Archive | March, 2009

Simple Pleasures

23 Mar

Sometimes I just want feel-good food.  On Wednesday, that consisted of Gruyere Macaroni and Cheese.  Mike added yummy chicken dumplings to the mix from Trader Joes, poured a bottle of wine, and we had ourselves a carb loaded feast!

The Mac and Chee was pretty good, but it was missing the bite I wanted from the gruyere.  Perhaps next time I’ll eliminate the cheddar altogether and just go hog wild with the gruyere.



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Gruyere Macaroni and Cheese (thank you to Ina Gardner at Food Network)

Ingredients 

  • Kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
  • 1 quart milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small) – We went sans tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed) – We used regular bread crumbs from the store

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it.
  4. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk.
  5. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth.
  6. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
  7. Optional: Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top.
  8. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top.
  9. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Culinary Walking Tour of Greenwich Village

20 Mar

For our 6 month anniversary, I gave Mike a gift certificate for us to take a Culinary Walking Tour of Greenwich Village.  Over 9 months later, we finally scheduled a date to go. 

Last Sunday we began our culinary adventure by meeting at Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker Street.  I was excited to start this adventure with cheese, however, that had to wait for later in the day. 

Our guide was a perky wannabe Broadway star with terrible hair and a cute smile.  She talked a bit about the neighborhood, buildings, and history and then we went walking.

Our first tasting was at Famous Joe’s Pizza.  Our guide described it as being back to basics with fresh tomatoes, cheese, and crispy crust.  It was good, but not great.  As she said, very basic.


Our next stop was O & Co, a Meditteranean Food Merchant specializing in gourmet olive oils and balsmic vinegars.  One taste and I knew I had to come back to buy (the 20% discount for people on the Walking Tour that day was also incentive).  The balsamic tasted like candy! 




We talked a lot about the character of the area, the history, and the buildings.  This carriage house is not only huge, but happens to also be where they housed the cast of “The Next Food Network Star” for a season:

One of my favorite stops along the way was Palma.  It’s a more classic version of Meditteranean food that is more Italian/French.  The restaurant itself was charming with a nice patio out back, and I cannot wait to go back to try the fried artichokes that looked and smelled delicious as we passed through.  We were told they had great sangria, but when we stopped in after our tour, we were informed that they didn’t have it at the time.  Shame.  The coolest part about the restaurant, however, is that there is an urban farm house behind it where they host private parties.  We got to peak inside and I couldn’t help but dream of a day when I could set up a party for my friends in a place like that.  It’s not something you find everyday in NYC!



Our next stop was Faicco’s Italian Specialites (formerly Faicco’s Pork Shop… but I guess “pork shop” has less mass appeal).  We tried the risotto balls which were delicious (though not quite as good as the ones from CraftBar).  The place itself had beautiful cases of meat and prepared foods. 



We then walked down the street to Aphrodisia Herb Shoppe, which I think they said has been around since the 60s.  We were greated with the smell of spices and a cat who everyone took a moment to pet… before reading the sign on the other side of the store informing us that petting the cat was not advised.  While there, we tried some tea and I noticed that they had some special “sore throat” tea recipes.  As a fan of the mass market Throat Coat Tea from Traditional Medicinals, I regretted not buying some of this special tea while we were there.


We passed by one of my favorite NYC bars, The Blind Tiger.  We stopped in there afterwards for a drink as well, however, much to our dismay there was a private party going on and it was too packed.

The next tasting was around the middle point in the tour and allowed us 10 minutes to sit down and use the rest rooms.  We went to a modern Italian wine bar called Centro Vinoteca.  This happens to be the restaurant where Leah Cohen (of Top Chef Season 5 fame… the one who made out with Hosea) is chef.  They serve small plates called “piccolini” and quartinos of wine.  I’m not sure what the dish we sampled was called, however, it was a whole grain with squash, mushrooms, and some other delicious things prepared risotto style.  I really enjoyed it.  The menu also looked fantastic (and I want to go back to try the braised veal cheeks with cauliflower puree & artichokes) and this is where we wound up settling on for our post-tour drink.  I saw that they had a honey chestnut gelato on the menu that I just had to try.  It came with dark chocolate and creme de fresh gelato as well and we thoroughly enjoyed it while drinking my wine and Mike had a St. Germaine cocktail.  I enjoyed it so thoroughly, that I forgot to photograph it.


We passed by a really adorable court yard called “Grove Court” while walking around.  It used to be called “Mixed Ale Alley,” however, they changed it during prohibition.  Interestingly, it used to be a sign of wealth to live close to the street, so these beautiful houses pushed back off the road with these court yards were actually where the poor used to live.  I can only imagine how pricey these are now!

Our next stop and tasting was a place I have been wanting to go for a while: Milk & Cookies Bakery.  They specialize in the basics, but you can also select from a list of ingredients and custom create a recipe that they will bake for you (great for people without big kitchens or baking skills).  We tasted a chocolate chip, oats cookie that was still warm from the oven.  It was absolutely delicious.



At this point in the tour, we finally got to return to our original meeting spot: Murray’s Cheese.  We had a sampler of 3 cheeses, a cheese baked good that was delicious, and a hard salami.  All were delicious, and I was thrilled to see they offer a cheese class AND a cheese of the month club.  Their mac and cheese also looked amazing.


Our last stop was Rocco’s, a pastry shop specializing in Italian.  We tasted DELICIOUS canollis and then bought a humantashin to carry on our Purim tradition.  We enjoyed eating the humantashin on our way to the subway. 





All-in-all, an absolutely delicious and fun day!

Hearty Home Cooking

19 Mar

On Saturday night, I was in the mood for a hearty meal.  Mike and I decided to make pot roast and roasted red potatoes.

I pulled a recipe off of AllRecipes.com (I just love consumer ratings!) and it looked good with wine and brandy in the recipe.  I did some replacing, such as taking out the celery (since I’m not a fan), and adding turnips.  We also coudn’t find a prime boneless beef chuck roast, so we got a boneless beef top round roast (which may have been a problem, since I believe it’s less fatty).  We also missed a part of the directions that said we should turn down the temperature of the oven, so that may have dried it out.  I also noted there was just something missing.  I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it just didn’t have the depth of flavor I like.  I think next time I’ll use less thyme and add more acid (such as a balsamic vinegar or coca cola).




As for the potatoes… WOW!  They were amazing.  I kind of made them up as I went along after looking at a few recipes.  They were like delicious, home fries.


Update: I had the pot roast sauce with the root vegetables as leftovers over noodles.  I stirred some balsamic into the sauce and it was perfection.

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Pot Roast

Ingredients:

  • 1 (4 to 5-pound) prime boneless beef chuck roast, tied
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour
  • Good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks) – we substitued for 1 white turnip
  • 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 to 4 leeks)
  • 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 cups good red wine, such as Burgundy
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes in puree
  • 1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 3 branches fresh thyme
  • 2 branches fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Balsamic Vinegar to taste (we didn’t add this the first time, but proved necessary)
     

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Pat the beef dry with a paper towel. Season the roast all over with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper.
  3. Dredge the whole roast in flour, including the ends.
  4. In a large Dutch oven (we used a large cast iron pot and fashioned a lid out of foil), heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.
  5. Add the roast and sear for 4 to 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and sear the other side and then turn and sear the ends. This should take 4 to 5 minutes for each side. Remove the roast to a large plate.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, onions, celery (we used turnips instead), leeks, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned.
  7. Add the wine and Cognac and bring to a boil.
  8. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, bouillon cube, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. (I’d also add the balsamic here)
  9. Tie the thyme and rosemary together with kitchen string and add to the pot. (I made a spice ball out of cheese cloth) 
  10. Put the roast back into the pot, bring to a boil, and cover.
  11. Place in the oven for 1 hours, Turn the heat down to 250 degrees F after about an hour to keep the sauce at a simmer. Cook another 1.5 hours until the meat is fork tender or about 160 degrees F internally.
  12. Remove the roast to a cutting board.
  13. Remove the herb bundle and discard.
  14. Skim off as much fat as possible from the sauce. (we had none)
  15. Transfer half the sauce and vegetables to a blender or a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree until smooth.
  16. Pour the puree back into the pot, place on the stovetop over low heat, and return the sauce to a simmer.
  17. Place 2 tablespoons flour and the butter in a small bowl and mash them together with a fork. Stir into the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring until thickened.
  18. Taste for seasonings.
  19. Remove the strings from the roast (if there are any), and slice the meat.
  20. Serve warm with the sauce spooned over it.

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Roasted Red Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • About 8 Roasted Red Potatoes (washed and cut into quarters or smaller)
  • 1 stick of buter
  • Your selection of spices (I went with rosemary, basil, italian seasoning, and a hint of thyme)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Put butter and all spices into a microwave safe dish
  2. Melt butter in microwave and taste for your likeness, add salt and pepper as desired (I put kosher salt over the top in the end as well)
  3. Add a dash of olive oil to the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking
  4. Mix potatoes and butter in a large bowl until thoroughly coated
  5. Place in a roasting/baking pan so there is a single layer of potatoes
  6. Roast for about 40-50 minutes until potatoes are browned and tender

Broadway district dining

16 Mar

Anyone who has been to the Broadway district in NYC knows that it is a very hard place to find good, reasonable food. So when two friends, Mark and Sara, came up from Atlanta to visit and go see The Little Mermaid on Broadway, I first took them to one of my favorite bars in the close vicinity for a pre-show drink: BXL Cafe.  They are a small Belgian beer bar that has decent prices, pretty good food, and flights of beer.  As a lover of sampling, I always try a few when I’m there.  (This picture is from the fall, but you get the idea)

After the show, my friends did some digging to find food that would be safe for someone who is allergic to dairy.  They came upon Akdeniz, an affordable Turkish/Mediterranean restaurant that I actually had been to once before with some other out of town friends.  I managed to forget to photograph the entire meal with the exception of dessert, but the meal itself was really great.  We opted for the prix fixe which included an app, entree, coffee, and selected desserts for $21,95. Babaghannous and Hummus for dipping and lentil soup for Mark and Sara.  Sara then had the Vegetable Casserole, Mark had the Falafel, and I had the BBQ Meatballs.  My meatballs were more like meat pancakes, but they were quite tasty.  Everyone seems to enjoy their dishes.

For dessert the options were limited to 2 on the prix fixe, so we chose to sample both options.  The first was Turkish Custard, which tasted better than it looked, but not by much:

The second dessert was called Kadayif and looked and tasted like a mixture of baklavah and shredded wheat (instead of filo dough).  It was quite tasty:

Overall, this place is decent and a great value.  The food itself probably wouldn’t stand up on its own, but for the price, it gets an extra nom point:

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

An easy and delicious evening meal

11 Mar

Mike and I decided to cook last Friday night.  Originally I intended to make my famous Kasha Varnishkas, however, the grocery store near me didn’t have any Kasha, so we had to make new plans. 

We opted for a menu of “Awesome Honey Glazed Pork Chops” (recipe courtesy of allrecipes.com), roasted butternut squash with chestnuts, and a simple, yet delicious Rice-A-Roni Long Grain & Wild Rice.  The entire meal took about 15 minutes to prep, however, the roasting of the squash and the cooking of the Rice-A-Roni made the entire meal cookable in a little over an hour.  If you need a good meal and don’t want to put too much effort into it, I highly recommend this combination! 

The hardest part was the squash, which had to be cut up into little pieces.  Thankfully my brandy new pealertook the skin off the squash with ease.  The problem, however, became cutting the slippery squash! 

It all worked out in the end, however:

The leftover squash and chestnuts with the honey pecan sauce were absolutely incredible the next day.

Without further ado, here are the recipes:

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Awesome Honey Pecan Pork Chops (check the link to see it and the comments on allrecipes.com)

INGREDIENTS (Nutrition)

  • 1 1/4 pounds boneless pork loin, pounded thin (we used thin cut pork chops)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour for coating
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans (we doubled this to 1/2 cup since it didn’t look like enough)

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a shallow dish, mix together flour, salt and pepper. Dredge pork cutlets in the flour mixture.
  2. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add chops, and brown both sides. Transfer to a warm plate.
  3. Mix honey and pecans into the pan drippings. Heat through, stirring constantly. Pour sauce over cutlets.

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Chestnuts
(This was originally a recipe for Sweet Potatoes that I revised slightly. Thanks to Aunt Linda for the inspiring original recipe)

Ingredients:
Squash or Sweet Potatoes
Steamed/cooked Chestnuts (I buy them in a box from Trader Joes and Asian Markets usually sell them)
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil

Directions:

NOTE:  Start them in a cold oven, it has something to do with getting them warm, but not too quickly
 
Cover a cookie sheet with foil.  Spray with Pam.
 
For squash: Peal it.  For sweet potatoes: Scrub potatoes well.  Dry with a paper towel. Cut off skinny ends.

Slice into pieces about ½ inch thick.
 
Dump into bowl and add some salt and pepper.  Not too much.  Then pour about 1 ½ tsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil into you hands and rub both sides of each round. (I stirred them all in a bowl and made sure it was evenly coated… it turned out fine)
 
Place in single layer on the cookie sheet.  Cover tightly with foil.  Put into cold oven.    Turn oven to 425.  Bake for 30 mins.
 
Remove from oven and remove the top layer of foil.   Return to oven for another 15-25 mins, until the bottom edges of the rounds are golden brown.
 
Remove from oven and flip over each round.  Return to oven for another 15-18 mins.

Throw the chestnuts in with the squash and roast another 3-5 minutes until bottoms of the squash are golden brown and chestnuts are warmed.
 
Try not to eat them all before sitting down to dinner.

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Rice-A-Roni

Buy.
Read.
Follow directions.
Eat.

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Happy Nomming!

These Are a Few of my Favorite Things

8 Mar

I absolutely love steak. It may not be very girly of me (though I’ve never been good at “girly” anyway), but give me a big hunk of beef over a salad any day. I try to eat well, but when it comes down to it, I’m happiest eating fatty, sweet, and starchy delectables.

I’ve tried a number of steak places in the city. From Peter Luger’s to BLT Steak to Smith and Wolensky’s, they’ve all been good. Some really good. And while I do sometimes dream about the Popovers at BLT and Peter Luger’s was a great experience, the steak place that has my heart is Keens. It just never dissapoints. Every meal I’ve had there has been flawless. The mutton (which is what it’s famous for) is fabulous and the prime rib is the best I have ever had.

Keens is a very old restaurant (124 years old to be exact) that looks like it was furnished by the antiques I only dream of one day putting in my home, but they were installed when they were new. In the entry-way there is a display of the “Dinosaur Sirloin” which looks about 100 years old. The sign says Keens thinks it is still not yet aged enough.

My favorite part is that there are old pipes hung on the ceiling. The story goes that when smoking was permitted, Keens’ regulars stored their pipes at the restaurant for the next time and they had a “pipe club” (both real and honorary) with members like Babe Ruth and Steven King. There are supposedly more than 50,000 pipes and I think it just adds a really cool look to the place.

Typically I go to Keens with a publisher for my job and the meal is on the house. The one time I went with Mike, it was more expensive than I realized, but well worth it. I observed the last time I was there that their pub menu is different and very reasonable (as far as steak places in Manhattan go anyway). When Lori and I were looking for a place to eat on a random Thursday evening, I was more than happy that she agreed to try to Keens Pub menu with me. The pub menu is served Monday – Friday, 11.45 Am To 10.30pm and on Weekends 5pm To Close.

It absolutely did not dissapoint. For a semi-small menu, it had more than a few options that sounded great. Lori and I each ordered a glass of wine and anxiously awaited our meals.

Lori had the Miss Keens Burger, which was a burger without a bun, fries, and a green salad. The burger had somewhat of a salt glaze to it. The meat itself TASTED like good meat. Even the salad had the perfect dressing and the fries were expertly crispy.

I went with the Prime Rib Hash. It had many of my favorite things in it. Fried potato hash with onions, prime rib, and topped with a fried egg. (Very healthy). It was absolutely phenomenal. It was like the best latke I’ve ever had but with an excellent meat and a perfectly cooked egg.

Lori and I moaned throughout the entire meal.

I had been tipped off the last time I was at Keens that the meringue was especially good. It’s greek yogurt with whipped cream, pieces of mirengue, and fresh raspberries and strawberries. I absolutely loved it and was all too happy to share it with Lori. I don’t think she liked it quite as much as I did due to the mirengue’s texture, but she seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

We left with full, happy bellies.

Total Nom Points: 9 out of 10