Archive | June, 2009

Cafe Charbon

30 Jun

I’m not overly familiar with the LES. Up until a few years ago, I had hardly ventured lower than 14th Street and streets with “names” always concerned me. A voyage into the LES, however, so my sister and I could get tattoos as a memorial for my Grandfather left us with a need for dinner.

I asked one of my trusty LES coworkers and he recommended we try Cafe Charbon. He said the brunch was great, but dinner was good too and very casual. We arrived and sat outside. Our waiter was very attentive and we received our food very quickly when we told him we had a bit of a time crunch.

My friend recommended the steak tartare, but I didn’t want to risk my stomach with raw food when I was already filled with butterflies, so I opted for the steak frites. The frites were quite good… crispy yet still tasted like potato. The shallot sauce was great and the steak had great flavor, but was a bit on the tough side.

Mike decided to go with the burger (which was of no surprise… he certainly loves his burgers!) and it was very good. Nice bun with a burger that tasted like burger.

My sister, Stacey, made the winning selection, however. She went with the Poulet Fermier Bio which consisted of roasted organic chicken served with fries and salad.  She exchanged the fries for the mashed potatoes (which were delish) but the chicken may  have been one of the best roasted chickens I have ever had.  Great texture and flavor to the sauce. 

While most of the meal was average, this deserved a full extra Nom Point just for the chicken alone.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

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“O” Cookies

28 Jun

We had a family picnic last week and I decided to bake my famous cookies.  They are referred to by many names, but the name that stuck is “O” Cookies since they make people that love them say “OH! These are great!” or something similar.  If you like the combination of chocolate and almond and especially coffee, these cookies are for you.  They’re very easy, but there is just one requirement… you MUST use your hands.

Something about how the ingredients blend is just never the same when you use a spoon/fork and don’t even bother with the electric mixer unless you want the texture to be ALL wrong. (Plus… the dough is so delicious that it’s hard to not link your own hands when you’re done.) The texture is halfway between candy and cookies… I think they are best a little crunchier, but if you like them softer, just put them in a smaller pan so they’re thicker… I use a bigger pan than the recipe calls for and bake them for only 9-12 minutes. 

The almond sprinkling on top is very important.  They toast up and makes the texture perfect.

The final product.  Always looks a little different from regular cookies and they taste OH SO GOOD.

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“O” Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees 1 cup butter1 cup sugar2 cups sifted flour2 tbl. instant coffee granules (or espresso)1/2 tsp. salt (only use w/sweet butter)1/2 tsp. almond extract1/2 cup coarsely chopped regular almonds (not blanched). 

  • Blend all of the above till creamy.
  • Gradually add sugar & sifted flour. (I usually wind up doing this with my hands as I add more of the dry ingredients.  It blends better.)
  • Blend in (1) 6 oz. package of mini chocolate chips (semi-sweet).
  • Put mixture in a 15 1/4” x 10 1/4” x 1/4” pan (ungreased).
  • Sprinkle almonds on top.
  • Bake 13-15 minutes at 375 degrees.  (It may bubble, but it cools into an even cookie.  These are the only cookies I know of that taste better when they’re cool and a day old!)
  • Cut into squares while still hot with heavy knife.
  • Dust with confectioners sugar when warm.
  • Eat them in the morning for a quick picker-upper.  Don’t eat them at night unless you need a good buzz!

Brats, Sweet Potato Caserole, and Asparagus

26 Jun

A trip to the Grand Central Market with my favorite foodie, Noa, included a trip to her favorite place for sausages: Koglin Royal Hams.  I bought the Frankonian Veal Bratwurst at her recommendation and Mike and I decided to pair it with a sweet potato caserole and asparagus in a a balsamic sauce.  These sweet potatoes were incredible, but they tasted WAY too good to be anything close to healthy.  I probably would have added nutmeg or more cinnamon to the potatoes themselves but the topping tasted like a moist pecan pie.  We made a few mistakes on the recipes, however, everything still remained delicious.

Mistake #1: Baking the potatoes takes too long.  We wound up microwaving them to get them soft enough to mash.  In the past I’ve boiled them and they tasted just as good.

Mistake #2: Peel potatoes before cooking!  We followed the recipe exactly and the peeling was one of the most laughably difficult things we’ve done

Mistake #3: Bratwurst needs to be boiled very specifically… you have to bring the water to a boil then TURN IT OFF and put the sausages in, then let them cook for ~8-12 minutes.  I made the mistake of keeping the heat on and they exploded.  Still full of flavor, they surely did NOT look pretty.



For dessert I was craving berries and schlag (aka whipped cream).  I used the leftover heavy cream to whip up some schlag and added some Bristol Cream Sherry to give it an adult kick.


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Gourmet Sweet Potato Classic

(recipe was found here: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Gourmet-Sweet-Potato-Classic/Detail.aspx)

Ingredients

  • 5 sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish.
  2. Bake sweet potatoes 35 minutes on a pan in the preheated oven, or until they begin to soften. Cool slightly, peel, and mash. (Refer to note above: I recommend peeling then boiling)
  3. In a large bowl, mix the mashed sweet potatoes, salt, 1/4 cup butter, eggs, vanilla extract, cinnamon, sugar, and heavy cream. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 cup butter, flour, brown sugar, and chopped pecans. Mix with a pastry blender or your fingers to the consistency of course meal. Sprinkle over the sweet potato mixture.
  5. Bake 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until topping is crisp and lightly browned.

Happy Nomming!

Market Fresh Cooking

26 Jun

I love Markets.  Farmer’s Markets are my favorite and I’ve always loved Chelsea Market.  I like walking into a place having no idea what I’ll cook and selecting my dinner based on what looks the best that day.  The only problem I have with NYC markets is that they’re crowded and it can sometimes be very annoying to have to push through everyone.  Nothing in Union Square Market was calling out to me, especially not enough to go through the crowd any more, so Mike and I made our way to Chelsea Market for the fish at The Lobster Place.

I felt overwhelmed at the fish counter, however, I wound up selecting the Turbot.  Why? I have no idea.  It just called out to me (and perhaps had the word “buttery” on the description) and was something I had never tried.  The sign also mentioned that it resembled halibut, so when struggling to find a yummy sounding turbot recipe, we looked into how to cook halibut and found an easy butter/shallot sauce that sounded good (so much for eating healthy with fish)!  We added the homemade pasta bought from the Italian market and made our favorite brussel sprouts recipe once again.  The scallops also looked great, and are always a favorite, so we cooked some of those up for an app (just a touch of egg, then flour, then pan seared).  It was a hearty and rich meal that we thoroughly enjoyed.  We also picked up some of my favorite Fat Witch brownies for dessert.  YUM!


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Shallot Butter Sauce

·         Pound Butter — softened

·         2 Shallots — chopped

·         1 Cup White Wine

·         1/2 Cup White Wine Vinegar

·         1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice (we went without)

·         Salt And Pepper — to taste

Directions 

Saute shallots with the wine & vinegar. Reduce the liquid for 10 minutes until the pan is dry, and only shallots remain. Whisk in butter. After butter is totally melted, add remaining ingredients, bring to boil. Remove from heat, keep warm. 

Nomming through Brooklyn

15 Jun

This past weekend, Mike and I had two separate parties to attend in Brooklyn, so we took advantage of the last month that he lives in Park Slope to explore some more of Brooklyn.

Our first evening was in Williamsburg, so Mike did some research and found a restaurant called Dressler, which was right near Peter Luger Steakhouse.  The restaurant had an old feel, but was beautifully decorated and well set up. 

The menu looked fabulous and we had a hard time deciding.  I started with the artichoke heart salad, which was a huge cooked artichoke heart filled with cranberry beans (which resembled white lima beans) and greens with artichoke dressing.  As an artichoke lover, I was quite happy.  Mike had a quail appetizer which was tasty but a bit on the small side (though I can’t fault the restaurant for that since quail are certainly small).

Mike ordered the pork chops, which were good, but not the best I’ve had. 

My meal, however, was amazing.  It was a grilled sirloin with braised short ribs in a bordelaise sauce.  It came with creamed spinach and boulanger potato (which turned out to be an amazingly flavorful, gratin like potato).  The short ribs were terrific and the sauce was perfect.  Thoroughly enjoyable.

We capped off with a dessert special: apple tart with sweet glazed pecans and vanilla ice cream.  Probably one of the best tarts I’ve ever eaten.

Total Nom Points for Dressler: 7.5 out of 10

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The next day we spent our time walking around Park Slope and made a stop in the Prospect Park Zoo.  It was a great, small zoo and we had a very good time.  By 3pm, however, we were famished.  We glanced at a few menus and stumbled upon Belleville on 5th and 5th.

I went with the special crepe, which had gruyere, onions, and herbs.  The flavors were great and the crepe itself had great taste, however, it was only about 1/4 filled, which was dissapointing.

Mike went with the burger, and it was tasty (I love when meat tastes like meat) but not too special.  The fries looked great, but were certainly lackluster in taste.

Total Nom Points for Belleville: 5.5 out of 10

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On Sunday we were on our way up Park Slope to a party at Union Hall (great party bar! Loved the library).  On the way, we stopped in at Rachel’s Taqueria on 5th Ave at 7th Street.  We had been there once before in a terrible monsoon of a rain storm and drank margaritas until the rain passed.  I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed it so much because it really was good, or because the margaritas were so good.  So we decided to give it another try.

Now for me, Mexican is a novelty.  I am allergic to peppers, which for the part means Mexican is something I avoid.  Sometimes, however, a restaurant will work with me and be very clear about what does and does not have peppers.  Rachel’s has succeeded twice now and I’m still not sure if I like it so much because it’s so new to me or because it is quite good.  Mike seemed to think it was average, though  I thoroughly enjoyed my burrito, which was huge and had shredded pork, rice, beans, sour cream, and cheese (no salsa nor guac due to the peppers).

Mike had a very messy though delicious looking chimichanga.

Total Nom Points for Rachel’s: 6 out of 10

Steak Frites

15 Jun

On various days, Mike and I will walk through the city in a single direction while looking at menus until something sparks our interest.  We’ve been pretty lucky in our “stumble upons” and Steak Frites on Varick at Clarkson (West Village) was no exception.

Since the inside was mostly red, I already liked it.

We were there right around late brunch time (it could have been linner by then) but we both still went for variations on egg dishes.  My dish was unbelievably good, with the exception of the egss being overpoached (why is this so common when mine turn out perfectly almost every time? Ok… I’m not a chef in a restaurant… maybe I shouldn’t say anything).  I think it was a special, since I can’t find it on their menu, but it was a parmesan (perfectly crispy) thick piece of toast with spinach, tomatos, poached eggs, bacon, hollandaise and shaved parmesan.  The blend of flavors was impressive.

Mike went with the steak and eggs, which seemed to be quite enjoyable (though also with overpoached eggs).

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

Israel Nom Nom

14 Jun

We were lucky enough to take a trip to Israel with Birthright for 10 days.  Two meals per day were free and we were on our own for the 3rd meal (usually lunch).  We had our share of bad food and good food, but for the most part, we ate VERY well throughout the country.  Our free meals were usually buffets at a kibbutz or hotel and there was usually enough variety to keep us happy.  Hummus was served at every single meal (even breakfast) and if I don’t see it again for a year it will probably be too soon (though it was always very good). 

The ingredients in Israel just always tasted fresh, even at the road side restaurants, which were very popular.  One of our first meals was a shared treat of pita, hummus, salad, and falafel.  It was really tasty.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the mango nectar in a can.




After our meal, our Israeli locals recommended we try a dessert called “Milky” that was kind of like a really rich, fresh pudding on the bottom with what tasted like homemade whipped cream on the top.  It was absolutely wonderful and I only regret that this was the only time we ate it on the trip.

A few days later, our Israeli guide sent us into a food store with a list in Hebrew and had us gather ingredients for a picnic.  We got pretty whimsical with the hummus and salads.


The food was great, but not nearly as great as the surroundings (a beautiful natural spring that we swam in).

An event on our culinary adventure in Israel was definitely staying in a Bedoin tent.  We ate and slept (as a group of 40) in a very large tent.  The food was phenomenol!  We ate with pita and our hands and it consisted of amazingly seasoned rice and skewers of some absolutely delicious but unidentifiable meat.

Unfortunately the highlight of our eating through Israel was at the exact time that my camera died.  This was a shame, as our food was absolutely phenomenol.  Luckily, however, Mike snapped some shots on his camera, so all is not lost! Cafe Rimon was in Jerusalem off of Ben-Yehuda Street.  We were first greeted with the decision of milk or meat (to ensure it was kosher) and we went immediately with meat.  Mike, in fact, had a meat sampler (including grilled livers… and a few other delicious other meats) and I got a goulash (that had a unique, west indian flavor that I just loved).  They also gave us appetizer dips (one of which was pumpkin… MMM!) and ordered local wine. If you are ever in Jerusalem, just trust me, go to Rimon.

We also stopped for lunch at Babette, another local recommendation.  This is a very small restaurant dedicated to the art of belgian waffles.  Note the cinnamon cream cheese on the left and the chestnut cream on the right.  It was sensational.


Jerusalem as a whole was my favorite city, with so much fresh food, especially in the market.  The fruit and dried fruit and nuts were amazing, as was the rugallah and halvah (a fudge like food made from sesame that I love). 



Our final dinner was in Hotel Shalom in Jerusalem and the buffet was probably the best of the trip.


Overall, Israel was an amazing adventure in eating.

“Healthier” Mac and Cheese and Chicken Piccata

14 Jun

I absolutely love Macaroni and Cheese, however, I know that for the sake of my waistline I cannot eat it every day.  I am always on the look-out for a healthier version, so when I found a recipe for what claimed to be healthier and included butternut squash, I thought “why not?”

The first thing I noticed is that there was far too much liquid for the macaroni, so we poured in some of the cheesy/butternut squash mix to fill up the macaroni mixture and then decided to convert the rest to soup.  I added a bit more milk, rosemary, and mushrooms and cooked it down to the right texture.  I then added a swirl of this AMAZING basil olive oil I bought to the top.  The soup was incredible.

The macaroni and cheese was good, but the texture wasn’t amazing (though not as bad as I thought it would be) and the taste just wasn’t enough.  I’m also not sure how much healthier it could have been, but I guess it’s better than using a ton of heavy cream.

To pair with it, we also made a variation on chicken piccata that was quite tasty.

All were very easy to cook and there was a whole lot of food for just the two of us.  I’m sure it would make a good family meal.

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“Healthier” Mac and Cheese
Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 23 min
8 servings

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen pureed winter squash
  • 2 cups 1 percent lowfat milk
  • 4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 1/3 cups)
  • 2 ounces Monterrey jack cheese, grated (about 2/3 cup) – we went with Gruyere instead
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon powdered mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper – We eliminated this due to my allergy, which may be why it was a bit bland
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until tender but firm, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, place the frozen squash and milk into a large saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up the squash with a spoon until it is defrosted. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Cheddar, jack cheese, ricotta cheese, salt, mustard and cayenne pepper. Pour cheese mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine. Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the baking dish.

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, then broil for 3 minutes so the top is crisp and nicely browned

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Chicken Picatta

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 – 2 pounds thinly pounded chicken breast
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 6 TB unsalted butter
  • 2 TB finely chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice – we eliminated this and it was still fine
  • 2 TB freshly chopped parsley leaves –also omitted with no noticable problem

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F
  2. Cut chicken breast crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
  3. Season both sides of the meat with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour.  Shake off excess flour and set aside.
  4. In large saute pan over medium to medium to high heat, heat olive oil and 4 TB of butter.  Once hot, but not yet smoking, brown chicken quickly (about 1 minute on each side) and remove to an ovenproof platter.  Place in oven to keep warm. (We used a plate and a microwave… it worked)
  5. Reduce heat to low and add shallots to the pan.  Saute for 1-2 minutes or until they begin to turn translucent.
  6. Add wine and lemon juice to pan and simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes.
  7. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and whisk to combine.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste if necessary
  9. Pour sauce over chicken, sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately

Tick Tock Diner

14 Jun

The Tick Tock Diner is a famous staple in the Penn Station/Madison Square Garden area. I have passed it at least a hundred times, but never made my way in. While trying to find a quick bite before a movie, Mike and I decided that we would try it for brunch.

Now I’m born and raised in New Jersey, so I have certain expectations for diners that have never quite been met in New York City. The Tick Tock Diner was probably one of the worst of the worst.

I ordered the ham and cheese omelet and Mike got an Italian omelette with sausage and cheese. Both were bland and hardly worth the calories. 


But the absolute worst part of the meal was by absolutely no doubt, the grits.  I’m not a huge grits fan to begin with, but this tasted like gritty glue:

Total Nom Points: 2 out of 10