Thursday, May 29, 2008

Roasted black bass and fingerling potato stacks

Abby is spending the summer in NYC doing to whole corporate law thing. I've hear mixed opinions about this type of work. Some people really like it; some people tolerate it because they have law school loans to pay off; and some people think it's the most horrible work imaginable. Say what you will about corporate law, but one thing is undeniable. The food is good. Last week, one of the partners at the law firm invited Abby out to lunch and, being a workaholic, said that he didn't really go out to lunch much. So, being a rare occasion, he wanted to go someplace really nice, like Jean Georges. This, by the way, is one of the few restaurants that has 4 New York Times stars. When Abby and I were researching restaurants - for now, I'll just have to live vicariously through her high-end eating experiences - we discovered two things of interest: 1) lunch at Masa costs $400 per person, and 2) Jean-Georges Vongerichten has a blog. The first piece of info was interesting insofar as it was a shockingly high price to pay for lunch. I wonder if this is the most expensive lunch in the world? The second piece of information will actually be useful because this guy is an amazing chef and he occasionally posts recipes, like this one. It looked good, so I decided to give it a try.
As with a lot of home cooking, you don't need to do a lot of technical work to make the dish a success. There are no reductions or emulsions here, just a few ingredients thrown in a pan. Probably the hardest thing to do is slicing the lemons really thin. If you have good knife skills, this isn't a problem. If not, use a mandoline.

Here is the finished dish
I paired the fish with a stack of fingerling potatoes and some lemon-garlic aioli. This dish was inspired by the patatas bravas they make at Casa Mono.

To make the aioli, just whisk together an egg yolk, lemon zest, and two cloves of garlic. You want to mince the garlic and then crush it to a paste by repeatedly dragging the edge of your knife over the mound of minced garlic. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and then begin whisking in olive oil. Add the oil very slowly. The taste from the olive oil can be overpowering, so you may want to cut it with a flavorless oil like canola. When the mixture gets too thick, thin it out with lemon juice. You want to add about 1/2 cup of oil per egg yolk.

For the potatoes, begin by boiling the fingerling potatoes in a pot of heavily salted water until they are done. They are done when a knife pokes through them with little resistance. Let the potatoes cool and then slice them in half lengthwise. Finish them off on the stove top over high heat with some olive oil, garlic, herbs (I just used thyme), salt and pepper. Spoon out a base of aioli on which to stack the potatoes. Top with another dollop of the aioli.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Casa Mono

Abby and I saw Avenue Q last night - which was absolutely hilarious - and stopped by Casa Mono by Union Square for a quick meal beforehand. I went here for the first time with Heb and Joe last summer and loved it. The second time back didn't disappoint. I've been to a few tapas places in the U.S. (maybe 10 to 15), and this one is by far the best. The space is really cozy, which can make it hard to get a table at times. We got there a little after 5:30, so their were plenty of empty seats when we arrived. We grabbed a couple seats at the bar, so we were able to see the chefs putting everything together right in front of us. If you are going here with just two or three, this is the way to go. It's really fun to watch them work.
We ordered four different tapas and enjoyed every one: fried pimientos,
foie gras on a crouton with five preparations/variaties of onions,
pork belly with spring onions (we were so excited to dig in, I forgot to take a picture of that), and sweetbreads with baby fennel and an almond vinaigrette. I had only had sweet breads once before, at Jaleo (another one of my favorite Tapas places), and wasn't a huge fan. They were stewed and had a sort of mealy texture to them. These sweetbreads, though, were really, really good. They reminded me of big fried oysters.

New York Street Food

Abby and I spent Sunday morning at the 9th Avenue Street Fair. The last few times I have been to New York, it seems like I find a street fair somewhere in Manhattan that, goes on for blocks and blocks and features the same repetition of stands selling smoothies, arrepas, kabobs, and grilled corn. The 9th Avenue fair had a little more variety that the others that I had been to. That probably has a lot to do with the location. I guess 9th Avenue is known as a restaurant row of sorts, so a number of the establishments had their own booths set up to add some variety to the usual booths that you might see at a street fair.

The first stand we saw when we got to 9th avenue had several tables full of clams and oysters on ice, and we grabbed a half dozen oysters on the half shell. We worked our way up, trying out several little dishes. Our favorite was probably the crawfish boil that a cajun restaurant was offering. This stuff is messy, but fun to eat. Right next to the Cajun stand, some guy was selling key lime tarts out of the back of his truck. This was also very good.
One of the more interesting things that we saw was at a Colombian place where they were cooking steaks using a big cage like contraption (pictured below). I know that it is common to cook steaks over an open flame like this in South America, but I had never seen this particular piece of equipment.

Del Posto

Abby moved down to New York last week to start here summer job at a law firm, so I went down to visit her this weekend. After being stuck in the Fung Wah bus in bumper to bumper traffic for several hours, I finally made it to NYC with about an hour to spare before Abby and I needed to meet Alex and Jane at Del Posto, where they were somehow able to get last minute reservations. Let me just begin by saying that this meal was absolutely phenomenal. From the service, to the setting, to the food, everything was on point.

When our cab pulled up to the curb, I opened up my door and started to stick my umbrella out to open it and shield Abby from the rain - it had been pretty dismal all day - and when I looked up I saw that the doorman has already beat me there. With his large umbrella in hand, he escorted us to the door (and later helped us get a cab).

Once we were seated, the waiter graciously answered our many many questions about the menu, and a somolier gave us some excellent recommendations so we didn't have to contend with the 60+ page wine list. We ended up choosing the tasting menu, so between the four of us, we were able to try out a fairly nice variety of items. Abby and Jane both ordered an appetizer called vitello tonnato crudo which consisted of three cubes each of raw veal and tuna as the centerpiece. Alex had an abalone salad, which may have been the best appetizer at the table, and I ordered the frutti di mare, which was a mix of raxor clams, scallops, and calamari. I thought it was excellent, but the abalone might be a more novel dish.

For the tasting menu, the whole table chooses two different pasta dishes to share for the first course, and we went with rabbit panzotti with pencil asparagus and black truffle butter and del posto agnolotti del plin with parmagiano-reggiano butter. The agnolotti was good. The panzotti was absolutely amazing.
The past skin was incredibly thin and delicate, providing the perfect casing for the smooth rabbit filling inside. The taste of the asparagus and black truffles was perfect balanced. I wish I could have eaten a whole plate full of this stuff.

For the second course, Jane and I both ordered grilled squab that was served with shaved white asparagus, cherries, and fava beans. I'de never had squab before, and I never thought that the lowly pigeon could taste so good. On the side, they serve a little cup with the squab's liver at the bottom and topped with a forcemeat made from the legs.
Abby ordered cacciucco, a fishermens stew, sort of like a ciopino, that was flavored with some type of bread sauce with salt cod. This dish had a great presentation. The waiter first brings the soup out to the table in a warm silver bowl and then goes and plates it at a serving table in the center of the dining room. The bread sauce is presented on the side in a silver pitcher so you get to add it an mix it together yourself. The sauce thickens the soup a little and completely transforms the flavor.
Alex ordered roasted pork loin that was served with a side dish that has sausages, garbanzo beans, carrot, and a pearl onion in some sort of broth.

For dessert, we ordered an assortment of different things pictures below. They were all very good, but, not having much of a sweet tooth, it was harder for me to get excited about these dishes.

Family Dinner in Boston

Last week, my sister had an art opening at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, and my mom and dad used that as an excuse to finally get out to the east coast after all of these years. With Laura, Mitch, Midori, Ariel, and my mom and dad in town along with Melissa, Dino and Aiden, it was, at times, a full house. We went out to restaurants a couple of times, but the last two nights that the Chicago branch of the family was in town, Dino and I split up cooking duties.

I decided to finally make something out of the Oleana cookbook that I have purchased several months ago. I went with the "Spoon Lamb," a braised lamb shoulder chop with a sauce of reduced braising liquid and pomegranate molasses, and smokey eggplant, a puree of eggplant seasoned with urfa chiles, smoked salt, and lemon, combined with greek yogurt and toasted pine nuts.
We had a shredded carrot salad with apricots and another salad with arugula, shaved fennel, blood oranges, and olives as side dishes.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Panzanella, or bread salad, is a great way to make a slightly stale baguette into something edible and tasty. I had the requisite main ingredient sitting around - a rock hard baguette that had been sitting on the kitchen table for almost a week - so I decided to give it a try. To make it, cut the bread into cubes and, if it is still soft, dry it out by sticking in the oven for a few minutes. Throw in whatever vegetables and herbs you have lying around and toss it all together. I uses a couple tomatoes, a yellow bell pepper, a roasted red pepper, half a cucumber, onions, some olives, capers, basil, parsley, and tuna packed in olive oil. I think that last ingredient is a bit untraditional, but it tasted good.You will also want to add olive oil and vinegar. I made a dressing of olive oil, mustard, orange muscat vinegar, oregano and garlic. For the amount I was making, I needed about 1/3 cup of dressing. You can also top the salad with freshly grated cheese. Let everything sit for at least an hour so the flavors mix and the bread soaks up a lot of the moisture. If the bread is hard enough to begin with, it will have this nice texture where it is soft on the outside from all the dressing and liquids from the vegetables, but still a bit crunchy in the middle.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bailey's French Toast and the World's Best Bacon

This morning I was trying to come up with something to make for brunch when I noticed the bottle of Bailey's that was sitting on the liquor cabinet. French toast is one of my favorite breakfast foods, and a little Irish creme seemed like the perfect accent for a French toast mix. I headed over to Savenor's to pick up some bread - I was looking for challah bread, but ended up getting this amazing cinnamon bread instead - and I also got some applewood smoked bacon. Savenor's bacon, by the way, is the best bacon ever.

As you can see, they cut their bacon fairly thick. It's at least twice as thick as what you normally find at the supermarket, and about 20 times better.

Here's the recipe for the French Toast. These portions make enough for two servings.
4 slices of bread (challah or cinnamon bread, about 3/4" to 1" thick)
2 eggs
3/4-1 cup milk
3 Tbsp Irish cream
1/8 to 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

The Bailey's adds a great flavor that goes well with syrup or whipped cream. If you want to go with a fruit topping instead, try switching our the Bailey's for some orange juice or 1/8 tsp of lemon extract. This will give you a "brighter" tasting French toast.

Mix together the ingredients.
Soak the bread in the mixture. It should soak up everything
Cook over medium to low heat until done. Since the bread is really thick, you want to keep the heat fairly low so you don't burn the surface before the the middle is done. You can turn the heat up at the end to get some color. The time really depends on how thick and soaked the bread is and what heat and cooking surface you are using, so just cook until the color looks right. You should also cook the bacon over medium heat. In my opinion, bacon turns out better when you use a lower heat.
Plate and serve with the topping of your choice.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cambridge area restaurants

Below, I posted my favorite place to buy ingredients, but I don't always cook my own meals. Here's a map of restaurants the I like and would recommend. I'm always looking for new places to try, so please comment if you have any suggestions. Click on link below to the full page and click on the markers for comments about each place.

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Here are my recommendations:
High end - Oleana
Mid range - East Coast Grill, The Garden at the Cellar
Inexpensive - Muqueca
Sandwiches - Darwin's, All Star Sandwich Bar
Burritos - Olecito
Tacos - Tacos Lupita
Mexican - Tu y Yo
Chinese - Shangri La
Japanese(Inexpensive) - Blue Fin
Other fun ethnic foods - Muqueca, Machu Picchu, Ortanique
Burgers - The Cellar (best fries), O'Sullivan's
Brunch - Sound Bites, East Coast Grill
Seafood - Muqueca

A Culinary Map of Cambridge

With just one more year left in Cambridge, Abby and I have started thinking about where we'll land next. While there are plenty of things not to miss about the Boston area (long winters) I will certainly miss the food. I have never lived in a city that has so many great places to get ingredients. Having access to Cambridge's culinary resources really allows you to get creative. Here's a map of my favorite places (click on the link below to get to the full map).

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