Ice Cream Circa the 80s

July 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

Ask almost anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I have a major sweet tooth…or perhaps several sweet teeth. In either case this tooth (or teeth) takes a particular liking to ice cream and has since I can remember going to Baskin Robbins as a kid, ordering Word Class Chocolate (I still hold this to be one of their finest flavors) in a sugar cone and, much to my mother’s dismay, insisting on biting off the tip of the cone to let the ice cream melt and funnel down through it and, of course, all over me in the process.

I attribute this to my father who was once mistaken for a Ben & Jerry’s stock boy by a fellow customer one time at Kroger when searching for his favorite flavor (I believe he was wearing a Ben & Jerry’s t-shirt and Birkenstocks at the time, so the assumption was a fair one). As further evidence, while visiting me once at Davidson, we stopped in the Main Street location to see what new flavors they were serving. My dad had his heart set one a specific flavor he obviously researched online, but much to his dismay, that specific store wasn’t serving it at the time. He settled on a runner up, and I assumed we would adopt a “maybe next time” mentality and go on with our day. No such luck. After eating his first scoop, we drove approximately 10 minutes to the Lake Norman location where he found the elusive flavor and proceeded to eat a scoop there too. More stories like this exist, but I think this paints an accurate picture of the genes that were passed down.

For an ice cream lover, New York City is an exciting but dangerous place. My latest find, the pistachio cherry gelato at Epicerie Boulud is a current favorite, but I am already anxious to try Steve’s Ice Cream which recently opened a few blocks from my office in midtown, the  ice cream sandwiches from the Coolhaus truck which often stations itself a block away to taunt me, and of the course, the brick and mortar Big Gay Ice Cream store once it opens in the East Village.

So it should come as no surprise that one of what I consider to be the best features of our new apartment is something we weren’t aware of until after we signed the lease. We are renting this apartment from the owner, who, as it turns out, must share or even rival my passion for frozen sweet concoctions.  While doing a walkthrough/introduction with her just before moving in, we were scanning the kitchen cabinets to make sure they were all emptied. Above the fridge, Rupert noticed something tucked in the back and inquired. “Oh, that ice cream maker stays if it’s okay with you. It’s just too heavy to move and it fits perfectly up there”, she explained. Okay with me? Um, yes, that will be just fine. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I had time to climb up the step stool and put it to use.

Now, despite my high ice cream standards, I’ve never had a complaint with the $40 frozen canister variety of machines. Sure waiting for the canister to freeze requires some advance planning from the time you would like to be eating ice cream, but it is usually worth the wait. For true connoisseurs, I suppose this is just not acceptable. Enter the Simac Gelataio Super.

Now I had quite a time tracking down any sort of instructions or even information about this specific Super model, but I did learn that the machine was manufactured by Simac, a company in New Jersey, which to the best of my knowledge no loger produces them. I saw a few similar models on Ebay that gave me the impression that this is a serious investment in one’s ice cream happiness. After reading some comment boards here and there, I found an owner’s manual for another model and went with it. l. I particularly like the introduction:

Beautiful fresh desserts with no guilt?! What could be better? I was sold. Luckily the machine IS easy to operate – basically you just flip the chill and churn switches, insert earplugs – this guy is NOISY) let it run for about 45 minutes. Voila – perfectly frozen ice cream. The earplug part was learned by experience, and we will be investing in some soon.

For my first attempt, I stuck with a tried and true gelato base recipe from the Ciao Bella cookbook, reduced the sugar to half a cup and added about 6 oz of white chocolate I melted as I was when heating the milk and cream. White Chocolate ice cream was a special request and all time favorite of Rupert’s. I’ve only ever seen it on the menu at Balthazar, so I have little to compare to, but the resident expert said it definitely met his standards. Now, I feel the possibilities are endless.  And I’ve already started scanning my cookbooks for my next inspiration. Right now one from Thomas Keller’s ad hoc cookbook will probably be up next.

To close, my research also turned up this print ad from 1982 for sale on ebay, that I feel succinctly captures the goal of any ice cream making attempt with all the glamor of 80s food styling.

 

 

 

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On Creme Brulee and Caesar Salad

July 8, 2011 § 3 Comments

For the 4th of July, we ventured down to Asheville, NC. In addition to some incredible company (my mom and sister joined us from Georgia), the food we enjoyed put our trip over the top. Having grown up with a family cabin in Balsam, NC as our prime vacation destination, it is always nostalgic to return.

In addition to a few new finds (like the incredible bagels at City Bakery!), revisiting an old favorite inspired me to give it some attention here on the blog. Rezaz should not only be a must on any visit to Asheville, but it also brings up fond memories and challenges my tenets in food. Situated in Biltmore Village, Rezaz has been a go to for my family for several years. In fact, we followed the Chef/Owner Reza Setayesh from his previous post at a golf club tucked somewhere in the mountains not far from Cold Mountain, where the well-known novel was set.

Two of the signature dishes that never leave the menu come straight from his time at that country club and ironically both defy some of my food principles. You see, before my senior year in high school I worked in the kitchen of The Southside Grill in Chattanooga, TN. I was eager to learn and lucky enough to find a restaurant that embraced the locavore movement years before it had a name. We grew herbs in our garden, had daily produce deliveries and sourced meat and fish from local purveyors. The food was remarkable, paricularly for Chattanooga at that time (2000) and I learned more about cooking and baking in three months than I could have ever imagined.

I worked both garde manger, preparing and plating all of the cold appetizers and salads, and as an assistant to the pastry chef. As such, two of the menu items I was responsible for were the caesar salad and creme brulee. I still attest that both of these classics were some of the best I’ve had, but gradually the sheer size of the batches we prepared put me off of them both completely. Emulsifying two gallons of olive oil into a vat of dressing or separating 90 egg yolks will do that to anyone, I suppose. If nothing else I came to appreciate the sporadic occurrence of a double yolk! Torching the sugar on the creme brulee, however, never got old.

Following my summer at Southside, I vowed that creme brulee and caesar salad were dead to me, and for the last 10+ years, I’ve not waivered much in that stance. Mr. Setayesh versions have been the exception. In what is a seemingly simple twist, Setayesh quarters and grills heads of romaine on a wood burning grill for what I imagine is no more than a minute or two as the lettuce barely wilts and remains cool and crisp. This nuance in flavor, in addition to a well executed dressing that is a bit thinner than the classic, makes the salad one I hold all others to in comparison.

The addition to lavender to the creme brulee is another small innovation that elevates the classic to something unique, setting it apart from the ubiqutious versions on nearly every dessert menu. Of course, here again, execution is also key. The proper custard consistency, a shallow dish, and a thick well bruleed crust strike a near perfect balance.

The rest of the Rezaz menu spans several cuisines. The restaurant describes itself as mediterranian but only subtle hints of these are sprinkled throughout the menu. Southern, Italian and Spanish influences also dot the dishes which maintain one consistent feature – they are all outstanding. As my sister remarked, everything on the menu sounds good and is then even better and different (in a good way) than you imagined. To me, this is the sign of a great chef.

On our visit, we had an incredible friend shrimp and calamari salad of sorts that tossed the crisp seafood with green onions, a spicy/sweet asian sauce, shredded lettuce, sesame seeds and green onion. The combination was a case of the whole being more that the sum of the parts. It worked perfectly. Another small plate,a soft, pillowy potato gnocchi was paired with tomato, spring peas, fresh paremsan and a balsamic reduction, also exceeded our already high expectations based on the description alone.

In addition to the food, one of the most remarkable things about Rezaz is the value, the pricing of menu items and the well-selected wine list makes you feel (especially when you have been conditioned with New York prices) that you are getting away with something. I would like to think Rezaz has found the optimal price that keeps customers filling the tables but does not make them sacrifice when it comes to quality ingredients. They love and are proud of what they do and it shows on the faces of each staff member. While I believe they could get away with charging more, I love that fact that they embrace the neighborhood restaurant vibe and make it a place one does not have to reserve only for special occasions. If not for the some odd 600 miles standing between us, I would certainly be a regular.

A Few New Favorites

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

After a break from blogging, I feel like there is much to catch up on, but I’ll start with a few local finds that have wowed me recently. Then it’s on to Montreal eats (of which there were A LOT) and a trip to Miami, which seemed to be a teeming with New York transplants. As long as that involves Shake Shack, however, I’m not one to complain.

Epicerie Boulud

In New York, my new favorite is definitely Epicerie Boulud, Chef Daniel’s new-ish market of fresh baked items, sandwiches, salads, coffees, gourmet products, and really everything else on could wish for. During a busy day of move-realted errands, we quickly dropped by the dangerously close shop on Broadway and 64th for lunch. I lured Rupert with the promise of gourmet hot dogs, which lived up to his high standards. I opted for the Rocket Salad which was a well-balanced blend of arugula, jamon serrano, machego, marcona almonds, roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes, raisins, olives and sherry vinagrette. I’m an admittedly picky salad person, and this one was right up my alley. They also have some powerful iced coffee, perfect for getting a jump start on Saturday morning.

When exploring the website while writing this post, I just discovered the breakfast menu as well as an oyster and wine bar menu, which may actually allow me to sandwich my day sometime soon around two visits. I’ve also yet to dive into the baked items and gelato, but I can assure you it’s only a matter of days. The words chocolate ginger pound cake alone cause me to ponder when I can next get there.

The store is replete with great options for eating there (inside standing at bar tables or outside at a few tables adjacent to Bar Boulud) or taking to Central Park. They also have an incredible selection of cheese as well as uncooked sausages, terrines, etc that one could easily take home for a meal.

What is more, the hot dog and salad respectively were around $6.50 and $8.50, which in my book is quite a bargain in NYC, home of the $10-12 make-your-own salad. Based on my salad savings, I hope to make it around the corner sometime down the road to try Boulud Sud, the newest fine-dining restaurant from Chef Daniel.

Aroma Kitchen & Wine Bar

I’ve known about Aroma’s wonderful Aperitivo deals for several years, but only last weekend did I discover their incredible cellar-level private rooms. We celebrated a friend’s birthday with a fabulous dinner where the beet appetizer (warm beets, gorgonzola, fig jam, walnuts, warm beet dressing) and buccatini (“cacio, pepe e uovo”, “aroma” pancetta) really stole the show. For the value, I would say Aroma is high on my list of fantastic group dining options. The wine list as well is well-curated and offers something for every price level. If for nothing else, it is well worth it to see what may be New York’s smallest restaurant restroom tucked away through the downstairs kitchen.

‘wichcraft

When ordering lunch for delivery in Midtown, I’ve narrowed my favorites down to a select bunch. ‘wichcraft remains one of my standbys, especially for the tomato soup and grilled cheese in colder months. For several years, I found myself wishing they would introduce a few new sandwiches, just to mix things up a bit, and it seems that lately they have done just that. On the most recent round of new summer sandwich offerings, I have fallen for the asparagus and pea frittata sandwich. Served all day, this would be a perfect indulgent breakfast, but I prefer it as a hearty lunch sandwich. The frittata was perfectly cooked and still very soft even upon delivery and the cheddar and rustic ciabatta are the perfect envelope for it. Now I just have to wait for their incredible gazpacho to make its summer debut and of course make it to Bryant Park every now and then for an ice cream’wich!


 

 

 

Heat Wave

June 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

Summer has officially arrived in New York, timed perfectly with a move to a new apartment on the Upper West Side. While I will miss my favorite East Village restaurants, I’m excited for a new neighborhood to explore and our new place. I could live in the kitchen alone! Most importantly, this apartment will feature a REAL dining table – no more dinners on the coffee table – and will open the door for a lot of cooking and entertaining with friends.

Apparently the owner of the condo we are renting shares my passion for cooking and kitchen gadgets, because she customized the kitchen with some fancy high-tech appliances including an ice cream maker, which will be getting quite a workout this summer. While we’ve only been moved in for a week, I’ve already found time to test the gas range and more importantly the convection oven. My time assisting a pastry chef one summer in high school instilled in me a love for convection ovens when baking. Gone are the burnt corners and bottoms of cookies and cakes. Instead the circulating heat of the convection oven perfectly and evenly cooks and browns all surfaces, vastly improving the end result.

Finding myself with some spare time last night, I decided it would be the perfect time to try a recipe for Tate’s cookies I came across on GOOP. I am firmly in the thin, crispy cookie camp and Tate’s spares no butter to make perfectly thin, crisp cookies that are sold all over New York. My favorite part about this recipe is that it only calls for mixing by hand with a wooden spoon, proving you don’t always need a hand or stand mixer to achieve a uniform, well-incorporated dough.

As the idea of having more than three dozen freshly baked cookies was a bit overwhelming and I only had about a cup of chocolate chips on hand, I halved this recipe. To give my convection oven a whirl, I baked the first batch on the conventional setting and the second with convection. The oven automatically lowered my preset temp of 350 degrees to 325 for convection and the cookies took about twice as long to bake. I kept the size and spacing of the dough the same for the sake of a controlled experiment. The difference, as you see below, was remarkable! My first batch did not resemble Tate’s in the slightest. They were slightly raised and still a bit soft in the middle even as the edges and bottom verged on becoming too brown. The second batch, however, was a dead ringer. The browned butter taste and perfectly crisp, thin texture were spot on. Based on these results, I have high hopes for future baking endeavors!

Convection baking on the left; conventional on the right.

Tate’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Source: GOOP)

Yield: About 40 cookies

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) lightly salted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Whisk the flour, soda and salt together in a bowl. In another large bowl, mix the butter with a wooden spoon to lighten it a bit and then mix in the sugars. Add the water, vanilla and eggs to the butter mixture. Stir in the flour mixture until just combined and then fold in the chocolate chips. Using two soup spoons, drop the cookies 2″ apart onto two nonstick or greased cookie sheets. Bake for eight minutes, rotating the sheets after four minutes. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool, and repeat the process with the rest of the batter.

What I’m Loving Now

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sometimes my restaurant and recipe ramblings don’t always merit a  full-blown post. In this case I thought they might lend themselves more to a round up of favorites or new, notable things. Here we go:

Union Square Cafe
We had a wonderful dinner at Union Square Cafe last week where I discovered the wonderful Sam Lipp of USHG is now the General Manager. (Hooray, Sam!). We enjoyed the entire meal but the Spanish Mackerel Crudo, Artichoke Puree, Olive Tapenade, and Chili Oil and Frascatelli alla Romana with Pancetta, Brussels Sprouts, and Black Pepper Cream both blew me away. The mackerel was incredibly fresh and was complemented perfectly by the creamy artichoke pure gaining a nice kick from the chili oil. The Frascatelli, which reminded me a bit of spaetzle, was a wonderful vessel for the decadent sauce studded with two of my favorite ingredients. I have had several good meals at USC over the last few years, but this visit seemed to really outdo my past experiences.

Winter Squash (on Pizza?)
Inspired by this recipe from a recent issue of Food and Wine, I purchased some frozen organic winter squash puree to use as a base for a pizza this week. While I intended to follow the recipe, the discovery that my onions were mushy forced me to to turn to Plan B. As it turns out, the fall back combination of squash puree, rosemary, sauteed shitake mushrooms and crumbled italian sausage was a huge success. The sweet and savoy combo was a nice change from the typical acidity of a tomato base and a drizzle of balsamic reduction put it over the top.

Hawthorne Valley Farm Yogurt
Last week I walked the extra few minutes to catch the subway at Union Square so that I could peruse the Greenmarket. I’m so glad I did, as it led to me purchasing Hawthorne Valley Farm‘s Maple Vanilla yogurt. The yogurt is not homogenized, making it slightly more liquid that most (in a good way). While the maple and vanilla cause it to boarder on dessert for breakfast, I was happy to hear no additional sugar is added to this particular flavor.

Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir
At a dinner party a few weeks ago, our friends Scott and Alex brought an incredible bottle of Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir. I was wowed by it that night and was reminded how wonderful it was this week when I picked up another bottle a Union Square Wines.

That’s all I have time for at the moment as I’m off to dinner, but I’d like to do a post of this kind every few weeks as it’s fun to look back and remember what stood out as well as share it with others.

Invaluable Ingredients

January 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Eeek! The holidays plus a new job have made me quite the negligent blogger over the last month or so. Hence in the spirit of New Years Resolutions and just because I’ve missed it, I’m back!  Over the last few weeks, one recurring theme in my meals (apart from those at celebrations, etc) has been convenience. While I’m all for a quick and easy throw together dinner, I never like to sacrifice delicious results. With that in mind, I thought I would share a few favorite ingredients that I try to keep on hand that make even the most basic meals more inspiring. All of these boast a good shelf/fridge life and most are inexpensive with the exception of a few splurges.

Leeks

Whether it be pasta, quiche or pizza, leeks time and time again prove to be a delicious addition. Just thinly slice the white and light green part of the leek. separate the rings and rinse well to remove any mud or dirt . Then throw the leeks in along with any other ingredients you are using. Here are a few of my favorite combinations:

– Spaghetti with Leeks and Italian Sausage
– Leek and goat cheese quiche
– Pizza with leeks, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella

Black Truffle Salt

While truffle salt is certainly considered investment, the tiniest sprinkle will dress up any dish. Based on my estimate, you would probably spend less around 50 cents to a dollar per use depending on how many servings you are seasoning, which seems like a much better deal. I prefer this brand, the best price for which I’ve found on Frenchy Bee. As a salt lover and a truffle lover, there are few things I like more! I made truffle salt twice baked potatoes for Christmas Eve this year when I thought of it as a last minute addition and our guests were completely wowed.

– Roasted Fingerling Potatoes (toss with olive oil and truffle salt before roasting)
– Sprinkled on omlettes and scrambled eggs
– Mixed into a twice baked potato filling (top with gruyere cheese before broiling)

Pancetta

I keep a package of diced pancetta from Trader Joe’s in my fridge at all times. A small amount of pancetta will add a lot of porky richness to a dish and a little goes a long way. I enjoy adding it to sauteed cauliflower or green beans just to ensure no vegetable in my house remains entirely healthy. Of course, it’s also wonderful in pastas and on pizza as well.

Cream of Balsamic Vinegar

I purchased a bottle of this thick, sweet balsamic reduction a while ago at Chelsea Market’s Buon Italia. If you visit New York, I can think of no cooler place to explore, especially in rainy or cold weather as it is indoors. Since it’s purchase, I’ve drizzled this on everything I can imagine that would be enhanced by a sweet yet tangy kick. Like the truffle salt, a little goes a long way. Here is a very similar product to the brand I purchased that can be ordered online.

– Drizzle over flatbread or pizza topped with prosciutto, fig and arugula
– Toss with a salad of arugula, parmesan and a sprinkle of lemon juice and olive oil
– Top off a bowl of sliced strawberries and fresh whipped cream

Parmesan Cheese

This is a no-brainer but don’t underestimate good quality, freshly grated parmesan cheese. I grate it over everything – soups, pastas, pizzas, risotto, eggs – and keep it permanently stocked in my fridge.

Chili Flakes

For those who like a little spice, good quality chili flakes are a great thing to have on hand. In addition to the typical pizza topping, I enjoy using them in almost any pasta for an extra flavor dimension. For a special appetizer, pour a nice quality olive oil into a shallow bowl and sprinkle in freshly grated parmesan and chili flakes and serve with a baguette or focaccia.

Frozen Pizza Dough

I find the Whole Foods frozen pizza dough to be a lifesaver on nights when I know cooking time will be scarce. It is a blank slate for creativity based on your own pizza predilections and what you find on hand in your fridge. Sweet and Breakfast Pizzas are also fun options with this as your base. If placed in the fridge in the morning or the night before, it should be perfectly thawed by dinner time. In a real pinch, I have even found that many NYC pizzerias will sell a pound of their dough for a few bucks which is cheaper and healthier than buying a whole pie.

Early Trip to Kin Shop

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

On Friday night, we took several out of town visitors to Kin Shop, Harold Dieterle’s recently opened restaurant in Greenwich Village. Having been the one to select the restaurant for the one big dinner we had with visitors who had ventured all the way from Europe, I realized choosing such a new spot was always a risk but in this case my confidence in Perilla and Chef Dieterle. Rupert jokingly reminded me I was on the line if things went south, and I gladly accepted the challenge!

For a restaurant that had literally been open for five days, Kin Shop was impressively smooth with respect to all aspects of service. The quality of food was right on par with what I’ve come to expect at Perilla making it clear that Dieterle and his partner Alicia Nosenzo’s talent translates well into modern Thai cuisine. The restaurant, located just across the street for BLT Burger on 6th Avenue is long, narrow and about size as Perilla. The chef’s counter in the back would be a fantastic place to sit when walking in with a similar, close-up spectator view to the open kitchen that Casa Mono offers. Chef Dieterle was there right in the mix of things, which is always nice to see.

One thing that I believe will bode well for Kin Shop is it’s fantastic selection of wine. Usually when craving thai, I go straight into beer mode and quite happily order a Singha, but the spice of thai always makes my mind wander to think of the fun pairing ideas that exist. To ensure it was a crowd pleaser, this evening I went with the 2008 Julien Meyer Pinot Gris from Alsace. The wine was teh perfect smooth, crisp complement to the food that followed. If it’s beer or cocktails you seek, however, Kin Shop has no lack of exciting options in those categories as well. On my next visit, I definitel intend to have the Sohm & Khing, which features house-infused ginger mekhong, domaine de canton, aperol, grapefruit bitters and lemon soda. While the classic Sigha makes the cut as well, a more interesting venture would be the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale from Japan.

Being a large group, we had planned to order family style and our friendly, well-informed server told us that was the recommended way to go. For our first course, we started with the Spicy Duck Laarb Salad, Warm Sliced Snap Peas with Bay Scallops and Hand Cut Beef Tartar. The duck, served in romaine lettuce leaves was one of the spiciest dishes I’ve had (our served was candid about this!) and I loved every almost painful bite. Those with less affinity for spice should definitely order a side of milk, as water and wine do little to cut it! Whatever you do, don’t forego ordering it! The coconut flavor of the curry like sauce under the perfectly cooked scallops was sublime and cooling in contrast to the duck. Finally the beef tartar was simple yet fresh and almost melted in one’s mouth. I especially liked the rice crackers that accompanied it.

Moving on to entrees (and a second bottle of Pinot Gris) we sampled the Stir Fried Wonton Noodes with chicken sausage, thai broccoli rabe & oyster sauce, the Pan Fried Crab Noodles and the Roasted Duck Breast with Red Curry. I especially enjoyed the wonton noodles but the duck was the leader of the pack. Each thick, medium-rare slice was meant to be paired with and wrapped with green mango and curry in crispy roti. I could eat the roti alone or days! When dining on my own I will definitely be sampling the rabbit and goat curries (which came highly recommended) as well, but was not sure how those would fly with our guests so did not want to rock the boat when ordering for the table.

I will definitely be paying another visit to Kin Shop soon, and I can see it as a great weekend brunch spot once the open for those hours.

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