Friday, February 27, 2009

Eisenberg's redux

Thanks to the DVR, Steve and I watched this past Monday's episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Thanks to notices on Facebook, I knew that Monday's episode was a special titled, "Disappearing Manhattan." I had to watch this episode. The old places in NY are what make NY the city that it is. They are cathedrals to the old way of doing things where people took time to do things the right, careful, perfect, and proud way. I couldn't wait to see what places Bourdain deemed worthy of praise and the spotlight on his show.

I was tickled pink to see that out of the eleven places he visited, I've been to three - Katz's Delicatessen, Heidelberg, and Eisenberg's Sandwiches. If you recall, I recently had the pleasure of eating at Eisenberg's for the first time last week. I found a clip of the show on YouTube that includes the Eisenberg's segment. Coincidentally, this clip also includes the segments for Katz's and Heidelberg. The Eisenberg section starts at the 3:40 mark of the video. Take a peek and see what I got to enjoy last week.

Tony also visited several places I know about but haven't been able to get myself to yet such as Russ & Daughters and Manganaro's. I agree with Tony and hope that places like these don't disappear from NYC. While I love shopping at Trader Joe's, I also visit the locally owned foodstores in my neighborhood because they provide the flavor and without them, Brooklyn really would be a cookie-cutter suburb instead of the unique urban suburb (can it be both?) that it is.

Mac & Cheese: All the cheesy details

I previously posted on Facebook and here about a four cheese mac & cheese by Pithy & Cleaver. Well, last night I made this delectable and sinful comfort food. It took a while to prep my mise en place - I won't be winning any timed Top Chef-style challenges, that's for sure - but once everything was set in little prep bowls, the cooking didn't take too long and went smoothly.

The P&C recipe was easy enough to follow, but I found it needed some proofreading (a couple ingredients weren't mentioned in the step-by-step instructions) and additional cooking details. Overall, it was a complete, straightforward recipe which ended in a delicious result. I neglected to take a photo of my result, but let me describe it - dense, noodle-y, saucy, cheesy, crumbly crisp topping, and steamin' hot. I also have *a lot* of leftovers since it makes enough to feed about eight. Or two college football players.

During the cooking process, I began to get a little worried that everything would fit in my skillet. The recipe says to use a "large skillet." I was using my 12-inch All-Clad, which is the largest one I have. Everything is done in the skillet. It's really a one-skillet recipe if you don't count the boiling of the pasta in another pot. The final step in the cooking process is to add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce in the skillet. Um, my cheese sauce was already flirting with the edge of the pan, and I didn't think it could hold a pound of cooked celentani. The suspense was killing me! I took the dare laid down by P&C, and poured the pasta in. All the pasta fit! Ta da! It was like a little magic pan, that All-Clad. I very carefully folded the pasta with the cheese until everything was coated.

I did need Steve's help when it came to pouring the luscious, gooey mix into the baking pan as I needed two hands covered in hot pads to lift the skillet. Steve scraped the innards out into the dish while I tipped them in. [Side note: I had an afterthought once the mac & cheese was baking - did I need to put it in the baking dish at all? My skillet can go directly in the oven. Anyone know if baking mac & cheese in an All-Clad skillet changes baking time, sticking-to-the-pan factor, etc? If it doesn't need to go in the baking dish, then this is one step closer to being a one skillet dish. Of course, the leftovers would still need to be transferred to something, and my leftovers are still in the baking dish, for which I have a snap on lid.]

After 20 minutes in the oven, the topping was golden brown and the sauce was bubbling. I dished it up right away and we dug in. Yum, yum, yum. This is not an every day or every week mac & cheese. It's far to full of fat and cholesterol to make often.

Good thing this mac & cheese was good since we now get to eat it all weekend. Except for Saturday night when Steve and I are dining with other members of TNTE club at Buttermilk Channel. Looking forward to some chicken and waffles!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ice cream in February

I love ice cream and am very happy to see this wonderful sounding recipe for maple pecan ice cream at Chocolate & Zucchini today. I am so making this. Too bad Steve doesn't like pecans - more for me!

Ice cream is actually pretty simple to make. Granted, I've only made it once, but it's really not that difficult. I received the Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment for Christmas, and I've used it to make French vanilla. As long as I followed the manufacturer's instructions for how to prepare the special, insulated, freezer bowl, the ice cream turned out beautifully. I had read some consumer complaints that the bowl doesn't work and the ice cream is essentially ice cream soup.

These complaining consumers must not have done exactly what they were instructed to do because I had no problems. Yes, when it's done churning, the ice cream is on the soft side but it's thick. My ice cream churned so thick, that the mixer/churner didn't want to turn anymore. When that happened, I figured the ice cream was done.

After I transferred the ice cream from the freezer bowl to individual storage containers (plastic Chinese take-out soup containers work beautifully!) and froze it a while, it was the consistency and hardness of regular, store bought premium ice cream. And tasted great.

Pork tenderloin en croute

Last night, I tried something that my dad has wanted to try - a pork tenderloin "wellington." It came out pretty well and I'd do it again with a few experiments. Basically, we had something that didn't really resemble the classic beef wellington, but rather pork wrapped in puff pastry with some herbs. But it was full of flavor and the pork turned out to be cooked just about right. Here is what I did more or less:

Pork Tenderloin en Croute
Serves 4

1 whole pork tenderloin (I figure it was about a pound or a little more)
fresh rosemary
fresh thyme
jack cheese, shredded (I think I used about a cup)
olive oil
1 sheet of puff pastry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Thaw out the puff pastry according to box. It should be thawed by the time you are ready for it.

Prepare the pork by patting dry, slashing a few cuts in the top, and rubbing all over with a liberal amount of salt and pepper.

Finely mince as much shallot and garlic as you would like. I used one small shallot (would use more next time) and about five cloves of garlic.

Wash and pat dry several sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary. Remove rosemary leaves and finely chop. I didn't bother removing the leaves from the thyme stems.

Over low heat, warm up a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Raise heat to medium, and brown the pork tenderloin on all sides until internal temp reads 140 degrees. The pork won't be fully cooked at this point, but will finish in the oven and carry over when it rests. When done, set aside on a plate and allow it to cool for a little bit.

In the same skillet, pour in a little more olive oil, if needed, and add shallot and garlic, and a little salt, and cook until aromatic and slightly soft, but not burned. Add thyme and rosemary. Cook until aromatic. Remove from heat and put this mix in a small bowl and set aside. Remove thyme sprigs and save for use later in the sauce.

Once puff pastry is thawed, roll it out on a floured surface to a rectangle large enough to generously envelope the pork loin.

Spoon half of the shallot and herb mix on the center of the pastry. Layer about half the cheese on top of that. Then center the pork loin on top. Repeat layering the shallot mix and cheese on the top of the pork loin.

Wrap the pork in the pastry by bring sides together to form a seam. Use some water or egg wash to seal and pinch the seams. When all sealed up, put seam side down on a greased (or parchment paper covered) rimmed baking sheet. Brush egg wash all over the surface of the pastry.

Bake for about 35 minutes, give or take. The pastry should be a nice golden brown when it's done. When I pulled the pork from the oven, the internal temp was still below 160 (FDA recommended cooking time for pork) but as it rested it rose to 160. Let pork rest before cutting and serving.

Steve helped with the sauce. While the pork is finishing cooking and resting, in the same skillet, deglaze the pan by pouring in about 3/4 of a cup of beer. (Steve chose Sam Adams White Ale.) Add the saved thyme sprigs, salt, pepper, water if needed, and flour/cornstarch if you want a thicker sauce. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the fond off the pan and stir until sauce reduces to a taste and consistency you like. Remove thyme sprigs once again and serve over slices of pork.

I served this with mashed potatoes and asparagus.

Notes on how to make this better:
Use a more flavorful cheese. The jack in this recipe really only served to keep the pork moist during the baking process. We hardly noticed any cheese while we ate. I was originally going to use something like Gorgonzola, but then had second thoughts. Will either try Gorgonzola next time, or maybe use slices of provolone to wrap as a layer around the pork before wrapping in the pastry.

Maybe instead of cheese, use the traditional wellington filling of herbed mushrooms.

Use a fruity red wine to make the sauce. I am without an everyday red right now, so that's why we used beer, which turned out really well. But I'd like to try other liquids for the sauce just for experiment's sake.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Goin' to the Mardi Gras

King Cakes 2009 are here!

I did use the Southern Living recipe as a guideline for these cakes. I pulled the one off of All Recipes, and even though I've made this before, I had forgotten that not everything in that recipe adds up. For instance, the amount of sugar called for in the ingredient list does not match up to the amount in the step-by-step directions. Since I only make this once a year, I had forgotten about these little discrepancies and I have no idea what I did in previous years to make it come out okay. So, based on that Southern Living recipe, and adding filling, the following recipe I came out with this year. This dough is super easy to work with as it rolls out very easily and doesn't rip. The image above is both baked cakes. The decorated cake on the left is the filled cake. The one on the right, is not filled nor have I decorated it yet because I might freeze it.

King Cake
based on a recipe from Southern Living

Makes 2 cakes

2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces sour cream
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (.25 ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 egg
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, softened, divided
water for sealing dough

2 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons butter, melted
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
lemon zest

Colored sugars
3/4 cup sugar
green food color
yellow food color
red food color
blue food color

1. Cook first four ingredients in a saucepan over low heat, stirring continually, until butter melts. Cool mixture to 100-110 degrees.

2. Dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl (I warmed up my mixer bowl and used that); let stand 5 minutes or until frothy. Add butter & sour cream mixture, egg, and 2 cups of flour; beat at medium speed with mixer about 2 minutes or until smooth. Gradually add in the remaining flour until a soft dough ball is formed.

3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic about 10 minutes. Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease entire surface. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

4. For the filling, first stir together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon; set aside. In a separate bowl, mix until smooth the cream cheese and 1 cup confectioners' sugar.

5. Punch dough down and divide in half. Turn one portion out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to 28-x 10-inch rectangle. Sprinkle half of the sugar & cinnamon mix over the dough. Top with half of the softened butter. Next, spread half the cream cheese mix down the center of the dough. Roll dough, jellyroll style, starting at long side. Place dough seam side down on a lightly greased RIMMED baking sheet (or pizza pan). Bring ends together to form a ring. Using your fingers or a brush, coat the seams with with water, and pinch edges together to seal. (I swear you can't seal the thing enough because something is bound to seep out, which is why a rimmed baking sheet is best and will save your oven from oozing filling.) Repeat with remaining half of dough, sugar & cinnamon mix, butter, and cream cheese mix.

6. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, for 20 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

7. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

8. Let cool completely before decorating with icing and sprinkles.

9. For icing - stir together confectioners' sugar and melted butter. Add milk until desired consistency for drizzling or spreading is reached. Stir in vanilla and lemon zest.

10. For colored sugars - In three separate zipper-top bags, place 1/4 cup sugar. Add green to one bag, yellow to another, and red and blue (to make purple) to the last. Shake and squeeze each bag to mix color and sugar. I find that two drops of each makes passable colors. Purple is the hardest one to achieve and mine usually is a grayish-lavender color.

11. When cakes are cool, divide the icing in half and drizzle/pour/brush/spread it on top of each. Sprinkle the colored sugars on top in either bands of each or sprinkle all together in a great mish-mash of Mardi Gras colors.

12. Before serving, hide a plastic baby charm in the cake by pushing it into the bottom. The person who has the baby in their slice of cake has to buy or make the next King Cake!

One-up mushroom cookie anyone?

Saw this on a children's lit blog, and thought it ought to be shared here, too.

Have a need for some Mario Bros. mushroom shaped cookies? Look no further than Snack or Die Video Game Cookies. Really.

Or maybe you're needing instructions on how to make a Super Mario Bros. 2 Phanto Sugar Cookie. Or a PacMan cookie. Or a Super Monkey Ball cupcake. They are all there. With good step-by-step pictures to guide you along.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Heavy lunch, light dinner

I met Steve for lunch yesterday. He works in the Flatiron building, and we stuck to the neighborhood - we went right across the street. Despite working in the vicinity five years ago, I had never even noticed Eisenberg's. And no wonder. It's a hole-in-the-wall place no more than 20 feet wide and four times that deep. Narrow and skinny. However, the food is not skinny food. As the hard-working countermen's t-shirts say, "Eisneberg Sandwiches, raising the cholesterol of New York since 1929." I don't think much has changed since 1929. The wooden counter and back bar look authentic. So do the round red-topped counter stools. Some small tables are squeezed in the back but you don't get the show if you sit back there. We had a good time watching that show - the countermen are never still as they bark out orders and fill orders for the counter and tables. I didn't see any written tickets except for take-out orders. We were sitting in front of the grill station where one man worked the omelet pans, grill, and flat top, in addition to serving up soups (lots of Matzo ball today) and fries.

Steve had a pastrami on rye and I had a cheeseburger deluxe. The pastrami smelled delicious and tasted great. The cheeseburger was just ordinary so next time I'll get something from the long sandwich list. The woman next to me had egg salad with bacon that looked wonderful. I was also amazed that there were no checks here. The counterman told us to just tell the cashier what we had and he'd ring us up. The honor system seems alive and well at Eisenberg's. A real throw back.

So since lunch was heavy, we ate light for dinner. I planned to have warm olives, salad, and the Tarte d'Alsace from Trader Joe's for dinner, but it turns out the only thing we wanted was the olives. Those are a favorite of ours. We ate almost all of them up with a demi-loaf of warm French bread. And that was dinner.

Warm Olives
2 cups mixed unpitted olives, drained (although I usually just use a jar of Kalamata)
1/2 cup E.V.O.
3 cloves minimum of garlic, minced (I used five last night because a couple cloves were scrawny)
Orange zest (I usually use one whole orange)
Lemon zest (I usually use one whole lemon, but you can add as much or as little as you'd like of both zests)
6-8 sprigs fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley, or oregano), divided
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 -1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Combine all ingredients (but leave out a few herb sprigs). Place in a baking dish and bake 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven and let sit several hours to meld flavors. Or just dive right in like we do. Cooling, schmooling. Remove charred herbs or stems and replace with fresh sprigs. Reheat just before serving or serve at room temp with bread and goat cheese.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Getting Caught Up

After a week off, I'm getting caught up with blogs. This one in particular caught my taste buds. I think I'll have to try it but counter the fat, cholesterol, and sodium massacre with grilled chicken and leafy green salad the rest of the week.

Laura over at Pinot and Prose has also thrown down a baking request seeing how she doesn't bake. I'm happy to bake anything if it gets me a seat at the table for her next Bacon Fest.

The Mardi Gras season is also coming to a close next week, and I have yet to make my annual King Cake. Must do that this weekend. I think it will be a cream cheese filled cake this time. Luckily, the tiny plastic baby that I hide in the cake didn't get lost in the move. Don't know what I'd do without that pink, plastic, bald baby. Will post recipe and photos when I do. My NYC friends are invited over when the cake is ready. It will be much more than Steve and I can eat.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Maine report

Not much to say about food this week. We've been eating a few noodle-based casseroles, and skipped the lobster this trip.

A couple days ago, we went to Yummie's, a mega candy store. According to Steve's mom, Yummie's has 10,000 pounds of candy on display for sale every day. I liked Yummie's for the retro candies they carry - Charleston Chews, Clark Bars, MallowCups, Chuckles, Dots, Bit-O-Honey, Valomilk, and plenty more. It's quite a store.

Yesterday, we were out and I spied one of the most intresting combo restaurants I've ever seen - Pedro O'Hara's - a Mexican and Irish food restaurant. Hmmmm. Can I get that margarita Irish?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dining on the Fly

Yesterday, Steve and I flew to Maine via JFK on Jet Blue. Neither of us have ever flown JB, and overall, had a fine time. No JB horror stories of being stuck on the tarmac for hours.

After an hour long subway and Air Train ride to get to the airport, we arrived at the bright, white, shiny, and spacious terminal five. Check in was a breeze - I love travelling on weekdays - and we zipped through security. Well, I zipped, Steve had to zag a bit because he left his 4 ounce toothpaste in his carry on so he had to dig that out and throw it away.

After security we suddenly found our selves in a huge, cavernous room that was all about food. After noting the stepped laptop station where users can sit on cushy square pillows, plug in, and utilize the free WiFi, we focused on finding some lunch. The terminal has four sit-down table service restaurants - sushi, Italian, Mexican, and American - and a large food court and market. The food court has the usual fare - pizza & pasta, sandwiches, quick Asian, and burgers - but it tended toward the upscale/trendy side and not the cheap-o mall side. Most of it was made-to-order. There was also a full hot bar that had entrees and sides steaming in chafing dishes. And a large, fresh salad bar. Chips and drinks were "healthy" varieties with lots of whole grains, kettle baked, and Newman's Own products. Not a Frito or Dorito bag in sight. Travel friendly whole fresh fruit - apples, oranges, and bananas - were also available.

We settled on paninis from the Boar's Head counter. Steve had something called "The Godfather" that had about three kinds of Italian meats on it, cheese, roasted red peppers, and pesto. I had a simple ham and provolone with pesto panini. Both were huge and could easily have been split with sides. I also got a perfectly portioned side of red potato salad and a banana.

I was very pleased with the food options. Since airlines aren't feeding passengers anymore, it's good to see that the airports and vendors have quickly jumped on the opportunity to offer more meal choices and higher quality food to travellers.

We also investigated the touch screen food ordering system that is at the gates. Rows of stools and computer screens are set up at bar height and you can click through menu choices. You pay by swiping a credit card and the food is delivered to you. Very interesting.

These touch screens are also how one orders from all the food court vendors. Each vendor has two screens set up under the "order here" sign. Your order is made and then you take your receipt, which the person who made your food gives you and then you go to the central cashier to pay. While I thought the ordering process was interesting, there was clearly not enough people making sandwiches at the Boar's Head counter because we had quite a wait until our paninis were ready.

We also noticed that alcoholic beverages are heavily promoted. The food court had beer and it could be ordered from the touch screen terminals at the gates. Once we were on the plane, JB also has mixers for sale. I could have had a mojito or a cosmo or a margarita if I had wanted one.

If you get to go through terminal five, take a minute to look around at the food. It ain't too bad and pricing is about what you'd expect for the airport.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An Argument Against Airline "Cuisine"

Pulled this link off of Chocolate & Zucchini's twitter feed.

How awful.

NYC food events

In the coming months, I hope to be able to report on several special food events going on here in the gastronomic city.

First, and the only one which I am already committed to attending, is the Village Voice Second Annual Choice Eats event on March 31. This event features tastes from over 50 restaurants from all boroughs (although I don't see any representatives from SI or the Bronx on the restaurant list yet) that the two VV restaurant critic have hand picked as some of the best of the new eateries and "best kept secrets." A ticket to the event gets you tastes from all the restaurants and beer/wine. Pretty sweet deal for only $35.

I'm attending Choice Eats with the usual crowd, which I shall henceforth call, "The Not Timid Eaters Club," or TNTE. In addition to myself, charter members include Donna, Susan K., Susan C., Reka, and Elizabeth. I'm sure we'll have new members join us from time to time - Laura L., Steve, Adrienne, and more. The more the merrier!

Second, I really want to go to Craft on Tuesday and Friday nights. Craft, which you may or may not know, is chef Tom Colicchio's flagship restaurant. In case you don't know who in the world Tom Colicchio is, in addition to being a top chef, he has risen to mainstream awareness via his role as a head judge on Bravo's Top Chef television show. I ate at Craft once in the pre-Top Chef days, but not since. Well, I hope to change that by indulging in a Tuesday night with Tom. Every other Tuesday night, the private dining room at Craft is designated Tom: Tuesday Dinner. For a steep $150 a person, a prix fixe menu of fresh, seasonal food is prepared by Tom himself. There are no choices, you get what he has fresh ingredients for and feels like making that night. This would be a sincere splurge for me to go to but I'd really like to do it once.

But on Friday nights, it's a different story. Craft's private dining room turns into Damon: Frugal Friday. Damon Wise is Colicchio's executive chef. For no more than $10 a plate, the menu offers small, tapas-style dishes that fall into nine categories - snacks, salads, pizzas, food in a jar, meat on a stick, small plates, offal, cheese, and dessert. Reportedly, wine and beer is well selected and priced in line with the low-cost menu. No reservations are accepted for Friday night, so it's a first-come first served situation, which in NYC, can often result in a very long wait time for a table. They open at 5:30 and don't close until midnight. Damon: Frugal Friday is much more my budget and I really love tasting many things rather than having to order just one entree and be stuck with it. Will have to meet Steve after work one Friday night and give this a try. I must credit the February 16 issue of New York Magazine for bringing Frugal Friday to my attention and for some of the information included in this paragraph.

In that same issue, in fact the same article, the Tuesday night dinner at Beer Table is also reviewed. Beer Table is more local - here in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Tuesday dinner at BT is also a prix fixe, three course menu for $25. An additional $15 for beer pairings, which NYM says is "highly recommended." Chef there is Julie Farias, and based on NYM's write-up, I'd call her food refined homey. If your food is being paired with beer, it's gotta be some version of homey, right? And it's gotta be good. Sounds like another place that is well-worth a Tuesday night visit.

Who knows, maybe Tuesday night will become the new hot night of the week for eating out. Steve and I have been eating out (or ordering in) on Friday or Saturday nights, but perhaps a switch is in order, so to speak. Also want to try the established Brooklyn fine dining restaurant, The Grocery, which is just down Smith Street a bit.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Brunch at Char No. 4

Yesterday, Steve and I made a return trip to Char No. 4 for brunch. During my first trip, I enjoyed Char's dinner menu, and the brunch menu was just as meat-heavy and rich.

I mentioned the six-person booths but I didn't mention that the only other seating in the dining room besides the booths are two-tops running along one wall. When we arrived around 10:30-10:45, all the two-tops were full (there are only about six of them), but several booths were empty. I wasn't at all surprised when the hostess said a wait for a two-top would be 20 minutes but we could sit at the bar as the full brunch menu was available there. Now this irks me on one hand but on the other hand it makes sense. The irks comes from the feeling that as a customer, I should be seated if there is a table available. But the sensible thing is to hold booths for larger parties.

But eating at bars has never bothered me, so I gladly sat there rather than wait for a table in the dark back room. We were the first customers who had been relegated to the bar, but by the time we left, almost every bar stool was occupied and all the tables in the back were full.

We skipped the $16 fixed price brunch option (which doesn't include a mimosa or Bloody Mary like so many NYC brunches) and ordered single entrees. I got the cheesy bacon grits with poached egg, and Steve got the special hash of the day which was made from the same meat that they use for the hot beef link. We had an order of thick cut bacon and a biscuit on the side.

We both really enjoyed our food. The grits were wonderful - creamy, cheesy, just the right amount of seasoning, and studded with tiny pieces of delectable bacon. The eggs were sitting on top of the grits in a plain white bowl. Everything was topped with finely chopped scallions.

Steve's hash was delicious and full of flavor. There was a mustard sauce of some sort underneath the hash and it was topped with a poached egg. His was much more savory than my dish but we loved both.

The thick-cut bacon was just the same was what Donna had at dinner sans the black eyed peas. We only ate one strip and brought the other one home which I heated up in a skillet for breakfast this morning. The biscuit is more like a biscuit scone. It was good but not a light and fluffy traditional biscuit. It was served with a yummy apple "jam." It was really less like jam and more like chopped up baked apples with cinnamon and honey. It was hard to top the biscuit with the apples since they only wanted to fall off, but I ate them up with my fork.

Since we were sitting at the bar, we had a front row seat to watch the bartenders make up plenty of bourbon chipotle Bloody Marys for the more daring diners. They tried selling us one, but neither of us were in the mood for anything stronger than coffee. I asked what one drink was as I watched the bartender make it and he said it was a Horse Drawn Carriage. It had a shot of bourbon, pear cider, and lemon. Hmm, might have to try one of those someday.

We really enjoyed breakfast and will certainly go back. Cost was more expensive than the diner, and we didn't even have a brunch-time alcoholic drink, but well worth it. Delicious food a distinctive step away from typical brunch fare.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Homemade mozzarella. I'm totally doing this. Now where am I going to find rennet? Thanks for the link, Susan H.!

Feedback is yummy.

Thanks to everyone who has already written back to me or posted comments about this new blog. Reka pointed me to two new links, which I've added. 101 Cookbooks looks FABULOUS! Caramel Cook looks good, but I noticed he hasn't posted in quite a while.

And in case you haven't already seen this sinful, bacon-concentrated-not-recommended-for-the-living item, Donna sent me the link to The Bacon Explosion. This was a topic of conversation Saturday night at dinner. I think Susan H. should have this at her wedding reception this fall!! Hahahaha!

The baked ziti I made last night was yummy but could have had more sauce and slightly less cheese filling. My large Pyrex baking dish was to the brink of overflowing. The best part is, it made so much that I don't have to cook dinner the rest of the week.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Quest for noodles

I went out today in the snow and accumulating slush on a mission - to find no boil lasagna noodles for the manicotti I'm making for dinner tonight. I went to five different markets and none of them had them. One of them didn't even have lasagna noodles. I'm disappointed, and I know Steve will be too since he requested the manicotti, but we'll have to make do with baked ziti instead. Sigh.

The no boil lasagna noodles are really a great secret to making easy, minimal mess, no ruined manicotti tubes manicotti. You don't have to boil the noodles, but they do need softened up a little bit. Then you take your filling and spread a little on the noodle, roll it up and put it in your prepped baking dish seam side down. It is so easy. Your fingers still get a little cheesy, but it eliminates most of the mess. I learned this little trick in CI.

My trek took me by A Cook's Companion, a kitchen supply store on Atlantic Avenue. (I couldn't find a website for the store.) Steve gave me a gift certificate to CC for Christmas, as well as Silpat. But the Silpat doesn't fit my baking sheets, so I need to exchange it. I took my GC and Silpat with me and wouldn't you know, Tuesday is the only day that CC is closed. Bummer.

Instead, I wandered into Book Court to see what was new there. Lovely bookshop with a resident, literary cat, Francis. He's a handsome and friendly tabby. After an hour of browsing children's, graphic novels, Brooklyn section, new fiction, and cooking, I walked out with two totally unnecessary cookbooks - Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food and Mario Batali's Molto Italiano. I also took a few photos of other books I'd like to get eventually, including a $50 cookbook/homage to Chanterelle. I ate at Chanterelle once. Donna took me there for my birthday. It was one of the most divine dining experiences I've ever had, and consequently, one of the most memorable birthday presents I've ever received. I can't wait for my second visit. I digress. I picked these two because they looked thorough, varied, and contained recipes for dishes that I would like to eat. The recipes are also seemingly straightforward and the ingredients don't look too out of this world to find. Plus, the Alice Waters book was a store bestseller so it was 20% off. The Mario book wasn't labeled as on sale, but rang up about 10% off. I'll take the savings!

Mario's book has three different methods for making gnocci. I love gnocci. The recipe I use now is a very simple and potato based. I've tried one ricotta gnocci recipe that I didn't like. But Mario has another one that I am eager to try. Like souffle, gnocci is a dish I want to perfect.

Now I'm home, drying off, and thinking about heating up some of the left over soup for lunch.

UPDATE 2/10/09: Yesterday, I had a leisurely stroll through Trader Joe's, and what did my wondering eyes behold? Why no-boil lasagna noodles, of course! As many of you know, I have a photographic memory for all products offered by Trader Joe's and there is no way I missed these noodles. I swear they weren't there last week when I was looking for them, which is entirely possible since TJ's is constantly changing their product line. But now I'm glad I know where to get them for only $2.69 a box.

Christmas Cookies in February

Over several weeks, I spent a lot of time gathering ingredients and baking dozens upon dozens of cookies. Since I had little money, I couldn't buy gifts, so I had the intention of sending these cookies out to family as their Christmas present. But things got a little off track. First, it turns out that even though I had enough time and money to make the cookies, I lacked funds to afford shipping on all of them. Second, I got off-track because Kitty got sick. And thirdly, when I did want to mail the cookies, I couldn't find any appropriately sized boxes. That's what I get for looking for boxes two days before Christmas.

So, apologies to all of you who were promised cookies and didn't get them. The cookies are still in my freezer, and after a taste test, appear to still be okay, so I hope to send them out. As you can see, I have more cookies than Steve and I could ever eat.

Contained in this freezer are:
Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies
Chocolate Snowballs (aka Sarah's cookies)
Orange Chocolate Macaroons
Toll House Chocolate Chip
Ginger Snaps

While I was baking, periodically I remembered to take a picture of the progress. Here are a few for you.

Batter for the chocolate snowballs in my workhorse of a mixer.

Peanut butter cookies cooling.

Flour and sugar containers. These are from my grandpa's and according to Mom, her folks used to mix daiquiris in these. Almost an entire bag of flour will fit in one, and easily a whole bag of sugar.

I also love the new kitchen. It has so many cabinets I can have a dedicated baking pantry.

We have since bought a stainless steel island that will double as a dining table when needed. I could have used that surface space when I was baking!

Dinner - Thai-Style Chicken Soup

Last night, I tried out a new recipe, Thai-Style Chicken Soup, from a Cook's Illustrated (Jan/Feb 2007) issue. Usually, we love the CI recipes. They are very well written and the outcome is always delicious. Well, I was a little disappointed in this one.

Sure, this recipe called for lots of yummy coconut milk, cilantro, and lime juice - all things I love - but it was lacking some serious flavor. To make this soup accessible for the home cook, CI tested for the best substitutions for traditional Thai ingredients such as kaffir lime leaves, bird's eye chilies, galangal, and lemon grass. The recipe does include the lemon grass (3 stalks), but eliminates all the others with store-bought red curry paste. I bought the only red curry paste my grocery had, A Taste of Thai. Steve and I have tried the Taste of Thai green curry paste, only to add the entire jar because the directed amount to use was only a whisper of that green curry flavor.

With that in mind, I should have known that the called for two teaspoons of red curry paste would not be enough to satisfy our palates. But I like to prepare a first time recipe exactly as directed and then determine how I would change it to make it better.

So our soup wasn't spicy or flavorful enough. After we ate, we added a bunch more paste and brought it back up to a simmer. Will see how that changed the flavor when I have some for lunch today.

The other thing I didn't like about the recipe is that it has you strain out all the aromatic solids after simmering for 10 minutes. That's the shallots, cilantro, and lemon grass. The only "chunks" in the soup are mushrooms (which you know I don't like) and chicken. I would add some thinly sliced bamboo shoots and red peppers next time. I might also add some sliced ginger to the aromatics.

CI said to serve the soup as just soup, or to pour it over rice. We opted for the rice, which promptly soaked up a majority of the liquid.

I will say this about this recipe - it was one of the easiest and least time consuming ones I've made from Cook's. I think the prep work took more time than the cooking.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars
Needs additions and some tweaking to be the rich, flavorful, satisfying soup that we want it to be. I love lime and this calls for lots of lime, so that is one flavor that came shining through.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dinner at Char No. 4

This past Saturday, I met up with the girls - Donna, Reka, Susan C., Susan K. - for drinks and dinner celebrating Reka's Newbery Honor and other awards. She edited several books that picked up ALA awards last Monday.

Reka is a Brooklyn resident. We live about 10 minutes walk from each other. Since it was her night, she wanted to stay in Brooklyn and wanted to stick to places in the vicinity of Smith Street. Well, lucky me, I live off of Smith Street, so I didn't have to venture far.

We settled on Clover Club for pre-dinner cocktails. For dinner, Char No. 4.

I'll start with Clover Club.

You step into the bar and it's a step back in time. The decor echoes smooth, sexy, stylings of a saloon in turn of the century Paris. One that would have served absinthe to Monet and Renoir. White hexagonal tile on the floor, paned front door, elegant and immense wooden bar, cozy booths, cushy love seats, beamed and aged mirrored ceilings, and a toasty fireplace. Not to mention the cave-dim lighting. The kind of lighting that makes everyone look good. I felt like my art-deco shoes were right in order and the French chanteuse and Louis Armstrong music was right on cue.

We sat in the back where the fireplace was. The cocktail menu is seasonal. Imagine that. Each cocktail is named and lists the half-dozen or so ingredients, many featuring fruits and herbs. Three of my friends had something gin based with muddled mint and cucumber, where I had a Carrea - anejo tequila, pear, pineapple, and jalapeno syrup. It was very very good and not nearly as sweet as I feared. The jalapeno was subtle rather than burn-your-tongue spicy. It added an earthy flavor to the drink. It was simply garnished with two paper thin pear slices. Served in an old fashioned coupe glass for an added touch of elegance and timelessness. I only had one drink, but my friends had two and our bill with tax and tip was a whopping $91. So this place isn't cheap, but it feels oooooh so good. I will definitely come back here to try more of the creative and re-imagined old fashioned drinks as well as sample some items from the appetizer list. No full menu here - just bar snacks. The offer a brunch on the weekends that is supposed to be pretty good.

Then we relocated half a block to Char No. 4. Char is a new place that has opened since I've been in Brooklyn. The exterior is painted a sort of raisin brown and the only thing announcing that it is a bar/restaurant is a brass plaque next to the door. It's easy to walk by it without even noticing it. Oh, but people have noticed. It's been written up in all kinds of NY publications and I'm glad we got to try it. The menu is small and seasonal. The claim to fame for the restaurant is the house cured and smoked meats. It's a sort of upscale, modern barbecue. The claim to fame for the bar is the wall of whiskeys and bourbons. All can be ordered in a one ounce tasting, which range from $2-$100. I'm not even sure if they have a full bar, but they do have some beers and wines as well as the hooch.

When we walked in, we were immediately salivating. The smell in the place is bacon and smoking meat. As Susan said, it's one of those smells that you want to ask your server what it is and to bring you an order of it. We settled into our six-person padded booth, and decided upon the menu. For the table we ordered the following appetizers: crab cakes (the special for the night), crispy cheese curds, and pork nuggets. Donna said, "We are not timid eaters." Pork nuggets - the chicken nugget's black sheep cousin - crispy fried, greasy pork nuggets served with a too-hot-for-me red horseradish sauce. The cheese curds are an upscale version of a fried mozzarella stick. The cheese was relatively tasteless, but they were cooked well - crispy and hot. The crab cakes, however, were splendid. We split them up, so I only had a half, but it was as delicious half. Filled with crab and just enough bread to bind it together, it was served on a layer of delicate, refreshing lemon aoli. Very well done.

For my main course, I ordered the BLT, which isn't your ordinary BLT. The "bacon" is really decadent pork belly which has been FRIED. Yes, it's a coronary on a plate. I didn't know it was going to be fried. The T and L part is actually a sort of warmed grape tomato and micro green salad that is on top of the pork belly. Served with house pickled mini-red bell peppers and onions, it was rich and filling. The bread was no bigger than regular sandwich bread, so it wasn't one of those overstuffed, gross sandwiches, but it was plenty. Washed it all down with a bottle of Samuel Smith's Organic Lager. This was beer food.

Others had: lamb pastrami (not a sandwich, just the meat, thank you), beef link (which was extremely phallic and we shared some immature giggles & remarks at it's expense) with onions and mustard potato salad, greens & squash, and the thick-cut bacon with black-eyed peas. I sampled everything. The lamb was really a standout - tender and flavorful. The bacon was divine - salty, fatty, meaty, and smoky. But not too much smoke so that it inhibited the other flavors from coming through. I was very impressed with the quality of all the meats knowing they were done in house.

We capped off the meal with one bowl of butter pecan ice cream with straight bourbon on it. Being not a bourbon fan, that was a little strong for me, but the ice cream was good.

Service was good. Our waitress seemed to be having as good a time as we were. She ran through every item on the menu with us and added her own comments about which ones were her favorites. Her comments changed what both of the Susan's ordered.

The dining area is in the back, the bar in the front. It was noisy back in the dining area as conversation bounced off the walls. Luckily, there was no music on in the back. It would have been unbearable if music had been on. We didn't hear the music in the bar until we were passing through on our way out. The place was packed by the time we left, which was around 9:30 Saturday night.

All in all, both Clover Club and Char No. 4 were very good and worth a trip back. With both of them a minute walk from my place, I know I'll be back with Steve for brunch (Char also has a brunch) or drinks.