Monday, July 27, 2009

Mac and Cheese Party

One of the things that comes with having a food blog is that co-workers, family members, friends, and significant others (and eaters) all request that you make their favorite foods. If anything, these special requests give me confidence that the meals I cook at least look good on a computer screen.

One such cooking request came from the Significant Eater and seven of her girlfriends, when they asked that I cook a macaroni and cheese feast for them. I've never been a fan of mac and cheese, but this was one cooking job I could not turn down. Doing so would have jeopardized my good-boyfriend standing. Despite my dislike for mac and cheese, I would have to make the mac and cheese of my life for the group of mac-and-cheese-loving women.

Scouring for recipes was no easy task for me since I find most mac and cheeses to pretty much the same no matter what goes into them. I felt like a steakhouse chef trying to come up with a salmon dish to put on his menu. I finally came across Jean-Georges Vongeritchen's wife's recipe for mac and cheese. Yes, I decided on a recipe for macaroni and cheese that a French chef proclaims to be the best. How very snobby of me. But with four cheeses and a fairly simple preparation, it sounded like a mac and cheese that would please everyone.

I created another challenge for myself with my mac and cheese party. In my desperate attempt to forever be deemed a good boyfriend by the Significant Eater's friends, I offered to make a healthy version of mac and cheese for those who were averse to eating pasta soaked in milk, cream, half and half, and four cheeses. I myself have an aversion to low fat cheese, so finding a "healthy" version of mac and cheese that I was willing to put my name on proved to be much more difficult than finding a recipe for the standard version. I settled on making carrot mac and cheese. The recipe sounded pretty vile, but I figured if anything, its awfulness would force the health-conscious girls to at least try the four cheese version.

The best thing about any casserole dish is that it is easily transportable. After spending an hour in my own kitchen preparing the two mac and cheeses, they were both packed in their baking dishes and ready to head to the party. While drinking wine and enjoying some hors d'ouevres that one of the girls made, I was able to simply pop the two dishes into the oven. Fifty minutes and a few more glasses of wine later, they were ready to be eaten.

The dinner turned out very well. All of the girls tried and loved the Vongeritchen mac and cheese. Surprisingly, the carrot version, while far from tasting anything like mac and cheese, went over well. Even me, the mac and cheese hater, went back for seconds of each. With yet more wine and some great side dishes that the girls made, it was a very enjoyable dinner. It may have just been the wine speaking, but all of the girls said I did a great job with the mac and cheeses. Will I forever go down in history as great boyfriend material? That, I will not know, but I did woo one of the girls.

Sesame-Crusted Tuna Steaks

I always have somewhat of an ethical dilemma when I purchase tuna. It's over-fished, but it also happens to be one of my favorite seafoods. Unfortunately, there is really no substitute for the rich, meaty taste of a seared tuna steak, so I have chosen to continue to eat tuna, but only sparingly and only when confident that it has been line caught. This past Sunday, I could not resist purchasing tuna steaks from American Seafood at my local Greenmarket. Caught early that morning off the coast of Long Island, this was some well-sourced tuna that I felt a bit less guilty about enjoying.

I chose to encrust the tuna steaks in a mixture of sesame seeds and spices based on this recipe from Food & Wine magazine. I served the fish with roasted corn mayonnaise with kicked up with some sriracha sauce.

Sesame-Crusted Tuna Steaks

Serves 4

  • 4 6-ounce tuna steaks
  • 4 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp. lime zest
  • 1 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp . crushed red pepper
  • 3 tbsp. while sesame seeds
  • 3 tbsp. black sesame seeds
  1. In a bowl combine all ingredients except for the oil and tuna.
  2. Brush tuna steaks on all sides with 2 tbsp. oil.
  3. Rub spice mixture over tuna steaks, patting them down to ensure that the spices adhere.
  4. Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a large skillet over high heat until very hot.
  5. Add tuna to skillet and sear until just cooked on the outside and rare in the middle, no more than two minutes per side.
  6. Serve tuna with spicy mayonnaise and lime wedges.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Review: Scarpetta

Scott Conant's Scarpetta has all of the characteristics of a restaurant that I would expect to be overpriced and overrated: a Meatpacking District location, a celebrity chef who by appears to spend more time in the salon than the kitchen, a branch that recently opened in Miami. Despite my apprehensions, having read great reviews of Scarpetta, the Significant Eater and I made a recent visit and were pleasantly surprised. Scarpetta is far from the usual Meatpacking circus.

I had assumed Scarpetta would be just another big box restaurant with a location perfect for Bridge and Tunellers to stop in for a bite to eat before their nights on the town. What I found was a cozy restaurant set in a Greek revival townhouse. Elegant leather booths line the sides of the restaurant. Mirrors, wrapped in orange leather belts, line the walls. If only it served French cuisine, Hermes would have been very proud of the design.

Of course, elegantly designed restaurants are practically the rule in the Meatpacking District. It was Scarpetta's food that made us forget the fact that we had ventured to West 14th St. on a Friday night after 8. The dinner started off on a good note when a plate of delicious breads arrived. It contained ciabatta rolls, focaccia, and a cheese and salami stuffed bread. I generally try not to fill up on bread when I am in for a big meal, but at Scarpetta I could not resist, especially with the salami-stuffed bread.

As our appetizer, we ordered the soft shelled crab, which was lightly battered, served atop a bed of pea sprouts, and dressed with a lemon and prosecco emulsion. The soft shell crab was as refined as the salami bread was decadent, but both were equally delicious. I loved how the prosecco emulsion transformed the crab into some much more refreshing than simply fried seafood.

The dish of the night, and possibly the dish of the year for me, was our pasta plate. We ordered the duck a foie gras ravioli, which was served in a marsala reduction sauce. The ravioli definitely gave me one of those "why didn't I think of that!" moments, as it is the perfect marriage of flavors: the richness of the foie gras, the meatiness of the duck, the slightly sweet marsala sauce. As he also did with the crab, our server graciously split this dish on two plates for us to share; lucky for our relationship or else I most likely would have swiped a few ravioli off of Significant Eater's plate (it's okay, she had the same feeling).

Our main courses were not nearly as memorable as the crab and the ravioli, but in all fairness, both were tough competition. For my main, I ordered the roasted goat, which was served on a bed of roasted potatoes. The goat, while perfectly cooked, was a fairly one note dish and I found the portion to be so large to the point that I grew tired of it midway through eating. The Significant Eater ordered the black bass, which we both found to be slightly overcooked. Full from the large portion sizes served, we decided to forgo the dull-sounding desserts and enjoy the rest of our inexpensive Sangiovese and lust for just one more bite of that ravioli.

Scarpetta made me realize that the Meatpacking District does not always have to be a lackluster experience. All it takes is some foie gras and a well-made pasta, and even two Manhattanites can find bliss in the Meatpacking District.

355 W. 14th St.
New York, NY 10014

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Something New to try with Beets

President Obama's dislike for beets will no doubt ensure that beets remain at the bottom of the vegetable popularity rankings for the next four years. Nonetheless, here is an easy dish that the few remaining beet lovers should try.

Beet Greens with Roast Beets and Goat Cheese

  • 1 bunch of beets with greens intact
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Meanwhile, trim greens from beet bulbs, leaving about half an inch of the stem attached to each beet, Wash greens and scrub bulbs.
  2. Wrap each beet bulb in foil. Place bulbs on an oven tray and roast until tender, 45 minutes to one hour. Let beets cool.
  3. Once beets have cooled, peel the skin off. Chop beet bulbs into 1/2 inch pieces.
  4. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  5. Add beat greens and saute until they begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve beet greens topped with roasted beets and goat cheese.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cereal-Milk Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Momofuku's cereal-milk panna cotta is modern comfort food at it's best. I finally made the salty/sweet dessert again, and this time I was patient enough to take a photo before I ate it. I topped the panna cotta with sliced strawberries and did not regret it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pappardelle with Corn, Bacon, and Mushrooms

Corn with pasta? Authenticity aside, don't knock it until you've tried it. This recipe was adapted from Andrew Carmellini's Urban Italian. Carmellini states that despite helming the stoves at some of New York City's finest Italian restaurants, he's a Midwesterner at heart. For that reason, he always manages to add corn into his menu when corn season arrives in the summer. If it's good enough for Andrew Carmellini, it's good enough for me; this pasta is excellent, I should add.

Pappardelle with Corn, Bacon, and Mushrooms
Serves 3 to 4

  • 1 lb. fresh pappardelle pasta
  • 4 ears of sweet corn, kernels removed
  • 3/4 cup of bacon, diced
  • 8 oz. thinly sliced button mushrooms, stems discarded
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • pinch of ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Add half of the corn kernels, the milk, and the cream to the bowl of a food processor and process until nearly smooth, approximately 1 minute. Set aside.
  2. Add bacon to a large skillet and cook over medium heat until fat has rendered and some pieces begin to crisp, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms and remaining corn kernels to skillet and cook until they begin to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Reduce heat to low. Using a mesh strainer to filter out the solids, add the milk and corn mixture to the pan. Press the solids in the strainer with a spoon in order to extract all of the liquid. Simmer mixture for another two minutes or until it has thickened slightly.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente.
  6. Add cayenne pepper to skillet. Stir well. Remove pan from heat.
  7. Drain cooked pasta and add it to the skillet.
  8. Add parmesan cheese to skillet and stir well.
  9. Taste for salt and pepper and serve.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Quick Bite: DBGB Kitchen & Bar

The Significant Eater and I recently stopped in for lunch at DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Daniel Boulud's much-hyped new restaurant in the once rundown, soon to be ultra-trendy Bowery neighborhood. Walking into the main dining room, most foodie nerds will find it difficult to contain themselves once they spot what is essentially a culinary Hall of Fame lining the walls: copper kitchenwares from nearly every famous chef one can imagine: Jacques Pepin, Ferran Adria, Alice Waters, and Dan Barber, just to name a few of the displays I could view from my seat. My personal favorite was Andrew Carmellini's pasta machine. Needless to say, I was slightly distracted throughout lunch trying to check out all of the superstar chefs who were featured on the walls.

Food-wise, DBGB did not let me down. I ordered the basic "Yankee" burger, a standard hamburger with lettuce, tomato, and a Guss' pickle. The Significant Eater went with the DBGB Dog, a hot dog topped with sauteed onions and relish. I would never rate a restaurant solely based on its burger and hot dog, but since so many people seem to do exactly that in these burger-obsessed days, I can easily say that DBGB will be atop many New Yorkers' list. My burger was nicely charred on the outside but cooked to a juicy medium-rare in the center. I was glad that I ordered the most unadorned burger on the menu because the Yankee burger needed nothing else. The hot dog the Significant Eater ordered was well-executed as well; one bite told me that the mildly spiced sausage was handmade by a topnotch kitchen and not just some run-of-the-mill frank. The fries that came with each of our meals were also well-salted and perfectly crispy. Everything went down well with a Sixpoint IPA. For dessert, we ordered the Kreik Beer-Cherry (pictured), a sundae that had lots of cherry and no discernible beer flavor--most likely a good thing.

All in all, I was very impressed by my quick bite at DBGB. I will definitely return to try the its more ambitious offerings, which I fully expect to be just as good as my lunch samplings. Even if they aren't, I will surely continue to stop in for a burger and a beer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Tried Zucchini and I Liked It

Ever since a rather unfortunate incident in my childhood, I had vowed never again to eat zucchini. At the behest of my parents, I had taken a small nibble of the bitter, soggy vegetable in order to have a plate of Oreos for dessert. As much as I once loved Oreos, I remain unconvinced that my minuscule tasting of zucchini was possibly worth it.

Well owe it up to a bout of locavore lunacy, but guess what ended up in my Greenmarket tote last weekend? Yes, two heirloom varieties of the forsaken fruit (complementary membership to the Culinary Studio Fan Club for anyone who can remind me what varieties these are):

After cursing myself for purchasing a food I had vowed never to eat again I decided that I better suck it up and eat my zucchini. After all, it had been about 17 years since I had last tried it; I may have not matured by much in that time, but I'd like to think that my palate has. It was time to give zucchini another chance.

Owing zucchini a fair opportunity to make me take back all the bad names I had called it and the ugly glances I had given it on restaurant menus, I took care to peruse my cookbooks to come up with a recipe that made the vegetable sound palatable. Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg's The Flavor Bible stated that black olives, pecorino cheese, mint, and lemon juice pair well with zucchini, and since I had all of the ingredients on hand, I decided to make a raw zucchini salad with them. I also owe thanks to Nate Appleman's A16: Food + Wine for additional inspiration on both the technique and the recipe.

So, did the recipe give me a new found love for zucchini? While I doubt I will be craving zucchini in the near future, I no longer count myself among the zucchini haters. Hell, I ate two platefuls. Zucchini and I have come a very long way indeed.

Zucchini Salad with Mint, Pecorino, and Lemon
Serves 4

  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 handful mint, minced
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  1. Cut ends of zucchini and discard. Thinly slice zucchini lengthwise.
  2. Place zucchini in a colander and toss with kosher salt. Let colander sit in the sink until zucchini begins to wilt and soften, about ten minutes. Rinse zucchini well and pat dry. Set aside in a large bowl.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss well. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Spaghetti with Fava Beans and Pancetta

Pasta with fava beans is a traditional spring-time dish in Southern Italy. Locally grown fava beans may not be available in New York until summer, but it's still perfect dish for warm weather no matter the time of year. The fava beans add a refreshing sweetness, while the pancetta makes this light dish just hearty enough. I adapted the recipe from A16: Food + Wine; follow along to my photographed directions:

First, set your mise en place (red onion, pancetta, red pepper flakes, blanched and peeled fava beans, spaghetti, pecorino, black pepper, olive oil):

Next, saute the red onion in olive oil over medium heat:

Add the pancetta to the pan and was cook until it begins to get crispy:

Lower the heat to low, toss in the fava beans, pepper, and a ladle of pasta cooking water:

Toss the everything together with the pasta, add some olive oil, and top with grated pecorino cheese and serve:

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Having received rave reviews for my arroz con pollo I decided that it was time to move on to the next level of Spanish cuisine and attempt paella. Due to some last minute substitutions of chicken broth for shrimp broth (I didn't have the time to boil a bunch of shrimp shells) and pimenton for sweet paprika, not to mention my use of a skillet instead of the traditional paella pan, my dish was not 100% authentic. It was not the best, though by far not the worst, paella I've eaten, but it was certainly something I'll make again and improve upon; paella is not nearly as difficult or expensive to make as one might think. Below are some pictures of my paella project:

My mise en place (littleneck clams, monkfish, squid, shrimp, tomatoes, garlic, pimenton, bomba rice, olive oil):

Sauteing the squid, tomatoes, and garlic:

Meanwhile, the broth was simmering with a pinch of saffron:

In goes the broth with clams and the monkfish:

Out of the oven:

In go the shrimp, which I cooked separately:

Friday, July 10, 2009

Braised Soy Chicken with Thai Basil

For simple weeknight meals, I often turn to braised chicken dishes. They take very little time to prep and cook, tend to be friendly on the wallet, and provide me with plenty of leftovers to enjoy over the course of the week. Serve this Asian-style braised chicken with plenty of rice to soak up the braising liquid. If you can't find Thai basil, lemon juice would be another nice addition to the sauce.

Soy Braised Chicken with Thai Basil
Serves 4

  • 2 lbs. chicken thighs and drumsticks
  • Salt
  • 3 tbsp. peanut oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
  • 1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/3 cup Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. double black soy sauce (a thicker, sweeter soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup Thai basil, chiffonade

  1. Lightly salt the chicken pieces.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the chicken pieces to the skillet without crowding and cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. If necessary, cook chicken in batches.
  4. Add garlic and ginger to skillet and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  5. Add wine, soy sauces, and sugar to skillet. Boil, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  7. Stir in Thai basil and serve.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gooseberry Chutney

My brother, who is currently living in England recently asked me how to cook gooseberries, very tart berries that are prevalent in British markets. I told him that not only had I never seen gooseberries sold in the New York, but that even if they were sold here, I would not have the faintest idea of what to do with them. A recent trip to the Union Square Greenmarket proved me wrong, as I did find gooseberries for sale. Determined to cook a gooseberry recipe that would provide me with an answer to my brother's question, I purchased a pint of the berries.

Thinking that a gooseberry dessert would be too predictable, I opted to make a gooseberry chutney that I adapted from a recipe in Matt Tebbutt Cooks Country, a cookbook I purchased on my recent trip to London. I served the chutney atop seared duck breasts. The sweet and tart chutney played a wonderful counterpoint to the rich duck. I think even a Londoner-- or my brother-- would approve.

Gooseberry Chutney
Adapated from Matt Tebbutt Cook s Country

  • 1 pint gooseberries
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 200g sugar
  • 1 tbsp. rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp. mustard seeds, toasted
  • salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low. Simmer until chutney thickens to a jam consistency, 15 to 20 minutes.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Making a batch of strawberry rhubarb compote was the perfect way to celebrate a gorgeous July 4th weekend. This recipe is adapted from Thomas Keller's Bouchon. It is delicious as a topping for ice cream, pound cake, yogurt, you name it.

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
Makes approximately 4 cups

  • 1 lb. strawberries, cleaned quartered
  • 1 lb. rhubarb, cleaned and trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  1. Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan.
  2. Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Boil for about 4 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another two minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and bring compote to room temperature. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Honey-Glazed Pork Chops

As may be clear by the reduced frequency of my blog posts, I have been in a culinary creativity slump this week. I've stuck to simple, tried-and-true recipes, many of which I've posted on this very blog. My only new recipe was a this one for honey-glazed pork chops from Food and Wine. While the recipe was by no means inspiring enough to get my culinary juices flowing again, it added just enough excitement to a wonderful bone-in Berkshire rib chop I had in my freezer. Fortunately, with Independence Day weekend around the corner, I have lots of exciting restaurant outings planned for the next few days; perusing the menus of great restaurants is always the best way for me to recover from a slump in the kitchen.


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