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I love Food. Cooking it. Eating it. Experiencing it. As a result, that's what this blog has evolved into: A journal of my gastronomical journeys abroad, as well as my culinary creativity at home. I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and I'd love to hear your comments... Cheers!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finally, Faustina!

This is the third in my recent trifecta of "A Day in New York" culinary excursions...
My admiration for, and friendship with, Scott Conant has been well-documented in the annals of this blog. Every meal at Scarpetta is a revelation at best, and memorable at worst. And so it was, the other night, that I finally, begrudgingly, left Scarpetta behind, if just for one night on my short stay in Manhattan. The consolation, of course, was that I was not going far, figuratively or literally, en route to Conant's other NYC outpost, Faustina...
The space @ the Cooper Square Hotel is hip and sleek and sexy. The clientele seemed distinctly European...but I digress. I wasn't there to people watch.
I met some old friends for dinner, and we were immediately treated to two items from the "Bread & Olives" portion of the menu (Scott is nothing if not generous). I was ambivalent to the Olives, Warmed & Herbed, but couldn't wait to try the Grilled Ciabatta with a Poached Duck Egg Fonduta (see the bottom of this post for recipe). Both plates arrived very rustic-looking, which shows how Scott accomplishes his vision of "Alta Cucina meets Cucina Rustica," the food philosophy he once explained to me. This is fine dining, but it is decidedly not stuffy. The olive dish was as good as I've ever experienced olives; the delicately crunchy breading and herbs surrounding it a fine balance to the saltiness of the olives themselves. The shining star on the table, however, was undoubtedly the duck egg fonduta. Big hunks of crusty bread, gorgeous grill marks all over. The perfect accomplice to the luscious, cheesy fontina mixture next to it. And once the yolk, immersed in the liquefied cheese, was punctured, all the better. Ironically, this is why Scott calls his flagship Scarpetta -- because he wants his customers to sop up the goodness on the plate (it's an old Italian slang saying) -- and that is exactly what we did, and with brio! I honestly could have had four courses of just that...
Next for me was Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Proscuitto Cotto, and Oil-Cured Olives (so much for not being an olive fan), from his "Antipasti della Fattoria" selections.
I knew I would tear through this small plate, as tomatoes and prosciutto are among my favorite things to cook with and eat, especially together. This style of prosciutto was new for me, though. It had more of the texture of ham, and not quite the smokiness I was used to. It was delicioso, nonetheless.
I then couldn't resist the "Appetizer" offering of Short Ribs, Spaetzle, & Horseradish. This was a surprise offering for me, as I wouldn't associate this with Italian cuisine a la Conant, but hey, give the guy points for an expanding repertoire. I've become a big fan of spaetzle in the past year, and his was moist and scrumptious, as it propped up the tender, medium-rare short rib medallions.
My entree was the Roasted Halibut with Snap Peas, Organic Radish & Truffle. The fish was perfectly cooked and simply seasoned; the snap peas were firm in texture, almost like beans. It was an entree that begged for you partake in every component with each mouthful, and I was happy to oblige.
Scott once again outdid himself by delivering us a gratis dessert, Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta, with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote & Yogurt Sorbetto. This was the best panna cotta I've ever had, so creamy & light, yet still bursting with flavor and freshness. We added on the Gianduia-Banana Tart, with Chocolate-Caramel Mousse, & Mocha Ice Cream. Sinfully good, yet not overly filling, which is a noticed hallmark of Conant desserts. The gianduia, I learned, is an Italian chocolate hazelnut paste; what us mere mortals would refer to a Nutella. And I would bet my mortgage that ice cream was made in-house (if you've seen Scott question the participants on his "24-hour Restaurant Battle" episodes, you'll know what I mean!)...
After all that food; the plentiful wine (and port), and the great friends on hand, you could understand my penchant for overzealously raving about my time at Faustina. But what I've come to learn about Scott and his food is that he is not satisfied with the status quo. Yes, he will always keep certian favorites on the menu -- why mess with success? But he is always looking for new and exciting things to add, and it's those little surprises, that show up in a subtle yet substantial way, that keep customers like me appreciating his passionate efforts... and keep us coming back again and again.
Is it Scarpetta? No. But Scott never intended it to be.
He's ok with that.
And clearly, so am I...

Duck Egg with Fontina Fonduta and Grilled Ciabatta
Serves 4

For the fonduta
2 oz fontina cheese, semi-soft, not the aged
3 oz milk
1 tsp chopped preserved black truffles
1 tsp truffle oil

1. Cut the fontina in to bite size pieces and place in a blender.
2. Add the truffles and a little salt.
3. Bring the milk to a boil and add to the blender. Puree the mixture until smooth and the cheese is melted.
4. Slowly add the truffle oil to the blender.
5. Adjust seasoning if needed.

For the egg
2 ea duck eggs (4 ea if you don’t want to share)
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch Maldon sea salt

1. Bring the water to a boil and add the vinegar.
2. Poach the duck eggs in the liquid until just set.
3. Transfer the eggs to small bowls and ladle 2 oz of the fontina fonduta over the egg.
4. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the egg and finish with some sea salt

For the bread
1 ea large ciabatta loaf
extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut the ciabatta in to thick slices about 1 inch thick.
2. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.
3. Grill or broil until crispy and slightly charred.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Trip to Eataly

This amounts to either the biggest tease I've pulled on myself, or the most useless post this blog has seen. Why? Because I went to Eataly... AND I DIDN'T EAT ANYTHING. Not a damn thing. Not one morsel. Let me defend my heinous actions...

I was not anticipating having any time to pay my first visit to this emporium of everything Italian, courtesy of Batali & Bastianich. And in between my meetings, I had bookended two amazing meals, one of which was still lovingly digesting in my stomach (that being lunch, courtesy of David Burke Town House... see previous post). Needless to say, I was stuffed to the gills, and knowing I had an Italian fest approaching in a mere 2 hours (stay tuned for details), I made the dreadfully painful decision to eat with my eyes... and just window shop. So, I did what I normally don't do too often on this blog: I took lots of pictures!

They, of course, don't do the space, or the sundries, any justice whatsoever. This place is an absolute Italian wonderland of food, products, and more. At first, it recalled an Italian culinary version of Ikea, with it's massive, maze-like layout. But, unlike Ikea, the more lost you get in Eataly, the better. Wander in, and you're greeted by a hallway jammed with fresh veggies and fruits. Yes, I ogled the already-famous "Vegetable Butcher," who stands prepared to prep your veggies any way you like it. To the left, there's cookware and other accessories. Straight back, you get into the serious eats: meats, cheeses, wines, breads, pizzas & fish of all sorts and varieties. Each station has its own nook; its own gathering spot. What's amazing is, as jam-packed as this place looks from a bird's-eye view, it doesn't feel that way when you walk the floor. It's more like a big open air market, just without the blue skies and sunshine.
Eataly invites you to stroll, to slow down, to take your time...which I found from my one sojourn to Italy years ago, is the Italian way of life... especially when it comes to food.
I was so impressed with the authenticity of everything. Clearly, Batali & Co. accomplished what they set out to do.

In the end, I chalk this up to a recon mission: I staked out the floor plan, mapped out my mission, and strategized my game plan. Next time...ohhhh, next time... nothing edible will be safe from my grasp.

Willy Wonka Meets Fine Dining

Had a most memorable lunch @ David Burke Town House. The moment I stepped out of the dreary, drizzly New York City weather, and into the bright, welcoming space (on E. 61st between Lex and Park) I knew I was about to experience something I never had before. The decor was colorful and eclectic, approaching technicolor, against the stark white walls. There was a chandelier of inverted, frosted wine glasses; multicolored, blown-glass balloons; and artwork that literally glowed...turns out theses touches are the ideal visual appetizer to what I was about to taste... a veritable Willy Wonka Tasting Room come to life...

Chef Burke himself is a larger-than-life man with a welcoming personality, but his largess belies the deft, skillful touches he displays on his plates. The food is so glorious to look at and study, it's as gorgeous as the interior design.

I couldn't help myself (shock of all shocks, I know) and ordered one of the available prix fixe options for lunch . My first choice was the Lobster Bisque. Three delicate lobster claws wrapped in a dumpling, with a tomato-based bisque poured on top at the table. There were kernels of fresh corn added to the mix. Shortly after, a surprise (a recurring theme of a Town House meal, I come to find). Chef was kind enough to send out a "gift" of his Lamb Steak Salad; three beautifully prepared slices of succulent lamb, mounted and balanced atop a disc of quinoa that looked like it had been injected with an iridescent, golden gelatin. Subtley spicy, texture somewhere in between fish roe and cous cous, and a fantastic combination paired together. My Black Angus Burger arrived next, perfectly cooked medium-rare on a spongy, buttery Brioche bun. The accompanying Garlic & Lemon French Fries were also a pleasingly visual shock. I'd never seen fries that yellow...almost neon! Turns out, the reason they abstain this color is because of the curry oil used in the frying process. They were crispy outside, tender inside. Not the slightest hint of oil to the touch. And finally, a Warm & Crisp Apple Tart with homemade Dulche de Leche Ice Cream, and a dried apple chip on top that resembled a flower blossom. The waiter finished off the presentation with a healthy drizzle of Cider Caramel Sauce. The tart was exactly as advertised; the tart itself was flaky and dense. The ice cream was sinful, and held up to the pastry.
From the outset, it's easy to discern that Burke is a master at the playful elements that add artistry to the food he prepares. I can just picture him with a gleam in his glasses as he conceives, and then constructs, his consistently wondrous dishes. Truth is, it would all be folly if the taste didn't live up, but it does, in spades. And while it's almost a shame to see the food disappear from your plate, bite by bite, it's sweet solace when it hits your palette. Burke pushes the boundaries of what you can create in a kitchen. And kudos to Exec Chef Sylvain Dilpique and Pastry Chef Jennifer Domanski for carrying out Chef Burke's visions of grandeur and splendor on the plate.

All he's missing is the purple velour top hat & tails...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ya Never Know Who You're Gonna Run Into...

Today was a fun day for me. I was @ QVC, and had a couple of fun "green room run-ins"...

First, I got to meet Tyler Florence, whose career I've admired from afar for a while. He makes it look so easy on his shows, which, as anyone who knows anything about TV demonstrations (especially cooking demos) knows is not an easy feat. That, plus his foods always looks gorgeous (important on TV, no?) and accessible: not too fancy, but always impressive. He turned out to be the real deal. He was there to intro his new cookbook, Tyler Florence Family Meal, which, by the way, is really great looking. I am an admitted cook book addict (I have one of his already), but this one is seriously top notch. The highest praise I can give it, or any book of its ilk, is that I wanted to eat the book! The pictures are sensational (he puts his family front and center -- points for that!), the layout makes you feel like you're reading a book, not searching for recipes, and speaking of recipes, it's loaded with good ones, all with a comfort food bent (150 in all). It's definitely one I will add to my collection.
Best of all, TF turned out to be as genuine as his on-camera persona. We hung out for a while, talking food and restaurants, and he gave me some really useful and sage feedback on a TV project I'm working on... greatly appreciated...

Then, I re-connected with a cooking TV legend, who I worked with a few years back @ HSN. The venerable Mr. Food, Art Ginsburg, is still going strong, and only getting stronger. Quite an inspiration. He is the originator of bringing simple, tasty recipes from your TV to your kitchen. 30 years in, and Mr. Food's as popular, and energetic, as ever! I was happy to learn he now has an e-newsletter that will deliver his recipes to your inbox. I signed on immediately. You should, too!
My plan is to learn from guys like Tyler and Art as I build my TV cooking career. They have more in common than you would initially think, being from different generations, but the one thing they share, which I do my best to emulate: they make you want to watch, and they make you want to cook...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tilapia with Peppers & Pecans

Made this fish dish the other night and it was super simple and really great-tasting. My wife and I are both big sauce-lovers, so this was a bit of a departure for us, but the result was a really nice balance of flavors -- sweet &spicy...

Tilapia with Peppers & Pecans
  • Coat 4 tilapia fillets with 3/4c salted, all-purpose flour
  • Melt 3 tbsp. butter in a large skillet
  • Saute the fish about 3-4 on both sides, until golden brown and flaky. Set aside and keep warm.
  • In same pan, melt another 3 tbsp. butter. Add 1 tbsp. brown sugar, 1/2c chopped pecans, 1c sweet roasted red peppers, sliced, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
  • Stir until pecans are toasted and peppers are soft. Squeeze juice of 1 small lime in pan.
  • Spoon mixture over fish and serve immediately.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fun With Gnocchi!

This is the second time in almost as many weeks that I've channelled my inner Italian Grandma (call me Nonna) in the kitchen, and made the fam a new recipe with my beloved Gnocchi. This time, however, the gnocchi was not the traditional potato-based variety; its main component was ricotta. This, together with some yellow squash and zucchini (sauteed in olive oil, salt & pepper, some onion and garlic powder, and finished with a healthy splash of balsamic vinegar), as well as nice glass of Pinot Grigio, made for a memorable Tuesday night. Mangia!

NOTE: This recipe claimed 8 servings... my wife and I finished the whole thing ourselves!!

Ricotta Gnocchi

  • In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2c ricotta (sheep's milk recommended) with 2 egg yolks & 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • Add 1c all-purpose flour and stir until soft and sticky dough forms.

  • Wrap in plastic and rest for 30:00 (the dough, not you!)

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

  • On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into two ropes that are each about 1" diameter.

  • Cut into 1/2" pieces with a lightly floured knife.

  • Add the gnocchi, and cook until they rise to the surface, then simmer until firm (approx. 2 more minutes).

  • Transfer to a bowl of iced water with a slotted spoon to stop the cooking process.

  • Drain and gently pat dry.

  • Melt 4 tbsp. unsalted butter in a large nonstick skillet. Add the gnocchi and cook over high heat, turning the gnocchi until golden brown (approx. 4-5 minutes).

  • Serve right away by themselves, or with a tomato sauce.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rigatoni with Sausage, Spinach, & Goat Cheese, by Scott Conant

There are few chefs in the world hotter than Scott Conant right now. In the span of 3 years, Scott has realized his dream restaurant, conquered multiple cities, garnered rave reviews at every turn, and gets more TV time than, well... me! All that, and, oh by the way, he got married and had his first child in that span, too. Not bad for a kid from Connecticut!

I met Scott just prior to this whirlwind of success, when we worked together on TV. He was still getting his "TV legs" about him then, but he certainly knew his way around a kitchen. I vividly recall him mapping out his career arc for me -- on a cocktail napkin! -- over hamburgers and white wine one night. And ya know what? It all came true. In seemingly no time. Good things happen to good people, and this is evidence of that statement.

Scarpetta NYC was a hit from opening night, and Scott's simple yet refined approach to Italian cuisine is a benchmark for accessible, fine dining. The Scarpetta brand now extends to Miami, Toronto, Beverly Hills, and there's an increasing presence in Las Vegas, as well.

On the media side, Scott's got a hit show on Food Network, "24 Hour Restaurant Battle," which just completed season #1, and he's a recurring guest judge on "Chopped" (he, of the now-famous "I hate raw red onions on my plate" screed!). He was just featured last night on the network's "10 Best" special, praising his spaghetti with tomato sauce as one of the country's best comfort foods. Not surprisingly, I wholeheartedly concur.
Scott was kind enough to respond instantly, when I asked him for a dish all of us could make in our homes, in hopes of capturing a bit of that Scarpetta magic (thanks, too, Irene!). I'm sure Scott would say, "Use fresh ingredients, and you can't mess this dish up. It's very straightforward." Easy for him to say, right?! But it's true, for one of the most important things I've learned from Scott is that simple and straightforward can result in sophisticated and sensational...
Rigatoni with Sausage, Spinach, and Goat Cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
¾ pound Italian sweet sausage or a combination of sweet and spicy, casings removed
¾ pounds of rigatoni
salt to taste
4 ounces spinach, well washed and dried and coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
½ pint cherry or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté until it is tender and begins to color, 10 minutes. Crumble the sausage into the pan, increase the heat to medium-high, and fully cook the sausage.

Cook the rigatoni until just shy of al dente. Before draining, reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water.

Add the spinach and tomatoes and some of the pasta cooking liquid to the sausage and cook, tossing, until the spinach has wilted. Add the pasta, half the reserved cooking liquid, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and goat cheese. Toss well and lightly smash the tomatoes. Add a bit more of the cooking liquid of needed and serve sprinkled with parsley, if you like.

Serves 4.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Sub (Gold) Standard

Found myself in Atlantic City, NJ, this past weekend, home of (sometimes) rundown casino hotels, (mostly) shmaltzy boardwalk sites... and one of the finest sub shops this country has seen. White House Sub Shop has been on my radar for quite some time, ever since my sister told me her well-travelled and well-connected neighbor, Stan, has them shipped to his house in Maryland for the occasional fix. I'd heard they were that good. Now I know...
I brought my production crew with me, and none of us knew what to expect. A good first omen: the parking gods were smiling on us, as we found an open spot virtually right in front of White House, which sits on the corner of Mississippi and Arctic Avenues (Yes, you feel like you're living inside a game of Monopoly when you travel the streets of AC). The second sign of good things to come: Only a 10-minute wait to be seated. This is a minor miracle, considering this joint been around for 60+ years, and no on seems to mind waiting 2-3x that long on a regular business lunch hour.
The exterior looks just about the same as it has since Anthony Basile and his Aunt Basilia and Uncle Fritz Sacco in 1946. You feel like you're walking into a sepia-toned photograph from the World War II era as you join the cramped que inside the door.
There's always a line of people picking up their subs to go, but we wanted the whole White House Experience, so we waited a bit longer to be seated. Like I said, the short downtime was worth it...
While my comrades went with the Regular Italian, I felt compelled to invest in the White House Special, although we weren't sure how it differed from the Italian, other than the fact that it boasted "Extra Salami." Now, here's where I can use this forum as an instructional guide for anyone who reads this and cares to visit White House: Their "halves" and "wholes" ate DOUBLE what any other shop's are. If you've ever picked up a loaf of Italian or Cuban bread from a bakery...you know what you're getting yourself into when you order a "whole," which, of course, is what I did. It was literally TWO FEET worth of (Extra) Salami, Ham, Cappacolla, and Provolone, dressed with shredded lettuce, tomatoes marinated in oil and vinegar. The bread was super fresh: just crusty and hearty enough on the outside; still soft and spongy inside. I can only guess they get their breads from the formidable Formica Bros. Bakery, located right across the street. Philadelphians and the like always boast it's the bread that makes the real difference in their Cheese Steaks and such... and the Formica Family has a big say in that...
The meats were as fresh cut and delicious as they were abundant. You almost have to eat a good amount of the meat portion before even getting the bread itself! Yes, what you see the the right is ONE SANDWICH!!
(take that, Subway!)
NOTE: White House is a no-frills place, and they serve their food with a hasty smile, righteous speed, and a healthy dose of New Jersey attitude on the side. Ask for pickles or mayo at your own risk -- they don't do either.
So, I check another must-visit food destination off my list, and if you are ever in the South Jersey/Philly area, you should do the same.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bravo, Bella Brava!

The missus and I hit up the updated, hipper, more location-friendly incarnation of Bella Brava tonight, and the experience matched the unmatched real estate it now occupies in downtown St. Pete.

First off, the menu has changed as much as the decor. There's a much more minimalist vibe in the looks of the place, as well as the food. Gone are the fancy shmancy offerings for the eyes and the palette. Instead, it's somewhat of a stripped down, honest-to-goodness, authentic Trattoria experience. While it is still sleek and sexy outside and in, the menu and the wait staff make you feel...comfortable.

My biggest problem, to be honest, was what to order. There is just about everything you'd want from a classic Italian place. Luckily, we had the luxury of a gift card (thanks Linda, Darin, & Theresa!) and a coupon to boot, so we were livin' large tonight!

We ordered a bottle of their wine special -- an Oregon Pinot, RouteStock. It was well-balanced and zesty, and got better as the meal progressed. Predictably, for me, I went traditional with my order, which is always my lithmus test for Italian places the first time around. Caprese Salad, Toscana Pizza (mushrooms, garlic, smoked mozzarella, goat cheese) to share, Trattoria Chicken Parmesan (with prosciutto and fontina), and marscapone mashed potatoes as a side.

The pizza was perfection. Great crust, perfectly melted cheeses and balanced toppings. The salad was fresh and bright, with just the right amount of salt and pepper to compliment the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. And, while I've had better chicken parm, I recognize I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to this dish, and respect them for putting their unique spin on it. Outside of the fact that I can't wait to sample other items on the menu, I would not hesitate to order this again.

Then, to our delight and surprise, our kind and knowledgeable waiter, Tom, informed us that the manager, Ryan, had directed him to comp us a dessert. Little did we expect it to be an entire platter of all the desserts they offer! Cheesecake, walnut brownies, tiramisu, panna cotta... it was all there... an orgy of sweets! We did our very best to indulge, but in the end, we surrendered to a full bag of leftovers. Bully for me, since I know I'll be the one who gets to enjoy them tomorrow!

The one thing that stood out to me, in the end, was that all of the menu items, including the ones we devoured, were repeatable. I mean, they tasted sufficiently freshly made, but I could already envision the entrepreneurial wheels turning, and other Bella Bravas sprouting up like other franchise forefathers before it (read: Bonefish Grill). The dishes are well-balanced, well-conceived, and well-executed. And if that does happen, all the power to 'em.

I just hope our own Bella Brava on Beach Drive doesn't forget where it came from...

It's Good to Be a "Nit-" Picker In This Case

A few things to buzz about in my adopted hometown of St. Petersburg. If you're a local, get on it! If you're looking for a place to visit... St. Pete is quickly becoming a food destination...

First up... an older place that's a new find for me. Thanks to my fellow foodie, Chris, for turning me on to Nitally's (http://www.thaifoodtogo.net/), a Thai-Mex joint that now has an established home and working hours on 25th and Central. If you like it hot... this is your kinda place! The fact thery call themselves a Thai Coffee House is more than a bit misleading. They've been doing their cultish thing @ St. Pete's Saturday Morning Market for a while, but discovering their full menu was a revelation for me. I like Thai food. I really like Mexican. But Nit & Ally (the couple -- hence, the name) combine the two and pull it off with authenticity and attitude. I loved my Panang Mole Burrito with chicken (#44), served "American Hot" (thankfully, they will custom alter the degree of hotness you prefer). The other time I had a Panang style dish was in NYC @ Fatty Crab. I blogged about that a couple of months or so ago, as it was a transcendent meal for me. This one was extremely tasty, and did no disrespect to the name, as well. Plus, the portion size was more than generous, which is always a plus for an eater like me. The thing I love about this type of food is, when done correctly, you can really pick up all the intricacies of the sweet and spicy flavors. The coconut milk, the chilis, etc. It was served with two dipping sauces: one was a terrific homemade mole sauce; the other was a sweet & spicy number that featured honey and Thai basil. I basically could've lapped up both with or without the burrito on the plate!
I dug the decor, was impressed with the extensive, affordable menu options (and beer choices!), and was psyched that at 1pm on a random Wednesday, the place was full! It heartens me to know that locals will always find a place that serves solid food, especially when it's as unique as Nitally's...

The Weekend That Was...aka Great Eats in DC

Just got back from a fun-filled (and food-filled) weekend @ my sister's in the DC area. Celebrated my Dad's 65th and my son's 7th birthdays with the whole fandamily! And anytime we get together...you can bet the food and wine is plentiful!

My brother-in-law subscribes to a "Go Big or Go Home" philosophy, and I am more than happy to partake and partner up. Here is a sampling...

Friday night: Italian Buffet. Veggie lasagna and two different homemade pizzas. One with roasted tomatoes; one with prosciutto. Both were fresh and tasty, and done on the grill, which really made a difference, especially in the crust. I do not have a pizza stone, but these pizzas vaulted it to the top of my list of kitchen gadgets to get. The pizzas took less time to bake than in the oven, and the crusts were an ideal combo of crispy and pliant... Larry has an extensively impressive wine collection, and he is more than generous in his sharing and sampling. After all, that's what drinking wine is all about, right?? We started with a spicy Demuth Kemos Syrah and moved onto a cultish Cab from Harlan known as The Maiden... both were impeccable...

Saturday night: Surf & Turf. Larry and I ventured to a "locals only" DC-based fish market, at a marina off the Potomac River and right near the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. One look at this market and you can tell it was legit. It was one of the more impressive and bountiful markets I've visited. Right off the boats. Eat it there in the parking lot, fresh or fried. Or take it home in plastic bags, still squirming and/or snapping. Captain White's Seafood City boasts the Chesapeake Bay's Finest catches, and who am I argue?! The place was teeming with live lobsters, shrimp, and all varieties of crab, the most impressive of which are the blue crab by the bushel. We chose five lobsters, along with some fresh, jumbo lump crab meat, and were on our way...

Larry already had a beef tenderloin marinating, and some pineapple salsa prepped for the lobster. When we got back, we cleaved our crustaceans down the middle, removed the tails and claws, stuffed the tails with butter and lemon, and placed them all on the grill. The rest of the lobsters -- shells, innards, etc. -- went into a vat to make a lobster stock for later use. Credit to my brother-in-law for his outstanding economical and efficient use of all the parts!! That's some classic chef training stuff right there!

The third and final component to this smorgasbord feast was a mushroom truffle risotto. While I was merely a prep cook/sous chef for the former entrees, this latter part was where I earned my stripes in Larry's kitchen. I was in charge of babysitting the arborio rice, as it slowly cooked amongst the sauteed mushrooms and chicken broth. After a long while of gentle stirring, we added a dose of white truffle oil, and that just took the taste over the top, not to mention aided in softening up with texture and consistency to get it where it needed to be. And when it was just about right...we finished it off with a healthy portion of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The difference between this type of cheese and straight Parmesan cheese is where the cheese is crafted. P-R is made under strict guidelines in certain provinces of Italy (Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena). Parm imitates it, without having the former's pedigree, per se. I have never claimed to have an experienced palette, but I can assure you there is a difference, and it is worth the extra few $$$ to splurge for the real deal!
Everything was primo. The food. The wine. And especially the family!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rosh Hashanah = Great Eats!

Happy New Year to all who are celebrating. I've always felt the one thing many religions and ethnicities can agree upon is the fact that a major tie that binds us all are the family meals we prepare for special occasions. That could be Sunday dinners, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and, in my case this time of year, Rosh Hashanah dinner.
I am very fortunate have come from a long line of great cooks, and, as is always the case, the best recipes are the ones handed down generationally. The meal I prepared last night for family and friends is no different. I am not going to re-post my brisket recipe, but I invite you to search for it in this blog's archives. I make it every year for this holiday and for Passover.
But I will regale you with another big winner, and staple of Jewish comfort food:
Spinach Noodle Pudding.
My mom gave me this recipe, which comes from her mom (my Nanny Seena), which comes from her mom (my Nanny Sadie), and who knows how many before them. It is rich, creamy, and hearty, but if you make it with just the right amount of love, it still tastes pretty light.

  • Thaw and drain 4 10 oz. boxes of frozen chopped spinach.
  • Cook a 16 oz. bag of egg noodles.
  • Meanwhile, saute 3 onions in butter until soft.
  • When noodles are done, combine all three in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add 1 large container of sour cream.
  • Add 6 eggs, slighly beaten.
  • Add 1 stick margarine (or butter), melted.
  • Combine all ingredients and season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Bake in an large baking dish at 350 degrees for 45:00, or uuntil slighly browned on top and firm inside.

Here's to a great New Year for all of us. And certainly great eats, too...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Lazy Sundays are Perfect for Pancakes

Most Sundays I try to experiment with new pancake recipes. Something other than the traditional batter. I recently used cornmeal to make my batter, but it needs some work (or maybe a spring form) to achieve the loft and density of the kinds I've loved in restaurants.
This morning, I went with another twist, ricotta. It's one of my favorite ingredients to work with, because it's so versatile, and so creamy. I used it as a layer on my chicken cutlets -- between marinara sauce, bacon, and mozzarella -- the other night for dinner. So I had the perfect amount to incorporate this morning for a lazy Sunday breakfast. I've learned through my readings that a good chef always uses the entire amount of what he purchases, so it makes me feel good to put this to good use. I happen to like this particular recipe, from Neal Fraser (F&W mag). They are light and thin, but have a smooth, creamy texture, and the warm blueberries inside release their sweet juices with every bite...

Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberries

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 large eggs, separated
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons milk
6 ounces ricotta cheese (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Unsalted butter, for the griddle
1 pint fresh blueberries or 2 cups frozen blueberries, thawed
Pure maple syrup, for serving
1.In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the milk, ricotta, sugar and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until the batter is smooth.
2.In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites at medium speed until frothy. Beat at high speed until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter until no streaks remain.
3.Preheat the oven to 225°. Heat a griddle, then lightly butter it. For each pancake, ladle a scant 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle; be sure to leave enough space between the pancakes. Cook over moderately low heat until the bottoms are golden and the pancakes are just beginning to set, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle each pancake with a few blueberries and press lightly. Flip the pancakes and cook until golden on the bottom and cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the pancakes to plates and keep them warm in the oven while you make the rest. Serve the pancakes with maple syrup.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What's For Dinner Tonight?

Here's what's on the menu @ the Hollenberg house tonight...
(courtesy of Food Network Mag)

Homemade Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom Ragu

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 small carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 pounds wild mushrooms, stemmed and diced if large
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound cremini mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup canned whole San Marzano tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 1/2 pounds fresh gnocchi
Marscapone and/or fresh mint, for topping
To make the gnocchi:

Bake 4 fork-pierced potatoes at 425 for about an hour.

Halve & scoop the flesh into a bowl. Mash well.

Add 1 beaten egg, 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, 1 tsp salt, and pepper until combined.

Add 1c flour and stir to make a rough dough, then mix by hand until smooth.

Gather dough in a ball on floured surface and divide into 8 pieces.

Roll each piece into 12-inch long, 1/2-inch thick logs with your hands.

Cut logs into 1-inch pieces (can be frozen on a floured baking sheet until ready to cook).

Heat half of the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.

Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add half of the wild mushrooms and cook until golden, 3 to 5 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, then push to the edges of the pot.

Add the remaining olive oil and wild mushrooms and cook 3 to 5 more minutes. Add the cremini mushrooms and cook 1 more minute. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes.

Add the wine; cook, scraping up any browned bits, about 2 more minutes.

Add the tomatoes, 2 cups water, the bay leaves, coriander, fennel, red pepper flakes, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste.

Simmer over medium heat, about 30 minutes (thin with water if needed). Season with salt and pepper.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, stir and cook for 1 minute after they float, about 3 minutes total.

Transfer with a slotted spoon to the pot with the sauce and gently stir over low heat.

Serve topped with mascapone and/or mint.