Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dinner Club - Almost Alsace

Dinner. Dinner with friends. Dinner with friends and you're talking. And that's how dinner club started - with booze, I mean. You see, about two years ago a few friends and I were out drinking (Pegu Club, I believe) when the idea of each of the four of us (and our s.o.s) hosting a rotating dinner party was bandied about - and dinner club was born. And since then, every month and a half or two months, a great night of dinner and booze takes place. The guys do most, if not all, of the cooking.

Dinner club is great fun - each of us trying to outdo one another with our meals. The planning and procuring process that goes into each dinner can be quite extensive. Whether it's running to Whole Foods, the green market, the butcher, the baker or the boozer, a lot of thought goes into each dinner. One of our dinners was actually a market dinner, each of us shopping for and preparing one course; that one was at chez johnder (as he has the biggest and best kitchen) and was documented by special guest Miami Danny on his blog. Danny was lucky - there aren't many special guests. One night the host actually set up a barbecue right in his kitchen; we all enjoyed the Korean bbq that evening. At another dinner, we had 5 or 6 separate pasta courses - can you say carbo-load...that one was written about in Saveur magazine.

Dinner club at chez weinoo happens about once every four to six months, and this past Saturday night, it was my turn. For the main course, I had been thinking about and wanting to make a certain dish for a long time - and it's a dish that should be eaten in cooler weather, so the timing was just right. Many other courses had to be planned as well - hors d'oeuvres, first course, dessert, booze, etc.

The star of the show was choucroute garni, an Alsatian dish which is sauerkraut cooked with onions, white wine, spices and various and copious amounts of pork products. What better place to shop for the ingredients than at this classic NY institution, opened in 1937...

Schaller & Weber is great - it's like stepping into another world; the senses of smell and sight are overwhelmed - I mean just take a look at one of their display cases...

Here are the raw materials I picked up for the choucroute, which is all about the shopping, since I'm not exactly butchering and curing my own hogs...we've got bacon, smoked butt, salt pork, kielbasa, knackwurst, franfurters, bratwurst, weisswurst and sauerkraut. As Alice always says, start with good ingredients, prepare them properly and don't fuck them up (well, maybe she didn't say it quite like that).

Of course, you always want to start with something that appears healthy, so for a first course we had a fennel and tomato soup. Sweat fennel, onions, potatoes, garlic and plum tomatoes for about 10 minutes. Add 2 quarts good homemade chicken stock. Simmer an hour or so. Puree. Reheat - taste for seasonings. A tablespoonful or 2 of Pernod is good. Serve in hot bowls thusly...

Next up, the main. I poached the sausages separately, only because my largest cooking utensil wasn't big enough for it all - and because I like these sausages best when they're heated gently - basically they're my own dirty-water dogs, and everything was served on two large platters...

To go with the choucroute, we had a vegetable, roasted...

and we had some Sam Kinsey home-made rye bread...notice the Kinsey arm, that's not a sleeve!

We put quite a dent in those piles of meat (and the pork-shoulder hash I made the next morning for breakfast was good too).

My tip of the day has included the one about not cooking something for a fancy-schmancy dinner party that you haven't cooked before - but for dinner club, we all make exceptions. And there have been some monumental mistakes; both my Venetian dessert and bread pudding are still talked and laughed about to this day. Marshmallows that we were unable to cut without electric hand tools. And a few others along the way.

So just to make sure we'd have something to laugh about, I set out to make a lemon custard tart - tart making is something I haven't done in many years. And while it wasn't a total disaster (as it was actually edible), it needs work; as soon as the deep cut on my finger heals, from when I was trying to remove the damn tart from the tart pan, I'm giving it another try. That's why to make sure I'd have something to serve when and if the tart failed, there was also vanilla ice cream as well as these Pierre Hermé Korovas; chocolate sablés topped with fleur de sel...

A nice end to a great evening with good friends. And of course, looking forward to the next 3 dinner clubs, when all I have to do is eat - and drink.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why We Love 'inoteca

Rome is one of our favorite cities. It's not like we've been to lots and lots of cities, because we haven't - but of the ones we've been to...I'd guess for Significant Eater it's probably Paris; for me, it's gotta be Rome.

The reasons are many and varied. We love the people, not just of Rome, but of Italy in general. They take life at a different pace and it's a pace we enjoy. There is time for a quick cappuccino and a cornetti in the morning - and if it's a cappuccino, it's before 11 AM. Order one after 11 AM, and you'll draw some concerned looks, because after 11, it's espresso only. There is time to linger over a great work of art, or just to stop and chat with your friends in the piazza. There is time for a glass of vino in the early evening, there is the time honored tradition of La Passeggiata and there is always time to linger over a meal - be it lunch or dinner.

So, what to do when we spend 99% of our time in New York? Other than hopping an Alitalia flight (not always feasible, unfortunately) and cooking at home (I've gotten really good at Bucatini all'Amatriciana and Spaghetti a Cacio e Pepe, 2 Roman classics), there are a number of restaurants in New York that do an admirable job of cooking Roman and Italian cuisine.

Perhaps our favorite is the extremely casual 'inoteca. The original 'inoteca opened almost 6 years ago on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow Streets, on the lower east side of Manhattan. Ever since day one, 'inoteca has been a place we frequent when we are craving a few small plates or perhaps a panino, accompanied by a nice glass of reasonably priced Italian wine. It's also a place we go when we want to feel like maybe we're in Italy; perhaps even Rome. Because that's when the owners come in - you see, 'inoteca is co-owned by Jason and Joe Denton, along with its executive chef Eric Kleinman. Trust me on this - there are no more welcoming owners than Jason and Joe. While Eric may be busy at work in front of the stoves (after a long stint at Lupa as sous-chef), it's Jason or Joe who greet the customers, with a warm friendly hello - just like you might get in Italy. As an aside, they both honed their craft from a rather famous uncle, restaurateur and raconteur Harry Denton in San Francisco - and in a strange twist, I used to frequent Harry Denton's in San Francisco's financial district during my long stint in the Bay area...Jason may have even been working behind the bar during one of my visits, though my memory of those nights is a bit hazy.

Recently, a second location of 'inoteca opened; the more uptown ‘inoteca, vino, cucina e liquori bar, formerly Bar Milano, located at 323 Third Ave. at 24th St., a neighborhood which isn't exactly food or restaurant central. And after a wait of about a month, Significant Eater and I finally got a chance to try the "new" 'inoteca and we were not disappointed.

Arriving at around 7:15, we were told a table would be available in just a few minutes - certainly not the case 30 minutes later. I had wanted to step into the bar to check it out, but the hostess said it would be best to take cocktails at our table, and one look into the bar (virtually unchanged from its previous incarnation) assured me that she was right - it was packed.

The first thing we noticed after being brought our menus was that the cocktail list had expanded dramatically. Not only are the original cocktails developed for Bar Milano still on the list, but classics as well as not-so-classics (the Widow's Kiss, for example) are there as well. We opened with a Last Word (SE) and a standard Manhattan (me), which were both finely executed. Oh, did I mention the Last Word is made with V.E.P. Chartreuse (at least for now) and comes in at $10. As do all the appears the Dentons are intent on getting this crowd to drink some good cocktails - selling them at perhaps the best price point in the city.

As for the food, uptown 'inoteca doesn't disappoint. Additions to the menu include about 5 or 6 pastas, as well as a similar number of spiedini, with the rest of the menu essentially a carbon copy of downtown's.

Starting with suppli, the gooey, cheese filled balls of risotto - deep-fried to a nice crisp - is always a good idea. They go surprisingly well with the last sips of a Manhattan. Quickly we tried a couple of the new dishes - and both the spiedini we had hit the spot. 2 skewers of quail, crisp and juicy at the same time, came atop a farro salad. Octopus spiedini was tasty as well, hunks of grilled octo-mom dressed simply with olive oil and sitting on a bed of, for want of a better word, Italian potato salad.

Dying to to try a pasta from the expanded menu, we ordered the tagliatelle con ragu - perfectly cooked pasta enhanced by the sweet and meaty ragu. (The other pastas look good as well - think Lupa pasta, and how bad can that be?) And that thing about pasta that most Americans don't get - pasta is the main ingredient (cooked al dente) and the sauce is the condiment and that's just how it's served here. Kudos to Chef Kleinman.

For an old favorite, we had the polpette, 3 large, tender meatballs (I'm guessing a combo of beef, veal and/or pork) on a bed of caramelized onion and tomato. Nice, and the leftovers were good for lunch the next day as well. Of course, at this point you might think we were being gluttons - okay, we were. So we also tried the beet salad, the earthiness of the beets enhanced by mint and pecorino; and the grilled calamari with fennel, a nice combo, the squid cooked just so and as good as always. Dessert, which we didn't have room for (but which we ate none the less), was the affogato, which is vanilla gelato with a shot of espresso (we had it minus the espresso), and the budino di cioccolata, basically an intense bitter chocolate pudding. At $5 and $6, these desserts compete with many of the $10 options around town; not in fanciness, 'cause they're not fancy, but in taste - and I'll take a delicious dessert any day of the week.

In these tough times, retooling the high concept Bar Milano into 'inoteca seems to be a good bet. To be able to have a couple of nice cocktails, or a half-bottle of wine, along with a few winning plates and get out for let's say $50 - $75 for two, is no doubt going to make 'inoteca "uptown" as tough a ticket as the downtown location has always been. That's why it's nice that they're on Open Table. So reserve and go.

If you want to make that Last Word at home, it's equal parts good gin (Beefeater is fine), Chartreuse (preferably green or VEP), Maraschino Liqueur and lime juice, shaken like crazy with lots of ice.

For a Widow's Kiss, it's 1.5 oz. calvados or applejack (we use Laird's Bonded), 3/4 oz. Benedictine, 3/4 oz. yellow Chartreuse and a coupla dashes of Angostura bitters, stirred like crazy with lots of ice. A cherry garnish is optional - but not if you only have those weird red fake cherries in a jar - in that case, leave it out.

I didn't take any pictures during our meal at 'inoteca, so I'll leave you all with a few shots from our last trip to Rome. Enjoy.

Here's spaghetti con vongole, and note that all the sauce has been absorbed by the pasta...

And some shots from around town, including the Fontana del Moro in Piazza Navona...

behind the Colosseo...

Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano from across the Tiber...

and the Fontana di Trevi, from right down in front...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hot Diggedy Dog

Here in NYC, the hot dog is practically a cultural icon. Oh sure, other cities like Chicago have their dogs, but from my research on the web, the first hot dogs were sold in 1867, by one Charles Feltman, a German butcher, from a stand in Coney Island; he is also credited with the idea of the warm bun. And then, wouldn't you know it, one of Feltman's ex-employees went into competition, undercutting his former employer by 50% - that's right, charging a nickel to Feltman's dime - his name was Nathan Handwerker, and thus was born Nathan's Famous; the rest is history. (By the way folks, you're not really having a Nathan's hot dog when you buy one at a rest stop on the NJ Turnpike - it's gotta be in Coney, honey.)

Hot dogs are available everywhere in this town. Of course, there are dirty-water dogs, lukewarm and at a corner near you...usually Sabrett's, but other varieties abound. I haven't had one of those in a long mother effing time - I just don't trust 'em, not because they're Sabrett's but because of the dirty water. There are the dogs at Shake Shack - with all sorts of toppings, etc. Feh (meh?). I mean really, once you've taken the plunge for a hot dog, do you really want a salad on it? Shake Shack's for burgers, dude. There are dogs from vendors at the stadiums (although this year they'll probably cost $10 a pop) - usually warmed only by the residual heat of the surrounding air. Pass on those.

Don't get me wrong - there are some damn good dogs too. For instance, Crif Dogs, on St. Mark's Place, rocks. But to really enjoy the hot dog, you gotta enter the inner sanctum, that of PDT, where you can enjoy a deep-fried beauty with one of Don 's, John's, Jim's or Johnny's great cocktails. And who can forget Katz's, where the dogs are griddled - perhaps my favorite method.

Back when I was driving a cab, there was a great bar on the corner of Main and Roosevelt, in Flushing. Hot dogs and draft beers (Schmidt's, iirc) were a quarter each - and when you ordered a hot dog with mustard and kraut, the barman would call out - 1 Frank Sinatra, fully dressed. Those were the days.

Fast forward to today (well, yesterday) and one of the best bargain dogs to be had in the city. Yes, it's...

at Broadway and 72nd St. There are at least 3 Gray's Papayas listed on Menupages, and another 2 Papaya Kings, and I'm sure there are many more. I don't know if Gray's is a spinoff of Papaya King, or vice-versa, but this location is my favorite. If you're wondering about the name(s), they offer a papaya "drink" with many purported health qualities (rich in Vitamin A) . I love Gray's, and not because it's soothing and calming inside...

because it's not. But where else can you get a deal like this...

The recession special = 2 hot dogs + 1 drink ( not including pineapple or orange juices, freshly squeezed, or so we're told). But seriously, 2 dogs and a drink is $4.45...and that's after a raise in the base price of the dog from $1.25 to $1.50. And what a dog it is - griddled, as I like them, and just check out the griddle in action...

That's some serious dog action folks (from my count, about 100 dogs at any one time), along with steaming vats of some sort of onion product and sauerkraut. And when you can't decide how to have your hot dog, you gotta go both ways. Or, as I like to say, 1 Frank Sinatra fully dressed and 1 with mustard and onion. Half naked, or something like that. Bon Appétit.

Addendum: Some (one) commenter wonders why I like Gray's (well, other than the reason I stated in the comment immediately following Miami Danny's, i.e. the price). Basically, my favorite dog is a natural casing griddled dog - Katz's, Nathan's, Gray's and many of the older delis all cooked their dogs like this (let's leave kosher dogs out of this for now). It's snappy and it's crunchy and it's garlicky - and gets some flavor from the browning process, as opposed to the poached or boiled dog, i.e. the dirty water dog.

But it's often hard to tell the difference between Katz's, the various "papaya" places, Sabrett's, etc. and there's a reason...
They're all the same dog, manufactured by Marathon Enterprises, of East Rutherford, N.J., the parent company of Sabrett. They may vary in size, preparation and condiment selection (and Papaya King has Marathon add a secret spice to its mixture), but they're the same ol' dog. In fact, until a few years ago, Marathon made Nathan's hot dogs.
Read the whole story in this NY Times article, by that great Serious Eater, Ed Levine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

You Say Sorbet, I Say Sorbetto (i)

Sorbetto, Italian for sorbet (plural sorbetti), comes from the Arabic word charbet, which was simply and originally associated with the iced fruit drinks of the Middle East. I know, I know, quite fascinating, and I'm glad the WIKI wasn't around when I was in school, otherwise I would have never learned how to plagiarize from other sources. Only kidding - but really, isn't it way too easy now?

Some people think that sherbet is sorbet, but it's not...sherbet, at least here in the USA, has to have some dairy in it (there's that damn Wiki again), and I don't know about you, but I like my sorbet with nothing but fruit, sugar, water and booze in it. Can't put too much booze in it though, or it won't be sorbet - it'll be slush, because too much booze works like does too much sugar. Man, who knew sorbet could be so scientific?

By the way, there's also granita, but that'll have to wait, 'cause this weekend I decided to say hello to my little friend, the Gelato by Lello.

Now, she's (he's?) a fine machine, capable of making quart after quart of delicious sorbetto, gelato or even sherbet, but really, who the hell makes sherbet? With a self-contained freezer, and weighing in at around 30 pounds, Gelato has a permanent home on one of my countertops...mainly because there's no way I'm schlepping that thing in and out of a closet. She (he) used to sit up on top of a cabinet along with my rarely used Omega juicer (don't ask, but for a while I thought I was gonna be like Jack LaLanne merrily juicing away, and Significant Eater, amongst others, gets quite a laugh from that). But for now, the countertop it is, right between the toaster oven and, ummm, a different juicer.

Anyway, while summer is a great time to make gelati, what with all the local fruit at peak ripeness, winter is a great time for sorbetti, especially since we're quite partial to citrus and since citrus goes so well with booze. This weekend Ms. (Mr.) Gelato made us lime/rum sorbetto as well as grapefruit/campari, which is truly our favorite. Tart and bitter, just like Significant Eater and me.

Generally, for each cup of liquid or puréed fruit, expect to use around 1/2 cup of sugar. (I say around, because who the hell knows how this all works - you gotta experiment...and buy a good book...David Leibovitz wrote The Perfect Scoop, and lots of people swear by it.) Add a tablespoonful of alcohol per cup, but no more; remember alcohol is anti-freeze; too much and you'll be sucking your sorbetto up with a straw. Also, fruits vary greatly in their sugar content - mangoes and oranges check in at around 10% sugar, whereas lemons and limes are about 1 to 2%. You see, I told you this was like science.

The limes are simply juiced. 1/2 cup of juice, 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar, 2 T rum, blender - done. Into the fridge to chill overnight. The grapefruits I actually cut into supremes, which is a pain in the ass French method of cutting the segments out of the fruit without any of the pith or the white, bitter stuff getting involved. Tip of the day - do this with room temperature fruit, or your hands will freeze and a lot of cursing will ensue. So, 2 large grapefruits, cut into supremes, all the juicy stuff squeezed out of what's left over, 1/2 cup water, around 1 cup of sugar, 2 T campari. Oh yeah, about a teaspoon of the grapefruit zest, finely grated. Don't forget to wash the fruit first, so your sorbetto isn't full of whatever the hell it is they spray on the grapefruit. Into the blender and then the fridge. This is what the bases look like...I put the fruit on top, so you'll know which is which.

The next morning, out she (he) comes, and in less than 30 minutes, here's what you get...

Doesn't look like much, does it. Scrape it out into a couple of 1 quart containers (go ahead, taste it, it's damn good) and into the freezer to ripen. That's what they call it - don't ask me. I mean, you can eat it right away, but if you're having a party or something that night, it's best to wait. Put your bowls or whatever you're serving the stuff in into the freezer and really impress your guests. I even do it just for SE and me. A scoop of each is the perfect end to a meal. I'm not the greatest scooper in the world (even though I have like 7 different scoops), but both sorbetti came out smooth and delicious.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dinner at 7 - For 14 - Rules for Dining Out

I have several rules about dining out, and I only have these rules because over many years of dining out, certain things start to become apparent - and that's when they become rules. Pretty simple, I think. It's like clichés - something is defined as a cliché, when it's actually the truth. But no digressing - back to the dining out rules; at the top of my list is to never dine out in a "fancy" or even a "fancy-ish" restaurant with more than a party of say, six (I like 4). There are a few reasons for this, not the least of which is the servers generally think they're going to get stiffed or under tipped in one way or another; as a matter of fact, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs actually has rules about tipping policy for large parties, and here they are:

  1. The fee must be listed on the menu in 10-point type or larger.
  2. The fee can only apply to groups of 8 or more.
  3. The fee cannot exceed 15 percent.
  4. Charges for two persons splitting one meal, or a per-person minimum charge are allowed as long as the fee is conspicuously disclosed to the consumer before the food is ordered.
Geez, that's a lot of rules, so it must be important, right? Another reason, at least in my mind, is that kitchens are usually not up to the task of cranking out, say 8 entrees all at the same time, all cooked and served properly. It's just pure physics. And having worked "the line" at a fancy-ish restaurant, and not being able to even get two entrees to come out correctly and at the same time - well, that's why I'm writing this damn blog.

A third reason, as if I need one, is the whole dietary restriction thing. One person may be a vegetarian, one a vegan, someone else only eats pork, this one can't eat pork, that one can't eat shellfish - unless it's with pork...get the picture? FWIW, Significant Eater eats everything - well, everything except oatmeal, but that was a topic for another post, wasn't it?

BTW, if you think you're actually going to have a conversation with anyone, think again. Oh, maybe with the person sitting next to you, but just try to talk to someone across the table. In a NYC restaurant. Good luck with that. Secretly, I think that's why big families like to go out to eat together - that way, no one has to listen to anything anyone is saying.

So, what to do when the rules must absolutely be broken? After all, aren't rules meant to be broken, or is it records that are meant to be broken? Hmmm. In my mind, the places that are best prepared to feed large parties tend to be the ethnic or singular - cuisine type places. Asian food, especially Chinese, lends itself well to large party a matter of fact, it can even be more fun that way - think of all the things you get to try. Most Chinese restaurants have a few large round tables that seat a lot of people. That's how Chinese families roll...and the food doesn't require a lot of last minute prep. Sure, there's stir-fry, but that takes all of 2 or 3 minutes. There's deep fried, but that's also quick. Other things are braised, roasted, and generally prepped in advance - there's not a lot of last minute fancy-dancy plating going on to muck up the works. And there's usually something for everyone - I mean, one of our favorites, Congee Village, probably has hundreds of items on the menu.

Pizza, or restaurants where the main focus is pizza, are also good for breaking the rules. Especially pizzerias where the oven is cranking in at over 1000° F - takes less than 2 minutes to bake a pie in there. And you can have your sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, whatever and make everyone happy.

A couple of other tips: a cocktail or two before dinner can help immensely - that's why the reservation is made for 7 PM - since I never drink before 6, I need the hour. Also, there's Xanax, but it must be legally prescribed, so it helps to have a good doc. Seating is quite important - never, I repeat, never place yourself in between kids who might be drinking 8 or 10 cokes over the course of the evening. Did I mention drugs, because after 8 or 10 cokes, you mights as well be doing meth.

Most of all, sit back, relax, enjoy - it is dinner after all, and as Lidia always says:

Tutti a Tavola A Mangiare!
(Everyone to the Table to Eat!)

See you at 7.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Come Spring, A Young Man's Thoughts Turn To...Asparagus?

Okay, so there are a few things wrong with the title of this post.

A. It's not spring (yet).

B. I'm not a young man (but I act like a child a lot).

C. I think it's love, but I try not to limit that to one season.

However, I digress. We're talking about asparagus here. Well, not asparagus FROM here, but asparagus in general. One of the first spring vegetables. And yes, I know I should be buying local, and trying to be a locavore, but please - it's not always possible. I mean, I came of foodie age in the San Francisco Bay area, during the early to mid Alice years. Had a garden in my backyard. Organic. Had 2 or 3 grills at any one time. Not propane. Ate at Chez P, 4th St. Grill, Stars, Postrio - all of 'em. Anyone who thinks that fusion is a fairly new concept never had Puck's food. If you don't know who the chefs were at those places, well there's always google.

Back to asparagus. I was planning on some high-heat oven stuff last night, and happened to have bought a nice bunch of asparagus at the Essex St. Market for $1.99. From Mexico. Even the California stuff isn't in yet, and New York's won't be for another month and a half at least.

Asparagus is one of my favorites and it can be prepared in any number of ways. Make sure it's good and fresh - go ahead and break a stalk - it should snap but don't tell the produce guy I told you to do it when he's not looking. By the way, that's the best way to get rid of the part you don't eat - hold the stalk with both hands and snap it - above where it breaks, it's tender. Below, it isn't...and add the trimmings to that bag of veggies you're saving for stock, please. Then, numerous opportunities await. I generally peel the bottom half - cooking school will do that to you. It can be sliced super thin on the diagonal, salted and then tossed with some olive oil, lemon juice and topped with shavings of pecorino. Thanks, Mario. It can be steamed, boiled, grilled, sauteed, stir-fried (isn't that sauteed?), etc. Just don't overcook it or it's mush. And back to that oven and some high heat - it can also be's a pan of it, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and ready for the oven...preheated to around 400F.

Give it a few minutes, stir it around (don't burn yourself, that bloody pan is HOT), and give it a few more - I'd say 10 or 15 minutes total, depending on the thickness of the stalks. Remove and consume - more salt and olive oil are always welcome.

Oh, and as I said, I was cooking some real high-heat stuff last night, so I cranked the oven up to 500, and here's what accompanied the first green grass of spring. Just right while waiting for the local stuff to show up, don't you think?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Those Friggin' French - And Their Toast

Have you ever cooked something that just turned out like crap? Well, I have...and it hasn't been pretty. Once, for a dinner club that Significant Eater and I belong to, it was my turn to cook. I did a Venetian dinner and everything came out great...everything, that is, except dessert. It was a Venetian dinner, and desserts were Pinza di Pane (bread pudding) along with a polenta shortcake with dried fruits and pine nuts...a Marcella recipe - MARCELLA, mind you. Well, they both sucked - big time. Dry, mealy and basically inedible. Now, I'm not faulting the recipes, mind you, but here's my TOTD - try something out on yourself before you try it out on your friends. Much laughter ensued, and to this day, those desserts are still the subject of derision. Never to be lived down. Fortunately, everyone was quite lubed up by the time dessert rolled around, and we just enjoyed more cheeses and wine instead.

Which brings me to my latest gaffe. We spent the weekend with some old friends, and is my style, I always bring along some goodies - and try to help prepare a meal or two for our hosts. I brought along a big sampler bag from Kossar's (see my previous post), along with a challah bread,a big hunk of Nueske's bacon and a pound of Intellegentsia Ethiopian. I had in mind preparing a breakfast of French toast (using the challah) and bacon - how bad could that be?

I haven't made French toast in ages...but it used to be a staple breakfast. A couple of slices of bread, dipped in eggs mixed with milk, a bit of vanilla, some cinammon and pan-fried in a good knob of butter. Along with some great maple syrup or maybe some powdered sugar..all is well. This time, however, I decided to soak the bread for a bit longer and then cook it on a sheet pan in the oven. Oy - was it ever bad. Dry, crumbly, stuck to the pan...everything French toast shouldn't be. Just awful. Of course, our friends tried to make me feel good by saying, "no, it's delish, just pour some syrup on it" and all that, but it wasn't, and here's the proof...

Made me think back to that Venetian dinner, and my inedible bread pudding. And what is it with me and bread? Bread puddings, to be precise. And what about my tip of the day (TOTD) - I had never tried this method before, and obviously should be listening to my own advice. Julia always said that cooking and baking were all about the art of camouflage. But there was nothing to be done to this to make it look (or taste) any better than it was. Well, nothing that is, except serve a lot of the accompaniment, which is really hard to screw up. Made everyone happy...even those who pretended that the French toast was good. I wouldn't know - I didn't eat a bite.

Oh, and I helped with dinner that night - Bucatini all'Amatriciana. Got raves. Cooked it many time before. So from now on, I'm following my own advice. And so should you.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bacon, Bialys and Bulkas, Oh My

One thing I know is that if my maternal grandfather sees this post, he'll be rolling over in his grave - and isn't that the silliest thing you ever heard? I mean, do bodies really roll over in their graves? I used to hear that saying whenever anything was done that was seemingly insulting to the old Russian guy. Although when he was alive, I do believe he enjoyed the stuff that was done and handled it with a wink and a shrug. And it was always he who was doing the rolling - never grandma, because she was, how shall I say this, a bit more Attila the Hun-ish. And everyone was scared of her, or at least I was. Hey, is this getting too dark?

Last Saturday night, as Significant Eater and I were coming home from dinner at a friend's apartment, I popped into Kossar's (which opens after the Sabbath ends on Saturday, or after sundown), the world-famous bialy bakery on Grand St. Kossar's sells a number of baked products, each delicious in it's own way. Of course, its world-famous bialy is the number one draw. In my opinion, a bialy is like a Jewish English muffin. What I mean by that is that it needs to be lightly toasted to bring out its deliciousness. Kossar's also bakes bulkas, pletzels, mini-bulkas, mini-pletzels, sesame sticks, mini sesame sticks and bagels. Bulkas are like mini-hero rolls - with the same oniony flavor as bialys and the addition of poppy seeds. Pletzels are onion boards, or big, flat cracker-like things, covered with onions and various seeds...think lavash, but crisper. They're all delish in their own way, and here's what the bulka and bialy look like...

So, there I was Sunday morning, with a stash of the above in our kitchen. And I thought, what better way to show off their deliciousness than to whip up some scrambled eggs, cook up a batch of Benton's bacon, crank up the toaster and go to town? I'm almost convinced that if grandpa could only have gotten over his kosher-ness, he might've even liked the combo. But then, Attila might have smacked him upside the head. And he would've just given me a wink and a shrug.

Significant Eater, of course, had no such reservations when breakfast was served. After all, and with apologies to any and all kosher folks, would you?