Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Today we met up with some friends at Smorgasburg, the artisanal food fair at the site of the Brooklyn Flea Market. My plan: to eat, drink and be merry.  Their plan: to gaze in wonder at my belly and the fact that I’m not due till November.

Because of my incredible size Alex and I drove there which meant dealing with the traffic cops who suddenly decided to redirect the bridge and tunnel traffic as per their whims (seriously on the way back we were re-routed away from the Holland Tunnel three times for no good reason), and the adventure of driving through the hipster “slums” of Williamsburg before you hit the fancy-pants redeveloped waterfront. The best way to describe hipster “slums” is to imagine The Wire country of Baltimore but the products being pushed on every street corner are ironic hats, orthopedic foot wear and vintage plastic glasses frames that would have got you beaten up in grade school but are now the bleeding edge of hipster fashion.

Any way back to Smorgasburg the food is good. Some of it very good and some of it okay and a little too fancy for its own good. I didn’t really pay that much attention to the names of the stalls – it was hot, and we were eating as we walked which meant I was focused on staying upright. The best thing I ate was a roast pork belly roll and it was so good I had two. It was simple and delicious. The roll contained fat and crackling as well as the meat. If I go again then I’ll just eat that over and over again. Perhaps they do a bulk discount. The Bite Sized Kitchen did meat on a stick which was also tasty, the kimchi pork buns from We Rub You were disappointing (not spicy enough and meat cut too thin), and we also had grilled sweetcorn covered with peach butter and salt that was okay (bit of sweetcorn purist and if the produce is at its peak it doesn’t need to be slathered with anything). For desert we split a mint biscuit mochi that again was just okay, and our friends went crazy for (like everyone else) frozen banana. Literally a frozen banana shoved through a meat grinder (or something similar) to produce an frozen banana “ice-cream” but only made with bananas. Absolutely genius as the mark-up must be phenomenal. I am trying to figure out how to make these at home.

Drinks wise you have every iteration of lemonade and ice-tea going. Since I’ve started making my own watermelon juice I can’t part with $5 for something I make at home for  significantly less (it’s the same with ice-tea and lemonade). We settled on a pineapple, mint and spring water concoction that was delicious and I will now be making at home, and selling on a street corner near you.

I am really glad we went, and would happily go again but my main criticisms is that everything seemed to cost $5 and up, and the portion sizes were on the small size (perhaps artisanal is the new tall?). I’m not just saying that because I am 7 months pregnant with the appetite of a small army. The quality of the produce is excellent but I think they could increased the portion size or have some ‘Two pork buns for $7″ style offers without hurting their margins too much.

Alex took a few photos and they are up on his Flickr site.

Oh I wish that I was blogging about eating at El Bulli rather than just watching documentaries about it but since Chef Ferran has now closed its doors for good it’s all we got. For our first dose of El Bulli Alex and I watched the documentary ‘El Bulli – Cooking in Progress’ which followed Chef Ferran and his team for over a year. Including the six months of every year when the restaurant is closed so that the chefs can relocate to Barcelona to experiment and start devising the new menu. El Bulli was famous for Ferran’s innovative approach to gastronomy especially molecular gastronomy. But, what is obvious from the documentary is that it is not molecular gastronomy just for the sake of it they really want to push the boundaries and excite themselves and their customers. It is slow in parts but there are some great scenes as they take their produce (e.g. sweet potato) and compare and contrast various cooking techniques to see just how far they can transform it. Everything is painfully recorded in detail, and woe betide the chef who doesn’t back up or have a copy of Spin Rite to hand for when his hard drive fails.  There is a great bit at the market where the chefs have to buy just five grapes and three beans as that’s all they need to experiment with, and the stall holders hold them in such high esteem they let them get away with it! The documentary is definitely worth a watch if gastro-porn is your thing.

We followed up our viewing of the documentary with Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation episode focused on El Bulli. It was a perfect pairing (like mint choc chip ice-cream) and after the serious tone of the document No Reservation’s lightened things up though it was obvious how much Bourdain respects Chef Ferran. It was funny seeing Bourdain working the line (hands shaking with all the detail work), and the joy when he was eating his way through the tasting menu.  Made me wish we’d try to get a reservation there as it would have been worth the trip to Spain.

Last night Alex and I braved the tourist trap that is Midtown this time of year (fraking Radio City Music Rockettes and Rockerfella Center skating rink and tree) to eat at Le Bernardin. This was meant to be our only meal out this month — something special to celebrate our birthdays and round off the year. Of course what actually happened was that we got a table at Momofoko Ko two weeks ago, and then because I had family coming into town for Christmas we booked a table at Barbuto (as I didn’t feel up to cooking for six) for the 27th. Then my aunt’s flight get canceled to we end up having Christmas dinner at a French bistro with my snow orphaned cousin.  We’ve eaten out way more in the last two weeks then we normally do; so much so that our dining out budget has been blown for the next few months, and the thought of eating at Le Bernardin was feeling less special by the minute. Especially since I still have the divine taste of gnocchi with walnut pesto and a shaved brussel sprout salad (that should not have been as awesome as it was) haunting my dreams in a good way.

Anyway, that was how I was feeling until we started to get ready. Since it is French fine dining then it was a suit for Alex and a dress for me. Getting dressed up can’t but help make you feel excited about the night ahead – even if you are feeling a little gastro-fatigued, having to hunt through your closet for a warm frock because it is chilly outside, and the thought of having to navigate snowbanks in something other than wellie boots makes you sad. I should probably explain why we picked Le Bernardin as we don’t normally go in for French fine dining. We had heard lots of good things about it (it’s an outstanding fish restaurant with awards up the wazzoo), there is a whole chapter devoted to it in Anthony Bourdain’s latest book, and Eric Ripert, chef, is a frequent judge on Top Chef (and we are so obsessed with Top Chef it’s scary).

So we gastro ninjas headed out in a best clothes to dine on the best fish in Manhattan, and oh-my-word we were not disappointed. Fine dining can be a little overwhelming. There are just so many staff buzzing around, and funny little touches that throw you off. For instance, there was a tiny leather stool in between our chairs for me to rest my handbag on! The staff at Le Bernardin were wonderful, and make even the most fishiest fish-out-of-water feel at home. The dining room is gorgeous and feels like it is channeling Frank Lloyd Wright in all his art deco loveliness.  I think Alex was a little disappointed that I wasn’t in the mood for the tasting menu but the dinner menu was four courses, and gave us a good variety of dishes. I started with the tuna tartar, then a grilled salted cod, for mains a poached halibut with daikon, baby radishes and turnips, and for pud a pistachio mousse with caramelized white chocolate, lemon and bing cherries. I wish I could have taken photos of every course because the plates were like works of art but it didn’t quite feel like an Instagram environment so the only photo I took was in the bathroom.

It was an amazing experience, and the tuna tartar knocked my socks off. It also, didn’t hurt that we spied Eric Ripert, the silver fox himself, making a couple of tours of the dinning room. It was a good way to round-off what has been the most challenging of years.

Last week was Alex’s birthday, and as luck would have it I had been able to book a table at Momofuku Ko for the Friday night. Perfect way for us gastro ninjas to celebrate. Now I am not sure how much luck was involved in getting a reservation at Ko as it was probably more down to sheer perseverance.  Ko is a tiny 12 seat restaurant, part of David Chang’s Momofuku empire, and to keep things fair you can only book a table through their online reservation system which springs into life at 10am each day. Trying to get a table this way is not for the faint hearted, many wannabe dinners get dispirited after a few rounds of battling their fellow foodies and give up. Not me though because I knew that Alex really wanted to eat there and after a month or so I was able to snag a reservation for 9:50pm. Ugh – so late but so worth it.

The first thing you need to know is that Ko is tiny. The space could house a sandwich shop or some other hole-in-the-wall eatery but you wouldn’t expect a restaurant serving this type of food. All twelve diners are seated at the bar facing the galley kitchen, and watching the magic happen. Chang has managed to create a fine dining-esque restaurant without the restaurant just the kitchen table. Genius.

The second thing is that there is no menu, and vegetarians should go eat at the falafel cart outside because Ko does not accommodate those who aren’t willing to cheat on tofu. As we were working our way through the tasting menu I was trying to keep a mental note of what we were eating but I failed as I got lost in the creativity of each dish. But, I can tell you that there was an egg with caviar, scallops that had been drowned in butter, an Asian ricotta dish that baffled the taste buds (“Is this Asian? Is this Italian?”), duck, frozen shaved fois gras, and oatmeal ice-cream with a caramelized apple cake. I think there may also have been a pate and a panna cotta, and who knows what else.

It was an amazing experience, and the birthday boy left happy.

Last weekend Alex and I went to visit Stone Barns Center For Food & Agriculture. We’d eaten at Blue Hills at Stone Barns for our anniversary, but since our reservation was so late in the evening we hadn’t had a chance to explore the grounds. Now, I have a bit of a reputation for not liking the great outdoors. This is somewhat true. Years spent freezing my ass off on geology field trips have left me a little wary of non-urban environments. There were no spring breaks in Cancun for me I spent the bulk of my university vacations in a caravan (trailer) in the Lake District or Wales. By day I would be cold and wet trying to identify outcrops and not drop my compass-clinometer because my hands were numb, and by night I would be cold and damp trying to stay warm in the pub and dry my socks under the hand drier in the bathroom. So after that experience you can see why hiking was not going to be a top of my to-do list. It’s probably good thing that Twitter wasn’t around back then as my mum would have been calling out the Air Rescue based on my desperate tweets. Actually having a snarky outlet might have made the experience more bearable: “It’s still raining & mostly granite here.”, “Huge surprise we found more feldspar.” & “Jurassic Park totally miss sold geology.”.

I digress. Stone Barns is an awesome place to visit. Not only is it a proper farm but it has a cafe where they actively encourage you to buy a latte to wander around with. I am totally down with trees and shit if I have access to coffee. We signed up for the ‘Insiders Tour’ which was about 90 minutes long, and took you around the kitchen of Blue Hills, vegetable garden, bee hives, sheep, chickens, pigs and greenhouses. Our tour guide was friendly and knowledgeable, an ex-vegetarian who had come around to eating meat as she saw it was being raised ethically here.  The animals on the farm are magnificent. They lead happy, healthy lives prior to slaughter -as it should be but mostly isn’t which is very sad not only for the animals but for us as we are eating inferior products. This is a great post (not preachy) about why we should source heritage turkeys.

I took a few photos and the Berkshire piglets were particularly glorious. We are planning on going back in December for a farmers’ market and I can’t wait!

On the menu

Posted: 10/30/2010 in food
Tags: , , ,

I am really throwing myself into cooking at the moment. It’s one of the conditions of my temporary secondment to the “home office” (the others include not spending all day in my pajamas watching Netflix Instant and studying my spin toned ass off). I love being able to plan our meals for not just the weekend but the week, and being able to break out of my comfort zone by not relying on recycling the old favorites. My plan is not to repeat meals as much as I use to and make sure that there are yummy things for Alex to take for lunch at least 3-4 days a week. This means that I too have yummy things for lunch. Win win. Over the last two weeks I’ve made:

I’ve got a thing for ricotta at the moment. Love it’s texture when baked, and the lemon ricotta pancakes are to die for. Even Alex was impressed and normally he gets a little snarky when I mess around with the usual pancake recipe. Though in his defense it’s normally because I am trying to sneak things into the pancake batter, that in his opinion do not belong, like chunks of fruit that then go on to distort the pancakes true form.

This week I am channeling Nigella and Jamie, and plan on making:

I’ve also got a whole chicken to roast so I’ll have to figure out something to do with it beyond roasting, and I need to bake something mid-week. Decisions decisions.

I love brunch. But, what I don’t love is paying upwards of $12 for French toast, pancakes or eggs.  For that money I want real thought and fresh produce going into the dishes. What I hate even more is brunching with friends with everyone cooing over mediocre food, and don’t even get me started on lackluster diner food that come in gargantuan portion sizes.

Given how easy it is to whip up some pancakes or scramble an egg we should demand higher standards when we eat out for brunch. I don’t want to be served food that I can make better at home, nor do I want to be charged an additional $3 to have “fresh” fruit added to my French toast. Especially when I am already paying $4 for a glass of “fresh” orange juice.

I’ve been thinking about brunch since Alex and I got back from a wedding in Maryland at the weekend. We got to the town a few hours early and decided to have a wonder around the historic district (in search of a much needed cup of coffee and stretch of the legs). We wandered past Cafe Nola and a plate of their French toast caught my eye (see photo).  How could we resist something so fresh and yummy looking? What made the dish was the berry puree – bursting with flavor it negated the need for maple syrup (even for Alex who has a very sweet tooth). This was French toast FTW and only $9!

Now Cafe Nola is a little far to go for a tasty and reasonably priced brunch, and there are a few places closer to home that I enjoy brunching at (alas, there are far more places that I find disappointing). My top two places are the wonderful Clinton Street Bakery (excited to see that they are publishing a cookbook) and Freemans which has the added charm of being tucked away in an alley and has an array of dead animals mounted on the walls.

One of the reasons I am probably so hard on brunch places is that Alex doesn’t really care for brunching out he’d rather eat lunch – you know real food.  Over the years I’ve cajoled him to many a mediocre brunch spot and each time we sit down to watery eggs Benedict or clawingly awful French toast it re-confirms his firm belief that we should be eating ramen noodles instead. And he probably has a point.