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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Drinking Blind

When I was a kid, my friend Carrie and I made an after school game out of blind taste tests. We would take turns tying a cloth napkin around the other’s head and serving up spoonfuls of randomly selected items from her fridge for the blind-folded girl to guess. She had home court advantage in that it was her fridge and she knew its contents better than I did, but I was amazingly good at it. In fact, out of all our many bouts I recall missing only one turn: mango chutney.

Fast forward years later, I wondered if this skill I had as a pre-teen would translate to a more grown-up game of blind wine tasting. Would my tongue that helped me prevail through the soy, teriyaki, Worcestershire challenge also be able to help me tell the difference between a Barolo and a Brunello, or Syrahs from California and France? I was eager to find out.

Dan and I sent an announcement that we would be hosting a blind wine tasting at our place and dared those sporty enough to attend. Ten tasters in all, we embarked on a journey through three whites and seven reds. Everyone brought a bottle and sent ahead details which included producer, varietal, vintage, price, and a story about when this particular wine got them in the most trouble. Much to the chagrin of my wine fanatic friend in attendance, we rolled beginner style, with cue sheets informing everyone what we would be tasting. The bottles, however, would be covered, leaving each participant to match the numbered wines to the list.

A couple of ringers did well but most of us were pretty lousy and the more wine we had the worse we got. This trend can perhaps best be illustrated by Dan’s tasting notes which I found on the ground the next day as I was cleaning up. He claims to have gotten all three whites correct. Then came the reds. After guessing the Chateau Canon 1985 Saint-Emilion incorrectly he scribbles “what happened?” in the margin. Then in his notes below the space for final answers he describes bottle number 8 as “a little spicy, big, definitely the Barolo.” He then marks his actual answer with a big “X” and next to it bemoans, “fucking Italians!” Mine was less entertaining, and had a bounty of question marks.

In the end I guess I learned that I peaked at condiments. But I’ll keep giving it a go because unlike most things in life, blind wine tasting is still a lot of fun even if you’re really bad at it.

What we poured:

-Grosset 2005 Watervale Riesling ($25)
-Andeluna 2006 Chardonnay (~$15)
-Domaine de Triennes 2007 Viognier ($15.99)
-Fayolle 1985 Hermitage "Les Dionnieres" (Syrah) ($45)
-Chateau Canon 1985 St.-Emilion (Merlot Blend) ($45)
-Robert Lindquist 2007 Qupe (Syrah) ($22)
-Neiano 2003 Barolo ($30)
-Tenuta Friggiali 1993 Brunello di Montalcino ($60 at time of gift receipt in 2001, not that I checked)
-Louis Cheze 2007 Ro-Ree (Syrah) ($32)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Le Post du Fooding

The place: PS 1 Contemporary Art Center. The
Event: Le Fooding, a collision of American and French chefs serving up tastes of their handiwork to benefit Action Against Hunger. Theme of the night: long ass lines, and lots of 'em.

The event concept is a good one. Local chefs face off against their French counterparts at a fun, casual event in a cool venue for a worthy cause. The execution, however, could use some work. The first line of the night was the one to get in and stretched halfway around the block. This just served to warm you up for the queues inside. The lines for some stations spiraled around in curlicues upon curlicues making a fun game out of hunting for the very end. Everyone was having a good time though, which would have made it bearable if only the food was a little more remarkable.

Our first stop, the cheese station. The brie, Liverot and Emmental all left me dismayed. A first for me, I didn't finish a single piece of the slightly dry and rubbery samples. We then joined the back of the first line we could identify. When we got close enough, we could see that it was Wylie Dufresne's station. Expectations were high. Once at the front Wylie informed us we would be eating grilled chicken necks with a yuzu marmalade. The marmalade was beguiling and quite lovely, if only it had been paired with something else. The chicken necks were hard to eat, particularly in the low lit courtyard, and the experience of maneuvering around the vertebrae was not a pleasant one. A lot of work for very little meat that wasn't that good.

Starting to lose hope in Le Fooding, the next dish, Brooklyn chef Sean Rembold's Fried Corn and Scallop Butter, provided salvation. This dish was truly divine. Corn dipped in a deep fryer and served with a rich butter based sauce that had small pieces of scallop and was flavored with shallots, chives, paprika and peppers. The fresh corn and the decadent sauce were a well devised match and the hint of mint from the garnish added a little je ne sais quoi to this outer borough creation. After seeing Chef Rembold at work, Diner went straight to the top of my list of places to try.

Next we queued up for Paris chef William Ledeuik's marinaded grilled pork rib. The teriyaki pineapple sauce tasted fairly pedestrian but the rib itself was cooked to perfection, if only there was more than the one tiny little rib after the seemingly never-ending wait for it. Then we went from the far courtyard area to the near one, where the installation that undulated about the space could be seen more clearly in the brighter lighting. It was an interesting series of tents that were copper colored on the inside, fur covered on the outside. Sounds blah, photographs not so great but a real feast for the eyes in person.

While we waited for Christophe Pele's barbecued sirloin, we sent two scouts from our party to retrieve some soup from a oddly un-patronized station to hold us over on our slow march to the food. The steak was my second favorite dish of the night but again, very small considering the journey to the table. Last from the savory category was David Chang's Bo Saam. By the time we got to it some of the accouterments had run out so I am not sure what the full dish was meant to taste like but the pork was delicious and the slightly spicy sauce was exactly what the pork needed.

Then the biggest bottleneck of the night, dessert. Brooklyn's The Greene was there serving up ice cream cones, or rather one woman from The Greene was individually scooping and making cones for each diner at the event while a male coworker simply watched. This was by far the longest wait of the evening, reminiscent of manufacturing before the invention of the assembly line. We tried both flavors, the vanilla bourbon and the hazelnut gianduja. The former tasted good but was not very creamy and in fact a little icy. The hazelnut, on the other hand, was smooth and a perfect richness with small pieces of hazelnut providing just the right amount of crunch throughout.

All of the people working the event wore shirts with "I Hate Le Fooding" printed on the front, which made me wonder on the way out if I too hated Le Fooding. While the lines were certainly formidable, and some of the food only decent, I think I would more appropriately wear a shirt that reads "I liked Le Fooding, but I am really glad I wore flats."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Unexpected Top Chef Heartthrob

During the first few episodes of Top Chef Season 6 I developed a crush on the two brothers, Michael and Bryan. Like West Coast and East Coast rap, they have differences, but also strong similarities. Their food looked equally enticing so to choose who would be my lone Top Chef heartthrob I needed more information.

Almost as if reading my mind, Bravo TV posted a feature this week entitled, “Date a Top Chef!” in which each cheftestant answers personal questions to help fans determine if they are “really compatible with these culinary cuties.” The responses to these queries left me searching for new knees for my bees. Bryan, who I no longer have a crush on, shared that his catchphrase is, “Nuh uh, Fuck, I know. I won't do it again. (insert name) NOW!” Apparently Voltaggio the Elder did not go to the Joey Lawrence school of catch phrases. Bryan, they’re supposed to be short, punchy and memorable. Like Kevin’s, except I don’t believe that he actually coined “Six of one, half dozen of another.”

Ash’s and Laurine’s are a little more original. Let’s start with Ash, who apparently is known to say “I’m a culinary gangster.” Don't let the bowtie or the gayness fool you, one of the knives in his knife bag is a shank. And Laurine, whose listed nicknames include both “sunshine” and “bitch on wheels,” likes to punctuate sentences with: "stupid f---ing bitches who shouldn't have jobs." I am intrigued by Laurine’s multiple personalities and Tourret's like tagline but I’d never get past a first date with her. I guess she and I will just have to agree to disagree that onion tarts and sardines are great ideas for a “romantic night out.”

Speaking of “romantic nights out,” brother Michael thinks the best romantic night out is “Trader Joe's pizza dough and toppings. Make a pizza together at home.” Let’s put aside that his most romantic night out is actually a night in, for someone who spends much of his airtime on throw-away references to his Michelin star, I must say I would be pretty disappointed with store bought pizza dough and some chopped up veggies.

So who’s left for me to Top Chef pine for? The Jersey-bred Italian Scallion Mike Isabella? “This is Why I'm Hot” by Mims is on his playlist. Why? “Because I'm hot.” Obviously. Jen is notably missing from Date A Top Chef! but in her bio she shares that her "favorite simple summer recipe" is “Compressed Watermelon, Chesapeake Bay Jumbo Lump Crab, Fennel Pollen and Wild Boar Prosciutto Chips.” I know, in the summer when I want to keep it light and simple I always debate between a tomato salad and compressing something, making a crab cake and figuring out how to also incorporate fennel pollen and wild boar prosciutto chips. Jen is too high maintenance for me.

Eli is in the remaining 10 but his 'slight lactose intolerance' would be incompatible with my fondness for cheese and ice cream. And Robin has immunity this week, so I’ll leave her be to deconstruct one of my favorite soups into a convoluted mess. So who does that leave? Is there no Top Chef match made in heaven for me? Au contraire, making my heart pound and my mouth water, Ashley had me at, “Foie gras torchon, scallops, and a bone-in ribeye for two, with an outstanding bottle of red wine.” Ashley, you can be my Top Chef anytime.

Best from the Twitter Feed

Stay tuned for a new post later today... in the meantime enjoy these tweets from @seriouseats and @food52. The only way these two could have gone better together is if the second mentioned (human) liver with fava beans and a nice chianti!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Food Truck Dilemma

I was very excited to find out on Twitter that the Schnitzel & Things truck would be setting up shop for lunch in Flatiron today, so I grabbed a friend and went to check it out. In addition to the food, which was good and reasonably priced, we got an eye-ful of an altercation between the truck proprietor and some tough guys from Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop. The Eisenberg guys were arguing that the truck was stealing business from their store while the Schnitzel truck, parked there for one day only, countered that he had a right to be there and that they weren't catering to the same crowd anyway. Then said crowd got into the mix a bit as well.

I am somewhat torn on this one. I think the explosion of food trucks throughout the city is great. It provides a cost effective way for food entrepreneurs to hang their own shingle and introduces New Yorkers to new dining options. That said, I am concerned about the effect this trend could possibly have on long established businesses like Eisenberg's, which has been in its spot since 1929. I am also deeply troubled by the fighting, and in some cases violence, that has occurred between the new trucks and incumbent street cart vendors who feel like their long held turf has been encroached upon.

The capitalist in me thinks it just comes down to competition and being a neighborhood institution doesn't insulate you from the free market's formidable forces. Let the people vote with their wallets on that one. The more compassionate side of me knows these Halal vendors and mom and pop's have been around for ages and have mouths to feed too. So what to do? Normally a proponent of limited government interference, I am going to break out of my mold and say Mayor Mike, you need to get involved. You can't issue all these truck permits to generate revenue for the city and then just turn them loose in the wild with no rules. This hurts both the trucks and the businesses they locate next to, all of whom are city tax payers. So make some order out of this urban food jungle. We all have to eat, but unlike in the bush it need not be kill or be killed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Top 5 Things You Should Be a Food Snob About

I like to think I am very open-minded when it comes to food. I do enjoy fine dining for sure, but some of the best things I have ever eaten include street food items that probably should have given me trichinosis. I revel in discovering great cheap eats and awesome dives. I also love finding delicious treats that hail from half way around the world whose name I need to repeat multiple times to get the pronunciation right, only I am sure to still get it wrong. And perhaps the best evidence of how unpretentious I am about food, I have an unabashed adoration of fish sticks.

All that said, there are some things I am not only a food snob about, but will go as far as to say you should be too.

  1. The absolute number one food offender in my book is the spicy tuna roll. Sushi is served raw my friends. This is so you can taste the delicate flavor of the fish unadorned by things as overpowering, inappropriate and uncouth as mayonnaise with attitude. Would you put ketchup on top of caviar? Furthermore, because this sauce is so intense, sushi chefs tend to use the worst left-over tendon-ridden odds and ends to make these rolls because it really doesn’t matter. You could mash up bits of sewer rat underneath that muck and not be able to tell the difference. The pain on the face of one of my favorite sushi chefs whenever he has to make one of those monstrosities is more heart tugging than a Save the Children commercial. While I don’t patronize his restaurant often, I applaud Sasabune’s Chef Takahashi for posting a sign on the wall that reads “No Spicy Tuna.”

  1. Next on my hit list is over cooked meat. An animal died so you could eat that, the least you can do in his honor is allow your food to retain some flavor so that he can look down at you from upstairs and think “Wow, look how delicious I am.” Overcooked meat, whatever its origin, all tastes the same. I defy you to tell the difference between well done beef, duck, lamb, prairie dog or whack-a-mole. If you simply do not enjoy a properly prepared medium rare piece of meat, please slide your plate over and order the vegetarian special.

  1. Bad pizza. It never fails to surprise me but there are people out there who eat this stuff, plastic-y layers of cheese on top of third tier store brand tomato sauce and all. I admit in some parts of the country people may not have many options but in New York City, the thin crust pizza capital of America, there is no excuse. Let’s remember, pizza is not health food. It’s loaded with high fat cheese and customarily served on top of white flour based dough. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat it, but that when you do you should love it. It should be amazing and comforting and never leave you with that “Wow, I really didn’t need to eat that” feeling. It should be worth every last calorie. Some people say “sex is like pizza, even when it’s bad it’s good.” I disagree, on both counts.

  1. Subway sandwiches. No self-respecting New Yorker should ever eat one of these. Ever. The New York deli sandwich is as old as that joke about a priest and a rabbi in a row boat. Put a different way, a New Yorker eating a Subway sandwich is like an Italian grabbing lunch at the Olive Garden. (Don’t get me started on chain restaurants!) I don’t care what the commercials say or the wonders Subway has done for Jared’s social calendar, the ingredients don’t taste fresh and no one there will take enough pride in his craft to deliver you a sandwich worth eating. One should buy lumber by the foot-long, not lunch.

  1. Ketchup on hotdogs. This mockery is simply un-American. Interestingly, ketchup on hotdogs is a hotly debated topic on the Internet; there are even books on the subject. But to me there is nothing to argue about. You’re either with us, or you put ketchup on hotdogs. There is even a Facebook group called Ketchup on Hotdogs with 19 nihilist fans flaunting their support for what is tantamount to food anarchy. For the greater public good, I hope the powers that be are keeping a watchful eye on these condiment extremists.

So there’s my Top 5. I am sure I have stirred the proverbial pot a bit so agree or disagree, let everyone hear it in the comments section. Just don’t do it while snacking on a slice of individually wrapped bright orange American Cheese.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm Gonna Let You Finish...

A screenshot from my gmail account. See funny subject line from the Astor Center (FYI for non-New Yorkers, the Vendy Awards are the much anticipated Oscars of the NY street vendor world). And yes, that is the awesome ninja theme background.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Two More Chances for Crabs

After weeks and weeks of trying, some friends and I recently snagged a reservation for Back Forty's popular crab boil. Experiencing overwhelming success last year, Back Forty brought back this fun summer feature in which every Tuesday they throw out the regular menu and instead serve up Maryland crabs by the bucket with sides of corn and potatoes. This isn't an event for food sissies. You sit at communal tables, sharing sides with your neighbors, and servers come by not once but thrice with delicious crabs they plunk down on the newspaper covered tables.

At the start of the meal the friendly folks at Back Forty will give you a tutorial on how to eat the crabs with your hands and will provide you a mallet in case you need a little extra help getting to that succulent crab meat. Then it starts getting messy. The crabs are coated in seasoning, which makes them delicious, but also a little sloppy, so wear something you don't care about and roll up your sleeves.

Here's the skinny on how you too can get crabs. For two more Tuesday nights Back Forty will be running its crab boil (9/22, 9/29). Go to their website the previous Wednesday (9/16, 9/23), fill out the reservation request form to submit at 10am, pray that everyone else has already gotten crabs. Then anxiously wait to hear back from Back Forty. Flexibility in your dining time will help. Also, its a great group activity but may not make for a perfect first date so get a handful of your favorite food compatriots together for best results. Good luck and have fun!

Back Forty
190 Avenue B
(212) 388-1990
Crab Boil Price: $40 +tax&tip!

Best of Yesterday's Twitter Feed

#1. Apparently Bruni is off the wagon....
...Stay tuned for his next book: Being Round.

#2. Trying to find a lite Midtown lunch option?

That should boost your afternoon productivity.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Hudson Valley Wine Experience

As someone who has spent a lot of time in the Hudson Valley during the last three decades, I take pride, rationally or not, in delicacies that come from that region: foie gras, local produce, black angus beef, duck, cheese and… wine? Well yes, the Hudson Valley does boast many, many wineries. The question is, is any of it good? Dan and I sampled a handful of Hudson Valley wines in the past and weren’t that wowed but we thought maybe it was what we tried. So this past weekend, to give the Hudson Valley its fair shake at winning over our inner Bacchus, we headed out to the Hudson Valley Wine and Food Fest in Rhinebeck, NY.

The festival was a little light on the food aspect, but there were booths of wineries lined up as far as the eye could see pouring their entire line-ups. We picked up our tasting glasses, mustered some optimism and went forth, intent on finding some winners. The first wine we tried, a cabernet franc, immediately brought to mind that scene in Sideways where Paul Giamatti’s character Miles declares, “Well, I've come to never expect greatness from a cab franc, and this one's no exception,” as he unceremoniously dumps the remainder of his pour into the spit bucket. Dan and I laughed as we did the same and reassured each other that this was just the first stop.

Many tastes of liquid more closely evoking hints of battery acid and metal than berries and earth later, we paused to wonder what was going on. Was there just no good wine in the Hudson Valley? A little known fact, the Hudson Valley is actually the oldest wine region in the country, boasting the nation’s first winery established in 1839 (Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, NY). But oldest doesn’t mean the best weather and conditions in which to grow grapes unfortunately. A lot of precipitation plus short, hot humid summers and frigidly cold winters makes for a very challenging environment to produce blue ribbon winners. And many wineries in attendance actually hailed from the Finger Lakes region, northwest of the Hudson Valley, where the climate is not only unpleasant for wine growers, but just for people in general much of the year.

So is wine from upstate New York hopeless? The answer is not entirely. New York State producers tend to turn out a lot of sweet style wines, which in general I don’t particularly care for, especially when they are poorly structured and encased behind a gimmicky label. But, it also means they make a lot of dessert wines and ice wines. This got my attention.

Despite its marketing literature informing us that its Solar Flare is “Liquid Sunshine in a bottle!”, we particularly liked this dessert wine from Eagle Crest Vineyards in Hemlock Lake, New York. It had a wonderful nose of honey and apricots and the texture was clean and crisp, not at all syrupy. And at $11, we were very happy with this purchase. We also came home with an ice wine from Johnson Estate Winery and a late harvest wine from Hunt Country Vineyards. We'll admit to adding some Mead to our loot as well. Mead is a sweet wine using honey instead of grapes as its base and the raisin-clove variety we picked up from Long Island Meadery isn’t for the sophisticated wine snob. But when you taste it, it feels like the holidays. Its festive clove notes just encompass all things December. We bought two bottles to keep in the back of the fridge and I look forward to breaking them out when its time for menorahs and Christmas trees.

After what seemed like a hunt for a unicorn, we also found some whites we liked alright and some reds we really enjoyed (listed below). And as usual, we came home with some mystery bottles we couldn’t quite remember why we bought. I always love opening those because like magic, the sense memory comes back to when we first tasted them and they either conjure a wonderful experience or something very funny that happened while we tried it to prompt the purchase. One such bottle we managed to actually label this time. Scrawled with “conversation piece” on the paper bag it was wrapped in, Dan reminded me he bought this one because the face I made when I tried it was so priceless that he wants to have a bunch of guests try it simultaneously and take a photo. "Wouldn't that be a conversation piece," he exclaimed. Stay tuned for that post!

Some reds we liked:

Friday, September 11, 2009

When in Doubt, Bet It All on Noodles

From my friend Karen Chen's Facebook page: "Sign in the Bellagio casino - in case you could not decide whether to eat or gamble!" Or maybe this is just my fantasy casino where instead of playing to win money you play for food. If that dream ever came true it would be do not pass go, straight to the High Stakes Uni Room for me!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Waste Not Want Not, Especially When Pork's Involved

I don't use the word "hate" often, but one thing I do hate is wasting food. Nothing makes me more dismayed than cleaning out my fridge and having to throw out things I couldn't find a use for before the end of their shelf life, or worse, things I simply forgot about in a drawer or in the back of the fridge. Knowing the guilt and anger I feel when this happens, I am pretty vigilant about trying to use everything and have become a bit of a kitchen MacGyver when need be, throwing seemingly incongruous ingredients together to save the day, or dinner as it were.

This past weekend my dad roasted an entire pig. I was very excited about the marquis dish of his annual Labor Day barbecue, but was concerned there may be a lot of waste. I can't stand throwing out vegetables. Wasting animal protein simply drives me mad. I was, however, pleased to see that almost the entire pig was eaten, except the legs, which most of the guests found a little too anatomical to be appetizing. Knowing my love for all things pig, and my simultaneous hate of all things waste, my dad offered them to me to "do something with." Alternatively, the legs would become a treat for my family's obese dog, Harley, who certainly did not need the fat-lined limbs.

With a pasta sauce in mind I took the legs, wondering if I would get squeamish when it came to breaking them down to remove the meat. After a day of the legs posing for me (hooves-and-all) each time I opened the fridge, I took them out and started to cut them up, my distaste for waste rising above my aversion to preparing things that so closely resemble what they really are. Always my worst kitchen critic, I actually think the sauce, which I served over fresh pappardelle, came out great. So thanks, Dad, for the legs. And sorry, Harley, for usurping your snack. As much as I work to prevent it, I am sure you will be the recipient in the not-too-distant future of something delicious that managed to hide behind a six pack.

Recipes and directions:

Starter: Fennel Salad with Grapefruit
  • Slice fennel thin on a mandolin
  • Toss by hand with a little high quality olive oil, salt, and pepper (careful with the salt as you will also add cheese)
  • Use the large hole side of a grater to add some pecorino romano
  • Remove skin of a red grapefruit with a knife, cut into horizontal slices then divide those slices in fourths, add to salad
Main: Pappardelle with Pork (Ragu-like) Sauce
  • Separately put up water to boil for the pasta
  • In the pan you will make the sauce in sauté garlic
  • Add onions, sauté until onions start to turn translucent
  • Add chopped up carrots and celery
  • Add cut up tomatoes, add salt and pepper to the mixture and stir
  • Add fresh rosemary (pluck off the leaves and chop finely, I used rosemary from my garden which makes me super happy, reserve some for adding more later)
  • Keep stirring and let the tomatoes break down a bit, if it looks like you need a more sauce like consistency add some canned crushed tomatoes
  • Season pork with salt and pepper then add (my pork was already cooked, if your pork isn't cooked you'll need to braise it, here is a link that explains how to do that in the context of making a sauce with it)
  • Add the rest of the rosemary and some fennel (I had fennel greens since I served fennel as a starter, you don't need much and it helps tie the flavors from the two courses together but is not essential)
  • Cover and cook for a while, stirring occasionally
  • For the pasta, I used fresh pasta so it cooks very fast. A little vegetable oil in the water will help keep it from sticking to itself, as will stirring occasionally. When it starts to expand a lot its nearing done so test a piece, my pappardelle cooked in about 6 minutes
  • Add shaved pecorino romano at the table. The pecorino will also help tie together the first and second courses
  • We accompanied the meal with a 2007 Domaine de la Mordorée Tavel rosé, delicious!
Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Soup's On: Ciorbă de Perisoare

I recently returned from a trip to Romania, a country whose culinary tradition can perhaps best be described as an Eastern European fusion of sorts. Heavily influenced by neighbors and historical conquerors, one can detect distinct hints of the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Russia, Austria, Greece and Turkey in the food. And one thing I particularly enjoy about Romanian cuisine is its emphasis on soups, my favorite being a meatball soup called ciorbă de perisoare (pronounced chore-ba de perry-shwar-eh).

Romanians separate soups into two main categories: supă and ciorbă, the latter referring to recipes that have a distinct sour flavor to them, a taste they acquired along the way from Russia. Craving such a soup when I returned to New York, Dan and I reached out to his mom for her version of ciorbă de perisoare. After receiving her recipe—in Romanian—Dan and I embarked on the linguistic and culinary challenge of trying to replicate it. As it turns out, the hardest part was the translation!

Dan’s mom doesn’t use a proper recipe to make her soup, she pretty much has a list of ingredients that she then combines by feel, so that is what we did too:

  • Cut up carrots, celery and peppers for use in the soup and set aside
  • Dice two onions. Take the pot you are going to use for the soup, heat a small amount of vegetable oil and sautée the onions until they just begin to turn translucent (you can also reserve some for use in the meatballs if you’d like) 
  • Add as much water as you want to make soup, throw in the vegetables and turn to high heat. Also at this point add vegetable bullion, curly parsley and some sprigs of fresh oregano. Cover and bring to a boil.

While our pot was turning water and vegetables into soup, we made the perisoare, or meatballs, Turkey’s contribution to the dish:
  • Beat 2 eggs
  • Wet a piece of bread and then wring out the water
  • Combine eggs and bread with ground turkey, uncooked white rice, some finely chopped parsley and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper
  • Mix ingredients together manually, then with slightly damp hands make all the meatballs in one batch but then re-form them as you drop them in the pot (they tend to flatten out when they sit). The raw meatballs should be about the size of ping pong balls, they’ll expand as they cook.
  • Once your soup is at a vigorous boil lower the meatballs in one by one, reduce the heat slightly and cover for around 25 minutes.

Traditionally, once the meatballs are done, one would add either borş (fermented wheat bran) or sauerkraut juice to create the desired sourness but I find lemon juice is a good substitute. After stirring lemon juice into the pot, the soup should taste decidedly sour; if not add some more. The tang complements the meatballs nicely and makes the dish oddly addictive. 

Now you’re ready to eat! Perisoare should be garnished with fresh parsley and served at the table with some sour cream and a slightly hot green pepper. Difficult to find Romanian sauvignon blanc pairing optional. Pofta Buna!

Ingredient List:
  • Onions
  • Carrots (I used both regular orange carrots as well as red carrots which added a little more earth to the flavor. You can also use celery or parsley root if you can find it)
  • Celery (in addition to the stalks I recommend using the leaves, which people often discard, in the soup for flavor)
  • Peppers (I used red, orange and yellow. Consider color, however. If you use red peppers your soup will come out reddish, if that matters to you)
  • Fresh Oregano
  • Fresh curly Parsley
  • Vegetable bullion
  • Lemons
Note: The traditional recipe calls for Loveage which is very hard to find in the US. Celery leaves and lemon together get close to approximating the flavor.

Meatballs (makes approximately 2 dozen):
  • Eggs, 2
  • Bread, 1 slice
  • White Rice, ~25 ounces
  • Parsely, finely diced (Dill can also be used in addition)
  • Onions, finely diced (optional)
  • Ground Turkey, 1 pound (I prefer turkey for perisoare as its leanness prevents the soup from getting greasy but it is more common to find it with pork, as the Romanian saying goes: Cea mai buna leguma e carnea de pui si cea mai buna carne de pui e carnea de porc or, the best vegetable is the chicken meat and the best chicken meat is the pork)
  • Salt and pepper

Garnish and accompaniments:
  • Fresh curly parsley
  • Sour cream
  • Hot green peppers (cut up into pieces)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nothin' Wrong With a Little Somethin' on the Side

I have received some questions about what I served besides burgers the night the Pat La Frieda brisket blend stole my heart. (See Sept 2nd post.) Here it is barbecue fans!

Starters and Sides:
  • Crudite platter with vegetable dip
  • Apartment-made guacamole with blue corn chips
  • Pigs in snuggies (see, their arms are free to pick up the phone or the remote with ease!)
  • Grilled corn salad with heirloom tomatoes, avocado and applewood smoked bacon
  • Watermelon salad with feta
  • Two varieties of venison sausage, as a palate cleanser, obviously.

Notes from the Chef:
First, this is too much food to serve before a burger tasting, especially at 6 ounces per burger on potato rolls. Second, I feel compelled to share a previsouly closely guarded party secret. My pigs in snuggies are a snack I put out at pretty much every barbecue I host and they're always a big hit. The secret is all you have to do is buy cocktail franks and Pillsbury crescent rolls for the dough and bake, serve with grainy dijon mustard. Its that easy.

Next, the corn salad. Take the above ingredients, add chopped fresh cilantro, a little lime, pepper and salt. Be careful with the salt as the bacon will have some saltiness to it already but probably not enough. Sometimes I use a tiny bit of high quality peppery olive oil. I don't usually use avocado in this dish but did this time. I like the flavor it adds but it definitely takes away from the presentation as the avocado can coat the other elements and mute the sharpness of their colors.

On the watermelon salad. This is actually a go to dish of mine for dinner parties. Usually I serve it in a martini glass with some crumbled feta, high quality peppery olive oil, pepper and depending on the saltiness of the feta some rock salt or salt flakes. This didn't translate as well to a large format presentation. One issue was that I couldn't get the feta crumbles, only a regular block of feta, so it was a little too creamy. This mostly effected the presentation but it didn't make it look as refreshing and enticing. I like using the watermelon itself as a bowl but next time may do it for just the cut up watermelon or fruit salad.

So that's the inside scoop. Off to the Back Forty Crab Boil now, stay tuned for notes and pics!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A (Burger) Affair to Remember

New Yorkers have always been prone to crazes when it comes to food. Their whimsicality and the speed with which they move from one in-vogue thing to the next has only been amplified by the one-two punch of food-blog proliferation and Twitter. "Discoveries" no longer need to be made (they're brought to your desktop), and feedback on where to get the best version of the item du jour is alarmingly fast, saving the food masses all the time associated with trial and error.

One day everyone is eating ramen. After starting with the top shops courtesy of others' online recommendations, that box is checked and its time for the next big rage, banh mi. And of late, New Yorkers have embarked on a leap from a recent burger obsession to love affair with pizza. But I am not quite ready to jump on the Big Apple's new bandwagon this time. Our summer has been criminally short this year and to me trading barbecues for the warm glow of brick ovens only hastens our tumble into fall. So I fought the power the only way I knew how; I said, "In your face Duane Reade and your premature Halloween candy display. It's still summer and we're going to have a showdown. A burger showdown."

The Burger Dating Game
The burger battle to win the hearts (and stomachs) of 12 diners took place last night at my place with three contestants: a Pat La Frieda short rib blend, a Pat La Frieda brisket blend, and what one diner dubbed "the magic blend" from a Hudson Valley butcher. All were well received but the competition really came down to the two La Frieda contenders. To be fair, the Hudson Valley burgers came last, which after a lot of other food was a tough slot to bat from to say nothing of the number of beers the grill master had by that point, compromising said individual's ability to discern a perfect medium rare. So perhaps not a fair fight, but such is life.

After the initial round of tasting the sides developed: those in favor of the short rib standing firm against those who preferred the brisket. The brisket fans argued for their burgers'
buttery flavor and consistently decadent bites. The short rib fans countered that their burgers may not have been as rich throughout, but were peppered with flavor bursts that made them more intriguing. A collective hmmm. Plates shifted around. More bites were taken.

Even with identical seasoning, the burgers were much more different than any of us had anticipated but at the same time difficult to choose between. I imagine it's like determining which of your kids is more successful, the Nobel laureate or the Olympic champion. They were that good, and that dissimilar. So which one triumphed? The answer is, it depends. Upon biting into the brisket, eyes momentarily closed. Exclamations of "Oh my god" followed. The best way I can think to describe it is that the brisket burger makes you feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. All of a sudden worthy of expensive clothes and jewelry. Seduced in a very unexpected way. Wanting more. Wanting it all to yourself. The short rib was another experience all together. It's like being a fairly straight arrow who is having a fling with a hard-living, motorcycle-riding, pierced, tattooed adventure seeker. It's a thrill. You know it will end but you'll lap up every ounce of excitement it brings you while it lasts.

In my sprier days perhaps the short rib may have been my choice. The short rib is fun. Impetuous. Spunky. Sassy. All the things you want to evoke when you're young. All the things you want to be with. But now I am in a different phase of my life and a fleeting kick is not what I am after. It's not enough. I want something more meaningful. More grand. I want the fairytale. I want the brisket.