"" What's She Eating Now?: June 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fancy, and Not So Fancy, Food

I returned from the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center yesterday with a very confused stomach. Think sampling specialty foods from the world over by touring aisles that span several football fields, times two floors, and juxtapose candy and confections, with meats and cheeses, with oils and vinegars, with exotic beverages and other miscellaneous items. That said, I endured the back and forths between sweet and savory (and sometimes delicious and disgusting) to ferret out some of the best products available.

Before I reveal my top 10 list, however, I need to share some winners of a different kind.


First up, I give the “Are You Serious Award” to the pizza in a cone. “A new way of eating pizza” all the way from Spain, this product consists of a dough cone with pizza stuffings that one heats up in the microwave. It is reported in the literature to have a ‘pleasant and acceptable smell and taste,’ qualities I certainly look for when I eat conical food. For some reason this company had a huge booth well placed at the end of an aisle but no samples so we may never find out if the tuna flavor is as good as the representative boasted.


Next is a dead tie for the “What’s in a Name Award”. The first co-winner is the maker of Cheesecake in a Jar. The face my Show companion made when she tried it gave me an idea of what it tasted like but for the sake of argument lets say it was delicious, I don’t see Dean & Deluca eager to line their shelves with an item of said sobriquet. Cheesecake in a Jar shares its envious honor with GarLic It, a line of marinated garlic products for use primarily in sauces, marinades, and condiments. The marketing material convincingly declares “you’ll Like it!” I confess I actually thought the product itself was pretty good and I could see using at least two of their flavors in a variety of things but items with names like this belong next to things like Slankets and Shamwows in stores that sell things you ‘can only buy on TV in the next 10 seconds’. If you can somehow accept having this product in your house if you get hit by a bus and your family and friends go through your possessions its actually worth a try. Check it out at slicedgarlic.com.


The “Fraternity Prank Recipe Award” goes to this gem from Riba Foods that I found, rightfully so, on the floor of the convention center: Salsa Cheesecake. I would declare “need I say more?” except I need say more: the recipe calls for a topping of black bean dip. Requiring someone to eat this as a condition of “friendship” would be the worst sort of pledging ritual.


The “Mr. Hanky/Picture Says a Thousand Words Award.” (See photo on right)


Now on to the good stuff. I based my selections loosely on a combination of taste, originality, and ingredient quality and regret that I couldn't include everything I gave the thumbs up to. My top nods go to the following exhibitors:


#1. Porcetta from Porchetta Primata. Narrowly eeking out top honors, Porcetta Primata uses antibiotic and hormone free pigs raised on a corn and soybean diet. To prepare the porcetta they first de-bone the pig and hand rub it with select spices.

They then sew the pig back up and roast it Italian style for over 4 hours. The end result is moist, succulent pork meat surrounded by skin cooked to a perfect crispiness. And the best part, you can get it delivered to your door. Your choices: The classic porcetta pictured here is a whole pig and weighs approximately 45 pounds. If you’re not entertaining an army any time soon there are options for a tronchetto (a loin and belly roll prepared the same way) weighing in at 16-19 pounds, a proscuitto porcetta (leg) tipping the scales at 10-12 pounds, or the pancetta porcetta (belly) weighing in at a light snack weight of 3-4 pounds.


#2. Strauss Free Raised Veal. On offer at this booth was a strip cut of veal prepared with just a little salt in a skillet and, a veal hot dog. The strip was positively delicious. The meat was tender and outrageously flavorful, so much so that I was able to ignore the somewhat bizarre man standing next to me trying to make an entire lunch out of the samples and randomly stabbing several pieces with his used toothpick in an apparent attempt to claim them. Next came the hotdog. I was expecting it to ruin the great taste I had left over from the strip and it blew me away. “How is this so good?” I asked. Jessica Mosner, a third generation meat wholesaler from Mosner Veal & Lamb, informed me that they use 100% shoulder meat ‘so there are no odds and ends in there’ and its also skinless so there is no texture or flavor interference from a casing. Mosner partners with Strauss who ensures the veal they sell is humanely-raised, free-to-roam, has access to its mother’s milk in addition to 100% vegetarian feed, and is hormone and drug-free (See Strauss's site). Stay tuned for retail distribution coming to New York in the next few weeks.


#3. Black Garlic. I give this product serious points for originality. It looks just like garlic but is its cloves are black and it tastes sort of like a prune with hints of mushroom and is really good. It gets this way through a special month-long high-heat fermentation process which gives it its darker color, softer consistency, and sweeter taste. Their website has a tab with recipes but I think this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can do with it. Especially because it also comes in liquid form which I could easily imagine using as a sauce ingredient or even as a stock (yes, they had it flowing in a fountain at the show).


#4. Yanni Grilling Cheese. This cheese is semi-firm and cow milk based but what is unusual is the high heat it can withstand without melting. I don’t know how they get it to do that and I am not sure I want to but I can tell you that after cooking this cheese in a pan it is insanely good. The surly guy making the cheese told me you can find it at Wholefoods.


#5. Charlie’s Truffled Popcorn from Susan Rice. I regret not taking the contraband sample I was offered after I revealed myself as the popular blogger behind WhatsSheEatingNow.com. The bag was large and I thought it wouldn’t fit in my purse but in retrospect I wish I just shoved it under my shirt and pretended I had a bun in the oven because I could sure go for some now. Light fluffy popcorn dusted with truffles makes a great snack. Truth be told you can make this yourself pretty easily with an investment in some truffle salt but why go through the trouble when Susan Rice does such a good job. Check out her site for some other Susan Rice truffle products and read about her ambitious mission to bring black truffle farming to the US and corner the market.


#6. Japanese Delight Kombu Seaweed Products. Low fat, low calorie, and sans artificial flavors or transfats, these pre-packaged seaweed and seaweed/noodle products allow you to make traditional-like Japanese dishes at home in 10 minutes—oh, and it tastes good. They don’t distribute in New York quite yet but you can buy packs of 10 at this page on Amazon.


#7. Crepinis by Crepini Café. Despite the unfortunate name, crepinis come in both savory and sweet flavors and are actually quite good without breaking the calorie bank (the spinach and feta is only 40 calories per serving and is pretty hearty). Why did they choose a name that sounds like crap? The wrap is a cross between a crepe and a blini. But if you can get past this transgression the product is quite good and is hand-made to order with local, all-natural ingredients and is available on their site. The portobella-parmagiano was my favorite of the ones I tried.


#8. Chilean Carica from Tamaya Gourmet. Carica is a fruit that grows in the semi-desert valleys of northern Chile. Tamaya Gourmet bottles it and also a pear unique to the area and they are both delicious. Check them out at TamayaGourmet.com.


#9. Tur-Duc-Hen from Tony Chachere’s. To be honest I thought this would be gross—a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey and then frozen for you to later defrost in your home. I tried it for yucks and to have something funny to write about but I have to say it was better than I thought it would be.


#10. Kim Chee Fried Rice Sauce from Hawaiian Pride. I had a language barrier issue here which ended up with me walking away with a sample I wasn’t supposed to have so these guys deserve a brief write up. This flavoring comes in liquid form and is all natural with no preservatives. It was great. They had other flavors for different uses as well but they don’t seem to have a website. Its in a packet that looks like powdered seasoning but its squishy when you pick it up as its actually liquid. If you happen upon it or some of their other products they are worth a try if you want to make dishes with difficult to create Asian flavors at home.


Honorable Mentions:

· Dried Kimchi. Unfortunately I didn’t seem to leave the show with any product literature about this stroke of genius. Imagine kimchi that doesn’t go bad or smell. Brilliant. I checked the list of Korean exhibitors to see if I could identify the producer and where you can get it but no dice. I did, however, find a Korean food company that has tabs for food and a tab where they push mouse traps, fly paper, and roach mats. I will say that that may be the cutest label possible for something of this sort.

· Element Bars. I was not able to try this product but find the concept innovative. Customers can go to their site and customize their own energy bars by selecting a core, a variety of add-ins, and a personalized label. Pretty neat. Check it out at elementbars.com.


So as you can see it was an eventful day of trying food, although I did abstain/wimp out from drinking olive oil out of a wine glass as I saw many do. I also neglected to take a picture of myself with the costumed mascot for bacon salt. But I'm happy to report there are no early signs that I caught anything from the bad acts of un-apprehended double dippers and sincerely hope you benefit from my three hour tour. Here’s to fancy, and not so fancy, food!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Little TGIF Humor... Eat On!


Source: passive aggressive notes on flickr

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sake But Felt Too White To Ask

Last night I went to Timothy Sullivan’s The Elements of Sake at the Astor Center. Sullivan is the mastermind behind UrbanSake.com, a treasure trove of information for all things sake. In roughly 2 hours, his class demystifies the intimidating sake classification system and covers some essentials about sake history and tradition. And then there is the tasting: 7 premium sakes covering a range of styles, which are of course available for sale at Astor afterwards at a 10% discount for class attendees.

As evidenced by my recycling bin, I drink a lot of sake. That said I still learned quite a bit about the brewing process and what to keep in mind when comparing sakes and attempting food pairings (Sullivan also brings his vast knowledge and enthusiasm to an advanced class which focuses on matching). Also of note is the Astor Center itself. The pictures here do not do the facility justice. They have thought of every detail from an electronic class polling system to individual sinks between the desks (though I confess I did not do any pouring out during the tasting last night). Astor hosts a bevy of classes and events on wine, sake, spirits, beer and food and is definitely worth checking out. Happy tasting!

The Astor Center

399 Lafayette Street @ E4th

The Elements of Sake

Timothy Sullivan

Cost: $65

Next class: Wednesday July 29th, 6:30-8:30

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Great E-Scape

Once a year Dan and I make pasta with garlic scape pesto. You may be thinking only once a year because garlic scapes are in season for such a short time. That fact is true, but even if they sold garlic scapes in my lobby year round I would still probably only have it once per year.

Garlic scapes are the part of the garlic plant that sprouts up from the bulb at the beginning of the season. Its flavor is great but extremely intense and good luck getting the smell out of your pores in under 4 showers or 48 hours, whichever comes first.

Don’t let me scare you off though. Garlic scape pesto is delicious and well worth the side effects (on an annual basis anyway), and this is coming from someone who can only take garlic in small doses and does not like pesto (pesto is actually a bit of a misnomer in the recipe I recommend as it has neither pine nuts nor basil).

So head out to the green market in the next two weeks before they are all gone and make some pesto. Besides having an easy-to-make delicious treat you’ll probably find yourself having more room on the subway and in other crowded places the next day. Bon Appetit!

Recipe:

Serves 2 for pasta entrée or 4 for pasta starter

  • ¼ pound of garlic scapes
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (depending on the juiciness of the lemon may need more, I actually don’t measure this)
  • ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste (it will need salt more than it needs pepper)
  • ¾ pound of pasta cooked al dente (I have used orecchiette, penne and fusilli and think my favorite was fusilli but they all worked well)

Directions:

  • Go to the green market and buy scapes (if you go to the Union Sq market Keith’s Farm which is usually on the north side Wed and Sat has the best ones but other vendors carry them as well)
  • Put up salted water to boil
  • Wash scapes, cut off the bulb and a bit off the end of the tail, then make ½ inch pieces (this does not need to be uniform, its going in the processor)
  • Cook the pasta until al dente and drain
  • Add together all pesto ingredients in a food processor and blend together until the scapes are broken down but the sauce still had texture, do not fully puree
  • Toss pesto with pasta until all pasta is coated

Other delicious looking things you can do with scapes:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Food, Films & Fun

I went to one of my favorite events of the year last night, the NYC Food Film Festival. The concept is brilliant: the festival accepts submissions for films about food then shows the best ones outside in a cool venue while passing around FREE samples of the food from the movies. Oh, and did I mention that thanks to generous sponsors admission and food are FREE?

I live for clams so chose the first night I would attend partially based on the fact that they were screening a movie called Clam Pie and in celebration of the film there would be a dish of the same name on offer. I had no idea what that meant but I knew I wanted some. As it turned out I chose well. It was sort of a quahog (stuffed clam for those who haven’t spent much time in New England), meets chowder, meets, well, a pie. It was delicious and got me wondering whether instead of Europe my next vacation should be to Yarmouth, Massachusetts which boasts the bakery that concocted this wonderful delicacy.

Shortly after Clam Pie came one of the film highlights of the evening, Celeriac, a cleverly-titled 3-minute horror movie about a guy chopping some celery. This was by far my favorite horror movie of all time. The whole audience sat on the edge of their seats and a crescendo of nervous laughter erupted when spurting blood and guts was preempted by a cell phone call. With the crowd’s energy up it was perfect timing to show Eat Your Fill, a 13-minute documentary about a guy who tries to eat one of everything either deep fried or on a stick at the Wisconsin State Fair, which in Wisconsin means one of everything. The movie was hilarious and I felt like I was right there with him as I enjoyed scrumptious fried cheese curds and a corn dog courtesy of the festival.

The last film of the night was a bit more serious, 24 Hours, 24 Million Meals: Feeding NYC. This film was a fascinating lens into the inner workings of how your food actually makes it to the table for each meal. There are armies of men behind the curtain that make the entire New York City food ecosystem possible and they traffic massive amounts of food daily, much of it done while most of New York is sleeping. The movie examines the whole food spectrum and features a broad range of characters from a City Harvest worker at the Hunts Point Market collecting edible but not saleable produce, to renowned Chef Daniel Boulud in his kitchen, bargaining down the $2,300 per pound price of some white truffles (unfortunately there were no free samples going around for this one).

I love this festival because it celebrates food and celebrates film and brings people together. Everyone is having a great time and there is Peroni on tap at the bar, what more could you want? There are two nights left so I suggest you brave the weather and check it out: nycfoodfilmfestival.com. Maybe you'll see me there, I’ll be the one strategically positioning myself near where the food comes out and jotting down clever ideas for a film entry for next year's festival.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Father, I have sinned, I have committed food adultery

So I food cheated on Dan. What did Mr X and I do? Fine dining. Well, if ones going to cheat you might as well go all out since the harm is already done, right? And you’re now wondering where did we do the deed? Le Bernadin. The food cheating equivalent of screwing your boyfriend’s best friend and broadcasting it on the jumbotron outside his office window.

I haven’t committed fine dining food adultery on Dan since 2006, when he was out of town on my birthday and my friend Keith took me to Veritas declaring, “he deserves to miss this,” as he bit into a flawlessly prepared sweetbread. A glass of wine later, Keith blurted, “what an idiot,” as we shared an innovative escargot dish while we talked about it with culinary genius, friend, and then Executive Chef, Ed Cotton, who came out of the kitchen to say hello.

But Dan didn’t do anything to deserve today’s lunch on the side. If anything he has been an angel lately, which made me feel pangs of guilt as I reveled in my first course – a barely touched escolar with a judiciously applied red wine béarnaise sauce. Dan would have liked that. It was too late to stop the rest of the meal, though. I am sure my entrée has already been fired so I might as well have my black sea bass I thought. After all, ordering the main course is just as bad as eating it.

Mmmmm, a perfectly seasoned filet with crispy skin on top of braised celery letting the fish be the star of the plate—just the way Dan likes it. It would be such a shame to waste it so I had to finish it.

And then one thing led to another and before I knew it I was closing my eyes while I finished the yuzu parfait. But then lunch took an unexpected turn. Another man. Eric Ripert. He came out of the kitchen and stood next to my table. I quaked. I had fanaticized about this but never did I think in real life I would be enjoying a sensuous lunch mere inches from Chef Ripert. Dan would have to understand, if the situation was reversed I would. We’re talking Eric Ripert.

So Dan, I hope you know how sorry I am and to make it up to you I am happy to return with you. Perhaps this time I’ll start with the geoduck followed by the striped bass-langoustine dish. I bet you’ll choose the kampachi tartare and the red snapper. I just hope you’ll be open-minded if Eric Ripert wants to join in.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Lost Art of the Sandwich

There was a time not too long ago when New Yorkers took pride in their sandwiches and the New York deli sandwich was revered as an artful creation unable to be replicated outside of the five boroughs. Sadly, there are too few places in the city these days that respect the fundamental tenets of superior sandwich making: great bread, fresh delicious ingredients, the perfect complementary condiments, attention to structural integrity and last but most importantly, love. Walk into your average deli today and the sandwich you conceived in your mind on the walk over and imagined eating with a smile and finishing with a sense of great satisfaction as you crumple the white paper it was purposefully wrapped in will likely be a huge disappointment with a nearly stale roll, overcooked roast beef, shredded crunchless lettuce and a topping of apathy that makes the whole experience seem like a shameful lunchtime stand.

Not only has New York slipped from sandwich greatness, it has not kept up with developments in the sandwich world. It is hard to find an innovative and well prepared sandwich in New York but oddly cities like Boston and San Francisco, which I have always considered distant competitors to New York food-wise, are rife with them. Take for instance the sandwich I had last weekend at one of my favorite little places in Harvard Square. A take on a Cuban this sandwich featured herb-marinated chicken as the main event protein and “special sauce” in lieu of yellow mustard but was both thoughtfully conceived and beautifully executed on delicious bread which was grilled to perfection and held the sandwich together until the last wonderful bite. My dining companion ordered a tuna melt but this was no ordinary tuna melt; the tuna salad itself was made with the intention that it be delicious on its own before meeting small diced red onions and subtle pieces of pickle beneath a blanket of sublimely melted swiss cheese. Such sandwich artistry has gone the way of watchable professional basketball in New York.

And every cookie cutter corporate-looking sandwich shop in New York has a glass case full of stepford pre-prepared sandwiches seemingly sourced from the same uninspired central kitchen. Knowing that you can get an identical Copenhagen panini anywhere in the city to me is not comfort, however, its sad. When this trend began I argued New Yorkers won't go for this prefab souless sandwich; New Yorkers are discerning and although frequently in a hurry they will wait for a freshly made sandwich by someone who takes pride in his craft, leave Pret a Manger in London where such fare is actually an improvement on alternative options. Not only was I wrong but we even have thriving locations of Pret a Manger here in the Big Apple.

So what to do? I encourage New Yorkers to hearken back to the days of sandwich greatness. Remember what it was like to walk into your favorite deli and have the sandwich maker recall your usual. Remember trying its gourmet cousin, maybe prosciutto drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and topped with crumbles of parmesan cheese and sliced cornichons. Its time to take back the sandwich, New York. And maybe if we’re lucky the New York sandwich renaissance will bring with it the resurrection of the Knicks.