Friday, April 24, 2009

I'm back! Lot's of food tales to tell.

After being preoccupied by a work event for several weeks, delayed by my healing finger, and overcoming all-around laziness, I am back to tell you about my recent adventures in food.

Going all the way back to the end of March was the Second Annual Village Voice Choice Eats event. I went with other members of TNTE club. Basically, this event was packed to the gills with dozens upon dozens of well-reviews NYC restaurants (many of them new and trendy places) offering up sample bites from their menus. Our $35 tickets got us in to sample the wares. It was really fun and I loved trying so many things, but I wonder how well these chafing dish bites really represent the quality of the food. I am guessing the format actually hinders the quality, but it does give one a good sense of flavor and style. My favorite thing was not from a chafing dish. It was a bourbon cupcake from Peaches Market. Don't you love that name? While I didn't really taste much bourbon, I loved the bite-size unfrosted cupcake that was topped with little crunchy bits that may have been peanuts but I'm not sure. I went back for seconds at the end of the night, but they had long run out of them.

Along with the food was dozens of beer, wine, liquor, and beverage vendors offering up generous pours of their inebriators. My favorite sample of the night was from Allagash brewery in Maine. They were pouring their White beer. It was very nice and I now have a four-pack in the fridge. Not sure if I'll do this event next year or not. It was very crowded and it's difficult to eat, hold a drink, and walk around in the crowded aisles. I would do this again, but I'm not clamoring for it.

Easter weekend is the next memorable food thing I can remember. Steve made Challah bread French toast that I topped with fresh berries and syrup. Challah bread really does make the best French toast and the key to getting crispier toast rather than soggy bread is to dry it out in the oven a little bit before battering it. Yum! We followed this with a small ham with a homemade glaze of pineapple juice & chunks, and brown sugar. Turned out very well.

On April 16, Steve and I went to a special screening of Beer Wars. BW is a documentary about the craft brew movement and how craft brewers are competing - or not - with the big guys like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors. At only 90 minutes long, the filmmakers couldn't include every independent brewery out there, so the focus was on Dogfish Head (in Delaware of all places), Stone (representing the SD!), New Belgium (Fat Tire), Boston Brewery (Sam Adams), and a one-woman operation called Moon Shot. I liked the behind-the-scenes of the beer industry and some of the facts about consumers, practices, and the amount of money going into promotion of beers was astonishing. But it was an extremely biased and one-sided picture of the "beer wars." It's a classic David versus Goliath story. And you do pull for the little guys while watching the film. When it was over and we were walking to the subway, Steve said, "I feel dirty for ever drinking an Anheuser-Busch beer." I like craft beers and independent breweries - Shiner being my absolute favorite, of course - so that's what I will continue to buy and drink. But I'll admit that once in a blue moon, an ice-cold Budweiser is all I want. It's the junk food of beer - familiar and easy to drink. Right now, our fridge is stocked with independent brews - Green Flash, Shiner, Allagash, Stone, and Sam. Supporting the indepentent brewers is the same as supporting local and independent businesses in any industry. Whether it's your local bookstore rather than Barnes & Noble or Amazon, the mom & pop hardware store instead of Home Depot, farmers markets and butcher shops rather than Kroger.

Anyway, the screening was followed by a somewhat awkward live panel discussion with the filmmaker, some of the key players from the film, and hosted by Ben Stein. It was interesting but I started to get a little sleepy. The live panel was in LA but the feed was sent to theaters around the country that were participating in this one time screening. I really liked seeing a live event that way. Before the movie started, instead of the usual movie theater ads, trivia question and facts, they had custom Beer Wars "ads" and "beertoids" and quizzes. That was very clever and we liked it.

Last Saturday, it was chicken enchiladas. I got the Cook's Illustrated Best Light Recipes cookbook recently, and I've made two things from it so far. The enchiladas and chicken Piccata. The Piccata was a surprise for Steve as it is one of his favorite dishes. Both turned out really well and it's hard to believe they were light versions of classic dishes. They tasted great. The enchiladas were lightened by using low-fat cheese - and less of it - and all breast meat instead of thighs. To compare the "classic" version to the light version, the cookbook included a comparison box:

Serving size 2 enchiladas
Calories: 580
Cholesterol: 110 mg
Fat: 34 g
Saturated fat: 18 g

Calories: 350
Cholesterol: 65 mg
Fat: 10 g
Saturated fat: 4.5 g

I can't wait for us to get a grill because this book is full of great grilling recipes and ideas. My recent issue of Bon Appetit also has a recipe for grilled romaine lettuce wedges that I'm dying to try.

So the grill. Yes, we have shopped and know what we want - an $80 charcoal Weber - but we are waiting for our landlord to finish our roof deck before we buy it. It's killing me to have to wait.

This weekend is going to be warm. I'm so not thrilled. But to help us stay cool, I made some lime Italian ice this afternoon. Italian ice is so simple I feel stupid for never making it before I found a recipe for it.

Italian Ice
adapted from Desserts by the Yard's Lemon Italian Ice

Serves 6

2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons zest
1 cup fresh juice (strained or not)
6 6-ounce Dixie paper cups or ramekins

1. Combine sugar and water in saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
2. Stir in zest and juice and pour into cups or ramekins. Freeze until solid.

Ta-dah. That is so easy.

I like lime for this recipe but any citrus would work - orange, lemon, lime, sweet grapefruit - or combination of those. I'd like to try a lemon-lime or a lime with tequila and a hint of Serrano pepper. I strained the juice today, but I've used unstrained juice before and it turns out fine as well. All the pulp will float to the top of the cup but it doesn't do anything to affect the taste or enjoyment.

Well, I think I got you all caught up. Hopefully, I won't be gone for so long. Keep eating out there!


  1. If you have not tried it find some Shiner 100...great anniversary brew from Spoetzl.

  2. If you guys are interested in beers, I can't recommend Ginger Man enough - I believe it's on 36th Ave. between Madison and 5th (check the website). It's sublime on a Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. Get the Dogfish Head or one of the hundreds of other beers they have available.

  3. Anon, I received a six-pack of Shiner 100 for my birthday from my brother down in Georgia. Can't find it up here in NYC. Love the 100 brew - smooth and rich but easy to drink.

  4. And Laura,

    Ginger Man is on my radar but we haven't made it there yet. Someday soon I hope . . .