey asparagus in the greenmarkets I figured it was time to act. I paired these beauties with a pink pesto sauce from Scarpetta (from the Gourmet Garage). The following recipe will be vague, as it involves following package directions and not killing the asparagus:

Penne with Asparagus in Pink Pesto Sauce
Serves 2
Prep: 15 min Cook: approximately 10 min


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 medium bunch Asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths (see Cook's Notes)
  • 8 oz dried pasta (see Cook's Notes)
  • Vodka or Pink Pesto Sauce (we used Scarpetta)
Instructions: Boil water for pasta and asparagus simultaneously over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt to pasta water and remaining 1/2 tablespoon to asparagus water. Pour in pasta when water boils, following package instructions. After five minutes, add asparagus. Pour sauce into a third pot over low heat to warm. When asparagus turns bright green, 4 to 5 minutes, turn off heat, drain immediately and add asparagus to sauce. Toss asparagus in sauce and coat pasta when it reaches desired doneness.

Cook's Notes: To trim asparagus, hold each individual stalk by each end and bow it until it snaps. Read more about asparagus. It is so important that cooks salt their boiling water. For chemical reasons with vegetables and taste in mind for pasta. I remember reading that some restaurant chefs make his pasta water "as salty as the sea." It makes a huge difference.

Discussion: Simple, elegant, fast. The Scarpetta pink pesto sauce was really something special. Expensive, but special. Wait for it to go on sale again at the Gourmet Garage.

Chipotle-Lime Grilled Chicken
Gourmet, via Epicurious

I love Gourmet's quick kitchen and 10-Minute Mains sections. This Chipotle-Lime Grilled Chicken came out better than I ever expected; the meat was moist, the chipotle Tabasco sauce added a pleasant hint of spice, and the honey mellowed everything out. All that for about 30 minutes (including marinating). I was glad to use my grill pan; it made cute grill marks and didn't dry out the meat. Totally worth it ($10 at Target).

Mahimahi with Onions, Capers, and Lemon
Gourmet, via Epicurious

This was our second attempt at this recipe. Last time we used Lake Victoria red snapper with moderate success. The caper relish kicks serious ass and saved the dish even in the face of an imperfect fish choice.

The story as to how we ate this dish again isn't linear, but I'll try my best. I ventured out to the Union Square Farmer's Market on Wednesday to procure some fresh Jersey asparagus (see above) for the aforementioned recipe. At the market, I was somewhat disappointed to find my prized produce purveyed at only one stall. I walked around the whole place and slowed down by a fish stand. Fish at an open-air market still intrigues and confuses me. It's my mother's fault, I think - making me afraid of germs and stuff. Anyway, I surveyed the area and heard a familiar voice calling my name; a friend from college who I knew lived here but hadn't seen since graduation. We got to talking and, being a good eater, I asked him what the hot sellers were. They were apparently sold-out of all the popular stuff, but one ice-filled tray caught my eye. The fish was white with a bit of orangeness to the skin. Sandshark.

Ooooh. Sandshark. How cool is that. I bought 1/2 pound even though I had no idea what I was going to do with it. It completely made my day. I had a 30 minute subway ride to figure out how best to prepare our unexpected catch (the shark was on ice, so no germs. Right?). I settled on this recipe because I thought the meatier meatiness (as opposed to the snapper's flaky flakiness) would do the recipe good, especially considering I'd yet to make it with anything even remotely close to the mahimahi.

Totally worth it. Even if the shark might still kill us (that link is for the Oceans Alive consumption advice chart). Did I mention that the sandshark was only $6 per pound (shoot for 6 or so ounces per person)?

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