In honor of finishing the book Julie and Julia I decided to try my hand at Julia Child’s famous Boeuf Borguignon. Boeuf Borguignon holds the importance of a character in Julie Powell’s book about her trials and tribulations while cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Boeuf Borguignon also holds a special place in my family’s history. My Father hates stew as well as anything mushy. I don’t blame him, as many of his childhood meals came out of a pressure cooker, colorless, textureless and bland. He also hates snaps – not the food - the kind on feetie pajamas. When my Dad was a child my Grandmother made all his clothes with a snap machine. It was quicker and cheaper than sewing on individual buttons. Therefore everything had snaps. Picture a thirteen year old boy going to school with snaps on his shirt and you can understand his phobia. Snaps and stew – just a few of those childhood scars that linger into adulthood – hey, it could be worse.
When I was eight, my Aunt made beef stew on a family ski trip – a warm and hearty après ski meal. My Father vehemently disagreed. After much chagrin, the only way we could get my Dad to try it was to call it something fancy – Boeuf Borguignon! I remember my Mom teaching us kids how to pronounce the fancy dish – pinching our noses so we all sounded distinctly French. Now it's the only way my family will say it and it makes me chuckle every time. My Father still hates it.
For all intents and purposes, Boeuf Borguignon is indeed stewed beef - and he's gonna love this - Dad was right. But it is far from being colorless, textureless or bland. Beef chuck is seared in bacon fat, giving it a wonderful brown crust before slow cooking it in the juices of vegetables, red wine and beef stock with a touch of cognac. To finish the dish, you add a handful of pearl onions, browned mushrooms and a dollop of butter. To really finish the dish you’ll need a loaf of crusty French bread and a bottle of Burgundy. It is best served the next day - during a snowstorm with a snuggly dog at your feet and a good movie.
Okay, a mediocre movie. As expected, the book is better than the movie. That’s not to say I didn’t just rent Julie and Julia for a second time. (Man this is embarrassing). But hey, I just spent three hours making Julia Child’s signature dish – and I feel like I can sort of relate to her. I love French food. I have an infatuation with Paris. I’m unusually tall and wear sensible shoes (sometimes). My French is a joke. And I too found my passion late in life – or at least that’s how every interviewer has made me feel. Apparently 28 is the new 37 (how old Julia Child was when she changed careers).I also swoon at romantic metaphors where I am compared to food, as Julia did when her husband called her ‘the butter to his bread’. Sigh. In fairness, most women would not appreciate being compared to butter. Know your audience.
Regardless of my feelings about the movie, and the book for that matter, it is indisputable that Julia Child is an inspiration to those that find their calling later in life – whether chef or dedicated orderer-in. And I can’t hate on Julie Powell either – she took charge and changed her life with a cookbook, a blog and a whole lot of butter. It’s more than I can say for myself – as I sit here in my day old sweats, blogging about a movie about a book about a blogger about a chef – waiting to hear on a job offer. I guess I’ll have another cup of stew.
March Madness - a term most use in reference to the upcoming NCAA basketball playoffs - is the nickname I gave my annual stomach flu. The past four years, I have gotten some form of the stomach flu/food poisoning in March (and always on a Friday mind you, ruining the entire weekend rather than granting me a well deserved sick day). It is eerily consistent. This year must be a leap year on my internal calendar though, because Christmas come early.
Friday night had a great plan - sushi at the ever-popular Tomoe, followed by a cocktail at an old favorite, Crispo, a comedy show at Comix, and a nightcap at my neighborhood wine bar, Otheroom.
Friday night had a few wrenches thrown in it, followed by the entire toolbox.
Tomoe was good - an impressive array of fish, generous portions and one heck of a California roll. Tomoe also gave me food poisoning - I'm 98% sure. For one, my food intake that day was bland and boring (think English muffin, an apple, coffee and maybe a chocolate croissant). Secondly, we caught a sushi chef taking a second look at a piece of salmon, scraping the top with his knife and then placing it on our plate. I ate it with vigor and heck, it tasted fine. But it didn't taste as good on the way out at 3am. The way I look at it, I chose to eat raw fish - I rolled the dice and I lost. It's in the odds.
Comix: Turns out Tom Green isn't funny anymore(?). Whacked out of his mind? Yes. Bitter about his divorce from Drew Barrymore? Apparently. An entertaining stand-up comedian? I'm afraid not. Kudos to him for having the ball to attempt a comeback. (Pun fully intended if not insensitive). But he spent the entire evening panting, while frantically pacing the stage, sweating, stuttering and staring bug-eyed out at the crowd. He sang a few of his old songs which garnered a chuckle or two, but mostly he just ranted about his bout with Drew and his divorce from his ball. Okay, I'll stop. He should get a standing O for surviving testicular cancer (and a relationship with that nutjob). And he did pose for a [bad] picture with me. Welcome back, Tom.
The March Madness hit me roughly right after this picture, (therefore accounting for the 2% uncertainty I have for cause of my illness - hey, it's possible). Regardless of cause, about a sip into my drink at the Otheroom I had to run home and make nice with my bathroom floor. I don't mean to yadda yadda over the good part, but use your imagination and multiply times three. Suffiices to say I have bathroom tile marks on my forehead. The weekend consisted of really bad movies, some Olympics and a lot of fluids. The highlight being an enormous bowl of strawberry Jello, which I now believe is one of the most under-appreciated foods.
Now that I'm moving onto big girl foods, and in honor of Tom Green's bout with testicular cancer, I am going to try my hand at Matzo Ball Soup (you know you're smiling). I dog-eared this recipe in NYMAG - from Chef Jo-Ann Markovitzky of Toqueville. My only variation of the recipe will be to use seltzer instead of the two tablespoons of chicken soup when making the matzo balls - the 'secret ingredient' my Jewish friend shared with me years ago and will probably yell at me for disclosing. If all this talk gave you a craving you just have to satisfy, Katz's Deli swears their balls are so light, they'd float away if it weren't for the chicken soup surrounding it. (It actually says that on the menu - I swear).
I have begged my Korean colleagues to take me out for some authentic Korean food for years. They always fire back with a litany of excuses why they won't take me to Manhattan's Korea Town: "It's touristy", "It's not authentic", "Queens is better", "Fort Lee is the real Korea town", "I only eat my Mom's cooking - and no, I will not bring a doggie bag to the trading floor". They all may be legit reasons - but that doesn't mean I let up. And I finally won.
Last night I was exposed to the wonders of K-Town and the hidden nightlife behind it. My conclusions (if stereotypical and broad):
Korean men have excellent manners.
Korean women party hard.
Soju is vodka's evil cousin.
For those that have been overwhelmed with choices walking down 32nd in search of authentic Korean BBQ, you aren't alone. Towering above you from second and even third stories, with neon signs in both broken English and Korean, offering distinctly different, yet delicious smells, the restaurant options simultaneously lure and scare. Sure, you could eenie-meenie-mini-mo it and probably have a decent meal wherever you decide, but I don't ever leave my dinner to chance. Which is why I called in the experts, who led me up an interior staircase in an unassuming, casual eatery that sort of reminded me of a Jewish Deli. It was a choice I never would have made for myself, but boy am I glad we did. The restaurant of choice was called New York Kom Tang Kal Bi House. Why this particular spot? Because they use charcoal grills rather than gas or electric, which makes for a smokier, charred meat, (if not your clothing). - something I never would have guessed from the sidewalk.
My party handled the ordering quickly and effectively, in fluent Korean mind you, and within minutes we were surrounded with activity. Waiters brought out fifteen small bowls of condiments, salads, jellies and sauces - two of which I recognized, all of which I enjoyed tremendously. Next, a foot in diameter vegetable pancake arrived, crispy and light, whipping even the best scallion pancake's ass. A bowl of spicy tofu soup came on it's own personal bunsen burner, which allowed for a third and final steamy cup of goodness at the end of our meal. For the main act we chose two beef entrees: a hunk of soft sirloin which was chargrilled and eaten with hot sesame oil spiked with salt and pepper - better than butter. And the traditional marinaded short ribs which were thin sliced for us to wrap in lettuce leaves and garnish with a hoisin like peanut sauce, spicy green peppers and slivers of raw garlic. Better than Benihana's lettuce wraps by a mile - yes I said it.
Throughout dinner I played my part as the overly eager beaver, spitting questions out almost as quickly as I ate. My friends patiently answered and explained every dish, sauce, condiment, and drink - of which there were dozens. The best part? Dinner for four hovered around $100 - and full doesn't even begin to describe how we felt. I took copious notes of what we ate, in hopes that I can play the in-the-know faux Korean with my friends next time (tonight?).
The next stop on the K-town express was Third Floor, a swank restaurant/lounge hidden on the, wait for it, third floor of a nearby office building. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive upon entering the jam-packed, bumping bar - I started humming 'which-one's-not-like-the-other' as I made my way through the obviously all Korean crowd. At nearly six feet tall and blond, I didn't exactly blend in, but boy did it get me a lot of free drinks. Here's another stereotype you can cringe at: Korean men like tall, blond women. Korean women? Not so much - but nothing a few rounds of tequila shots can't smooth over. Within minutes our crew had tripled in size as well as blood alcohol level, so we moved the party to a scene more conducive to loud drunk ladies.
Circle was our next and final destination. Known to many [transvestites] as "Arena" on all nights but Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I was told it is the Korean hotspot. Free drinks for ladies before 10:30 and an admittedly great set list called for a jam packed dance floor within an hour of arrival. Three free vodka and tonics later and there I was, all lanky arms and legs, grinding it out with a gaggle of hot and sexy Korean women that might have come up to my armpits. Thankfully the only camera to be found did not capture the alluring scene as I danced off my Korean BBQ in ignorant bliss.
So thank you to all that showed me a great time last night - I appreciate your patience and courage for bringing me out. See you tonight for the Korean Fist Pumping Contest featuring Ronnie and Vinny from our beloved Jersey Shore.
Anyone else find it ironic that Fashion Week started on Fat Tuesday? I guess you could argue that both celebrate a season of fasting. For those of us that aren't walking the catwalks today, you might feel as I do after the long weekend - sluggish, tired, bloated, and well, FAT. How appropriate. The majority of the East Coast was trapped indoors by the snow and forced (FORCED I tell you!) to eat hordes of comfort food to stay warm. I spent the weekend up in Vermont where ironically there is no snow (and unfortunately no skiing) causing food and booze to be the focus of the weekend. Amongst the dozen friends that stayed at the house, we had a handful of fantastic cooks, all of which contributed to the weekend's smorgasbord. Spicy chili, oozy ziti, homemade pigs in a blanket, queso dip, meatballs and gravy, grilled flank steak, and a few roasted vegetables for good measure - it's no wonder I'm moving slowly today.
Unfortunately I'm not the type of person who can do a complete 180 and eat nothing but celery sticks the next day. And I don't want to believe in cleanses. The way I look at it, one day I'll probably have to drink all my meals through a straw. I should chew while I still can. In order to ease my body off the sugar and fat high from the weekend, I have decided to make a pot of vegetarian chili. Chock full of high fiber beans, vitamin laden vegetables, and healing spices, it's a healthy dish that doesn't skimp on flavor and warmth. And in honor of Fat Tuesday, I have chosen a recipe from the King of Creole himself, chef Emeril Lagasse. For my own twist, I will add two favorite ingredients - chickpeas for a touch of toughness and raisins for a sweet surprise. I also omitted the cilantro - opting to add fresh cilantro or parsley as a garnish, depending on my mood. Other ideas for garni include a sprinkle of Emeril's Essence (either buy it or follow the recipe below), sliced avocado, crushed cashews, or chopped scallions.
2 tablespoons canolaoil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 cup chopped red bell peppers
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1 medium zucchini, stem ends trimmed and cut into small dice
If you haven't heard of sludge, then you've never lived in Manhattan. It is the one word that accurately describes what I woke up to this morning. That and a hangover. A handful of friends and I decided to celebrate the much hyped Snow Storm 2010 and the subsequent snow day - we should have known better. There may be no school today, but there's work. And that's the thing - there will always be work. Especially when you live in Manhattan - subways work, feet work, and cab drivers try to work, much to our detriment. Yes, you can get to work. Snow days are now like Santa Claus - existing in their magical form only as kids. So you see, we shouldn't get that excited about snow. We shouldn't, but we did - and we did it in Williamsburg.
Doning my dirty Converse, plastic Ray Bans in hand, we stopped for a little nourishment at Walter Foods. You have to stock up before a snow storm and I added to my winter padding with one of the best pork chops I have ever eaten. Double cut and grilled to a beautiful char, these chops were tops. They were served on a bed of mashers with a Brussels sprout and apple slaw and an apple-cinnamon-shallot compote - a step up from the apple sauce I usually drench my chops in to mask the dryness. A Moroccan influenced couscous was a lighter option - served with roasted butternut squash, toasted hazelnuts and fennel seeds, each bite was interesting with such a unique blend of flavors. The only knock on the dish was the portion size - unsatisfactory - especially for a dish as inexpensive to prepare as couscous. I'll be recreating the dish at home in the near future for a fraction of the cost. Admittedly we made an ordering error on the appetizer front. Instead of going with what they're known for - the amazing oyster selection and raw bar - we went with the crispy string beans, evoking my favorite dish from the e.village's The Smith. They were fairly bland and served with an overpowering hoison sauce. I'd like a re-do where I can chase a dozen bivalves with a bowl of their hearty clam chowder. But everyone makes mistakes.
On our way to the Music Hall of Williamsburg, we stopped at the Lovin' Cup Cafe, for a few poorly poured cocktails. Even though they have a multitude of fruit and spice infused liquors, their mixology left something to be desired - most notably, larger ice cubes and an experienced bartender. They're cocktail list paraded all the old school classics - sazeracs, old fashioneds, sidecars - but they didn't coordinate with the overall vibe of the place (beer swigging, tequila tasting dive bar - in a good way!) I know the whole speakeasy thing is huge right now - especially in Brooklyn - but if you're gonna do it, you have to do it right. And you don't have to do it at all!
What Williamsburg did do right was an amazing show - we went to see Yeasayer and they were off the chain. If you're laughing at my lame description and want a more in-depth critique of the show, check out Brooklyn Vegan's review or download my favorite song, Sunrise. I can't even pretend to be a music critic - I just like what I like - and I liked.
Overall, a great first experience in Williamsburg and one I look forward to again - on my list for next time:
It would be interesting to see which day you consume more calories: Thanksgiving or Super Bowl Sunday? Is there more butter in stuffing or wing sauce? How many of us actually consume a vegetable during the Super Bowl? Every single one of you just said 'celery!' with the utmost enthusiasm. And we know the only reason you eat the celery is to get more of that blue cheese in your mouth. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I think it's fair to say that I consume more in volume on Thanksgiving, but more in garbage on Super Bowl Sunday - giving the latter an edge due to overall caloric intake. And I see no reason to stop this year.
I loathe packed bars on Super Bowl Sunday. They're overcrowded, under-served and I can never hear the commentary - and I need commentary. Especially this year when I don't know, nor care, about either team. My only knowledge of this year's bowl may or may not have come from E! Superbowl Girlfriends Showdown, where Kim Kardashian's butt took on Kendra Wilkinson's rack. Needless to say, my money's on the Saints.
I will be watching the Superbowl in the comfort of a living room, where I can hear the game, critique the commercials, drink cold beer and eat my own food. Two years ago I made buffalo wings, which were admittedly easy (oven, Frank's, butter), but kept me from the action and set off many a smoke detector. This year I am taking a shortcut, thanks to my friends in Philly who are experts in wings, if not football (who can back off an Eagles dig?!). They showed up to my Superbowl party last year with buffalo chicken dip and it has since made appearances on ski trips and random late nights. It is delicious and can be prepared ahead of time, allowing you to watch the game rather than babysit the oven, while still filling your Frank's quota. I like it best served with a chewy baguette torn into pieces for dipping, but a bag of Scoops will work in a pinch. Or a spoon (it's been done before).
Marabella's Buffalo Chicken Dip
1 8oz. package of Cream Cheese (Philadelphia if you're being authentic)
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded (quickly poach chicken breasts or buy a rotisserie chicken)
1/2 cup Frank's Hot Sauce (or your favorite)
1/2 cup of Blue Cheese Dressing
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350
Cover the bottom of an 8" x 8" Pyrex or oven safe pie plate with cream cheese
In a large mixing bowl, combine shredded chicken, butter, and wing sauce. Pour over cream cheese.
Drizzle blue cheese dressing and sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top.
Heat in oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted.
In other news, it is reported that Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi was booed during her appearance at this year's 'Wing Bowl'. Fans of the WING EATING competition in PHILADELPHIA were annoyed that the gawdy reality star was given rights to speak during their esteemed event. I'll let you be the judge.
Her response? The Snook flipped 'em the bird on national television. Classless my a$$.
Groundhog's Day is my least favorite holiday. You don't get the day off. There are no celebratory foods. And Phil rarely gives us good news. I don't need some ugly rodent reminding me that I have six more weeks of this. Trust me Phil, I KNOW. Does this look like Spring's around the corner? That is Hudson River my friend. Now go back in your hole.
I will say, Phil's got one thing going for him - he gets to hibernate this misery away. We only get to hibernate on the weekends. Unless you're my dog, who dislikes cold more than anyone I know and refuses to come out from under the covers on days like this. This weekend was an 'under-the-covers-on-the-couch-with-something-warm-and-a-movie' kind of weekend. And I did just that. Luckily I hit up a sale Saturday and scored a Le Creuset french oven and two small ramekin - perfect for the Coq Au Vin I planned for Sunday's dinner.
Coq au Vin literally means 'chicken in wine'. It's a warm, hearty chicken dish that's simmered in bacon fat and slow cooked with onions, mushrooms and carrots. Being a French dish, I channeled my inner Julia Child and used her recipe as a guide. I chose Cognac instead of Brandy, as I had some leftover from an apres ski party. I also added some baby carrots that needed to be used up, which added a burst of color. The dish was rich, warm and aromatic. I served it in the ramekins with hunks of crusty bread for dipping and gigantic glasses of a French Burgundy. Bon Appetit!
Coq Au Vin: (adapted from Julia Child)
2 cups bacon (thick cut is best)
2 1/2 to 3lb chicken (quartered)
1 tbs. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp herbs de provence
2 dried bay leaves
1/4 tsp dried thyme (or 5 fresh sprigs)
3 cups red wine (Burgundy is best, Pinot Noir is cheaper)
1 cup chicken stock
Beurre manie, for the sauce (1 1/2 tbs. each flour softened butter blended to a paste)
Fresh parsley sprigs for garnish (roughly chopped or whole)
1/3 cup good brandy or cognac (optional)
Dozen pearl onions
3 cups fresh mushrooms, trimmed, quartered if large.
Dozen baby carrots or two large carrots peeled and roughly chopped
Place bacon in dutch oven or large, heavy skillet over medium heat and cook until browned and crispy. Remove and place on paper towels.
Wash and dry the chicken pieces. Flour, salt, pepper and brown in the bacon fat on both sides. Do this in batches if all won't make contact with the surface. About 3 minutes a side.
Add onions, garlic, mushrooms, carrots and saute for 2 minutes to soften the vegetables. I had to remove the chicken from the dish briefly to let them have some pan space.
With chicken and vegetables back in the dish, turn off flame and add the cognac. Light a match and flambe the brandy/cognac to burn off the alcohol. Feel cool. I did.
When the flames die down (about 1 minute), add the wine and chicken broth.
Add the herbs. Stir to mix.
Lower heat, cover and simmer for 1hr.
Remove cover and allow sauce to reduce for about 15 minutes, adding the Beurre manie slowly, to thicken the sauce.