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....

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October 16, 2007

Cheap/Tasty: Penne Alla Awesome

"Oh. Heavy cream? Skip, is there anything I can substitute?"

"No. Absolutely not. Please Robin, don't substitute anything for the heavy cream. We're talking 1 tablespoon (per serving). Please. Just have a little less and eat a salad."

This story started last week when I didn't feel like making dinner. I'm still settling into Birmingham, and cooking sometimes feels a bit overwhelming. It's getting better, though. Anyway, I decided to walk over to Chez Lulu for something light.

I ended up ordering penne alla vodka. It rocked. I was very pleased. Good sauce. Pleasantly spicy. It was everything I'd hoped for and the dish helped me figure out how I gage restaurants: if I can make it better than the restaurant, it wasn't worth it. When I finished my pasta, I decided that it was at least as good as something I could have put together.

And then I got the bill. Sixteen dollars for a smallish plate of pasta without any meat. I was not happy. Right, and they don't take American Express. Ugh.

On the walk home, I decided to make the pasta for myself. The next day I found Lidia Bastianich's recipe, gathered the ingredients, and rocked it out. I cannot remember a dish I've prepared that tasted so good, came together so quickly with so few ingredients. I ended up using a can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes (instead of whole) and didn't puree them (because I still don't have a food processor larger than 1/2 cup). And since Lidia didn't give any kind of direction with the red pepper flakes, I used three large pinches (which I estimate at around 1 1/2 tablespoons). The result was at least as good as Chez Lulu's, a pleasant spice level (though next time I may put a little more), and, as you'll see in a moment, incredibly cheap.

It wasn't much more than 35 mintues from boiling the water to sitting down at the table. So worth it.

Final cost per portion - $2.05 per serving.

October 11, 2007

Service Extraordinaire: Are you Being Gouged?

I love Google mashup maps. This morning I found some that compare the cost of a head of lettuce, a quart of milk, and six-pack of beer around the five boroughs of Manhattan (and some neighboring locales). The purple lettuces in the picture above indicate heads of iceburg lettuce with a cost greater than $1.75, and the green ones indicate a price of $1.25 or less. The beer map is a bit more shocking.

It's something everybody knows about (the $2.80 box of Kashi at Trader Joes and the ludicrous $6 package of the same Kashi on Central Park South) but it's always interesting (and useful) to have all of that information in one place.

The Crowdsourcing project from which this map (and the others) came asked Brian Lehrer show watchers to find the local prices and upload them to the WNYC website. That's pretty awesome.

October 1, 2007

First Bite: Urth Caffe (Melrose, LA)

After an entertaining and delightful dinner at Sushi Sushi on North Beverly, Jenn and I went out for brunch at the Urth Caffe. I had been hoping to check out some of Suzanne Goin's cooking at the Hungry Cat, but it just wasn't meant to be (which is too bad, considering everything I'd read; I had planned to stop at the Santa Barbara location for lunch, but they don't serve it, and then on Saturday morning, the LA branch wasn't serving brunch. Next time).

Back to the Urth. Since Jenn lives in walking distance of the Avalon Hotel (pictures) where I was staying (mostly overrated if you ask me, though you haven't), she gave me the choice of going to the close Urth Caffe or the cute one. I looked back, quizzically, and asked if one had better food, and if they both had outdoor seating. She said they were both identical, so I went for the cute one (Melrose). Why not?

I was hungry, but had no idea what I was getting myself into. When I got to the front of the line, about 10 minutes' wait, I ordered the assorted bread basket with Brie, a small dolce cappuccino, a side of eggs, and a side of potatoes (and a brownie. I hadn't had my morning chocolate fix). I'm not sure what I was thinking, since the bread basket came with five breads, but when the waiter came my plates filled the table. Filled it.

The cappuccino was good (not as good as Intelligentsia) but the bread basket was not terribly exciting. The demi-baguette shaped loaf was the best, followed by the bagel. The rest were unexciting. Bland. Crumby (which is to say unsuitable for the Brie).

Jenn's caramelized banana bread pudding was the star of the day. The subtle sweetness, beautiful bananas, and the little pot of sweetened cream made this a near perfect breakfast in my eyes. And it made me long for Birmingham a bit. It's true.

Urth was fine, just don't order the bread basket, eggs, and potatoes unless you want to share it with at least one other person. The caramelized banana bread pudding was to die for.

"I feel like I'm going to die every day" basically sums up my motoring experience in L.A. Jenn said it, but I definitely felt it. More than a bit scary for driving.

Don't forget our flickr site.

September 28, 2007

First Bite: Lo Mejor de Michoacan

Holy frijoles. I cannot believe the tacos at Lo Mejor de Michoacan in Paso Robles, Calif. Incredible. The filling, the sides, the (soft, warm, delicate but sturdy) corn tortillas, I can hardly convey how unbelievable their food is. Well, perhaps stating the fact that Kim and I ate there three days in a row will suffice.

Over the few days, we had three different kinds of tacos (carnitas [pork], camarones [shrimp], al pastor [pork with slightly sweet pastor sauce]. Additionally, we tried some chicken and pork tamales and chicken mole.

We both loved the carnitas (Kim ordered them every time), but the shrimp tacos were just as good. The Tacos al Pastor were all right. The pastor was bit chewy, and lacking in the usual pineapples and sauce. It was, however, similar to the tacos al pastor I had at La Casa de Tacos back in SpaHa.

Their chicken mole was also in the highest order. Perfectly balanced mole. It balanced the salty, sweet, and piquant, and the chicken fell off the bone. Not the prettiest picture but damn it tasted good.

Go to Lo Mejor. It is el mejor. The best. It makes me sad to leave. Take a look at some of our other delicious photos on flickr.

September 25, 2007

First Bite (sip): Intelligentsia

After my ridiculous exit from LAX, I made a quick stop for some much-needed nourishment. I wasn't particularly hungry, per say, but the delicious Southwest Airlines in-flight meal wasn't going to hold me over for the three-hour trip to Paso Robles.

A bit of research into LA hot spots led me to Intelligentsia, a new-ish coffeehouse in Silver Lake. Their mothership may be in Chicago, but the bohemian-hip cafe seemed very much in its element. Eater LA had the biggest part in getting me there. I needed a place to go. They had it. Done.

I shouldn't have been so surprised at the lack of food, but the moist, dense marble poundcake and pleasantly wet cappuccino more than compensated for the lack of harder savories. Plus, I thought the higher caffeine-to-body mass element might make the drive a bit better. (In retrospect, it just made me jittery and more impatient in the city's trademark traffic.) I'm not sure what else to say. The coffee was of the highest calibre. Hot enough, strong enough, pretty enough. The cake was so much more than I've come to expect from places known for their coffee, which is to say it tasted like cake.

It was quite easy to find, and the coffee is beautiful. The barristas grind and brew it on the spot, so it's pretty damn fresh. I found the staff to be quite knowledgeable and friendly. The comments on the LA Times Daily Dish site are moderately entertaining. One person noted that a visitor would never want to drink regular coffees ever again. I wonder if they meant Folger's, Starbucks, or sidewalk coffee trucks.

Question of the day: What is regular coffee, anyway?

There are many more exciting pictures on our flickr site.

September 24, 2007

Riding Shotgun - California (Part 1)

Shortly after waking up at the god-awful hour of 5am, I found myself standing in the cattle-esque Southwest Airlines queue. The drive to the airport went very smoothly, and being able to sing along to some of our favorites (Ben Folds, Guster, The Darkness - I don't care what anyone says about them, I Believe in a Thing Called Love is a classic. A classic.)

It was wonderful getting to see Meg this weekend and witness the marriage of one of my best friends, but now I'm off on a business trip. Five days of tasting the foods and wines of Paso Robles, California, will almost certainly be grueling but someone has to do it. And I will be recording it daily, so keep your browsers peeled (or something).

But we must go back to the present - the airport. I was so excited to see Einstein Bros. bagels in Bradley Airport this morning. I was just relieved that I had a choice of something other than McDonalds or mystery meat airport food. Something that I actually liked. That and their bagels and 'schmear' are actually really decent. Chewy, firm, fresh. Having worked my way through many more unfortunate bagel-like beasts than a normal human being should be subjected to, it's comforting to know that Einstein Bros. seems to be doing well. The cinnamon-suger was what broke that awful nauseous feeling I get when I wake up about 6 hours before I should. You know the feeling; the one where your body is telling your brain that it hates you.

I think we're flying over the Mississippi right now. It's the first time I've seen it in person. It's really quite big. I'll have to check it out on a map once I land in Memphis. [postscript - it could not have been the mississippi, unless we were really far off course. It was probably the Grand Rivers, or Lake Barkley. I'm sure the MS is really impressive too.]

I started reading The Raw and The Cooked by Jim Harrison on the first leg of the flight. It was a gift from my boss after sending me a hillarious quote a few weeks ago. It's a book to be savored and not rushed (thankfully, since I have such a short attention span and penchant for falling asleep on airplanes). Among other things, Harrison is a poet, novelist, and screen writer. I am ashamed to admit that I haven't read anything so poetic in a while.

Snack packs on long flights: useless or godsend? This is not a rhetorical question. I found my Southwest flight snack of dried fruits, miniature cookies, and ritz crackers a mostly useless. It did stave off rabid hunger, but not by much. A lufthansa cheese sandwich would have been really nice about then.

Find these pictures (and more dangerous ones, like me driving) on our Flickr account.

Next time: LAX (rhymes with sux)
Intelligentsia (LA Coffeehouse)
Why Google Maps isn't the best for Paso Robles
and maybe more!

Extra special thanks to frizzlednewt for the airplane picture in the graphic.

September 20, 2007

Beets Rock!

Tonight, I figured it out. I hadn't realized it before leafing through the August Gourmet (trying to find some great skillet-cooked potato recipe). I hadn't thought about my blogging muse before a colleague of mine asked earlier today. Naiveté. Youthful exuberance, perhaps. I came across a recipe for beet carpaccio with goat cheese and arugula and was instantly overjoyed by the fact that I had all three of those ingredients sitting in my fridge. Right then I knew it was a post.

I suppose when I spend $50 per Whole Foods trip I shouldn't be so surprised to find myself with ingredients, but at that moment all the planets had lined up and that beet carpaccio and I were destined to be together, for however short a time.

Local chevre, even local-er arugula, and golden beets. Man, it rocked. I don't even know where to start. Alabama, I've got to hand it to you. Y'all's got some good produce. The arugula from Jones Valley Urban Farm was the most assertive green I've ever eaten. Arugula is typically peppery, but this batch lit my mouth on fire (in a not unpleasant way). And the Belle Chevre goat cheese is available nationally at some specialty retailers. The effusive arugula heat matched the sharp chevre and the mild beets.

Tonight, I repurposed a drink shaker to make my salad dressing. perfect.

Quick Balsamic Dressing (serves 1)

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1/8 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/8 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon dried rosemary (more like a heaping 1/4 fresh rosemary)

Shake and pour. Come on, who needs to buy salad dressing. Remove the strainer from the shaker when pouring. May as well get the herbs.

September 10, 2007

Tackling the F-Word

The dreaded “F-Word”! For some, it conjures thoughts of horror. For those nerds in internet-land, perhaps you see cartoon of men with fantastically tall hair shouting while nothing actually happens for episode after episode and I can’t believe how much time I tried to follow that show for. This, however, is foodie land, and perhaps you see another image. Chicken Tikka Massala, boiled so that it’d have that authentic British flavour (with a “u”). Yes, my friends. Today we go after a sensation that makes some writers want to double their exclamation points in horror… Fusion!

As some of you may remember, (some of you being those who’ve looked at The Gourmetro in the past two days) this week I attempted to create samosas at home. For those who actually finished reading my post may have remembered, my samosas wound up being a bit bland and so I felt the need to create a sauce to go along with them. But what sauce? What would complement this salty potato dish?

When I went to Whole Foods (my trip to find Indian spices), I decided to pick up a small bag of tomatillos. Perhaps it was foresight. Perhaps… madness. Probably!... boredom. I’d never made a tomatillo salsa. I love salsas. My father makes lots of them and I decided to give one of his, a chipotle salsa that perhaps I’ll divulge at another time, a twist. (His is based upon one from Rick Bayless, a fantastic writer of Mexican cookbooks.)

As far as ingredients go, you won’t need many. Tomatillos, obviously. Also, you’ll want dry chipotle peppers (canned will do – with slightly different results), garlic, an onion, and perhaps some lime, depending on your taste.

For starters, we reconstitute the dry chipotle peppers. (Note: this is only for dried chipotles) Use three or four, depending on how hot you want your salsa. You’ll want to toast these in a cast iron pan. Cast iron is preferable because you need the pan to be really hot, and stainless steel just isn’t going to give you the proper sort of heat. Before you get your pan ready, boil up some water. When the water is about boiling and the pan is really hot, pour the water out into a bowl or cup or anything that’ll hold it really. Next up, take your chipotles one at a time and just give them a hard press on either side with a spatula. You should hear a little sizzle on each side. Then, just take them out and put them into your hot water. Let them soak for about 20 minutes.

Next up, the tomatillos. Stick them under the broiler and Get these roasted before you start up. You’ll want to put them under a broiler until each side is slightly blackened, then put these aside. Try and save whatever liquid came out of the tomatillos while they were cooking. The easiest way to do that is to put some tin foil on top of whatever you cook the tomatillos on before you stick them in the oven. When you're done, you can lift off the sheet of tin foil and save all the tomatillos and the juices as well. MMMMM! Juices.

While your tomatillos or roasting, toast up some garlic. To do this, just use your iron pan again. I don’t like to use a lot of garlic in this salsa. It’s a strong taste and you don’t want to overpower the tomatillos. Just use two or three small cloves. While they’re still in their paper, throw them onto the pan until the paper’s a little blackened on a couple sides. Put these aside as well. You’ll also want to sauté your onion in olive oil until it’s a little browned. I used a whole onion, but I’d recommend using a bit less, maybe half an onion.

Once everything’s cooked up, take your garlic out of the paper and cut it up. Also, chop up your chipotles. If you want your sauce a bit milder, feel free to seed the chipotles. Throw the tomatillos, chipotles, garlic and a liberal pinch of salt into your food processor and make it nice and saucy. Then, just throw it into a frying pan with a touch of olive oil and let it all cook together. You’ll want to let it cook together a little before adding your onions to the sauce. At this point, if you want it a bit more citrousy, feel free to add a lime to the mixture. Your sauce is now done.

Mine came out a bit too sweet, probably because I used too much onion and because I didn’t let the sauce cook long enough without the onions. Learn from my mistakes, o best beloved readers.

And now, we get crazy. I put the tomatillo on top of the samosas. I know. Crazy. Mexican and Indian foods were really never meant to mix, but for some strange reason, I thought it worked. The tanginess of the tomatillo really added to the saltiness of the samosas. I can’t say that my stomach’s going to be too happy with me tomorrow, but I think that’s why god invented antacid tablets.

Experiment with your own sauce, learn from my mistakes and come up with something fun. Your stomach will hate you, but your tongue may give you birthday presents. I’m off to buy more pepto. And milk. Enjoy, my aching belly.

September 9, 2007

Somewhere between good cooking and cookbooks...

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I know that most of you out there in internet-land don’t notice when a fresh face arrives on the Gourmetro, but I think I’ve developed a sort of calling card around here, and I think it’s time for me to write a preface. The stuff I’ve blogged about has three things in common: it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s unhealthy. What I am about to go into here is neither easy, nor cheap. However, it is entertaining. And unhealthy. Fabulously unhealthy. Enjoy.

Elizabeth and I recently passed our two year anniversary, and I got exactly what I wanted. Cookbooks! Three of them, to be exact. She had me pick them out. One is interesting, but a little bit useless. One is possibly the greatest cookbook that you could own. Marcella Hazan’s Esentials of Classic Italian Cooking which YOU SHOULD HAVE ON YOUR SHELVES!! I already yelled at Skip once for not knowing who Marcella Hazan was and I’m reminding him again: Marcella is awesome. Seriously. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is Yamuna Devi’s The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am nuts about Indian food, especially Indian appetizers. I have long dreamed to be a master of Indian cookery, and I think it’s going to be a long while before I am. I made Samosas once before while I was staying with with my buddy Burfy in Houston and we had a blast making them. This time, however, it was just me and Devi.

I should mention that I am not a cookbook aficionado. I tend to use the web for my recipes. However, I thought it was time to expand my repertoire, and this was certainly an expansion. I mention that because I have to say something about this cookbook. The biggest problem with my experience making samosas was Devi herself. She’s terribly unorganized and seems to write as though you should already know everything you need to know to make whatever dish she’s bringing you through. I’ll explain as we go.

Before we get started with the actual cooking ingredients, let me say that there are a few things you’ll need for this cooking which you might not have. A wok or karai is one. A karai is an Indian sort of pan which is kind of like a semi sphere. It’s very deep, and you need a deep frying pan for samosas. I don’t have a karai. Woks are much easier to find and I would recommend one. You also need patience. A lot of patience. Devi thinks that you should be able to get the samosas prepared in an hour, but since I work and only have a couple of hours a night, it actually took me several days to get my samosas made. You’ll also need to make a trip to a health food store or Whole Foods to get spices.

Now then, two recipes here. First is Devi’s, and second is how I faked it.
1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
¼ cup farina
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons mint-lime butter or unsalted butter, softened
6 to 7 tablespoons ice water

Just to cut in for a second. I should mention, because Devi didn’t, that these are the ingredients for the crust of the samosas. I mention that because she mentions salt again in the coming ingredients, and I didn’t notice, so I used the wrong portion of salt in the crust. Like I said, she explains really badly. Anyway….

1 ½ teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons mint-lime butter, ghee, or unsalted butter
2-3 hot green chilis, seeded and minced
½-inch ginger root, scrapped, finely minced and shredded
¼ teaspoon yellow asafetida powder
6 medium sized potatoes, boiled, diced, peeled, and cut into ¼ inch dice
1 ¼ teaspoons of garam masala or chat masala
2 teaspoons salt (SEE! RIGHT THERE!!)
1 teaspoon raw sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander or lemon basil
flour for dusting
ghee or vegetable oil for deep frying.

So! Lots of stuff. I used too much potatoes. Also, I wound up putting the two teaspoons salt into the dough instead of the potatoes. Besides that, I couldn’t find fresh coriander, so I used powdered. Couldn’t find black mustard seed so I used yellow. Also, I had no luck finding yellow asafetida powder (also known as “hing”), I skipped the sugar, and I added in about a half jar of this Madras red curry sauce I found at Whole Foods.

The dough itself is pretty easy to make. Basically, you combine the flour, farina (I used Cream of Wheat which worked just fine) salt and butter in a mixing bowl. A note here. Mint-Lime butter is easy to make if you have a food processor. You put in your butter, some fresh mint leaves, about half a lime and just process the crap out of it. If you don’t have a food processor, that’s fine. Use regular butter, the results will be about the same. Mix up the dry ingredients and the butter by hand, and keep on just working it all together until it’s sort of like heavy bread crumbs. Then, just start adding ice water, mixing up the ingredients, and adding ice water again until it gets to be a nice hard dough. Kneed it for a few minutes, and then form into a ball, rub some oil into it, and cover it up. Keep it in a dry place until you’re ready to actually make the samosas. If you’re like me and it’s going to take you some time to actually get the samosas made, cover it up tightly and put it in the fridge or freezer. You’ll have to wait until it’s near room temperature before using it again, but it stays fine for a couple days.

For the filling, start out by heating up the mustard seeds until they are “jumping in the pan”. At least, that’s what Devi says. Really, you should start by getting your potatoes ready. See, Devi thinks that just because she lists it in the ingredients, that means she doesn’t have to remind you in the actual “this is how you cook this” to boil, peel, and chop up the potatoes. That’s something that bugged me about her. She cuts corners and it’s annoying. Her not cutting corners and perhaps mentioning the portion of salt you use in your crust instead of just saying, “add the salt” could also have saved me from my previous mistake. But she didn’t. Anyway, once your potatoes are boiled, peeled and chopped, put your mustard seed into a nice big frying pan and heat them until they start to jump. At that point, add in the green chili peppers, the ginger, the asafeita and the butter or ghee.

STOP! Do NOT use ghee! It is one of the most vile substances you will ever encounter. I’m sorry if you’re Indian and you’re offended and maybe this is just a New York Jew whose pallet is not sophisticated enough to understand, but ghee is the most disgusting thing in the universe. You say to yourself, “This is authentic, it must be good.” But it’s not. It smells awful from the moment it touches the frying pan and still smells while you’re trying desperately to get it out of the pan seconds later. The smell stayed in my kitchen for a full day and a half afterwards. I washed my hands like fifteen times because I could still smell the ghee on them. I can’t describe to you why ghee is so vile, I can only tell you that it’s gross. Use butter, use oil, use any fucking thing that isn’t god damn ghee.

Anyway, after you’ve scraped your pan free of ghee, started again and put in something rational instead, keep on cooking the mustard seeds, chili, and asafeita until the mustard seeds change color. This shouldn’t take that long, and if it seems like nothing’s changing after a minute or so, just go on to the next step. Add in the potatoes, the garam or chat masala, the salt, and the sugar. Stir fry it all for a couple minutes. It was also at this point that I added my half jar of Madras. I wasn’t originally going to use it, but without the asafeita it seemed a bit to bland and at this point, I had realized my mistake with the salt and was desperately trying to fix it. I blame Devi’s written organization skills.

Once the filling is cooked up, take it off the heat, put it to the side, and let it cool to room temperature. It was at this point that I stopped the first night. You can too. It’s fine. Wrap the potatoes and put them in the fridge if this has taken you too long. If you’re like me, the next part will take way longer than it should.

Get out a nice straight bladed knife, a rolling pin, and some flour. You’ll also want to have a bowl in front of you filled with water. Take your dough that you had previously wrapped up and roll it out into a rope about 14 inches long. Cut the dough into fourteen equal sized pieces and cover them all up with a damp paper towel or cloth. Devi suggests that you also break your potatoes into 28 equal sized pieces. It’s a decent idea, but it winds up taking a while and it isn’t really necessary. Dust your work surface with flour. This next step you’re going to do with every single one of your fourteen pieces of dough. Hopefully the dough’s a little wet, but if it isn’t, that’s ok. I wound up actually dipping every piece of dough into my bowl of water and working the water into it until it was a little sticky before working with it. Roll your piece of dough into a nice ball. After that, mash it into a little patty on the dusted work space. Then, you take your rolling pin and as well as you’re able, flatten and flatten your dough until it’s a circle, maybe six inches across. This next part's confusing, so I’ll type as slowly as possible.

Cut your circle in half. This is the dough for TWO samosas, so when you’re working with the first of your two new semi-circles of dough, don’t worry about the other half. Wet the straight line you just cut across the dough so you can turn it all into one cone of dough. You want to fold the dough in half, connecting the straight edge to itself. Make sure that the dough is smoothly connected. You want as few holes as possible in the dough. If you’re able to get through that mess of grammar, fill the cone about two thirds or maybe a touch more with potato mixture. After that, connect the wind end of the cone together using moisture, pressure, and smoothing. Put your uncooked samosa to the side.

When you’ve done that with all your potential samosas (there should be 28 of them) fill your wok at least an inch high with vegetable oil or, for the sense masochists out there, ghee, and put it at about a medium high heat. For me, it took an entire 32 oz bottle of Crisco Vegetable oil. Like I said at the top. Not cheap. I mean, it only cost like 4 bucks for the bottle, but for god sakes, I needed the entire bottle!

When the oil gets hot, just fill it up with samosas. You’ll want to turn them maybe once, but just keep them in there until they turn a nice brownish color. Then, you’ll want to drain them for a bit on paper towels. Depending on how well you combined the pieces of dough, they’ll need more or less draining.

The samosas turned out pretty well for me. They’re super greasy, just like they ought to be. The salt balance is off, but I’ve already explained that. Actually, I do think that you need more than just the half teaspoon of salt in the dough, but I think one would have been fine. Actually, they came out a little bland, but I have high hopes that with a nice tomatilla sauce on the side (I’m making one for the first time tomorrow, I’ll blog about it and how it works with the samosas later) it could make a really nice little meal.

So, what did I get out of this experience? First off, I don’t think that Devi’s cookbook is all bad, because I actually do like the samosas. I don’t think I’ll do her next recipe so haphazardly, I’ll need to write down every step for myself and see if it all makes sense first and maybe reorder what there is to do, but maybe I should learn to do that anyway. It’d certainly save me time if I want to blog about it later. But I think we should remember that cookbooks are put together, on the whole, by chefs and not by writers, and chefs may not know shit about structuring a piece of writing.

If you need a chef who’s also a writer, a friend of mine from school named Adam Roberts has just put out a book from his own food site, The Amateur Gourmet. Adam’s a good guy and I’ve used a couple of his recipes myself. But I think the biggest lesson is one that I’m only starting to learn now. If you want to experiment with Indian cooking, say goodbye to ghee, and hello to Pepto. I’m in for pink, but my left over samosas just tell me to buy more bottles.

September 6, 2007

Cold reboot (and how)

I can hardly believe it's been over a month since my last post. It hasn't been for lack of eating. I've done some of the best eating in my life, let me tell you. Babbo is an ultimate gustatory experience. Eat at Babbo. If you have to wait for three hours, it's still worth it. Nothing has tasted the same since. No joke.

But this post isn't about Babbo. I know you'd all like to hear about the sardines with lobster reduction oil, linguine with clams, the roasted octopus salad, the beef cheek ravioli with crushed squab liver, or the saffron panna cotta (but not the rabbit), but that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

That's because I'm no longer in New York City. And while Birmingham, Alabama does have its culinary high points, Babbo's not in the cards. My Gourmetro writing is returning to my nearly counterless kitchen. It's for the best. Y'all have lots of people writing about New York restaurants anyway.

So, last night was the first time I'd cooked for myself since I left Apple Fifth Avenue (August 8). I was really busy packing, saying goodbye, driving 1200 miles, unpacking and beginning a new life for myself in the Deep South. It's been an interesting transition.

Since I arrived here on the 22nd I'd felt no desire to cook for myself. In the beginning it was natural, since all of my supplies were either in boxes or still in-transit, but it didn't abate as I settled down. It worked out, in a way, since I got to [heavily] patronize the local establishments and learn about the neighborhood, but I knew that I couldn't make such a habit of eating out. And why would I want to? After one and a half years of Gourmetro, I am confident that I can make very decent food at a fraction of the restaurant prices.

For the occasion, I gave my new Cooking Light All-New Complete cookbook a try with their curried chicken salad and vegetable couscous. It's really hot down here (92 degrees at night), so I opted for the Whole Foods rotisserie chicken. It was a good choice, I think, because one 3-pound bird was enough to double the recipe (to about four servings, as far as I can tell).

When I finally sat down to eat the salad, I was let down. And a bit pissed. In my three or four years of cooking, I can think of only a few times when I'd been completely dissatisfied with something I'd prepared (the $80 scallop dinner for two is still probably the most disappointing). Bland, sticky and sweet.

In addition to the chicken, the recipe calls for pineapple, grapes, apples, and currents. The grapes completely overpowered everything else and I could hardly detect any curry. Lame. I'd omit the grapes next time, and up the curry. Hell, I might double the curry. And the currents -- a good idea -- were much too chewy. Not so distracting that I'd leave them out, though.

As a postscript, I had the chicken salad again today for lunch as a wrap with lettuce. It was much, much better. The grapeyness was mellowed out by the lettuce/radicchio and the whole wheat wrap. Perhaps the salad belongs in a wrap.

The couscous salad was another story. Really excellent. It came together quickly, seems healthful, and tasted quite good. The one real issue I had with the recipe was that it called for a packet of 'Italian Dressing Mix,' and that, I couldn't abide. I converted the .6 ounce package details to 3.6 teaspoons (which I upped to 4) of dried basil, oregano, rosemary, and parsley. It worked out quite well, I think. (and when am I ever going to use up those dried parsley flakes...) The end result was moist and just tender enough, though next time I may bring the boiling water down from 1 1/2 cups to 1 1/4 (as it recommends on the box).

We'll see how the couscous fares tomorrow at lunch, but I expect it'll only get better.

**pre-post update**
So as I wrote this post, I hadn't realized that I'd forgotten to add the feta. So I added it, and today at lunch I was quite disappointed to discover that it made the salad worse. Yes, adding cheese made the couscous worse. It's bizarre. Try it without the feta first.

August 17, 2007

Summer = S'mores!

And if you're like me and you really could do without all the bug bites and sunburns that camping brings, just stay inside your apartment and make S'mores Cupcakes. They're a lot prettier than regular S'mores, and last longer too!

I found this recipe at Cupcake Bakeshop, a fabulous blog that chronicles the cupcake adventures of one woman in California. She uses crazy things like jackfruits and Himalayan goji berries in her cupcakes, plus she takes lovely pictures. While I don't encounter jackfruits too often in my local grocery, I had been ogling the S'more Cupcake recipe for awhile and finally caved.

The secret to the S'mores cupcake - and many other of the filled CB cakes - is the cone technique. You see, this summery cupcake not only has a graham cracker crust, similarly flavored cake and a smooth chocolate ganache topping it off, but it is filled with marshmallow fluff. And the cone technique is how that scrumptious fluff gets inside the cupcake.

The cone technique goes like this: after the cupcake is baked, take a small serrated knife and cut out a cone shape from the top of the cupcake. Chop off the pointy part of the cone so that you still have a cupcake top left. Spoon some fluff into the hole of the cupcake and replace the cupcake top, and ta-daa! You're ready to throw on some ganache! Feel free to experiment with your favorite chocolate or vanilla cupcake recipes, filling them with raspberry jam, custard, nutella, or any other deliciousness you can think of.

NB: In the ingredient section of the recipe, the amount of butter is listed as 3/4 cup. But in the note after the recipe, the author says that this makes the cakes too small (for her liking) so you may want to try using less butter. I've made these cakes both ways, and both are delicious - with more butter you get a more dense, heavy cake. With less butter, the cake is much fluffier, which I think contrasts better with the rich filling and topping. But either way, f'amazing.

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July 24, 2007

The Afterglow: Dirty Bird to Go

Ok, NY Mag. You all had a number of solid picks in the 2007 Cheap Eats issue, but I've got a bone to pick about the Dirty Bird omission. Seven dollars a hauntingly tender organic chicken 2-piece plus a side is a deal if I've ever heard one. And if DB's omission weren't bad enough, S'Mac's presence was an added insult. That insipid, gloppy goop is novel, for sure, but not among the city's best.

When Joanie and I stopped by last weekend, I was excited to see if the quality had remained the same since my last visit. She'd never been there before and was a bit skeptical while I raved about the chicken.

Last year, pretty much everybody ( Eater, Augieland (now defunct? It hasn't updated since April), Ed Levine, Egulleters, NY Times, NY Mag, etc.) put their two cents in about the Bird, but the press died shortly thereafter. There have been some very positive notes on Yelp but little else.

I agreed (and agree) with Ganda from Eat Drink One Woman on the fact that while the chicken totally rocks, the sides are lackluster. Last year I got the napa cabbage cole slaw (mushy, nondescript) and the bone-dry corn bread. Yeah. Not the best. This year I tried some new ones, and while they were better, they still weren't great. The mac 'n cheese was actually quite good (take that S'Mac); neither too runny nor too salty. The dirty rice on the other hand, was boring.
Give me some spice.

If it weren't for the included features on street venders, I'd have thought lack of seating (four stools on two bars) kept it from its rightful place in Cheap Eats 07. Or it could have been the whole Korean fried chicken thing. Gah.

Eat this chicken. Each piece may take minutes off your life, but it's totally worth it; the crisp, salty buttermilk-dipped skin will stay with you.

The Afterglow is a reoccurring feature where Gourmetros visit buzzworthy spots a bit after the buzz. Call us lazy if you must, but we just want to find out for ourselves if the places were ever worth it.

July 19, 2007

Fake sausage makes a real tasty snack

Elizabeth and I had planned on making Enchiladas tonight, but well, one thing led to another and with neither of us being terribly hungry, I wound up unfed at quarter to ten. I wanted to eat something, but having little in the cabinet and not really wanting a lot, I was left cobbling together a snack from the fridge. I walked over to the stairs, telling Elizabeth, “I’m going to make myself something to eat.”

“Oh yeah? What?”

“Nothing you’d like.”

That was enough. She's notoriously unadventurous with food. When we started dating, she considered Italian food to be exotic. I, on the other hand, still feel the need for adventurous cooking instilled in my brain by “Ratatouille”. It was 9:55, time to play.

I should preface this by saying that there are certain things about my own eating that make me a bad foodie. First off, I try to keep semi-kosher. I’m not religious per se, and my own kitchen is as unkosher as all get out, but it makes me feel more connected with my cultural heritage. Even before I decided to abstain from swine, I’d gone away from seafood of any form. I don’t like things that swim, though I wouldn’t be disinclined to trying dolphin at some point. I'd like to take a bite out of every endangered species on the planet, you know, so I can try them before they're gone. Now that the bald eagle is no longer on that list, it’s sort of lost it’s mystique.

On the other hand, I love fake meat, and am willing to try just about any form of it. My current favorite is the breakfast sausage from GimmeLean. The really nice thing about it is that it comes in this big tube and you sort of have to just wrench out a chunk of it when you want some "sausage". Because you have to work it in your hands a bit to put it in the shape you want it, it feels a bit less like heating up a frozen snack, and more like actually making something.

Anyway, back to my experiment.

The counters had just been wiped down, and since GimmeLean is pretty sticky, I put down a piece of wax paper. I took out three chunks of GimmeLean, about a teaspoon or so each, and rolled them into balls. Afterwards, I smashed them down hard. Once they were flat, I took out a bit of adobo sauce saved from last time I made chipotle sauce, and spread it thinly onto each patty.

I should mention here that this might have been a slight mistake. Adobo sauce is extremely spicy. It’s what really keeps in the heat in a canned chipolte. If I’d had any chipotle sauce left, that would probably have made these better. But I didn’t, and this was supposed to be a quick snack.

After the adobe was down, I stuck a bit of sharp white cheddar into the middle of each sausage and folded the whole patty up, smoothing out the edges. One of the nice things about working with GimmeLean is that, since it is so sticky, it comes back together very well. It’s sort of like working with clay that way. Afterwards I just heated up some olive oil in my iron skillet and fried the sausages lightly for 30 seconds on each side. Finally, I drained them on paper towels for a bit. (Total cook time, for those that haven’t noticed, was about three minutes.)

Though I warned you about my mistake with the adobe, I actually think they came out pretty well. There’s a good kick to them, and anyone who’s afraid of spice should stay away. I think the best one was the one with the most cheese, so feel free to put a big 'ol chunk in there. Just make that you don’t put in so much that you can’t close the sausage again. You’re trying to heat it through, not fry the cheese. Besides the high degree of spiciness, they ate very easily. Especially when just off the paper towel, when the cheese inside was still hot and melted. Though I think a real salsa would have done better than what is basically hot sauce paste, I’m glad the adobe was there. It gave the sausages that great tongue-burning kick, a nice smoky flavor, and a third flavor that didn’t overpower the rest of the snack or stay so mute that you couldn’t tell it was there. The cheddar worked well with the sausage. The flavors are similar but distinct, so you can’t always tell where the one ends and where the other begins. The sausage definitely was the principle flavor, but if you like fake sausage, it was a good flavor to be in the lead.

On the whole, I’m proud of my little snack. Proud enough that I’m going to keep on working on it until it’s perfect, and when it is, I’ll update this post and tell you. For now though, if you find yourself not really starving but a bit peckish, and it’s late so you don’t want to be in the kitchen for a while, you may want to give it a try. Your tongue will have mixed feelings, but ignore Negative Nancy, the spice hater. Enjoy.

July 17, 2007

She said [He said]: Camaradas el Barrio

With its chill atmosphere and great music, I am definitely a fan of Camaradas el Barrio (115th and 1st Ave). As Skip and I geared up for our meal, I couldn't wait to sample a new set of wonderful goodies I had not been so adventurous to try previously. Irrrrk! Screeching sound! Halt! Wonderful for the carnivores, not so much for the veg heads like me. (Now I remember why I’ve only had one thing on the menu.) I'll admit that I'm mixed, more veg than omni, and, to be fair, it is true that Puerto Rican cuisine is meat-dominated. But my city ways sometimes assume the world should cater to me, right? In the past, Camaradas Sangria has been a featured item, and the food ... not so much. Tonight, however, it was front and center and the rest was a mixed bag of nuts.

We started with the root and vine chips, which were a mix of yuca, battata and plantain. They were a bit too hard for my taste, and the radish sauce tasted like creamy ketchup. Not impressed, but still ate my fair share sans dip. The half platter finally arrives (after a very long wait, and much discussion over sold-out items). It must be noted that every time I go to this spot they are out of something, whether it be the veggie pastelillos or the new featured sangria. The consistency is definitely lacking.

[The radish dip was a big disappointment. When we ordered, I expected spicy and creamy, not insipid clawing sweetness. Something akin to biting into a fresh radish, not Thousand Island dressing. To be fair, it did compliment the spicy yuca.]

This particular sampler, priced at $12.50 is a great deal for two, and the romantic setting makes it a great date item. The sampler includes a mix of four menu items, providing the opportunity to try a good chunk of Camaradas' offering. The pastelillos, which is a fried meat or vegetable patty similar to an empanada, was divine. It was fried just right and the filling was scrumptious. [I found them to be the most interesting item on the platter; The chorizo and shrimp skewers were enjoyable, but somewhat flat. Not much going on. The pastelillo filling on the other hand had a good mix of spices and begged for the deep frying.]

The chorizo (yes, I had a bite) was great, excellent [smoky] flavor and perfectly charred. Have you ever had fried mozzarella sticks? Here their called croquetas [and look more like McDonald's hash browns than mozz. sticks]. They did the job, but were very plain. However, they were accompanied by a perfectly well balanced garlic sauce that more than made up for it. [Plain? Even with the mild garlic sauce, they were like black holes of blandness.] If you're on the afore mentioned date, I’d pass on the sauce. The shrimp skewers - fantastic! What a way to cook a shrimp. They had a faint sweet and tangy flavor. Slightly charred, they came unaccompanied and didn't need a chaperon whatsoever.

Drinks? Red wine sangria of course. The taste is the refreshing combination of bite and juice. I am a fan of their sangria because it is a great deal and so home-grown. The fruit is undesirable, which is unfortunate because who doesn’t like a little wine infused orange. But the balance more than makes up for the repetitiveness of green apples. [The beer selection was also quite good. I accompanied my meal with a Brooklyn Six Points.]

Inconsistent service, a hit-and-miss menu, and picky vegetarians aside, Camaradas scores due to the decent priced menu, and unique ambiance. [I'd be a regular if I weren't moving. The atmosphere, sangria, and reasonable prices were enough to keep me going back. I only wish they hadn't been out of vegetable and chicken pastelillos, northern and southern alcapurrias, and chorizo croquetas. Mind you, this was 7pm on a weeknight.]

She said [He said] is a new feature where two or more Gourmetros eat out and discuss. In this case, it was Skip and Butter (our shiny new SpaHa correspondent) Have any recommendations? Let us know.

July 12, 2007

I can check that one off the list...

I've made a resolution to catch up on my posting, so I'll be attempting to fulfill my Japan-listy-review goals. Let's start with something tasty :P

Just in case anyone didn't know, I am obsessed with Iron Chef. So, it only follows that I'd be a bit obsessed with Iron Chef restaurants, gimmicky though they might occasionally be. And just to clarify, I'm talking original Japanese Iron Chef - RYORI NO TETSUJIN, bell pepper-crunchin' and all (I don't despise Iron Chef America, and Alton Brown is one of my favorite foodie icons ever, but it just isn't the same).

I've been to Morimoto in Philly a few times (and lurve it lots), but have yet to make a call upon the New York incarnation, which is totally on the list. But, my recent excursion in the Land of the Rising Sun gave me the chance to drop by La Rochelle, Chef Hiroyuki Sakai's lovely restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo. And good lord, it was delicious.

I've not had the pleasure of a coursed meal without being on my parents' dime before, so I can't say that I knew what to expect. I was pretty concerned about being a totally gauche American and getting my forks confused, but I'm pretty happy to say that the experience was excellent enough it didn't even occur to me to think about it. So without further ado, the food:

Aaron and I chose the Histoire Prix Fixe set menu (Chef Sakai's Grand Traditional Menu, 15000 yen/person, approx. 130 dollars), having no idea what else to do, and really feeling up to a splurge on our last week in Japan.

1. Three small appetizers together: Seafood consomme jelly, served with mini skewers of turtle and prawn, above an asparagus salad with sea urchin, lobster, and creamy dressing.

2. Large champignon mushroom, stuffed with foie gras. Topped with sabayon, two slices of strawberry, and served on a bed of asparagus in a marsala sauce.

3. Light salad: Japanese turnip (kabu) sliced thinly, layered with lobster and ripe mango. Served with a Prosecco and lemon dressing. AND might I add, the parsley on it was gold-leafed!

4. Steamed abalone and shark's fin, accompanied by fava beans, bok choy, and starches in a truffle sauce.

5. Bordeaux (I can't remember the name...Santa Marrillion?) Sherbet.

6. Wagyu prime rib, served with grilled seasonal vegetables, in a yuzu sauce.

7. Fresh strawberries, served with a lime cream and (yuzu?) chilled yogurt.

Mmm, foodgasm. Everything was beautifully flavored and very seasonally appropriate but if I had to pick favorites, I'd definitely go for the kabu salad and the wagyu prime rib. The salad had this fantastic mix of textures and flavors, crunch and light and sweet and tart and mmm, I really need to see if I can hack duplicating it. Even a pale imitation would probably taste pretty good :P. The prime rib was incredibly buttery, without leaving the cloying feeling of coating your soft palate with fat.

Minor caveats: I hadn't ever had shark's fin or turtle before, and while both were pleasant, I have vague moral concerns about the acquisition of shark's fin which weren't dispelled by any sense of overwhelming deliciousness. I was also uncertain about the idea of a Bordeaux sorbet, as I'm terrible with wines (pass the Belvedere, please), but it was really very delicate and refreshing.

I've only got the one crappy picture, as it feels verrrrry strange to be trying to surreptitiously photograph your food in a nice French restaurant, but hopefully, it'll give you a sense of the lovely plating. If you look at the top of the salad, you can just make out the gold-leafing on the parsley (warm lighting + turning off the flash to be sneakier = poor detail >_<). The next time I'm in Japan, I'll definitely be going back. I might read up on fork etiquette first, though...


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July 6, 2007

Potato Pizza

I've recently made a discovery: New York Pizza has started to stink. Sure sure, there’s still that place around the corner you love, or that one place you know out in Brooklyn, but I tell you this, that place used to be on every other block. I’ve heard theories ranging from the water to the mob, and am not wholly convinced about any of them. Personally, I blame the tourists for not knowing any better. They’ll eat slices from Famous-Original-First-Ever-Whatever-Adjective-We-Use-To-Describe-Ray’s-Pizza and then take pictures of the store-front and tell all their friends about the great pizza they ate in midtown. Because of this, the pizza joints don’t really have to try so much any more. And it’s not just in midtown.

It was with this in mind that I began, call it… a quest. I need to find pizza in New York that I know as my own. Since then, I’ve been sampling just about any pizza I can find. There are qualifications. 1) A New York Slice is thin, not too little cheese, not too much. 2) There is a decent amount of sauce on the slice, but not so much as it overpowers the rest of the meal. 3) The slice should not cost more than two dollars. And finally, 4) You can get a slice at the counter, and walk out eating it.

I have tried many of the pizza places in New York, but I have not yet found my perfect slice. The closest I’ve come is Nina’s Pizza on Meeker Ave off Sutton in Greenpoint. It fulfilled all qualifications except for the crust, which was thicker than a traditional New York slice. I no longer live in Greenpoint, and Nina’s is a ways off the L train, so it’s not really in the running for me anymore anyway. So I’m still looking for my slice again. Still, while I’ve been looking, I have found a number of extremely wonderful alternatives.

My current favorite is the potato pizza from the Sullivan Street Bakery on 47th between 10th and 11th. For those of you who hear “potato pizza” and quiver, you have no idea what you’re missing. Sullivan Street’s potato pizza has a very thin crust, covered in scalloped potatoes. There’s perhaps half an inch of potato on top of the crust. There’s no sauce, no cheese, just crust and potato. The slices are small, but heavy. It’s three bucks a slice, but if you eat two that’s a decent meal, and in midtown, a six dollar meal means a lot.

The pizza itself is absolutely fantastic. It’s served room temperature. The crust is very moist where it touches the potatoes, but crunchy just underneath. I think there’s some onion in there, but that might just be me trying to figure out how to make it. The pizza is well spiced, a bit of rosemary is in there, good amount of salt and pepper. I have no idea if it actually is healthy, but I know that at the very least, it tastes that way.

Anyway, even if you’re not so into potato pizza (which you really should be, I mean, it’s potato, and it’s pizza – there’s nothing NOT to love), you might still want to check out the Sullivan Street Bakery. The bread’s outstanding, and they’re known for having some of the best sandwiches in town. I haven’t tried them. My buddy James has, and though he didn’t agree with “best sandwiches in town” he did like the sandwich. Also, there are another four kinds of pizza. There’s the mushroom, which I won't eat because I can't stand mushrooms. A friend of mine tried it though, and proclaimed it the best mushroom pizza he'd ever eaten. There’s one with just a tomato sauce on top, which I thought was decent, but inferior to the potato. Also, they have a plain crust which I have no interest in, and a zucchini which I haven’t gotten up the nerve yet to try. What can I say? I work in midtown, and I need to be able to find food cheap that I will want to eat!

So if you find yourself in the forties with nothing to do, I’d take the hike out to 10th and check out the Sullivan Street Bakery. And if you find great pizza for less than two bucks, I’d appreciate a shout.

July 5, 2007

[when it rains, it rains pulled pork from heaven]

Aside from Danny Meyer's annual Backyard Barbecue, I've been underwhelmed by the NYC 'cue scene. People make a big deal about Dinosaur, but I really don't see it. RUB, righteous Urban Barbecue, is another animal altogether. So to speak.

After a botched Shake Shack trip (who closes early on a Saturday?), Greg decided to take the five of us to RUB. We made the three avenue trek still reeling with disappointment from being denied salty fatty shaky goodness (but mostly the custard).

We were seated quickly and ordered the Taste of the Baron ($45), an eight-meat sampler with two sides, and some Blue Moons. Out of the meats, the pulled pork was the stand-out winner: tender, supple, and none-too-greasy. Since my 'cue background comes from Virginia, I am used to pre-sauced meat. Early saucing makes sense; it tenderizes and infuses the meat with its tangy juices. RUB's sauces --original, spicy, vinegar, and ... garlic? -- come on the side, and compliment the meat so well we were glad to mix and match instead of committing to just one.

I went back with Marc a few weeks later for the three-meat platter (with two sides, $22.75). The pulled pork, spicy sausage, and beef brisket passed the test again, and the former still trounced the others. The sawdust-dry brisket was the only disappointment. Both times. I'm excited to try the burnt ends (the fatty part of the brisket), but I wouldn't try the regular brisket again. The baked beans and shoe string onion rings rock, and the cole slaw, forgettable.

The TotB filled all of us (see picture, above), and the deep fried Oreos were about as good as any dessert I've eaten at a bbq joint. RUB's good eatin'.

Thanks to Eric for the awesome shots.

July 1, 2007

Product Extraordinaire: A better butter

A few weeks ago, Skip reviewed PB & Co's "The Heat is On," a peanut butter better used for Thai chicken and other savory dishes rather than PB&J. Around this same time, I ordered some of PB Loco's Sumatra Cinnamon and Raisin peanut butter. PB Loco - a largely online business, unless you live somewhere like Scottsdale, AZ - offers flavors such as CoCo Banana (I'll take a dozen! and a spoon!) and Asian Curry Spice (For Savory Dish Use Only). The Sumatra Cinnamon seemed like a safe choice, and ended up being as delicious as it was versatile. The texture was creamy, the raisins were plump, and the cinnamon was delightfully aromatic. It was great on sandwiches, with apples, out of the jar - I enjoyed eating it too much to try to make cookies or muffins, but I can only imagine that it would improve such things.

Because I was on such a Cinnamon-Raisin peanut butter high after my PB Loco experience (their motto is peanutbutterlicious! who doesn't love that?), I picked up some of Peanut Butter & Co.'s Cinnamon Raisin Swirl at the grocery store. I mean, even if it didn't live up to PB Loco's high standards, it couldn't actually be bad, right?

I haven't had other flavors of PB & Co. butter, so I can't say if this is true for all of its flavors, but this is a GRAINY peanut butter. I don't know if this is because of their use of evaporated cane juice as opposed to refined sugar, but I have never had peanut butter with this much grain going on. (And this is from a girl who regularly eats almond butter, the grainiest of the grainy butters.) Plus the raisins were hard and the cinnamon was much milder than I would have liked.

That said, I still ate it...and I found myself craving the PB & Co. butter at odd hours of the day. I did get used to the grainyness, and I could see how some would find it more natural-seeming and therefore more appealing. But I like my butters smooth & flavorful, so I'm sticking with PB Loco.

Thanks to Bizzy Grl over at Flickr for the beautiful pb shot.

June 21, 2007

Banana v. Vanilla: Twinkie Battle Royal

The most difficult thing about the Banana Twinkie is finding one. Yesterday, my friend James and I scoured midtown Manhattan for about an hour, stopping at every deli and grocery store we passed. Twinkies, to start off with, have become a rarity in New York. The Banana Twinkie is an even rarer animal. Luckily for me, I don’t live in Manhattan, and in Brooklyn, there are still delis that have a hostess shelf.

So, this morning, on my way into work, I shelled out two bucks and bought two delightful packages of Hostess products: a package of “NEW!” Banana Twinkies, and for comparison, a normal package of Vanilla Twinkies.

The first thing that you notice is that they actually do look a little different. The regular vanilla Twinkies are a paler shade of yellow, just a couple shades darker than an off white. The Banana Twinkies, on the other hand, are a true gold. They even look a little bit bigger, though this could just be because my banana Twinkies are sitting side by side on their little piece of waxed white cardboard while for some reason, my vanilla Twinkies are askew of each other. Quality Assurance seems to have faded at the Hostess Factory. (I’d show you pictures, but I’m too poor for digital camera ownership.)

The vanilla Twinkie cake is very spongy. It doesn’t taste like “vanilla” so much as like “sugar”, or more accurately, like “corn syrup”. There’s a distinctive after taste, sort of bitter and in the back of my throat. It comes on pretty quickly, I think it’s in the cake. That flavor is in the Banana Twinkie as well, but definitely lessened. Actually, the Banana Twinkie has a surprisingly strong banana flavor on top of the flavor of corn syrup, and frankly, it is not unpleasant. It’s there enough that you can definitely tell that it’s not the normal Twinkie, but light enough that it’s not overpowering. What’s more, although it’s the same cake itself, the proximity to the filling has managed to infuse the Banana Twinkie’s cake with some of its flavor. The cake itself seems moister than the regular Twinkie, but this could simply be that because the Banana Twinkie is so new, there really isn’t as much time for it to sit around in factories (or the deli shelves). The banana flavor is definitely artificial though, which is kind of funny.

See, the Twinkie was originally a banana flavored treat. That’s the reason that it’s tube like and sort of, you know, phallic. It’s supposed to look like a cuter banana. (The shape is actually due to the shortcake tins that they’re baked in, but they chose those shortcake tins for a reason!) Twinkies stayed banana from their inception until World War II, when a national banana shortage forced Hostess to replace their banana filling with Vanilla (no, not a joke). The fact that they’ve been brought back without any real banana in them is a loving testament to our boys fighting Adolf. (The banana Twinkies do contain less than 1% of banana puree, meaning that for every batch of 100,000 Twinkies, there are about three bananas – we can’t give those boys everything or else what’ll they want to come home for?)

For the health conscious out there: though I’ve heard people think that the Banana Twinkies are healthier than the regular, they aren’t by any stretch of the imagination. The Banana Twinkies have another 5 calories per cake, plus another gram of fat and have a small amount of trans-fatty acids, which the Vanilla Twinkies do not. However, the Banana Twinkies do have slightly less sodium (maybe responsible for the fainter aftertaste?), cholesterol, and carbohydrates than the vanilla, and a couple fewer grams of sugar. I know that few people are eating Twinkies for their health anymore, but I still thought you might like to know.

All in all, I’d consider the Banana Twinkies to be a bit better than the regular. The banana flavor really helps you forget that you’re basically eating a stick of sugar and saturated fat, and helps to cover up that horrible aftertaste that you get from the Vanilla Twinkies. Prepare for indigestion and, if you’re like me, a sugar headache. Still, if you’re a dedicated junk foody, the Banana Twinkie will form a nice new addition to your sweet repertoire.

June 17, 2007

We get mail!


I've been checking out your site (I like it, especially your review about doughnuts) and I had a little suggestion for you. I assume that you too are an NPR man, but I can imagine that catching Morning Edition is a bit of a stretch for you. Because of that, you may have missed the news that Twinkies have just gone back to using banana cream instead of vanilla. They used to be banana, but there was some shortage back in WWII and they switched over to vanilla. Now though, back. I think it'd be a good article for the gourmetro. In fact, if you needed, I'd help you eat the Twinkies. I need an excuse, I can't put that much saturated fat into my body for no good reason. Hope you're well, still hoping that we could go out for breakfast some time. Later.



Jake, Thanks for the note, it's been a while. I am a bit of an NPR man, myself, and as you guessed don't really listen to Morning Edition. Their podcasts rock my world (Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, and I'm getting into This American Life). I had heard about banana's triumphant return to the twinkie, but don't think I could make myself eat enough of them to write a post (I like to save my saturated fat for those aforementioned doughnuts. That said, I am intrigued by the filling switch since I'd previously heard they were discontinuing the tuber altogether (nb - link doesn't exactly say they're discontinuing the twinkie, but that Interstate Bakery's fallen on hard times). So if you want to have some and tell us about it, please do!



June 3, 2007

Cheap & Tasty: Tortilla Espanola

If you've been to any of the trendy tapas places around DC - or any other urban area - you've probably seen Tortilla Espanola on the menu. It's very simple dish, basically a Spanish omelet/quiche hybrid. Cooking it is a breeze and leaves your house smelling of hash browns for a day afterward, which is a major bonus. Plus, it's SUPER cheap and is a classy way to make the those last few days before the paycheck go faster.

And though cheap and tasty, still swanky: Mario Batali made a Tortilla Espanola as part of his tapas plate in Iron Chef America's "Battle Garlic." So garnish with pride and pretend you're at Babbo.

I referenced recipes from the Washington Post and Epicurious in making this, but here's my version:

Tortilla Espanola

Approx. 8 eggs, beaten
6 cups peeled and diced (1/2 in.) potatoes
2 medium diced yellow onions
salt & pepper to taste

lots of olive oil

Heat about 1/2 cup of the olive in a 10 inch nonstick skillet (if your pan is slightly larger or smaller, it's fine) over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, add half of the chopped onion & potato mixture. Cover and cook over medium heat until mixture is browned but not mushy; stir periodically to keep it from burning. Dump the cooked potato & onion mixture into a large bowl to cool; add more olive oil to the skillet and cook the rest of the batch in the same manner. (Note - you can cook them all at once, it's just a LOT easier and less messy this way. Unless you have a gargantuan skillet pan, in which case, go for it!)

Add the second batch of cooked roots to the first and let cool. Add the beaten eggs, salt, and pepper and thoroughly coat the potatoes. If you feel the need, add more beaten eggs. I wouldn't go above the Epicurious' suggestion of 10, but you're definitely going to need at least 6.

Back to your skillet - add 1/4 cup of olive oil and heat it up to medium. Pour all of the eggy mixture into the pan and smooth out the top with a spatula. Keep heat low-ish to prevent burning - from experience, it will still taste good, but the tortilla is much less pretty when it's black. Cook for about 10 minutes, occasionally running a spatula along the rim of the skillet to loosen the tortilla.

Now comes the fun part - when you can feel the tortilla slide around a bit on the skillet, ensuring its doneness, get out a big plate. Invert the plate on top of the skillet and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Slide the not-as-cooked side of the tortilla back into the skillet and cook for about another 5 minutes, until the tortilla is solid. You're done!

For serving, there really is no "right" side up. The skillet side is usually rounder and prettier, but the non-skillet side give a better view of the potatoes and other tortilla innards.

Some other notes:

You must use a nonstick pan. I tried cooking some of the potato/onion mixture in an iron skillet and it was much messier. Had I attempted to add the eggs, the tortilla would not have stayed intact.

Do not be afraid of the salt! I grew up in a salt-fearing household, so I am conditioned to undersalt, but go ahead and pour it on (the pepper too, and any other spices you deem worthy) to make sure you're getting the most flavor out of your potatoes.

Oh, and if you're feeling decadent, add some bacon to the mix and make your kitchen smell even better. Just cut back on the olive oil a bit.

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