Inspiration.

5 Jan

Inspiration can lie anywhere, even in the most unassuming places: from things you hold hostility towards to the ones you love, ideas can flourish. It’s a really simple concept that is easily forgotten. Life consumes us generally to the point where we don’t think about inspiration, we think just about surviving. Surviving, judging, eventually being bitter (if not a bit jaded) and losing the spring in our step.

Working the way I do, living the way I live, I was surprised I was inspired for dinner at all the other day. But my parent’s have just moved into town, so I figured I could whip something up. The idea for dinner came from two unassuming places like the ones aforementioned. At work one day, I watched my chef created a very nice guinea hen dish utilizing blended grapes. Earlier in the year, I ate at Vandaag (http://vandaagnyc.com/), where I had a killer sweetbreads appetizer composed of concord grapes, concord grape mayonnaise and blistering hot red chilies. I needed to practice my duck breaking down skills, so here I went.

After the duck was broken down and the fat rendered (save everything, use everything!), I sweated off some sliced shallots in a casserole dish on the stove. I then added some garlic, marjoram, and the duck legs to be browned. As the legs were gaining color, I blended up a cup and a half of red grapes until as ‘juicy’ as possible. I then deglazed the casserole dish with half a bottle of semi-sweet wine (I used a nice, non-oaky, Chardonnay my father had recently bought). Next came the grapes and two red Serrano chilies cut in half. Into a 400 degrees oven the dish went, and about an hour later (or until tender) we had dinner. Garnish the dish with marjoram leaves. The picture may not have come out that well, but the meal sure was damn tasty:

Tis the season, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

27 Dec

The holiday season (or Christmas, to appease my brother-in-law), is a time of traditions. I’m not trying to be sappy here. My sappyness has slowly been drained from me anyways. But I was surprised by how comforting driving to NJ was, even at one in the morning, seeing friendly faces, drinking eggnog, going to bed, and waking up to my family. It was even this part though that made me realize the importance of traditions. My life has driven me down a new path, one that I am very content with. Cooking our traditional 7 rib, rib roast however, made me realize how much I love the part of my life that will never change.

You don’t want to upstage what is the NATURAL beauty of a piece of meat like this. So, I cooked the roast on top of garlic and rosemary. Half way through the cooking process I made a mixture of roasted garlic, butter, rosemary and salt; then I kept placing it on top of the roast, about every thirty minutes. Watching the butter drip down this thing was stunning. Once the roast was cooked, I made a quick sauce from the juices on the bottom of the pan.

Babe Ruth was a dick but baseball’s still a beautiful game

2 Dec

It’s funny how something you love, someone you love, a general concept that you can’t get enough of, all of these things can be radically different in reality than the perceived thought of them. For example, baseball is a beautiful game, the stoic figure of Babe Ruth was worshiped, and apparently yet he wasn’t always that nice of a fella.

Working in the restaurant industry, there’s a fear that this general principle could somehow apply to eating out. Being in love with the concept of cooking, but faced with the daily realities of it, the whole charade could come crashing down in front of your eyes. Yet I’m lucky, as much as my prism has been tainted, I still love dining out.

So on my only day off of the week, out to the restaurants I go. I’ve been lucky. I have great friends and a great family, and therefore have been to Corton, Vandaag and Cafe Boulud on my days off, just to name a few. But the shout outs I want to make here towards eating out don’t come from these big names. No they come from the littler places I know, or have been introduced to, that still manage to put a smile on my face. For it’s these places that I find the most impressive. With a kitchen smaller than my own, or less classically trained chefs, or a smaller not quite as rich clientele, they still do fun things with food.

First up, Tia Pol (205 10th Ave). I’ve been coming to this place for five or so years now. When they opened, there was a bit of hype, and quickly they opened up a few other restaurants. This generally spells disaster for the flagship restaurant, where the food or the service or the decor or all three tend to dwindle. This is not the case with Tia Pol, not only are the founding dishes still good, but the newbies are pretty damn tasty too. Take the seared chicken liver with pickled red onions on toast for example. And their cheese plate, something so common, is not only well presented but reasonably priced. Never skip out on the sangria.

Second up, Bar-Bo-Ne (186 Avenue B). If you go, you must try the 5 course tasting menu. In comparison to all others in town, and with quality taken into consideration, it’s a steal. Highlights from this meal would be the duck ravioli, the sauce was bangin’, the swiss chard and ricotta malfatti, and the duck special they had running that night. The owner is also a highlight, he brought two additional pasta dishes to our table, and although me and my dining companions rolled out of there, we were very appreciative of them.

With a lot of things tainted in my life at the moment, I’m glad my one consistent guilty pleasure has been left unscathed. I’m ecstatic I still love to dine out.

Prime Meats

8 Nov

To put it bluntly, i’m disenchanted. Fine, disenchanted is a harsh word- but the syllables un-in-spi-red, do seem to be rushing in and out of my head on a much more frequent basis. I wish there was a story to weave here, out of the very few free moments I have away from my job and the daily acts of life. Not much springs to mind though. The only consistent craving, feeling, sentiment, I’ve been having (well, food related craving that is) has to do with meat. So let’s take it from there.

Meat: there’s protein, combined with fat. And with these two miraculous elements, beautiful things can happen.

I recently thawed some ox tails from my freezer.

I love the less used/less loved cuts of meats. One, they’re generally cheaper, and two, the recipes that spring forth from them generally seem to be more original. For example, Blue Ribbons makes a marmalade out of their ox tails that they serve with their bone marrow.

I was craving it. I was craving creating a dish from start to finish. I was craving being responsible (creating the dish versus paying for it out). I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I had recently picked up some japanese eggplant and shallots from the greenmarket in Union Square. There was something to be had here.

Once seasoned well with salt and pepper, I seared off the ox tails.

Next came the eggplants and the shallots. I wanted to slowly caramelize them. Shallots, obviously, can become very sweet, but eggplant (especially japanese eggplant) holds the same potential if cooked the right way. Once there, the ox tails went back into the pot, with some cherry wheat beer and broth. I let it cook for about 4 (ish) hours.

Once the meat was tender, I removed it from the bone and shredded it into slightly smaller pieces.

Then the meat and bones went back into the pot. Then tomatoes, worscheter sauce, soy sauce, and maple syrup were added and I let the thing reduce down again for a few more hours, adjusting the seasoning here and there. I was going for an almost scum-like texture, or as Blue Ribbon calls is: marmalade. Towards the end of this whole process, something flavour wise didn’t seem quite right. I saw a bottle of sherry sitting on my counter. I added a splash, and well, liked what I got.

A dish like this can be used many ways: as an accompaniment for bone marrow, on top of polenta or mashed potatoes, on its own as a ragu, or for the late night fix, a topper for nachos (sooo good, especially after a harsh, late, day at work).

As for getting GOOD cuts or “WEIRD” cuts of meat, there are many places in the city. My personal favorite, however, is Dickson Farmstand Meats. For more information on them go to their store in Chelsea Market or visit their website: http://dicksonsfarmstand.com/.

Last of the summer: Jersey Tomatoes

9 Oct

The idea of writing loses its appeal to me when it is 1 am in the morning and not only have I just finished worked, but i have had to fight with all public transportation options to get home. Something that used to be so sensual, so exciting, and so stimulating, just seems like a chore. But then, like showing up to my job, the amount of angst and protest I’ve put up along the way slowly fades when I hear the ticking of my key pad and I see my words, in front of my eyes, on the screen, (and to continue on with the work analogy, the rhythmic pace of being in service, most of the times relaxes my worried heart).

So here we are folks- after nine something hours in a kitchen, I am sitting at my kitchen counter, drinking a blue moon. This is my daily (nightly, morningly…!!?) routine. And what do I have to say about food folks? The same mantras almost always do: enjoy, revel in its simplicity, take advantage of the fact that you have a medium in front of you that can bind so many different people together, transcend so many different cultures.

Today I go for the revel in its simplicity.

I was at my sister’s house two nights ago- a break was needed from the city and my life. She has a killer garden, and the last of her jersey tomatoes (the best out there I might add) needed to be picked. So snatched they were…

…. and quickly enough they were turned into the base for one of our pizzas.

I don’t like to cook my tomato sauces for pizzas. If the pizza is going in the oven, it’s going to get enough heat there, or so I believe. What we did then was this: we hand crushed the tomatoes, then mixed them with salt, pepper, some tomato paste, olive oil and fresh basil.

With the summer winding down and fall staring me directly in the face, at least my taste buds could be convinced that I do not need to pull out my big old, made for Scottish weather, sweaters, yet.

Where I’ve been…

29 Sep

I’ve started cooking, professionally. (And, a quick side note here, therein lies one of the many reasons why I have not posted ANY blogs in the last month or so).

God knows why I have. The faces I elicit from myself, my executive chefs (not to mention my sous chefs), parents, friends, co-workers and just the general audience of my life- I’m surprised I haven’t thrown my hands up in the air in complete resignation, and resigned myself to the fact that I do not possess the ability to produce a decent meal.

Then I remember that this is a high pace, testosterone driven world, which I might never fully fit in with. But, “gosh darn it”, do I like it. And bully, patronize, sexualize and belittle me as much as you like, for the up and coming future I’m staying.

So, here’s what I have to say. When in doubt of your natural abilities  (be it related to taste buds, confidence, beauty, smarts, wits, knifeskills, etc), stick two fingers up in the air and go with what you know. The last time I did this I produced a dish that made my parents more than content, and me a happy, “wanna-be”, chef.

Until I can learn to upload photos from my spankin’ new phone, here are a few restaurants to check out (if you’re state, and new york, side):

  1. Char No. 4- Bourbon, wow. Food, almost as good as their bourbon (and if you know me, you know that’s saying a lot).
  2. Toloache- grasshopper tacos, enough said!
  3. Inside Park at St Barts- Get the falafel!
  4. Dovetail- If you’ve got the money…
  5. Ripe- drive up to Mount Vernon and get the goat!
  6. Kings County- ok, this is a bar, but if you’re ever there, call me, we’re close!

as for the next blog, expect recipes again- and not to long of a hiatus. (I promise).

Existential blueberry pie

11 Jul

The observant reader, or the trained eye, will have noticed that the tittle of this blog has changed. Having finished my masters in International Relations, I really had no choice but to up and leave my bubble, it was either that or get permanently caught in the throngs of student life. Thrown back into the real world of city life, city prices and worst of all city spacial distribution of my friends, fun no longer seemed a stone throwing distance away. I can no longer walk five minutes and find everyone I would ever need. No, I must sit of the F train for a minimum of three Matt and Kim songs, or a chapter in my book, to even get started on where I want to go.

Through all of this emotional, physical and psychological turmoil I’ve been reading Jean-Paul Satre- and let me emphasizes this, never read Satre when you, yourself, are in limbo.

“I for my part have had some real adventures. I can’t remember a single detail, but I can see the rigerous succession of circumstances. I have crossed the seas, I have left cities behind me, and I have followed the course of rivers towards their source or else plunged ito forests, always making for other cities. I have had women, I have fought with men; and I could never turn back, any more than a record can spin in reverse. And all that was leading me where? To this very moment, to this bench, in this bubble of light humming with music.”

As I question the meaning of life, as a free agent caught in a world that, at the moment, feels devoid of meaning, a world where I must find my own purspose and hold whole responsibility for my choices, I realize that where all of this has lead me to is blueberry pie. For when you feel lost, tell me one way pie can’t sooth your worried mind.

Blueberry Pie, adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

  • 2-2.5 packages/pints of fresh blueberries
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of a cheese grater
  • Grated lemon zest of 1 lemon
  • Fresh lemon juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • ¾ c sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 Tbs quick-cook (minute) tapioca, ground
  • Pinch table salt
  • Pie Dough for a double crust pie.
  1. Roll half the pie dough into a large round disk and place carefully in a deep dish pie plate. Let the extra hang over the edge.
  2. Place half of the blue berries in a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Cook until most of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  3. Grate apple and squeeze out its juices. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to the dough-lined pie plate.
  4. Roll out the other half of the pie dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into 1/2 inch strips and make a lattice pattern. Make the lattice on a cutting board or cookie sheet. Once done, flip on top of the filled blueberry pie. Crimp the edges. If desired, brush pie dough with eggwash (egg and water) mixture.
  5. Place pie in the oven and bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 45-55 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

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