Archive | March, 2011

Mezze….

27 Mar

Inspired by the fleeting sunshine and some intriguing sausages I decided to do a little mezze for dinner.

The pita breads were made using a lavash flat bread recipe without the honey. They were defiantly flat breads but not quite what I would describe as pita, although for these purposes there were simple to make and were perfect for the job.

My good friend Mike made this chickpea, pepper and onion salad many years ago and I have been meaning to have a go ever since. Slightly mashed chickpeas, raw peppers, diced onion and lots of fresh coriander and lemon juice. Perfect summer salad.

I picked these sausages up from the Meat Hook. This place is fast becoming my ‘go to’ place for sausages. Not having their regular Chorizo which were the best I have had in NY, I decided to give their ‘Green Chorizo’ a go. It is based on a regional Mexican sausage from Toluca made with coriander, cumin, jalepeno, poblano and serrano peppers. It is an awesome sausage, but then I think that all of their sausages maybe this good, it is just I am yet to get through the list……

For no other than reason than I saw a recipe and was then reminded of it by seeing an aubergine I made some babaganoush. I learnt two things, firstly mix in the tahini slowly I added in far too much and was forced to go and buy a second aubergine to dilute the cement like texture of excessive tahini. The other thing is, apparently not that many people like babaganoush…..(and before you think it my baba tasted damn good).

Other than tahini it was charred and roasted aubergine, lots of coriander, ground cumin, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Some fresh lemonade with a hint of thyme to really round off the summery vibe (it did touch 70 degrees for one day).

Et voila……with the addition of store-bought hummus, some cheese and my homemade pickles dinner was served…….

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Cheesecake Brownie

25 Mar

Recipe and method David Liebowitz

I added a little extra cream cheese and reduced the sugar slightly to make the topping a little sharper, however his recipe is pretty perfect so it’s just a matter of taste.
REFRIDGERATE ONCE COOL
Cheesecake Brownies
One 9-inch (23cm) or 8-inch (20cm) square pan
Adapted from Ready for Dessert (Ten Speed)
For those of you who like higher brownies, use an 8-inch pan.
6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces (115g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup (130g) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (70g) flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (80g) chocolate chips
8 ounces (200g) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk 
5 tablespoons (75g) sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Line a 9-inch (23cm) or 8-inch (20cm) square pan with foil, making sure it goes up all four sides. Use two sheets if necessary. Mist with non-stick spray or grease lightly.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180C).
3. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and beat in the 2/3 cup (130g) sugar, then the eggs.
4. Mix in the flour, cocoa powder and salt, then the vanilla and chocolate chips. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
5. In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese, the yolk, 5 tablespoons (75g) of sugar, and vanilla until smooth.
6. Distribute the cream cheese mixture in eight dollops across the top of the brownie mixture, then take a dull knife or spatula and swirl the cream cheese mixture with the chocolate batter.

7. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the batter in the center of the pan feels just set.
Let cool, then lift out the foil and peel it away. Cut the brownies into squares.
Storage: These will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days. They also freeze well, too.

(You can even eat them straight out of the freezer if you are as greedy as me)

Lemon Bar

24 Mar

I was recently left home alone for a week which led me to experiment with some baking….. Recipe and method by David Lebovitz

My only possible adjustment would be to increase the baking time/temperature of the base. I tried this recipe twice and on the occasion I  slightly overcooked the base I was left with an amazingly crunchy shortbread which I preferred.

Lemon Bars

One 8-inch pan
Because you’re using the whole lemon, use an unsprayed or organic lemon. Lemons vary in size: mine was 6 ounces (175g), but getting it close is reasonable enough.

Crust
1 cup (140g) flour
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (115g) melted unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon Topping
1 lemon, organic or unsprayed
1 cup (200g) sugar
3 tablespoons (45ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 teaspoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons (45g) melted unsalted butter
Optional: powdered sugar, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
2. Overturn an 8-inch square pan on the counter and wrap the outside snugly with foil, shiny side up. Remove the foil, turn the pan over, and fit the foil into the pan, pressing to nudge the foil into the corners. The smooth it as best you can.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, 1/4 cup (50g) sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 8 tablespoons (115g) melted butter, and vanilla, stirring just until smooth.
4. Smooth the batter into the bottom of the pan, using your hands or a small offset spatula to get it as level as possible.
5. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until it’s deep-golden brown.
6. While the crust is cooking, cut the lemon in half, remove the seeds, and cut the lemon into chunks.
7. Put the chunks of lemon in a food processor or blender along with the sugar and lemon juice, and let it run until the lemon is completely broken up. Add the eggs, corn starch, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 3 tablespoons (45g) melted butter, and blend until almost smooth. (A few tiny bits of lemon pieces are normal and encouraged.)
8. When the crust comes out of the oven, reduce the heat of the oven to 300ºF (150ºC). Pour the lemon filling over the hot crust and bake for 25 minutes or just until the filling stops jiggling and is barely set.
9. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once cool, carefully lift out the bars grasping the foil. Cut the bars into squares or rectangles. Sift powdered sugar over the top just before serving, if desired.
Storage: The bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature up to three days. You can freeze the lemon bars as well for up to one month, letting them come to room temperature before serving.

Dinner for One?

24 Mar

When is $18 dollars for a sandwich that is not even a sandwich a good deal?

Having made the trek from Brooklyn up to Harlem to meet a friend I decided to check out the much publicised Red Rooster. The chef/owner Marcus Samuelsson is something of a big deal here. At 24 he became head chef of Aquavit a Scandinavian restaurant. He was promptly awarded 3 stars by the NY Times. There followed other less succesful restaurant ventures and the inevitable stint on TV. In 2009 he was the first chef to prepare a state banquet for President Obama and then towards the end of last year he opened Red Rooster in Harlem.

I ordered the pulled pork ‘sandwich’. It came with no side and as you can see was not really a sandwich. It had all the hallmarks of someone trying too hard, a smear of something under the strange bread, julienne cucumber and crispy fried onions were all tasty but unnecessary touches. The seating was awkward as I was sat right up front by the pass, but on a shared table, I know I was eating alone but the place was pretty much empty. It did give me a good view but sadly there was nothing exciting to see and certainly no sign of a celebrity chef.

After service my sandwich was $18, which is pricey in NY considering it did not come with a side. All this brings me back to the original question: When is $18 dollars for a sandwich that is not even a sandwich a good deal?

The answer; when it could have cost $30,800. It seems Obama was so impressed with Samuelsson’s food that he decided to use his Harlem restaurant as a good place for a fundraising gig to connect with his NYC supporters. Apparently it costs a lot of money to get a sit down with the big man. Needless to say I will not be returning that day. Imagine first the delight when you are sat next to President Obama, and then imagine the shock when you are presented with a bill for thirty large ones….

Balaboosta

12 Mar

I think I just ate the best salad in my life. The first time I walked passed Balaboosta I remember thinking to myself how ballsy it was to have a big open window into the kitchen of a restaurant with such a silly sounding name. It was only later having visited their sister establishment Taim I realised that as ridiculous as the name may sound the food was likely to be good.

Israeli chef/owner Einet Admony has expanded her repertoire to cover many different Middle Eastern and Mediterranean style dishes. Much like the workings of Yotam Ottolenghi she has melded together all of the best elements.

The lunch menu starts with a selection of small plates including favourites such as hummus, babaganoush, house made pickles, and the slightly incongruous patatas bravas. There follows a small choice of salads and sandwiches and four different mains. I really struggled deciding what to have as almost all the options were so appetizing. In the end we settled on a selection of small plates and salads to share.

The hummus was good, the homemade pita was topped with za’atar and still warm from the oven. The only complaint I could make was one pita was never enough for the accompanying hummus. Next up was the patatas bravas served with garlic aioli, they were crunchy on the outside and light and fluffy in the middle, potato perfection. A side salad of Quinoa with chickpeas preserved lemon and dried cranberry followed. Once more a treat as the salty and sweet flavours were perfectly balanced. Then came the coup de grace. We only ordered the crispy cabbage salad at our servers request since the salad we had wanted from the specials board was actually part of the previous nights dinner menu and unavailable.

As in life it is in those moments of chance that amazing things can happen. Salads are not supposed to be that good, that is why god created meat…..But on this occasion mere vegetables, nuts, herbs and some funny noodle things were the very heights of achievement. Crispy Cabbage Salad : Romaine, Savoy, Roasted Almonds, Crispy Noodles, Cumin, Fresh Mint Vinaigrette; who would imagine these simple things could elicit such pleasure?

Even before the meal was over I knew we would have to return, I am just not sure whether to head back for the lunch menu and attack the meatier sections or go for dinner and try their famed falafel coated meatballs….oh the decisions. One thing I know is that I implore anyone visiting NY to slip out of SoHo and down to Nolita to try Balaboosta.

While in the neighbourhood you could check out these other faves of mine.

Red flower, for scented candles that actually smell nice (blood orange is best)

Steven Alan, expensive but classy men and woman’s fashion.

Me and Ro, very cool jewelry with a sometimes hefty price tag

McNally Jackson booksellers, great selection of titles with a cafe too and it’s not Barnes and Noble!

Love and Other Drugs

10 Mar

Have you the seen the movie? Well don’t, it’s a romantic comedy and when was the last time one of those was funny!

Maybe that is unfair but too often with romantic comedies it is the case, although, I will admit that often true it is not always true. This is much like when someone says that a restaurant location is doomed. It is a familiar tale that because restaurant after restaurant fails at the same address it is the location and not the restaurant that is written off as cursed. Well much like my original fatuous comment this too stinks of gross generalisation. The truth is venue after venue will fail simply because they are not good enough, yes there may be some added struggle in convincing the non believers that it was the restaurant and not its location that made it suck, but in reality quality shines through.

Personally I would go as far as to say that there is almost no such thing as a bad location. If you are truly doing something that people want and will appreciate they will find you, there are examples everywhere. What better demonstration than the awesome pizzeria Franco Manca. Firstly it is in Brixton London, not a problem in itself, but imagine a restaurant with perhaps 10 indoor seats, add in the fact that it is situated in a covered market that is only open from 11-4pm, and finally that its neighbours include fishmongers, brick-a-brak stores and the only butchers in London I have seen that sells pig tails. All that said you turn up at 1pm on a Monday lunch time and marvel at how difficult it is to get a table in such an ‘undesirable location’.

All this brings me to Van Horn, a new Southern style sandwich joint that opened across the street from us in Cobble Hill. It sits in one of those mythically doomed sites where every restaurant before it has died a sad and lonely death. Well I am going to stick my neck out and say that this one is gonna be around for a while.

We arrived just before 7pm and were invited to choose whichever seat we liked. Apart from another couple and some regulars at the bar we had the place to ourselves. The short menu consists of sandwiches, sides and a couple of soups all paying homage to the Southern states of the U.S. You could argue that the brief menu lacks detail, but since I ordered a Chicken Sandwich and what showed up was a Chicken Sandwich it may actually be a refreshing turn to dispense with the birthplace, rearing and feeding habits of said bird.

It was in fact a deep-fried chicken breast no doubt of good pedigree, coated in bread crumbs and  12 secret spices, served with pickled red cabbage and a rather pointless scattering of dressed leaves. Whatever it was called it was delicious, deep-frying chicken just works, crispy outside and a moist inside. The side of spicy potato salad lacked the advertised spice and while not being bad in any way it was missing the oomph that would have made it more memorable. My girlfriend had the Pimento Cheese Sandwich and the Tomato Soup. Both were excellent, the soup especially, although the accompanying slice of fried bread seemed a little unnecessary.

The bill came to a  just about reasonable $38 including tip (20%) which is perhaps slightly too much considering we waived the enticing looking drinks menu. But as I said earlier I would wager good money that given time and a few more favourable press reviews the place will be packed every night of the week.

PS. Still struggling to think of many funny romantic comedies…does Knocked Up count?…all suggestions welcome………..

The next big thing….was

7 Mar

Food trucks have been all the rage for the last 18 months or so but I remain unconvinced. I would suggest most things that can be prepared well in a van would be better coming from a proper kitchen and having worked in mobile food businesses and done my share of outside catering I know how hygiene levels can slip.

However I am not immune to the charms of food coming to me rather than vice versa, so after spotting The Rickshaw Dumpling Truck hanging round the neighbourhood curiosity finally got the better of me…..

The Chicken and Thai Basil Dumplings with Satay Sauce were delicious. In fact they got better with each one I ate. The satay was a little strange, I think it was made with creme fraiche or some other very non asian ingredient, but it still worked.

I will not say the Dumplings totally changed my mind but it did open my eyes a little wider. For $6 I got 6 dumplings which made for a perfect lunch snack to see me through until dinner.  The fact is most truck vendors aspire to a permanent location as demonstrated by Dessert Truck Works in the Lower East Side, Van Leeuwen Ice cream in Greenpoint and now Cobble Hill, even London’s top mobile food vendor the Meatwagon (although only due to the theft of his truck!!!) So the moral is we either need to support the trucks enough so that they can afford permanent digs, or else ignore them totally until they give up on the trend and go back to opening restaurants.

PS…. the next big thing is pipes….yes the type old men used to smoke, I spotted two pipe smokers last weekend both under 30 years of age……….damn hipsters……next they will be trying to gentrify the old peoples homes…..