Monday, March 30, 2009

It's called pound cake because you gain at least a pound eating it

I made a pound cake yesterday. This pound cake, to be exact. It was fabulous. (The picture above is not the cake I actually made, but mine looked just like this.)

If you look though the ingredients, you'll quickly understand why it was fabulous:
-six eggs
-3 cups of sugar
-one brick of cream cheese
-3 (!!!) sticks of butter

Did your thighs suddenly gain a pound just by reading that? Mine did.

I did adapt the recipe just a little bit. Because Steve and I love lemon pound cake, I added the juice of half a large lemon and the zest of the entire lemon to the batter. I also reduced the vanilla to only one teaspoon and left out the almond extract because, well, I don't have any. This made the cake subtly lemon. Next time, I'll add the juice of the entire lemon along with the zest for more lemon flavor. I'd also like to make the strawberry coulis next time and add some fresh mint to it.

The recipe writer also recommends only using Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese. I used Trader Joe's and I probably couldn't tell you the difference. I don't think this is a recipe where I could use less fat - the cake needs the moisture and richness provided by the fat and eggs.

The hallmark of pound cake is the crusty, cracked top and this recipe produced that beautifully. In fact, it's my favorite part of the cake. I also must take this moment to give a shout of thanks to the person at PAM cooking sprays that thought up the spray made especially for baking. They are a genius. It's a dream spray. I used it instead of buttering and flouring the bundt pan. It's much easier, less messy, and it's never let me down. Nothing sticks to this stuff. I know baking purists will give me a hard time for using this stuff, but I really like it and see no reason why I shouldn't use it. It also smells like cake batter. Yum.

I cut the cake in half - it makes a huge amount for just the two of us - and put one half in the freezer, tightly wrapped in three layers of Saran wrap and one layer of foil. I can't wait to have a reason to thaw it out!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

That curiously named dish, the quiche

A week or so ago, quiche was somehow mentioned on tv, an article, or maybe it even came up in our conversation. I'm not really sure. But Steve thought a quiche would be a nice change of pace and I agreed. I haven't made a quiche since . . . um, ever. But it couldn't be that hard since it's basically an egg pie. Which is my new name for quiche - egg pie.

I looked up quiche in my bright shiny green copy of The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh. Two recipes were offered - one for quiche with caraway and leeks (hey! I actually have both of those ingredients!) and one with chiles, bacon, and green onion (and double hey! I have two out of three of these!). I let Steve pick which one to make. Guess which one he went for?

Yes, the one with the bacon, of course.

The recipe in the cookbooks says to cut corners by using a frozen or refrigerated pie crust. Since I have a very good pie crust recipe, I went ahead an made my own. I did eliminate just a bit of the sugar so it wasn't too sweet for this savory pie. I skipped all the instructions regarding the crust except for the par-baking for five minutes.

The rest of the recipe I made as directed and it turned out really well. I could have used a little bit more spice as the green chiles were even more mild than usual it seemed. Next time I might add a bit of chili powder or cayenne.

Bacon and green chile quiche
From The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh

6 servings (or eight in our case)

1 refrigerated pie crust, room temp
8 bacon slices
1 4-ounce can diced green chiles, drained
4 green onions, chopped
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups half and half (or milk, as I used)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Unfold crust. Using fingertips, press together any tears. Press crust into 9-inch-diameter deep-dish glass pie dish. (My dish isn't a deep dish, but all of the filling just barely fit.) Press foil onto crust to hold shape. Bake five minutes. Remove from oven; remove foil. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat (or microwave, like I did) until brown and crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. (After it cools) crumble bacon. Sprinkle bacon, then chiles and green onions over crust. Mix Monterey Jack cheese and cheddar cheese and sprinkle over. Whisk eggs, half and half, and salt in medium bowl to blend; pour mixture into crust.

Bake quiche until knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let quiche stand (to set) about five minutes. Cut quiche into wedges and serve.

This is not written to be a low-fat recipe but it could easily be adapted so some of the fat is cut out. Such as using milk rather than half and half, low fat cheese (which I usually don't like but I bet it would work in this), and microwaving the bacon. The pie crust also has quite a bit of butter, but when it comes to pie crust, I think the butter needs to stay. Many quiches are crust-free, so this may also work without it.

Enjoy your egg pie!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bonny Doon Vineyard - My latest shipment has arrived!

I'm a member of the Bonny Doon DEWN wine club. A week or so ago, I received a new DEWN shipment. I love BD wines because they are relatively affordable, extremely drinkable, and feature grapes that are not highly produced here in the US making them different. This is not a vineyard that does your typical California Chard or Cab Sav.

For the past couple years, BD has produced a label called Ca' Del Solo Estate Vineyard. According to the label on the bottle, "Ca' del Solo is the frontier outpost of Bonny Doon Vineyard and the moniker of our Monterey County farm on the outskirts of Soledad. We are dedicated to producing wines with a particular emphasis on the expression of terroir, or unique sense of place. We farm our Ca' del Solo Vineyard using Biodynamic practice, with the intent of restoring vital life-forces to our soil and respecting the farm as a complex and self sustaining organism."

Okay, so that's all sort of touchy-feely, but all that touchy-feely-ness results in very nice wines. I love the Albarino that is produced by the Ca' del Solo Vineyard and look forward to receiving my bottle every year. To my delight, my last DEWN shipment contained the 2008 Albarino, and I promptly popped it in the fridge to chill.

Sorry for the blurry photo of my *empty* bottle.

Another thing that makes BD a unique wine producer is that BD also lists the ingredients used to make their Biodynamic wines. Anything that comes into contact with the wine is included in the ingredients. For example, my bottle of 2008 Albarino says, "Ingredients: Biodynamic grapes and sulfur dioxide. In the winemaking process, the following were utilized: indigenous yeast, organic yeast nutrient and bentonite. At the time of bottling, this product contained: 65 ppm total SO2, 20 ppm free SO2." Next time you have a bottle of wine in front of you, check the label for ingredients. You won't find one. Most wines have additives that are supposed to enhance freshness and flavor, but they are never spelled out on the bottle label. It's good to know what you're drinking.

After a proper chilling, I unscrewed the cap (Bonny Doon mostly uses screw caps rather than corks, making them easier and quicker to open and hence, making it quicker to be drinking them), and poured a taste. Yum! Since my wine palate is still learning, I'll quote the label, "This Albarino expresses a beautifully crystalline mineral aspect, great persistence on the palate and a bracingly crisp grapefruit, yuzu and tangerine dream." Whatever. All I know is that it tasted great. Sure I got some sort of fruit flavor, and yes, it was crisp and clean, but yuzu? Mineral? I'm still working to sort those flavors out on my tongue. Who writes wine bottle labels anyway?

So, if you can find them, I highly recommend the Ca' Del Solo Estate Vineyard bottles. I've only had the Albarino and the Muscat (a sweet, but not potently so, white), and for reds the Dolcetto and Nebbiolo.

Since I know at least two readers of this blog, I should also point out that BD now ships to Georgia . . .

Monday, March 23, 2009

Got Carbs?

I was getting caught up on all the food blogs I read, and I copied several recipes for future use. When I finished, I looked over the list of recipes and I noticed that all the recipes shared one thing in common - they were all carbs. Hmmm, it doesn't take a genius to know that I love carbs. Carbs, carbs, and more carbs. I love 'em!

Here are the recipes I copied:

Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Galette
Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Cream Scones
Migas - actually this doesn't qualify as a carb heavy dish. Ha!
Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Cornbread
Ginger, Lemongrass, and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Peppery Fast Feuilletee Rolls
Maple Pecan Ice Cream
Soft Pretzels

See what I mean? Sweets and breads. My two favorite things. Well, those and bacon. And milk. And cheese. Oh, this could go on.

And no wonder. Carbs come in all shapes, sizes, flavors, varieties, and are "happy" foods. They go with everything and range from easy to make to involved. Sweet or savory carbs are great.

A no carb diet would be my idea of torture. "No I won't tell you anything! Wait, you're going to deny me carbs? Nooooooo! I'll talk, I'll talk!" Besides, a no carb diet is impossible and not healthy. You could avoid carbs by eating eggs and bacon all the time, but then the cholesterol would kill you.

So as I look over this new list of acquired recipes, I know I'll have to make all of those over a good stretch of time. Too much of a good thing can also lead to an overdose.

I'll let you know what I make first. I have suspicion it will be biscuits since I have some leftover buttermilk in the fridge . . .

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Brunch at Char No. 4, revisit

This morning, I met with Susan K. and Reka at Char No. 4 for brunch. Steve and I have been to Char a couple times for the morning meal, but Reka and Susan have only had the pleasure of dinner there. It was high time that they also experienced brunch and the (in)famous bacon cheddar grits that I adore.

Char fills up around 11AM, so we were sure to get there before that in order to secure a booth. Only parties more than two will get seated at booths, and there are only about six booths, so be prepared to wait for one. Char has a patio out back, but until the weather turns warmer, it's still closed.

It was hard to give up the grits this morning but I wanted to try something else. Besides, I knew Steve was going to get them and Susan was getting a side order of them, and I knew I wouldn't go without them!

I tried the biscuit with sausage gravy, house-made sage sausage, and sunny-side up egg. Yeah, it's pretty heave on the fat. And the cholesterol. And the sodium, no doubt, but it was also heavy on flavor. Delicious, savory flavor.

The biscuits at Char are one of my least favorite things because I think they could do them better, but coated with gravy and an egg, the biscuit passed muster for me. The sausage was subtly sage-y and even thought it didn't have the consistency of a breakfast link, it was quite fine.

Reka tried Char's take on eggs Benedict, but as it was made with the same sausage gravy as I had, she missed the classic tang of Hollandaise. The smoked ham was very good.

Susan K. had the buttermilk pancakes which were obviously made with a ton of butter, or at least griddled generously in it. They outside edge of pancakes was the best part - crispy toasty.

We ordered sides of aforementioned grits, bacon, and roasted potatoes. The potatoes were new to me, and I quite loved them. They were flavorful and cut small enough so that the entire outside could crisp up. I'm not always a fan of home fries, but these were some of the best I've had.

I love that Char is so close to home. It's a real gem of a place that consistently serves quality, careful, decedent, and pleasing food. I've been there half a dozen times now and I'm never disappointed.

Except with the coffee. We don't care for the coffee. It's a little strong and always tastes just a little burned.

Other than that, this place is stellar and I love eating here. Figures - it's owned by a Texan!

A new week night recipe

On Saturday, I tried a new recipe from my April 2009 issue of Bon Appetit - Tagliatelle with baby vegetables and lemon-Parmesan sauce. Ooh, we really liked this.

The ingredients are pretty basic - pasta, veggies, cheese. How can you go wrong? Not at all, apparently. I loved this because it was so fresh tasting, simple, and satisfying. The prep time is minimal - I could get most of the prep work done while the pasta was cooking.

Here are my notes on the recipe:

"1 8.8-ounce package of egg & spinach tagliatelle blend or egg fettuccine" - I used Trader Joe's Lemon & Pepper pappardelle instead and I loved the results. The extra lemon and pepper just intensified the flavors in a good way.

"8 ounces baby zucchini, trimmed, halved lengthwise" - I cut mine again for even thinner slices

"8 ounces frozen tiny green beans (3 cups), thawed" - or not thawed as I did and it still turned out fine, but I added the beans when I started cooking the other veggies

"Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and zucchini" - and frozen beans if you didn't have time to thaw them

"Saute until zucchini is tender, about 8 minutes." - Okay, so we found we wanted more salt and kept adding it. The zucchini also didn't cook to a tenderness we liked in 8 minutes, despite having sliced them thinner than directed. So you'll have to salt and figure out the zucchini as you go so it's what you like.

Despite the cream, this is a very light dinner. We really liked this and will certainly make it again.

St. Patrick's Day feast

I had been looking forward to our St. Patrick's Day dinner for a couple weeks before the holiday actually rolled around. Here is what we had on the menu:

Soda bread with golden raisins and caraway
Colcannon soup
Irish bangers and mash

I took care of the bread and the soup in the morning. The bread is really the easiest thing I've ever baked. Even easier than those salted chocolate & cranberry cookies. Basically, all the wet ingredients get combined. All the dry ingredients get combined. Then add the wet to the dry. Then stir in the raisins and caraway. Pour the whole thing into a greased oven-safe skillet, and voila, 35 minutes later, delicious soda bread. No chopping, no dicing, no fussy directions to follow, just some simple measuring of basic ingredients. Easy peasy.

The soup is also easy if you cut a few prep corners like I did - ahem, thank you Trader Joe's for shredded cabbage and trimmed leeks. I first made colcannon last year for the Harcourt Pot-Luck-O-the-Irish lunch. It's also the only time I've made it until this year. It's a good soup - cabbage, onions, rendered bacon fat, potatoes, a dash of cream, chicken broth, and leeks.

The bangers we bought at Paisanos meat market. They carry all sorts of craft made sausages - bangers, Chorizo, Italian, venison, turkey, and more. Steve browned up the links and then used the drippings to make the gravy, which only improved a day later.

We had a really nice dinner both that night and the next. Hope all of you had something good too. Alas, no pictures. Sorry.

Roast chicken smells yummy

Tonight, Steve is cooking. He is making a roast chicken. I love roast chicken that has been packed full of butter, herbs, lemon, and garlic. We are having this with salad, green beans, and rice.

Here is the picture story of making the chicken.

Steve butchering the chicken, which we bought at Paisanos this morning.

Chicken waiting next to bowl of deliciousness - lemon zest, rosemary, garlic, butter.

Mixing up said deliciousness so it can be stuffed under the skin.

Stuffing the butter mix between the meat and the skin.

Ah, it's all done and oh so pretty.

The finished masterpiece of a dinner.

Dinner at Apartment 138

Apartment 138 is another restaurant along Smith Street here in Brooklyn. Steve and I had dinner here once a few months ago, and we repeated this past Friday with Susan K.

Apt. 138 is a good neighborhood, crowd-pleasing place with good solid food that satisfies the taste buds. On our previous visit, we split the chicken fried steak and a salad. Both were good but we seemed to remember that the steak needed more seasoning. This time, Susan K. got the crab burger. I had a Mozzarella, roast peppers, basil, and balsamic drizzle panini. And Steve had grilled steak with Cheddar, onions, and garlic mayo panini. All our sandwiches came with skin-on crunchy fries and a tiny green salad with a mustard-sweet onion dressing. From what we ordered, you would think this is a very casual, low production kind of place. It isn't really. It is a casual place but it's dressed up nicely with candlelight, brick walls, cozy tables, and a bustling bar in the front. There is also a patio for when the weather warms up.

We like Apt. 138 as a stand-by place to go to when nothing quite sounds right because the menu here is varied enough that something is sure to please.

The other attractive thing about Apt. is the pricing - it's on the low end! We've never had dessert since we've usually been too full. We also haven't tried it for brunch but I bet they do that well.

Kicked in the head by a Moscow Mule

So I was rushing off with warm batches of salted chocolate and cranberry cookies to meet Reka and Laura for the book event at Idlewild Books starring Orangette herself, Molly Wizenberg. Unfortunately, the book event turned out to be a zoo (RSVPs and spotty emails from the bookstore were involved), so while we would have loved to purchased Molly's new book, we decided drinking yummy, potent, and old-fashioned cocktails at the Flatiron Lounge was more fun. (Sorry, Molly. I'm sure all three of us will still purchase your book because we do love to read your writing.)

Reka told me that Flatiron Lounge is the sister bar to Clover Club in Brooklyn. I visited Clover Club a while back and loved it. We had a grand time sipping (or chugging) on cocktails. I stuck with Moscow Mules - vodka, ginger beer, and lime. It came garnished with a perfectly sliced round of lime and a chunk of candied ginger. By the time we decided we should probably get some food, things were feeling pretty good.

I loved the Flatiron Lounge for it's speakeasy vibe. The bartenders have an array of beautiful syrups, garnishes, and mixers at their fingertips that no home bar can possibly have. It did get loud and busy but the atmosphere was jazz cool the whole time.

We attempted to dine at Shake Shack since big greasy burgers sounded perfect but we got there right when they were closing so we weren't allowed on line. We detoured down to Metro Cafe for burgers. Good burgers that were actually cooked the way we requested them. A rarity that is.

I finally rolled home around 11 perfectly sated and buzzed.

Salted Chocolate & Cranberry Cookies

My friend Laura doesn't bake. Despite the fact that she is going to be going to culinary school later this year, baking is not her thing. That's okay because I can help her out. In order to get baked goods, she will post item on her blog and challenge one of her baking friends to make it for her with the promise of something delicious in return.

She posted a call for salted chocolate & cranberry cookies, and I answered. Thanks to her stubbornness to bake, I now have a delightful and scrumptious easy cookie recipe, and a promise of a meal at Chez Laura, home of Bacon Fest. (Little does Laura know how easy these cookies are to make! Hahaha!)

I sort of made these in a rush, and didn't have time to take picture of them before wrapping them up still warm and running out the door to meet Laura and Reka (see next post).

But Laura took a picture and posted on her blog as well as a link to the recipe should you want to make them for yourself. They are wonderful sweet & salty cookies that have just the right about of crisp on the outside of the chewy inside. Delish! And so easy.

Dinner at Buttermilk Channel

I bet you were wondering if I was ever going to update this again. The answer is yes. Sorry for the hiatus - it was a busy week.

But this week brought lots of yummy food that I want to tell you about. I'm afraid this will be long, Alex, but hopefully your eyeballs can handle reading this much. I will break the week up into individual posts.

Last Saturday, I met up with TNTE club at Buttermilk Channel. After a false start a couple weeks ago, we finally made it here to try out the chicken and waffles. Buttermilk is on the south end of Court Street in a lovely corner space with bright clean windows. Decor is minimalist in the homey way not the modern. One whole wall is exposed brick and the back wall is dominated by a HUGE framed mirror. Tables were covered in white linens and then topped with paper. Our table was the family table in the middle of the room and was without linens. The family table will seat up to about 12 or several smaller parties. We were a party of seven and a family of three was later seated at the end of the table. I loved the feel of the place.

The food, however, wasn't as good as we had anticipated. It was all done well and tasted good, but seemed to be lacking that "oh wow" factor that makes you want to come back to a place for a second meal. I don't think the fried chicken could have been cooked any better - it was crispy and juicy - but it lacked flavor. The batter had no seasoning, not even much salt. A little bland. It was served with an excellent maple syrup reduction that was good with the chicken but made it messy to eat with hands. The cheddar waffle that came with the chicken (1/4 of a whole round waffle) was also nice and crisp but didn't really make me want more. We also had an order of braised short ribs, and these proved to be excellent. We also liked several of the appetizers - bacon & maple roasted almonds, goat cheese & sweet potato croquettes, squash & ricotta tart (this was my favorite item of the night), and spice-rubbed baby back ribs. I actually think these small bites and appetizers were the strong point of the menu. I would go back for a tapas-style dinner, but I would probably skip an entree. Dessert was okay but I would skip it next time. Overall, Buttermilk Channel is good but you have to want to go there as it is not close as other places and it is somewhat on the pricey end of the spectrum. I do like that they use many local suppliers for sausages, bacon, cheese, etc.

I'll continue the rest of the week in the next post.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We've been tired

So it's been a while since I wrote. Sorry, readers, I was feeling rather unenthusiastic last week and blogging was just too much effort. Hope all of you are doing well.

We started last week strong with the winter squash & apple bisque and the braised short ribs, but then it all went downhill. Not sure why. Even though I shop with a list, I missed ingredients, had to go to about five different stores, and things just didn't gel at all. I don't even remember what we ended up eating the rest of the week. I know we ordered in two nights this weekend, which has never happened before.

On Sunday night, we were dangerously close to ordering in again, but we have a deli drawer full of cheese and left over pancetta so I said I would whip up a souffle. I would say 99% of the time I always have the ingredients for a cheese souffle on hand. Of course, this past Sunday, we were out of eggs and milk. After a quick jaunt down to the grocery store, I was able to put together another delicious souffle. This time I used 2/3 cup of cheddar and 1/3 cup jack. The jack made the whole thing creamier, although it didn't really add any flavor. We had salad and roll with it and Steve took the leftovers to work today for lunch.

I hope I'm back on track this week. I'm off to a good start with the souffle and the beef pasties last night. They were outstanding. These were supposed to be on the menu last week. Wow, I'm glad I made them. Steve was delighted with them, too. However, I know next time that this is really a two-day recipe or I at least need to start earlier in the day. I knew it was going to be an involved and time consuming recipe when I started, and that would be fine for a weekend dinner, but for a weekday it was just too much. But the results! Oh my.

The crust was full of fat - shortening AND butter - but that made it extremely easy to work with and baked up nice and flaky. We did get a little nutrition from the crust as it's made with two cups of whole wheat flour. Ahem.

The filling - thinly sliced skirt steak, caramelized onions with white wine & thyme, and blue cheese - was easy enough to do and tasted great. I went to Stinky Bklyn to get the cheese because I needed a real cheese person to recommend a blue cheese for a non-blue cheese eater (Steve). They did me no wrong and suggested a Spanish cow milk blue called La Peral. It is rather salty (I didn't add any salt that the recipe called for) and oh so creamy, but it's flavor is more mild than other blues.

So after putting all the parts together in what turned out to be large empenada-looking half-moons,they baked and we had one fantastic dinner. Served with mashed spuds and salad. Again, I neglected to take pictures. We are having them for dinner again tonight.

The rest of the week is going to be easy food, but I am going to make the potato pizza that was also supposed to be done last week. I think that sounds really good.

A few weeks ago, Donna sent me a link for all the "best" wine bars in Manhattan. This is useful information for all of the NYC winos, but I need one for Brooklyn. I like my neighborhood wine store, Smith & Vine - Stinky's sister store - but have yet to find a nearby wine bar. In all honesty, I haven't been looking for a wine bar, but I wouldn't mind having one to visit regularly as I did with Wine Steals in San Diego. Ahh, Wine Steals happy hours with Roseleigh. Pardon the reminisce.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Braised Short Ribs in Beer

Man, this was a good recipe. High off the braised short ribs at Chestnut, we had our home version yesterday (and leftovers will be dinner tonight, pushing all the other planned dinners back one day). Since we loved the pureed rutabega at Chestnut, we decided to have pureed turnips instead of rutabega or mashed potatoes.

While our recipe didn't use the same flavors the Chestnut dish had, it still used the same technique. Braising is so easy, I'm not sure why we don't do it more at home during the winter.

We picked up about two and a half pounds of short ribs at the local butcher. I asked him to cut those into three-inch pieces, give or take. As I prepped the veggies - carrots, onion, garlic, turnips - Steve browned the ribs. After everything was together the way it was supposed to be, we decided it needed more beer. Beer is the only liquid added to this braise. There is some liquid from the crushed tomatoes and veggies, but not much. When in doubt, add more beer. The reason why we added more was because the liquid level should come up about half-way on the meat.

The only sort of snag we ran into was determining what pot was big enough to hold everything and oven safe. A piece I'm missing is a cast iron dutch oven, or something similar that has a lid and can go in the oven. We decided to use the All-Clad stock pot. Not ideal, but it certainly did the job just fine.

After three hours, we had fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth meat with tons of flavor. We removed the turnips around the half-way point, and I set those aside to puree with melted butter, salt, pepper, and a touch of half-and-half later.

Dinner was delicious last night and I expect the flavors to be even more developed tonight. I really must remember to take a picture of the finished dish for these blog entries. Usually, by the time the food is ready, we are ready to dig in and I completely forget about grabbing the camera. I'll try to remember to get a pic of our leftovers tonight.

Dinner at Chestnut

Another weekend, another lovely meal with friends, AKA The Not Timid Eaters Club (TNTE). Again, staying close to (my) home, we hit up a boite on Smith Street called Chestnut. Originally, we were supposed to go to Buttermilk Channel, buuuuut things didn't work out quite as planned for our group of six - the earliest reservation we could get was at 10:30PM! So we decided to put chicken & waffles on hold, and choose another place.

I came up with Chestnut because it came up when I did a Google search for "Smith Street Brooklyn restaurants." It popped up as one on a long list, but I thought it sounded vaguely familiar. Ah, yes, it is a recipient of the Snail of Approval from Slow Food NYC.

What's Slow Food, you ask? Slow Food is a national non-profit organization that "counteracts fast food and fast life," and it "stand[s] against the disappearance of local food traditions and people's dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." The Snail of Approval is bestowed upon a restaurant/bar/food store if it deemed that their food is "good, clean, and fair," or "contribute to the quality, authenticity, and sustainability of the food we eat and beverages we drink in the City of New York."

Okay, so back to Chestnut.

Chestnut was able to seat us after the manager called me back and said, "I was able to move a few things around." Steve and I arrived first and we enjoyed the warmth and ambiance of the cozy front bar. Chestnut has a luxury that most restaurants along Smith do not have - they have a double storefront instead of a single shotgun space. The bar is completely separated from the dining room which greatly helps reduce dining room noise and crowding. The bar was decked out in exposed brink, reclaimed timber, a counter to ceiling wall of booze (complete with a library-style track ladder so bartenders can reach the upper shelves), and topped off with a punched tin ceiling. The highlight of the room is the chandelier, which appeared to be sculpted in a free form out of thin copper tubing. The light bulbs were cradled in flea-market punch bowl set cups. We had a glass of Brother Thelonious beer and nibbled on complimentary homemade caramel kettle corn. So far, things were off to a good start.

Compared to the bar area, the dining room is very plain, but still warm. One wall had a large wooden sideboard and hutch, which was used as the waiters' station. Closed kitchen in the back. Creamy walls, exposed beams along the width of the ceiling (surely reclaimed from somewhere), and bright green water bottles on the tables. There are no booths, only two-top tables that can be maneuvered to make larger tables, and a few round table that looked to seat up to four. The sconces along the wall were made out of epoxy and chicken wire in the wave pattern of corrugated metal.

After we were seated, we spent a long time making menu choices. Our waiter interrupted us once to go over the menu and tell us about a few changes. Since the kitchen depends on fresh, seasonal ingredients, I wasn't surprised that some menu items were slightly altered to accommodate what food could be purchased that day. For instance, one of the fish choices was different. Here is what the group settled on:

Foie gras torchon, brioche & port sour cherries
Braised greens
Duck confit rolls
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Striped bass, white beans (not sure what kind they were), wilted greens
Grouper with saffron
Hangar steak, fingerling potatoes, valdeon & red wine
Braised short rib with puree of rutabaga
Chicken breast, sausage filling & potato gallette
Squash ravioli with ricotta salata
House made mint chocolate chip ice cream
Chocolate & peanut butter something (anyone from the crew remember what the name was?)
Churros with Mexican hot chocolate
Chai tea something with cardamon and pistachio ice cream (again, what was this called exactly?)

There were six of us. We shared most of the appetizers, sides, and desserts. The entrees were our own but we shared tastes with everyone. I think it was an almost unanimous decision that Donna's entree - the braised short rib - was the best dish of the night. I had the ravioli, which was also wonderful and so different from other raviolis I've had. I don't think I've ever had ricotta salata and it was interesting. By itself, I didn't like it very much. But mixed with the ravioli, it was quite tasty and the flavors mingled nicely. I managed a dark photo of my ravioli, but my phone isn't sending out photos for some reason, so I'll get it added to this post when my phone calms down. The only thing I didn't get a taste of was the grouper. But from the clean plates all around the table, I'd say it was probably good.

We did notice a few things that might have been a little overcooked - the chicken, the bass, the soda bread that was brought out before our food arrived. But the meats, pasta, greens, and desserts were all cooked/prepared to perfection.

In addition to the braised short rib, another highlight of the meal was the foie gras. At least the four of us who adore foie gras thought so. The portion of foie gras was very generous for the price ($16) and the presentation beautiful and simple. We actually had two orders of the foie gras. I loved eating it with my hands on the crispy brioche. The foie gras was buttery, velvety, and complemented with the sour cherry topping. I don't even like cherries.

The other appetizer we tried, the duck confit rolls, was also very good. Essentially, they were a duck confit spring roll. The cabbage in the roll actually had flavor and the duck was moist, shredded, and duck-y tasting. I love the duck balanced with the light Asian flavor. The sauce was also divine as it was a sweet plum sauce with sesame. Yum!

My last top pick for the meal was the mint chocolate chip ice cream. Wow. Infused with fresh mint - no extract here! - it was the perfect palate cleanser for this oily (I had a lot of olive oil during the meal), flavorful, rich meal. Two other ice creams were offered that night - chocolate and chocolate hazelnut -, but all six of us only wanted to taste the mint. The chocolate chips were hand chipped from good quality chocolate and the base ice cream was smooth and sweet. I said it was a sweet mint. Two people though the fresh mint tasted too grassy but the rest of us thought it was to die for. I loved it and I'll try making my own with fresh mint. I just wonder how much mint was used to get that flavor. I'll have to experiment, oh darn.

Everything was quite good. Steve and I definitely want to return. Our waiter told us that on Tuesday and Thursday nights, you can order three courses for $30-35. The most expensive entree item was $27, so if you can have that, an app, and a dessert for $35, it's a bargain. There is also a chef's tasting menu for $60, which might be interesting to try sometime. They also have a brunch menu that looks just as good as the dinner menu.

I was glad things worked out the way they did and we found ourselves at Chestnut for a thoroughly enjoyable and scrumptious meal.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dinner menu for the week

I received my first issue of Bon Appetit this month (March). It was a Christmas present from Steve's parents. I poured over it yesterday, and it had features on three of my favorite foods - cheese, potatoes, and caramel! There are so many delicious recipes crammed into this issue that it's hard to choose what to make first. I find that recipes are like books - there are so many good ones that I'll never get to all of them.

But I've made a few choices, and put together the menu for the week provided that I am able to get all the fresh ingredients I need:

Sunday - braised beef short ribs in beer
Monday - Winter squash and apple bisque (vegetarian)
Tuesday - Beef pasties with caramelized onions and Stilton cheese
Wednesday - Pizza with Fontina, potatoes, and tapenade (vegetarian)
Thursday - left overs
Friday - Potato-wrapped halibut with sauteed spinach
Saturday - eat out, whew!

I haven't decided what sides will accompany each dish (except for Friday) yet. The braised short ribs and the bisque are from William-Sonoma's Soup & Stew cookbook, and all others are in the March BA issue.

We are going to go out in a little bit to get our short ribs and other ingredients for tonight and tomorrow. I'll do the rest of the shopping on Tuesday when it's not as hectic and crowded. This menu will also require visits to the local butcher and fish market, both of which I love going to. (Except the butcher shop has that raw meat, bloody smell which I don't really like.) After I wrote the menu and really looked at it, I realized that almost every dish this week has potatoes in it or can be nicely accompanied by mashed potatoes or potato gratin. Did I mention that I love potatoes? Yukon golds especially.

Speaking of potatoes, for St. Patrick's Day, I already know I'm going to make caraway soda bread (Amanda's recipe) and potato & leek based Colcannon soup. The last time I had both the soda bread and soup was at Harcourt during our children's marketing hosted St. Pat's pot-luck-O'the-Irish lunch. Children's marketing could be depended on to host/organize holiday events for the company. Sigh.

Therefor, I didn't want to make a potato based soup this week, even though it would have completed the theme of the week. We also have an Irish pub right around the corner from us, Ceol, and I suspect we may pop in the week of St. Pat's for some bangers & mash or Shephard's pie and a pint of Guinness.