Saturday, December 30, 2006
Here are some images from the city I grew up in.
The stars at the Jazz Center -- I love that they change colors in time with the Christmas carols.
The tree at Rockefeller Center is always covered in mounds of lights.
The hall of the blue whale at the Museum of Natural History.
No visit to the museum would be complete without a visit to some of my old, (i.e. fossilized) friends in the 4th floor halls. Their displays have morphed, the method of teaching dino-history has changed, and the T-Rex now hunches over us in a low posture. But od dly enough, exhibits like the hadrosaurs above still seem like the same old friends.
Triceratops is as fearsome as ever.
A typical New York moment. Crowds locked out of the subway and a chaotic cacophony of sounds on the Number 6 line platform at Canal Street. Shouting, an alarm going off, the rumble of subway cars, and a guy playing erhu. I told Eric that if we were real academics, there would be a musical happening we could formulate based on this. We would call it simply "Six," and it would be a piece for drums, horns, erhu and a full choir.
I love the food you see on the streets of New York. It's like Flor de Mayo -- the Chinese Cuban place on the upper West Side. I guess I hadn't noticed the prevalence of halal food carts before, but they delighted me on this trip.
The lovely Chrysler building against a warm blue sky.
The Morgan Library's terrifically vast new space, designed by Renzo Piano.
The still exceptionally ugly Foster Monster, Norman Foster's eco-friendly, but taste-unfriendly glass and steel sprout inside the facade of the old Hearst building.
A fat squirrel in Fort Tryon Park. So self-satisfied, he didn't budge as we stood under him taking pictures.
On this trip to the East Coast we took a brief excursion to Philadelphia to see our Food Snoot friends and also pay our respects to Merion's Barnes Foundation before they rip the whole thing apart and send it to be commercialized in the mainstream freeway museum mile in Philly.
I haven't the words to describe this place, which is for most people, the seminal art experience of their lives. After a few hours there, Eric and our friends had to agree -- it's the kind of place that makes you see the world in a totally new way.
Speaking of our food snoot friends, the latest addition to the family, rumor has it, is not too keen on food-- an embarassment of epic proportions for such gourmets.
I have to say though, in our time there, we saw her happily smearing chocolate all over herself and happily snarfing down foie gras samples. "Perhaps you're not feeding her the right stuff," I suggested, probably to her parents' chagrin.
But then again, perhaps my suspicions were borne out as our Fine Young Cannibal attempted to get a good nosh out of my wrist.
Me, with baby and cat. I guess I have that comfortable, cozy air about me.
We've been watching that show on Bravo, Top Chef. Don't ask how we got hooked on it, those contest/reality shows are insidious. My theory is that their success is due in large part to Schadenfreude.
I mean, when you watch Rokusaburo Michiba or Hiroyuki Sakai on Iron Chef, you think, "No way in hell could I ever do what those guys are doing." But when we watch Top Chef, mainly our running commentary goes more like this:
"What a bunch of whiners. You have to be kidding me, you can't come up with a better breakfast that you could cook on an open flame on the fly? What the heck is that ugly thing you glopped out?"
In every episode, there is at least a handful of contestants who make us feel very smug. Especially after our cooking shenanigans this month. Eric and I popped out an entire wedding dinner for 60 from our home kitchen for $800, and these chefs can't come up with one nice fancy course when there are two of them working on it? We did a brunch for 35 donors and dancers of my local dance company for $350 again, all cooked in our home kitchen, and these people are whimpering about having to make a decent breakfast in a fire pit on the beach?
Like I said, smug.
Sort of catlike smug.
Our newest challenge though, was looking to be our undoing. Christmas Dinner at my Dad's apartment in New York.
"For this challenge, you will be making an elegant Christmas Dinner for three people. It should be seasonal, beautiful to look at and heart healthy. You may shop at any of the wonderful foodie places in New York to get supplies for your menu, and then you will have two hours in which to cook your meal at the home where it will be served. A bachelor apartment with a galley kitchen."
"But there's a twist! You will only have these tools (pictured left) to work with as well as a refrigerator, a microwave and a gas range with oven."
So, yeah, my Dad doesn't do a lot of heavy-duty gourmet cooking, and like many New Yorkers with small kitchens, he keeps very few implements of cookage on hand, because, let's face it, in New York, you can always stop at a great deli and pick some stuff up. Microwave, or toast or heat it up and you're done. Though he does have a very helpful kitty who likes to sit on the table and observe...
Every Christmas, we sweep into town and want to make a nice fancy dinner for the holidays. And every year, there are fewer implements of cookage.
"Hey, Dad? Where's the stockpot you used to have?"
"Oh, I threw it away, it took up too much space and I never used it."
"Dad? Where's the 12-inch non-stick skillet you used to have?"
"I gave it away. It was too big and I never used it."
"Um, Dad? Where's the copper mixing bowl you used to have?"
"Oh, I threw it out -- it looked terrible and I never used it."
Now, oddly enough, he actually has a larger kitchen with MUCH better appliances than we have. The cooking range is gas and the oven is a wide one with much more reliable temperatures than our little sad one in San Francisco. And his refrigerator is nearly as tall as Eric. I dream about refrigerators like that.
The one pictured here is actually NOT his fridge, but the small one in the small room of our hotel.
As we began planning our attack for Christmas Dinner, we both realized that shopping on Christmas Day would be insane, and since we were busy with running errands around New York in the days before, we began shopping and storing things in our hotel fridge. I guarantee that this little dorm fridge has never before been so stuffed with food.
I can't imagine what Housekeeping thought.
Now just because my Dad doesn't keep his kitchen supplied doesn't mean he doesn't know what's what. For Christmas, he gave us a set of Mario Batali measuring bowls. These groovy little orange jobbies are terrific, with a lovely feel to them. Easy to grab, marked with two useful measurements on each (like 1-1/2 cups and 3/4 cup) they have already earned their place in our hearts and definitely our prep board. To see the other nifty things that Mario has out, check out his website. We ran across a few other items in stores, and they always just feel good in your hands.
So our menu for the evening is along a Health and Long Life for the New Year theme.
- Mixed Olives
- Lemon-Herb Stuffed Red Snapper Baked in a Salt Crust
- Long-Life Noodles with Baby Shiitakes and Wood Ear Mushrooms
- Sauteed Carrots
The fish turned out exceptionally well, actually. We based it on an old Alton Brown recipe that originally called for Striped Bass, but the red snapper looked great at Whole Foods.
Here is the modified recipe:
Herb and Lemon Stuffed Red Snapper Baked in a Salt Crust
- 2 Red Snappers (1.5-2 lb each) gills removed, fins trimmed (the fishmonger can help you with the cleaning and gill removing.)
- 4 egg whites (we used a carton of egg whites)
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 (3 pound) boxes of kosher salt
- 1 handful parsley
- 1 lemon, sliced thin
- 1/2 orange, sliced thin
- Olive oil
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cover the bottom of a baking sheet large enough to hold the fish with parchment paper.
Rinse fish inside and out with cold water and drain. Dry with paper towels. Stuff body cavity with herbs and citrus, saving a few lemon slices for garnish. Set aside.
Lay down a 1/2-inch thick bed for the fish to lay on with a 1-inch clearance on all sides. Lay the fish on this bed and pile the remainder of the salt mortar on top. Work into a smooth dome completely encasing the fish. (Don't worry if the head or tail poke out a little It's really just kinda cute to look at.)
Cook approximately 35 minutes. Check for doneness by pushing the probe of an instant read thermometer through the salt into the fish. When temperature reaches 130 degrees, remove from oven, and rest at room temperature for 5 minutes.
Open the fish at the table by hitting the dome several times with a small hammer and lifting off the slabs of salt. Brush away any stray salt. Gently pull out dorsal (back) fin. Using a fish knife or serrated pie server, make a single incision all the way down the back of the fish and around the gill plate. Then lift the skin off working from the head to the tail. Remove meat from top side of fish, going down one side of the spine then the other. Grasp the tail and remove the skeleton, (it should come up intact). The meat revealed below will slide right off the skin.
Sprinkle meat with a little virgin oil and lemon juice. Serve immediately.
We didn't actually open the fish tableside (no room for that) but instead, I decorated it with alternating slices of lemon and blood oranges cut into little pie slices and arranged on the fish to (hopefully) mimic the look of scales. It also helped immeasurably with covering up any ...um... imperfections in the appearance of the fish fillet, and the blood oranges tasted great with the fish itself.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Eric finds it amusing that every walk with my Dad or I seems to include at least a half a dozen exclamations that begin with "That's where such-and-such used to be." "It's next to where you used to be able to get the best kosher pickles." "There used to be a bank there, but before that it was a butcher who sold good lamb." "There was a used bookstore there that was evicted in the 90s."
I tell him this is how native New Yorkers navigate the city. We work from landmarks, like where you can get the best pastrami, or the place that has the Statue of Liberty outside, or that store that sold used illegal British bootleg LPs. It was easy enough to demonstrate to him.
"Where are we shopping?"
"That place, up on Broadway, you know it's a couple of blocks down the street from the Peruvian rotisserie chicken."
"What coffee place?"
"The one opposite the 24-hour bagel shop you love."
So when change comes, it is highly upsetting. When I find the old familiar landmarks, it's likewise, comforting. Here are some of the places on our list for this trip.
- Chez Laurence (245 Madison Ave @ 38th, 212-683-0284) This place is one of my Dad and my favorites. Classic French patisserie and bistro. We were vastly disappointed not to be able to get any brioche on this trip (the pastry chef is - quelle horreur - gone for the holidays), so no pastries either. Still, we are willing to overlook this in favor of their eggspresso (Steamed eggs with scallions) and some nice country pate.
- Flor de Mayo (2651 Broadway @100th, or 484 Amsterdam @83th, 212-663-5520) Pollo a la Brasa-- order it now. That's all I have to say.
- French Roast (2340 Broadway @85th, 212-799-1533) This old standby diner on 85th is pictured at the top of the page. Good coffee (by our caffeinated, freaky West Coast standards), nice breakfast -- it's the perfect place to get something to eat early if you need more than just a bagel.
- H & H Bagels (2239 Broadway at 80th, 212-595-8003) Simply the best bagel anywhere. Growing up on the West Side, I remember H&H as a hole in the wall place where there was barely enough room for the ovens plus a customer or two. My Dad used to let me pick the bagels for our breakfasts and I always had to get a couple of "everything bagels" with a garden of seeds and salt and garlic and yum. Their store is now palatial by comparison, and you can mail order your bagels from from anywhere in the world, but I'm curiously reluctant to do so. In my mind, I still want to stand in front of those baskets of bagels sniffing out which of them have just come from the ovens. Anything else just seems wrong.
- Maison du Chocolat (1018 Madison Ave. in Rockefeller Center, 212-744-7117) Yeah, yeah, so technically not a native New York institution, but we're making it into one. The New York arm of Robert Linxe's exquisite Parisian chocolate empire, this place serves up almost all of his heavenly chocolates-- and even the geometric and severe buche de noels.
- Metro Diner (2641 Broadway on the west side of Broadway @100th, 212-866-0800) Oddly enough, on the lengthy list of New York diners, this is another favorite, probably because it's near where we used to live, and we're sentimental about it. It's the kind of place where the waitress will keep you plied with coffee and commentary in a thick Brooklyn accent, and you could spot someone like Richard Dreyfuss in the next booth.
- Murray's Cheese (254 Bleecker St, 888-MY-CHEEZ) Of course we have to include a cheese place -- at least one. Murray's has the selection we never see on the West Coast-- French cheeses. Sigh. They benefit greatly from the fact that they're closer of course -- and we were shocked and appalled at the price they were charging for Mt. Tam, but the Delice de Bourgogne....
- Zabar's (80th & Broadway, 212-496-1234) I have long held a grudge against Zabar's -- the owners held the property on which my old dance studio stood, and during the real estate boom and gentrification of the 80s, they evicted us and shut the place down. I still have issues with them, but on this trip, I finally relented and we walked into the place. Okay they have a nice selection of food, and just because I hate the place doesn't mean it's not a foodie's dream.
On Notice: In the grand tradition of Stephen Colbert, here are some haunts we went back to and found, for one reason or another, disappointing.
- Cafe Lalo (201 West 83rd Street @Amsterdam) Lalo used to be one of our favorite places to warm up with a nice cup of coffee and some rugelach. Yes, it was always crowded, and yes it was a bit pricey, but we liked the atmosphere and the friendliness of the place. Well, that's over. We squished ourselves into Lalo for a cup of coffee and rugelach (for Eric) and I ordered a plate of cheese and requested a glass of water. It took our waitress about five minutes to bring him the cup of coffee, and then she seemingly forgot about us. After about ten minutes I waved her down so I could get my glass of water, and she was gone before I could even enquire about the status on the rugelach and cheese, neither of which needed to be cooked, so we didn't think we had a particularly difficult order. After about 20 minutes we started to think that the above-mentioned items were not coming, but were counting ourselves lucky because our waitress managed to throw coffee into the lap of the woman next to us. When we were able to get her attention again, we told her to cancel the order and bring the check. I watched her go over to the counter where three sad, lonely rugelach had been sitting for several minutes and say to someone behind the bar, "They don't want them anymore." Yeah, we don't want it anymore.
- New Leaf Cafe (Fort Tryon Park, (212) 568-5323) This place proudly announces that they were reviewed in the recent Michelin guide to NY. I guess it's gone to their heads, because service here was horrible. again, we were looking only for three cups of coffee and a slice of cheesecake, which the hostess said would be fine, providing we sat in the bar and ordered it up at the counter ourselves. This didn't pose a problem, so we did so, but judging from the look on the bartender's face, you would have though we had asked for the sun, the moon and the stars. We got some cheesecake flung at us in a rather peremptory manner, and he then conveniently forgot about anything else. New York, I ask you, WHAT is up with service these days??
- Serendipity 3 (225 E. 60th, 212-838-3531) This used to be the place where my high school friends and I would stop on special occasions -- a favorite haunt of Andy Warhol's. Oh the Frozen Hot Chocolate... Is it still as good? I couldn't tell you because I have not been able to get into this place in years, YEARS, I tell you. I understand that they take reservations, and walkups have a hard time getting in, but this place is ridiculous. We stopped by on our annual attempt to get in and after fighting my way into the front foyer, I was told the wait was two hours. I feel like I ought to have made a reservation right then and there for December 2007.
- Citrus (320 Amsterdam Ave, 212-595-0500) A block from our hotel, this sleek modern fusion place (they do Mexican and Japanese as a sort of side-by-side thing) is surprisingly restful and the food was at a higher level for New York (about median for San Francisco, I have to admit.) What won us over though was the warmth of the staff, who took enormously attentive care of us that evening. They have other places in the city, including on the next block, Josie's, which was not as enticing in the culinary sense, but still served up some homey warmth.
- Dizzy's Club (Jazz at Lincoln Center, 5th floor, 212-258-9595) At long last, we got to New York before the JALC went on holiday vacation! We've been trying to get up to the club to hear something since it opened, and despite some heavy jetlag, we were not disappointed. Even the food was far from the usual bar fare, featuring hearty New Orleans-style favorites, Gumbo-laya, Country Meatloaf, pecan pie. Then there's that gorgeous view over the city. Mmmmm...
- Isabella's (359 Columbus Ave. @77th) Not a terribly distinctive place, (it's owned by the same group that does Ruby Foos) but Isabella's, which is opposite the Museum of Natural History, is a pleasant oasis for a friendly upscale brunch.
- Trattoria Pesce (1079 1st Avenue, (212) 987-4696) We went here for my birthday, and this quiet location (there are several others around the city) makes the trattoria look like a friendly neighbohood joint. Good fish, nice pasta -- what's not to like?
- Shopsin's (54 Carmine Street) This crazy Village place is something of an institution, but by the time we finally got around to checking it out, they were closed!! It's too bad because after Calvin Trillin's New Yorker article we were excited about eating there. My Dad has navigated their 900 item menu -- but now will we ever have the opportunity to do so?
Saturday, December 23, 2006
It really does make things better...
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
The Stick blender. LOVE it. I used to "puree in batches in a blender" -- nearly lost half the soup every time I did. Now I plop this little baby in and stir to magically achieve puree.
The high-powered hand mixer. LOVE it. Believe it or not, I had a neo-Luddite kind of kitchen at one point. I did everything sans power, including whipping cream and egg whites. It took an eternity and shoulder muscles of steel. Now we just pull this out, and ZZZZZIPPP....cream in twenty seconds. The Cuisinart is especially powerful -- much better than my Betty Crocker model which was like a tool out of Barbie's Dream Kitchen -- pretty, but useless.
Meet our newest friend, the electric knife. LOVE it. Don't carve at home without it. We bought this one for the Wedding Frenzy and it earned its stars right there in about one hour as it carved everything from baguettes to roast beef with disarming ease. Sliced up that turkey in no time at all. We ditched a picnic basket and a Spirooli to make shelf space for this item.
The electric fryer. Purchased for the Frying Game Episode.This relatively cheap Rival S-12 heats up to an amazingly (and kind of frighteningly) high temperature. For frying it's perfect because it has an automatic heat control. And for those times when your cooktop is filled with other pots, you can plug this in the back room and braise, boil or reheat away in it.
Pump Pot. LOVE it. Crazy, isn't it? It's such a silly thing to love-- but we've used it at almost every gathering, for coffee, hot water, cider, etc. Now that we've figured out that Peets coffee will fill this for you for about $15, and that it keeps the liquid hot for literally six to eight hours, we use it all the time.
Leaf shaped cutters. LOVE them. Again, weird, but true. I bought them thinking "that's a completely frivolous purchase that I'll use only once." I have used these on everything from pot pies to apple pies, to cut shapes for the wedding cake, to make designs in puff pastry. I'm no good at garnishing, and these little things are just about the only way to garnish that I can manage.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention out workhorse pans like this All Clad saucier. Now, we're not exactly Kitchen Stadium, as you've gathered, but we have one or two really nice pots like this. They do everything -- what more could you ask?
And the other workhorse of our kitchen, the 8-inch Wusthof Chef's knife. Love it, love it, LOVE it. My first kitchen knives were the typical things you buy at Safeway hanging over the tupperware aisle. (Actually, I think I bought it at a Fry's in Tucson.) It cuts... sorta... if you slam the knife down on the item, or saw for three days at it. For the few months when Ms. Food Snoot and I were rooming together, I got to use her German forged knives and realized that I could actually chop vegetables without mortal danger, to myself or passers-by. After lengthy research, which involved much debate -- "Is it triple riveted? Forged blade? Full tang? Do I need ice-hardened? I want a fuller belly on the blade for rocking motion during chopping." -- I selected this Wusthof Classic.
I use it all the time for chopping, slicing, dicing, julienne, because you'll notice, we have no food processor. Yes, in some ways I'm still a neo-Luddite, who kinda believes that it makes food taste better to have human hands touch it.