Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scallops with Spinach and Roasted Parsnips

For the most part, I have been disappointed by David Pasternack and Ed Levine's The Young Man and the Sea. Several of the recipes have errors (from too much olive oil to incorrect cooking times), and for the most part the recipes are fairly formulaic: fish dusted with wondra flour and served with a sauteed vegetable that Pasternack claims pairs well with the fish. One exception is the recipe for scallops with sauteed spinach and roasted parsnips. The recipe is almost too simple to be cookbook-worthy, but the flavor combination is not something that would have thought of without the help of Pasternack and Levine. The sweet scallops and parsnips are a nice contrast to the bitter spinach. It doesn't hurt that the dish looks so nice on the plate.

To get the above, toss together some sauteed spinach with parsnips that have been roasted with some salt and pepper and a nob of butter in a 400F oven for about 45 minutes. Then, top the spinach and parsnips with scallops that have been seared on each side in some olive oil. Serve it to your guests and tell them that the dish is proof that a great meal need not be difficult to prepare.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Pheasant Phlop

Isn't it frustrating when you have all the necessities of a perfect dinner, but the outcome is awful? Let me tell you about my latest failure: The Pheasant Phlop.

It all started on my recent trip to London to visit my brother and his family. On my first day there, my brother took me out to the English countryside for that quintessential English sport of clay pigeon shooting.

My mind rarely strays from food, even while holding a shotgun, so I began to think of how I should try cooking a game bird when I returned to New York. I was not a very good shot, so didn't begin to contemplate the possibilities of hunting my own game bird; yes, my hunting fun would begin and end with clay pigeons.

A few days later, my girlfriend and I visited the adorable London neighborhood of Notting Hill. Full of boutiques and food shops, it's no wonder that Notting Hill was our favorite area in London. I especially loved the Books for Cooks shop, a store selling only cookbooks.

This shop seemed to have nearly every cookbook imaginable, from antique titles to books on molecular gastronomy. It even has a cafe that cooks up daily specials made from recipes that appear in the cookbooks it sells.

Still in need of a souvenir for my trip, I asked the Books for Cooks saleswoman for a cookbook on modern British cuisine. She suggested Matt Tebbutt's Cooks Country, which she claimed is "what Britain is cooking now." I flipped through the book and saw that it was exactly what I was looking for: modern takes on traditional British food. I came across one recipe for "pot-roast pheasant pheasant with smoked bacon and cream" and I was sold. I bought the book.

So now, I had my inspiration to cook a game bird from the clay shooting and I had the perfect recipe to carry out my the inspiration. I returned to New York on a Thursday and my first task that weekend was to find a pheasant. I knew that Quattro's at Unions Square Greenmarket carried pheasant, but was unable to make it out to Union Square. Instead, I made a visit to Citarella, pointed to the sign for pheasant and asked the butcher for one. Alas, Citarella was out of pheasant, so I had to wait one very long week to make what I knew would be one terrific and incredibly inspired dinner.

The next Saturday, I woke up promptly at 7:30 and made my way to Union Square to buy a pheasant. Quattro's had pheasant, so I purchased one for $20, knowing full well that it was money well spent on the perfect dinner. I purchased the rest of the ingredients for the dish and returned to my apartment.

That night, I prepared the recipe. The recipe seemed too simple for me to be getting so excited about, but I knew it would be delicious. I seared the seared the pheasant in butter, browning the skin beautifully. I tossed in some chopped onion, celery, a head of garlic, and bacon. Then I added a cup of wine, a couple bay leaves, a few springs of thyme, and a cup of cream. I put the pheasant back in, and tossed the pot into a 400F oven. The cookbook recommended an oven time of 15 minutes, but this seemed on the low to me, so I eagerly waited for 20 minutes while the aromas of the braising liquid filled my apartment.

After twenty minutes, I removed the pot from the oven and let it sit for another ten minutes. The braising liquid was perfectly creamy; it had all the makings of a great dish. After letting the dish rest, I excitedly cut into the bird. It was completely raw. What gives? Maybe the pheasants in England are smaller than the one I had bought at the Greenmarket. I calmly put the pot back into the oven. I knew it would still be a great dish, it just needed some more time in the oven.

It would take another 20 minutes before the pheasant was cooked through. Finally, I would be able try this dish with perfect inspiration and made from the perfect recipe. The result? Rubber. The pheasant could hardly be cut with my sharpest knife, and chewing it was a workout. To add insult to injury, cooking it for another 20 minutes had caused the braising liquid to separate, so that it was no longer creamy. The meal was an utter disappointment.

So there you have it: The Pheasant Phlop. How could a meal so inspired, be so awful? Was it a bad recipe? Was it poor execution on my part? Or was it just not meant to be? I'll never know.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ricotta Gnocchi with Ramp Pesto

This could hardly be called a New York-based food blog I didn't feature at least one recipe with ramps. Ramps are wild leeks that have a very short growing season and are all the rage in the East Coast culinary world at the beginning of spring. The bulbs and stems are as pungent and garlic, while the leaves have a grassy flavor. This combination makes ramps versatile ingredients, able to brighten dishes ranging from pasta to eggs.

I used my first ramps of the season to make a ramp pesto, which I served with ricotta gnocchi I had made from the A16: Food+Wine cookbook. This was my first ever attempt at pasta, and I was pleased with the result. While not nearly as light and fluffy as great gnocchi can be (mostly due to my lack of a stand mixer and the addition of too much flour), the flavor was very nice. More importantly, the gnocchi held together when I boiled them, making them a success in my book.

Although I cooked the ramp bulbs and stems prior to processing them for the pesto, it was still incredibly pungent and peppery. The flavors overwhelmed the gnocchi, so I would recommend just pairing it with a simple dried pasta such as rigatoni. I would think the pesto would also be great with any roasted or grilled meat. Just be sure to brush your teeth thoroughly after trying this pesto, as your breath will be potent.

Ramp Pesto

  • 3 to 4 bunches of ramps, washed and thoroughly dried
  • 1 tbsp plus 3/4 to 1 cup of olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 tbsp walnuts
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  1. Separate the ramp stems and bulbs from the leaves. Chop the stems and bulbs into small pieces. Set aside and reserve the leaves.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped ramp stems and bulbs and cook, stirring occassionally, for about 5 minutes (do not brown).
  3. Add the ramp leaves, bulbs and stems, salt, walnuts, and 1/2 cup of oil to the bowl of a food processor. Process until a paste is formed, then drizzle in the rest of the olive oil while continuing to process the mixture. Continue to add more oil until pesto reaches a desired consistency. Taste for salt.
  4. Fold in the parmesan cheese and serve.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Flex Mussels

I recently made a trip to Flex Mussels, a recently opened Upper East Side (E.82nd St. b/w 3rd and Lex) outpost of a popular Prince Edward Island restaurant that specializes in what else but Prince Edward Island mussels. Being a Floridian, I am somewhat of a seafood snob and am all too often unimpressed by the seafood options in the Northeast. Nonetheless, Flex Mussels won me over on my visit.

The restaurant was packed when my girlfriend and I visited on a recent Saturday night. The the main room was booked for those with reservations, but the hostess sat us at the ledge in the bar room. The bar room is not particularly conducive to conversation as it is a fairly awkward arrangement in a loud room. Imagine being surrounded by other diners eating large pots of steaming mussels on a fairly narrow ledge, and you get the idea. It does not help that a mirror lines the wall behind the ledge, forcing you to stare at yourself during your meal. Not a particularly bad thing if you are a narcissist, but a little creepy if you're not.

Fortunately, the meal that my girlfriend and I shared was better than the surroundings. As a starter, we shared the "Burnt Fingers," a plate of fried calamari, shrimp, and oysters served with a spicy aioli for dipping. Being the fried oyster fiend that I am, I would have preferred a few more oysters than the two that were served and not so much calamari, but seafood proportions aside, this dish was an excellent execution of fried seafood. Each piece was perfectly cooked and the breading was crispy and well-seasoned. The fried seafood could have stood on its own without the spicy aioli which was still a nice complement.

As good as the fried seafood platter was, we were at the restaurant to try its mussels, the various preparations of which made up most of the menu. The menu reads like a global tour of the mussel industry, with preparations ranging from "Geisha Girl" (sake, green onions, pickled ginger, garlic, bird's eye peppers) to "Dubliner" (Guinness, toasted walnuts, caramelized onions). My girlfriend and I chose the Thai mussels (curry coconut broth, lemongrass, coriander, lime, garlic, ginger). The mussels were very meaty for PEI mussels, which I find can sometimes be so small that they are not worth the mess of eating them. The broth was well seasoned, although slightly too sweet; we would have preferred slightly less coconut milk and more spices. Sweetness aside, my girlfriend and I were still sopping up every last drop of the sauce with the crusty bread that came with our meal.

With the exception of the rare excellent key lime pie at a Florida seafood shack, dessert tends to be an afterthought at seafood restaurants. At Flex Mussels, at least one dessert is not to be missed: the fried dougnuts, which come in several flavors. My girlfriend and I ordered the chocolate doughnuts and meyer lemon doughnuts, and four hot doughnuts (two of each flavor) soon arrived. The doughnuts were superb: perfectly golden on the outside and light and doughy (in a good way) on the inside. The fillings were great, with the chocolate being our favorite. They were served with a vanilla bean custard sauce, which paired much better with the chocolate doughnut than with the vanilla. Our only complaint was that one of the chocolate doughnuts had very little chocolate filling, but the doughnut dough was so delicious that this was a minor issue.

Flex Mussels has a nice beer list comprised of bottles of domestic microbrews and Belgian beers. I would have preferred a selection of draft beers, but I was quite pleased with my choice of the Rogue Mocha Porter, a creamy beer with a nice hint of coffee. I will definitely seek out this beer for home consumption.

My only other complaint about the restaurant is an issue that every restaurant that specializes in steaming seafood dishes faces: the stinkyness factor. The restaurant itself does not smell bad, but after leaving, my girlfriend and I both noticed that our clothes smelled heavily of the onions, garlic, and spices that were in the mussel broth steam that was surely circulating throughout the restaurant. While Flex Mussels is not a very expensive restaurant, you must factor in the additional cost of dry cleaning your outfit when calculating the overall cost of the meal.

Overall, this Floridian was impressed with the seafood at Flex Mussels. It is not only a welcome addition to my neighborhood, but a welcome addition to the New York City restaurant arena.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fatty Crab

I want you to imagine the following restaurant. The restaurant is in the West Village, as close as you can get to the Meatpacking District without technically being in the MPD. It's prone to very long waits to get a table at prime times. It's owned by a fairly well-known chef. This restaurant serves Asian cuisine, but neither the chef nor any of the staff are Asian.

So what are your assumptions of the above restaurant? If you are like me, you're thinking that the restaurant is surely an Asian fusion hell-hole serving expensive overly sweet dishes to hordes of tourists, bridge and tunnelers, and gossip girls who care only about the scene and nothing about the food.

Fatty Crab fits my description, but completely defied my assumptions. Instead, I found a restaurant serving authentically flavored dishes inspired by Malaysian street food at a decent price for such a popular restaurant in the West Village.

My girlfriend and I ordered dishes from each section of the menu, all under $15. From the "Snacks" section, we tried the Fatty Sliders, two intensely spiced pork and beef patties served on potato rolls with a cucumber and sambal aioli. While the dish itself may not be something you can find on the streets of Malaysia, the flavors were not dumbed down at all; the fish sauce, galangal, and coriander that flavored the meat was discernable.

From the "Salads" section of the menu, we ordered the watermelon pickle and crispy pork salad. For me, this was the overall winner of the night. The wonderful flavor combination of watermelon topped with pieces of crispy pork belly is definitely something I will try to recreate this summer for a picnic in Central Park.

We also ordered the Malay Fish Fry from the "Noodles/Soups/Rice" section. The nicely fried fish was served over rice in a spicy curry that went heavy on the fish sauce, a good thing in my book.

Finally, from the "Fatty's Specialies" portion of the menu, we tried the fatty duck, a steamed and fried duck served over toasted rice in a slightly sweet sauce. My girlfriend found the sauce to be too sweet, but I enjoyed it; the sauce was closer to a Vietnamese caramel sauce than to a gloppy Asian fusion sauce.

One of the main criticisms of Fatty Crab is with the pacing of the meal. The complaint is that dishes come at all times, in all orders, which is exactly what happened on my visit: the duck was served first, followed by the sliders, the watermelon salad, and finally came the fish fry. However, our helpful waiter informed us of the pacing and random order or courses prior to taking our order, so it did not catch us by surprise. The only surprise was in wondering what the next dish to arrive would be, which added a fun element to our dinner.

Of course, the best surprise was Fatty Crab itself. I was ready to write off the restaurant before I had even arrived, but after my one meal there, I will definitely return. I certainly was not expecting a decent value and delicious food, but that is exactly what Fatty Crab delivered.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hake with Herb Crust

I adapted this dish from a recipe in Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories. Just as I didn't closely follow Hopkinson's recipe, don't feel obligated to closely follow mine. Try your own mix of herbs and any fish you'd like. The only important part of this versatile recipe is the technique, which is very simple. The photo does not do it any justice, but this is a great recipe.

Hake with Herb Crust
Serves 2

  • Butter
  • 4 tbsp homemade breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp dill, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme, finely chopped
  • Grated rind from 1 lemon
  • 2 hake fillets, skinned
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Flour, for dredging
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Butter a baking sheet.
  3. Mix together breadcrumbs, herbs, and lemon rind.
  4. Season both sides of fish with salt and pepper.
  5. Dredge one side of a fish fillet in flour. Dip same side in egg, then in breadcrumb mixture. Place fish on baking sheet, seasoned side up, and drizzle with olive oil. Repeat with remaining fillets.
  6. Place baking sheet in oven and cook for about 10 minutes or until bread crumbs begin to brown and fish flakes easily with a fork.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pan Bagnat

There's no need to buy a sandwich press to make a great pressed sandwich. Pan Bagnat (pronounced "pan ban-YAH") is a classic cold pressed sandwich from Nice, France. Essentially, it's a Nicoise salad on bread, but even better as the bread, tuna, and vegetables all soak the vinaigrette when the sandwich is pressed together with a heavy object for 20 minutes. It's lightly more labor-intensive than a standard sandwich, but so much better. I used this recipe from The New York Times, and I followed my lunch with lots of minty gum.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chicken Cacciatore

I do love my no-fuss recipes, especially on work nights. As the story goes, hunters would make cacciatore ("hunter-style") chicken with the ingredients they carried along on their hunts. The story may be far-fetched, but this really is an easy dish to cook. Serve it over plenty of polenta to soak of the braising liquid.

Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 4

  • 3 lbs. chicken drumsticks and thighs, washed and thoroughly dried
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • Large handful of shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tsp. juniper berries, crushed
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes with juice, chopped

  1. Heat olive oil over med-high heat in a deep skillet.
  2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add to skillet, skin side down. Do not crowd; if necessary brown chicken in two batches. Cook chicken until well browned, about 5 min. per side. Remove to plate.
  3. Discard all but 1 Tb of fat in skillet. Reduce heat to medium and add onion, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, and juniper berries. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add wine to skillet and let come to a boil, increasing heat if necessary. Boil for a minute.
  5. Add tomatoes to pan, and stir to mix liquids. Add chicken to pan reduce heat to low; bring to a simmer and partially cover skillet. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes, turning chicken mid way through cooking.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Braised Pork Chops and Cabbage

Last night, I made this simple recipe for braised pork chops with cabbage from Molly Stevens' All About Braising. Cabbage goes extremely well with pork dishes, and this one is no exception.

Braised Pork Chops and Cabbage
Serves two

  • 2 thick bone-in pork chops
  • Salt and pepper
  • Flour, for dredging
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 2 Tb butter
  • 1 tsp. celery seeds
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1/2 head of green cabbage, leaves sliced into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth
  • 2/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 Tb. cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  1. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Dredge both sides with flour.
  2. Heat olive oil in deep skillet over medium high-heat. Add pork chops and cook until brown on both sides, about four minutes per side. Remove pork chops to plate.
  3. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard and celery seeds until they begin to pop, about one minute.
  4. Add shallots to skillet and cook until soft, a couple of minutes.
  5. Add cabbage to skillet and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until cabbage wilts, about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add vermouth and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Add stock and vinegar to skillet and bring to simmer.
  7. Add pork chops to skillet and cover. Cook for abouth 20 minutes or until pork is cooked through, turning once.
  8. Once pork is cooked, transfer to plate. Add cream to skillet and bring to a slow boil. Cook until cabbage is creamy, about 5 minutes. Spoon cabbage over pork chops and serve.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I have been trying to reduce the amount of processed food in my diet. Not only is it not healthy, but processed food is unnecessarily expensive, especially when you factor in that most of the costs is not going towards the food, but to the packaging, marketing, and grocery store storage space of the said food. Cereal is one of the worst culprits, especially in New York, city of the $5 box of Cheerios. I've easily reduced reduced my consumption of processed cereals by substituting oatmeal and homemade granola in my morning routine. My granola recipe of choice has been this one from Mark Bittman. It's easy to make, healthier than most granola recipes, and perfectly crunchy. It's very versatile, too; I like to make it with chopped dates and almonds.


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