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.

Neighborhood Comfort Foods

February 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

From time to time, I think of the dishes or meals in New York that I will miss most one day when I no longer live here. While there are certainly some outstanding dishes from gourmet meals that I will never forget (and probably merit their own post), I often find myself craving the simple comfort foods even more as many evoke memories of the friends with whom I discovered them. We revisit them frequently (sometimes too frequently I admit) as they all reside only a short walk from my apartment. These will certainly be the things that I prioritize and weave into my return visits. For those in the city or those who venture here for a visit here are some of simple edible pleasures of my life in New York that I would not want anyone to miss:

Sugarless Berry Scone
Joe The Art of Coffee

This scone is a perfect mid morning breakfast  when paired with one of Joe’s perfect lattes. The berries themselves provide just enough sweetness and the flakey, crumbly scone has the perfect ratio of soft interior to crunch, browned exterior. The sugarless connotates health, but I think the jury is still out on that one…

Banana Buckwheat Pancakes
Veselka

While Veselka holds a place in many people’s hearts for pierogies and blintzes, I can’t resist their buckwheat pancakes. The buckwheat is much heartier than the typical buttermilk variety and when bananas are added an almost banana bread like texture and flavor occurs.

Gnocco
Gnocco

The gnocco found in this quaint East Village Italian spot are puffed, deep fried pillows of savory dough served with cured meats such as prosciutto and salami. I’ve found ordering entrees to be futile here as I much prefer to indulge in these paired with a nice salad and red wine and spare no room for a second course.

Pork Buns
Momofuku Ssam Bar, Noodle Bar and/or Milk Bar

These 3-bite steamed buns are the perfect combination of succulent pork belly, thinly sliced cucumbers, a sweet hoisin sauce and soft, pillowly bun. A few drops of sriracha is all that is needed to add the perfect bit of kick to each bite.

Spicy Garden Pizza
Posto

While the spicy garden is no longer an official menu item, one can achieve the same results by ordering a pie topped with broccoli, jalapeno and mushrooms. Posto has mastered the thin crust pizza in my opinion, and the veggie toppings add just enough volume to make this quite filling and even more spicy (thanks to the jalapenos). Like me, you may find you don’t miss the meaty toppings at all.

Mixed Platter
Cafe Mogador

The hummus, labne (which I substitute for babaganoush), tabouli and salad  are something I crave on a regular basis, especially when spread onto Cafe Mogador’s freshly baked pita. Be sure to request their homemade hot which is a must for those who enjoy spice.

 

 

 

Dropping in at Porsena

January 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

Ever since I learned that Sara Jenkins of Porchetta was opening a pasta restaurant in the East Village, I was looking forward to the opportunity to see how the very talented Jenkins would translate her pork prowess to pasta and other mediums. So when looking for a nearby dinner spot with two friends on Saturday, I quickly suggested Porsena and they gladly agreed to give it a go. We walked into the restaurant right around 8pm expecting a wait as we did not have reservations. As a nota bene, we learned that Porsena does accept reservations, so I’d definitely recommend going that route if possible.

Luckily, the friendly hostess told us we could probably snag three seats at the bar as a group there was being seated shortly. It took about half an hour for their party to arrive and to migrate from the bar to their table, so we had plenty of time to peruse the menu and short but well-assembled wine list. We settled on a nice Cannonau which the bartended presented to my friend Craig, who is certainly a wine guy. When Craig suggested upon smell that the wine as corked, the friendly bartender who served us promptly smelled and tasted it, agreeing with him and quickly replacing our bottle.

As for the menu, I would say the pastas are definitely the strongest category so we focused our efforts there and threw in a few starters for good measure. We started with a wilted escarole salad, which packed a nice burst of acidity and salt thanks to a garlic anchovy dressing, and a salt cod and potato dish (almost like a spread) served with toast points. Along with several dishes, we found the salt cod to be a bit under seasoned but salt and pepper quickly solved that problem bringing out the inherent flavors nicely.

Upon consulting the bartender, she quickly recommended the Annellini with Spicy Lamb Sausage and Mustard Greens, we rounded that out with the Lasagna al Forno which we’d heard good things about and the Penette with roasted cauliflower, olives, capers, garlic, toasted breadcumbs. All three were declicious but the annellini definitely stole the show. It was hard to pinpoint the exact source of the heat – it almost had an asian undernote to it like Sriracha, but it worked beautifully in the slightly creamy sauce that coated the wide rings of perfectly cooked pasta. The lasagna, which did away with tomato sauce in favor of just bechamel with meat ragu, was nicely puffed from baking when it arrived at the bar, had a wonderful crust of cheese and bread crumbs that remained crisp even as it slowly deflated.

All in all, it was a wonderful meal and came at a very reasonable price (about $40 per person before tip for 2 apps, 3 pastas and a bottle of wine). I actually believe dining at the bar may have improved our experience as things in the dining room seemed a bit more frenetic and less efficient, which I attribute to still being relatively new. I especially liked seeing Chef Jenkins in the pass expediting food in the open kitchen and a large wooden table just a few feet away that would be a cool spot for a larger group of 6-8 people.

One interesting topic of conversation over dinner, was the font of the restaurant’s logo which can be found on the menu link above. My friend Emily and I determined it was reminiscent of both a Western and a Swiss Chalet both circa 1950 in the best of ways. Still trying to figure out how those two came to mind or if in fact there is some common stylistic theme there…

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.

Pizza Philosophy

October 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

Throwing together a quick pizza for dinner is such an appealing option these days that I’d say it happens every other week in my apartment. Given the frequency and the myriad permutations of orthodox and unorthodox ingredients, the sky really is the limit. I usually start by selecting an ingredient or two that really strike my fancy, thinking of classic flavor profiles/combinations using those and other ingredients, selecting the most fitting cheese(s) and then reconfirming my concoction will actually hypothetically taste good when served in pizza form.

This was certainly the process I went through this weekend when creating a pizza plan at whole foods. I had recently heard a friend rave about a brie and fig flatbread they created and it inspired me to integrate fruit. Pears are definitely in abundance this time of year and one of my favorite combos is a pear, arugula and prosciutto salad. With this in mind, I grabbed a blend of grated fontina, pecorino and parmesan planned to top things off with some balsamic reudction. On another tip from my friend, I grabbed some frozen dough at Whole Foods (who knew this existed in the freezer section!?) and was on my way.

Last night, I began assembling my pizza (for three days I begrudgingly but patiently waited for my rock hard pears to ripen) and in my produce drawer noticed a lone leek leftover from some cauliflower soup. After debating for several moments if a leek would work on this particular pizza, I realized leeks, like pancetta, usually make everything more tasty. I sliced my leek into thin rings and sautéed them in olive oil until slightly caramelized and softened. About 15 minutes later, it was judgement time. The verdict: leeks took the pizza over the top and nicely balanced the sweetness of the pear. I will certainly be keeping these in mind for future pizza creations…I’m thinking some leeky variation on tarte flambee pizza might be in my near future…

Pear, Prosciutto & Arugula Pizza (with Leeks!)

Ingredients:
1 pound pizza dough
1 leek
1.5 cups grated cheese (I used a mixture of fontina, pecorino and parmesan but mozzarella would also do nicely)
1 ripe Bartlett pear, thinly sliced
4-5 slices prosciutto, torn into thin strips
2 handfuls of arugula
Balsamic reduction or syrup
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 425. Slice the light green and white part of the leek into ½-inch coins. Separate the interior rings. Over medium high heat, sauté the leek in a bit of olive oil until caramelized and softened. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. Roll out pizza dough onto a non-stick baking sheet or pizza peel if you have one. Top with cheese, sliced pear and sautéed leeks. Bake for about 15 minutes, remove from oven. Top with prosciutto and bake another 3-5 minutes more.
3. Toss arugula with salt, pepper, and balsamic reduction to taste. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if desired. Slice and serve!

The Great Pumpkin!

October 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Over the last month or so, pumpkin has been emerging both in the supermarkets and on the internet, like clockwork as it does each fall. While Thanksgiving traditions should (and will) be given their own post, one thing that is traditionally missing on my family’s Thanksgiving table has always been pumpkin pie. Gasp…I know. That’s right, no pumpkin pie and usually no pie in general. We are much more a cake family that occasionally detours towards cobbles, crumbles and buckles when seasonal fruit is involved. Perhaps it’s that reason alone that pumpkin pie has just never appealed to me.

My pumpkin memories come instead from my best friend’s mom’s pumpkin bread. I still recall the smell of it baking and us gobbling down as much as we could get our hands on when it was still warm from the oven. While I don’t recall how old I was, at some point I copied her recipe on an index card in bubbly child’s handwriting. I still use the card today and smile over the ingredient list when I come to 3 cups flower. As soon as I buy another loaf pan (and find storage for it my studio apartment kitchen), I plan to whip up a batch this season but in the meantime, I couldn’t resist some doing something the jar of Libby’s pumpkin I picked up on an autumnal whim on my last trip to the grocery store.

Enter one of my favorite dessert sources: Baked. This recipe from the first Baked cookbook actually came to me via another tried and true source Martha Stewart. I halved the recipe as my fridge can only hold so many pumpkin whoopie pies and came out with about a dozen large whoopie pies. Admittedly my decision to make this particular version of whoopie pie was most definitely based on the cream cheese icing, which I believe can be considered a dessert in itself. Leftover icing in my kitchen means finding any appropriate vehicle with which to consume it. Graham crackers and teddy grahams while low brow serve this function surprisingly well…

But back to the whoopie pies! They bake very quickly – no more than 10-12 minutes – and come out very soft and cake-like. The tang of the frosting was the perfect complement to the sweetness of the pumpkin. Next time, I may miniaturize them even more than suggested to create a more macaroon-ish sized treat.  They also went over well with my elderly neighbor Ben and one of my favorite doormen Jose who are often recipients of my baking experiments when I need to unload them for fear of consuming them all myself!

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.