Friday, April 30, 2010

Kitchen Kitsch

While I was taking photographs of non-food items for my recent post on tableware, I figured I may as well show off my collection of dust bunnies kitchen kitsch. You may have noticed a vague Asian theme in my dining room, what with the Noh masks, netsuke, and Chinoserie-style furnishings. But the kitchen represents a whole 'nother world, one filled with chile peppers and Mexican folk art.

Mr Minx and I went to New Mexico for our honeymoon, and I've long been a fan of Mexican folk art, Frida Kahlo, and the like. It seemed only natural to include these elements in our kitchen.

Our kitchen is a tiny narrow galley with a door on each of three walls. The fourth wall has all of the built-in cabinets and appliances. The outside wall not only has a door but also a window, with the stove jutting out nearly the entire width of that window, transforming the wall into no wall at all. The opposite side of the room has the entrance to the basement and just enough space for a narrow cabinet which we use as our pantry. It came unfinished from Just Cabinets, and after a couple of coats of Kilz, Mr Minx and I painted it with a chile pepper motif.

The wall opposite the appliances was originally completely bare. The previous owners had a table and two chairs in the space, but we felt it better to add a butcher block island and a narrow table for our microwave.

This shelf of tchotchkes is above our microwave table. Want to see some of the goodies up close?

This Mexican folk art diorama shows Frida Kahlo being painted by her husband, Diego Rivera.

Some other examples of Mexican folk art include tinwork and a Oaxacan wood carved crab.

I have several pepper-shaped items, including these two glass peppers and the ceramic pepper-shaped Limoges box. Several of the items were purchased on eBay, and I'll never forget one particular transaction. The lot I purchased included two glass chiles, including the one above, and a large cappuccino mug and matching saucer. The seller had placed the items in a flimsy shoe box, added one piece of paper toweling, and scotch-taped the box shut. When it arrived, the box was crushed and rattled with the ominous sound of broken glass. One of the glass peppers was hollow, and it had shattered into a million pieces during transit. The cup was chipped. Miraculously, the other pepper and the saucer survived the journey unscathed. I was livid that someone could be so stupid as to think that glass and ceramic items could be safely shipped without careful packing in a sturdy carton, so I sent the seller an e-mail and gave her a piece of my mind. I may even have called her stupid. She wrote back, saying if I had yelled at her in a nicer manner, she would have refunded part of my money, as it was, I was mean and got nothing. Rather than complain further, I satisfied myself with the fact that I struck a nerve. And that the lot cost me about $5.00.

Back to the decor! I had wanted to hang the shelf above the butcher block, but our HVAC vents ran through that particular wall and prevented us from drilling holes, lest we damage the pipes. I needed something large, yet lightweight, and settled on the wooden chile ristra and the self portrait of me and my late parakeet, Cuervo, in the style of Frida Kahlo.

Although the color in the above photos looks like a weird murky greenish-yellow, the kitchen walls are painted a bright sunny yellow, more like the color of the oven mitt in the next photo. Yes, our kitchen towels, oven mitts, and potholders are emblazoned with the more chiles, or at least a spicy motif.

We did stop short of buying chile-shaped blades for our ceiling fan, but our cabinet knobs are shaped like chiles, as are our spoon rests. I even made chile patterned curtains and a cover for our old extra-wide toaster. Overkill? Maybe, but our kitchen is sunny and cheerful and (mostly, when nobody gets in the way) a fun place to cook.

Does your kitchen have a motif? Or am I the only nutjob around here?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coffee-Marinated Short Ribs

While there was still a chill in the air, I thought it would be a good idea to get rid of some of the more cold-weather foodstuffs in our freezer. We had a large package of short ribs and I thought they'd make a fine Sunday supper. Rather than use a recipe I've tried in the past, I found a new one using a coffee marinade that sounded intriguing.

Seemed wasteful to use 1/4 cup of expensive maple syrup in the marinade, so I used only about a tablespoon. I didn't think it could be tasted over the coffee anyway. Surprisingly, the coffee was not the predominate flavor, despite being in both the marinade and the cooking liquid. Two-and-one-third tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce packs a wallop that could be tasted in the final product, drowning out pretty much everything else - even the bacon.

Ah, yes, bacon - the recipe calls for searing the beef ribs in bacon grease rendered from 1/4 cup of chopped bacon, then adding the pork back to the pot later. I can tell you that the bacon flavor was non-existent, so should you ever try this recipe and don't have bacon on hand, don't worry about it. (And I'm sure the bacon added to the nearly 2 cups of liquid fat I skimmed off the meat as it cooked.) As for the coffee, it may as well have been beef stock for all of the flavor it brought to the party (none). I also lowered the salt content of the marinade dramatically and found that I needed to add very little salt at the end of cooking, so 1/2 cup would definitely have made the dish too salty.

That's not to say the dish wasn't good - it was very good, but I don't think a wet marinade brought much to the table. I think a rub, wet or dry, may have added more flavor to the meat, and adding more coffee to the cooking liquid may make its flavor more pronounced. Otherwise, I'm thinking that cooking seared, non-marinated meat in a bath of beef stock, ketchup, mustard, and a ton of Worcestershire would produce much the same results.

I'll get back to you if I try it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Best Restaurants in the World 2010

S. Pellegrino's annual "World's 50 Best Restaurants" list was released on Monday at a celebrity-chef-studded event in London. Eight of the fifty restaurants are in the U.S.: Alinea in Chicago, Daniel, Per Se, Le Bernardin, Momofuku Ssam Bar, wd-50, and Eleven Madison Park  in New York; and the French Laundry in Yountville.

Shockingly, I've dined at one of them. Alinea, Per Se/French Laundry, Le Bernardin, and wd-50 are on my culinary bucket list, as are El Bulli (Spain - a pipe dream) and the Fat Duck (England).

What about you? Do you have aspirations to dine at any of the 50 best restaurants in the world? If so, which ones?

Dishing the Dish

Reading ChrisAnn's post about tableware led me to reflect on my own non-collection. My house is a typical 1950s brick townhouse with a knotty pine-paneled basement and ridiculously small closets. Although there are two ugly colonial-style corner cabinets in the dining room, there isn't all that much room to store dishes and glassware and other niceties for the table. For that reason, my table settings tend to be rather plain. But I come from a tradition of plainness.

Ugly corner cabinets, stuffed with stuff. Click images to enlarge. You may notice sundry items such as Noh masks, netsukes, a giant Mah Jongg tile, and Chinese dolls amongst the fancy martini glasses, pasta bowls, and mishmash of dishes.

When I was a kid, we ate off of cheap melamine plates. After a few years, they became discolored and the once-blue pattern printed on them rubbed off, so we bought another set of cheap melamine plates. Mom had "nice china" that was carefully packed in quilted, zippered cases and "good silver" that was also packed away. Both were from her wedding, and if she ever used them it was before I was born.

The house I lived in before I got married had two pantries, one for food, and one for plates, glassware, etc. The kitchen also had built-in cabinets to the ceiling on one wall. All were full. You see, over the nearly 40 years of my parents' marriage, my mother collected tons of tableware, mostly antique - chocolate sets, fancy platters, etched stemware, Haviland china. She never did entertain, so the collection was only that - a collection. And never did her "good china" see the light of day in my lifetime.

Once I hit my 20s, I decided that I *loved* to throw parties, and Guilford House was the perfect venue. Because I didn't want to ruin any of my mom's good stuff, I either used paper plates (as big as that kitchen was, we didn't have a dishwasher), or dishes from a set that was a grocery store giveaway in the 70s.

Grocery store giveaway plates.

Now that I'm married and have a (tiny) house, I have my own "good china" (Mikasa Royal Glimmer) and silver (Wallace King Christian). I also have a few random other plates - a Chinese tea set in celadon, some blue willow from Mr Minx's family, random Corelle. And the set of grocery store giveaway dishes.

Royal Glimmer

I don't really entertain at all (for a very specific reason that I will not go into here) except when the family comes over for holidays, so my nice plates stay in the cupboard. And that's ok. I'm not a fussy person when it comes to my dinner table - all I ask is that the food be good.

Sterling Spoons and Salt Cellar

Lest you think I am a total slob with no taste for the finer things in life, I do have a collection of fancy Sterling teaspoons, should I ever have a fancy tea party, and a wee salt cellar with two equally wee salt spoons. The likelihood of my ever using either of them is pretty slim, but sometimes it's fun to open up the china cabinet and play with the fancier odds and ends.

China Cabinet

All of my china and sundry glassware are housed in a Chinoserie cabinet with a lovely carved pagoda scene. It's not particularly big, so it's fairly bursting at the seams. So much so that most new tableware I acquire (via well-meaning but misguided gifts) is usually stored in boxes under this cabinet. Currently living under there are a set of completely useless Waterford crystal tumblers, a Waterford bowl, a Mikasa crystal bowl, and a trifle bowl. The tumblers would make a great wedding gift, if any of my friends saw fit to marry....

My Mom died in 2001, a few months after my wedding. At that point, Dad decided the house was too big for one person and put it on the market. It took a small battalion of people to clear the house of furniture and tchotchkes, and most of Mom's collections of china and glassware was sold or donated. Except, of course, for her "good china" and "good silver." When I finally unzipped those precious padded cases that were hidden away in a closet for the 20 or so years we lived in that house, I found they contained a set of rather plain Corelle. The "silver?" Stainless. I was vastly disappointed, but yet relieved that I did not have the burden of finding a place to keep the family heirlooms. So we put  that stuff in storage, for my brother to use if he buys a house, or for me, if ever I manage to ruin our current collection of nigh-unbreakable everyday dinnerware (which of course is...more Corelle).

So what kind of tableware do you use on a regular basis? Do you like to make a pretty table with fancy serving platters, or are you plain and simple like me? 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thai One On

Every once in a while I get a serious hankering for Thai food. While it's pretty easy to whip up a decent curry at home using Maesri curry paste and a can of coconut milk, I am not going to fuss with frying up spring rolls and making soup, too. (I like a soup-to-nuts experience when I eat Asian food. I want to experience as many flavors and textures I can.) Mr Minx and I were originally going to drive downtown to Banthai, but then Liz reminded me about Thai One On in Towson. I'd been there before, mostly to get sushi. Although the food is good, the sauces can lean towards the too-sweet side, as is the case with the homemade teriyaki they use to top some of their sushi rolls. I had the same problem this time, but I'm going to blame it on the choices I made.

We started off with appetizers - spring rolls and tod mun pla, or fried fish cakes. I can't help but compare all Thai food to that of the late great Bangkok Place, where the spring rolls were slender and delicate and the tod mun pla were addictively tasty. Thai One On compared mostly favorably - the apps were admirably non-greasy, and although there was more surface area on the fish cakes than I like (they were a bit too flat), they had a nice kick of heat to them.

We then had soup - tom kha gai for me, and tom yum kai for Mr Minx. I did not photograph them because the soup had slopped over the edge of the bowls and looked terrible. Both were pretty standard, the tom kha on the sweet side, the tom yum on the spicy side, and both were loaded with hunks of white meat chicken.

For my entree, I decided to try their red curry with shrimp and vegetables. I loved the red curry at Bangkok Place - it was incredibly aromatic and only slightly sweet. For the most part, every other red curry I've eaten has been very sweet. One I had in a trendy Seattle restaurant was practically a dessert topping, it was so cloying. Thai One On's was also sweet, not obnoxiously so, but following the sweet, coconut milk-laced tom kha and coupled with the Thai iced tea I was drinking, I felt queasy at the end of the meal.

Mr Minx had no such issues with sweet. His Penang Ped, or duck in penang curry, was not at all sweet and completely incendiary. And delicious. The duck itself was tender and had vague lemongrass flavors, and the sauce was a fiery, fishy delight. Even had this dish been sweet, his soup was sour, so he would have had balance. Unlike stupid me who ordered unwisely.

The waitress seemed incredulous that we didn't want dessert after we finished three courses. More sweetness and I would have needed a barf bag.

So, to sum up - when dining at Thai One On, don't order Thai iced tea, tom kha, and red curry in the same meal. Do order tom yum and penang ped. I'm sure other stuff is good too - we'll just have to go back and check it out sometime in the future.

Thai One On
10-11 W. Pennsylvania Ave.
Towson, MD 21204
(410) 825-0907

Thai One on on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 26, 2010

Recipe Contests

Last Fall, my cousin Susan brought to my attention a recipe contest sponsored by Scharffen Berger chocolate. The Chocolate Adventure Contest required not only that Scharffen Berger chocolate be used, but also at least one ingredient from the following list: fresh mint (any varietal), fresh or crystallized ginger, pandan leaf, banana leaf, sumac, raw honey, cacao nibs, fresh or whole dried chili pepper, Malbec, peanut butter, black-eyed peas, rice flour, papaya, cumin, paprika (any varietal) and smoked sea salt.

I figured a savory dish was in order and modified a recipe for chocolate salsa that I have used many times in the past, using chiles, black-eyed peas, cumin, and smoked sea salt from the "adventure ingredient" list.  I also contemplated doing a variation of the black barbecue sauce with pulled pork and rice flour pancakes that I made here, but I didn't have time to play around and make the recipe my own.

Here's the non-winning recipe, if you're interested. I mentioned it in this post from last October.

Chocolate Salsa

1 15oz can black eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed and drained
3 scallions, white and most of green parts chopped
½ red bell pepper, diced
¼ c red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
14 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon smoked sea salt
3 Tablespoons Scharffen Berger Cocoa powder
4 Tablespoons minced cilantro (divided)

Place black eyed peas, tomatoes, corn, scallions, bell pepper, 3 tablespoons of cilantro, shallot and garlic in a large bowl and toss gently to mix.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the chipotle, sugar, vinegar, cumin, salts, and cocoa powder until cocoa is thoroughly incorporated. Pour over vegetables and mix well. Refrigerate for an hour to allow flavors to blend. When ready to serve, sprinkle on remaining cilantro.

Serve with tortilla chips as a dip, or as a side dish.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Airline Food

These days, most airlines either do not serve food, or only offer overpriced snack-food type garbage or a cold soggy sandwich wrapped in plastic. The last time we flew, Mr Minx and I had to cobble together meals from the selection of slightly-less-overpriced packaged snack items at the airport gift shop. (The time before, on a trip to LA, we ate food from an airport restaurant, got food poisoning, and lost 2 days of our 5-day trip.) Back when everyone did get a hot meal, it was nothing to write home about, being the 30,000-foot equivalent of a Lean Cuisine - tough meat, flavorless sauce, gummy potatoes. But once upon a time, at least on British Airways, food was actually pretty decent.

When I was reminiscing about scones recently, I dug out the old shredded Harrod's bag full of memorabilia from that first trip to the U.K. My mother saved *everything* - from itineraries to bus tickets. And the menus from our first trans-Atlantic flights.

On the overnight flight to London we were served a three-course dinner and a Continental breakfast. On the way home we had a four course lunch and a tea service. If I remember correctly, all of the food was quite tasty. There have always been stories about bad airplane food, so I'm thinking that BA was quite the anomaly.

Has anyone else experienced a good meal while flying? Which airline, in which era? :) And don't say first class, because for that kind of $, the food had better be good.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Giggle

Ok, maybe some people find these two chefs to be "hot," but I thought these google alerts were pretty amusing.

University of MD Farmers' Market

The UMMS Farmers' Market will reopen on Tuesday, May 11th, 2010 at 10:30 am. Vendors will include:
The market will be open every Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. in Plaza Park.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

April is grilled cheese month, and what's better to have with a grilled cheddar-and-bacon-jam-on-wheat sandwich than a bowl of tomato soup?

Not just any tomato soup - creamy tomato peanut soup, garnished with green onions and fresh cilantro.

Creamy Tomato Peanut Soup

1/2 cup onion, chopped
oil or butter for sautéing onion
1 15.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 Knorr chicken bouillon cube plus two cans of water or the equivalent amount of chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (or more to taste)
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper

Cook onion in butter or oil until softened and beginning to brown. Add can of tomatoes with their juice and stir in peanut butter. Crumble in bouillon cube and add water (or use stock). Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes to allow flavors to blend and for some of the acidity of the tomatoes to dissipate. Remove from heat and blend soup smooth using a stick blender, blender, or food processor. Return to pan and season with spices and salt and pepper. Heat for an additional 15 minutes and serve. Garnish with cilantro, chopped peanuts, and/or chopped green onion, if desired. Serves 2-4.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Product of the Week - Prometheus Springs Elixir

In NY last Sunday, I sampled a product called Prometheus Springs Capsaicin Spiced Elixir. I first tried the pomegranate and black pepper flavor, which had an unusual warmth, partly from the pepper, and partly from the capsaicin - the chemicals that give chiles their heat. Capsaicin is believed to elevate mood by releasing endorphins. Why anyone would think to put it in a beverage is beyond me, but hey, it works. I felt pretty snazzy for a few hours afterwards, despite getting lost in the East Village, wandering far from my intended destination.

In addition to the pomegranate, I also tried the lychee wasabi, which had a brighter flavor and more heat (and a somewhat rank smell), and the lemon ginger. The pomegranate was my favorite of the three. As I was drinking, I thought these beverages would make for fine cocktail mixers, then I realized that most people there were drinking it with prosecco, while I had all three flavors straight up. The company thinks their product would work well with alcohol, too, as there are several drink recipes on their Web site.

Prometheus Springs Elixirs are currently only available at The Natural, 2150 York Road in Timonium, but should be in Whole Foods shortly. If you can find a bottle, do give it a try, as it's very unusual and quite delicious. Just don't attempt to chug-a-lug it, Snapple-style, because you might hurt yourself in the process. :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Emeril Lagasse Show

Did anyone watch Emeril's new show on Ion last night? The first episode of the variety-show format Emeril Lagasse Show was a real snoozefest that featured Emeril and Martha Stewart patting each other on the back, the vocal stylings of Michelle Williams (the homeliest Destiny's Child, whose torso is only as wide as her head), and an audience participation game that seemed to confuse the host (probably not that hard to do). Emeril was at his awkward worst, and the show was a pain to watch, especially with all of the obvious product placement for Macy's and Reynold's Wrap.

That said, I thought the best part was the cooking segment in which Emeril prepared a big pot of kapusta i kielbasy for Martha, in honor of her Polish heritage. He used fresh sausage and sauerkraut, but also added smoked pork products and apples. Not as plain and simple as my Grandma's recipe, but it looked good. I would have liked to have learned the name of the thin sausage he added to the pot. It looked like kabonasy, but it could have been any number of varieties. It certainly wasn't that nasty Eckrich smoked "kielbasa."

When asked what she would call the dish, Martha said, "kielbasa and sauerkraut." BZZZZZT! Wrong! She also pronounced "pierogi" wrong. It's "pyeh-rhogi" (roll the r) not, "pie-rogy." It's ok if a French/Portuguese guy from Massachusetts says it wrong, but not someone who is a life-long Pollack. Hmpfh.

Did you watch? Will you watch? I enjoy a train wreck as much as the next guy, so I may give it a shot for a couple of weeks, especially since there's nothing else worth watching at 8pm on Sunday night.

Bacon Jam

I currently have a fridge full of bacon because I am in the middle of conducting experiments for a cook-off I'm doing this summer in which the delectable porcine product is a requirement. (More on that at a later date.) Although the cook time far exceeds my allotted time, I thought I'd whip up a batch of bacon jam. I found a couple of recipes on the Interwebs but decided to try Kevin Gillespie's version from Top Chef season 6.

As I ate a spoonful of jam spread on a cracker, I thought it would be a marvelous antidote to Rocco's brownies.

Candied Bacon Jam (adapted from this recipe at

1 cup bacon, cut into 2” X 1” X 1/2” pieces
¼ cup yellow onions, julienned
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter, unsalted

1. Render bacon in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat until bacon is crispy.

2. Remove bacon and about half of the rendered fat. Cook julienned onions in the remaining bacon fat, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan until onions are dark golden.

3. Return bacon to pan, add brown sugar and stir to coat.

4. Turn the heat up a bit. Add a third of the chicken stock and reduce mixture until thick, 5-15 minutes. Watch carefully that it doesn’t burn. At this point, it's kinda like making risotto.

5. Add half of the remaining stock and reduce again until thick.

6. Add all of the remaining stock and remove pan from the heat. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.

7. Pour contents into a blender and puree until fairly smooth. I waited until it cooled down a bit. Didn't look too pretty after it came out of the blender.

8. Pour contents back into sauté pan and stir in honey to combine.

9. Put pan onto medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until deep brick red color is reached.

10. Pour into a jar, allow to come to room temperature, and refrigerate. There will be a layer of fat at the top - keep this! It will act as a preservative for the jam, like the fat on top of rillettes.

Gorgeous stuff, isn't it? Sweet, bacon-y, fantastic. Mr Minx thinks it tastes more like short ribs than bacon, probably because I've used David Chang's rather sweet short rib recipe several times. I think it took about an hour, overall, and very worth it. Can't wait to use this on a sandwich, be it burger, grilled cheese, or a BLT!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

KFC Double Down

Yannow, I don't know what all the clamor is about. KFC has introduced a "sandwich" comprising two pieces of chicken with cheese and bacon inside. It has 540 calories with 32g of fat and 1380mg of sodium. Oooh...sounds horrific, huh? But take a look at the counts for a single extra crispy breast: 510 cal, 33g fat, 1010mg sodium. The "crispy twister" sandwich (crispy strip in a tortilla) has 590 calories. The pot pie has 690 calories, and the "Famous Bowl" has 700.

KFC is bad, but it's not the only fast food place trying to kill us. Everyone's favorite burger, the Big Mac, which contains a whopping 3.2 oz of beef, also has 540 calories. The McRib has 500, and a 5-pc "chicken selects premium breast strips" has 660 calories.

On to Burger King. A Whopper, without mayo, has 520 calories. The Triple Whopper with cheese has 1250.  And their "tender crisp" chicken sandwich has 800 calories. Hell, even a large fries has 540 calories. I'm gaining weight just looking at the BK menu. Never did like that place.

I know there are smug folks out there who are thinking, "but I only eat at Chipotle, Their options are healthier than fast food." Think again. According to an online nutrition calculator, a burrito with black beans, rice, and chicken has a whopping 730 calories, 20g of fat, and 1440mg of sodium. Add cheese, hot red salsa, and guacamole, and you get 1020 cals, 42g of fat and 2320mg of sodium. You're better off sharing that burrito with a friend, but even half has more sodium than the double down.

If you're going to get all hysterical about fast food sandwiches, go after all of them, not just the newest one on the block. I think the Double Down has folks up in arms because it's weird - no bread. And come on - fried chicken with cheese and bacon? You all just wish you thought of it first.

Will I try it? Nahh...haven't been in a KFC in years and don't feel the need to go now. But if you try one, do let me know, 'k?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Grand Central Oyster Bar/Opia/Wheeltapper Pub

My second day in New York this month was full of the perfume-sniffing event called Sniffapalooza. (You can read more about the fragrance aspect of my trip here.) While sniffing is loads of fun, a gal's gotta eat, too.

Our Sniffapalooza luncheon was held at a restaurant called Opia, located in the Renaissance Hotel at East 57th Street near Lexington. There we were served a prix-fixe menu of salad with a mustard vinaigrette, chicken paillard (a.k.a. boneless, skinless chicken breast) with random fingerling potatoes and carrots, and a mini tarte tatin - for a whopping $40. I surely hope some of that money went to the Sniffa organizers, because in addition to the meal, we got a Sniffa-personalized vinyl lunch bag full of samples, and that had to cost them some $. The salad was ok, the tarte tatin was delicious, but the chicken breast was overcooked (do they come any other way?) and the only flavor it had came from time spent on the grill.

Every year I say this, but this time I mean it - no more Sniffa luncheons for me. They last too long and the food isn't worth the confinement at close quarters - or the price. There are plenty of other restaurants in the area, including POP Burger, where one can get a cheaper meal in a shorter period of time, allowing for a side trip to Saks or Barney's for additional sniffery.

Oyster Bar counter image from New York Portraits

Later in the day, after a long and tiring olfactory experience, I decided I needed some dinner. At first I was going to wander around the neighborhood near my hotel, but then I noticed how deserted the streets were at 7:30 PM and changed my mind. Instead, I headed to Grand Central Station, down the block, and checked out the Grand Central Oyster Bar, where I sat at one of the counters. The menu was huge and rather intimidating, and I briefly considered playing it safe by ordering soup, salad, and some fried oysters. But after a consultation with the very busy but extremely friendly waitress, I decided to try the "seafood Marseillaise soup with saffron" and the "Foursome of Seafood Salad."

Marseillaise my ass - the soup was Maryland Crab, seasoned not with saffron but with Old Bay, and with small chunks of fish substituting for the customary blue crab. Not what I expected at all, but a fine rendition of a Maryland favorite. As for the "Foursome" (banka banka bank) it included a pile of Caesar salad topped with crabmeat, a slab of poached salmon topped with sauce vert, two huge steamed shrimp in a tangy dressing, and a hollowed-out bell pepper full of squid in a basil sauce. While I thought there was too much grated cheese on the Caesar (making it gritty-textured), I loved everything else. The salmon was perfectly cooked, and the squid was incredibly tender. And the portion was huge, so I sadly left some behind (no fridge in the hotel room).

Thus sated, I rolled back across the street to the Fitzpatrick Grand Central and watched some TV before bed. And had a few bites of one of the Momofuku Milk Bar cookies I had purchased the day before.

The first thing on the next morning's schedule was a "breakfast" at Bond No. 9, a perfumery in the East Village. I hate attempting to balance a mini bagel and fruit salad on a plate while drinking coffee and smelling perfume - it's awkward at best. Instead, I thought I'd have a real breakfast at the hotel dining room, a.k.a. the Wheeltapper Pub. I sat at a booth in the "Carriage," a long narrow room with delusions of being a railway car (according to the hotel's Web site). I ordered hot tea, 2 eggs over-hard (because I can't trust an order of over-easy to be snot-free), Irish bacon, and toast. The tea came in a trick carafe: when I poured with the lid closed, it dribbled into my cup; when I allowed some air in by opening the lid just a skotch, tea came flooding out. The eggs and bacon were perfectly fine, but the combination of heavy plate on slippery laminated-cork placemat made for dangerous dining. And the lighting was completely depressing. When the waiter asked if everything was ok, I said, "apart from the trick carafe, slippery placemat, and depressing lighting, everything is great!" he said, "not so much on the ambiance, huh?" In a few moments, he went somewhere and dimmed the lights, which helped a bit but prevented me from reading the book I had brought along. Sigh.

Maybe the place is better with a couple three Guinnesses, but I don't plan on finding out. Still, better than bagels and fruit salad.

Grand Central Oyster Bar
Grand Central Terminal
New York, NY 10017
(212) 490-6650

Grand Central Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Flatbread Lasagna

The April issue of Food & Wine magazine has an intriguing recipe for lasagna made with flatbreads instead of pasta. I love lasagna, but seldom want to deal with cooking and untangling lasagna noodles. And forget the no-cook variety - they require far too much sauce and often end up a soupy mess.

We had a bunch of leftover sauce, meatballs, and Italian sausages in the fridge so I figured now was a good time to try out this flatbread thing. Mr Minx prepared the dish for Wednesday's dinner, and I couldn't wait to get home from work to try it.

This is what greeted me when I walked into the kitchen:

Hello, handsome!

And this is what it looked like cut into portions:

As you could probably guess, this "lasagna" was more like a deep dish pizza than anything. Nothing wrong with that - I love a good pizza, and they are oh-so-rare in this neck of the woods. The sauce and meatballs were home-made, and the sausage had been grilled, so this dish was packed with flavor. But...there seemed to be something missing.
Me: The ricotta cheese must have become one with the middle layer of naan, because I am not tasting it.
Mr Minx: Ricotta? Damn, I knew I forgot something.
No worries. We'll find another use for the ricotta. I can eat that stuff with a spoon directly out of the container and be satisfied, but I may mix it with vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon and call it cannoli filling. But back to the lasagna....

Although it's not the real deal, neither pizza nor lasagna, it's an interesting hybrid of both, and I can imagine adapting the recipe by using different meats (or no meat), mushrooms, spinach, maybe a bechamel instead of ricotta and/or the tomato sauce. The magazine also gives recipes for using naans or Greek pitas in pizza (obvious - and we've done that already), burritos (what? too thick!), and the Web exclusive dessert panini (maybe a use for my ricotta). Personally, I like naans for soaking up the sauce of Indian food, and Greek pitas slathered with tzatziki and maybe some grilled lamb. How about you?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dining with David Dust

I can't make a trip to NY without getting together with my friend, snarky Project Runway recapper and Papi aficionado David Dust. We met through our blogs a few years back and we've become good friends; he's one of those rare people with whom I can let down my hair and just be me. (Lord knows I hate having to be "on" when I meet up with people, but it seems to happen with increasing frequency as the years go by.)

On my most recent trip to NY, we shared two meals. On the same day I went to Momofuku Ssam Bar, I accompanied David to Arby's.

"What?" you say, "the minx ate at ARBY'S?"

Yes, I ate at a fast food restaurant, and you know what? I liked it.

I'll wait until you pick yourself up off the floor.

The Arby's we visited is housed in the former Gage and Tollner restaurant space in Brooklyn, so it's a bit swankier than usual. David wrote about it extensively on his blog and took better (and many more) photos, so if you're interested in the story, go here to check it out.

Mr Dust had a large roast beast sandwich.

I went for the Patty Melt combo with curly fries and a small drink. (Remember when 16oz drinks were "large?") The sandwich featured melted Swiss cheese, 1000 Island dressing, and roast beef on toasted sourdough. Here's a close-up for you.

Gotta admit - it was good. Better than a fast-food hamburger, any day. The curly fries were meh - I prefer naked potatoes, and these seemed to have some sort of coating. Not as bad as those extruded, shrapnel-coated fries I hate so much (featured at cheap-ass pizza joints everywhere), but not my favorite.

One thing I really like about Arby's - they have Diet Dr Pepper, always my carbonated beverage of choice.

Two days later, David had his first experience with Korean food. He had mentioned wanting to check out Koreatown next time I was in the area, and I was more than happy to indulge him. I chose the restaurant Kang Suh because they offer gas-fueled barbecue grills (as opposed to charcoal) and I wouldn't reek too badly on my way home from NY. Also, the restaurant was spitting distance from Penn Station, which is where I headed immediately after lunch.

David chose the plain pork bbq (on the grill) and I had boneless kalbi (short ribs, on plate at top left). Both were excellent, particularly the beef, especially when rolled in a leaf of lettuce with some dipping sauce, onion, and a dab of kimchee. I would have liked a larger variety of panchan, and maybe some soup, especially for the rather astronomical price we paid, but this was New York, so I suppose I can't complain too much.

Ok, I'll complain a lot. My lovely Arby's dinner cost a whopping $5.45, with tax.

Kang Suh Restaurant
1250 Broadway
New York, NY 10001
(866) 781-5016

Kang Suh Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Momofuku Ssam Bar

I received the Momofuku cookbook as a Christmas gift and immediately read it from cover to cover - it was one of those cases when the narrative is more interesting than the recipes. Not that the recipes weren't interesting, exactly, it's just that most of them are a bit much for the home cook. Author David Chang has been a food-world darling ever since he opened Momofuku Noodle Bar, and while I had used Chang's recipe for short ribs a few times in the past, and I've made his version of brussels sprouts, I had never eaten at any of his restaurants. That changed on my most recent visit to Manhattan.

Upon dumping my luggage off at my hotel near Grand Central Station, I hopped the 6 train and headed to the East Village to visit Momofuku Ssam Bar. It was early lunchtime and I was able to score a seat at the bar. After asking my server for suggestions, I got my pork on. (Kevin Gillespie, eat your heart out.)

First I had the famous pork buns - pillowy soft steamed buns stuffed with slices of pork belly, cucumber slices, and hoisin sauce. A mini bottle of sriracha was provided to add heat.

The pork belly was so tender and unctuous, it dribbled clear fat onto my hands and the plate. Um nom nom! I could have eaten ten of these babies. As far as I am concerned, they lived up to the hype. Here's a recipe, if you're curious enough to make them yourself.

For my second course, I went for the "crispy pig's head" accompanied by pear mostarda, a lightly cured sauerkraut, and a tiny pile of watercress in a tart dressing.. The patty was comprised of various meat bits from a pig's head, rolled in panko, and fried. It was tender and juicy and not at all like "head cheese" which is what the waiter called it. The pear mostarda was incredibly tasty - very much pear, very much mustard. And a lightly cured sauerkraut is much better than the stuff from a can. Much. And I grew up eating the stuff.

After lunch I went next door to Milk Bar and picked up a compost cookie and a blueberry cream cookie. They were far too sweet for my tastes (and I like sweet). The compost cookie had a weird gritty texture (from crushed cereal). But...they made for a decent dessert that evening and breakfast the next morning.

One Momofuku restaurant down, three to go.

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon