Monday, October 26, 2009

Sugar High and Good Deeds

I might be feeling guilty (I am) for not blogging in almost 2 weeks (gasp), but you know the story - Significant Eater is working in our nation's capital and I'm going back and forth to DC, as is she, getting us set-up with a second home in that fair city. The guilt might also stem from the fact that last weekend we attended a Bat Mitzvah here in NY for the last of our nieces and nephews to attain that age (between SE and me, there are 9 altogether, and thank you sisters and brothers for letting us be able to remain child-free by keeping our parents so occupied) yeah, the guilt might have something to do with the Jewishness, but who knows?

I digress. Back in the '90s (the 1990s wiseguys), SE and I used to go see a performer named Coyote Shivers. He was quite the glam boy, a good rocker, and he even (for a while) held the imprimatur of being married to Bebe Buell, a model and altogether great rock-star groupie (she did spend time with EC, you know) as well as mother of Liv Tyler. Props. As a matter of fact, here's my autographed copy of Shivers' first CD - he called me Mick, but it might've been the booze...

The reason I bring up Coyote Shivers is that he wrote and performed a great song, called SugarHigh. Now, I don't know if you've ever been to a bar or bat mitzvah, but they've changed a bit since my friends and I attained the age of 13, a few decades or so ago. Oh, we had parties back then, and we had bands; now they have DJs and nonstop music from start to finish. Hot DJs. Loud music. I don't mean to sound like an old fogey here, but I wore earplugs last week...all those concerts over the years have taken their toll and I'm trying to keep the hearing that I have left.

If you've ever seen a bunch of teens at a party, with loud hot DJs, I'm really not thinking they need much sugar. Or caffeine. But take a look at was was around the room, for all to partake. It started off with...

And then moved onto the sweets table, where there were bags for the candy (yes, I packed a bag for myself)...

Now, if you think that it was all sweets and nothing but, you'd be mistaken. There was a really cool station set up, where a couple of chefs kept at it most of the night - though if you tried to take a piece before they were "open," you were liable to lose a finger in the process...

Yep, the sushi brothers made some pretty serviceable sushi for the crowd. Sashimi, too. And after sushi, more sweets. First, a fountain of chocolate, with many dippables...

And we can't forget the ice cream...

There you have it...a Sugar High indeed.

But there's more. When we received our invitation to Emily's Bat Mitzvah, it read that instead of gifts, Emily wanted people to donate to her favorite charity, called The Toby Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the number of unwanted pets. Pretty important in a city like ours, where thousands upon thousands of animals are born without homes every year.

Significant Eater and I did just that, as it's a cause we both believe in. We've both loved and had animals all our lives, and our cat is named Rescue, because that's what we did - we rescued her from a shelter. But little did we know just how awesome a mitzvah Emily was able to produce by turning her Bat Mitzvah into a charitable donation...close to $5,000 has been received by The Toby Project due to our niece's generosity. The story was even picked up by a number of our local news outlets. The Daily News did a story about it, and CBS news did a piece with an interview of Emily, accompanied by the family's two dogs, whom I've often had the pleasure of playing here for the CBS news piece and the video is here.

Once you've become a Bar or a Bat Mitzvah in the Jewish faith, you've attained the age of adulthood according to Jewish law. That brings with it certain obligations, including moral responsibility for one's own actions. SE and I were both impressed and moved by the moral responsibility of our niece, as well as by the actions she has taken to ensure those responsibilities are being met. If you have a few extra bucks, we urge you to donate to The Toby Project.

And to Emily and her whole, extended family, Mazel Tov! You should all be proud.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Holy Cannoli, I'm Stuffed...or Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

First off, a quick apology (to anyone who might care) about Tasty Travails being a little lax on the posting lately...lots of back and forth between the lower east side and Washington, DC, as Significant Eater settles into her new job in public service. Along with being in the process of trying to find a more permanent residence in DC, I have been seeing lots of I-95 lately - btw, not a lot of good food to eat along the way, though I have found a few places of interest, which I'll report about in the future...think cheap booze.

But back to the lower east side, which is where I am today, before heading south tomorrow. Certainly this place has been Urban Daddied, Eatered, Thrill Listed, Daily Candied, Grub Streeted and Seriously BEaten to death, but it's in my neighborhood, so I'll report anyway. A bit off the beaten path, on Stanton between Clinton and Attorney, sits this nice storefront:

And looking up at the sign, you'll see this:

Yes, folks, it's Stuffed Artisan Cannolis, and really, it's just what the neighborhood needs. I'd been wanting to stop in for a week or two now, so I headed over after receiving a less than happy welcome at nearby Noodle Bar (no, not THAT Noodle Bar) on the corner of Orchard and Stanton. Oh, at noodle bar I walked in and after sitting at down at a 4-top was told I'd have to sit at a smaller table - really - when there was nobody else in the place, so I walked out...(oh, nice to see you too, douchebags) and proceeded east on Stanton, and there it was at #176.

The store is, make that practically empty, and I stood there for a good minute or two before the owner realized I was watching him intently stuffing filling into a myriad of cannoli. He turned around, smiled and apologized for not noticing me sooner (maybe he should teach noodle bar some manners?). The owner is Anthony, and he's a New Yorker through and through. Grew up and went to school in Greenwich Village. If you want to hear a classic New York accent, Anthony's your guy. Check out how happy he is just making his cannoli...

We exchanged some pleasantries, and I found out that he started by selling his cannoli from a cart on the corner of Mulberry & Hester Sts. on the weekends, and would set up a booth at the Feast of San Gennaro during its 10-day run in September. Pretty cool. And when the opportunity to open a little storefront presented itself, he just couldn't say no. The neighborhood wins. After a bit more bantering, Anthony offered me one of his classic cannoli for a taste. I say classic, because it was the classic Sicilin cannolo, with a hint of almond and cinnamon gracing the perfect filling. It was everything a cannolo should be - filled on the spot, the shell was crisp and the filling not too sweet. You can see above that there aren't a lot of prefilled shells, lest they become soggy, which is the bane of a good cannolo. As a matter of fact, they only hold up for 6 hours or so, and that refrigerated case they're in is icy cold to keep 'em fresh.

Other than the classic, Anthony offers all sorts of different flavored fillings for his cannoli. Using high quality ingredients like Valrhona chocolate, I can only imagine they would be a great hit for your next party. As a matter of fact, who could resist, so I brought home a few for dessert tonight. Don't they look good?

That's cappucino on the left, chocolate in the middle and peanut butter and jelly on the right. I've already eaten the chocolate one (damn good) and I'm bringing the other two with me to share with some dinner companions - I'm sure they'll be just right after pizza!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mary Had A Little Lamb...well, Maybe Mitch Did

Lamb stew can be called by so many different names, in so many different languages. It can be a navarin, ragout or even a daube. It might be called mishmishiya in Egypt, where the name comes from the Arabic word for apricot, or mishmish; apricots make up a large part of the recipe. It can be a tagine in Morocco, both the name of the dish and the pot it's cooked in. And a calderete de cordero in parts of Spain. In Peru you might eat seco de cordero, lamb stew with vegetables, while lamb curries are popular in Africa, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, amongst other locales.

But whatever you call it, in whatever language you'd like, lamb stew is a great dish. Wanna use the neck or shoulder? Go right ahead. How about the breast? Be my guest. Is it a leg you prefer? Well, jump right in. That's what makes lamb stew so good (besides the taste) - you can use practically any part of the animal (though you wouldn't really want to use the loin) and be assured of a tasty, tender dish that will wow your friends and family. As a matter of fact, this month's issue of Saveur has a great cover and stories about lamb, and inside the mag is a pictorial guide to all the cuts of lamb - almost everything you need to know.

Me - I like the shoulder. The other day I popped over to my butcher, where I was able to procure basically the whole front part of a lamb - both shoulders and the neck, actually. I took both shoulders, about 10 pounds worth, and they were kindly boned out for me; the bones, of course, were used to make 2 quarts of delicious lamb stock...perfect to add another layer of flavor to my stew. Here's what I had to work with...

Now, after boning and trimming, I was looking at about 7 lbs. of shoulder, so I cut 5 lbs. into cubes for the stew, figuring that would be plenty for 8 guests, including Significant Eater and me.

The first step in making this stew is to brown the meat (you salted and peppered it first, right?) - and I mean, BROWN the meat. Don't skip this step or do it like a wuss. Brown the damn meat. It should look like this:

The whole process and reason for browning, which involves the Maillard reaction (thanks, Wiki), the cool technical term for, ummm, browning, is to add another layer of flavor to your stew. And it also creates a fond, another cool term (this time French) for the browned crap on the bottom of your pan. And as I said, you want brown, bordering on burnt. When you're done with all your browning, the pan should look like this:

That's some fond, baby. Now, of course you don't let the fond go to just went through all that trouble to make it. You need to deglaze the pan(s) that you've browned the meat in, with wine, stock or even water. If you don't know what deglazing is, it's heating the liquid in that same pan while scraping the bottom and getting all the fond up - it is like cleaning the pan, except you don't pour the results down the drain - instead, they go into the braise.

A cool thing to do is to use your mirepoix (there go the French again) to deglaze the this case, my diced onions and carrots, along with a couple of cloves of garlic, went into the pan...they release enough liquid while sweating to deglaze the pan. And then I added a cup and a half of white wine (you can use vermouth, too - Julia always did) and reduced it way down, put the meat back into the pan and added enough lamb stock to come about 2/3 of the way up the meat. I also added a bunch of parsley stems, a handful of thyme sprigs, a few black peppercorns and 2 bay leaves. Brought it to the simmer, covered and into a 325 degree oven for an 1 1/2 hours - after an hour, give it a good should look like this...

Next, remove the meat to a plate, and strain the liquid. That's gonna become the gravy/sauce/whatever for the stew. I like to refrigerate the gravy separately from the meat overnight; that way, all the fat will solidify at the top, and it can just be removed and tossed before finishing the stew. About an hour before serving, both the liquid and meat went back into a 4 quart pan, along with a couple of vegetables. Vegetables are a matter of choice, and for this particular stew, I precooked a bunch of small turnips and carrots. They were added after the stew came back up to a simmer, and heated along with the meat for the last 30 minutes or so.

Now, if your gravy isn't thick enough, there are a couple of tricks. I like to make a beurre maniƩ (trust me, the French know their stuff), and add a tablespoon or two to the sauce. It will thicken up in no time. When all is said and done, it will look like this...

Serve over some mashed potatoes, rice, noodles, whatever and be ready for the oohs and ahhs.

Oh...a couple of tips. I started out with 5 lbs. of boned and trimmed cubes and ended up with under 3 lbs. of meat. So, adjust accordingly - that's really only enough for 6 big eaters - if you're cooking for 8 or 10, I'd cook almost a pound of meat per person. Leftovers will not go to waste.

However, if you are starting with 10 bs. of meat and only cooking for 6, do what I did with the extra meat...grind it up and make some free-form merguez...these were as big a hit as the stew!

Lamb Stew (Serves 8)

6 lbs. boned, trimmed, lamb shoulder

2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 1/2 cups white wine (or dry vermouth)
2 qts. lamb stock
6 cloves minced garlic
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. black peppercorns
handful parsley stems
8 thyme sprigs

For finishing the dish:

6 carrots, 2 inch pieces
8 turnips, quartered

Read the post above and follow those directions, please.