Plan it Now, Thank Me Later: Valentine's Day 2010

On the count of three, let me hear the collective groan. Now that it's out of your system, let's talk plans. Stay in or go out? Celebrate or retaliate? Single or hitched? I'll get the ball rolling with a few ideas to make the day less painful...
Stay in:

I loathe prixe fixe menus - I don't like being told what to do, especially when it comes to food. Combine that with jacked up prices and jam packed dining rooms, and you'll find me cooking at home on the big day. Past menus have included steak au poivre and pan seared scallops, but this year I am stealing ideas from one of my favorite Christmas presents - The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. Practical, everyday cookbook this is not, but if there's any day to attempt haute French cuisine, it's Valentines Day. The recipes and ingredient list are so long winded/complicated, I cannot fathom writing them in this post. So, if you're curious (and my friend), call me up and we'll talk photocopying. Otherwise they are quite google-able. Wish me luck!

I chose my favorite appetizers from Keller's NYC restaurant, Per Se. I wish I could include his butter poached Maine lobster with leeks, pommes maxim, and red beet essence, but the preparation is a bit labor intensive for my champagne influenced culinary skills. Plus, there are about three ingredients I am still trying to pronounce, let alone prepare. I'll save it for next year.
  • Gruyere Cheese Gougeres (cheesy poofs!) Great to snack on whilst you cook together.
  • Oysters and Pearls (pearl tapioca with Malpeque oysters and osetra caviar) aphrodisiac appetizer!
  • Salmon Tartare with red onion creme fraiche (served in mini ice cream cones!) My ideal dessert.
Gift idea! Consider putting together a basket for your valentine - include a cookbook, the required ingredients and a nice bottle of bubbly! Cheers!

Go Out:
If you feel cooking adds additional, unnecessary pressure to your day, make a reservation stat. As far as I can tell, these restaurants are NOT doing a prixe fixe menu and they are long time favorites of mine.
  • Bacaro: Romantic Italian (in Chinatown?!) Dimly lit, cavernous space perfect for playing tonsil hockey.
  • Bobo: Fashionable French set in a w.village brownstone loaded with fireplaces and Parisian antiques.
  • Il BucoRustic, home style Italian on Bond Street with a seasonal menu and a chance to see Snickers.
  • AOC: Grand, w.village space with a beautiful back garden and perfectly unpronounceable French fare.
  • Quinto Quarto: Gaze into each others eyes over dim candlelight and enormous bowls of pasta.
Chest bump your way into love. Sign up for couples beer pong at The Village Pourhouse.

Take an 'Anti Valentines Day' Cooking Class at The Brooklyn Kitchen ...on Februrary 11th! Snap!

Throw an I Hate Valentines Day Party complete with appropriate attire, sarcastic treats and requisite playlist:
Valentine's Day Massacre.

Hitched: Get the *bleep* out of NYC. Spend each others co-mingled cash to get away and celebrate the fact that you will  forever have a valentine.

Enjoy your VD! (chuckle chuckle, laugh laugh),
The Heat


Shopping for iPhone Apps at the Greenmarket

Going to the Union Square Greenmarket is one of my favorite weekly activities. Outdoors and surrounded by food, I find it to be one of the most relaxing, interesting errands I run. It usually takes about three passes through the entire market, touching, smelling and talking to each vendor, for me to decide what I am going to purchase and how I will use them. My brain is normally on overload, recalling recipes and articles about specific produce and their uses, while mentally storing them in my tiny fridge, making sure it will all fit. There is also the concern of if I can eat it all before it goes bad, an unfortunate consequence of living on your own. This whole process may sound painfully tedious to some, specifically my dog Nike, who patiently walks with me to and fro each vendor, then carries my load back to the west village, but for me, it is a welcomed break in the day. My only frustrations arise when I don't know what is fresh/in-season or how best to store or use something.

In walks my iPhone. With an influx of helpful applications and email alerts, my shopping and eating experiences have become easier and more efficient than ever. I've kept an ongoing list of applications/email alerts that have sparked my interest. Some are awe inducing, others are merely helpful (read: free), and many are just so ridiculous, I had to share them:

Awe Inducing:
  • Harvest (2.99) Make sure your melons are firm. A guide to selecting the freshest, in season produce.
  • Still Tasty (1.99) An app that practically sniffs your milk. Self induced food poisoning ain't fun. 
  • WineChap (4.99) Look like you know what you're doing - suggested wines off most NYC menus.
  • FoodScanner (.99) Scan the barcodes on food and keep track of how many calories you've eaten. Then cry.
  • DrinkFit (1.99) If you can keep track of your caloric intake at a bar, then you aren't drinking enough.
  • Food Substitutes (.99) For when you can't find Hungarian paprika. Suggests substitutions in a pinch.
  • Cookbook (free) Enter what you have in your cupboards and it'll suggest a recipe. Use only when desperate.
  • LocalEats (.99) Great for business travel. Top 100 restaurants in the 50 largest cities voted by locals.
  • Fromage (2.99) Offers wine/cheese pairings, tracks favorites, and makes suggestions.
  • Postabon (free) Tracks NYC bar and restaurant specials, promotions and discounts. $1 beers anyone?
  • VegOut (2.99) Vegetarian restaurant guide for that 'oops, you're a vegetarian' moment.
  • Groupon (email alert) Daily deals in NYC - food, beverage, spas etc.
  • Blackboard Eats (email alert) Twice weekly email for exclusive deals at NYC's hottest restaurants.
  • Epi (free) Enter an ingredient and find 25,000 ways to prepare it. 
  • Whole Foods Recipes (free) Health-centric recipes, but I just like their pictures. They're pretty.
  • Grocery (free) User friendly grocery list app with an email feature in case you can pawn off the shopping.
  • Hello Vino (free) For wine-o wannabes. Search by occasion, food pairing, type, or price and sound smart.
  • OpenTable (free) I use it the second I receive notice of upcoming restaurant weeks to get the good tables.
  • Yelp (free) It's like having a know-it-all friend out with you - including the annoying, unfiltered opinions.
  • Urbanspoon (free) Just for fun. There's no way I'm taking a slot machine chance on what's for dinner.
  • Tasting Table (email alert) Food culture alerts daily. Feel in-the-know.
  • Kluckr (.99) A wing finder. You didn't know you needed it until now. 
  • Pancake Flip (.99) Pay 99 cents to look like you have Turrets. Perfect your pancake flipping virtually. Wow.
  • Bell BBQ (free) Virtually grill a bratworst. I'm flabbergasted that it's free.
  • Tipulator (1.99) If you live in NYC and still can't calculate 20%, shame. on. you.
  • Pocket Cocktails (.99) Be Your Own Bartender recipes with a rad "shaker" mode sound effect. KYS.
  • Fast Food Calorie Counter (.99) Oh, four McGriddle's are better for you than a Big Mac? Excellent.
Feel free to share your favorites! Thank you for following.

- The Heat


A Little Down Home in NYC

Howdy partners! This past Friday I attended my first rodeo right here in NYC. Every Manhattanite with even a hint of southern lineage strapped on their hipster plaid and trendy Frey boots to attend this year's PBR classic at MSG. It was quite the experience and I walked away knowing a little bit more about the sport. 1) PBR means 'Professional Bull Riding' not that it is sponsored by the beer, which I didn't learn until I'd frantically searched every kiosk for a can of the stuff. 2) While exciting, it is not the most humane sport. 3) I'd much rather watch the halftime show where kids ride sheep. It gave me some good ideas for my birthday party this year...

The rodeo inspired my group to continue our night at a bull riding bar in the LES called Mason Dixon. There the entertainment was girls in stilettos trying to look sexy while holding on for dear life to a mechanical bull. However it's hard to smile and look cute when your baby-maker is getting repeatedly slammed into the pummel of the plastic bull's saddle. Which makes for an interesting morning the next day. (How'd I get that bruise?) Finally, a creepy bald dude steps in and with the flick of a wrist decides that your turn is over, launching you awkwardly onto the mats and ending your 15 seconds of fame. Alas, there was an endless supply of willing and able stilleto- clad bodies lining up to take on the bull.

Me, I stuck to being a supportive spectator and focused on more important things - such as food. All of this rodeo talk got me thinking about southern food - barbeque to be exact. And there's only one place that properly satisfies my craving - Dinosaur BBQ. A famous Syracuse barbecue joint opened an outpost in Harlem, an expensive cab ride from downtown, but well worth the trip. he second you walk in the door you'll be hit with a wave of aromas so intense, it'll give you barbeque-induced-amnesia, immediately erasing the length of time and cost for you to get there. The atmosphere is half biker, half ski lodge, buzzing with activity and on most nights, live music. They have a fantastic beer selection and a large bar area to wait in. Reservations are a must on the weekend. Call at least a week in advance for larger parties.

Now lets get down to business. My order:

  • Wango Tango Wings: Savory, sweet until the heat catches up to you. And it will!
  • Fried Green Tomatoes: Crisp and tart, dipped in a creamy buttermilk ranch dressing. Perfection.
  • Big Ass Pork Plate: Heaps of moist pulled pork served with two sides. Choosing your sides is the most difficult part, as they're all mouth watering. I stick to the creamy mac n cheese and the bbq baked beans (with tiny pieces of sausage baked in - oh my!) 
  • Honorable mentions: 
    • Tres Hombre - chopped pork, beef brisket and a half rack of ribs. 
    • Syracuse Salt Potatoes 
    • Chilli in a Half Shell 
    • Creole Spiced Deviled Eggs 
    • BBQ Fried Rice

Don't make any plans for after dinner, as you wont be able to walk. And don't be embarrassed for taking home a doggie bag. Pulled pork is a totally acceptable breakfast meat.

Yabba-dabba do,

The Heat


Lidia Bastianich's Sunday Bolognese: the Italian 'Nonna' I Never Had

The first time I was asked to "pass the gravy" during dinner with my childhood friend's Italian-American family, I searched frantically for the lumpy, brown stuff we serve at Thanksgiving. After getting a graceful nudge toward the meat sauce from my dear friend, I realized my error. For those of us that didn't grow up with an Italian 'Nonna' (or did not watch last week's Jersey Shore), Italian-Americans frequently refer to meat sauce as gravy.

The closest thing I have to a Nonna is Lidia Bastianich. And the closest thing I have to Nonna's Sunday gravy is her recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese, which can be found in her cookbook, Lidia's Family Table. She explains bolognese as a traditional Sunday staple in Italy, which has two distinct versions: one with milk, referred to as 'antica', and one without, called 'tradizionale'. I chose to prepare the antica, where the milk solids help break down the meat, allowing it to have a smoother, creamier texture. I gave it my own twist by adding bay leaves while the sauce was simmering and by using red wine to moisten the meat instead of white, as that is what was leftover from Saturday night. I also chose to serve my bolognese on top of whole wheat spaghetti rather than tagliatelle, as suggested. A third trip to the grocery store wasn't happening in this cold.

The recipe took about five hours, start to finish, an admittedly large time commitment, but the end result was well worth the wait. It was also much simpler to prepare than I thought, the only difficulty being the time and patience it calls for. It's nothing a good book, a stool, and substitute stirrer can't remedy. This recipe makes a boatload of sauce, perfect for storing in the freezer and great for another helping over gnocchi or a filling for lasagna. Whether you call it sauce, gravy, ragu, or sugo, there is something inherently comforting about an aromatic pot of red sauce bubbling away on the stove during the day of rest. So unless you have an Italian Nonna at hand (you lucky dog), I suggest you try Lidia Bastianich's Ragu alla Bolognese this winter.

Not a cook? Treat yourself to Lidia's pappardelle ragu at her restaurant in midtown east, Felidia. Reservations a must.

Ragu alla Bolognese: Ricetta Antica
  • 2lbs ground beef
  • 2lbs ground pork 
  • 2 cups dry red or white wine (whatever you have) 
  • 6 ounces pancetta (or regular bacon in a pinch) 
  • 5 large garlic cloves 
  • 2T. olive oil 
  • 2 medium onions, minced (food processor preferable) 
  • 2 celery stalks, minced (food processor preferable) 
  • 1 carrot, shredded or minced in food processor with celery 
  • 1/2t. salt or to taste 
  • 6T. tomato paste 
  • 2 cups of milk (heated at time of use) 
  • 1/2t. nutmeg or to taste 
  • 2 large bay leaves 
  • 2 cups of broth (beef, chicken, or veg. I prefer low sodium to control the salt) Heated. 
  • Freshly ground pepper
  1. Break up and mix together ground beef and pork in a large mixing bowl. Pour over wine and mix in with fingers to ensure it's evenly moistened.
  2. Roughly cut pancetta into 1 inch slices and place in a food processor with peeled garlic. Process into a fine paste (this is called a pestata). 
  3. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven (6-quart capacity), pour olive oil and scrape in the pestata. Place over medium/high heat and break up with a spoon to render the juices. 
  4. Once the pestata is sizzling away and is very aromatic, stir in the minced onion for a few minutes until they start to sweat. Now add your minced carrots and celery, stirring until they're all wilted and golden, about 5 minutes. 
  5. Turn the heat up a bit, push the vegetables to the side and add your meat mixture to the pan, giving it a few moments to caramelize and brown on the bottom of the pan before mixing in with the vegetables. Cook on high heat, stirring frequently, for ab.out 30-45 minutes, until all all of the liquid has disappeared. Begin heating up your liquids (milk, broth) for the next steps. 
  6. Once again, push aside your meat/vegetable mixture and create a hole to place the tomato paste so it can lightly toast. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. 
  7. Pour in 2 cups of hot milk and stir into the meat mixture, making sure to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of your pan. 
  8. Now grate the nutmeg into the pan. 
  9. Bring the sauce to a slow, steady simmer, consistently bubbling away on all surface area. Cover and let cook for at least 3hrs, checking and stirring about every 20 minutes. Use hot broth to maintain the sauces liquid levels throughout cooking. 
  10. To finish the sauce, uncover and allow sauce to simmer itself into a thicker, pudding-like consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste at this point, allowing at least 5 minutes of additional cook time for the spices to distribute. Fish out your bay leaves and if desired, spoon off any access fat if using right away. If storing, leave the fat on to protect the sauce, spooning it when it's cold, before use.


- The Heat