Friday, January 30, 2009


Yes, I'll admit it, I'm a coffee freak (nut, bean, whatever?) I've been drinking coffee for a really long time. In the "olde" days, it was coffee that my grandmother brewed (we lived upstairs in a semi-detached 2 family house in Forest Hills), or should I say, percolated. I'm pretty sure it was Maxwell House or Chock Full o' Nuts, the heavenly coffee. Probably like an ounce of coffee and 6 ounces of cream along with 2 teaspoonfuls of sugar. And it was damn good to this yet-to-be enlightened coffee drinker; and, as I said, it was a long time ago - I'm a child of the '50s and '60s, after all.

So, fast forward a few years, and look what that is some of my coffee paraphernalia.

Starting way over on the left, a small French press, accompanied by a few of my Moka pots, which I have in every size and shape imaginable, a Vietnamese coffee maker, a couple of drip filter makers (because I break them a lot), an old Neapolitan brewer, 2 grinders and the queen of the show, the Rancillio Silvia espresso maker, or as she's known in the biz, Miss Silvia (that's the shiny gal in the middle of it all).

No matter what, Significant Eater and I always start our day off with a cup of drip - it's quick, easy, and delicious and even when slightly hungover, quite doable.

Now, there are just a few rules about coffee - and don't believe anything anyone tells you if they're not following these rules...that's my totd (tip of the day)...

1. Freshly roasted coffee - or coffee roasted within the past week to 10 days - 2 weeks at the most. Properly stored, coffee may last longer, but that means properly stored, and check out those 2 little mason jars of beans - that's how you store it...not in the fridge, not in the freezer, but at room temp (to really be insane, you could suck the oxygen out of those jars, but let's not go overboard here). BTW, if you're storing coffee in the fridge or freezer, every time the door is opened, condensation forms. Not good for the beans and that's why room temp is best.

2. Freshly ground coffee - if you don't have freshly roasted coffee, this doesn't matter, but then who cares anyway? Coffee needs to be ground right before you brew starts to go stale from the minute it's ground, trust me on this. You can open up a can of ground coffee, or use those pods (god forbid), but there is no way that the coffee will ever be as good as freshly ground. Have you ever tasted wine that's been open for a week or more - well, the same thing happens to coffee. Might be good for that beef stew, but not for drinking.

3. Good water, freshly heated. Need I say more - coffee is about 95% water folks, so it better be good. If you don't like the way it tastes, how can it make good coffee? And don't use water fresh off the boil - it needs to cool down 10 or so degrees, otherwise it will extract the not-so-great tasting components of the bean. Espresso is a whole other story, but we can talk about that later.

Once you've followed these rules, you can use any method you like to brew your coffee (well, any method except percolating) and it will be better than most of the coffee you've tasted.

Now, I've tasted lots and lots of different coffee from a whole mess of different roasters. I was home roasting for a while, but the neighbors thought a Charbucks had moved in, so I abandoned that. Blue Bottle, Stumptown, Gimme, Ritual, Terroir, Peet's, Counter Culture, et. al. all roast some pretty fine coffee. But my favorite of them all is the coffee from Intellegentsia, headquartered in Chicago. They roast to order and usually ship the day after an order is placed. So, I can place an order on Monday and have coffee that was roasted on Tuesday in my hot little hands by Thursday. Not bad - not cheap, either, but really, what is these days? It's worth it. It's great. Try it.

Oh, and for our second jolt (and third and fourth, if it's the weekend), that's when Miss Silvia makes an appearance...nothing like a shot of Black Cat to perk one's self up.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

We're No Vegans, but...

A quick peek in my fridge/freezer and you'll find a half dozen quail, 1 smoked ham hock, 4 pounds of lamb shoulder, a coupla pounds of cryo-ed Benton's bacon, a pound or so of La Quercia pancetta (, chicken stock, duck confit, duck fat and a big hunk of guanciale (also from La Quercia). To say nothing of 3 year-old parmesan, 2 kinds of pecorino, some goat cheese, and the fixings for a delicious fondue. Yeah, I know - I'm running low.

So what's an unabashed omnivore to do? Well, how about a vegan dinner with home baked sourdough, roasted broccoli and braised fennel, and an entree of potato and leek soup - no, not Vichyssoise (which is cold cream-based leek and potato soup), but hot potato/leek soup, made with nothing but leeks, potatoes, garlic, olive oil, water, salt and pepper. Takes all of about an hour to put together if you're somewhat organized, and here's what you do...

Start with a pound of leeks and clean them really well - but you knew that, otherwise you'll be eating sand. Cut up the leeks and start sweating them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (sweating means just what it sounds like - let 'em wilt, but without any color). Add a few cloves of thinly sliced garlic. While this is going on, peel and cube (1" cubes are good) a pound of russet or yukon gold potatoes. Throw them in the pot, cover with water, add salt and pepper, and boil gently till the potatoes fall apart. You can help them along with the side of a wooden spoon. Back to the salt - taste and add more - it'll need it. Potatoes absorb salt like that Star Trek villain that sucked the salt out of people in the episode called The Man Trap. So add more. Don't worry - it still won't be as much salt as is in that bag of chips. Ladle into warm soup bowls - (by the way, if you're serving hot soup, warm up the bowls - it's the little things that count). Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and serve with that crusty bread.

And of course, if you're the cook, you can always snack on a hunk of parmesan while all this cooking is going on - what do you think I am, a vegan or something?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Winter Blues, or Is It Summer Yet?

Hey, don't get me wrong, I really like the winter. Summer in the city is just too damn hot. But, as all NYers know, it's not the heat, it's the humidity (or, as they say in California, when it's about 100+ degrees, at least it's a dry heat).

However, today is one miserable crappy day. I can't figure out if it's snowing, hailing, sleeting, raining, foggy, whatever... So, without further ado, here's what I like about the middle of the summer.

First, there's my favorite fruit...

Then, there's another of my faves (it's a fruit too, y'know)...

Along with something to keep the vampires away...

And when the pictures are finally done and the kitchen calls, this is what summer gets you...

Now, isn't it time for dinner?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spatchcocked Chicken For Dinner

The Significant Eater and I like chicken. Roast chicken, grilled chicken, sauteed chicken, braised chicken, chicken ala king...wait, no, not chicken ala king.

To my taste, the best chicken at the most reasonable price, is a kosher chicken. It comes pre-brined (due to the salting process it undergoes), and is raised as naturally as a factory farm-raised chicken can be. At my local Whole Foods, they have some very expensive chickens. There's a brand called Pollo Rosso, which I've yet to try, that runs $5 a pound. Even their organic chickens are $4 a pound. In Chinatown, I can get freshly killed birds for a lot less. But, my favorite, as I mentioned above, is a kosher chicken. And my market carries Empire brand for about $2.50 a pound, a veritable bargain in this day and age. Along with an inexpensive and tasty Goya marinade, dinner was just around the corner.

Spatchcocking a chicken is a method of preparation where the backbone is removed, the sternum is removed and the chicken is flattened out and cooked that way.

This bird was cooked under the broiler and was done in 30 minutes. Along with a side dish of gai-lan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce, and brown rice, dinner was on the table in under an hour...hey, I'm no Rachael Ray, I need the extra 30 minutes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Homana, homana, hominy

Okay, this stuff....

which when soaked, looks like this...

doesn't really float my boat. I'd never cooked it before, so I just followed the recipe on the back of the package to make Golden Corn Chowder. Sounded good. Bacon, onions, cream, yada, yada, yada. It became part of this lunch...

Significant Eater really liked the chowder, which I could barely finish. Tasted sort of like, I dunno, prison food...not that I've ever been in prison long enough to get a true feeling for the food. Anyway, try new foods, that's what they taught me in cooking school.

Just not hominy.

Breakfast - The Most Important Meal of the Day

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? That's what they say, so it must be true. Unless, of course, dinner is really good. And brunch - who thought of that? Just an excuse to start drinking early - like an excuse is needed. Brunch is a meal I never eat - if the Significant Eater is going out to brunch, I'll stay home...I just never got the whole idea.

Anyway, back to breakfast...I make breakfast for the Significant Eater and myself every single day. Yes, every single day. Here's what our sort-of healthy breakfast was yesterday...

Homemade bread, toasted with a fresh fruit salad, cottage cheese, Plugra, jams and coffee. Hey, it helps to get the metabolism going - after all, dinner was in Chinatown, and those soupy dumplings and braised pork belly have lots of calories.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sourdough Drives Me Crazy

I like to bake, but don't do it enough. Lately, I've been into a cookie (the holidays, of course) and sourdough bread thing. I really like to perfect something before I move on to something else, and sourdough'll drive you crazy. Mothers, barms, poolish, biga, starters, sponges, preferments, ferments, aaaagghhh. You have to be a mini chemist - but I think that's why boys like to bake. Who knows?

Here's a boule (that's what I'm trying to perfect) I recently baked.

And here are shots of my next attempt:

A third attempt - you'll notice they're actually not getting any better, unfortunately:

But I refuse to give up - I tried two loaves the next time, baking one in a covered Dutch oven and the other directly on the stone. You can see my slashing technique, or lack thereof, caused the weird sort of growth in the bread on the left...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sun Light Bakery

Close to my apartment, East Broadway enters into Chinatown, and a whole new world awaits. Coming out of the subway yesterday, I was hungry for some hand pulled noodles, and started walking towards the now widely reported upon Lan Zhou Noodles, which makes some pretty darn tasty noodles of the hand pulled variety.

However, the activity at 160 East Broadway, Sun Light Bakery Corp., caught my eye, and I wandered into the tiny storefront, presided over by two very non-English speaking women (there was a lot more activity going on in the back of the shop, which was seemingly cranking out buns at a rate much greater than could be sold in the front of the shop). Fortunately, there was a young, bilingual speaker getting an order, and he helped me negotiate the offerings.

Okay, to start with, I've never seen one of these:

It is some sort of steamer, crepe maker thing, into which one of the women puts a bit of pork (or beef, or chicken evidently), and then pours a ladleful of batter on top - the batter can be seen in a bowl on the far right. Then, some chopped scallions and cilantro are scattered about and the pan is whisked into the cooker.

After a minute or two, the drawer is pulled out, and the cooked product is cut up with a plastic dough's a semi-action shot:

A few sauces are put on top, and the finished product looks like this:

It was delicious - and different from the more traditional rice noodles, which it so happens are available from a little cart at the corner of Jefferson and East Broadway, and which I also bought in order to do a comparison :smile: . These noodles come with fish balls, and you get 5 of them and a portion of noodles for $1.50; the cart also has other offerings, including curry squid, lotus-leaf wrapped rice and congee, which amazes me, since there is literally no room to turn around inside the cart. It makes some of those coffee carts in midtown look like townhouses compared to a studio apartment.

The noodles from the cart are a little chewier, and are sauced in a much sweeter manner - i.e. with hoisin, sesame, and a "hot sauce," whereas the freshly prepared crepes are a bit more savory and tart.

Either way, both are delicious. And Sun Light also sells a bun, huge, with a pork filling, but not roast pork. My total for a bun and the noodles at Sun Light was $2.25, meaning I spent $3.75 for lunch and couldn't finish it all.

So, China-philes, are these chow fun or something else?