Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dinner: Linguine with Mushrooms, Asparagus, Onion, Canned Trout

Post cocktail testing yesterday evening (see partial results in the background), I really needed some food and of course some wine. Pasta sounds like the perfect dinner, especially since I had purchased some fresh pasta from the Balducci's sale and had some fresh vegetables in the refridgerator.

- 1lb Balducci's Fresh Linguine (which I had frozen)
- 1/4 Red Onion, chopped
- 6 Baby Bella Mushrooms, sliced
- 6 Asparagus Spears, chopped to 1.5 inch pieces
- Canned Cole's Trout - Petite Rainbow Trout
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Salt and Pepper
- Olive Oil
- Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley

In olive oil, saute onions over medium heat (with garlic if you like), season with salt and pepper. After a couple of minutes, add the chopped asparagus, season, and cook for a couple more minutes. Add mushrooms and a dash more olive oil if needed, season. When the vegetables are nearly cooked through, add the pasta to boiling salted water and cook for a couple of minutes until al dente. Add the canned trout to the vegetables (including the water from the can), stir to heat through. Add the pasta to the trout and vegetables, toss, season as needed, add fresh parsley, and pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce.

Wine Pairing:
I paired this dish with a lovely medium to full bodied Italian wine:
Pietrantonj, Italo 2007 Pecorino IGT. It has a slight richness with bitter almond, floral, lemon, apricot notes, as well as bright acidity. Another purchase of mine from Chambers Street Wines - I always buy there because I used to work there, but I also love their selection.

Testing New Cocktails - Part 2

(Cocktail prep station - fresh fruit a must)

Last night was the last round of testing cocktails in preparation for
the Share Our Strength charity event sponsored by Belvedere and St. Germain. It came down to a final four:

(Final products: two versions of Drink #4, Drink #3, Drink #2)

Drink #1
- 2 oz. Belvedere Vodka
- 1/2 oz St. Germain
- 3 Raspberries
- 4 Mint Leaves
- Dash of dry sparkling wine
Directions: Muddle mint and raspberries. Add ice, St. Germain, and Belvedere and stir / shake. Strain into chilled martini glass and pour splash of dry sparkling wine on top of cocktail.
[Notes: Minty, slightly tart, fresh. The sparkling wine adds a bright, bubbly tone; the St. Germain a roundness, and the Belvedere a purity.]

Drink #2
- 1 oz. Belvedere Vodka
- 1 oz. Aperol
- 1/2 oz. St. Germain
- Grapefruit Juice
- Orange Slice
Directions: over ice in an old fashioned glass add Belvedere, Aperol, St. Germain. Top with grapefruit juice and garnish with orange slice.
[Notes: the sweetness of St. Germain rounds this out, but the tartness of the grapefruit juice and the slight bitterness of the Aperol make this a bright, complex, refreshing drink.]

Drink #3
- 1 oz. Belvedere Vodka
- 1 oz. Earl Grey Tea (pre-brewed with loose leaves and cold)
- 1/2 oz. St. Germain
- Q Tonic Water
- Lemon dash and slice
Directions: over ice in an old fashioned glass, add Belvedere, Earl Grey Tea, and St. Germain. Top with tonic water. Squeesh lemon slice and add to drink.
[Notes: this is an amazing summer drink. I originally made this with Earl Grey Infused Vodka, but it works as well with pre-brewed tea. It is so refreshing - I can imagine drinking this after a long afternoon in the sun.]

Drink #4
- 2 oz. Belvedere Vodka
- 1/2 oz. Manzanilla Sherry (Bodegas Argueso San Leon Manzanilla Clasica)
- Soda Water
- 4 slices Cucumber cut in half
Directions: over ice in an old fashioned glass, add cucumber slices, Belvedere, Manzanilla, and top with soda. Bruise cucumber slices to add extra cucumber flavor.
[Notes: this drink I originally made with cucumber infused vodka, but the cucumber slices add the same effect. It is very subtle and clean, bringing out the quality of the Belvedere. This is the subtlest drink of the four, but that should not take away from how delicious it is. The longer the cucumber has a chance to hang in the vodka the better this drink gets.]

Monday, April 27, 2009

Season's First Outdoor BBQ: Rose & Salsa

This weekend we seemed to skip right through Spring and onto Summer. Fortunately, I have a friend with some delightful outdoor roof space and a willingness to invite guests over for alfresco dining. It was time for the season's first rose: Commanderie de Peyrassol Rose which was quite delightful. It has a pale salmon color, it was elegant with strawberry fruits. This rose always impresses me and this vintage did not disappoint.

In addition to the rose, I was going to bring the fixings for guacamole. Unfortunately, the two markets I tried did not have any ripe avocados, so I made a fresh salsa.

- 4 vine ripened tomatoes (diced)
- 2 tomatillos (diced)
- 1/4 small red onion (diced fine)
- 1 jalapeno (diced and seeded, depending on your taste for heat)
- 1 lime
- handful of cilantro
- dash of hot sauce
- salt and pepper

Making and eating fresh salsa is such a pleasure and the setting for this was just perfect: the sun setting on the first hot day weekend of the year, the grill heating up hot dogs, rose, and friends.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Gentleman's Relish... It's a British Thing

While growing up in England, we always had a pot of Patum Peperium The Gentleman's Relish in the refrigerator. It always seemed so grown up to me and I did not try it until recently. I ate biscuits (or cookies in the US) with tea when I came home from school, but now, I have become very fond of this anchovy paste spread on whole wheat toast. It is technically
salted anchovies (60%), butter, salt, herbs, spices and tastes like salty anchovy butter. If you are into the savory and fishy, it's a must-try. Patum Peperium is available in New York at Myers of Keswick (634 Hudson Street).

Fortnum & Mason also makes an anchovy paste called Fornum's Relish Anchovial Alchemy (an armada of superior anchovy). This is similar to Patum Peperium, but a little more peppery. I love the classic old style pots both these products are sold in.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon with a hot cup of tea (with milk of course), anchovy paste on hot buttered toast is about as good as it gets.

Burger Tour of NYC Part 3

The burger tour continues, but at a slower pace. After texting back and forth on possible dinner locations last evening, I persuaded a friend of mine to join me at Corner Bistro. Since the burger tour with the boys from The Burger Joint in DC last month, I have been looking forward to trying the Corner Bistro's bistro burger again. The experience did not disappoint. It takes a little work to convince either the old grumpy bartender or the young grumpy bartender to serve you, but after a couple of McSorley's Dark Ales on tap, you'll feel better (or care less). Honestly, you can get away with being a curmudgeon if you are older, because it adds character to an old, classic joint like the Corner Bistro, but if you are a younger bartender, you just come off like a dick.

Since we had space at the bar, we were allowed to order food there, which was a relief because I did not feel like standing in the line to get a table in the back room. The bistro burger comes with lettuce, tomato, bacon, onion, and cheese. It's a fat, juicy, well made burger on a soft bun. They are delicious. The fries are crispy and not bad (not great). We also ordered a grilled cheese which frankly was just warm cheese between toast.

In this economic environment inexpensive, tasty, classic joints like this should be doing well and on a Sunday evening, the Corner Bistro was perfectly crowded. Most seats were taken, but there was very little jostling.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Testing New Cocktails - Part 1

I have been asked to create a cocktail for the Share Our Strength charity event sponsored by Belvedere and St. Germain. This, of course, requires many rounds of creating test cocktails... a challenge from which I have never had a problem walking away. This evening's tests included:

1) 3 parts Belvedere vodka, 1 part Lillet blanc, 1/2 part St. Germain, lemon twist. Stirred in a cocktail shaker and strained into a chilled martini glass. This cocktail was a little too sweet for my tastes (maybe too much St. Germain), but it was still pretty good. It was fresh, with some sweetness and an air of fresh cut flowers. The Lillet provides a roundness and character different from dry vermouth.

2) 2 parts Belvedere vodka, splash of St. Germain, top with grapefruit juice, splash of orange juice. Served over ice in an Old Fashioned type glass. A well balanced drink with the underlying tone and subtle sweetness from the St. Germain and the crispness and freshness from the grapefruit juice. This drink does not highlight the vodka. Next time, I'll swap cranberry juice for the orange juice for some additional tartness.

3.1) 3 parts Belvedere vodka, capful of Dolin dry vermouth, 1/2 part St. Germain, lemon twist. Stirred in a cocktail shaker and strained into a chilled martini glass. The dry vermouth provides a crisper, less round component than the Lillet

3.2) 3 parts Belvedere vodka, capful of Dolin dry vermouth, 1/2 part St. Germain, float of Laphroig 10 Year Old Scotch, lemon twist. Stirred in a cocktail shaker and strained into a chilled martini glass. The Laphroig perhaps overpowers this cocktail slightly, but it also adds a lovely smokey, peaty character that reduces the sweetness of the St. Germain.

4) 2 parts Belvedere vodka, 1/2 part St. Germain, 1 1/2 parts Aperol, grapefruit juice. Add the Belvedere vodka, St. Germain, Aperol to an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice and top off the drink with grapefruit juice. This is a really fresh, tart, bitter, sweet spring/summer drink. A splash of soda would lighten this up further. I can just imagine drinking this over looking the sea on the coast of Italy.

More cocktail tests to come....

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Authentic Haircut

(By the way, I am not in this picture)
I just moved to a new part of town and after thirteen years in the same city, visiting the same gentleman that cuts my hair, I thought it was time for a change. New neighborhood, new haircut, new attitude. I found an authentic looking barbershop called FSC (Freeman's Sporting Club) at 5 Horatio Street. I wanted something a little different. He pulled out the clippers. "Is #4 good?" Barry asked with a northern English accent. Well, I now I have new haircut which is much shorter than my previous one and I like it. FSC is a gentleman's barbershop - there was talk of motorbikes mainly - not my thing, but we agreed on a few other things. And the hot towel on the face at the end was a calming, refreshing surprise that soothed me after a very long week. It's old school looking with a new, hip, cool attitude. I am going back.

Friday, April 17, 2009

For Love Of... Yakitori

I have been in a bit of a Yakitori phase at the moment. I made another stop at Yakitori Totto last night and had a quick visit to Mr. Jones Yakitori earlier in the week.
For the uninitiated Yakitori (焼き鳥 やきとり) is a Japanese type of skewered chicken.

Yakitori Totto seems to me to be very authentic (without having actually visited Japan). It's always busy and sometimes the wait can be long, but it is worth it. There is a buzz about sitting in front of the grill that I love. If you are ordering items from the limited section of the menu (basically the weird stuff), they run out early in the evening. The waitress will check on the status by yelling at the guys on the grill - which I love, especially since they take orders on handheld devices.
On my recent visits I have tried the following:
  • totto kimchee
  • tako kara age: deep-fried octopus
  • hatsu (ハツ): chicken heart
  • rebā (レバー): liver
  • sunagimo (砂肝): chicken gizzard
  • tsukune (つくね): chicken meatballs with quail egg
  • (tori)kawa (とり)かわ): chicken skin, grilled until crispy
  • bonjiri (ぼんじり): chicken tail
  • seseri: chicken neck
  • shirauo kara age: fried silver fish with green tea powder and sea salt
  • kobe beek gyutan: kobe beef tongue
What's great: chicken heart (really chickeny delicious), chicken liver (soft, creamy, tasty), chicken tail (tiny pieices of tasty chicken), chicken skin (like the best part of KFC, but even better), fried silver fish (green tea powder and salt really makes it, these are like fried food crack).
What's interesting: chicken soft knee (crunchy, boney, pretty tasty, worth trying, but not amazing), chicken gizzard (little chewy texture, good flavor though).

They also have a great selection of Shochu and Sake by the glass, carafe, and bottle.

Mr. Jones Yakitori has a pedigree that should make it an ideal spot. It's located in the East Village; the chef, Bryan Emperor, is American but put in time in restaurants in Kyoto and worked at Megu and Nobu in New York; the bartender (mixologist in trendy terms)
, Shin Ikeda, worked at Angel Share and B Flat, which are two of my favorite Japanese inspired cocktail joints in the city. I visited Mr. Jones this past rainy Monday evening and the place was pretty much empty, except for a couple of friends of the bartender. The cocktail list reminded me of B Flat's (not surprising) and we tried a Mr. Jones (wasabi infused vodka, zuicho sake, with cucumber, a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer), and a French 75 (gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and champagne). The cocktails were well made and are worth a try. For food, we only tasted a few items:
  • tsukune uzura: minced chicken with shichimi and quail egg
  • hatsu: chicken hearts in yakitori sauce
  • reba: chicken liver in yakitori sauce
These dishes were all well prepared and very tasty, especially the chicken hearts. The problem with Mr. Jones Yakitori is that components don't seem to add up; it is missing something. The food seems too expensive and the atmosphere a little off. We actually decided to head to Ramen Setagaya for a more economical and filling option.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Marinated Chicken... Maybe Not Long Enough

I did a quick marinade tonight for the chicken thighs I prepared for dinner: olive oil, lemon, lime, red onion, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper. I took the four chicken thighs, put then in the sealable bag and added:
- two slices of lemon (squeezing the juice into the bag)
- two slices of lime (squeezing the juice into the bag)
- two slices of red onion
- a good slug of olive oil
- a good dash of paprika
- a good dash of cumin
- salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and let the chicken sit on the counter. Put the chicken thighs on the slices of lemon and lime and roast the chicken in roasting pan in the oven for about twenty to twenty five minutes (or until the juices run clear). The chicken was mildly flavored and juicy; the skin was perfectly crisp. The roasted lemons and limes make a great garnish.

Next time, I will try and let the chicken marinated for about an hour to infuse more flavor into the dish.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lunch @ La Caridad 78

This afternoon I enjoyed a delicious, filling, and inexpensive lunch at La Caridad 78 on the Upper West Side. I just moved away from the Upper West Side after ten years and have wanted to try this place. I finally went in for lunch and was not disappointed. The menu does not blend Cuban and Chinese foods, as I had originally thought, but presents both types of food separately on the menu. The restaurant was opened in the sixties by Chinese entrepreneurs who emigrated to Cuba and subsequently fled Castro’s revolution.

Having just eaten chinese food from from Grand Sichuan International on Friday night, I opted for the Cuban side of the menu. I started with the fried plantains which were sweet, caramelly, crispy. Then all the serious food arrived: chicken livers with onions and peppers, scrambled eggs with shrimp, corn tamale with pork. The chicken livers are sauteed and obviously had some soy sauce added - they were crispy, soft, rich, creamy and were perfect with the onions and peppers. The scrambled eggs with shrimp, which are also cooked with onion and green peppers, were a knock out. Cooked perfectly and just fantastic. The corn tamale came out last, even though it was ordered as an appetizer, but I didn't care, because it was fresh out of the steamer. Perfect little tasty nuggets of pork and with a little hot sauce added, it was wonderful. The eggs and the chicken livers came with beans (red or black) and rice (white or yellow).

Cheap, tons of food, delicious, interesting menu options, chinese waiters that looks like they have been there for decades - this place was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Why did it take me over tens years to finally try it out?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cocktails: not just drinks, a whole process

Cocktail hour is not just a reason to drink, it is a whole process. I love the rituals associated with cocktails. A martini stirred with a proper cocktail stirrer, made with Plymouth gin, a splash of Earl Grey Tea infused Tanqueray gin, and Dolin Vermouth with a twist of lemon peel. And because cocktail hour is not complete without some nibbles, I love English Bombay Mix - a spicy blend of nuts, mild and spicy crispy noodles, pulses, sweet dried fruits.

The Donut Pub: Black and White Cookie Heaven

Incidentally, I did not finish the bottle of Huet 2002 Petillant before heading out to dinner at La Nacional (which should be the subject of another post). On the way home, I had to pick up something to have with the last few drops. I could not resist the lure of a giant old-school black & white cookie from The Donut Pub (on West 14th Street).
The Donut Pub is one of those few mom and pop type small businesses to be treasured in a city becoming overrun with chains of banks and drug stores. Founded in 1960, it's a narrow old school diner type place that serves donuts and pastries in an unabashed old fashioned style. Nothing fancy here, just ten stools, a counter, and racks of pastries from which to choose.

The black and white cookie is just perfect. The cookie itself is flaky and cake like. The icing is knockout: moist, sweet, delicious. It may have been a little too sweet for the last sips of wine, but really, who cares?

Head there quickly before a Starbucks, Duane Reade, or Chase take over the whole city. I'll be back to try the donuts and coffee.

Drinking: Huet 2002 Vouvray Petillant Brut

I decided to open something festive and bubbly last evening: Huet 2002 Vouvray Petillant Brut. This wine is everything a sparkling wine should be and so much more. It was a medium yellow color with toasty,
biscuity, appley aromas. It was bright and elegant with great depth, just a brilliant, stunning wine. This is the third time I have tried this vintage over the last couple of years and each time I enjoy it more and more. For the price (about $40), this outshines many champagnes costing twice as much. I am going to have to invest in a couple of bottles to cellar for a longer period.