Yuck! Anchovies!

May 28, 2009

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It is amazing how much of what we like to eat is effected by our childhood. One of the best examples of that in my mind, is the anchovy. From an early age, most kids are exposed to these tiny salt water fish with advanced warnings and stories of the “weirdos” who eat them on their pizza. Little tiny fish on pizza? No way! So just like I did, these same kids grow up assuming they hate anchovies, avoiding them like the plague. Yet, what about that delicious caesar salad or that flavorful puttanesca sauce. What could possibly be giving these dishes that punch of flavor?

Interestingly enough, the flavor most often associated with anchovies comes from the brining method used to preserve the little fillets. In fact, the fresh anchovy flavor is much milder and therefore much easier to enjoy. But it is the bold flavor that comes from the canned or bottled version that can add a much needed boost to a number of dishes. (Another great alternative for those still shy of using the fillets is the increasingly available anchovy paste. The paste is often located right by the canned tomato products in the market.)

One of the most obvious places for the anchovy flavor is a seafood dish. I had been really craving calamari and although it is delicious fried, I actually enjoy it more when it is quickly sauteed or blanched. I decided to cook the calamari and a few cockles in a sauce prepared with fennel, onion, garlic, and poblano pepper along with a bit of Brooklyn Summer Ale, clam juice, and just a bit of that anchovy paste. The dish was rich in seafood flavor and with just a squeeze of lemon only one thing was missing.

There is nothing like sopping up a delicious sauce with some warm bread. Especially when that bread has great flavor as well. Slathering the crusty french bread with a garlic and anchovy butter proved to be exactly what this dish needed. The flavors of the dish came together and the duel use of anchovy paste is what really made the difference. I finished the dish with a handful of pea shoots I bought at the green market earlier in the day adding a crisp freshness that rounded out the meal.

Luckily, our eating phobias can be overcome and our childhood memories can be overlooked but it does take a bit of faith. The anchovy really is a wonderful ingredient and whether or not you know it is there (worcestershire sauce) you probably have liked it in the past and probably will in the future. Just remember, it never hurts to try…

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In need of some ruffage…

May 27, 2009

Grilled Nectarine Salad

Growing up, I was a big salad eater. We had salad with a large portion of our meals and there wasn’t much I didn’t like. And it wasn’t just the taste I appreciated from an early age, it was the direct correlation between what I ate, and how I felt that made me such a fruit and veggie lover. Maybe it is my metabolism or maybe it was the thought and awareness that comes with being involved in athletics, but either way I know when I need something fresh, something healthy. And with all the burger taste testing and the grilling done this past weekend for Memorial Day, I was in need of some ruffage.

Although a simple mixed salad has its purpose and goes great along side a grilled steak or a hearty pasta dish, a dinner salad needs some excitement, some boldness. And even more importantly, it has to fill you up.  And that doesn’t have to mean disguising your favorite burrito by layering the ingredients over shredded lettuce. One of my favorite salads, is arugula piled with roasted beets, orange segments, goat cheese, blanched string beans and walnuts. In fact, during the winter months when heavy eating is inevitable, this salad has become a regular. But why stick with something I have made so many times before…especially when the colors and flavors of spring fill the produce stands.

Keeping the same principles in mind of building my favorite beet salad, I wanted a contrast in color, texture, and flavor in my salad. Thinly sliced radishes tossed with fresh raw corn, roasted asparagus, and blanched edamame were layered over a bed of arugula and topped with fresh goat cheese and homemade rosemary croutons. The dressing I used was a simple blend of lemon juice, red wine vinegar, dijon, honey, garlic, and olive oil.*** Lastly to really push the flavors over the top, I added grilled nectarines which added just enough sweetness and just enough crunch to make this salad a meal. Nothing says “delicious” like a pair of empty plates.

***I used to always buy store bought salad dressings. Maybe I thought it was convenient or maybe I thought it was cheaper but homemade dressings are the way to go. They are so simple and so versatile that buying a pre-packaged blend of artificial taste seems completely ridiculous. I know there are some all natural dressings out there but those are certainly not cheap. If you don’t make your own, try and just like me you may never pick up that bottle of “Newman’s Own” again.


A Tale of Two Burgers…

May 26, 2009

Double Shack Burger

One of the most fervent arguments within the food culture of New York City is where to get the best burger. Having for a while, been a self professed amateur of the burger scene, I had decided the only way I could contribute to this argument would be to get out and eat! Having already tried the american classic at the Corner Bistro and the bold roquefort topped burger at the Spotted Pig, I was due for a few more taste tests and the results made everything a bit more clear…

The very nature of the argument is a complicated one. Just like any good experiment, the most important component is a control over variability. So it made me wonder, can we really compare a delicate blend of beef and lamb topped with cheddar cheese to a double American cheese burger with shack sauce? I’d argue not, but either way, I will try my best.

I have long neglected the urge to try what many passionately claim to be the most delicious burger in NYC, the Shake Shack. Maybe I was being stubborn but anytime a lot of hype is combined with a long line, I assume I’ll be disappointed. But I firmly believe that in order to have an opinion that people respect, you have to give it a shot. Cheese Fries at Shake ShackWho am I to make claims on burgers without having tried arguably the most “famous”. So off I went, bracing myself for what was sure to be a 45 minute wait on a warm Friday night. Being able to send someone ahead to the “b” line in order to grab some beers certainly makes this wait more doable; not to mention the great scenery in Madison Square Park, and the constant smell of burgers, custard, and fries. I decided on the double shack burger which is two of their thin beef (sirloin and brisket) patties topped with american cheese, lettuce, tomato, and shack sauce (a seasoned mayo based sauce). We also shared an order of cheese fries!

There is no getting around it. These burgers are certainly of the greasy spoon, or the old fashioned diner variety. A bit on the messy side but packed with a lot of flavor and surprisingly well put together to limit spillage. The American Cheese is a classic standby of this type of burger and goes great in complimented the strong flavor of the beef. The cheese fries were as well delicious, similarly topped with an American Cheese based sauce that wasn’t too thick. The food was good but wow, is it filling. I hit the wall early on, but never like to leave food behind. Despite having really enjoyed the food, I’m not sure how some eat their so often. But then again, this isn’t really my type of burger…

Prune, a restaurant started by Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, has been recognized in the past as an exceptional place for lunch, brunch, and dinner. Her homestyle cooking is at the roots, American and her execution has always been tauted as being extremely impressive . Recently, I had heard rumblings about her cheeseburger and despite the fact its a bit more expensive than my regular lunches, I felt I needed to try it. Her cheeseburger is served with crispy and delicious thin cut french fries and a large steak knife. I wasn’t sure of why the knife was necessary being that the burger was a good size to grab all at once, but I have my own hypothesis. Take that knife, and cut right down the middle and just like I was, I am sure you will be impressed.Burger at Prune The blend of lamb and beef is cooked perfectly, covered with just enough cheddar cheese all packed between a toasted english muffin (one of the best buns you can have) slathered with parsley/scallion butter. The colors are fantastic and the taste is even better. Every component worked with the others in making this burger delicious. Moist but not greasy, flavorful and interesting this burger is definitely one of my favorites.

I’d love to finish this post with some sort of conclusion, as most good research contains but there is no amount of research that will ever resolve this argument (and that’s probably a good thing). Everyone has their own tastes and their own preferences and therefore everyone has their own favorite burger. I guess the comforting thing, is that no matter what type of burger you like, there is bound to be a place in this city that has it!


Risotto Cookoff 09

May 26, 2009

Mango Salsa Risotto

On one of the hottest days of the Spring, the back room of Jimmy’s # 43 was packed to the brim with paying taste testers to get a plateful of Risotto. The Risotto Cookoff went above and beyond expectations and with 14 or so entries, the competition was stiff. My “mango salsa” risotto may not have won an official prize but the positive feedback was good enough for me. Many of the tasters were impressed with the originality and the freshness in flavor! To read more about the competition and to see my risotto among the rest check out Cathy’s blog entry. A special thanks to Cathy and Karol for putting on such a great event! I can’t wait for the next one.

On a side not, my neighboring competitors Liv and Laena have just recently started their own jam company named Anarchy in a Jar. Check out their blog for some of the upcoming recipes. If their Jam and Beet Risotto is any indication of how good their products will be, then I think I know where I’ll be getting my toast toppings from…


Flip Flops, Friends, and Food…

May 22, 2009

Grilled Chicken, Peach, and Cheddar Sandwiches

I think we can all agree it has been a weird Spring. One day I’m walking around in shorts and a t-shirt and the next I’ve got my jacket on struggling to get back into shoes (once I start to wear flip flops, only the Winter can get me to cede). But days like yesterday make it all worth it. As I was eating lunch in the newly finished Washington Square park, I started to think about what the upcoming months would bring in way of food and eating. Sure I thought about the newly seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the outdoor dining at restaurants but what really got me excited was the type of eating only the summer months can bring out. The blistering sun beaming down on you and your friends, congregating around a grill with a cold drink and a myriad of stories. There is no set time for the meal, rather you eat when everything is done. It seems like everyone has their part, whether it is manning the grill, or preparing the sides, or making sure everyone’s drink is full, summer meals have a camaraderie that can’t be beat. And as the sun sets and the night air cools down just enough, a relaxation falls upon you, and you enjoy the evening quietly preparing yourself for the next amazing Summer Meal…

It probably goes back to my days at Doten Ave (my house in Saratoga Springs) but one of my favorite summer grill foods is the chicken sandwich. Try ordering it at a restaurant and your most likely going to be disappointed (at least I always am). The chicken sandwich on its own, can be both packed with flavor or left alone in simple fashion, but it is the process that I have always loved. This is probably why the restaurant varieties never get me going. I want to make it! I want to be the one grilling and slicing, and with a bunch of friends if possible. So last night I decided to grill my first summer chicken sandwich. I went out on my huge patio, got the charcoal going, and started to grill! Okay, you guys know by now, I dont have a huge patio, and therefore certainly don’t have a grill but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t determined to make this sandwich.

Grill pans work pretty well but often create a ton of smoke. Normally this isn’t a huge problem but the smoke detector in a NYC apartment can be your worst enemy. For this reason, I like to par-cook my chicken breasts in a pan and then finish them on the grill pan. This technique has always worked well, and considering the grill pan isn’t creating any outdoor grill flavor, I never feel like I’m losing anything. In fact I always end up with a moist, well cooked piece of chicken, perfect for a sandwich. Being that this was going to be my first summer chicken sandwich, I wanted to make it special. Thinking about the ingredients I love from the summer I decided to layer slices of ripe tomatoes with slices of not so ripe peaches. The peaches weren’t so ripe because, well they aren’t all the way in season yet but this was ideal. The peaches still added their sweet flavor but added a bite to the sandwich (textural contrast!). The chicken breasts were finished with melted sharp cheddar (perfect compliment to the peach) and lastly the sandwiches were constructed with butter leaf lettuce and fresh avocado mayo all on a crusty frech baguette. What a combination! If your looking for something to spark your Summer enthusiasm give this one a shot and let me know how it goes! Also if you have any favorite summer recipes share them by leaving a comment. Here’s to a great Summer, not there yet but soon enough! Have a great Memorial Day.


A Few Updates

May 21, 2009
  • The Risotto Challenge is this Saturday and if anyone out there wants to attend and cheer me on (and try a ton of great risotto) it is from 1-5 pm at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village. It is twenty dollars at the door but all proceeds go to Just Food. I’ve racked my brains for what type of risotto to serve and I think I’ve come up with a winner! Mango Salsa Risotto will have diced mangoes, jalapenos, red onion, cilantro, and lime. To add a bit of tang I’m going to use a goat cheese blend. I’m hoping the creativity will pay off!
  • On another note I got my first update from Nikki on her trip to Europe. She’s managed to snap some photos while in Austria in between chowing down on the local favorites. This meat and potato dish looks amazing but the shear volume makes me nervous. But I don’t think anyone will complain about pancakes for dessert. IMG_1954IMG_1955

The List: Pho Sure

May 20, 2009

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I had just about given up. After two years of trying and ultimately being disappointed, I decided if I wanted my favorite dish, I would just have to go home to get it. Thanks to a good friend back home, I have been eating Pho for a long time. Whether it was his Mother’s homemade version or the $7 behemoth (tax and tip included) served at Pho Ha, I have eaten more of this hearty soup than I could have ever imagined. When done correctly, the oxtail/beef broth is both delicate and bold. Always served with Siracha and Hoisin, it’s best to taste the broth on its own, to begin with, to appreciate the subtleties of the spices (charred ginger, star anise, cloves, etc; just to name a few). The rice noodles give the soup it’s substance and the slivers of onions, bean sprouts, fresh basil, mint and lime work perfectly adding theirs flavor without muting any of the other components. Lastly Pho is finished with thinly sliced raw beef that cooks in the broth. Depending on what you like, the thin cuts of beef can range from flank to brisket and tendons to meatballs. As you can tell, I’m quite obsessed with this meal of a soup and to not have found a version as good as what I’m used to, left me disappointed and in denial.

Last night we made it back to Pho Sure (remember we tried to go but it hadn’t opened yet) and I was so sure I was going to be disappointed. How sure you ask? Pho Sure! That right there was the reason I was hesitant. Call me a purist but having been let down by so many lame attempts at Pho in the past, I was sure a restaurant with such a cheesy name couldn’t possibly nail such a simple and traditional Vietnamese Dish. The cheese factor didn’t stop at the door. IMG_3808The four varieties of Pho all have their own cheesy name. Luckily the decor is not at all cheesy although a bit more modern than what I’m used to when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine.  I ordered the Pho Sure which was served with rare beef, brisket, and shin. Trust me when I say I wanted to hate this place. I had convinced myself of this fact before I even walked in the door. But to my amazement, when I did my broth taste test (pre-siracha) the lightness was followed immediately by the boldness of the spices. The broth wasn’t greasy (a terrible component of a lot of bad Pho’s when restaurants add oil and fat to increase the flavor) but rather it was clear and delicious. The additional components were spot on as well and I finished every last drop. It has been a while since I have been to Pho Ha back home (going home soon to do another taste test) but this version was certainly pretty close.

Pho Sure is a part of the Baoguette restaurants that have popped up in Murray Hill and the East Village, so we decided to start out with one of their classic Bahn Mi sandwiches. Soft Shell Crab AppetizerThe classic consists of pork terrine, pate, and pulled pork served on a delicious baguette and filled with fresh herbs. Another home-run. And at only $5, these sandwiches are a welcomed addition to the expensive and often boring lunch options by Washington Square. Our second appetizer, the soft shell crab was just so so but I’m not sure why we even ordered it. We should have kept to the basics.

I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong and in this case I was way off. If you haven’t had Pho before I urge you to. Just make sure you find a place like this one to get a good version otherwise you’ll be turned off. I’m thrilled to finally have my favorite dish back as an option. Although I still wouldn’t mind if they changed the name…

Pictures will be posted tonight!

Pho Sure 8.5/10


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